What Is Love? – Part 3

Today, as you probably know, is Valentine’s Day. And today, I am posting the final part in my blog series about love and romance. (If all this sounds new to you, you can read Part 1 and/or Part 2.)

valentines-day-2042048_640Today I’m talking about what it means to love one another. I have even MORE Scripture passages to go through than I did last time, but hopefully it won’t be quite as long. Jesus, in all of his teachings, tells us a lot about how we ought to love. He never mentioned giving people pink hearts and chocolate, but that sometimes works too, especially today…

Anyway. Like I said, romance is awesome, but if you’re only looking at romance, you’re missing something. If you look at how Jesus loves us, you’re getting the picture of true love. But, now that we know what true love is, how on earth are we supposed to love each other?

I’m going to start in exactly the same place I left off last time. In John 15:12, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Now I’m going to jump right in to today’s verses; but don’t worry, I’ll come back to this one.

The first verse is from Matthew 5, which is called “The Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus says a lot of things here, including the command to love our enemies. Most of the sections in this chapter start with the phrase “You have heard that it was said…” and then Jesus gives a common saying, such as “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Then he proceeds to explain exactly why the particular saying is wrong. Such as:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (ESV)

If that command doesn’t go against human nature, I don’t know what does. Love our enemies? Pray for people who hurt us and maybe even want us dead? Humans naturally love those who love them and hate those who hate them. But Jesus commands us to love even the people who do not love us back.

And did Jesus himself love his enemies? Oh yes. Last time I referenced the verse in Romans that says that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And if you’ll remember, as Jesus was hanging on the cross, he cried out to his Father to forgive the very people who were crucifying him. And so, if we believe in him, He will help us to love our enemies.

Another passage (and this pertains directly to Valentine’s Day) is Ephesians 5, part of which says:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

human-1215160_640I would suggest reading all of Ephesians 5, because the whole chapter talks about love, but this is the main part I wanted to share because it talks about husbands and wives. Again, we see a mirror. (I just love mirrors! Don’t you?) Love between a husband and wife is meant to mirror Christ’s love for the church. Once again, I would like to direct you to the Circle series. Dekker illustrates this beautifully, both between a husband and wife and between God and his church. Unfortunately, I’m refraining from actually using it as an example, because I don’t want to spoil anything about it in case someone out there is actually reading it.

My next verse (man, I’m really flying through these this time) is 1 Corinthians 13. This is a very well-known chapter, and it’s all about love. What are all the qualities of love? If we are to act in a loving way, how should we act? These are the things it talks about. And this time, rather than quoting the chapter and explaining what it means, I’m going to go through it and list all the things it says about love. I love lists.

Love:

-Is patient and kind

-Does not envy or boast

-Is not arrogant or rude.

(So far this list is looking pretty bad for Kirk, one of my characters.)

-Does not insist on its own way

-Is not irritable or resentful

-Does not rejoice at wrongdoing

-Rejoices with the truth

-Bears all things

-Believes all things

-Hopes all things

-Endures all things

-Never ends.

What a nice conclusion; I’d never noticed the way it ended before. And if you look at Jesus’s life, you’ll see that he perfectly fulfilled all of those things. Once again, our love for others is meant to mirror Jesus’s love. This is where it all ties back to that verse in John. If there’s one thing I want to say in this post, it’s that Jesus commands us to love others in the same way he loved us. I’m going to wrap this up with one more verse, and it’s from Colossians 3:14.

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

I love that verse. The use of the phrase “above all these” is just like “the greatest of these” at the end of 1 Corinthians 13. And love binds everything together. In perfect harmony. So poetic. *dreamy sigh*

So. This concludes my first Monthly Theme! I’ll be back in a few days or so with another post about who-knows-what. Maybe I’ll blog about music. We’ll have to see though. Meanwhile… if you have any suggestions about what next month’s Monthly Theme should be, please let me know! I’m still looking for ideas. Again, if you have anything else you’d like to say about the verses I shared, please feel free to do so. Or you may add verses you thought of but that I didn’t list here. I’d love to hear from you!

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What is Love? – Part 2

Welcome back to my first-ever blog series, entitled “What is Love?” Last time I explored the theme of romance in books and looked at how romance is different from true love. (If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.) Today, I’m going to be looking at what exactly true love is. There is plenty of Scripture that talks about it, and there are plenty of books out there that illustrate it.

I cannot write anything else in this post without mentioning the Circle Series (by Ted Dekker, if you don’t know). If you’ve never read this series, do it. Read it now. I’ll wait for you. Go ahead. The minute you’re done with it, tell me and we will have ourselves a nice, long conversation. It’s definitely one of my most favorite book series ever. It has lots of different themes within it, but the main theme is the Gospel, which is of course about love. In fact, the series pretty much changed my entire outlook on the Gospel. I’m not going to spoil anything about it… but it illustrates God’s love for us and our love for each other, and it’s just such a good series YOU HAVE TO READ IT.

Now I’m going to share some Scripture passages and talk about what they have to say about love. As I was looking through all the passages I want to share, I was debating which ones I should do today and which ones I should do next time. Should I open with what God says about loving one another, and end with God’s awe-inspiring love for us? Or should I open with the Gospel and conclude the series with how we ought to love one another? After a long debate with myself (I tend to overthink things…), I remembered the verse found in 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” So, then, it would make sense to start with God’s love for us, and end with our love for each other. Because our love mirrors God’s perfect love.

merry-christmas-590226_640Jesus is the ultimate example of love because he died for us. I touched on this the other day. An obvious verse is John 3:16. Practically everyone knows this verse, but in case you don’t, here is what it says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Since this is such a well-known verse that all young Christian children probably memorize, the words can sometimes become empty. I know they can for me. It’s like, “Oh yeah, John 3:16. That verse that talks about God’s love and eternal life.”

Have you ever had that problem with writing before? Maybe you’ve written a simply amazing sentence or paragraph, and you read what you’ve written and you just sit there basking in its awesomeness. Then you go back and read it again. And again. And again. As you keep rereading it, it starts to lose its flare. After a while, you’re not even reading the words anymore because you know exactly what they say. And because you’re not reading them, you’re not really hearing them. And so all meaning is lost.

art-painting-285919_640But if you read, if you really read those words as if it were your first time reading them, they suddenly have meaning again. It’s the same with John 3:16. “For God so loved the world.” If you think about it, that’s pretty amazing. In the beginning, God created the entire world and everything in it was perfect. There was no sin, no death, and Adam and Eve had direct access to God their Creator. But after they sinned (in other words, after they completely turned their backs on the very person who breathed life into them), sin entered the world, they no longer had direct access to God, and the universe was then in disarray and chaos. BUT. God so loved the world.

One little thing here before I go on, because my mind just works like this. John’s choice of conjunction here is very specific. I just said “but” (to make a point), but John said “FOR.” If you connect the end of verse 15 with the beginning of verse 16, it makes perfect sense: “Whoever believes in him may have eternal life, for God so loved the world.” The reason we can have eternal life is because God so loved the world. John goes on to explain this. God loved us so much that he gave us his one and only precious Son, who died for us. If we simply believe in him, we will have eternal life.

Have you ever known anyone else with love like this? Who would give up so much for a world that hates him? Who would turn his back on his only son in order to save a bunch of sinful rebels? There is only one person like that, and his name is God.

Another verse is from Romans 5:6-8. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And shortly after, Paul adds, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23.)

These verses illustrate the immensity of Jesus the Son’s love for us. Like Paul said, not many people would die for someone else. And even if you did, you’d have to really love that person. So if it takes great love to die for someone who is very close to you, how much more love did Jesus have? He died for us before we ever loved him. He chose to love us while we were still turning away from him. (Again, I would like to direct you toward the Circle Series.)

The last passage I’m going to share today acts as a bridge between this post and my next post. And you can see why:

“‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.'” (John 15:12)

church-535155_640So we have just seen how Jesus loved us. And now he commands us to love others in that same way. Love unconditionally. Love without expecting anything else in return. Love sacrificially. Love others as Christ has loved you.

There is a lot more than that in this verse, though. To truly understand all of it, we need to look at the context. This is part of a long conversation Jesus is having with his disciples. I literally filled an entire page with everything that happens before this verse and all the events that lead up to it. Unfortunately… this post is already way longer than I wanted it to be, so I’ll share a few things and leave the rest for you to find.

The conversation takes place after the Last Supper and after Judas had already left. One thing I find very interesting is that Jesus begins his speech with the words “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) He goes on to say lots of other things, but comes back to the commandment to love one another. Then after that, he says finally, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.” Shortly after that he is arrested and then crucified.

Perhaps another time I will talk about this more in-depth, but for now I’m going to leave you with Jesus’s command to his disciples: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

And… my next (and final) post in this series will be about how Jesus instructed us to love each other. By the way, if you have anything you’d like to add about the verses I shared, feel free to comment. I’d love to hear from you!

What Is Love? – Part 1

Today, I am happy to announce something exciting for this blog. I’m going to (hopefully) start having a Monthly Theme. One of my best friends actually suggested it to me. (Thanks, Alison!) Every month, I’ll choose a theme that is commonly found and explored in books and write one or two posts on it… or three… or however many it takes to satisfy my geeky writer’s analytical something-or-other. The part of me that likes to analyze things and connect them to other ideas.

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian. I am only a writer who has a passion for the Truth that sets you free, and I love studying the Bible to see what it has to say about themes commonly found in stories. Themes like love.

love-794333_640Love is a fairly common theme in books. There is an entire genre dedicated to love: the romance genre. The entire plot is about the relationship between two people. Take Romeo and Juliet, or Pride and Prejudice. (I suppose that Romeo and Juliet could be considered a tragedy rather than a romance, but for my purposes, I am calling it a romance.) The plot is about love itself. The premise of each of these books is slightly different. Is it forbidden love; do two characters fall for each other but they are forbidden to marry? Or do they hate each other at first, and then over the course of the story, they fall in love?

Of course, there is more to love themes than the romance genre. If romance isn’t the main plot, it is almost certain that it will be a side plot. Take pretty much any book ever written. Like The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Romance subplots are actually pretty rare in the Sherlock Holmes books, unless the mystery has to do with a love affair, but in The Sign of the Four, Mary Morstan is a main character, and Dr. Watson ends up falling in love with her. Another example is The Lord of the Rings. It is in the fantasy genre, but look at Arwen and Aragorn. At one point Éowyn loved Aragorn too, creating a love triangle. Even my current novel has a romance subplot. The main male character is in love with the main female character from the very first scene, and as the story goes along, their love blossoms into something beautiful. I won’t give anything away, but by the end of the story, the climax hinges on their love for each other.

But there is more to love than romance. Romance implies feelings of attraction; it implies the fluttering of the heart whenever you are together; it implies flirting and courting and soft-spoken conversations under the twilit sky; it implies constant thoughts of the person of interest and of future marriage; and perhaps it even implies marriage itself. Romance is reliving conversations in your mind word-for-word; it is the heating of the cheeks whenever he looks at you (or she, if you’re a guy), it is the desire for physical contact and special attention; it is a friendship with something more in mind. A romance plot is the progression of a romantic relationship; it is two people who may or may not love each other in the beginning but end up together in the end (except in the case of Romeo and Juliet); it is obstacles getting in the way of the relationship but love prevailing in the end. Romance is a relationship between two people. But romance implies nothing more than feelings.

And feelings are not the source of truth, are they? True love implies something more than just feelings. More than just a relationship.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love romantic stories. I love it when two characters are in a relationship with each other and I get to see their relationship progress until the end of the story. Romance is good. God created it when he created Adam and Eve. He created men and women to love each other, and he created emotions, and he created marriage. Romance makes for an excellent story, and yet when it comes to love, if you’re only looking at romance, you’re missing something. You’re missing something important.

What are we missing? Let’s look in the Bible.

cross-66700_640

I’m not going to go into all of the passages today, but I will mention a few. Let’s start with the Gospels. Jesus is the ultimate example of love. He loved us so much, he died for us. And did we deserve it? No. Of course not. We turned away from him. We rebelled. We didn’t deserve to be saved; in fact, we all deserved death. But, because God loved us, he sent his Son – his Son – to die and save us. That, my friend, is true love.

The Bible also talks about other aspects of love. It contains passages pertaining to what marriage should look like, it shows us God’s love for us and how we should follow his example, and in places Jesus tells us some pretty unexpected things about loving one another. And of course, what blog post about love would be complete without mentioning 1 Corinthians 13?

But I don’t have time for all of this today. This is a three-part blog series, so during the next two posts I’ll be sharing some of my favorite passages that talk about love. And I’ll talk about what God’s love looks like and how it is the perfect example of perfect love. Appropriately, I will be posting the third and final part on Valentine’s Day. And yes, I did plan it that way. I plan everything.

In the meantime, let’s talk romance books. Which ones are your favorite? And do any of them have a theme of true love? I’d love to hear from you!

How to Find Inspiration (also known as How to Force the Muse to Pay You a Long-Overdue Visit)

I have read many posts and articles about how to find inspiration, or, in many cases, how to let inspiration find you. No doubt you have, too. And in this post, I’m going to try not to repeat the tips that are used over and over again. This post is not about how to let inspiration find you. It’s not about waiting for the muse to show up. This post is about how to summon the muse.

music-1874621_640Music. I’m listening to music right now… the organ is booming, and the chandelier is rising, and the opening notes of the prologue are just so inspiring because they are telling a story. Every note is perfectly timed, perfectly tuned. Every sound you hear, every breath you take, is in sync with this glorious unfolding story. The notes fill your chest, and the story itself takes root and blooms inside of you. If you close your eyes, you can see something… an inkling of something beyond your imaginings.

That was a little bit random. I wasn’t planning on including it in this post, but I rather like it. (Yes, I was listening to The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, if you’re wondering.) I hope to do an entire post or two about music one day, because I believe that music is one of the driving forces behind the entire universe. Don’t ask me why – I just do. There has always been something symbolic about music… Aslan created Narnia with a song in The Magician’s Nephew. Tolkien used music to illustrate the fall from perfection in The Silmarillion. And I use music to create my own worlds and my own characters.

Music always tells a story. There is always some sort of idea that the composer is trying to get across to his listeners, if not an entire story. There are always emotions that are carried in the music. So to find inspiration from music, simply pick a song that you like – one that has always grabbed you and taken you by the hand and swept you away to the realm of imagination that is reality in some abstract, mysterious way… Try not think about anything as you listen to the music. Don’t try to get inspiration, or it won’t work. Let the music itself guide your thoughts. In your mind you’ll start to see the story playing out. If you’re trying to get past writer’s block, you can think vaguely about your story you’re working on, but mostly let the music direct you. It’s surprising what you can come up with.

It is a little bit hard to get to that state of mind where you’re not thinking about anything at all (especially if your mind is always busy like mine), but even just listening to music helps me when I write.

book-863418_640Books. This one seems obvious: Read other people’s creative works to learn how to do it yourself, and to get your mind off your own book. But that’s not exactly what I’m going to say, because everyone else says that. I’ve discovered that rereading old books actually gives me more inspiration than finding a new book to read. Go back to your childhood and reread your favorite books. Those books that you loved so much because you weren’t quite old enough to fully analyze a story, and you were just there for the sake of the story itself, and you didn’t have that annoying voice in your head analyzing the author’s every word…

I find myself captivated by the story itself. There’s nothing wrong with reading new books, but I’m just more inspired when I reread books I’ve already read three times.

book-1209805_640The Gospel. I have gone to the Bible many times for inspiration. Most of the time I wasn’t even looking for it, but the inspiration just popped out at me. The first time something like that happened, I just happened to be reading in Romans and I realized that the character I had just created was a perfect illustration of some aspect of the Gospel. It was pretty awesome. Besides the obvious fact that the Bible is the greatest story of all time which contains absolute truth, sometimes you can get wonderful ideas for stories.

Sometimes reading the Bible feels only like a duty and you don’t really take the time to truly appreciate the words of it. The Bible is the Word of God, so it makes sense that we should hang on to each word as we read it, our breath catching in our throats as we see the story that is unfolding before our very eyes. And we know that every word of it is true, which only makes us doubly excited. And when we look at whatever we’re reading in context of all of Scripture… the feeling is indescribable.

(Normally I would take that as a challenge and attempt to describe whatever it is I had said was indescribable, but for now I am going to leave it for you all to discover.)

So that’s my take on where to find inspiration. Are there any important things I’ve left out? Is there anywhere you go to for inspiration that I didn’t mention? You can let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear from you!

Yep, I’m Talking about the Gospel Again

You always hear about writers who are writing. They may tell you how they write their stories, they may tell you about both the good days (“I wrote six thousand words today, wrapped up three of the subplots, finished fleshing out the villain’s backstory, and developed an outline for the sequel”), and also the bad days (“I sat staring at my computer, wrote three words, deleted them, sat staring at my computer some more, and then gave up writing for the day”). But something that is rarer to hear about is the in-between days – the days where you don’t have a work in progress, you’re not currently editing anything, nor are you in the planning stage of anything.

Right now, I am in that phase. I’m ready to get back into writing, but I haven’t yet. I’m trying  to plan out a sequel to a story that I finished almost two months ago, I’m a bit scared because I have never successfully written a sequel, and I am hoping to be able to go back and edit the story I finished. But right now, I am literally just sitting here wearing my Crimson Cloak of Mystery and forcing myself to write this, because I HAVE to write something. And yes, I really am wearing a costume. I collect cosplays for my own characters. And I wear them when no one else is around.

Before I run away with my random thoughts, I have discovered something important. Many people call it their “niche”. Anyway, I have generally blogged about two things: writing, and the Gospel, which is what I set out to do in the beginning. But some of my posts have been more on the writing side of things and tend to focus more on the crafting of words rather than exploring the truth of the Gospel. There is nothing wrong with that, but I have found that I must ALWAYS talk about the Gospel. It is my niche, but it is so much more than that. There is simply no way I cannot talk about the Gospel.

The Gospel is what makes me come alive. Both literally and metaphorically. (I talked about how your passions make you come alive inside in my last post.) The word Gospel literally means “Good News,” and the Good News it shares is that Jesus came to die for us. To save us from eternal death. And then he was resurrected. If you believe this, you have died with Christ and been raised with him, and now you are ALIVE.

One time, my dad shared a verse with me. It’s from Jeremiah 20:9, and it says, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (ESV) I feel exactly the same way as Jeremiah did. I have to share the Gospel. There is no way I can just keep quiet about it. Because, by the grace of God, I have been saved. Therefore, I MUST tell everyone else about it. And when I’m able to connect ideas about stories to ideas about the Gospel, I just find it beautiful because all of my passions are coming together!

Before I go, I have a question to ask you: Do you have anything you’d like for me to blog about? Usually I am able to come up with ideas, but at the moment, I’m working on a blog post series for the future, so all of my ideas are going towards that. If you want to suggest something, you can either leave a comment, or visit my contact page. Or if you know me personally, you can just tell me, of course. I’d love to hear from you!

Write Your Heart Out

I consider writing as a form of therapy. It’s calming, it’s a way to temporarily escape from the real world, and it makes my heart come alive. Writing is my passion; therefore, I come alive inside whenever I’m doing it.

Sometimes I’ll write the “old-fashioned” way: with a pen and a notebook. The rhythm and the physical motion of writing by hand is somehow relaxing.

The familiar rhythm.

The familiar dark blue ink on the crisp white background.

The familiar sense of calm that comes over me as the tip of the pen scratches across the surface of the paper.

The familiar forms of the letters taking shape as the thoughts in my head are magically transferred onto the page.

The familiar feeling of being transported to a familiar place where adventure is waiting around every corner to take me to the unfamiliar.

The familiar realization that the cheap piece of plastic in my hand is in fact a weapon – a paintbrush which paints worlds which no one has ever seen before except for me –  or perhaps it is a weapon which brings life rather than death – or it is a magic wand which keeps the power to either create or destroy literally right at my fingertips.

In fact, I actually wrote all the above random, somewhat-poetic-sounding things with my favorite pen. Sometimes I just like writing with pens, you know… all writers have their quirks, and having a slight, odd obsession with pens is one of mine. So I picked up this brand new pen. It was my favorite kind, which is just a plain old blue ballpoint pen – I will rarely write with anything else – and I started writing with it. I wrote about what happens to me when I write. Unfortunately, I wrote on the first piece of paper within sight, which happened to be a piece of scrap paper. I think I may have accidentally thrown it away a few days ago, but luckily I had read over it several times and so I remember the general ideas I had written down. There are probably a bunch that I’m not recalling, though.

Besides the act of writing itself being calming, I find that the mental transition is also very calming. As I write, I am transporting myself to another world – a world where I am in complete control when I feel I have no control over my own life. A world where, for a little while at least, I have no problems to worry about except those of my characters. Writing is my escape sometimes.

But it is so much more than that. When I write, I take myself to a world completely of my own making. A world which no human eye has ever, ever seen before. A world in a completely different universe where people still believe in magic, or where time and space themselves behave differently, or where the lives of imaginary characters play out in one massive plot. It is all imaginary, and yet to the writer is is all very, very real.

Most writers, myself included, are introverts. Writing is a way to share myself with the world. I usually don’t share my thoughts with very many people, so writing is a way to do that. I can write my heart out. It’s very freeing sometimes to be able to do that. And this blog I started not that long ago is a way for me to write my heart out. Fictional stories only go so far. Before long, you start to want to share more of your life with the world. This is a way to let me share my passions and my deeper thoughts with the world.

And still, writing, to me, is so much more. Writing is what makes my heart come alive. Writing is my passion. I have many passions, like learning about quantum physics (yes, I know I’m crazy), and anything to do with Great Britain in general. But writing tops them all. My passion for God and the Gospel also tops them all.

When I was fourteen, I wrote a story which was different than any other story I had ever written before. This story had depth; this story had meaning. This story changed me. I realized that writing was what I wanted to do with my life, at least for the next several years. I realized that writing was what made my heart come alive.

And the best part is that, through writing, I can share my faith. If the story doesn’t have a meaning, it is, well, meaningless. If it lacks the truth of the Gospel, it somehow doesn’t mean as much. Like I’ve said before, readers like to see the truths that are written on their hearts. Redemption. If redemption is written on their hearts, then wouldn’t it make sense that writing your heart out involves some great, dramatic story about the very truths that have been in place since before the beginning of time? If the Gospel is written on our hearts, then doesn’t it makes sense that writing your heart out involves writing a story about the Gospel?

So go on. Write your heart out. I’m challenging you.

Words, Magic, and Divine Power

My footsteps are muffled crunching sounds as I walk down the now silent and abandoned street. My breath puffs out in a cloud of smoke and disappears among the hundreds of thickly-falling snowflakes, illuminated perfectly by the harsh yellow glow of a streetlamp. I shove my hands deeper into my coat pockets, the fuzzy lining rubbing against my chapped hands. And although the frigid air bites at my nose and cheeks, a smile spreads across my face, because there is just something magical about the first snowfall of the year.

Words

Sometimes I like to write short little scenes like this based off of real things I’ve experienced. Even if it’s nothing particularly exciting, I still like to experiment and see if I can write it as if it were a scene in a book. I journal fairly often, and occasionally I’ll describe bits of my day like that. (The above example actually took place a couple of weeks ago. I love snow, as you can probably tell.)

Sometimes I like to take it a step further. I’ll add fictional components. Usually this means changing the mood of the scene. For example, what was the set mood of the scene? Magical? Peaceful? Calm? Exciting? What if I were to add a few things – just a few – that completely changed the mood? Maybe add some action? Like this:

My footsteps are muffled crunching sounds as I run down the now silent and abandoned street, my breath coming hard. It puffs out into clouds of smoke and disappears among the hundreds of thickly-falling snowflakes. My footsteps are far too loud, I think. I avoid the harsh yellow glow of the streetlamp, staying just outside the circle of light. I pause to catch my breath, my heart hammering inside my burning chest. The fuzzy lining of my coat pockets rubs against my chapped skin. My fingers are trembling and I clutch at the fabric to get them to stop. The frigid air bites at my nose and cheeks. My legs are tense, as if they have frozen in place. I shiver, glance behind me, and continue at a run down the street. Suddenly the streetlamp behind me goes out, casting everything into darkness, and a gunshot pierces the still night.

Okay, maybe I overdid it with that bit about the gunshot at the end, but do you see what I mean? It’s easy to change the set mood of a scene with just a few words.

I guess what I’m really doing is changing the scene within a setting, and that changes the mood of the setting. Settings can have different moods. A different example is a forest. (A bit of a cliché, but who cares.) Let’s say a character grows up in this forest. He played make-believe there, he escaped there when he was angry or sad, he even had his first kiss there. He knows every tree, every stone, every twist and turn of this forest. But then let’s say that this character now for some reason is frantically hurrying through this forest, staring at the ground, and the trees he thought he knew so well seem to be concealing dark, age-old secrets from him. What’s different? Perhaps our character discovered that the forest is the resting place of a great treasure with a mysterious and sinister past.

Anyway, that example was getting a little beyond what I wanted to do here. I didn’t want to go on in an in-depth study of how emotions and moods change when new circumstances come up and so forth and whatever else it was that I was doing. I only wanted to illustrate how a few words can completely change an entire scene. Because words are magic.

Magic

Yes, my friend, words are magic. I’ve heard that a lot of things are magic, like writing, reading, music, words, and numbers. I agree one hundred percent with all of these, but of course, words are the real magic behind writing and reading.  (Music and numbers are too, but unfortunately I don’t have time to write about that today.) Words can be manipulated, and the author has infinite power over them. The author, if they are using the words correctly, can manipulate the reader to believe, think, and feel anything they want them to.

And why is that, you ask? The answer lies in the Bible. In fact, and this is crazy, but all you have to do is read one single chapter out of the entire Bible, and you will understand. This chapter is John 1. It starts like this:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (ESV)

I just absolutely love this passage, because it talks about Jesus being the Word. I had to study it a bit to see what it was saying, because it’s rather metaphorical. It’s almost like a poem.

The Word is Jesus. Jesus is God. When God created the universe, the planet Earth, and everything on it, he did it by speaking. He did it with words. These words are recorded in Genesis: “Let there be -” And whatever he said sprang into existence.

Divine Power

I have always compared the process of writing a story to God creating the world. God saw in his mind the universe he was going to create, and he said the words that made it come into existence out of nothing. Obviously (and I hope I shouldn’t have to explain it to you) there is a drastic difference between writing stories and God creating the universe. All we, as writers, can create is fiction. No matter how many stories we write, no matter what words we use, our stories will always be fiction. Even though we are creating something out of nothing, we can never do any better than fiction. God, however, holds the power to speak things into existence – real things that we can see and hear and touch – and even invisible things that we may not be aware of. God is the ultimate Author, and he is writing the ultimate story.

The name of my first novel is The Story and the Author. I can’t remember why I originally named it that, but I know now that it has a triple meaning. It is about a man who writes a story. The first part is the story itself (his autobiography), and the second part is about what happens to him after he writes his story, so the book is literally about a story and its author. The second meaning subtly breaks the fourth wall. I wrote myself into the story (as one of the characters, not as myself), thus, the book is about me, the author, and my story. And the third meaning is my favorite. This meaning is perhaps the most subtle of all, but it illustrates the fact that God is the Author of life, and he is writing a story – a story that started at the beginning of time and is still going. We are all characters in this story, and we all play some part in it. Except this story is very much real.

So, no matter how you view them, words are always magic. Words have the power to create or to destroy. They have the power to evoke emotion or to manipulate thoughts. With words, God created the entire universe. With words, God is writing the greatest story of all time.

We’ve all experienced how magical words can be. Where (and how) have you experienced it? In what stories? And if you like writing, have you ever written a passage that you thought was truly magical? I’d love to hear from you!

A Year In Review

Hello everyone. As you will probably notice, I took a little break for the holidays and am just now getting back into writing blog posts. Today I’m going to look back at the year 2016, specifically from my writing POV. Of course, I only started blogging a couple of weeks ago, so I’ll have to fill you in on the rest of the year.

I wrote a couple of short stories – one of them is still sitting around somewhere waiting for me to go back and revise it. And the other one I hope never to see again.  You know how some stories are just simply horrific until you go back and reread them after a few months? But then you also have the stories that are still simply horrific even after you reread them. And yep, that was one of those stories.

There were also periods of time this year where I suffered from writer’s block. I had no ideas and thus nothing to write. It was terrible. But then I decided to do NaNoWriMo, so that sort of took care of that. NaNo was probably one of my two writing highlights of the year.

I was also able to edit a novel I’d written a while ago – the purpose being so that I could get it printed on this amazing machine called the Espresso Book Machine. That was really fun, and I consider it my other writing highlight of the year.

In addition to writing projects (and numerous ideas that only turned into a couple of scenes before I got bored – that’s what happens when writer’s block decides to linger for two months at a time), I also grew a lot closer to God this year. I think I can say that the overall thing I learned was that I need to trust him. I need to stop relying on myself for strength and instead place my trust in him. This year I learned that if I do that, he will always give me strength to face whatever is coming at me.

This makes me think of a verse from Proverbs: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (ESV) (That verse is from Proverbs 3:5-6, if you want to know.)

Throughout the entire year, God has been teaching me this, but there was one time in particular that comes to mind. It was during the week where I volunteered at Camp Attitude, which is a summer camp for special-needs kids and teens and their families. I was assigned to one kid, and for the entire week, I was just her special friend. It was very hard, but it was so very rewarding! During that week I learned to rely on God every day. I learned to trust him.

So, this year, I learned at least two very important things: Trust God, and writer’s block doesn’t last. Although… I seem to forget that little fact whenever I actually get writer’s block. But hey, this brings me to another very important point: When you’re going through darker times or when you’re really struggling with something, it can be hard to remember to trust God. I’m pretty sure every Christian has experienced something like this at some point in their life. I’m still trying to learn it myself. God is still teaching me.

Oh, I guess I shouldn’t leave without saying something about new year’s resolutions. I’ve never really been big on resolutions. Mine have always been something along the lines of “write something amazing” (2016), “build a hoverboard” (2015, and I epically failed… sorry, Marty McFly), or… wait, I didn’t even have one in 2014. This  year, though, my resolution (I guess it’s more of a “goal”) is to GET A BOOK PUBLISHED. I’ll keep you posted on how I do, because it’s very ambitious, especially if I decide to write the last two books of a trilogy at the same time.

So, this year has been somewhat of an adventure, a journey… and I hope 2017 will bring all new adventures. All you writers, what was this year like for you? Do you have any resolutions? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy New Year! I’ll see you in 2017!

The Learning Experience

The thing about writing is, you always end up changed somehow. After every story, you take a step back and say, “Wow. I learned something.” Because writing is an experience in which you practically live in your mind and pour your heart out onto paper. This process makes you grow as a person and writer; it makes you learn things you never knew before, and it makes you discover things about yourself. Even if it’s as simple as, “Wow, I really hate this premise,” you’ve learned something: you should never try to write a story with that premise again.

Okay just kidding. If, in the future, you go back to that story you thought was horrible and you find you like it, by all means, you’re welcome to rewrite it or whatever. More power to you, because that’s something I’ve never been able to do.

My point is, no matter how good the story turns out, you always learn something. I have found that for every story I write, I always learn something about myself, and I always learn something about God.

My most recent story was about these twelve characters who represent the twelve disciples. They go on a quest to achieve who-knows-what (I hardly even know yet. Maybe I should figure that out.) I think, now that I’ve taken a step back from it, that I can say that what I learned about myself was that I am capable of breaking past the boundaries I set for myself. I wrote this particular story during November for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Going into it I thought that it was downright impossible to write an entire novel in just one month. I thought that there was no way I could stay on top of my daily and weekly word count goals. I had never even attempted it before, and at the time I thought it was extremely ambitious. Impossible. I would never succeed. Furthermore, how was I supposed to write anything when I barely even knew what would happen in the story?

It turned out that all those boundaries I had set up for myself at some point were all false. Last month I learned that I could do what I thought was impossible, and that that statement applied to all areas of writing. I learned that I shouldn’t assume I couldn’t do something until I attempted it.

Now I could go on and on about what I learned about God. And yet, it is harder to put into words. Every time I write a story, it’s like I rediscover the Gospel for the first time. Sometimes I find a new aspect of it that I had never realized before. For example, one of my stories (I wrote this one about a year or two ago) focused on the theme of slavery: we are slaves to sin until we accept what Christ did for us. Then he frees us from our bondage and makes us slaves to Himself. While writing that story, I really explored this theme and was led to specific passages of the Bible that talked about it. Romans 6 is one of my favorites. But no matter what specific theme my story is exploring, I always end up seeing the Gospel in a new light.

Sometimes, this seeing of the Gospel also leads to moments of self-discovery: “There are people in this world who are still in sin’s bondage. Therefore, I MUST find them and show them the truth.” That one story in particular changed my views on everything. It changed my view of the world, it changed my view of God, and it even changed my view of myself. (Coincidentally, it was because of that one story that I realized I wanted to be a writer.)

So, writers are always learning things. I personally love the process of writing and discovery. I always look forward to writing new stories because of all the things I know I’ll be learning. I think the coolest part, though, is everything God teaches me about Himself. I always love seeing the Gospel as if it was my very first time. The Gospel is just one of those stories that never gets old – like those timeless stories I mentioned in my last post. Except the Gospel is the Timeless Story, because it gets woven into many, many countless other stories.

So, if you write, what do you learn from it? How have you grown over the years because of it? I’d love to hear from you!

An Analysis of a Story

Today I’m going to talk about what makes a good story. No, I’m not going to discuss the roles of the protagonist/antagonist; I’m not going to talk about a good plot, setting the stakes, introducing conflict, or what makes a compelling character arc; I’m not going to talk about how to create a truly magical fantasy world. All of these things are valuable to a story and are worth knowing, but today I’m going to talk about something called… well, I don’t actually know what it’s called.

What makes a story stick with a reader?

(Don’t get this confused with what makes a reader stick with a story. Today we’re flipping that and looking at it the other way around.)

What is it about some stories that stick with us forever, while other stories we forget about within a week, even though it was wonderfully written and kept our attention? What common element can be found in all timeless stories, stories that will never be forgotten, ever?

Like The Lord of the Rings. It’s one of my personal favorites, and I think it is definitely classified as a timeless story. In fact, this example works out perfectly, because Sam Gamgee (who is the best character in the entire saga and no you may not argue with me) actually tells us about, in his opinion, what makes the best stories:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something…. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

He said this to Frodo in The Two Towers, and he is completely right on every point he made. And he stumbled across that element that should be in all stories if you want them to stick with the reader forever.

Readers want to see characters who fight until the end, even though it looks bleak and impossible. Even though evil will win for sure. Readers want to see characters fight for what they believe anyway. They want to see characters hold on to what little good is left. And of course, good wins in the end. Because these characters fought, even though they had lots of chances to turn back and give up, even if tragedy struck or the darkness ruled, the characters fought and they won.

Readers want to see the timeless truths that are written on their hearts. Everyone, regardless of their religion or worldview, knows instinctively about the constant battle between good and evil. Everyone, whether or not they have ever heard the good news of the Gospel, has an internal longing for redemption. Redemption from anything that holds them captive. And all the best stories illustrate this.

We are a fallen race. We know we are lost. We long to be redeemed. And because of this universal need that drives us, the great stories stay in our minds. If a story depicts an epic display of selfless love, or a dramatic rescue, it will affect us. If we are Christians, the story will especially resonate with us because we know about the saving grace of God. If we are not Christians, the story will leave us thinking about greater things, things that are beyond us, wonderful things we cannot even begin to imagine. And it will still resonate with us because we know that there must be some truth in it somewhere.

And we know that achieving redemption is never easy. There is always a struggle, always a fight. Usually there is a sacrifice. The Harry Potter series is another wonderful example. Regardless of whether or not it was intended, there are countless redemptive messages within that series. The darkness keeps pressing in, evil is overtaking everything, and yet there is a glimmer of hope. There is still the promise of redemption. And the characters had lots of chances to give up. But they never did. They kept fighting until the end, despite tragedy, death, and the general feeling of hopelessness. And they won.

See, all the good stories have that element! A fall from grace and perfection, the long fight against evil, and finally one savior who redeems them all and defeats the evil. This is the Gospel. Sometimes at the end of the story we even get a little glimpse of the end of the end – where everything will be made right again. In The Return of the King, in the very last chapter, we see this. Frodo sails away to the Grey Havens, which is a place where there is no evil and no pain. That part always makes me cry because it’s just so good.

Whether we realize it or not, the Gospel is written on the hearts of humanity. We know the struggle between good and evil is real, and we know we need a savior. Sadly, many of us do not have a personal relationship with the one true Savior: Jesus Christ. And yet, these stories still resonate with us. And maybe, one of them will strike a chord within us and leave us wanting more – and maybe we’ll be led to the Savior.

If you take any great story – any story that has stuck with you from the first time you’ve read it – and you analyze it, I guarantee you will find a story of redemption.

I’ve shared my favorite stories with you, but what are some of yours? Which stories have stuck with you? What was it about them that drew you in so much? I’d love to hear from you!