Lone Survivor

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Let’s get this out of the way first.  Deanna, you can’t see this movie, though I wish you could.  Second, prepare to put on your Christian-colored glasses. Ready?  Good.

I think war movies are important.  I think they help us civilians connect with the men and women who are fighting and serving.  I think they help civilians realize the cost to our soldiers in a way a dry history book never can.  Don’t get me wrong, you should read about the great sweeps of history.  The changes in power, the wars won and lost, the how and the why behind those victories, but you don’t want to lose the human element.  You don’t want to forget that while one country is winning a war and the other is losing, someone’s son, brother, father, husband, nephew, grandson is out there bleeding and dying.

More importantly, I think war movies have great value in a spiritual sense.  We are in a spiritual battle.  We are called to spiritual warfare.  Do you know what that means?  Do you have any sense of what war takes?  Do you understand the training and dedication needed to fight a war?  Paul and the other apostles didn’t pick their language at random.  The Holy Spirit inspired them.  He chose the language of war to describe our fight against sin, both inside us and around us.  Watching war movies and reading warrior stories helps flesh out that illustration. It helps you understand the bond we are to have in our local churches.  We are soldiers, brothers and sisters, together.  We should act like it.  Don’t let yourself be removed from war and warriors in some vain attempt at earthly peace that will never happen.  See the illustration, and be strengthened by it.

There are a few movies I have found helpful in fleshing out some of the emotional sides of history, and expanding my understanding of spiritual warfare….or, maybe these are just my favorites:

Band of Brothers – This series follows Easy Company, who suffered devastating losses during WW2 to their ranks, from basic training to the end of the war.  It gives you a sense of the way war broke these men and the bond between soldiers. I actually recommend you watch the series before reading the book.

Saving Private Ryan – This was the first war movie I saw in the theater.  I watched it the night before my brother shipped out.  After seeing that movie, I begged him not to go, but he’d already signed the dotted line.  I’m glad he didn’t listen to me as an 18-year-old.

We were Soldiers – based on the book with only a few historical inaccuracies, this film features one of our greatest American heroes at his finest, Hal Moore.  It shows his dedication to his troops and his skill in battle.  This movie doesn’t get into the Vietnam argument – should we be there or not – but focuses the viewers’ attention on the families left behind as the boys fight and die.  It shows Moore’s dedication to bring his boys home, dead or alive.  I highly suggest reading the book as well as watching the movie.

Black Hawk Down – Vietnam was over by the time I was born.  Obviously, I heard about it, it was still being widely discussed and all those broken men were coming home, but it wasn’t my war.  The fight in Somalia was the war of boys a few years older than me.  I didn’t really learn about this war until a few years after it happened.  This movie shows how quickly things breakdown on the battlefield.  I watched it while my brother-in-law was in Marine basic and my brother was still deployed.  I prayed a little more faithfully for them after watching this film.  Again, I highly suggest reading the book as well as watching the movie.

Lone Survivor – The movie for my war.  I watched those towers fall on 9/11.  I watched President Bush declare war on terrorism.  I listened and prayed as my fiancé, now husband, seriously considered joining up, and my brother, now home, expressed frustration at being home.  This was a war I saw.  But I saw much of it through the eyes of the media, and through the eyes of a happy girl busy planning her wedding and getting ready to run her first business.  I also wasn’t into military history just yet.  That came a few years later.  So, I watched this war from the sidelines, never really affected by it, other than to be proud of our troops.

About a week ago, I went on a father/daughter date with my Dad to see Lone Survivor.  Now, you may recall that I’ve already read the book by the same title, and loved it.  I followed all the news I could get my hands on about the movie for the last few months, and familiarized myself with Marcus Luttrell’s story.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The movie is gritty, as accurate as it can be for a movie, moving, well filmed, well acted, and even has Marcus as a background SEAL, which I almost yelled out in a movie theater, but instead just whispered to my Dad.

When you watch a war movie after reading the book, it’s like getting all the highlights of how someone you know died or was broken.  The book gives you insight into the heart and mind of the soldiers it’s about, and then the movie gives you the visuals.  It’s a rough way to learn about war, but I find it works well for me.  The men involved and the events stick in my brain when I’ve both read the book and watched the movie.  My Mom(in-law) asked me if I cried when I saw Lone Survivor.  I told her yes, but not through the whole film, just the beginning, middle, and end.  I mean the thing opens up with a corkboard covered with pictures of Murphy, Axe, Danny, and Marcus.  The real guys, not the actors.  The real heroes.  How could I not cry?

Lone Survivor wasn’t filmed like an action flick.  There were very few slow motion scenes, massive explosions, or acts of ridiculous physical gymnastics.  What it did show was how difficult it is to hold things together once the bullets start flying, how important the bond between our SEALS is, how well trained they are, and how heroic this team was.  The movie is violent, but I don’t think it’s indulgent.  It wasn’t violent just to be violent.   It was violent to help the viewer see and know what these boys suffered.

I think just about everyone needs to see this film, or read the book, to know and understand modern warfare.  It’s gonna make you mad.  It’s gonna make you proud of some Texans.  It’s gonna make you proud of our SEALS.  It’s gonna help you understand the cost of war.  They lived it.  They died in the fight.  These are the real American Heroes.  Not actors, not entertainers, not athletes.  Soldiers.  These soldiers.  Murphy, Luttrell, Axe, and Danny are the Heroes of my generation and my war.  Don’t forget them.

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“Never out of the Fight”

For two hours, I sat tensely in a movie theater unsure of the emotional impact of seeing four men I’ve read a lot about actually fight for their lives.  I’ve read about their parents, their friends, their wives and fiancés.  I’ve read the accounts of their families waiting to find out if they were alive or dead.  I’ve read about the funerals given for these men.  I’ve read Marcus Luttrell’s own account of being on Murphy’s Ridge while his brothers died around him.  I was tense and armed with lots of tissues.  But I thought it was important to see this film.  I thought it was important to remember them.  I’m thankful for how many people are aware of them now.  To be honest, I might have been a little more excited about this film, than the Hobbit.  Why?  This story is real.  These are real, earthly, flesh and blood, American Heroes.

What did I take away from it?  Go see it!  I can’t wait to see it again.  I respect our military more than ever, and wish our media did the same.  If they did, we might not have lost those men that day.  But, deeper than that, richer than that, more long-term, more enduring, I dovetailed Lone Survivor with the message preached the Sunday before:  ” A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)  The church is commanded to love the members of its local congregation.  Love the person hardest for you to love in your church family.  If you want an earthly, visual example of loving one another, go see this movie.  Be inspired to get back in the fight, to stand, back to back, shoulder to shoulder with your fellow soldiers, your fellow church members, and fight against sin and the evil one.  We have a greater war to fight, the only good war.  We have a greater captain to follow, the greatest Captain.  We can’t see this war.  We can’t see the wounds, battle scars, and bullet holes in one another as we sit in our pews and live our lives, but they’re there.  We’re never out of the fight.  Love your brothers and sisters sitting next to you on Sunday morning.  They’re your family.  They’re your brothers in this war.

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Sunday Thoughts: Happiness and the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Movement

Yes, cause you are the center of the universe and get to decide who is worthy and unworthy.

Yes, cause you are the center of the universe and get to decide who is worthy and unworthy.

I know I promised to start the series on things I learned from managing our boutiques that have helped me as a housewife, but two things have been irritating me so I’m going to write about them first.

Sometimes a rage builds inside me, wanting out.  Maybe it’s my Irish roots turning me into a flaming redhead with anger management issues, but whatever the reasons, it happens.  In my line of sight today are two things: one, our modern-day concepts of personal happiness, and two the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity movement.

So, first things first.  You’ve all seen the quotes on Pinterest, on cards, plaques and on your Facebook feed proclaiming your happiness to be of chief importance, right?  They say that true love accepts you for who you are, no one should ever try to change you, and that if the world doesn’t accept you as you are, you have the right to reject and ignore them.

How narcissistic and self-focused could we possibly be?  If I followed any of this advice, I would be divorced, fat, lazy, lonely, alone, and angry at the world. (I’m not saying being fat is a sin, I’m saying I would be a glutton cause I like food.)  I would push most, if not all, of you out of my life starting with my husband and going on from there.  When did we decide being happy was the chief end of man?  And why don’t we see the inherit dangers that belief brings.  With that line of thinking, we would see the murdering of innocents because they get in the way, a high divorce rate, and suicide….oh wait.  We see all that.  This belief system would also incapacitate a society from convicting murderers of all stripes from bullies, to serial killers and terrorist….oh wait, we see that too.

When I think my goal in life is to be happy and that all stress should be eliminated, then I am my own god, my own authority, and you have no right to say otherwise.  Could we embrace a more unchristian attitude?  Now, it is true that I can’t change my husband….in the grand scheme of things, and he can’t change me.  But, we should be helping each other in the process of sanctification.  If my happiness and lack of stress are the most important thing, then I need him out of my life.  I mean the guy wants me to decide what’s for dinner.  He works all day and expects me to keep the house clean, our finances done, and food on the table.  I don’t like doing finances, cleaning the house, or deciding what to cook.  I’d rather sit on the couch and write fantasy stories.  Who does he think he is?  Well, I think he thinks he’s responsible for leading our home, and the man earning the paycheck while I work from home, which is exactly what I’ve been telling him for years that I wanted to do.  If he wanted to do what made him happy, he would sit at home playing video games all day and eating junk food.  If we both did what made us happy, we would both be slobs living on welfare doing nothing.

See the problem is that our society has lost a critical component of truth – total depravity.  Human beings are not naturally good, kind, hard-working, honestly, loyal things.  Occasionally, God shows us some common grace and we are all those things.  But, left to ourselves, left to pursue our own happiness, we would all stop working, engaging, and growing.  We would, instead, sit around selfishly ignoring others, while the world crumbled around us.

Because Stress is the worst Sin you can have in your life.

Because Stress is the worst Sin you can have in your life.

The idea that you should love me for who I am is another lie.  Have you looked in the mirror recently?  I’m so glad my husband loves me despite who I am.  I’m glad God loves me because of Christ.  I’m not a nice person, nor a pretty one.  I can only be those things by the grace of God.  I’m thankful He puts people in my life to help me who aren’t worried about me being happy, but instead being holy.  Pursuing holiness is hard work and stressful.  It requires you to put yourself in a state of iron sharpening iron.  You have to hang out with people who just don’t think highly enough about you.  You have to hang out with people who aren’t as cool as you.  The horror.  (You should read this with your sarcasm voice.)

We, as Christians, need to stop pinning, reposting, and decorating with lies.  We need to see them for what they are – the Devil’s whispers.  We need to remember that nowhere in the Bible does God say our happiness is our chief end, that you need to get rid of stress, and you should be accepted for all you are.  What the Bible does say is that we should be poor in spirit, mourn over our sin, be meek of heart, and put on the fruit of the Spirit.  We are to go to war against sin.  War.  If you’ve forgotten how bloody war is, go watch Lone Survivor.

And, the Health, Wealth and Prosperity movement only adds to this.  Could there possibly be more of a First World Problem than not being healthy, wealthy, and prosperous enough?  Only in a wealthy country like America could such a religion spring out of the Bible.
“God is not afraid of pain.  He does not try to keep us from it.  He does not avoid it for Himself.”  – The Language of Sparrows

So...who is defining blessings and what gave you the right to just hand them out without any qualification?

So…who is defining blessings and what gave you the right to just hand them out without any qualification?

If you can read the Bible and deduce that you are supposed to be wealthy here on earth, you have skipped some critical passages.  If that was true, why did Christ die?  But not just die, why wasn’t he wealthy, healthy, and prosperous while he was here?  Did he not have enough faith?  What part of laying your treasure in heaven do you not understand?  What part of the world hating you do you not get?  The Bible is not speaking of physical riches but Spiritual ones.  We aren’t called to live healthy wealthy lives, but quiet ones in the pursuit of holiness.  God is not in the business of making you happy.  He is in the business of making you holy.

“Life is pain, Highness.  And anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”  – The Princess Bride

Do you think Pastor Saeed Abedini is clinging to promises of happiness here on earth while he suffers, and is tortured in an Iranian Prison?  No.  Those concepts won’t sustain you when you are suffering, being tortured, hurting, angry, or enduring trials.  You must cling to the hope that just as Christ suffered, you will suffer, and just as He is glorified, you will be glorified too.  You must know and understand that the sufferings of this life are nothing compared to heaven, to seeing Christ.  You must know that God is in control and is not the cosmic Santa Claus, but the one who is redeeming, cleansing, and making holy a people unto Himself.

Don’t let yourself get sucked into the idea that all suffering is to be avoided.  Keep your eyes on your treasures in heaven, on Christ.  Don’t look for a better church, better friends, and a better life.  Look for the fruit of the Spirit, a way to serve, and battle your own sin.  This is the life of a believer.  Not happiness.  Not peace.  Not distressing.  Fighting.  Failing.  Looking to grace and the hope of eternal life motivated by the unfathomable richness of the love of God seen in Christ….and Christ died.  Don’t lose that.  Christ died.  Do you want to be like Christ?  Remember he died in a point of submission.  How much does that fly in the face of our culture?

You are never out of the fight.  Don’t let the world around you define who you are!  Look to the Scripture.  Look to Christ.  Submit your heart and mind to the teachings of the Scripture and get busy serving your local church.

Okay….I’m getting off my soapbox and getting busy managing my home.

Quote of the Weekend

“If I get a dose of writing in my day, then I can actually be present for the life I am living in the never-never land of non-writing writer, that twilight place where you always ‘should’ be somewhere else –writing— so that you can never enjoy where you actually are.”

Thanks for this beautiful quote Deanna!  This is why I start every day with writing.  I have to get it out of the way to function!

A Texas Cousins Adventure: The Incident of the Roach on Sunday Morning

Texas Cousins (Picture stolen from Liz)

Texas Cousins
(Picture stolen from Liz)

The movement caught Joshua’s eye.  A small – well, not so small, it was after all a Texas Water-bug, or roach – skittered from the dark leg of one pew further up the row, across the aisle, and up the dark leg of the next pew.  His extra long antennas fluttered this way and that testing the air, while his legs clicked and clattered as he raced for the safety of the pew….Bruce’s pew.

Joshua watched it run right up the side of the pew and over Bruce’s fingers.  Bruce jumped and turned to his Mommy who hushed him while she rocked the new baby.  Unconcerned, Bruce watched the roach run back down his armrest to the floor.  Jules, sitting in the pew in front of Joshua, noticed the boys were no long listening to the sermon.  She pulled her feet up off the floor as the roach left the safety of Bruce’s pew and raced back to her side of the aisle.  She craned her neck to see which row of pews it hid in now.  Ellie – Julie’s little sister – pressed her plump baby hands over her mouth suppressing a giggle she knew would get her a reproachful glance from her mother.

With the roach no longer visible, Joshua nudged his big sister Constance and whispered in her ear, “There’s a roach up there.”

Sure enough, four pews ahead of them, their Aunt Abby and Uncle Price both twitched.  Aunt Abby took a death like grip on Uncle Price’s shoulder.  Then, the people behind them started.

It was coming closer….

Imogene stood up in her seat and turned around to watch the roach skitter towards Joshua.  Her Mommy picked her up and turned her back around to face the front of the sanctuary.

Only Jules’ pew remained between Joshua and the roach.

Constance met Joshua’s eye.  This needed to end.  They both raised their feet to stomp.  Julie hissed, and Ellie giggled.

Two long antennas rushed into view.

NOW!

Their feet came down right on top of the roach.

Squish!

Crunch!

“Shhhhh,” Daddy said.  “Sit still.”

Sitting very still, the smashed roach under their Sunday shoes, they waited until Daddy looked back at the front of the sanctuary.  Extra, extra quietly they lifted their feet and grinned.

They had flattened the roach.

Bruce glanced back at Joshua giving him a thumbs-up.  Uncle Price gave them a wink.  All was quiet in the pews.

The End.

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Joshua, Jules, Ellie, Constance, and Bruce.
(From Left to Right)

Making Ever Paragraph Count, Part 2

Writing Lesson

Writing Lesson

Last time we introduced the idea of Making Every Word Count.  Now let’s get more specific.

Make every paragraph count.  Make every scene and description count.  Ask yourself, as you edit, if this event is important.  What am I learning about the situation and the characters?  Every word counts.  Your book is your baby.  Your reader wants to enjoy it, but in the end, it’s another book on their shelf.  Even if they adore it, they can’t spend their life studying it.  Appreciate and respect this fact by making every paragraph count.

What does this look like for the writer?  Emotion.

Sometimes rough drafts can be quiet dry.  They have all the plot points and all the action but little of the emotion.  (Sometimes they’re the other way around: all emotion and no plot. But that’s a different problem.)  This is especially true of new or young writers.  Never fear.  It’s all part of the process.  What you have to do, after you’ve written those two great words, THE END, is go back and add in the emotion.  You have to go back and make every paragraph, every word count.

There are a two key places I regularly see this problem as an Alpha Reader, and as I edit my own work.

Treebeard by Alan Lee

Treebeard by Alan Lee

Description:  You know the paragraphs where you spend several lines and a few hundred words talking about clouds, trees, grass, sand, snow, and wind?  Or maybe you invested some words in the description of a beautiful car, a surprisingly fast motorcycle, or the long limbs of a racehorse.  Descriptions shouldn’t be dry.  They are the playground of the writer and the soul of the story.  Descriptions are mood setters.  Wait!  What’s that?  They effect emotion?  Yes!  Descriptions pull the reader away from their world and into yours, be it the same one they inhabit or a fantastical one.  Adjectives and adverbs clue the reader in on who to love, who to hate, when to be nervous or at peace, to slow down or quicken their reading pace.  If you write an emotionless description, go back and look at your word choice.

Have you read Lord of the Rings?  If you haven’t, I highly suggest it.  If you have, think back and remember how you felt when the Hobbits entered the Old Forest.  Did you feel its twisted nature?  What about the feelings you experienced in Fangorn Forest, the Misty Marshes, Lothlorian, Rohan, or the Shire?  These places take on a life of their own because Tolkien harnessed the power of descriptions, and used them to set the emotional stages of the story.  They feel alive, almost separate from the people who live in them.  Emotion in descriptions is a powerful tool in your writing smithy.

How do you do this?  Easy.  Ask yourself how your character feels as they observe the world around them, or what you want your reader to feel as they look in on the world you’ve created.  Are the clouds overhead ominous or uplifting?  Is the car a deathtrap or a thing of beauty?  Does the dog’s hair stand on end while its lips curl back, or are his ears perked and his tail wagging?

Legolas and Gimli by John Howe

Legolas and Gimli by John Howe

Plot:  You know the little in-between plot points were your character cleans the house, goes grocery shopping, travels from point A to point B, and does their laundry?  We all know they have to do these things.  Even if you’re writing a futuristic story, there’s always laundry to do.  Maybe you cover a few non-important days in their life by listing out all the mundane things that they did.  Or maybe you tell us how their friends were late to see a movie, or their car needed to a wash.  These scenes should be filled with emotion or cut.  Noting is more annoying to a read than a pointless list of events….especially if it looks a lot like their own To Do list.

If your character is doing laundry, how do they feel?  Happy, content, defeated, frustrated?  Maybe the laundry time is just an excuse for the character to think, giving us needed insight into their mind.  Don’t tell me they did the laundry, give me a point for the laundry that drives the story forward.  If you need to tell your reader several days had passed were nothing happened, then just tell them.  Don’t give them a list of all the mundane things done.

Back to Lord of the Rings, no one thinks that Aragon didn’t shower and wash his clothes ever.  We all know he did at one point in time or another, but Tolkien never tells us this.  Why?  Well, it wouldn’t fit in the story.  It wouldn’t drive the story forward.  It would bog us down.  He does tell us about making campfires and eating.  Now eating is pretty normal, but Tolkien uses food and pipes to show us the comfort of home, or the lack of comfort.  The lack of pipeweed on the journey to Mordor is used to show us how out of their element the Hobbits are, and how far from civilization they are.  Tolkien doesn’t give us a list of Sam’s backpack contents.  He uses those contents to drive the story forward or to help us look back at crucial moments.

How do you combat useless plot points, or lists?  Easy!  Ask yourself if the reader is learning anything about the character based upon what is going on.  Is this scene driving the plot forward?  If yes, than draw out the emotion of the scene.  Develop it.  If no, cut it!  If you aren’t sure, see if it can be used.  Ask yourself how your character feels as things slow down a bit and work that angle of the story.  Make sure there’s a point.

Waste nothing.  Every moment, breath, scene, paragraph, and word counts.  They’re all important.  Look for clues.  The longer you write, the more books or articles you get under your belt, the more familiar with your own strengths and weaknesses you will become.  You will find words that clue you in that a scene needs to be developed.  It becomes your personal short hand.  When the words are flowing let them flow.  Then go back and add, develop, and cut, as you need.

And for goodness sake, if you haven’t read Lord of the Rings, go do it!

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

unbroken-m_1802886f“When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him.” – Laura Hillenbrand

Some books stick with you.  They are taskmasters while you read them, constantly interrupting your thoughts, your day, demanding you set aside everything you must and want to do to read them.  They are dangerous books, not because of their content, but because they become part of your makeup.  They weave their story, borne up on words, into your psyche.  They become a part of you.  If someone wants to know the real you, they must at some point understand these books.

Every story haunts us one way or the other.  Some are gentle hauntings – a general sense of warmth, a remembered character, a soft smile when they’re mentioned – like Christopher Robin, or Bilbo.  Other books rip us apart with their hauntings – a cold sense of horror, characters we wish to forget, a shudder when they’re mentioned – like Manhunter by John Douglas, or Whispers by Dean Koontz.  Some bind us to those around us with their hauntings – a laugh knowing we all know, fans who name their kids after characters, an easy subject to discuss with strangers when they’re mentioned – like Harry Potter.

Taskmaster books go deeper.  They whisper to you when you pass them on the shelf.  They line your mind with both joy and sorrow.  With them comes enlightenment, horror, peace, the world seen through a new light.  These books have lines that become your lines.  These stories become your stories, the ones you take out and share in a hurried whisper with a close friend.  They’re above fan-bases.  Sometimes, often, they’re above becoming movies, though it’s attempted, but something’s lost in the translation between word and film.  These books haunt their readers in all the ways other books attempt to.  They are gentle, ripping, and binding.  These are the kind of books every author wants to pen.

Over the last few years, I’ve come across a small handful of these books out of the hundreds I’ve read:

  • Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  • L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
  • With the Old Breed by EB Sledge
  • The Killing Zone by Frederick Downs Jr.

They demanded to be read over everything else going on in my life.  They stuck with me, stuck in the back of my heart and mind weaving their stories into mine.  Lord of the Rings and Watership Down did the same thing when I first read them.

I came across a new one the other day.  It might prove to be only the gentle haunting, not the ripping and binding ones as well.  I’m not sure yet.  Right now, it feels like one of these great books.  It’s Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.  This is the story of a mischievous troublemaker, Louis Zamperini, whose older brother encouraged him to take up running to keep him in school and to channel his energy.  He became an Olympic Athlete.  Then WW2 started.  Zamperini’s story takes him literally out of the frying pan and into the fire.  After his plane goes down over the Pacific, he spends over 40 days at sea in a life raft, only to be ‘rescued’ by the Japanese.  Now his real trials began.  He spends several years in POW camps facing starvation and torture.  His family and friends don’t know if he’s alive or dead.  Zamperini remains unbroken through all these trials until he comes home.  Nightmares haunt him.  He drinks.  He destroys his family.  Life seems without hope.  But God.  And that’s all I’m gonna say.  You’re just going to have to read the book!

Unbroken is not a happy story, but it is a joyful story.  It reminded me of The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (another haunting, stick-in-your-head story).  Not a happy story, but a rich story full of joy.

I think this story will stick with me because it is a wonderful picture of God’s grace in man’s darkest hour.  I think it will haunt me because I now know how many soldiers died just trying to learn to fly planes, and how harsh life was as a Japanese POW, but even there Christ had his children.  It will inspire me because even in the darkest of these moments, our soldiers and the allied soldiers still fought the war in their own small ways.  It will remain a part of me because so many of these men came home broken, but so many of them came home strong.  It will become part of me because it was such a vivid picture of God pursuing a sinner to the very bitterest end, through shark-infested waters, sadistic prison wardens, and broken souls.  God never let Louis be, not once.

Historically, this book is wonderful just because of the breadth of its scope.  The details are rich, well researched, and vivid.  Laura Hillenbrand is a masterful writer.  I have struggled with how to rate it.  It is fairly clean, but the subject matter is very rough just by its nature.  It would be a great book to have your children read when they study WW2, but I would probably regulate it to High School.  It has a few moments of “adult content” which are minor but still there, and graphic descriptions of the horrors faced by our soldiers.

Unbroken.  When I started this book I had no idea the journey it would take me on.  I had no idea how much I would come to love this man, Louis Zamperini.  I had no idea how vivid the grace of God would be.  Someday, I believe I will meet Mr. Zamperini.  Not here….but in heaven at the feet of Christ.  Maybe I’ll get to tell him how much he encouraged me, at which point I’m sure he’ll say it wasn’t him, but Christ and Christ alone.

All that is Gold: So Heavenly minded you’re no Earthly Good

All that is gold does not glitter

“All that is gold does not glitter….”

This cliché phrase gets bandied about all the time.  Everyone’s familiar with it.  I’ve heard many a lesson, rabbit trail, and sermon on how it’s impossible to be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.  I fully agree with my pastors, that it is impossible.  But, it’s taken me some time to understand what this means from a worldly perspective, why people use it, and how I’ve listened to its lies over the years.

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Last year, my husband and I sold our relatively successful small business.  My husband ultimately left this choice to me.  I was the face of the business.  I ran the front end of our boutiques, while he did all the bookwork, systematization, and big picture things.  In many ways, he loved our business far more than I did, but when he asked me if I wanted to sell it, I hesitated.  Why?  Significance.  I had wrapped most of my personal identity around being a business owner.  For ten years, I basked in the praise lavished on me by my community for my wisdom, management skills, and fashion knowledge.  I had successful older women who wanted to work for me.  I had young women who wanted to learn from me.  I had customers who wanted to talk to me every day.  On big sale days, I had lines outside my boutique doors.  I was, in a small way, significant.  When I thought through selling our business, I feared losing that significance.  Who would I be without it?  I would be Mrs. Price Jones.  That’s who I would be.

Oh, the subtle lies of the world, how they twist and turn and steal inside us.  I didn’t find it very significant to be Mrs. Price Jones.  I didn’t find being a housewife and homemaker very exciting….and I feared the remarks I would face when I told my customers that I wanted to sell our business to b

e a housewife and have more time to serve our church.  They would say I was being so heavenly minded I was no earthly good.

There is another side to this story because a woman’s heart and mind is never simple, but always complex.  I always wanted to be a homemaker, since I was a little, little girl.  I was not happy owning the stores.  I felt like they took my best from me and left me with little to give my church, husband, and family.  My husband and I had come to the realization that the sparkle of worldly success was nothing more than that – a cheap sparkle in a $5 ring.  We wanted to use our time and talent to lay up our treasures in heaven.  We wanted to stop saying no to our church family and our physical family and start saying yes.  We wanted to serve them.  We wanted to be so heavenly minded we were no earthly good.

Both of these things were going on in my heart at the same time.  Keeping the store meant a small amount of worldly significance.  Selling the story meant a new life of service to our church that nobody but our church would appreciate.  It meant looking other women in the face and telling them I was a stay at home wife.  Do you know how despised that profession is in our society?  Women look at you like you must sit around all day doing nothing but getting fat and being lazy.  It’s so hard not to qualify the choice we’ve made with a list of all my projects, as if to justify myself.

I think this is where the cliché of being so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good initiated.  Christians chose to give up what the world valued to do things the world didn’t value.  For me, it was when I stopped wanting to be an elf, and saw the beauty and magic of being a hobbit, of living a quiet life.  Age does this to you.  You don’t want to live in this earth forever.  I had to learn, and keep learning to trust my significance to my heavenly Father, not to the works of my hands.

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This is an ongoing process.  The Lord has blessed my husband and my efforts to serve our church and our families.  He has shown us the tarnished, worthless sparkle of a world in a pre-ash state.  But we are such sight bound beings, and sometimes that sparkle looks so promising.  So the Lord keeps showing the lie to us.  Recently, He has done this for me by helping me see that I could use my writing ability to edify and help other believers.  I had to give up another small bit of worldly significance.  Not something wrong, but something good for something better, and something only faith can see as significant, not sight.

This has led me to start becoming someone I previously disliked.  Even as a Christian, I would find other Christians who I felt were so heavenly, so holy, they were….well just boring, kinda strange, and so insignificant.  They read all this holy stuff and never Steven King.  They listened to all this Christian music and never Florence and the Machine, or Metallica.  They weren’t up on the latest geeky TV show, or any TV show, geeky or not.  I mean, what was wrong with these people.  They were so heavenly minded they were no earthly fun.

And now here I am.  I would rather be at church, my church, with my church family than anywhere else in the world.  I enjoy old hymns more than I enjoy pop songs.  I have a growing stack of religious books on my desk that I’m actually reading, not just thinking I should probably read them.  I have bible verses on my walls instead of inspirational quotes….though there is still a fair amount of Tolkien mixed in.  Why?  Why this change?  Why this pulling away from the world?  Because the older I get, the more aware I am of my own sin and God’s grace.  I’m not a good person.  I’m a wretched sinner.  I need God.  Not as an opium, I need Him as a savior.  I need Him as my savior.  I am lost without Him.  I have no hope without Him.  The older I get, the more He gently leads me away from this life and towards the one to come.  I am becoming, to the world, of no value.  I live a quiet life, serve my church, and Lord Willing, write moralistic stories for children.  My life is not changing the world.  My talents aren’t being used to eradicate poverty, stop war, or starvation.  My talents are set at the scarred feet of Christ and He is using them in a small Texas church.  And my significance?  I find it all in Him and not in me.  Someday better than others, but He is longsuffering.  He has sealed me and will not give me up even as He helps me give up this world.

Quote of the Weekend

Flannery O’Connor on Discipline:

“I’m a full-time believer in writing habits…You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away…Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.”

(Thanks Dad, for this great quote.  It’s always nice to know that you share a similar writing habit with other authors who are still being read!)

Making Every Paragraph Count, Part 1

Writing Lesson

Writing Lesson

It’s amazing to me what I learn when I’m trying to teach others.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a Mom – you must feel constantly under the knife, excited, and exasperated.  That’s how I feel when I’m working on my writing classes’ work.  Every time I tell them to fix something, I need to go fix it in my own work.  It’s exciting to see them learning and growing, even if it’s just little by little.   Sometimes I feel like I have to find a new way to say the same thing I say every class hoping this time it gets through to them.

One of the things I’ve been faced with recently is the idea of making every paragraph count.  Every. Single. One.

This means you have to stop and really look at your work.  Study it.  Mock it.  Look for errors in logic, rules you’re world functions by, themes, characters, and setting.  Stop seeing it through the lens of your love for your own art, and look at it through the eyes of a critic.  (Boldly go where no one wants to go! – you may use your Kirk or Picard voice here.)

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I ran into a scene in one of my student’s stories where two friends met to talk about a wedding over coffee.  Sam shows up and there’s a paragraph about her sitting by a window waiting because her friend Maiden is late.  Neither the setting nor the late arrival of Maiden are used in the story as it goes along.  Neither are important.  They set no mood, they spark no conversation, they enhance the story in no way, shape, or form.

I wrote – yes, in nasty red ink – ‘Who Cares?’ in the margin of my student’s paper.  A little harsh?  Probably.  But I need her to sit up and think about what she’s writing.  Don’t waste your reader’s time if you want to keep them as a reader.  Writing may be your life, but to them you’re one of millions of forms of entertainment and enlightenment.  Humbly respect that.  If it’s important that Maiden was late, it should come up either subconsciously, in Sam’s inner-monologue, or directly in the conversation.  If the window is important, even just for mood, then keep it and develop it.  If it doesn’t even set the mood, cut it.  Tell me what Sam feels while she looks out the window waiting on her friend.  If you don’t, you run the risk of an emotionless character who bores your reader to death.

So, how do you address this issue?  First, get out that awful red pen.  Just do it.  Next, sit down with your work in a quiet place and don’t read it.  Resist the temptation to get sucked into your own story.  (Don’t worry, we all do it.)  What you need to do is see, not read.  You need to take each paragraph and see if it’s important.  Does it add flavor, emotion, and character roundness to the story? Does it drive the story forward?  Yes?  Good.  Keep it.  If the answer is No, then you need to either edit it or cut it out.  Either make it important, or get rid of it.

Always remember that these things don’t matter in the first rough draft.  The first rough draft is like a detailed outline.  You just write as the words flow out of you.  Only after the rough draft is done do you go back and start marking it up.  Sometimes these useless paragraphs can actually be road markers and flags to remind you that greater development is possible if you just flesh out the scene.  Other times, they are useless and need to go.  If you’re really unsure, get some Alpha Readers to help you!

This may seem really elemental to writing – writing 101.  But, remember, the basics are the basics for a reason and we all need to be reminded of them.  Go and SEE your story!

B Meme

Look for the next Writing Lesson where I will go into more detail about description and plot issues specifically!