Tuesday, July 31, 2012

1000 gifts: reaching my 500th blessing

Continuing my list of gifts, blessings that I write down to remember all the wonderful things that God gives me along life's journey. I write these down on my calendar, and when I get a chance I add them here to my blog. These are all blessings are from July, 2012.

488. A husband who can fix anything
I forgot what I asked B to fix, but afterwards I said "it's so neat you are able to fix anything. Well, maybe not computers."  His response: "Whaddya mean? I can fix computers!" (pretends to slam a laptop down on the ground and stomp on it)

489. Rock giants
We took the kids to Vedauwoo (a nearby park) when their cousins Robby and Kyle were here for a visit; the park is full of amazing formations of giant rocks, so much fun to climb and scramble around on them. Dreamer said "the rocks are giants that come alive at night." (Can't wait for when she reads the Hobbit).

490. "Just to make all the ladies feel good about themselves"
Barrel racing is a ladies' rodeo sport, but B. has raced his horse Ally around the barrels  a few times for practice, because she's really good at it, and he hopes Blaze will get interested in racing her. When we went to the ranch rodeo for the 4th of July, Blaze opted to stay in town with my parents to visit the 4th of July party in the park. So B. decided to barrel race Ally himself at the ranch rodeo "just to make all the ladies feel good about themselves" (a couple women got faster times than him, but he still did pretty darn good, if you ask me)

491. Trail ride with my five-year old
My favorite part about the ranch rodeo is that I can go on a trail ride anywhere on that beautiful ranch, in the magnificent foothills of the mountains right on the border of Colorado and Wyoming. Serious, one of the twins, has gotten so good at riding my old horse Rebel that I let her come on the trail ride with me. She did great! Later her and Starlet had a lot of fun riding Rebel in and out of a stream.

492. Flag flying at the front of our house
I love the 4th of July for many reasons, a major one being that it's our anniversary (13 years), but also because I'm very patriotic and I love hanging our flag by our front door. In fact, I love it so much I left it up for a whole week. 

493. The smell of sage after rain
We've had a large forest fire just 30 miles from Laramie, near Woods Landing. It burned for about a week, thousands of acres, but finally, we got two days of rain that put it out (the first rain ALL SUMMER). I love going for a walk after a rain, everything is so fresh and sweet-smelling; rain-washed sagebrush is a Western perfume I love as much as the scent of roses.

494. Alis volat propriis
This is a Latin quote, "she flies with her own wings" that I found in a new book this summer, "For Darkness Shows the Stars", by Diana Peterfreund, a retelling of Jane Austen's wonderful love story, Persuasion,  with a little science fiction twist.

495. An original dragon story
Dragons are one of my favorite mythical creatures, and I can't resist a story with dragons in it. Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman,  is another great book I read this summer, I think the most original dragon story I've ever read!

496. Summer camp
Blaze's 4th year and Dreamer's 2nd year Table in the Wilderness summer camp. They love this so much! - especially the zip line, but also the rafting and other adventures they get to go on. And I love it because it's a Christian camp, and they brought home a notebook they'd filled with favorite verses and other things they learned.

497. My stepdaughter calling our home, her home
Stars (17 years old) has been staying with us now for almost a year. But when she went back to visit her mom and her other siblings this summer, B and I wondered if she would decide to stay with them. After a couple weeks she was back with us and happy "to be home." One neat thing while visiting her mom this summer, she said she went to church a lot with her nanny, and she really liked that church. She hasn't been happy about going to church with us for a while now, so this was encouraging to hear.

498. Understanding the Bible's "plot"
As a great reader and writer of fiction, I thought it was neat to see "the plot" of the Bible described in this quote from Frederick Buechner:

For all its vast diversity and unevenness the Bible is a book with a plot and a plot that can be readily stated. God makes the world in love. For one reason or another the world chooses reject God. God will not reject the world but continues his mysterious and relentless pursuit of it to the end of time.

That is what he is doing by choosing Israel to be his  special people. That is what he is doing through all the passion and poetry and invective of the prophets. That is why history plays such a crucial part in the Old Testament - all those kings and renegades and battles and invasions and apostasies - because it was precisely through people like that and events like those that God was at work, as later, in the New Testament, he was supremely at work in the person and even of Jesus Christ.

Only "is at work" would be the more accurate way of putting it because ... his work goes on still, and at one and the same time the Biblical past not only illumines the present but becomes itself part of that present, part of our own individual pasts.

Until you can read the story of Adam and Eve, of Abraham and Sarah, of David and Bathsheba, as your own story... you have not really understood it. The Bible... is a book finally about ourselves, our own apostasies, our own battles and blessings. 

499.  Light multiplied a million times
I made this connection while studying 2 Peter this summer with my friend N. In 2 Peter 1:19 it says the Word is a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises  in your hearts. God gives us glimpses of His light, as guiding light along the path of our life, and also sometimes small glimpses of the light of His glory. But on that day when we see Jesus face to face there will be a light rising in our hearts as the light of a star! Compare a lamp to a star! We will experience again, the same wonder of our salvation, but multiplied by a million times...

500. Jesus Friend of Sinners by Casting Crowns
Well here it is, my 500th listed gift (two and half years since I started), half way to the goal of 1000 gifts. I plan to keep adding to this list for the rest of my life, so if God wills for me a long life, I'm excited to see this list not only reach 1000, but maybe 5,000, or 10,000 -- who know??? Whatever number I reach, it is nothing compared to the God who numbers all the stars and every grain of sand and every hair on our head.

This summer I have fallen in love with this song!

Jesus Friend of sinners we have strayed so far away
We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to

Jesus friend of sinners the truth's become so hard to see
The world is on their way to You but they're tripping over me
Always looking around but never looking up I'm so double minded
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided

Oh Jesus friend of sinners
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
Let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh Jesus friend of sinners break our hearts for what breaks yours

Jesus friend of sinners the one who's writing in the sand
Make the righteous turn away and the stones fall from their hands
Help us to remember we are all the least of thieves
Let the memory of Your mercy bring your people to their knees

Nobody knows what we're for only what we're against when we judge the wounded
What if we put down our signs crossed over the lines and love like You did

Oh Jesus friend of sinners
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
Let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh Jesus friend of sinners break our hearts for what breaks yours

You love every lost cause; you reach for the outcast
For the leper and the lame; they're the reason that You came
Lord I was that lost cause and I was the outcast
But you died for sinners just like me a grateful leper at Your feet

'Cause You are good, You are good And Your love endures forever
You are good, You are good and Your love endures forever
You are good, You are good and Your love endures forever
You are good, You are good and Your love endures forever

Oh Jesus friend of sinners
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
Let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh Jesus friend of sinners break our hearts for what breaks Yours

And I was the lost cause and I was the outcast
You died for sinners just like me, a grateful leper at Your feet

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The best 10 moments of my life

A couple weeks ago my stepdaughter and I drove over to Cheyenne to go shopping (much better shops over there than in Laramie). On our way back, I don't know what prompted this, but I mentioned how I took a road trip with my friend after college and it was one of what I called "the top ten things in my life."
One of the less memorable moments of our road trip, when Gracie the Jeep broke down

Stars was curious and asked, what are some other things on your top ten list?

I shared a few more things with her, and she shared a few of hers - her top one being when she got her own horse (Callie) and how wonderful it was to cross the road and see her anytime, and just jump up bareback and take off. I could totally relate because my first horse also made my top ten list.

When we got home, and for several days later, I kept thinking, what else is on this supposed top ten list of mine?  I started trying to list them in order, but I really couldn't. So I've just listed them randomly, with the next numbers on my 1000 gifts list. (Which is kind of fitting, because while these are the most memorable gifts God has given me, they are still just a few of many, many, many more - so many I will never remember them all).

478. Holding the twins together for the very first time. 
They were born 2 months early, and for almost a whole week I wasn't allowed to hold them, as they had to stay in isolettes (it was too early even for kangaroo care). So when I was finally allowed to hold them - together - oh my, I have no words for that moment! I have never felt such joy and contentment and wonder as in that moment. I was 36 years old.
My expression here just doesn't do it justice

479. Getting my own horse
This was a dream of mine since I was 8 years old. My parents could afford to get me riding lessons, but never my own horse (we lived in a large city). I was 22 when circumstances finally worked out that I could buy a horse and afford to keep him. Actually, the most incredible moment wasn't when I found Rebel, or when he was delivered to our barn, or even the first time I rode him. It was the day after he was "moved in" - that morning I woke up and my first thought was, "there's a horse in the barn! My own horse!" and I raced down to the barn in my jammies and peered inside and yes, there he was!
A picture of my mom riding Rebel on a S.C. beach - a dream of both of ours, to ride in the ocean!

480. Snorkeling in the Caribbean
This one made my list because it was so surprising. Based on my experience as a kid, I thought snorkeling was pretty lame. You can't see very well and you're always getting water down your pipes. There's not much to see anyway (I snorkeled murky lakes). So when B and I had our honeymoon and went snorkeling for the first time on a deserted (and pristine) reef off St Croix, I was blown away. It was like entering another world. The water was so clear, the coral was so close, and seething with a rainbow of life. I had thought you could only see this sort of thing scuba diving, not just sticking your head underwater! The rest of the day I was in a daze from all the beauty. I was 30 years old.

481. When B asked me to marry him
I forgot what we did that day, but I do remember the date, February 19 1999. We were in my apartment, late at night, and B was talking about how hurt he'd been by his ex, how he'd thought he'd never trust again. But his growing faith in the Lord had shown him it was possible to trust again. Then he looked me straight in the eyes and asked, "will you marry me?"

482. Writing the last words of my first novel 
This is an interesting one, because it happened twice. I'd been working on this novel since 12 or 13 years old but very "on again, off again, let's start over again" kind of thing. I finally finished in 2000, and it was a surreal feeling to have it all printed off and complete (so long it required two large binders). I shared it with my writing buddy N.L., and she told me it needed "a lot of work" (which I pretty much knew already, it was way too long). But still, it was  incredible to have finally finished it, after, um, 17 or 18 years (no, I'm not at all ashamed at how it takes me to write). I began the process of revising to pare it down, and ended up completely re-writing it over the next 9 years. Amazingly, when I finished it the second time, the feeling was just as powerful. I think I cried as I wrote the last words.

483. Walking down the aisle
I had a wonderful wedding, which I completely attribute to my mom and dad, since they did 80-90% of all the planning and details, so I could sit back and relax. (I highly recommend this method. Micro-planning your wedding may end up wearing you out so you barely have strength left to enjoy it). But as it turns out, the wedding and reception, wonderful as they were, didn't make my top ten list. What did make the list was walking down the aisle on my father's arm and seeing the expression on B's face when he saw me.

484. Seeing my first child for the first time. And the second child.
Oh, the anticipation! What will he/she look like? Is this really happening? And then it finally does happen, and you see your baby for the very first time. It's such a miracle. Again, B's expression on his face as he put Blaze (her screen-name) into my arms is another thing I'll never forget. I was 31 years old. Another truly amazing miracle is you get the same feeling with your second child - and the third, and the fourth. Even though you think you know what to expect, you still don't. The miracle is still just as unique as the first time.

485. Hiking in Canyonlands and afterward calling a friend I hadn't talked to in years
My whole post-college road trip was memorable, but this was the highlight of the whole trip. I had never been west of the Mississippi River before in my life, and the further west we went into the vast mountains and deserts, the more awed I became. One particular hike, in Canyonlands National Park, left me so awed that my spirit was humbled. The earth was so huge and grand, so wildly varied, I was blown away. We were so far into the Utah wilderness that there was no phone access, but a few days later when we got back into civilization, I called my friend M.C., whom I had not talked to in 2 or 3 years, due to a bad falling out. After being so humbled and awed, I just had to share my experience with her and start rebuilding our friendship, admitting where I had gone wrong and asking forgiveness. I was 22 years old.We are still close friends, 20 years later.

486.  Realizing God is real.
About a year and a half after that experience in Canyonlands where my spirit felt that mixture of awe and humility, and several more humbling experiences God used to draw me (without me yet understanding anything about him, or even really believing in him), I reached the point where I challenged him to prove Himself to me. Which He did, immediately, just a few hours later as I read the Bible for the first time in years.  He did not speak out loud but I have no doubt that He spoke to me through a very specific word-image in the Bible. I was stunned and at the same time serene, if that makes any sense. It felt like  searching for a needle in a haystack, doubting you'd ever find it. But then suddenly, there it is, so unexpected, and a thousand times more beautiful than what you had ever imagined.

This last of my top ten moments in life didn't come to me right away (not until today, in fact). I found it interesting that the things that were most important and memorable to me did not include my parents at all, or any friends (except for one, indirectly). It did not include anything from my childhood or school years or college years. (I really wished I had thought to put together a top ten list earlier in my life - I wonder what would have been on it back then? It's impossible to reconstruct now with the bias of age).

I kept coming back to my parents. I have the most wonderful parents in the world; I have no bad memories of them. Sure we had some fights and I had some spankings but really, I can't even say those were bad memories because they didn't scar me in anyway, rather they helped me grow. I could think of many wonderful moments with my parents, but nothing compared to the powerful moments with my husband or with my own kids, even my horse! (insert a huff of disgust toward myself). Which really saddened me. I felt like I had lost something. And it was also sad to realize my own kids will someday find their best memories may not include me! But that is exactly when it hit me:

487. When my parents held my first child for the first time.
I have a hard time describing this. For my mom, she barely looked at me when she came into my hospital room. When she picked up my baby, she made some soft noises of wonder, but other than that she was speechless (which is so rare for my mom).  It was the same way with my father, a while later. When he saw her (I have the hardest  time not writing her real name here!), he had to sit down first, and then asked me to hand him the baby. I handed her over all bundled up. He slowly unwrapped her blanket and just sat there staring at her for a long time, speechless, dabbing at tears. My father does not cry easily. 

I am not sure if we truly ever appreciate our parents, or love them so much as we do the moment we become parents ourselves and see them with our own children.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

When God drops an idea out of the sky

I haven't done a writing progress post in forever! I almost need to shorten my blog's subtitle by removing "the continuing saga of writing a novel..." to just "the continuing saga of attempting to raise four children, stay happily married and stay focused on God." 

But, while I haven't mentioned it often here on the blog, writing continues to occupy a large part of my thoughts. I started a new novel last November and I've been working on it on and off this winter and spring (more "off" than "on", I'm afraid. Reading finished novels is such a temptation instead the hard work of polishing my own writing to good quality).

Magical things in books (this will make more sense at the end of this post)
Anyhoo....I had to start a new novel because the last one (a historical fantasy) ran into a big problem. 

Last summer I completely stopped working on the historical fantasy, because I got uneasy about writing about demons. Dangerous territory, that.

 My original premise was: "what if instead of finding a genie in a lamp, you discover a relic with two genies in it - who are mortal enemies and can't stand each other?"   I LOVED that idea, but with the novel three quarters written, I couldn't write the last quarter, the last 50-75 pages or so. One of the genies was good, one was evil - a demon, in fact. And when I reached the part in the book where the demon started playing a larger role, I couldn't write anymore. I think (in fact, I'm sure), God stopped me - but with the assurance that another even BETTER idea would come along.

So last month, the idea finally came. Here's a few lines from the ECSTATIC email I sent N., my writing buddy of many years, when the idea I'd been waiting for almost a year finally came:

It just hit me out of the blue! (and you get hit too since you are the only good friend who will probably understand this) 
So, remember last summer I gave up working on this book because God convicted me about writing about demons? But I just loved my two spirits trapped together idea? I have been waiting for him to show me the solution. 
Well it just came and its so OBVIOUS I can't believe I didn't see it all along. 
So they are still enemies but not because one is good, one is evil [which led me to write her as a demon]. They had a misunderstanding long ago and they don't understand each other and even a bit jealous of each other and the goal is now to get them to work together despite their bad history. 
DUHHHH!!!!!! I should have seen that YEARS ago. Why didn't I see that??? 
But how cool now that I do! This is going to be so much more FUN!!!! 
Sorry for splatting exclamation marks all over you. Here are a few more to help you clean up!!!!!!!!
 So, my ever perceptive friend wrote back, if your "bad genie" isn't a demon anymore, what is she?

Um, good question. The idea from the blue had given me the source of a conflict to replace the old good vs. evil conflict, but it hadn't clarified the question of, what exactly are these creatures going to be, in my novel?

Mythical creatures like genies, dragons, elves and fairies (to name only a few) are a particular conundrum for bible-believing Christians. 

The only mythical creatures the Bible mentions are the behemoth (with a tail like a cedar tree!) and leviathan ("flames stream from its mouth" - sounds dragonish to me) and the unicorn, in modern translations called a wild ox but the original Hebrew is re'em, which translates to the Greek monokeros ("one-horned").  "Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?" (Job 39:9-10 KJV).

The Bible says these are God's creations, and he describes them to Job (chapters 39-41) to illustrate His awesome power - as He is the only one who can control them.  They are not evil creatures, not like demons. Their incredible power and ferocity - or the fact they can't be tamed - actually points toward God's strength and glory.

Could it be that mythical creatures from other cultures might also have pointed to God, symbols of His awesome strength or His mysterious ways? Or is there a dangerous side to mythical and magical creatures, in that they actually led people astray and into false worship? 

When God finished creating all the creatures on the sixth day (which included the behemoth and the leviathan, and may have included other creatures we now call mythical) "He saw that it was good."

But then sin entered the world, and much that was good became dangerous and twisted by sin. Romans 8:21 implies creation was brought into "bondage to decay."  So I think the answer is "yes" to both of my questions above. Mythical creatures do point us toward God in their strength and mysterious ways. But they are also subject to the Fall and the effects of sin and have been corrupted from their original purpose in creation.

I've been fascinated by how C.S. Lewis tries to explain ancient myths in light of Christianity, addressed in his essay, "Myth Become Fact". 

The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens — at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.

Or, summed very well from this article by Mark Lowery:
  1. All the myths of mankind's primitive religions were expressions of a deep yearning — the deepest yearning — in mankind's consciousness, namely that the mysterious transcendent God would come into intimate contact with mankind, and do so in such a way that He would repair the damages made by mankind's sinfulness, and would grant to mankind a safety that would last forever.

  2. Christianity, rather than being one myth alongside many others, is thus the fulfillment of all previous mythological religions. It is a myth, like the others, but this time a myth that is also a fact. 
So after mulling all this over, after the New Idea that hit me last month,  this is where I'm at now, as far as my story idea:

Instead of being about angels and demons, my story is about a clash of ancient mythologies as the new Christianity starts to spread across the world. This works well since I set the story in the mid 300's, A.D., during the early spread of Christianity. Old mythologies are being pushed out by the new religion. My main character finds two mythical creatures trapped together in a stone, one a genie from Arabia, the other a naiad from Greece. They are enemies because they come from different mythologies, but are forced to work together to serve whoever has possession of the magical jewel they are trapped in. 

As the story progresses they acknowledge that despite their differences, they are both created by God. The genie chooses to serve God (and thus points Sidain, the main character, to God). The naiad just wants to be free and allowed to return to her own life. At the end when Sidain overcomes her own issues and sets them free, they both realize that if they stay in the mortal realm their powers will continue to be a temptation for mankind to try to trap them and use them... and distract them from the real purpose of myths - which is to point us to God as all the myths are fulfilled in Christianity. Thus the magical creature fade from reality into myth, that the one myth which offers true fulfillment may take precedence.   ("He must become greater, I must become less").

 I may find myself stopped again when I re-write the story according to this new path - but that's okay. God can stop me as many times as He wishes, until I get it His way: His way is far better than mine.

As I was looking on the web for more information on C.S. Lewis' views on myth, I came across this fascinating poem by J.R.R. Tolkien, Mythopoeia, which he wrote in response to a discussion with C.S. Lewis in 1931, where Lewis said that myths were "lies breathed through silver". 

Apparently, Lewis' views on myths changed in the years after, as captured in "Myth Become Fact" (1944) and in these little quotes from Lewis, along with several more interesting ones found on Don King's literature web page (Montreat College).

from "On Three Ways of Writing for Children" (1952)

[When a little boy reads of an enchanted wood] it stirs and troubles him. . . with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted. 

from a letter of September 22, 1956
. . . a good myth (i.e. a story out of which ever varying meanings will grow for different readers and in different ages) is a higher thing than an allegory (into which one meaning has been put). Into an allegory a man can put only what he already knows; in a myth he puts what he does not yet know and cannot come by in any other way.

The first affirms my belief that the myths and fairytales I read as a child played a role - perhaps even a very large role - in preparing me to receive and marvel in the truth of Christ  - and so have instilled me a great desire to write children's stories and fairytales.

And both statements brought to mind  1 Corinthians 13:9-12: 
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.