Posted in Christianity

Until Your Hair is White

Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
their idols are born by animals, beasts of burden.
The loads you yourselves were carrying
are now burdening tired animals.
They stoop and bow down together;
they cannot save the burden,
but themselves go into captivity. (Isaiah 46:1-2)

Though Isaiah wrote before Babylon defeated Israel, he wrote a lot about Babylon’s own destruction that would come. Here, Bel and Nebo, a couple of Babylon’s gods, get caught up in that destruction.

They’re a burden.

Not only do they fail to save any of their people, they’re taken captive themselves, and they have to be dragged along by some poor, trudging animals.

This isn’t something unusual, brought about by defeat; it’s a final picture of what has been happening all along. The people themselves have been carrying the loads of these gods.

How exhausting that sounds. Some mornings it’s all I can do to get just myself out the door on time for work. I can’t imagine being responsible for a god.

Good news: I don’t have to be.

“Listen to me, house of Jacob,
all who remain of the house of Israel:
I have borne you from birth,
carried  you since the womb.
Till your old age I will be the same-
I will carry you until your hair is white.
I have made you, and I will bear you;
yes, I will carry you and save you.
To whom will you liken me and equate me?
With whom will you compare me, as if we were similar?” (46:3-5)

My God does not need carried. He carries his own people. He made them, he saves them. He is more than capable of being responsible for himself and everyone else. There’s no comparison to these Babylonian gods, tugged along by weary animals, failures in every way.

Not only does he carry his people when they’re helpless infants, he keeps it up their whole lives.

He never puts them down.

What a relief.

Posted in Writings

Set You Free

After last week’s one-shot, we jump forward about a year. Our characters have been working together and liking each other more and more, but they haven’t officially acknowledged it because Kieran knows he needs to explain his backstory first, and he hasn’t worked himself up to that.

Then Lina gets kidnapped by some unsavory characters who need a mage for the unsavory things they’re planning. Cue rescue mission.

Also, turns out she’s allergic to silver. But having avoided it her whole life for other obvious reasons, she doesn’t know that.

 

He had to take out several guards and break a few locks, but Kieran found Lina. He wrestled with the last lock, the near success making him clumsy, and watched through the cell’s bars as she sat up on a narrow cot, blinking as though he’d woken her. “Kieran?”

Lina.” The lock gave in and he shoved through the door and sat on the bed and cupped her face in his hands. He pushed her straggly hair back and tried to get a good look at her, but she tilted toward him, suddenly crying, and he could only gather her tightly in his arms, ready to never let go again.

“You came,” she sniffled.

“Of course I came.” Still holding her close, he gently lifted her chin so he could meet her eyes. “Have they hurt you?” She looked terrible – sleep deprived and scared and dazed. Her cheek felt too hot against his palm.

“Just…” She pulled back to show him her hands. Around the tight silver cuffs on her wrists, her skin had swollen and cracked and bled. Angry veins of red snaked up her forearms.

“What did they do?” He dropped his hand from her face to cup it beneath her wrist, just short of touching.

“It’s the silver, I guess. It blocks my magic. But I never knew it would be like this.”

“No. No, this is not normal.” His voice shook with tightly bottled fury.

“How do you know?”

He straightened, his gaze on hers again. Then he lifted his right hand and murmured one of Lina’s spells. A ball of softly glowing light floated above his hand. “Because I’ve been wearing silver for years.”

She stared at the light, and he ached as he watched her. Her eyes, usually so alight with curiosity, stayed flat with exhausted confusion. Finally she asked, “How…?”

“It is a very long story, and I will tell you all of it. I promise. After we get you somewhere safe.”

She nodded.

“Come on. Let’s go.”

He stood, helped her up, and for a moment she leaned against him, getting her balance. With her face buried in his shirt, she whispered, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Anytime. Always.

Posted in Writings

What’s Before

I’ve been making an effort lately to occasionally share some of my fiction writing. It usually takes a lot of explanation because mostly I write small scenes from much bigger stories, designed to be shared with a friend who already knows all the backstory because we came up with it together. But I have a couple recent one-shots from one of our new AUs that I like a lot that I decided are worth the effort.

Back in July, I read Sisters of Sword and Song by Rebecca Ross. In that book’s fantasy world, people who can do magic are unable to write with their dominant hand, the same one they use for channeling magic. Sure, you could get by with learning to write with your other hand, but most mages hire a scribe to do their writing for them and be helpful in a variety of other ways. And scribes need to be trustworthy, because they’re working with the spells their employers create, and if a scribe decides to sell that information to other people, they can basically ruin their employer’s career.

I thought this was all a cool dynamic, and my friend GG and I talked about how it might work out with our own characters. So, credit where it’s due, that concept is not mine. For our explorations, we stuck our characters in a world with a steampunk vibe. And something we added that’s relevant to these one-shots is that contact with silver makes mages unable to use their magic.

In this story, Kieran is a mage who, early in his career, tried to stop the evil plans of someone much more powerful and influential. For his trouble, he’s been cursed to be immortal. Since then, he has avoided using his magic and pretty much become a hermit. It has been just long enough that most people around his former school wouldn’t recognize him, but not so long there couldn’t still be someone who would.

So today I have for you a fluffy one-shot. Next week we’ll get to the other one.

 

It had all been a series of mistakes, and Kieran had only himself to blame.

He knew better than to stop by the library where he used to study while he worked his way through mage school. But he was traveling through the city on his way to find a new place to be a hermit for several years. It had been long enough that he shouldn’t run into anybody who would recognize him, so he wandered in.

They had drastically rearranged the first floor, but the farther he went, the more familiar the surroundings became. The cramped, dusty third floor had hardly changed. Weaving through shelves, he found his favorite table still in place, in front of tall windows overlooking the river with its ships coming and going. Drafts of cold winter air still leaked through the windows, but this spot boasted one of the best sunset views in the city if you loitered long enough.

A girl sat at the table, surrounded by books, dark hair a long braid down her back. Though apparently studying, she had no pens, no scribbled notes. A small Destry medallion dangled from the leather satchel on the floor by her chair. A young mage.

Some things really hadn’t changed.

He knew better than to go back a few days later. And then a few days after that. And again, until reading in a chair by those same tall windows became part of his routine. He didn’t see the girl at his table every time, but she was there often.

He knew better than to smile back the day she noticed him walking by and smiled up at him.

But he did.

That continued for several weeks. Maybe he missed her smile the day she didn’t look up but stayed bent over a thick book, frowning, rubbing her forehead. Because he absolutely knew better even as he paused by the table and asked, “Tough assignment?”

She started, but then laughed a little. “Yeah. I can’t make any sense of this chapter.”

“Can I help?”

“I wish. None of my classmates understand it either. So unless you happen to randomly know a lot about enchanting places…”

He did. And he recognized the book. It had been brand new when he was a student, and it was a classic case of an author who knew a subject inside out but had no idea how to convey his knowledge to anyone who knew less. But the author was also the professor, so no one could do a thing about it. They’d let him continue teaching all these years?

“Sorry,” he said, and the girl shrugged, neither surprised nor disappointed. After all, everything about his appearance – ink stains on his hand he didn’t try to wash off, a silver necklace and earring, his fashion choices – had been selected to give the subtle impression Not a Mage.

But he wanted to help her. He could have explained everything in that book better than the author did. And she looked so tired and stressed.

So he sat down and asked questions, wording them carefully to not give away his own knowledge but to hopefully point her thoughts in the right direction. After several minutes, he was rewarded by her face lighting up with wonder and understanding. “Oh.” She held up her right hand, murmured a few words under her breath, and faint glimmers of light flew from her hand and spun around them before whisking off to the far corners, warming the chilly room.

Not bad. It was a large space to affect, especially if she was just figuring this out.

Thank you,” she said. “I’ve been trying to get this for hours. You have no idea.”

He had some idea. But he smiled at her adorably delighted face.

After that they sat together often. Sometimes they talked. Sometimes they both read. Once they decided they wanted a change of scenery and walked to a nearby cafe for steaming cups of thick hot chocolate.

Her name was Lina. She couldn’t wait to finish school. She loved stories and food and her friends, and Kieran loved her laugh and her hair and her quiet kindness.

Then somehow it was only a few days before she graduated and she told him how nervous she was to actually work as a mage. And to find a scribe to help her: to do the writing she couldn’t, sing spells with her, and generally be a companion in what he knew could be a lonely profession. “How am I supposed to just pick someone and be comfortable enough with them for all that?” she asked despondently, her chin propped in her left hand.

And he knew better than to brush his ink-stained fingers against her other hand and say, “I can write.”

But he did.

And she lit up.

And he had no one to blame but himself.

Posted in Christianity, Life

Great Books I’ve Read in 2020 – Part 2

The Man Born to Be King: A Play-Cycle on the Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Dorothy Sayers
This is a series of radio dramas about Jesus’ life. I might be stretching my rules a little here, because I actually listened to them, but it does exist in book form. Apparently there’s some extra commentary in the book, so I might pick it up someday for that.
This is some of the most powerful storytelling about Jesus I’ve ever encountered. It actually made me cry, and since I’ve been very familiar with this material since before I can remember, that doesn’t happen often. I appreciated the way this brought out the politics surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion. I loved hearing Jesus’ words spoken with emotions – love and fondness and compassion and frustration and anger. Quite a few of them made more sense portrayed that way. One of the best moments was Jesus at the Last Supper telling his disciples, “I have loved you,” after hearing him do it.
Some of the historical details Dorothy Sayers chose are not the way I think things happened, and others are spot on in ways I don’t often encounter. But splitting hairs about such things is not the point here; as good storytelling should, this hits all the right emotional notes with a truth that goes beyond the specifics.
Sadly, the recordings are no longer available where I listened to them, and I couldn’t track them down anywhere else.

Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry by Julian Peters
I mentioned this in my Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag post, but it deserves more attention. Julian Peters took some classic poems and turned them into comic strips. They are beautiful, and each is a different style to capture the different styles of the poetry.
I first read this as an ebook, and while most of my experience with ebook versions of graphic novels and the like isn’t great, this one worked well. If you have a library card that gives you access to Hoopla, go check it out. But for my birthday I got a physical copy, because it’s one I would like to keep around and I thought it would be even nicer to hold. Turns out the book is larger than I anticipated, and that just makes it better.
Poetry collections are very hit-or-miss for me, but this was a winner. I would love to see Julian Peters do more.

Growing in Godliness: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Maturing in Christ by Lindsey Carlson
I wasn’t prepared for how good this would be. Lindsey Carlson’s writing is clear and accessible, yet it takes teen girls seriously as the intelligent humans they are, not talking down to them or trying too hard to be hip and relevant in those ways that inevitably fall flat. I’m always looking for resources to use with kids at church, and though I mostly work with younger kids right now, I would be happy to use this book in the right situation.
The books written for teenage girls that I remember from my own teen years dealt extensively with topics like not having sex before marriage, avoiding drugs and peer pressure, and dealing with problems with parents, teachers, and friends. Don’t get me wrong, there’s value in that, and I’m sure I learned things, but honestly, a lot of it wasn’t too relevant to my life.
I never had a boyfriend and definitely didn’t find the idea of sex with strangers appealing. I’ve still never had a friend pressure me to drink, smoke, or do drugs. I was homeschooled and wasn’t around a bunch of other teenagers who might have questionable values all day every day. I worked hard for my good grades. I had good relationships with my parents and honestly can count on one hand the times I remember specifically wanting to rebel against rules. I didn’t even know many swear words.
This is not to say I was perfect and never sinned. I did. But I wasn’t struggling with the stereotypical teenage problems.
Instead of digging into specific sins that might not be relevant to someone’s life experience, Growing in Godliness is a discussion of how sanctification works. It offers valuable suggestions of ways to grow and ways to evaluate your life, but it doesn’t assume every teenager’s sin struggles look the same.
I think teenage me could have benefited from this, and I bet there are teen girls out there right now who are in the same boat. I hope some of them will find their way to this excellent resource.

Romanov by Nadine Brandes
This is a fictional imagining of what might have happened if Anastasia Romanov and her younger brother Alexei survived the execution of their family. I’m not familiar enough with the history to say how historically accurate any of it is – plus there’s a good dose of fantasy mixed in – but I enjoyed it as a story. Obviously it has its distressing moments, but the author brings it to a satisfying conclusion. It has some cute family relationships and some good romance. I appreciated the theme of forgiveness woven through it, even though it was perhaps a smidge heavy-handed at times.
I also appreciated how important their belief in God was to the characters. This never came across as preachy or inserted to make a point, it was just part of their lives. That’s something I want to see more often in books.
And this is one of the cleanest YA novels I’ve stumbled across in a long time. That was nice.

Goodnight, Anne by Kallie George, illustrated by Geneviève Godbout
A picture book inspired by Anne of Green Gables. While Marilla tries to get Anne to go to bed, Anne has to go around saying goodnight to everyone and everything she loves, Marilla included. The illustrations are lovely, and the book is very cute and sweet.
It’s probably most easily enjoyed by people already familiar with Anne’s story as there’s not room for explanations of things. But also, kids wanting to do everything in the world before they settle down to sleep is pretty universal.

 

For more book recommendations, click here.

Posted in Life

Hoot

Today I put together some owls to decorate my classroom at the church building. I can’t take credit for the design; I found a printable coloring page I liked, cut out the various pieces, and traced them.

But look how cute and happy these are!

That is all. I enjoyed them and wanted to share.

Posted in Life, Thoughts

Identity

An odd thought: As of two days ago, I have been blogging for nine (!!!) years. Yet never once, when asked by some new acquaintance to tell about myself, has it occurred to me to say, “I’m a blogger.”

I don’t know why. It’s a significant and important part of my life. I love some of the ways my writing has developed over the years. Yet for some reason it’s not an attribute that comes to mind when I’m asked to define Me.

(To be fair, writing in general is. Blogging sometimes comes up from there. It’s not entirely forgotten.)

It’s odd the ways we consciously define our identity.

Video gaming is in a weird transition stage for me. For most of my life, it was my brother’s hobby that I occasionally enjoyed, too. I didn’t think or talk about it much. Though I did get a great deal of entertainment out of shocking guy friends at college with the fact that I played video games.

But over the past year or so, the hobby has been gaining status, and I can track why. I bought a collection of all the games in the Kingdom Hearts series and started playing them. I had played a few before, but there are a lot, and I wanted to catch up because of a new one coming out. My brother got me into the series, but this put me well beyond what he’d done. None of my close friends have played these games, and mostly they don’t play video games at all. So suddenly this series I love became something that’s just… Me. I’ve begun to consciously claim it, and it is slowly expanding to include the hobby as a whole, not just those games.

I don’t have any profound way to wrap this up. I just find it interesting to consider. Have you noticed any such strange omissions or unexpected transitions in your own definition of Me?

Posted in Life

Not Even Solomon

Behind the library where I work, some volunteer sunflowers started coming up at the beginning of June. There are a couple little gardens back there, and last year the children’s librarian planted sunflowers, and apparently they spread.

The sunflowers must be very happy there, because they are HUGE. The tallest one is probably twice my height (which makes it difficult to get good pictures). I’ve never seen any flowers like this in person. They’ve been blooming over the last couple weeks, and they are beautiful.

If God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. – Matthew 6:30

Posted in Christianity

No More Curtain

A covenant with Yahweh.

A covenant fulfilled.

Come to Yahweh’s mercy seat. One person, once a year. Come with a multitude of sacrifices to cover your sins and those of the whole nation. Come with smoking incense to distort your view. But you can come!

Come boldly to the throne of grace.

The rest of the year, a thick, beautiful curtain will conceal the mercy seat. Most people will not even see the curtain, for only priests and Levites working in the tabernacle can enter it. Others must remain in the courtyard.

When Jesus died, the curtain tore in two from top to bottom.

Aaron will be the high priest, the one who can come to the mercy seat once a year. Priests will come only from his family. He and his sons are blessed with this magnificent privilege.

God has made us a holy priesthood.

Make beautiful, elaborate clothing for the high priest to wear, setting him apart even from his brothers.

Those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.

This is the way for God’s chosen people to come into his presence. He is not a god who makes his people guess at what he wants. No, he provides instructions for you to follow.
But you will not be faithful.
And the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins.

Jesus came and fulfilled it all, becoming a sacrifice. Because he never sinned but was perfectly righteous, his blood is sufficient. Those in him are now the priestly family, bringing the presence of God to the world around them. They are clothed with Jesus and his beautiful righteousness instead of their own insufficient, shoddy efforts. They can come to Yahweh’s mercy seat without reservations. No more animal sacrifices. No more curtain.

The covenant is good news.

The covenant fulfilled is better news.

 

Holiness on the head,
Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest:
Thus are true Aarons drest.

Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest:
Poor priest, thus am I drest.

Only another head
I have, another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In him I am well drest.

Christ is my only head,
My alone-only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me ev’n dead,
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in him new-drest.

So, holy in my head,
Perfect and light in my dear breast,
My doctrine tun’d by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come people; Aaron’s drest.

– “Aaron” by George Herbert

Posted in College, Life

Story Time!

During my first year of college, I was supposed to go to a fancy dinner the college had every semester. I did not have transportation of my own, and my ride fell through at the last minute. I contacted a few people I knew had cars, but none of them planned to attend.

One strange thing about college culture is that it’s socially acceptable to ask for rides from basically anybody. So I put on my fancy dress and went to the dorm’s common room in hopes that some dressed up acquaintance would walk by.

I spotted someone I had a class with and seized the opportunity to explain my problem and ask if she happened to have space for an extra person. She hospitably assured me that would be fine, and, relieved, I followed her to the parking lot.

Where I discovered

that one of her friends

had rented a limo.

A limo.

A LIMO.

I’d been fully prepared to be squished into a backseat between total strangers, and instead I found myself awkwardly mooching a ride off total strangers who had a limo.

This is not how I envisioned any potential limousine rides in my life, and so far I’ve yet to have another.

The total strangers were very nice. They did nothing to make me feel more awkward than I already did, and they refused my offer to contribute to the cost of the experience.

To my knowledge, I never spoke to any of them again.

Posted in Writings

The Queen of the Winds

Once Upon a Time, I wrote a fairy tale.

I’ve written another. This is… not my genre. I can write in the style easily, but it’s not my favorite. But I think the results are enjoyable for a fairy tale, so I will share.

This one is inspired by “Kotura, Lord of the Winds”, which I recently read in Through the Water Curtain, a collection of fairy tales selected by Cornelia Funke. And honestly, I wrote it out of annoyance because her commentary on the stories rubbed me the wrong way. I felt the need to prove a gender-swapped version of the story could have an ending similar to the original. So here it is. Many of the details are also changed, but that’s where I got the basic premise.

 

Many years ago in the far north, a man lived with his three sons. The oldest two were strong and brave, but the youngest was quick with his words.

One day a storm blew around their little house and all through the land. Snow fell and fell, and when it covered the front steps, the man said to his sons, “Something has angered the Queen of the Winds, so she has sent this storm to torment us. One of you must go and kill her.”

“But if the Queen of the Winds is killed, who will control the winds?” asked the youngest son.

“I will go, Father,” said the eldest son, paying his brother no heed, “if you can tell me the way.”

So his father told him, “You must travel north until you come to the top of the third hill. There you will find stairs leading through the air to her home. Do not speak to her!”

So the eldest son sharpened his sword and buckled on his snowshoes and walked into the storm. At the top of the third hill, he left his snowshoes to more easily climb the stairs. They led up and up, bringing him to an icy palace in the clouds.

The door was open, and he stepped inside. The Queen of the Winds, tall and stately, stood as though waiting for him. “Why do you come here, little hero?” she asked.

The eldest son did not speak but drew his sword. The Queen of the Winds merely laughed and waved her hand. A gust of wind burst through the open door, scooping up the eldest son and dumping him into the air. He fell and fell, landing with a crash beside his snowshoes, dead.

The storm continued on, and when the snow reached the windowsills of the little house, the father sighed and said, “The Queen of the Winds has defeated my son.” He turned to his second child. “You must save us now.”

“I will go, Father,” the boy agreed.

“Remember,” said the father, “Do not speak to her!”

So the second son strung his bow and buckled on his snowshoes and walked into the storm. At the top of the third hill, he left his snowshoes to climb the stairs.

The door to the icy palace again stood open, and inside the Queen of the Winds waited. “Why do you come here, little hero?” she asked.

The second son did not speak but shot his bow. But with a wave of the Queen of the Winds’ hand, a gust snatched both arrow and boy, dropping them into the air. He too landed dead beside his snowshoes, and the snow began to drift over his body.

The storm continued on, and when the snow reached the eaves of the little house, the father sighed and said, “The Queen of the Winds has defeated my son.” He turned to his youngest child. “You are now our only hope, though I do no see what good you can do.”

“I will try my luck anyway,” said the youngest son.

“Remember,” said his father, do not speak to her!”

The youngest son packed provisions, a sack of good bread and homemade jam, and a flask of mulled cider, tucked into his shirt to keep its warmth. Then he bucked on his snowshoes and walked into the storm.

At the staircase, he tucked his snowshoes under his arm and trudged up and up. He did not enter the open door right away, but stood to the side and looked in. “Hello?”

As she had before, the Queen of the Winds stood waiting. “Why do you come here, little hero?” she asked.

The youngest son stepped through the door and closed it behind him. “I’ve come to ask you to stop the storm before it buries us all alive.”

“Why should I care if it does?”

“I do not know,” he said. “I am here to find out.” Walking farther into the room, he took a seat at a table near a burning fireplace. The Queen of the Winds made no move to stop him, so he opened his bag and pulled out his flask. “I brought food to share.”

“I do not want your food.”

“Not even this jam? I made it myself.” The Queen of the Winds did not respond, but she watched as he spread jam on a hunk of bread. After chewing a few bites, the youngest son asked, “How long have you lived here?”

“Many times the span of your life, little hero.”

“Do you live alone?”

“I know of none who match my power, and I do not need the company of small mortals like you.”

“You must be lonesome then.”

“Of course not.”

“Then why are you speaking to me? I know you could kill me whenever you wish, as you did my brothers.”

The Queen of the Winds said nothing.

The youngest son stood and carefully held out a piece of bread with jam. “Are you sure you don’t want some? It’s quite good.”

Slowly the Queen of the Winds took the bread.

In the little house where the father was alone, he heard the wind go slack, and he rejoiced that his son had slain the evil queen. But when the snow had melted back down to the doorstep and his son had not returned, the man buckled on his snowshoes and set out to search. He climbed the three hills and the stairway and knocked at the closed door of the icy palace.

You can imagine his dismay when the Queen of the Winds opened the door. But the youngest son called out from inside, “Welcome, Father! I’m afraid I did not listen to you, and I talked to her. But it all worked out, because she agreed to stop the storm, and I agreed to marry her.”

It did all work out. Most days, the Queen of the Winds and the youngest son made each other very happy. All through the land, the people enjoyed better weather than they’d seen in centuries. Only the father remained unhappy with the arrangement, never pleased with his son’s choice of wife, but you try getting along with a daughter-in-law you sent your children to kill and see if you do any better.