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Mountains

A year ago today they took my father to the hospital. He was so weak he could barely get down half a popsicle and he missed the last day of fishing season (for those of you who know him, you know this is a GINORMOUS deal). The hospital admitted him when they realized his liver, kidneys, and heart were failing. They didn’t even have time to figure out what strain of meningitis it was. We were told we could have lost him; that we’d nearly lost him. The only reason we didn’t was because his doctor’s father had died of undiagnosed meningitis and he was being overly careful.

I’d like to say this was mercy. But how do you see anyone’s loss as mercy?

A year ago today I was weeks from closing on my house. Once they got my dad stabilized, he made legal calls on my behalf to make sure the deal went through. That’s the kind of man he is.

A year ago today I had an agent reviewing my book, my fairytale, my love. The best thing I’ve ever written because it came out unbidden. The agent ultimately turned it down.

A year ago today the world was full of promise and full of despair. I had hopes for career and home while facing serious concerns I’d lose my father. The least of my worries was that we didn’t get to join Sister Kate and family on vacation in New York. We called it the year of ‘it is what it is’. Everything broke and we just kept spinning.

Today, things aren’t much different and they are incredibly different. It’s still the year of ‘it is what it is’. I’m still working toward my fairytale, but I still don’t have an agent. My dad is still sick; we didn’t lose him, but we did lose his brother—a man who set the world on fire in all the right ways, a man I can’t even write about because my words will fall short. My family is still planning a vacation with Sister Kate, and I think we’ll make it this time. I’m still stressing about my house (tenant and renovation issues, not to mention the fly-apocalypse), but I’m the proud owner now.

And I’m still wrestling with this question: How do you see loss as mercy?

My health has failed me. That’s the unvarnished truth. You’ll probably find that out when you watch my upcoming interview with Monsters Inside Me on Animal Planet so I might as well tell you now. And when God isn’t a genie who heals you or saves your finances or makes people behave honorably or allows you to move mountains, what does trust look like? Just what am I trusting Him for?

Because He IS trustworthy. And He IS kind. And He IS good. These things are non-negotiable. And instead of the silence I referenced in the Answers post, I’m getting a very steady answer of, “I’m here.” That’s the extent of the message, but it is message enough.

I wonder, perhaps, if I’m trusting God to be there. Not to prevent tragedy or difficulty or loss, but to be in it with me. To make sure I face nothing alone—not the sweetest joys or the worst terrors. Because, really, isn’t companionship what we crave most? A friend to laugh with. A friend to hold you. A friend to challenge you. A friend that never fails to be there at your best moment and your worst—even if they don’t say a word. And I’ve got the best friend I could ask for in God.

Sometimes, the mountains aren’t meant to be moved. Sometimes they are meant to be climbed. So grab your climbing buddy and get going.

Look Up

I bought a house. It’s awesome. I love living on my own, neglecting to clean in favor of writing and neglecting to write in favor of cleaning–however the mood strikes me. I’m learning a lot about myself and how I spend money (or don’t spend it, as the case may be). I can stomach paying $4.00 for zucchini, but not $50.00+ for wifi. And so I’ll blame the lack of wifi in my house for my lack of blogging.

I could also blame my overly exciting family, who took me all the way to Philadelphia to introduce me to animatronic dinosaurs.

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I was sure two-year-old Evelyn (the sunshine in my world and alternatively very brave and very afraid) would not enjoy meeting the large-as-you’d-imagine T-Rex or the even-larger-than-you’d-imagine Indominus Rex. But oh that sweet little girl couldn’t get enough. Three weeks later and she’s still roaring with surprising ferocity, followed by a meek and endearing, “Don’t be scared. It’s just me.”

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It was a birthday trip of true happiness. And rather like all the good things that happen to me, it came as a backup plan to my original idea. This happens a lot. A lot; a lot. So much so that I have to wonder why I bother trying to plan anything at all.

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In a crazy, messy life that is one giant roller coaster ride, there are lows and there are highs and it is all part of the adventure. Health that hasn’t been good has forced me to narrow my focus, hone in on my priorities, and invest in the things that are healthy–healthy job opportunities; healthy relationships; healthy habits. And so out of a season of sickness I have found health. Strange… isn’t it?

Life isn’t what I expect; but it IS good.

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Look at the floor and you’ll miss the wonder all around you. So look up, my friends. Look up.

Answers

Words don’t come easily when my health fails. Without my strength, I’m so afraid that I’ll share a little too much. Be a little too open. Speak a word that isn’t full of goodness. But, friends, come inside. Because if I seal up my words forever, then… Why am I here?

God gave me words. Thank the Lord He did. They spin stories of truth into fiction and fiction into truth, an ever-steady undertow of grace multiplying my shaking efforts the whole way.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling especially entitled, I ask God a question along the lines of, “Can’t you just make this one thing easy?” And because He is too good to engage in an argument when I’m not really listening for an answer, He doesn’t say much. But sometimes, oh those sweet sometimes, I get a little glimpse of what that answer would be if I’d listen.

Some people wait a lifetime to meet their best friend. I grew up sharing a room with mine. She was given a four year head-start on life so she’d be extra awesome. Kate, she’s an answer.

Some people never know the sweetness and freedom of expression. Writing, it’s an answer.

Some people never know love. Family, it’s an answer.

See those things, and the things like them, they are the answers. The whispers of God’s truth that I get too embroiled to hear. They are His answers when I think I’m shouting to an empty sky. They are His answers when, in my efforts to be holy, I don’t speak at all. And they are still His answers when I turn my face to Him.

The same, yesterday, today, and forever.

There is good, friends, if we will but open our eyes to see it. There are answers, even when it seems like there are none. And there is reason to be brave and express your deepest self.

Blog Bonus Feature: It Is Well is, in my opinion, one of the most profound hymns in existence. David Dunn puts this spin on the classic in his It is Well:

When the heartaches and the headaches take my breath away
When the sunshine and the moonlight burn my skin
When the sadness overwhelms us and troubled water rises
When the reason for my bleeding don’t make sense

And I’m not, I’m not in control

When my world comes crashing down around my head
And I, I feel like I got nothing left
Oh, Oh, I’m not in control oh oh
But it is well with my soul

It is well with my soul.

Veg Day

My first serious attempt at a short story is a lovely little tale that has been years in the making. Just ask any of my students. The inspiration comes from a teaching device I use to explain ‘the twist’, an important tool for writers of all genres. Without too many spoilers, the story is about a knight who races across a rickety rope bridge to a tower where a dragon holds a princess hostage. Only, when he gets there, the knight discovers that the dragon is the hostage and the princess is the fire-breathing villain.

There never seemed to be enough story there to write until I sat down and tried. Then I met Fenn, the heir to a line of hapless adventurers, and his sister Clementine. The dynamic of a brother-sister relationship was a LOT of fun to play with. Throw in each one’s motivations & limitations and I found myself falling in love. So when the short story was complete (just in time for the annual Writers’ Digest fiction competition), I couldn’t end the characters’ adventures. Fenn and Clem were only just beginning.

And so it is that on this fine Friday, I find myself pulled into the continuing adventures of these new friends. Things are turned around this week. Thursday became my dedicated writing day leaving Friday to become my sole veg opportunity. While Urban Dictionary offers a less than glowing description of the word veg (“state of being vegetable-like: unmoving and slowly degenerating”), I firmly believe in its value. A day to recoup your resources and let your brain wander where it will. A time for restoration of your soul, body, mind, or all three.

Blog Bonus Feature: A lot of my veg days have turned into writing days–but I only undertake writing that feels like fun. So, for example, you would never find me editing on a veg day. If I write today, it will be because Fenn and Clem are too irresistible. Or, perhaps, more irresistible than the couch.

For me, veg days usually involve a lot of quiet and solitude. I pamper the introvert that gets ignored in the priorities of the daily grind. And if I miss a veg day? Oh I notice it–in my attitude, my energy, and my spirit. God certainly had it right when He orchestrated a Sabbath.

So, sweet & faithful readers who keep looking for my inconsistent posts, that’s my advice to you this week. Carve out a little time to be a vegetable. Find a little quiet for your spirit, a little nourishment for your mind, a little restoration for your body. You won’t regret it.

After a weekend of being completely absorbed in the writing world, I returned to ‘real life’ on Monday–hoping that being a paralegal (while a fabulous job, it can’t compare to writing) is a short lived profession. One of the many benefits of a three-day work week is the ability to turn my focus back to writing on my extended weekend and still get one solid day of rest. Today, that rest is given to my sweet niece. Since she was born two Decembers ago, I’ve been doing all the things with her I would want to do with my own daughter, from trips to the bounce house, to dog-watching at the park, to pulling out all the old toys.

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Come on. Isn’t she darling?

Those toys bring back all kinds of nostalgia. They were my first imaginative companions, the best teachers of creativity and story telling, the most patient of friends. With them I wove countless story lines and learned to practice character development, not to mention how to tie all those characters and story lines together. It is my joy and my delight to pass the skills (and toys) onto the next generation.

So, for today, I’ll immerse myself in sharing the wonder of imagination with family. And tomorrow, I will be back to the wonderful world of writing.

I’ve been blessed with an abundance of gifts. Creativity and a general intelligence have led me to excel in writing and music and speaking and business and oh so much more. I’ve always felt a little guilty for those gifts because I can’t possibly put them all to use at the same time. I feel the pressure every day to pour myself out and, even when I do, I still have a talent or two that didn’t get used. By not using my gifts I assumed I was putting them on the shelf to accumulate dust or being the man who received one talent and buried it (see Matthew 25:14-30) instead of doing something useful that would earn his master interest. But I’m wondering now if I’ve been looking at things upside-down.

For the last fifteen months music, in the form of worship leading, has taken precedence over writing (as evidenced by the postponed release of Rise of the Dark Sprite). Five weeks ago, I set down the guitar. I’ve set down a lot of things lately–but more on that another time.

It was a hard decision, perhaps one of the hardest of my life. Worship leading fulfilled so many parts of me, satisfying deep needs to minister to others and to celebrate the goodness of God. I miss it profoundly. In the five weeks since I said goodbye to my church I haven’t touched my guitar, either out of a deep sadness or a perpetual busyness. Probably a combination of the two. And, yes, I have been feeling a little guilty for not sharing my gifts as a musician and worship leader with a church who needs it.

But then I got to thinking…

What if my talents are like a deck-building game? Bear with me here. We’re nerds in this family. We save the world from super-villains over the holidays; hit every premiere weekend for Marvel movies; own the extended version of anything involving Middle Earth; and planned our vacation around seeing the new Star Wars move in IMAX. So it should come as no surprise to you that we delved right into a deck-building game based on The Fellowship of the Ring. The purpose of the game is to buy cards, worth abilities and victory points, that then go into your deck. Each round you deal yourself five cards, use them, and put them away to be re-dealt later. One round I’ll be wielding Legolas Greenleaf’s bow like a young Katniss Everdeen and the next I’ll have moved into defensive position with Boromir’s shield. I get five, usually awesome, cards per turn and it is up to me to put them to good use.

Now, back to my point. Perhaps my life is like a deck of cards. Each year I add a few new weapons to my arsenal (maybe a new passion for the banjo–that would be cool), and deal myself out a hand of talents. In 2015, the focus was worship leading and a new job. In 2016, I hope my focus will be writing and healing (surprise, surprise, when you have Lyme’s disease apparently you can’t work 80 hours a week). It’s not that I’m letting my God-given talent for song-writing and worship leading go to waste this year. It’s that He has handed me different cards. If I put them to waste, shame on me. But if I spend 2016 playing a great game with Legolas’ bow and choose not to pine for Boromir’s shield, then I think I will have done well.

Seasons

Writing is a joy like no other. And after nearly a decade of dedication (I’m twenty-three now; I was fourteen when I finished Issym–my first book), it is still full of surprises. I sit down at the keyboard with no concept of what I want to say and yet words, beautiful, important words, come flowing out. And they ease the ache in my soul.

I’ve come face-to-face (yet again) with the reality that seasons end. Good, wonderful, God-blessed seasons do not last forever. That’s why they are called ‘seasons’ after all. So I’m closing some chapters in my life, most notably with my resignation from my beloved coastal church. Working six days a week and commuting over wintry coastal roads for early morning worship practice is no longer a viable lifestyle. And while I am disappointed beyond measure, I’m also supremely confident that God orchestrated this decision and so it is good.

He has been showing me the value of finishing well. Not focusing (for once in my over-achieving life) on what is to come, but instead focusing on doing the last few weeks of this season to the very best of my ability. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a major Eiffel Tower nerd. I’ve always been struck by how it was built to be temporary. Knowing that his creation was doomed for destruction, Gustave Eiffel still poured blood, sweat, tears, and inspiration into the now iconic tower! He wasn’t daunted by the certainty his creation was temporary. He finished well. And so will I.

12278732_10207210957488957_8617144566751611846_nAs for the holidays, we’ve had a few less Christmas movies or mass-baking evenings than the usual season, but we’ve still had lots of fun. Who knew it could be cold on Christmas Tree Day even without snow? And who knew how FREAKING TALENTED my brother-in-law and I are at picking out Christmas trees. (Isn’t it a beaut?)12219417_10207199026510690_5196170164171381163_n

We’ve celebrated a few less birthdays than usual too, thanks to cases of pneumonia and a deer that made contact with our family van. But the 12274458_10207199026950701_7812799157813826790_ncelebrations we have pulled off have been awesome, from flame-filled nights at the local hibachi to an entourage of people taking dear niece Evelyn to Build-A-Bear for Year 1 of a running tradition. (The writer in me couldn’t help but stick a note inside.) Yes, my niece–who surprised us all with a month early arrival–has reached the age of one going on thirty. Intelligent, persuasive, and highly verbal, she is already turning my world upside-down in all the right ways. I can’t wait to spend Christmas with that sweet little soul.

Overall I’m settling into a new skin–one that’s a bit less afraid of the telephone and far more confident in glasses and even more determined to keep on writing. One that is learning to let go and still savor every second of every season I’m in.  A few months back I wrote a song for my church and I think I’ll close with it here:

Verse 1: There is time for celebration. There is time for tears. You’re the God Who holds me through it all. You’re the God Who holds us through it all

Chorus: Hallelujah to the King of majesty. To the One Who calls me friend. Hallelujah to the One Who conquered the grave. And is coming back again.

Verse 2: The past, the present, and the future, Can overwhelm the soul. But You say “Do not fear for I am near”.

Verse 3: You are trustworthy; You are faithful. You number the hairs on my head. How can it be that You would love me through it all? How can it be that You would love us through it all?

Bridge: You are good, You are good, You are good. You are faithful and sure. For everything there is a season. In every season You are Lord.