Posted in Life

A Small Exciting Thing From My Week

Last week I was returning things to the libraries I go to where I do not work. At the first one I went in and ended up sitting in a comfy chair and skimming through a book that turned out to be not worth the time. I drove away going, “Well, I should have just dropped my book in the drive through return box.”

But because I went in the library, I saw a sign about their winter reading program. So I got on the website and entered the books I’ve read this year and didn’t think much more about it.

Then Sunday after lunch I picked up my phone to discover a missed call and a voicemail from an unsaved number. Probably some scam call and my voicemail caught the end of the spiel, I figured, checking the message.

Nope.

I won the weekly gift card drawing from the reading program.

I now have a Panera Bread gift card.

I am very pleased.

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Posted in Christianity, Life

Yet More Great Books I’ve Read This – No, Last – Year

March’s post
October’s post

If I do these for 2018, maybe I can manage to space them out more evenly…

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris
This book. Is. FANTASTIC. The poems are clever. Some are intricate and sophisticated. Some hardly seem like poems at all (in a good way). Many are hilarious. A few made me teary. But it’s not just the poetry that’s great; everything about the book is clever and interesting. Even the page numbers.
It reminded me of Jack Prelutsky, which is a high compliment. If you are a poor soul who has never heard of Jack Prelutsky, 1. You’ve likely heard of Shel Silverstein, and that is also a good comparison (but I am a rebel and always liked Jack Prelutsky better), 2. Go track down the book A Pizza the Size of the Sun and enjoy it along with I’m Just No Good at Rhyming.

Recess Warriors: Hero Is a Four-Letter Word by Marcus Emerson
Graphic novels aren’t really my thing, but once in a while I find an exception. This is one of them. It chronicles the recess adventures of a group of kids, and it captures the power of imagination beautifully. It’s written and illustrated as though these adventures involving pirates and zombies and cowboys are really happening, but once in a while the characters say things like, “If the principal asks, you did it.” It’s a really fun balance and a great portrayal of how kids see their games and their lives. There is now a sequel (Recess Warriors: Bad Guy Is a Two-Word Word), and it is also lots of fun.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
I read this in high school, and I kind of enjoyed it then, but I have since discovered that I really love Dickens. He’s subtly hilarious. Something about his particular brand of wordiness appeals to me. So I’ve been meaning to reread this so I could appreciate it more, and sure enough, I did. “I laughed, I cried, it moved me, Bob.” It’s a story of one small family and acquaintances and the love they all have for sweet Lucie – her father, her husband, family friends, one man who pines after her – and how they get caught up in the horrors of the French Revolution. I didn’t think the ending would make me cry since I knew what was coming, but it did.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
I’ve been wanting to read this for a while, and I’m so glad I got around to it. It’s something rare: fantasy written for adults that is not a rip-off of either The Lord of the Rings or fairy tales and is also not horribly inappropriate. It made me laugh regularly but was not cheesy. I liked the characters. I wanted to just sit and read it for hours.
The main character is a spy for the Library, which collects books from different alternate worlds. She gets sent on a mission to a dangerous alternate with a new apprentice, and they have all sorts of risky adventures involving a Holmes-esque detective, zeppelins, werewolves, a traitorous Librarian, and the like before they get the book they were after. It’s the first in a series, and as I have just started the second one, I can’t vouch for the rest, but this one was great. Not 100% clean, but I loved it enough that I found it worth putting up with a few content issues.

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin
This book came up in last week’s post, but I wanted an opportunity to express how good it was. Jen Wilkin laments the lack of Biblical literacy among Christians (and I completely agree with her on that point), and then offers a method of how to study the Bible for yourself. If you read last week’s post, you know I’m not saying you must study the Bible this way or anything like that, but it is sensible and accessible, and if you struggle with this and are looking for some guidance, it is an excellent place to start.

Posted in Christianity, Life, Thoughts

Do Not Follow This Advice

I read quite a few books on religious topics. One thing I’ve been particularly noticing recently is that people like to tell you what works for them.

Three examples from books I’ve read in the past year:

  • In The Book of Not So Common Prayer: A New Way to Pray, a New Way to Live, Linda McCullough Moore shares how she started praying for three (or maybe four, I don’t remember) 15-minute segments spaced throughout her day. It changed her life, led to growth, and deepened her relationship with God.
  • In One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann Voskamp talks about how a friend challenged her to list 1,000 things she loved. Keeping this list and the constant focus on gratitude it encouraged became something that lasted well beyond the thousandth item. It changed her life, led to growth, and deepened her relationship with God.
  • In Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds (what’s with all the super long subtitles?), Jen Wilkin laments the lack of Biblical literacy among Christians and lays out the method she has developed for studying the Bible in a way that leads to real learning. You guessed it: It changed her life, led to growth, and deepened her relationship with God.

I appreciate these women and their wisdom and insight and that they have shared those things with the world. Do not take this post as a criticism of them or their books. It’s not. But sometimes we read these sorts of things and go, “Wow, I want my relationship with God to grow like that.”

So we do what the authors did.

And it doesn’t work.

I don’t mean we tried for three days and gave up. We did those three (or four) 15-minute prayer segments every day for months and still consistently found them a burden, not a joy. We listed 1,000 things we were grateful for and nothing ever clicked. After several books, marking up a double-spaced copy of a specific book of the Bible with annotations in colored pencil remained completely uninspiring and we don’t seem to know any more than when we started.

And then we think, “But I did exactly what they said and I’ve seen no significant changes, what’s wrong with me?”

What’s “wrong” with you is: You are not Linda McCollough Moore. You are not Ann Voskamp. You are not Jen Wilkin. You are you. Your personality is different. Your tragic backstory is different. The way you relate to God and people and life is different. It’s just logical that things that work for other people might not work for you.

We get the principle confused with the process. There are Biblical principles to be found in these books. The Bible teaches us to make prayer a constant part of our life (1 Thessalonians 5:17), to always give thanks because that’s God’s will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and that studying the scriptures is a noble task (Acts 17:11). The Bible does not say, “Pray for three (or four) 15-minute segments spaced throughout your day,” or, “Keep a constant physical list of the things you are thankful for,” or, “Before you start to study a book of the Bible, print out a double-spaced copy with wide margins and collect some nice colored pencils for annotating it.”

At the beginning of a new year, many people like to reevaluate where they are in life and attempt some changes. If you need a new process for deepening your relationship with God, go for it. Maybe you want to try something from one of these books. Or a different book. Or something that has worked for a friend. In this post I list several suggestions. Maybe you have some ideas of your own. But as you try things, keep in mind:

Never measure your faith by someone else’s process. Measure it by Biblical principles.

Posted in Writings

Oblivion

It’s been a while since I shared any fiction I wrote. Today let’s fix that.

This is a small piece of much bigger (unwritten) ideas my friend GG and I have tossed around. It involves superheroes and villains and related stuff. This piece features two characters who were close friends growing up. But at some point Ben became a superhero while Angela became a villain, which unsurprisingly caused Problems. The other character briefly mentioned is Ben’s younger brother. And I think that’s probably all that needs explained for it to be understandable.

Ben is actually GG’s character. She obligingly agreed to let me share this anyway.

To start off, here’s the song that gives the story its title:

 

The door was locked.

Ben still held the keys from unlocking it.

He’d noticed nothing out of place. No signs of a break-in. And yet Angela lay asleep in his bed.

This made quite a change from several years of rarely talking.

He saw her once in a while, but it was easier to ignore her existence than to acknowledge her questionable choices and the mess those had made of their friendship.

Ben stepped farther into the room, intending to wake Angela and get some answers, but a closer look gave him pause. The swollen cut on Angela’s cheek probably needed stitches. And though her shirt sleeve partially concealed the dark purple bruise on her upper arm, it looked like a handprint. Ben hesitated, but then one light finger tugging up the sleeve confirmed that suspicion. He wondered what injuries he couldn’t see.

He let her sleep.

Back in the kitchen, Ben started coffee brewing and pulled a bottle of ibuprofen out of the medicine cabinet. Then he opened the fridge to search for leftovers to heat up. He was glad Alex hadn’t come home first. He wasn’t sure how that would have gone.

It wasn’t long before he heard movement from his bedroom. Angela appeared wearing one of Ben’s hoodies. He’d never seen her wear a hoodie, and it made her seem strangely vulnerable. “I didn’t expect to see you here,” said Ben.

She didn’t look at him as she stiffly sat down at the kitchen table. “I needed somewhere to sleep. You are… This was the only place that felt safe.”

“I suppose you won’t tell me what’s going on?”

She shook her head.

So much for getting answers. But he wouldn’t make her feel unsafe here, so instead of prying, Ben silently slid the bottle of ibuprofen across the table. She took four. He pretended not to notice.

Eventually Ben placed two plates of reheated Chinese takeout, two forks, and two cups of coffee on the table. “Have you considered having that cut stitched up?” he asked, sitting across from Angela.

“I considered it,” she replied. “I decided against it.” She picked up her fork, keeping her left arm – the bruised one – wrapped tightly around her ribs.

“It will probably scar,” Ben pointed out.

Angela cringed. “Don’t remind me.” But she almost laughed while she said it, and Ben found himself grinning.

“At least let me get you some neosporin to put on it.”

“I already used some.”

“Are you in the habit of breaking into my house and using my things?”

“This is the first time,” said Angela drily.

They ate in surprisingly comfortable silence. Ben wasn’t ready when Angela put down her empty coffee mug – after the third refill – and said, “I should leave.”

“Okay.” Ben stood with her and asked, “Do you need anything?”

She shook her head. “Thanks for feeding me.”

“Anytime.” He meant it, and he wondered if she knew that.

She walked away, and Ben impulsively said, “Hey, Angela? I miss you.”

With one hand on the doorknob, she stopped, head bent, her short hair untidily brushing the collar of the hoodie. “I miss you, too.” Ben almost didn’t hear the words. Then she added, louder, “I’m keeping the sweatshirt. No one will recognize me like this.”

“They certainly won’t,” Ben agreed as the door shut behind her.

Posted in Life

Studio C Christmas

Merry Christmas! (A bit early…) Please enjoy some holiday-related humor.

 

Giving gifts can be difficult.

 

Maybe it will make any awkward Christmas parties you attend seem great in comparison.

 

They can be dangerous.

 

And this is my favorite.

Posted in Life, Thoughts

Book Club Woes

You know what I want? A book club for adults who have zero interest in the latest New York Times Best Seller.

Who would rather reread Percy Jackson, or pick up a graphic novel from the kid’s section of the library just out of curiosity, or grab a nonfiction book about matchmakers in London in World War II, or read A Tale of Two Cites because Dickens is hilarious (and can also make me cry).

It’s not that I can’t read long books and have deep discussions. I just find most of the generic adult fiction genre inappropriate and/or boring, and I’d rather seek fodder for deep discussions elsewhere.

Surely I can’t be the only one.

And yet I’ve never discovered anything like this.

Most of the book clubs I see focus on that generic adult fiction, and if it’s not that it’s mysteries or classics, neither of which are what I want either.

I suppose I could attempt to start my own. But that seems stressful. I don’t want to be in charge of such a book club, I just think one should exist.

Okay. Rant over.

Posted in Life, Writings

After NaNoWriMo

I did a lot of editing last month, as planned. I did, in fact, finish my main project before the end of the month, so for the last several days I pulled out old short stories to edit.

It was the most successful NaNo I’ve had in a while. I finished a project that’s been going on for years. And I’m pleased with the results.

There will be more editing in the future, I’m sure. The story is definitely not perfect. But despite having developed a long way from the small original ideas, it still feels the way those small original ideas felt in my head, and I don’t think I can explain how incredibly satisfying that is.

To conclude, here is the song that originally sparked the inspiration to turn those small original ideas into something writable:

And here is my favorite thing I found while editing. No idea what that sentence was supposed to become: