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Friday, December 31, 2010

Untamed Heart Versus Kill the Pimp: My Journey to the Big Screen Part 2

As I journey on the road to the big screen, knowledge and persistence will be my driving force. A writer can never stop reading, researching, learning, submitting (even when your rejection to acceptance ratio is 25 to 1 or 250 to 1), and most of all writing.

Today I'm going to discuss researching because that's the really fun part. How do you research screenplay writing? You watch movies. Preferably in the genre you plan to write. It's nice if you have the screenplay to follow, but I'm finding, even at this beginner stage, I'm able to interpret in each movie many of the concepts I'm learning, without the screenplay in hand. And I'm picking up on concepts that I haven't yet learned but I suspect exist.

Back to genre. Currently my screenwriting partner and I are planning a romantic drama/comedy screenplay, and I've been watching movies in those genres. It's fascinating what you learn when watching a movie through a writer's focus lens instead of just for enjoyment.

I do not know if screenplay writing, like fiction prose writing, has character-driven versus plot-driven concepts, but there appears to be a distinct difference in the movies I've watched. And I'm finding that my experience in prose writing can only enhance my potential at screenplay writing.

Here's the difference. Character-driven stories will provide the viewer/reader with a deeper connection to a character. This is, for example, the untamed heart sways the untouchable heart and invokes a major transformation. It's also Frankie and Johnny (one of my new favorite movies) and Beautiful Girls.

Plot-driven stories will provide the viewer/reader with a deeper connection to some goal. This ending goal can still be love and not be character-driven. The characters can be so driven toward the plot that you don't connect deeply with the characters. This is, for example, kill the pimp to save the girl. It's also The Proposal and Sweet Home Alabama - the goals here were love, but the characters were kept at a distance from the audience. It's easier to see this when you compare it to a character-driven movie like Frankie and Johnny.

It gets more complicated when you throw in things like psychic distance and plot points or mini plots, but I'll discuss these another time.

In the hands of a truly gifted writer, both character and plot can shine, but this is rare. Think of movies like Moonstruck or When Harry Met Sally. Movies in which you felt deeply connected to the characters and dedicated to seeing them achieve their goals. In Moonstruck, I was Loretta going to the opera with Ronny. I was in the seat next to him as he lifted my hand to his lips and tenderly kissed it. At the end I was in the kitchen as Ronny proposed with the ring Loretta had just returned to his brother Johnny - all in one seamless transition. It's a beautiful thing when a screenplay results in a movie that can evoke such an emotional connection while at the same time drive toward a well-developed plot.

I'm a beginner at this. I doubt my first screenplay will be a Moonstruck. But if I had to choose which way to drive my screenplay, I'm finding that I prefer strong characters. I don't need a bold, grand, heavy plot finale as long as I can connect with vibrant characters that grow or change in some way - preferably in a way I can relate to - in a way that tells me something about myself - in a way that makes me think - in a way that strokes a weakened emotion inside me. And I'm not an easily moved person, so I know if it moves me, it will likely move most anyone. That's what I want to write. That's what I want to see on the big screen - more Frankies and Johnnys.

And if, in the process, we create a killer plot - bonus!

Writers: Here's a fun exercise. If you think you'd like to try screenwriting, pick a scene from a favorite movie, and try to recreate it on paper. Pay close attention to setting and camera work, and of course action and dialogue. Don't worry about format - just try to get it written out. If you want to see examples of format, click here or Google "screenplay format".

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why I Write

In my last creative writing session, one of the members of my writers' group brought in a simple prompt, but the results made us dig deep inside our writing minds to places many of us didn't even know existed.

We were asked to spend twenty minutes writing an essay entitled "Why I Write." I'm going to share mine with you, but before you read it, think about why you write. You may even want to take twenty minutes and complete your own essay. Don't think about it, just start writing - you may be surprised at what you come up with.

My mind immediately went to a line I'd used in the past. It was a dichotomy of why I write, and I think I shared it on Facebook or maybe here in an earlier blog. From there, my essay formed.

Why I Write

I write because it helps me remember, and I write because it helps me forget. I write because it soothes me, and I write because it inflames me. I write so I can sleep at night, and I write when I can't sleep at night. I write to show my crazy side, and I write to assure people I'm sane. I write to rise above the earth, and I write to walk among it. I write to hide what's going on inside, and I write to reveal it all. I write because I want to be rich, and I write because I don't mind being poor. I write because I'm scared, and I write because I'm secure. I write because God persuades me, and I write because the devil dissuades me.

The prompt made me realize there is a piece of me in everything I write. I'm not an open book kind of person, so through my writing, I hide myself in plain sight. I don't want to tell you I'm scared, so I write about a character being chased by a dark figure. I don't want to tell you I'm discontented, so I write about a character who is trapped in a sink hole. And I don't think I'm the only writer who hides herself in her stories.

Why do you write? Are pieces of you in your stories?

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Journey to the Big Screen - Part 1

Why is a writer discussing the big screen? Well, because every movie you see on the big screen existed first in the mind of a writer. And while writing a screenplay is a specialized field of writing, any writer who has mastered the art of the written word already has a head start to learning screenplay writing.

A screenplay is the script for a movie. It includes the story, set instructions, and camera work. In the end, if it sells, it is a visual representation of your written story on a really big screen that lots and lots, hopefully, of people will go see. Exciting, right?

It has become very exciting for me recently, because after the first of the year, a friend and I will be writing a screenplay together. Before you ask, no, I’m not trained at writing screenplays - yet. That would be my friend’s area of expertise. I had an introduction to screenplay writing, a few screenplay writing assignments, in my Christian Writers Guild training, but outside of that, I’ve just read a few. I have been screenplay crash coursing through a stack of screenplay media my friend gave me in hopes that I can at least use it to follow along from the theory and structure perspective.

My friend asked me to be her partner on this journey not for my screenplay experience but for my story-telling experience – the emotional impact I seem to have the ability to invoke through writing and the humor elements in some of my writing. Things that would write well into a script – dialogue, action – and connect an audience.

Writing a novel is a series of scenes. Writing a screenplay is a series of scenes. The biggest learning curve for me will be hammering and chiseling those scenes to make them fit into the formal and condensed structure of a screenplay. So I’m starting with baby steps. Scenes I know – I will start there.

See you at the movies some day, but until then, keep checking my blog to follow my screenwriting journey in 2011.

Here are some of the media I am using for my screenplay crash course:

Syd Field's Screenwriting Workshop DVD Learning Series

Screenwriter's Bible

Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need

How to Pitch and Sell Your Screenplay

Movie Magic Screenwriter Screenwriting Software Version 6

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When a Fragmented Soul Screams (RVFF #15)

What is Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF)? I write a flash fiction story (a short story you can read in a flash) using a random vocabulary word. Click here to read my rules.

Today's word: Torpid (TOR pid) - 1. sluggish 2. inactive 3. apathetic

When a Fragmented Soul Screams (RVFF #15)
A Chiller Edition

Trish, unable to run any farther, collapses against a wall inside the abandoned warehouse. Two rats approach and sniff her. Trish wants to scream but can’t because that thing – whatever it was – might find her. She kicks at the rats, and they scurry away.

Something sharp drags along the building’s exterior and scrapes at Trish’s sanity. Her heart should be pounding, but it’s deathly still. Why isn’t my heart beating?

The doors suddenly swing open and shut – open and shut – open and shut –. Bursts of lightning fill the dark space, and a gust of wind rips the doors from the hinges. A dark figure hovers in the opening.

Trish bolts toward the back door not noticing the second dark figure hovering in her path. She hears herself scream as she merges into its form. She struggles inside it, but her movements become torpid as if fighting quicksand. Its raspy voice stills her.

“I’m your descender, Trish. The mutilation of your soul will be less painful if you relax.”

“No! I don’t want to go with you!”

The descender laughs. “You’re dead. It’s too late to change your mind.”

Trish can no longer fight. They begin to sink through concrete floor, into cold earth – down – down –. A shock of pain, then slicing torture. Dragged through large chunks of jagged glass, her soul rips into tiny fragments – every piece scraped raw. Each fragment enters its own special chamber of eternal horrors, and Trish, feeling it all, screams. “God, save me!”

But God can’t hear her, now.

Word Count = 250 (I know. I'm over by 50)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Waving Girl (RVFF #14)

What is Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF)? I blindly select a vocabulary word from Word Smart, and write a flash fiction story using that word. Flash fiction means it's short - you can read it in a flash. Click here to read my rules.

Today's word: Bastion (BAS chun) - 1. stronghold 2. fortress 3. fortified place

The Waving Girl (RVFF #14)
A Chiller Edition

It was raining as the ship ventured toward the port of Savannah. First mate Beals wondered if she’d be there. Her presence had become a bastion of comfort to Beals after the long days and nights at sea and made Savannah his favorite seaport.

As the ship neared Elba Island, Beals saw her - waving the handkerchief as usual, her collie by her side.

At the dock, Beals asked about the woman.

“The waving girl statue?” the man said. “It’s down at the park.”

“I’m not looking for a statue. I just want to know if anyone knows who that woman is out on Elba Island.”

The man laughed. “Stop pullin’ my chain, buddy. That was Florence – the waving girl. She died in the 40s. Comforted a lot of mariners like yourself back in the day, though. Sweet ol’ gal, I hear.”

Beals walked to the park that evening. He gazed at the statue in disbelief. It was her, but she’d died sixty-seven years ago.

Will she be there? Beals wondered the next morning as the ship pulled out of port. When they passed Elba Island, he saw her waving, her collie by her side. And when he waved back, he was sure he saw her smile.

Word count = 205

Note: The waving girl was a real person, who spent 40 years waving at ships going to and from the port of Savannah from her home on Elba Island. The ghost story is not true. It is simply my imagination going wild with a place (Savannah, Georgia) and a story (Florence Martus - the real waving girl) I love. You can read more about her here: Savannah's Waving Girl

Friday, September 24, 2010

Another Chance (RVFF #13)

What is Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF)? I blindly select a vocabulary word from Word Smart, and write a flash fiction story using that word. Flash fiction means it's short - you can read it in a flash. Click here to read my rules.

Today's word: Conciliatory (kun SIL ee uh tor ee)) - 1. making peace 2. attempting to resolve a dispute through goodwill

Another Chance (RVFF #13)

Cole slammed the phone on its cradle. The gesture offered no relief, so he grabbed it and threw it across the room. It made a small depression in the wall, cracked, and fell to the floor. His torture eased – slightly. He paced. He wanted to hit something. Her? No, he loved her. God help him, he still loved her. He tore the beaded chain she’d made him from around his neck and flung it. Beads scurried in every direction.

She’d jilted him more times than he could remember. Why was she suddenly being so conciliatory? So she could scrape through his heart one more time?

“I made a mistake,” she’d said when he questioned her about the engagement ring she was wearing the last time he saw her. Not his engagement ring, but someone else’s. Some guy he didn’t even know she’d been seeing. “He just wasn’t you, Cole. Nobody is you. I want you back.” That’s when he’d slammed the phone down.

He just couldn’t go through this again, but he knew he would. He always would for her. He loved her.

Word count = 182

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Project Freedom (RVFF #12)

What is Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF)? I blindly select a vocabulary word from Word Smart, and write a flash fiction story using that word. Flash fiction means it's short - you can read it in a flash. Click here to read my rules.

Today's word: Profligate (PRAHF luh git) - 1. extravagantly wasteful 2. wildly immoral

Project Freedom (RVFF #12)

Looking at the group of prostitutes, Dr. Pate wondered if he’d made the right decision. The quiet one seated next to him placed her hand on his thigh and licked his ear while the others hooted vulgarities and made obscene gestures. This profligate group of women were the most violent at the prison – prostitution was the least of their crimes.

“Come sit next to me, Doc.” Cookie said. “I left my butcher knife at home. ‘Sides, I couldn’t hurt a pretty boy like you.” The group howled, while Cookie danced around them slapping high-fives.

The psychological surveys he’d brought with him suddenly seemed ridiculous in this setting, and he needed to gain control. He gazed out the window where an unintentional cross had formed along the fence line.

“Ladies.” Dr. Pate stood. “Do you want to be freed?”

The women continued to talk over him. He looked at the cross.

“Ladies! I can help you get out of your prison.”

The room became quiet, and Dr. Pate had their attention.

Word count = 170

Friday, September 10, 2010

I'm a Closet Literary Writer

Of course, I didn't say I was any good at it. But I do love to write for the sounds the words and sentences make. For the comfort the rhythm instills in me as I write. For that buoyancy that makes me feel like I'm floating and flying at the same time. To blend one word to the next, one sentence to the next, one paragraph to the next, one page to the next - as if throughout all time that particular structure of words combined with my unique style of writing were always intended to be together.

And at the end of my writing journey, I've lightened something dark inside me - or maybe darkened something light - while the reader analyzes a question in a way they never thought they would.

This poses a bit of internal conlict for me because I am also a minimalist thanks to my Christian Writers Guild training. Get to the message in as few words as possible. It's memorable. It's tight. It's active. And most importantly, it keeps the reader turning pages. And when the underlying theme of your message, whether symbolic or literal, is wholly Christian, you want to keep the reader turning pages. This would be called popular fiction.

Before we move on, I found these excellent descriptions of literary and popular fiction on Shelly Thacker Meinhardt's Web page:

"There are two kinds of fiction in today's market. Literary fiction is the fiction of ideas. Its primary purpose is to evoke thought. The writer's goal is self-expression. Any consideration of the reader—if one exists at all—is purely secondary.

"Popular fiction is the fiction of emotion. Its primary purpose is to evoke feelings. The writer's goal is to entertain the reader. Any consideration of self-expression—if one exists at all—is purely secondary.

"Now, hold the hate mail. I'm not saying that you can't express yourself in a romance or mystery or science-fiction novel, or that literary fiction can't be entertaining, or that popular fiction can't be thought-provoking. We can all name novels that do it all. My point is, before you sit down to write your book—and more importantly, before you try to market it—you had better be sure exactly which kind of fiction it is you're writing."

So when you write literary fiction, you're writing for yourself, and if someone else can relate to it... well, bonus, because you might actually be able to sell it. When you write popular fiction, you're writing for your reader, and if you can relate to it... well, bonus, because you might actually enjoy writing it.

I realize it's not quite that simplistic, but I do think that those who are really great writers have an element of both the literary and the popular forms of fiction inside them. They know how to create beautiful forms of expression in a way that almost anyone can relate to. And in the process, the writer has bettered something inside themselves, and given their reader an experience they will never forget.

Here are two examples from my own writing. The first would probably be considered literary, and a popular-fiction editor would likely strip it from my story altogether telling me to get to the point, get to the action, cut the fluff. The second would be considered popular, and a literary editor would... I don't know... laugh at it's simplicity, maybe.

Literary example from: Death of a Whippoorwill (this is an excerpt from a 1,500-word story which received an honorable mention in the 2009 Silver Quill Best Short Fiction Contest)

In the distance I see the bridge and our cabin just beyond. The river rumbles outside my passenger window, oblivious to the fact that I have come here to die. If the river only knew the reason I chose this place is because of the peace that river offers, it might respond with more respect – stilling itself in honor as I pass by. The fish, if they knew, might gather along the banks in a show of appreciation that I always threw them back. The dozens of turtles I’ve moved off this tiny river road over the years might stretch their necks out of their shells and, with tears in their eyes, mouth a little prayer to thank me. But no, this river does not love me like I love it. And yet, it does. I will listen to this river’s voice in my last days, and its voice will deliver me home.

Popular example from: Going Up (this is an excerpt from a story which won 1st place in the August 2009 Christian Writers Guild Forum Armadillo Writing Contest)

After the funeral service, I sprinted to catch the train. I was happy to see two trains in the station, and by habit I knew which to board. A small man, in a pin-striped suit and wearing a Stetson, an oddly successful coordination, stood at ease in the threshold.

"Going up?” he said.


“Going up?”

I took a step back on to the platform and looked around. "Am I on the right train?”

“If you’re on this train, you’re on the right train, Ma’am. We’re going up.” He grinned and gave me two thumbs-up.

“Oh. Uptown. Yes, I am going up.” I rushed to the back of the train and found a seat. I hoped the crazy man wouldn’t sit near me when he finished tending the doors.

In the other train, I saw a crowd of people celebrating. Early afternoon seemed an odd time of day for a party. Of course, I’d just come from a funeral. Watching strangers enjoy life after I attended a funeral was discomforting.

I saw the crazy man approaching and I reached for my bag, hoping that pulling out my laptop would keep him from sitting close. Where is my bag? In a panic, I searched around my seat.

“Ma’am, are you okay?”

“Yes, I seem to have misplaced something.”

“You can’t misplace things on this train, Ma’am.”

Can you see the difference? Example two, popular, jumps right into the action and keeps it moving, omitting anything that would slow it down. And there's something strange going on that hopefully hooks the reader and makes them want to keep reading. Example one, literary, lingers for a bit, experiments with word usage to enhance a poetic sounding flow, and savors the moment (at least that's how it sounded in my head).

As I wrote the opening paragraph to Death of a Whippoorwill, I was fully writing for myself. I didn't care if anyone else liked it or not - it just felt darn good to write it. And if anyone else did read it, I hoped it would make them think, like it made me think. When I was writing the opening scene of Going Up, I was fully writing for the reader. I had a message to share, and with each sentence I wrote, I analyzed how my reader might respond. And at the end (not posted here), a big emotional punch and an unpredictable twist. I thoroughly enjoyed writing both stories.

So I guess that's what it comes down to. Enjoy what you write, and everything else will fall into place.

If you are a fiction writer, do you lean more toward literary or popular writing? Can you find both literary and popular examples in your own writing? Would you rather read literary fiction or popular fiction?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The World Series (RVFF #11)

What is Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF)? I blindly select a vocabulary word from Word Smart, and write a flash fiction story using that word. Flash fiction means it's short - you can read it in a flash. Click here to read my rules.

Today's word: Ebullient (ih BUL yunt) - 1. boiling 2. bubbling with excitement 3. exuber

The World Series (RVFF #11)

Eddie scuffled toward the plate. Coach squinted into the crowd and spat. Coach looked at the loaded bases then at the scoreboard – two outs, last inning, two runs back.

Eddie was a hard hitter, but unpredictable. Coach hadn’t planned for the roars of an ebullient crowd and combined with Eddie’s timidity… Coach cringed.

Eddie knelt down, grabbed a handful of dirt, and drizzled it over his cleat.

“Hit it, Eddie! Team’s countin’ on ya.”

Eddie positioned his bat and swung.

“Strike,” the referee said, leaping over the bat flung from Eddie’s hands.

“Hold on to the bat, Eddie!” Coach said.

Eddie positioned his bat.

“Go, baby!” a voice yelled from the crowd.

Eddie’s mom – No! Coach hoped Eddie hadn’t heard her.

Eddie swung, hit, and ran – straight into the arms of his mother.

That was the day Coach decided to retire – the dream of a Pee-Wee World Series victory demolished.

Word count = 148

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fiction Today, Reality Tomorrow (RVFF #10)

What is Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF)? I blindly select a vocabulary word from Word Smart, and write a flash fiction story using that word. Flash fiction basically means it's short - you can read it in a flash. Click here to read my rules.

Today's word: Acumen (AK yoo mun) - 1. keenness of judgment 2. mental sharpness

Fiction Today, Reality Tomorrow (RVFF #10)

“Global Progression troops – got the Markette family!” Allison was breathless.

“Calm down, honey,” Paul said.

“Yanked them - out of their house - stripped them, hanged them upside down - stoned them to death. Their neighbors found out they were Christians – grabbed stones and joined in the massacre.”

“How did the GPTs find out about the Markettes? We’ve been careful.”

“There must be a spy in the congregation.”

“They could be headed here. Grab the kids. Let’s go!”

“Suitcases - under the bed.”

“No, we have to get out now!”

“We need those suitcases!”

Paul opened a suitcase and was startled to find ammunition inside. “I thought we agreed to let God be in control?”

“God was in control when He led me to an underground arms dealer and told me to protect our family.”

Grateful for Allison’s survival acumen, Paul’s confliction melted away, and a slim hope seeped in.

Word count = 150

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Pick-up Line (RVFF #9)

What is Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF)? I blindly select a vocabulary word from Word Smart, and write a flash fiction story using that word. Flash fiction basically means it's short - you can read it in a flash. Click here to read my rules.

Today's word: Hackneyed (HAK need) - 1. overused 2. trite 3. stale / I used definition #2 for this story

The Pick-up Line (RVFF #9)

“I think there’s somethin’ wrong with my eyes ‘cuz I can’t take them off you.”

Harriett cringed at the drunken man’s hackneyed greeting. “ I’m married.”

“Me, too. Jus’ not when I’m on the road - know what I mean?” The man grinned and caressed her arm.

She yanked her arm away and peered around the hotel lobby. “I’m not interested!” She returned to her reading.

“What’re ya readin’?”

Harriett held her book up.

“Uh… hell, my eyes ain’t that good. What…”

“Mere Christianity.”

“Oh! You a Christian?”


“Me, too. Jus’ not when I’m on the road – know what I mean?” The man howled. “Let’s have some fun – jus’ for one night?”

Harriett shook her head.

The man cursed and stumbled toward the hotel bar.

Harriett watched him approach another woman.

“Hi, beautiful,” he touched the woman's arm. “Did ya get that bruise when ya fell from Heaven?”

Word count = 149

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Pain of Truth (RVFF #8)

What is Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF)? I blindly select a vocabulary word from Word Smart, and write a flash fiction story using that word. Flash fiction basically means it's short - you can read it in a flash. Click here to read my rules.

Today's word: Wanton (WAHN tun) - 1. malicious 2. unjustifiable 3. unprovoked 4. egregious / I used definition #1 for this story.

The Pain of Truth (RVFF #8)

Willa watched her brother aim his gun at the three-legged dog lapping water at the river’s edge.

“Griffin! Don’t!”

Willa heard the blast and winced. The dog stood there for a moment, then hobbled forward and fell into the river. She watched in shock as the current carried the dog away.

Later, as Willa sat on the porch hating her wanton brother, a one-legged man appeared in the distance.

“Gracie!” The man whistled. “Here, girl.” He approached Willa. “Miss, have you seen a dog, black and white, missing a leg, like me?”

Willa wanted to tell the one-legged man everything. But looking into his worry-filled eyes, the pain of ignorance seemed more humane than the pain of truth.

“No, sir. I haven’t seen your dog.”

Willa frowned knowing she would carry the pain of truth for him, and ironically she envied the one-legged man.

Word count = 144

Monday, August 09, 2010

Overcoming Sinkholes (RVFF #7)

What is Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF)? I blindly select a vocabulary word from Word Smart, and write a flash fiction story using that word. Flash fiction basically means it's short - you can read it in a flash. Click here to read my rules.

Today's word: Precipitous (pri SIP uh tus) - steep

Overcoming Sinkholes (RVFF #7)

Penelope slid down the precipitous slope of a sinkhole, trying to grab onto something, anything. The mud was sucking her in, and she was moving too fast to fight it. She landed with a slosh in the soupy base on the sinkhole floor. Something slithered around her legs and she jumped to her feet and froze.

The dark was disturbing, but twenty feet up, the daylight emphasized the hole she’d ridden her bike into. My bike… my phone. She moved cautiously through the muck until she found her bike. Reaching into the bike pack, she grabbed her phone – it was waterlogged, and dead. She began to cry.

She lifted her face toward the light. “You win, okay? I’m yours.” More slithering around her ankles - she screamed. “Please, I don’t like the dark. Get me out of here!”

A loud jingle signaled power to her phone and Penelope gasped.

Word count = 149

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Becoming Known (RVFF #6)

What is Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF)? I blindly select a vocabulary word from Word Smart, and write a flash fiction story using that word. Flash fiction basically means it's short - you can read it in a flash. Click here to read my rules.

Today's word: Kinetic (ki NET ik) - 1. having to do with motion 2. lively 3. active / I used definition #1 for this story.

Becoming Known (RVFF #6)

Kiethan's neck strained as he stretched it forward and gazed over the cliff edge at the river below. A psychological force, stronger than his own will, held his legs at a still uncomfortable distance from the unprotected drop. He thought it odd and humorous that he would be filled with such fear, and he smirked at the irony.

The river was angry; this stretch, a thrilling pass-through for class-V white-water-rafting enthusiasts. The stillness of the surrounding mountains made the raging river all the more vibrant. "Nature's kinetic art," Keithan said, bringing to mind all of his rejected art projects he was leaving behind.

In an instant, the invisible force vanished and his fear melted. Keithan moved forward and stood on tiptoes at the cliff edge. "At least they'll be worth something now. God, forgive me."

Word count = 135

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Live It - Then Write About It

*I initially posted this on my Living Writers' Collective blog, but I think My Writing Loft friends will enjoy this message, too.*

This past June, my kids and I disappeared deep into the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia for a week. In our log cabin in this remote part of West Virginia, there was no Internet or television, no cell phone access or landline telephone, and no air conditioning or microwave.

I love shedding off life's modern-day conveniences and getting cozy with nature - the bugs, the creatures that slither, the nocturnal explorers, the deer, the bears, the birds, the giant river turtles, and the frogs that are twice as big as my hand and whose sweet tunes lull me to sleep at night. I've always been a tomboy, and I still love exploring the forest floor for animal tracks, seeing how far a millipede can climb my bare arm, and catching (or trying to catch - I'm not as good at it now as I was when I was a kid) slimy frogs.

During this trip, I learned a few new things:

  • Spotting the twenty-third deer is equally as fascinating as spotting the first one.

  • Bear feces looks suprisingly similar to human feces.

  • Spiders and crickets will seek shelter in your toiletries case.

  • The mystery of the unexplainable loose dirt that keeps appearing in your bed will be solved on the last day when you realize you've been sharing your bed with a raccoon all week.

  • The lack of modern-day conveniences/distractions will bring out the best in seven- and five-year-old boys.

  • If your child has a loose front tooth, take him innertubing a few times. Hayden's tooth now rests somewhere in the Greenbrier River.

  • Kroger-bought pears taste fresher in the woods.

  • If you wake to the sounds of a curious bear in the middle of the night, when - if - you go back to sleep, it is inevitable that you will dream you are being attacked by a bear.

  • Around day four, you'll start to wonder if anything major has happened in the world - like has our government been overthrown? Has California fallen into the ocean? Has the rapture occurred and I wasn't one of the selected? But then a deer and her fawn will leap by your cabin, and you'll decide it doesn't really matter what's going on in the crazy world outside these woods.

Last year, this same trip to West Virginia inspired me to write a short story called "Death of a Whippoorwill". I received an honorable mention in the 2009 Silver Quill Short Fiction Contest for that story. I want to encourage you all to find a special place, at least once a year, where you can disappear from your distractions and absorb inspiration for your writing. Don't go with the plan to write; go with the plan to explore and observe and enjoy. Live it - then write about it.

For me, getting as close to nature as possible seems to do the trick. For you, it may be something else, but whatever it is, make the effort to do it. Living it will flood you with ideas and inspire poignant messages through writing that shines.

Have you had a chance to "Live It" this past year? If so, tell us where you go to dissappear from your distractions and absorb the inspiration to write.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Impossibility of Human Reason

I don't feel good today. My head hurts for the second straight day. My sinuses are on fire, especially the left one. I haven't worked-out since Sunday, and I'm feeling sluggish. In general, I'm simply exhausted after a very busy summer. I'm having one of those days, and when I allow myself to stop and have one of those days, I crash, and today I'm crashing.

I took my boys to the animal shelter yesterday to pick out two kittens. I saw a huge, pudgy adult cat sitting in the middle of his cage in an owl-like posture. His only motion was the slow turning of his head as he glanced around. He wore a collar - he had been someone's. He wasn't excited. He wasn't pitiful. He was just unaffected. His future was likely not promising - consisting of days or hours or maybe even minutes for all I knew.

It's strange to me that God created cats in such a way that they produce an entire litter of kittens. Creatures that depend on man for survival, and yet two cats in their natural form produce many more offspring than two humans - certainly more than those two humans can care for. And the result is a massive number of animal shelters overflowing with precious furry companions, most just waiting as the clock ticks down to lethal injection time. Their charge: there is simply no room for them in this world - which makes me question why God put them here in the first place.

The somber experience of looking into the eyes of so many that would suffer this fate turned the experience of saving two sweet kitties bittersweet - I couldn't do anything for the hundred remaining, and even if I could have there would have been another hundred right behind them.

I'd like to reason all of this out spiritually, but I spend so much time writing from the spiritual perspective, I sometimes forget about the human side. And I think I forget about the human side because sometimes it simply isn't possible to reason from the human side. If I can just assign spiritual reasoning to the pain of humanity, it makes it all bearable. Ninety-five percent of the time, that is what I seek to do, but today I find myself pleading, "Jesus, please come get us today - I'm just so darn tired."

*The two we saved pictured above (the tortiose shell is Jazzy Gogo, and the gray striped and white is Ginger)

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Baby Doesn't Change Everyone (RVFF #5)

What is Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF)? I blindly select a vocabulary word from Word Smart, and write a flash fiction story using that word. Flash fiction basically means it's short - you can read it in a flash. Click here to read my rules.

Today's word: Aberration (ab uh RAY shun) - 1. something not typical; 2. a deviation from the standard / I used definition #1 for this story.

A Baby Doesn't Change Everyone (RVFF #5)

An odd smell enveloped Alec as he walked into the house. Is that... clean? Alec's wife, Abby, rarely cleaned house, but today was an aberration - the house sparkled.

Alec hugged Abby. "The house looks amazing.”

"Thanks! It’s time I started cleaning – since there's going to be a little one crawling around."

"You're -"

Abby nodded and smiled.

"I didn't think we could…"

"We did."

"Are you sure?"

"Ten weeks - I went to the doctor today."

Alec grabbed Abby and cheered, spinning her until he was dizzy.

He knelt and lifted her shirt, noticing a slight bulge in her tone abdomen. He looked up at Abby; she smiled. He looked at her belly.

"I've been praying for you for years." Alec kissed Abby's belly. "And since you're already having this unusual affect on your beautiful mother, could you ask her to wash my car and make me some ribs?”

Word Count = 149

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dusting Sunbeams (RVFF #4)

Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF) - Click here to find out what it is.

Today's word: Ethereal (ih THIR ee ul) - 1. heavenly; 2. as light or insubstantial as a gas or ether /I used definition #2 for this story.

Dusting Sunbeams (RVFF #4)

Ellen halts at the sight of ethereal dust waltzing in a sunbeam stretching across the dining room. Most people would notice it and move on, but Ellen isn't like most people.

Ellen walks a wide arc around the sunbeam and its dust. Moments later she diligently vacuums the dust from the sunbeam.

I want to tell her the dust isn’t limited to the sunbeam, but I fear this would send her into a panic-induced, air-cleaning frenzy, so I say, "Honey, it’s clean. We need to go or we’ll miss our movie."

I've planned ahead to account for Ellen's home-leaving routine: down and up the garage steps five times, checking the tire pressure twice in each tire, and driving around the block twice to make sure the garage door is closed.

What I didn't plan for was another sunbeam on our way to the garage.

Word count = 146

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Compensation Not Necessary (RVFF #3)

Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF) - Click here to find out what it is.

Today's word: Reparation (rep uh RAY shun) - 1. paying back; 2. making amends; 3. compensation /I used definition #3 for this story.

Compensation Not Necessary (RVFF #3)

As I veered our snowmobile onto the frozen lake, the frigid Alaska air carried an icy mist cinnamon-fine and as penetrating as glass-dust. The sound of the mist pelting our goggles was ominous, and fifty yards out, a white-out obscured my vision.

"Randy! Go back!" my brother said.

"No! I know what I'm doing!"


"Shut up! I've got it!"

And I did have it - until the ice broke.

The snowmobile balanced precariously on one ski at the broken ice edge - front-half submerged, back-half slipping. My brother, clinging to the snowmobile, plucked me out of the water and tossed me onto the ice just before the snowmobile plunged beneath the surface. He never emerged.

How do I compensate my brother for my disobedience? For causing his death? I never can. Reparation isn't possible, nor is it necessary, when your brother sacrifices his life for your own.

Word count = 148

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Winds of Revolution (RVFF #2)

Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF) - Click here to find out what it is.

Today's word: Coup (koo) - 1. a brilliant victory or accomplishment; 2. the violent overthrow of the government by a small internal group (full name is coup d’état - koo day TAH) / I used definition #2 for this story.

The Winds of Revolution (RVFF #2)

Carter pumped anger-infused push-ups next to his prison-cell bunk. Stripped of his stripes, his medals, his uniform - his life, though life didn't really matter. What he'd attempted to do, he was doing for his country. He'd served his country so long, he didn't remember much of life before.

Carter's plan - a coup that would fix his country - seemed flawless. His intent was for America to rediscover its purpose, for true patriotism to be revived.

Taking down the US government with a small army of soldiers was ambitious, he'd admit, but his strategy was tight. Where did I go wrong? He mentally sifted his strategy with each push-up. Violence was expected and planned; shoving his gun into the president's mouth and pulling the trigger was not.

Carter exhaled.

Outside, the winds of revolution gusted through the nation's capital as millions of patriots marched in from every side.

Total words = 147

I know I have a POV dilemma in my last line. It will come to me in the next day or so, and I'll pop in here and fix it.

The Parochial Seductress (RVFF #1)

Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF) - Click here to find out what it is.

Today's word: Parochial - 1. narrow or confined in point of view; provincial 2. of or relating to a parish / I'll use definition #1 for today's story.


Pablo married her this morning in a freakish moment, under the influence of a passion hangover. They say Vegas does things to people, and it sure did things to him. It wasn’t that she wasn’t beautiful – she was. Or that she wasn’t intelligent – she was. She reflected a quiet sophistication, which is what attracted Pablo to her in the first place, and exuded a sweet sexiness that few women possess.

It was her narrow-minded views that forced his doubt as he sat across the coffee-house table listening to her life philosophies. How could a woman who’d aggressively seduced a man she’d met two hours prior in a hotel bar be so parochial?

Even this, Pablo might let pass - if he could just remember her name.

Word count = 126

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF)

I'm starting a series to help build my vocabulary - one of my weak spots. I'm calling it Random Vocabulary Flash Fiction (RVFF). A few days each week, I will blindly select a vocabulary word from Word Smart, and write a flash fiction story using that word. Flash fiction basically means it's short - you can read it in a flash. You can read more about flash fiction (here). My RVFF rules are:

  • The stories must be 200 words or less (which means you can read them in just a few seconds).

  • The stories must have a clear theme, plot, or storyline.

  • The vocabulary word must work its way in naturally and not seem forced to you, the reader (let me know if I'm not hitting the mark here).

Tune in regularly to read my RVFF.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

This Dark Night

In a log cabin in the midst of the dense and towering Watoga State Park forest, the night is black. So black I feel I have faded into it. I imagine the black is similar to the color of a deep-sea abyss or a galactic black hole. I think I can best describe it as thick like being in a vat of melted black crayon except I can breathe - mostly. I realize a truth - there is a night so black I can't see my hand in front of my face. Sorry for the cliché - writers aren't supposed to use those, but it's true nonetheless.

In this blind night (as all Watoga-forest nights are), I have to touch myself to be sure I exist. I have to plant my feet solidly on the ground to be sure I'm not hovering above it - as if maybe I missed something and now I'm in spirit form.

Yes, that's how it feels to be in absolute darkness. And I don't think I've ever experienced a dark so dark before. Of course, if I can't see me then no one else can see me, and there is a comfort and a sense of security in that.

A few days before my supersensitive awareness of this dark night, my boys, my parents, and I stepped into our secluded rustic cabin. Granted it's not Alaskan-wilderness seclusion or Amazon-rainforest seclusion, but it is West Virginia-mountain seclusion and that's enough to shed off most modern-day conveniences - no television, no internet, no cell phone access, no landline telephone, no microwave, no dishwasher, no air conditioner.

So I am awake. It's 3:00 A.M., and did I mention it is jet-black dark? I can't get back to sleep because all I can think about is how I must put on paper how black this dark is. Then two loud thumps startle me and I lift my feet back into the bed, dive under my covers and pull my boys in close.

I have to mention here that two nights earlier a large black bear shredded the wire caging and plywood top to our outdoor trash cans, then wandered around our cabin, slunk past our front porch where my father sat (until he saw the bear), wandered to the other side of the cabin where he relieved himself of his last meal (which my boys enjoyed seeing the next morning), then headed up a path and back into the forest.

This is fresh on my mind as an unsettling scurry breaks the silence that seems so still after the thumps, and I realize the kitchen window is still open. My mind starts to taunt me - was that a bear-sized scurry or a raccoon-sized scurry? Or worse, could it be human - for a human's potential to injure or destroy can be far more barbaric than nature's.

The scent of skunk oddly calms me until I hear another noise coming from behind the back cabin wall, near the kitchen. The sounds conjure visions not of a bear but of a vicious wild human dousing our highly-flammable log cabin in gasoline and setting it ablaze.

It occurs to me that some Bible reading may be a little too heavy for the pre-bed hours. For example, Abimelech and his pyromaniacal tendencies to cook massive numbers of people alive in towers turned infernos is best left to post-dawn or early-afternoon reading.

Certainly my imagination could be tamed by scripture more fitting for slumbering in a secluded log cabin in the nocturnally active thick-black Watoga forest. Maybe something like, "Be still and know that I am God" - psalm 46:10.

I am certainly still now, but not so still that I don't finally give in and scramble for my flashlight, click it on, and pull out my pen and notebook. Afterall, if I expect to get anymore sleep tonight, I really do have to write about this dark night.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Interview With the Devil

KAREN: Should I call you Satan?

SATAN: King Satan or Prime Demonizer are my preference. I’ll also answer to Lord of Darkness or Our Unholy Earth Father.

KAREN: Okay, Satan it is. It’s so easy for our viewers to see the horrid acts you are responsible for in today’s world…

SATAN: Oh, thank you for the compliment. I’m so glad people are noticing my work today. Even someone in my position sometimes wonders if he’s truly making a difference.

KAREN: You consider what you do making a difference?

SATAN: Oh, yes! What would this world be without me? All harps and fluffy clouds and happy people and good apples. No! No! No! How boring would that be? A world without sin and chaos is no world at all. Sin! I hate that word! He (pointing up) came up with that word, you know. It just sounds bad – sssssin! Most people know it’s really just the fun the self-proclaimed Big Guy doesn’t want them to have.

KAREN: Let’s move on. Since your work today is so… vivid, let’s go back. What do you consider to be one of your most successful acts in Biblical times?

SATAN: Not counting the obvious?

KAREN: The obvious?

SATAN: Adam and Eve. My pride and joy. But everyone knows about them.

KAREN: Adam and Eve? But wasn’t God ultimately in control of…

SATAN: Wait! Wait! Yes! There is so much to choose from. But I am going to have to say Legion.

KAREN: The demoniac?

SATAN: Yes. Oh, wasn’t he just divine? Oh, bad word choice. Wasn’t he perfectly wretched? I didn’t just send one of my demons to possess him, you know. He had many weak spots, that man. I sent an entire legion of demons, and he let them right in. (laughing) People thought he was mad!

KAREN: Wasn’t he?

SATAN: It was the demons, really. Ah, they were just having some fun with him.

KAREN: Fun? He was living like an animal, Satan. He lived in the tombs, bound and shackled by the locals who were afraid of him. He’d break free and run naked out of the desert and into the town streets and attack people.

SATAN: (laughing) Oh, you should have seen it - the things they made him eat and do to himself. Funny stuff. Those demons were some of my best soldiers, but they knew how to have a good time.

KAREN: Even with all of Legion’s weaknesses, Jesus came along and saved and healed him, Satan.

SATAN: Yes. But my demons had a good time of it, and many of my demons today consider them heroes and are inspired by them. We may have lost Legion, but I'm sure my demons since then have gained so many more because of the accomplishments of Legion's demons.

KAREN: But didn’t Jesus destroy Legion's demons?

SATAN (fidgeting and nervous): You mean the pigs? That wasn’t Jesus, and it couldn’t have been foreseen. The demons decided to have some fun with the pigs. How could they have known the pigs were all going to drown themselves? But look at the havoc they wreaked with Legion before they perished. They were very worthy soldiers.

KAREN: Jesus sent them into the pigs, Satan.

SATAN (growing angry): At the demons’ request!

KAREN: And you consider it coincidence that the entire herd of pigs rushed into the river and drowned?

SATAN: What else could it be?

KAREN: So Jesus saved Legion, showing the world His love and destroyed your demons, showing the world His power, and you consider this your success? Do you have any real success stories, Satan?

SATAN: (yanks off his lapel microphone) This interview is over! You dare to mock me! I am Satan! Do you know what I can do to you? (walking out)

KAREN: Absolutely nothing without God’s permission. Jesus has already saved me.

*You can read about the demoniac in Luke 8:26-39.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Thoughts From My Deck as a Storm Approaches

I sit at my café-style table on my covered deck, this morning, reading “Romans” while in the near distance a storm rumbles closer. My focus on “Romans” is disrupted by the sounds of nature preparing for the storm’s arrival; I stop reading and absorb all the activity. I HAVE to stop, you see, because God says, “Stop reading and pay attention to Me!” And in case I have any intention of ignoring Him, He shatters my ability to focus on the words – so I still myself in the powerful moment and watch.

From my second-story deck, I gaze out, past the rooftops of our waffle-lot houses, to the forest beyond. The treetops form a jagged line against the sky – a kind of horizon, although I don’t think it is a horizon in the true sense of the word.

I can’t see it from my deck, but I think about the creek on this side of the forest – about the deep, rushing water that is sure to come. The weather guy says rain and storms all weekend, severe at times. My kids and I will not be donning our creek-walking boots, nets in hand, gathering treasures – crawdads, snails, fish, trinkets - this weekend. In a few days, we will explore the new treasures sojourning in our section of the creek before the next storm washes them ever closer to the Duck River.

I think about the snake – the one that lives somewhere under the trail bridge that spans the creek – the one that seems to grow bigger each year – the one that the neighborhood moms demand their kids steer clear of because “he may be poisonous”; I know he is not, so my kids and I often observe him, at a respectable distance, as he slithers through the grass or skims the water’s surface disappearing into the creek bank’s raised walls. I wonder what the snake does to prepare for storms. I’ve heard that chickens hunker down and still themselves. Birds become brazenly verbal – nature’s warning sirens, I suppose. I wonder if this is normal or just because in my yard there are two nests filled with babies the birds must rush to protect.

Trees’ leaves stretch heavenward in anticipation, and I can’t help but think of them in praise when I see the underside of those leaves firm and erect thirsting for God’s nourishment. And before you say, “Silly girl, trees can’t praise God,” I direct you to Psalm 148, verse 7-9:

Praise the LORD from the earth,
Sea monsters and all deeps;
Fire and hail, snow and clouds;
Stormy wind, fulfilling His word;
Mountains and all hills;
Fruit trees and all cedars;

The storm arrives with a grand shock of thunder and a bolt so powerful it lights the dark sky long enough to observe its pure-white brilliance. When I recover from the paralyzing jolt to my body and soul, it occurs to me that nature is not swayed by other gods – false gods. It simply respects the power of God and praises Him without question, and I wonder: why can’t human nature get it right?

**Update 5/27/10**

I had no idea of the power of the storms headed for us that morning as I sat on my deck thinking about nature's storm preparations. I couldn't have foreseen the rain that would pound us for two days straight or the massive flash flooding of our our creeks, rivers, and storm sewers - so intense it turned our interstates to fast-moving waterways. I couldn't have predicted the loss of life or how much damage this storm would do to Nashville and all of Middle Tennessee. Have a look:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Writing Warfare in the Flavor of Apple

I was dashing through my kitchen today, on my way to do something I can't remember, when my eyes captured a glint of a Red Delicious apple among the fruit in the basket on my kitchen table. I grabbed the apple planning to eat it on the go, but when I bit into it, it was... well... delicious; so I had to stop, sit down, and savor it. There are many things I can't do on the go, and eating a truly delicious, shiny Red Delicious apple is apparently one of them.

Analyzing my writing status is another thing I can't manage to do on the go. But when I allow the craziness of routine life to halt for a moment, my mind turns to writing. And as I sat there savoring the Red Delicious that forced my life into a pause, my thoughts turned to writing.

Later today, after my apple intoxication wore off, I wrote to a blogger friend that I have fallen off of my creative axis a bit - that I've been on an involuntary writing hiatus. I haven't been completely not writing, but I've been mostly not writing, and it's throwing my psyche off-balance. It's kind of like if you are used to exercising a lot and then for some reason you miss a few workouts or weeks - your body feels sluggish, and maybe even your mental stability falters a bit. When I'm not writing, my mind feels sluggish, and it's that much harder to get it primed and functioning properly again.

Oddly, this is not the writing stuff I was thinking about as I crunched into that yummy apple. During this involuntary hiatus, I have been reading - and reading - and reading - and reading - and... well, you get the picture. I have four books next to my bed at this moment: From the Belly of the Dragon by Mark Mynheir, A Dash of Style by Noah Lukeman, Firecracker Red by Stellasue Lee, and my Bible. I will absorb a few pages of each before I sleep.

Prior to the apple, I had been at the gym riding a stationary bike and reading Firecracker Red. The first thought that occured to me as I sat eating my apple was, "Helter-skelter. I had no idea helter-skelter had a hyphen in it. It's a good thing I saw that in Stellasue's book." Now, granted, we don't get too many opportunities to write the word helter-skelter, but there's always that "what if". What if I wrote "helter skelter" and sent it to a publisher or agent that way? What if "helter skelter" worked its way into my query letter or proposal? I can hear them now: "If she doesn't check the dictionary for her proposal - her first chance to make a good impression - her manuscript must be a mess. I don't have time to deal with this!" Then my manuscript is sent to the paper cutter, sliced into small squares, and the blank sides used for scrap paper.

A few apple bites later, I thought about the colon. Yes, apples do provide nourishment that leads to a healthy colon, but that isn't the colon I was thinking about. The colon I was contemplating was the one with two dots - you know - the punctuation mark. I know that's an odd thing to think about while eating an apple, but I had just read a chapter on the colon in A Dash of Style the night before. I know what you're thinking. A whole chapter on the colon? Yes, a whole entire chapter, 20 excellent pages, on nothing but the colon shared in a creative and, strangely, beautiful way (the things that excite a writer - we're an odd bunch).

As I neared the apple's core, I thought about how a creative writer can use grammar to their advantage - minimizing it in some places, maximizing it in others, all for the purpose of intent. Lightly pepper in some of the pretty stuff - colons, semicolons, dashes - to make it shine, to give it power, to drive a point. I thought about the short story I read in my recent edition of The Storyteller that was filled with cliches and another story that described the looks of EVERY character by comparing them to a movie star. Both were cumbersome to read, and I wondered how they made the cut. I thought about the book of Job and how I just don't understand a lot of it. Yet the prose is so relaxing and beautiful, I read it anyway. Because within its midst, God sends me treasures like:

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at the last, He will take His stand on the earth.
Even after my skin is destroyed,
Yet from my flesh, I shall see God;
Whom I myself shall behold,
And whom my eyes will see and not another.
My heart faints within me!
- Job 19:25-27

And suddenly a piece of Job sticks as well as all the other thoughts I had while I was under the influence of that apple, and I carry it all with me so I can pour it out through my writing... that is, when I start writing again.

What or who is keeping me from writing? Maybe I shouldn't have been eating that apple and thinking about writing but actually writing. In one ear I hear, "You're not on a writing hiatus; you're in a heavy learning phase." In the other ear I hear, "But you should be writing through your learning phases."

I suppose the only question that remains is whether that Red Delicious was from the tree of life or the tree of knowledge. Was there a tempter responsible for my indulgence - a Screwtape, if you will, discouraging my writing? Or was that apple always mine for the taking - God filling me up so I could be more persuasive as I pour it out?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Breathing Room

In a tiny jar
a snail slithers
among rocks and crevices
and a slice of carrot.
Occasionally she stretches
out and clings to glass - finding comfort
in traveling its circumference.
As I observe her slimy underside
suctioned inside her glass prison,
I realize six holes in a metal lid provide air
but leave no room to breathe.
Wistfully, I remove the lid
and set her free.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

"Up From the Grave He Rose"

I'm sitting in front of my open window on this perfect day. Outside birds are chirping and busying themselves with homebuilding, preparing to birth new life into the world. The trees are in various stages of budding and blossoming, bursting forth delicate young leaves. The light, warm breeze wafting through my window carries the clean scent of all of God's newness.

As I sit here enjoying this special treat from God, I think of how He transforms nature - winter to spring, slow decay to instant rebirth, death to resurrection. How can anyone experience a moment like this and deny the salvation Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection offers?

God's glory, His precious Son, vivid and bold, in a simple moment near an open window. It's amazing how He replenishes spring moisture to our winter-dehydrated souls. May God replenish your soul with the promise of new life through the celebration of Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection.

"There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world, by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

On Christian Perfection

Many people think Christians should be perfect. We aren't! And when we aren't, people call us hypocrites when in reality we are simply human. More disturbing, Christians often do this to each other - brother against brother, leader against leader, denomination against denomination.

My view of humanity is simple - you are a Christian or you aren't.

If you are a Christian, your human body shares space with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the perfect part. It's the part that places in us the desire to be like Jesus. It's the part that puts that check in our system when the human side of us does something really stupid.

And the human side of us always does something really stupid.

If it weren't for our tendencies toward humanness, Jesus would not have had to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice to atone for our poor choices. If God had fully infused us with the Holy Spirit, making us wholly perfect, there would have been no need for Jesus. But God did not want perfect zombies wandering the earth loving Him under divine force. He wanted children who would love Him by choice. Through the teachings and actions of Jesus, God sent the perfect Holy Spirit to dwell in our imperfect human hearts.

Through the Holy Spirit, Christians are led, disciplined, inspired, and encouraged. And when our humanness causes us to stumble off the road as we walk, the Holy Spirit is there to gently nudge us back or, at times, give us a good strong kick in the rump to get us back on track.

Does that mean it's okay for a Christian to sin with wild abandon, without conscience, and without any desire to seek forgiveness? No! In fact, if you are sinning and there is no check in your system (that little nudge that says, maybe I shouldn't be doing this), then I implore you to check your heart and determine if the Holy Spirit truly resides there.

When a Christian finds herself gossiping about the unmarried couple who just moved in across the street, the Holy Spirit will jump in and say, "Whoa, child, are you so freely without sin that you can speak so boldy of your neighbor?" The Christian will say "no, I am not!", realize she has stumbled, stabilize herself, invite her neighbors to church, and continue on her walk. Will she continue to make mistakes? Yes, she is human, but she will learn and grow and try to do better with each step.

I visualize two roads. One is the spiritual road, engulfed in light, leading to sanctification and a residence in Heaven. The other is the human road, engulfed in dark, leading to the rewards of the flesh and... well... death, hell, the end.

As the Christian walks along the spiritual road, her eyes occasionally veer toward the temptations of the dark and inviting medians and off-ramps. If her relationship with God is strong, the Christian will turn her eyes back toward Heaven. But in a weak and tired moment, her big toe will cross into the dark, and then her leg, and then her shoulder, and before she knows it, she is walking or sprinting up the dark off-ramp. But the Christian is blessed because when she gets to the top of the off-ramp, the Holy Spirit will grab her ear and drag her across the street, down the on-ramp, and back onto the will-lit road.

Yes, the Christian has sinned, but she has not abandoned the road. And why is this okay? Because God, knowing we are human and sin is inherent, sent Jesus to cover us when stumble.

In contrast, as the non-Christian walks along the human road she has many choices. God tries to make the non-Christian's choice easy. The off-ramp to Heaven is a flashing bright light - easy to spot along the dark road. God gives the non-Christian many opportunities to take the right exit, but all of the temptations in the medians and off-ramps of the spiritual road are abundant and easily accessed as the non-Christian wanders along the dark road. She doesn't even have to venture onto the medians or the off-ramps - the fun is in her immediate path. She doesn't have to think about it as she passes the flashing off-ramp to the light road. She's having too much fun on the dark road - what could be better?

Besides, the spiritual road will just tell her all she's doing wrong, and when she does wrong, she'll just be called a hypocrite like all those "so-called Christians". So why bother, she decides, and eventually she doesn't even notice the flashing off-ramp anymore.

Here's the interesting thing about a Christian. A Christian will also step onto the non-Christians' dark roads so we can flash our bright light a little closer to those who have begun to ignore the well-lit off-ramps. So sometimes Christians haven't stumbled off the spiritual road at all - we've just decided to carry it with us as we search for those who haven't yet discovered it.

So, if you are not a Christian, I, an imperfect and sinning Christian, will continue to flash a light as you journey along your dark road. I pray you follow it to the right exit before your road ends.

Oh, and there is such a thing as Christian perfection. He is called Jesus Christ.

Scripture Reference: 1 John 1:5-10

Monday, February 15, 2010

Snow Is...

Flakes of pearls
dropping gracefully from the heavens
stilling the world for a moment
or a time
determined by its abundance.

Delicate bullets in bulk
with the power to destroy –
a life, a vehicle,
a structure, a livelihood –
in an instant.

White periods
making a statement,
the result of a somber storm,
releasing life’s anxieties
in a soft, final landing.

A giant snow cone
inspiring children to create
weapons, men, igloos, slides –
nature’s extreme
theme park ride.

Tiny flecks of cotton
forming a blanket of calm,
a vast cushioned barrier,
over a harsh,
unforgiving earth.

Frozen rain
falling, clinging,
absorbing, melting,
washing our soiled spirits
revealing a purity thought lost.

An aching absence -
A welcomed relief -
An unexplainable dichotomy
beyond spring’s last thaw.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

One Way

How many ways are there to obtain access to God? Can you list them? Who or what made your list? Muhammed, Buddha, Krishna, Sun Myung Moon, Mother Earth, good works, self divinity, meditation, good karma? Maybe you chose the safe and tolerant approach and said all of the above and everyone else who believes in something, anything, has access to God. Or maybe you chose a gentle, all-inclusive approach saying that none of the above are needed – we all, even those who have denied Him, have direct access and will reside with God. Maybe your response was, “God? What God? We’re born. We die. End of story.”

Perhaps you’ve heard it said – Jesus Christ is the way to God. Jesus is not today’s popular choice. Claiming allegiance to Jesus means leaving the other options behind. Claiming Jesus as the way means checking political correctness, all-inclusiveness, and tolerance at the door and never returning to retrieve them. Claiming Jesus as the way may mean losing some friends; making counter cultural choices; or being perceived as pompous, fanatical, or bigoted. So, why Jesus?

Jesus may not be the easy option, but He’s the only true option. In John 14:6, Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” This may be an unpopular choice, but only a choice for Jesus will turn the slow death you are currently experiencing into eternal life. And in Heaven, He will be the only choice that mattered.

Followers of Jesus do not have to be politically correct to be understanding. They do not have to be all-inclusive to be respectful. They do not have to be tolerant to be loving. Believing in Jesus as the one and only true way to God does not separate a person from understanding, respect, and love – it allows one to be all of these things without negating the values and truths Jesus teaches us.

If you want to find the one and only way to God, you need look no further than His Word. Acts 4:12 promises salvation through Jesus only: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Jesus is the only one who drained His blood and washed us in it so we could be presented, clean and pure, to God. Through Jesus’ death, our poor choices, past, present, and future, have already been forgiven. Through Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, we can be assured of our own resurrection and eternal life. Only a belief in Jesus promises us these things.

When Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me," He revealed the only God-approved access to God.

So I ask again – how many ways are there to obtain access to God?

Hillsong United - One Way

"You are the Way the Truth and the Life
We live by faith and not by sight for You
We're living all for You"

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

So You Think You're Sacrificing Fluffy? Think Again

In many relationships, there's a thinker and there's a speaker. The thinker is the one who thinks things over, chews on them a bit, and eventually verbalizes a well-thought-out idea. The speaker is the one who says exactly what's on his mind at the exact moment it pops into his head. His response is instantaneous as if his mind is directly connected to his mouth.

The bad thing about being a thinker is that you often miss an opportunity to say something you wish you'd said. If you often run into this issue, you're probably a thinker.

The bad thing about being a speaker is that you often say things you wish you hadn't. If you often run into this issue, you're probably a speaker.

God has a great sense of humor because I've noticed many couples consist of one of each. And if you are one of these couples, you know what a challenge that can be. The thinker husband, for example, will cringe in agony the moment he hears his speaker wife blurt out his salary at the family reunion. The speaker husband will anxiously nudge his thinker wife under the dinner table when her mother criticizes her parenting skills.

Though both speakers and thinkers tend to take a little dip in the good, the bad, and the ugly at times, God gives us numerous warnings about speaking before we think. Jephthah was probably God's most dramatic lesson.

Jephthah was one of Israel's judges. He was also the son of a harlot. He was an outlaw, a mighty warrior, and a leader in battle. But he may be best known for the high price he paid when he spoke before he thought.

Jephthah was promised the headship of the Gileads if he could lead them to a victory in battle over the *Ammonites. In the moment, while advancing on the Ammonites, Jephthah made a deal with God. "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD'S, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."

Screeeech... stop right there. Jephthah had been an outlaw, a renegade, and an adventurer. He'd spent a lot of time away from home, and he'd spent a lot of time coming home. I think that Jephthah spoke so quickly and boldly because he was already pretty darn sure what might be coming out of that house. He had experience as an outlaw, so I'm just saying it's not entirely out of the question that Jephthah may have thought he already knew what he was going to have to give God.

So, just what did he expect he'd be sacrificing, you ask? I have no idea. Maybe in his years on the road, his loyal companion Fluffy always ran out the front door wagging her tail ahead of his daughter. Maybe while he was away on this trip, Fluffy met an unfortunate fate under the wheel of a moving wagon. Who knows what it was he might have expected? But his reaction in Judges 11:35 tells me he didn't expect what he got.

I imagine his heart dropped when his daughter, his one and only child, opened the front door and Fluffy didn't run out ahead of her. He may have even screamed, "No! No! No!" as she smiled, grabbed her tambourine and anxiously danced out that front door to greet her father.

For those of you not familiar with the story, the answer is yes. Yes! Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering to the Lord. He may have been a quick speaker, but he was no deal breaker.

There is no mention of Jephthah's wife, but he probably had one. Do you think even in those days the wife might have been saying, "Jephthah, how many times do I have to tell you, think before you speak. Now look what you've done."

And here's the kicker - Jephthah's deal didn't change anything God wouldn't have already done in the battle with the Ammonites. Jephthah and his deal had no power over God. Jephthah wanted to rule the Gileads - his deal was selfish and unnecessary. Victory over the Ammonites and Jephthah's leadership was inevitable - it was God's plan. The sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter was not inevitable - it was the result of Jephthah's quick-speaking, selfish, power-seeking deal with God. And in the end, Jephthah paid the ultimate price with his only child.

So, for those of you who tend to speak before you think, keep in mind that it may not be Fluffy you are sacrificing.

Readers - Are you a thinker or a speaker, and is it a good thing, a bad thing, or an ugly thing for you?

(*Ammonites occupied Ammon located about where modern-day Jordan is while Gilead was directly west between Ammon and the Jordan River.)

(Scripture reference: Judges 11:30-40)