My Honest Review of “Beyond the Circle”

Hey, everyone! After much recovery from NaNoWriMo, I’m back to blogging. And today, I’m going to give you my honest opinion of Ted Dekker’s newest adult series: it’s a two-book series called “Beyond the Circle.”

I did a review on the first book, The 49th Mystic, which you can read by clicking here. The sequel, Rise of the Mystics, came out in October, and I was so excited, I read it in a matter of days. However, I was… not very impressed (I’m cringing as I’m typing this). Don’t get me wrong: Ted Dekker is a brilliant author, and Rise of the Mystics is some great storytelling. But I wasn’t very happy when I got to “The End.”

There won’t be any spoilers in this post, but if you’re VERY sensitive to sentences that very vaguely talk about things that might could possibly maybe happen, then I’d suggest reading the book first. 😉

Now, I went into Rise of the Mystics very hopeful and very excited. The 49th Mystic was amazing and promising and, simply put, awesome! (The villain was pretty epic too!!) I’ve got no problems with that one. Rise of the Mystics, however…

Let me start with the stuff I did like.

The storytelling. Ted has a natural gift for storytelling, and it shines through in this one. And overall, it was a great story. The characters were complex, the protagonist had a great character arc, all that stuff writers are supposed to say about other people’s books.

The story itself. It’s a gripping story, minus the fact that the beginning is really confusing. It’s definitely fast-paced and has that traditional thrilling Dekker suspense vibe. I won’t tell you too much about it, seeing as it’s a sequel and the story is just a continuation of The 49th Mystic. Plus, I promised there wouldn’t be any spoilers.

My problem is with the theology. (gasp!) If you’re unfamiliar with the series, theology plays a huge part in the story. Characters quote Scripture right and left and have huge, life-changing encounters with God. Which is great. Because encounters with God are very real things, and Scripture is of course the Word of God, and thus it is the source of all Truth. Ted’s not denying any of that, but the way he started interpreting parts of the Bible made me wonder what he was leading up to.

At first I just stopped reading for a second and made a mental note about it. No big deal. But as the story went on, the problem just got bigger… and bigger… 

And bigger.

And let me say, I was NOT happy with the way it ended.

Green was better.

And if you’ve been in the Dekker fandom for any length of time, you’ll know that the ending of Green is something we Do. Not. Talk. About.

At first, it seemed like Ted was trying to present a certain truth from the Bible, but the way he explained it didn’t quite feel right. Sure enough, it led to problems later in the book. Major problems. Like I-can-literally-point-to-a-hundred-specific-Bible-verses-that-directly-contradict-you kind of problems. Does the Bible say we should love everyone? Yes, because God made everyone, and all human beings are made in his image. Jesus personally told us to love our enemies. But that does not imply everything else that happened in the story… which I will not tell you about, because #spoilers. 

So… those are my thoughts. I enjoyed “Beyond the Circle” in general, but I am definitely still upset about the theology presented in it. All in all, I was disappointed. It’s a great story, it had great potential. It could have gone amazing places.

As a side note, Ted and his daughter Kara just came out with a children’s series called “The Dream Traveler’s Quest.” I actually really liked that series, but it was literally the same story, and thus some of the same theology. They presented deep truths in a way that kids can understand – a feat I admire – but once again, I started to question their theology at the end. It did have a better ending than Rise of the Mystics, though, so I was pleasantly surprised.

Have you read “Beyond the Circle?” What did you think?

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The Paradox of Free Will

Happy summer, everyone! Today I have something a bit out of the ordinary… This has very little to do with writing, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, so I might as well share it with you all.

Free will. It’s the source of many debates, scholarly books, and carefully-formed opinions and worldviews. As Christians we know that God is sovereign, that He controls everything… but we also are free to make choices. If everything is predestined, if God has known since before the beginning of time precisely what will take place in the universe, right down to our most mundane choices… then do we really have free will?

Disclaimer: I’m not a theologian. I’m not saying I’m right. I’m merely offering you a simple metaphor.

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Let’s start with this. Sometimes I like to break the fourth wall. Actually, what’s more fun is not even breaking it, just touching it a little, acknowledging that it’s there. Like this little dialogue between two characters from my first novel:

“What if I’m just stalling?”

“Why would you stall?”

“Because it’s always what happens in all the books.”

“Is this a book?”

“What if it is? If this were a book, the author would be controlling our every action and everything we say. Do you have free will of what you say and do?”

“Yes.”

“Then it’s not a book.”

See the irony? Heheheh. My characters have no idea what they’re talking about. But, just for a moment, let’s actually consider it. Consider an author. This author is writing a book, yes? But the question is, do the characters in the book have free will?

Well… yes, they do, obviously. That should be a “duh” question. The characters make their own choices, whether good or bad, and one way or another, they endure the consequences of those choices.

But then again, doesn’t the author already know what they’re going to do? That’s kind of what an author does, you know? The author has complete control over what happens in the story, and yes, that includes characters’ actions and thoughts. That doesn’t really give the characters much freedom if the author is controlling them, does it? Hence, the paradox: Yes, the characters have free will, but the author still has sovereign control.

“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)

God is the founder of our faith. Some versions use the word author instead of founder. God is not only the founder and perfecter of our faith; He is also the Author of Life, and we are all characters in His story. This story has been going since the beginning of time, since that moment God said, “Let there be,” and there was.

Unlike the stories I like to write, and every other story in existence, God’s story doesn’t end. It doesn’t have “The End” stenciled in fancy lettering on the last page. It will go on for eternity.

It’s not the answer to this puzzling mystery, but it’s a way to look at it. It’s a way to wrap our minds around a tiny piece of it. The mystery of God’s sovereignty and our free will may never be explained fully, maybe not even for all of eternity.

Maybe paradoxes don’t bother you. But if you’re anything like me, you can’t let them rest. But I can rest in this: God is sovereign, and His knowledge encompasses this mystery and countless others. God, my Creator, has written – is still writing – His story.

What do you think? Is author/story context a good way to look at God’s sovereignty and our free will?

Joy to the World

In honor of Christmas, I thought I would write about joy. Joy through trials, that is. I don’t usually write on this topic, but it was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing, and I feel like I should post it. It has very little to do with writing, actually. And honestly, how am I qualified to even write about such a topic as trials and suffering? I’m sixteen years old; how much have I actually seen in life? Not much. How much have I actually had to endure? Compared to some others, not much.

But I want to write this post to encourage anyone who is going through some sort of trial right now. I want to remind you that God will use whatever you’re going through in truly spectacular ways. I know it’s nearly impossible to see in the midst of trials, but He will bring something out of it.

Let me tell you a story.

advent-wreath-3008858_640Last winter and spring, I went through a period of depression. It lasted for several months. Everything was meaningless, even things that used to mean everything to me. It was hard to get up every morning and keep going. Even my spiritual life was meaningless. I knew I should find joy in Jesus; I knew He could help me find some meaning in this thing called life again. And even though I knew that, the depression and the tears lingered.

And God did eventually help me find meaning. He did help me find joy. But that’s not really the point of going through trials. The end goal isn’t to get out of them. God wouldn’t do that; He wouldn’t put us through hard things and then bring us back out of them without letting us learn something.

I was reading through some of my old journals the other day. About six or seven months ago, in the midst of my depression, I was writing things like this: “That fiery passion I felt for the Gospel? It’s gone…. I’m afraid I’ll never find it again. How can I lose sight of my calling now, after I’ve come so far?”

The Gospel is something that sets me on fire. At least, it used to, before everything turned gray and became devoid of any meaning. The Gospel has been the calling on my life since I was a child. I’ve always felt that nudge from God. But not then. It scared me. I was afraid I’d never be able to experience the Gospel and all of its beauty again.

And guess what happened? It wasn’t an instant change. Some parts of it were, definitely, and sometimes God does bring us out of our trials instantly like that. But not this one. This one was more gradual. I couldn’t really see God’s amazing work until I zoomed out. But His work was truly amazing.

This past summer, I had another opportunity to serve at Camp Attitude. I’ve gone with a group from church for the past few years, and it’s always an amazing experience. You get to volunteer there to serve disabled kids and their families, which sounds like a boring way to spend a week of your life. But while I was there this summer, God showed me what truly living looks like. He showed me what joy really is. After long, rough months of slogging through life, God showed me what it truly means to be alive.

That week at Camp Attitude was kind of like God chuckling to himself and dramatically reversing my vision of my life. But He works in smaller, less obvious ways, too. Just the other day, I realized that the first new book I wrote after being depressed for so long was Inferno’s Melody. The whole point of that book is the fire God places on our hearts. Of course I didn’t plan it that way. God did.

Seeing the way God works is what brings me joy. And when people say “joy through trials,” it’s easy to picture third-year Ron Weasley, trying to predict Harry’s future: “So you’re gonna suffer, but you’re gonna be happy about it.” But James 1:2-4 says:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Like I said, I don’t have a lot of life experience. I haven’t been through the kinds of trials some people have. Paul, in Philippians, said he had learned to be content no matter what circumstances he got thrown into. I confess I can’t say that about myself while being honest about it. But this I can say: I have learned that you can have joy through trials, if not during them, then definitely after you see what God has done through them.

And what better time to meditate on it than during Christmas, when Jesus came down to Earth as a human? When he came to face trials for our sake? When he came to suffer so that we’d never have to suffer the eternal wrath of God? It doesn’t mean we won’t ever suffer – in the Gospels, Jesus promised us that we would suffer. But when we do, we can have joy because He has already overcome the world.

I hope this encourages you. If you want to talk, please leave a comment, or send me a private email on my contact page. Merry Christmas!!

Do you have a favorite story about how God has worked through trials (it doesn’t have to be about your own life)?

Are you looking forward to Christmas? How do you plan to spend the holidays?

Introducing: Inferno’s Melody

Happy December, everyone! I don’t know about you, but I always get really excited about Christmas. I love picking out a Christmas tree, and decorating it with my family, and baking Christmas cookies and making a huge mess in the kitchen. It’s the best.

I like to use December to get a break from whatever story I happened to be writing for NaNoWriMo. You really do need that break, even if you don’t feel like it. I desperately want to keep working on it this month, but I’m taking a break anyway. I’ve got a couple of other deadlines I have to keep track of for other stories.

I wanted to write more posts last month, but, you know, NaNo keeps you pretty tied up. But today I thought I would tell you how it went. I thought I’d officially introduce you to my newest novel: Inferno’s Melody. I have never told anyone about a book two days after I finish writing it. Never. I almost didn’t post this today. I feel very vulnerable, baring my heart like this. But I think this is something I need to say.

Inferno (1)NaNoWriMo pretty much never goes the way I expect. This year, I’d expected it to be an epic mad dash of writing day after day and a brand-new story emerging from the smoking ashes. Well, I guess that technically happened, but not in the way I’d expected. You see, this is the third novel I’ve written, and I’ve come to expect the newest one to always be my favorite. I was in love with my first novel until I wrote the second one. And yes, I am in love with the story I wrote last month, but my heart isn’t quite there yet. Ironically, that’s exactly what the story is about.

I’d like to ask you all a question: WHY do you do what you do? Whether it’s writing, playing music, art, or another passion you have, why do you do it? What drives you? Do you do what you do for yourself, or do you do it for someone else? Why do you sit down and work at it day after day, even though it can be extremely frustrating at times? I think all of us have at least something that fits these standards. But what makes us do what we do?

For me, that thing… is not writing. *gasps from audience* I figured that out a few months ago, and, well, I decided to write a story about it. Leave it to me to make my entire life ironic. Now, don’t get me wrong here: I LOVE writing. It IS a passion that I have, and I AM driven to do it every day, no matter how hard it gets. But it is not my greatest passion, and here is how I figured it out:

This passion that you have, would you follow it to the end? Would you live your entire life in dedication to this passion? Would it be worth dying for? Or is it not quite that strong?

Writing, for me, does not meet these standards. Not by a long shot. It’s like trying to compare a candle to a bonfire. It can’t be done. The difference is so great, it just wouldn’t make sense. I found that there is another passion that I have. But I was trying to use writing to satisfy it. It seems to work most of the time, but I think later on, it won’t be enough anymore.

God’s love is perhaps one of the most compelling things I have ever known. And really, I think I’ve always known that. It took three novels for me to be able to say it outright like this, but it’s a theme that’s come up again and again in every single one of my stories:

A man dying for his enemies.

A boy being driven by fear until he finds that love is much stronger.

A girl devoting her entire life to a cause until she realizes that her heart is empty.

They are all the same story, and all of them are about me. No, I have never died for my enemies. But I would, if my passion led me there.

Yes, I have been driven by fear. It’s a terrifying ordeal. The thing that finally set me free was the Truth – and I promise, love is much stronger than fear.

Have I ever devoted my entire life to a cause, then realized my heart was empty?  I’m praying that I won’t.

You see, all of these characters had to discover something. They had to discover their passions. They had to discover love. When I say “love” I hope you aren’t envisioning the sappy, romantic love portrayed in the media – I hope you’re envisioning a desperate madness that extends far beyond the boundaries set up by this world. Yes, I have experienced this kind of love before. I have a Savior who loves me like that, more than I could ever imagine. And He has allowed me a very small taste of what it’s like to love someone or something else like that.

I want to say right now that whatever happens, I will always proclaim God’s name. I will always extend the message of his love to everyone else. Because this is what compels me, and this is what drives me. God’s love is burning inside of me like a blazing inferno, too hot and too bright to keep shut up inside.

Its melody is intoxicating, and I will always sing it for the world to hear.

Inferno’s Melody is not just a story. It is real.

I really want to hear what your passion is. Why is it so compelling to you?

The Universal Truth

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

No, not that kind of universal truth. I’m pretty sure the above statement isn’t even true. Mrs. Bennett thought it was, but most of what she says is nonsense anyway, so we shouldn’t use her words as life advice. Today I’m here to talk about a different kind of universal truth. I apologize in advance if I ramble a bit, or if I use the same word four times in the same sentence. NaNoWriMo just started, and my thoughts are everywhere right now.

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I first learned about the Universal Truth from a wonderful lady named Kay Strom. (Her books are excellent, by the way.) According to her, a Universal Truth is like a theme, but it is way more specific. Stories, as you probably know, usually have a theme, that is, a recurring topic the book keeps touching on. It answers the question “What is this book about?”

Universal Truths are usually specific statements or messages about the theme. For example, let’s choose a common theme and look at how it’s presented in different books. I’m going to choose the theme of redemption, because that’s my favorite one. Right off the top of my head, two series (what is the plural of “series?”) with this theme are: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, and The Mission League by Jill Williamson. (I have not finished The Mission League series yet, so NO SPOILERS PLEASE!) Literary critics could analyze these two series and find a plethora of different themes present, but redemption is definitely present in both, so that’s the one I am going to use.

In Harry Potter, a recurring message we see over and over again is this: “Redemption usually requires a selfless act of love.” You know, when Lily did that thing to save Harry, and then later Harry did that thing to save other people. We also get a beautiful contrast between Harry and Voldemort – so similar, yet so different.

In The Mission League (or at least in the first book), we see a totally different statement: “God will keep pursuing you, no matter how long you try to run from him.” Like, throughout the entire first book, Spencer wanted nothing to do with God, but God kept showing up everywhere around him, and eventually Spencer couldn’t ignore it anymore. We also get an interesting contrast here with the villain, but I’m not gonna spoil it for anybody. Plus, who knows how it turns out in the rest of the series.

Both of these series have the same theme, but what they’re saying about them is different. And that is what makes a Universal Truth, my friend.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what Universal Truth I’m presenting in my story. It was hard at first, because I’m a pantser who doesn’t know squat about the story before I start writing it. As it turned out, I couldn’t pin down my Universal Truth until I had experienced its trueness firsthand. Oh, it was definitely present in the story – I just couldn’t see it yet.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

-1 John 4:18a

That’s it. A simple statement, not even a full verse. It’s a Bible verse that I’ve known since childhood. Of course I’ve always believed it’s true. But up until recently, I hadn’t actually seen it applied to a real-life situation.

The thing about Universal Truths, to me at least, is that a story wouldn’t be worth anything without one. In the tens of thousands of words that make up my book-in-progress, 146 of them make up a paragraph towards the end. And this one paragraph is where the Universal Truth is revealed. Without this one paragraph, none of the other words matter. Without the Universal Truth, the story is nothing, the characters struggled in vain, and I wasted an entire year of my life writing an empty story.

Even though all stories have a climax, where the tension has never been so high, and everything finally comes together, the Universal Truth is like a climax of its own. Even if it’s woven all throughout the story, there is always a place where the reader stops and says, “Oh. This is what I’ve been reading about. This is what the author wanted to say to me.”

Kay Strom says that Universal Truths should always point to God. They should go beyond the story itself as they transfer the author’s passion to the reader. And really, isn’t that the reason authors write at all? Because they are passionate about something, and they want the world to see it too?

Is there a Universal Truth in your story? How is NaNoWriMo going (if you’re doing it)?

The Difference between Salvation and Redemption

I’ve been doing a lot of character development lately. It’s my new favorite aspect of writing. I’ve been reading a lot about the different Myers-Briggs types (and yes, each of my twelve main characters is a different type), delving into backstories, and figuring out their inner motivations.

My latest endeavor is to answer this question: What is it that drives them? What are they seeking, and hoping to find? These questions are closely connected to their inner motivations. Of course, all of them are driven by something different. No one is quite desiring the exact same thing, although they share the same external goal for the story. They all have different histories, and different character arcs. Every single one of them has a unique internal longing.

That being said, of course some of them will be similar. For example, and this is the main point of this post, two of my characters are seeking almost the same thing. I’ll call them Character A and Character B, for the sake of character-author confidentiality. For some odd reason, most of my characters have a habit of having intricate, secretive backgrounds which somehow always end up playing vital roles in future stories that haven’t been written yet. So, for the sake of a spoiler-free post, I will tell you their stories but not who they are. Get to the point, you say. What do these two characters want?

One of them is seeking salvation, while the other is seeking redemption. I had to stop and think about this after I wrote it. Don’t the two words mean the same thing? More often than not, they are used synonymously, especially when referring to the Christian faith. But no… they are not really synonyms. The root of the word “salvation” is “save,” and the root of “redemption” is “redeem.” Redeeming someone is very different from saving someone. Saving someone implies protecting them. From danger, perhaps. From death, even. Saving implies rescuing. But nothing more.

Redeeming someone, on the other hand, is more than just rescuing someone. Redemption involves a price. If you redeem something, you are buying it back. If you redeem something, it is yours. But it always comes at a price.

It’s easy to see why the two words are used synonymously when referring to Christ. Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, gave us both salvation and redemption. He saved us from death – by taking sin upon himself – and serving the punishment for that sin: death. And because he paid that price for us, he redeemed us from sin. He bought us back to be his own. And now, if we believe in him, we not only are saved from death, but we belong to him. We are his children.

In the cases of Character A and Character B, one of them is seeking redemption, but the other is seeking salvation. This too is easy to see. Character A grew up in a dysfunctional family. As a child and teen he was abused – both physically and emotionally – by his parents. He was bullied by other children. He was wronged in a lot of ways, and this traumatic past has shaped the rest of his life. He doesn’t trust anyone but himself, not even God. In fact, he wonders if God exists at all. He wants salvation.

Character B, on the other hand, is haunted by a past she no longer wants any part of. She’s made mistakes; she’s been lured in by sin’s enticing temptations. Her sin hurt the people in the world she loved most, not to mention herself. She’s mad at God and feels she doesn’t belong anywhere, not even in the shelter of God’s love. She wants redemption.

So there you have the difference between redemption and salvation. Salvation is a rescue; redemption is a purchase. Character development is definitely one of the harder things about writing, but it’s also one of the most fun and rewarding aspects too.

My favorite resources for developing a character’s backstory or motivations are the Emotional Wound Thesaurus and the Character Motivation Thesaurus (both are from Writers Helping Writers. I’m very excited because The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is going to be released sometime this October!!) Even if you don’t need them as writing resources, check them out anyway. They’re awesome.

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Plot happens when many characters’ journeys cross paths.

A character’s journey, for me, quickly becoming more important than the plot of the story. It makes sense… the characters are the ones interacting with the plot. A lot of the time, the characters are the ones creating the plot in the first place. What would Pride and Prejudice be if Darcy wasn’t so proud in the beginning and therefore had no character arc? Or think about how the numerous plots of Downton Abbey would be different if none of the characters had distinct backgrounds, motivations, and personalities. No story would be the same without these elements. Characters are one of the primary driving sources behind any story.

I’m curious to know… have you done any interesting character development? And do you have any favorite books with well-developed characters?

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The Last Hurrah

Hello, friends, and welcome to the Monthly Theme! You probably noticed that my blog looks different. I was bored, so I redesigned it. I think that now it echoes my personality more.

I know I haven’t done a Monthly Theme in quite a few months, so really it shouldn’t be called “monthly.” But I came up with a pretty good one for the month of August…

Adventure!!

This may seem like a strange one to choose. As you know, by the time August comes around, summer is winding down, and the month is full of hot, dreary days.  By the time August comes around, we look forward to the cool, crisp promise of fall and the start of the new school year (or not…). By the time August comes around, we’ve done all of our fun summer stuff. It doesn’t even have any holidays.

I hold a different view. August, to me, has always been sort of a last hurrah. It’s always an exciting month. A few Augusts ago, I started writing a story. That story led to another story, which in turn led to another… the story kept growing bigger in my mind, and now I have an entire saga waiting to be written. This August in particular, I’ve felt very productive in my writing. It’s definitely been an adventure… I’ve been working on a LOT of character development (I hope to do a related post soon), a bit of plot development, and the story has been generally sitting on my mind. Last August, I went to Camp Attitude, which always holds tons of new adventures. And there’s always a church-wide camping trip at the end of the month (which I just got back from a couple of days ago). Not to mention that epic solar eclipse we had last week.

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Aside from personal adventure, there is adventure to be found in lots of fictional works. It’s a fairly common theme, if you could call it a theme, and even stories that don’t focus on adventure as a main part of the story at least contain hints of it. Adventure is associated with taking risks, with excitement. It’s associated with new experiences and the rush of adrenaline. Now, if you are positively paranoid about anything that promises danger and have no desire to do anything out of the ordinary, then perhaps a life of adventure is not for you perhaps Gandalf will invite thirteen dwarves to your house and you will get roped into an epic quest.

I think everyone, though, (yes, even Bilbo) longs for some sort of adventure. Something bigger than their ordinary lives. Like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Even if we don’t know it, we all know we were meant for more than this provincial life. (Hint: It’s because God made us that way. He designed us to live in a perfect world with him. We’re the ones who messed it all up.)

While our thirst for adventure can lead to moments of self-discovery, it can lead us into all sorts of other stuff too. Oftentimes, this is how characters start their journeys. The character wants an adventure, so he goes and finds one, and bam!, there’s a story. This isn’t the case all the time – sometimes a character is thrust into something without a choice. But consider the following questions:

Why was Lucy snooping in somebody else’s wardrobe?

Why did Harry trust a perfect stranger to take him to school?

Why did Christine agree to go with a creepy masked phantom?

Why did Neo choose the red pill?

Why did Roland stop fleeing his pursuers to help Mercy?

(That last question is from the first scene of my book. :D) There are answers to all of these questions, but the most simplistic answer is that they all wanted an adventure. They all believed that something bigger was out there. And that’s the key word here: belief. If Lucy didn’t have that child-like faith, she never would have been able to get into Narnia. If Harry didn’t believe what Hagrid told him, he never would have made it to Hogwarts. And so on.

So, while adventures presented in stories are somewhat romantic (meaning they are romanticized – that is, made out to be better or more illustrious than they actually are), adventures in real life are very different. Let’s face it: None of us will ever stumble upon Narnia. None of us will ever receive our Hogwarts letter. None of us will ever get roped into a magical quest. But all of us were made for more than this life we are currently living. And if we set out in pursuit of it, it will be an adventure.

Not the kind of adventure you read about in books, but the real kind of adventure.

One that lasts for eternity.

I’d love to hear about your summertime adventures! Also – do you have a favorite book where one of characters goes on an adventure?

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The Reason I Write

I know, I know, I’ve already written about this a billion times, but I’m writing this really late at night (early in the morning?) and I was for some reason awake pondering my life, when I realized I should dedicate an entire post to this subject. Plus, I don’t have anything else to write about at the moment, so why not this?

I’ve already told you the reason I write, and that reason is God. Let me go into greater detail:

I have a story I’m writing (trying to write) right now. You can read my post about the story here. Well, it isn’t going anywhere. I am stuck. I guess you could call it writer’s block, although that’s not all it is. I’m not motivated. I don’t know how to write what I want to write. I desperately want to finish this story, and I want to finish it well, but I just don’t know how. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. Sometimes I don’t even know why I’m doing it in the first place.

Sometimes I wonder why I want so badly to finish this story. What is it about this story that I have to finish? Why was I so passionate about it when I first began? Why should I want to finish it now?

adult-1869621_640I’ve written for a lot of reasons over the years. I wrote a lot of stories for other people. I gave them as gifts, because I liked creating things and then giving them away to make other people smile. As I grew older, and I started writing more often, I discovered something that changed the way I viewed my writing. I wanted to write deeper stories, stories with more meaning. I no longer wanted to write for mere entertainment; I wanted to write about Truth. I no longer wanted people to enjoy my stories as gifts to them; I wanted their lives to be changed as they saw some deeper meaning in my fictional stories.

I started writing about the Gospel.

And that is still why I am writing today. Sometimes I get off track and start writing for a different reason. It is then when I lose my passion and sometimes my desire to write at all. And as I search for the why, for the reason behind my story, God ALWAYS brings me back to the Gospel. When I see it laid out before me like that, it could not be simpler. The Gospel is, and always will be, the reason I write. Its Truth is so compelling that I must write about it. I have to write stories about the Gospel. I can’t explain it, except that I know that God is real and that he loves me. He is Truth, and I must write about Him.

What is the reason you write? (and writing is not limited to fiction.) Also – are you going to participate in Camp NaNo this July?

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!

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!