“Never listen to your critics. They aren’t qualified to usurp the still, small, voice that speaks in the silence between your own thoughts.”—Russ Walden
It takes courage to write truths in fiction; write what hurts. To contextualize emotions, the struggles; tapping into the raw nature and grind of real life and transposing them into an altered universe. The result might not represent a true existence verbatim, but can harbor the angst, dilemmas, struggles, and sicknesses of hope-depleted hearts in order to instill hope in the end. It can be scary sometimes to release a story that holds a little more truth than you’d care to admit. Makes one feel vulnerable. But it’s always the still, small voice, a reminder that what’s written might be intended for one person only. And that one person to get it, feel moved and encouraged by your labor of love, washes over any potential collection of critics, large or small.
Writing with boldness, listening with care…
A life is like a vapor. Here today, gone tomorrow. I think of my own. What can I show for half a vapor? How can I make the next half count more? The sharpening realization that life is precious, and not guaranteed, makes me reevaluate my vision of life for the future I assume but cannot see.
I can make my plans, but it’s the Lord’s plans for me that will prevail. He moves in both large and infinitesimal ways, many remaining unseen. One day, beyond the here and now, I believe a better understanding will come of why some things happen as they do.
I’ve entered a place of letting go, or at least of hanging-on-loosely—to anything, really. A place of complete trust in the Higher Power; surrender, and a call to turn the other cheek in social situations.
Whatever the vision of life, as it tends to shift, hold, then redirect, there is a desire that grows solidly within me in a take-advantage, unforthright-tending society. To be a vapor of integrity. Steadfast in kindness, fairness, honesty, and purity. That's a quality model for both personal and business operations, wouldn’t you say? To stay in the spirit of self-regulation, even as others might boldly mistake lenient niceness for stupidity. Details don’t go unnoticed by a detail-oriented God. As Christ has loved us, so must we love. To be a vapor of integrity even if others have done us wrong. So very hard, but not impossible.
“Forgive, Release, Bless…” It’s a mantra that’s grabbing my attention wherever I look and listen.
We can say we forgive someone. But if we then turn around and complain to another about how something was unfair, or someone hurt, stole, cheated or abused us, then we haven’t really forgiven. We’ve developed a grudge. That kind of emotional baggage gets weighty, a burden to carry around and unpleasant for everyone.
Writing is sometimes my therapy. I write a lot. Some I publish, some I pen under different pseudonyms, some go unpublished because it was the process that I had to go through to learn and grow, climb out of my cesspool. While creating another’s wilderness in story-form, I often go through my own spiritual wilderness. It can be tough sometimes. But the typed expressions help me breathe again, rejuvenate. I’ve had a lot of underwater dreams lately involving murky water, flooded caves, barriers, and scuba cylinders gone defunct. In one, I shout distinctly (because I can do this, it’s a dream, and I’m not a diver) to someone indistinct, “Breathe, brother, breathe!” Then there are explosions where barriers blow away, water clears, and breathing is miraculously unassisted by flung-away tanks, and I hear, “Live, sister, live.”
The tombs of our past regrets and afflictions teach us and model us for brighter futures. But some of us have focused on the tombs far too long (note to self). It’s time to step out of caves with flint-eyed focus on what’s ahead, and the life-giving promises thereof. This hinges around forgiving to where we can truly release the damage of our hearts, let go, and bless the damagers!
Even if you’re trapped in the middle of toxic, dysfunctional, or complicated situations, or have suffered inner turmoil for a long period. Maybe over decades you’ve experienced relational distress, cultural oppression, or unending sick-of-it conditions (whatever “it” might be), and you’re weary. Dead inside. Yet your sluggish legs somehow get you from point A to point B in a day, or you’re trying to move underwater wearing too many weights, burdens, baggage.
Matthew 18:18 tells us that whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. That’s the one thing we can control when we’re stuck. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, Luke 6:45.
One of my favorite Hebrew names for God is El Roi. It means, “the God who sees me.” When we are alone, aching, forgotten by everyone else, cast aside by society, suffering in solitude, or feeling invisible, it’s the name we use to say, “but God sees.” He does. And with faith (our believing without seeing) we trust, knowing that God’s promises endure. He cares. The muck we wade through does not endure unless we allow it. So, keep hope alive in the secret chambers of your heart. Make the petitions of your lips daring prayers to El Roi, the God who sees, and Yeshua/Jesus, our guardian. Embrace the Ruach Ha Kodesh/Holy Spirit, our infuser (regulator?) and comforter. Hold fast to the Word, our way-maker, and the protractor for navigating uncharted areas.
I’ve spoken to others who sense a current spiritual movement or theme. Feels like a season of cultivation, and of internally letting go, despite circumstances, for walking into a new era. “Forgive, release, bless,” I hear again. Forgive the wrongdoer, cancel out the crippling, and bless. Following that, I hear, “double portion” where Increase marries Wisdom, because a greater harvest is looming.
God’s blessings are irrevocable. Even if they fall dormant for a time, they will flourish again and better than imagined. Wherever you are, whoever you are, here’s to new beginnings, fresh seasons, big visions, strong clarity, and abundant joy beginning in the heart and bubbling up out of your mouth. Breathing words that heal and help you walk into the freedom of your greatest dreams fulfilled and hopes restored.
At last, I finished the first draft of one of my current works-in-progress. And this novel was a struggle. One of the biggest hurdles in my creative writing process, both in length and ethics. Took over a year to complete—a COVID-year, mind you, but still!
Normally, when I end a first draft, I want to celebrate. I’ve known colleagues to even crack open a bottle of bubbly at this early stage (with another after publication). The foodie that I am, I prefer grabbing one of my favorite meals: tacos, Thai, or t-t-t-t-t—spaghetti. Except, after I typed the last key yesterday, I was so spent that I nearly slid from my chair to the floor in an exhale, curled up, and sucked my thumb. Today, I feel like this Shaun the Sheep-ish depiction.
Standing alone in an amber space (sort of like a caution light between go and stop), nursing on a Binky, wide-eyed. Determining if the inner turmoil and opposition to completing this book was because of divine inspiration and the start of something new… or it’s crap. There’s a fine line there, ha!
Since I have other active stories, it’s time to rotate and finish another while this one ferments. Have to let the manuscript sit for a while until I can come back to it with fresh eyes.
This is just another friendly FYI post by your Shaun the Sheep-ish stand-in. Still standing, at least…
A reader asked, “Did that really happen to you?” after finishing one of my novels. I’ve heard this before, and the character-revolving question churns in my mind. It’s a great question. One for which I don’t always have a ready answer, because it’s rather loaded.
When I was a professional dancer, one of my fortes was Character Dance. I think this is where I first came to understand that, as an artist, I’m all my characters and none of my characters. I abandoned myself in a role, poured out blood, sweat, and tutus, until I became another persona. The interpretation was all mine (via the Lord’s inspiration and direction). After I hung up the costumes and retreated to the hotel or home for a cup of tea and a foot-soak, I was just me and nothing like the earlier identity on stage.
It’s the same with creating characters in books. Sometimes a reader will say, “I can relate to you,” when referencing the protagonist in a novel. I appreciate the response; it’s also interesting for me. While I can draw parallelisms, such as an incident or event that motivated the story, antics that aided a character’s development, or inject personal likes and dislikes, I’m not that person. Not even in my first novel, which is assumed in the industry to be every writer’s veiled autobiography. I'm just a vehicle to carry out another's story.
If I am my characters, then I’m also a human-flesh-eating imp, a war criminal, and a subterranean giant. I’m ALL of them (because creators invest in roles), and NONE of them (because I’m somebody else at the end of the day). Clear as mud? Lol. I'm inclined to think it's more the moral of the story that speaks (if anything does), which is sourced from a gracious God.
I might have done a strange thing as a child when I asked for wisdom... I’m not sure. I wasn’t around peers too much to find out if this is what they did too, since my formative years took place in the boonies. My only friends were animals, especially horses. It’s just the way things were. I don’t mind. I had a solid upbringing with loving parents and siblings, and I adored my lot of furry companions who didn’t seem to mind my quirky quests.
And I couldn’t say I understood what or who God was, although I’m quite certain of his presence. My mother was my primary spiritual teacher, and she’d tell me stories about important things—things I embrace even stronger today. Because I still hear her voice, though she has passed from this life into the next. Wisdom was something she spoke and sang of often, and her multi-layered lessons, like colors in paintings, enthralled me so much that I remember being not older than five, six, or seven years old and asking for Wisdom to grace my life in bright hues.
“Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Proverbs is one of my favorite books, touching often on wisdom, and this verse comes from 4:6-7.
I’ve heard others use the expression, sometimes jokingly, that a person gains wisdom by making mistakes; the more mistakes made, the wiser you are. Is this what it means for something to cost all you have to gain? Well, when I, owning a catalog of cringeworthy mistakes, walk into any crowded room, all eyes should fall on me, and in unison the people cry out, “All hail the Wisest One of All.” But that never happens—thank God!
Circumstances beyond control cause a person to open their eyes, see reality for what it is instead of through a bubble (if there was a bubble to begin with). And choices. And mistakes. And results, as well as responses from others. If I knew then what I know now... You’ve heard the phrase. It goes along with the error of one’s ways.
All this to say, Wisdom is good; cherish her. One day, her benefits and nurturing rapport will shine through.
“Wisdom comes alone with suffering.”—Aeschylus
Whenever out in the woods, or sleeping in the hammock under the stars, I feel closer to God (sense God close); I feel less alone in the world. When the commotion of society, along with its grumpy people, tax me too much, the need to head out into nature for a refresher becomes almost insurmountable. I get the desperate urge that I have to live… I have to breathe again, to renew again. The wilderness offers an active, unpredictable, and rejuvenating energy, a salve for the weary-hearted. It’s not the worship of creation but recognition of our Great Creator; his creation to take delight in and appreciate. I can worship God by glancing at a leaf, Baruch HaShem. (I just need, sometimes, to feast my eyes on PILES of them now littering the forest floor).
Last week for me was a regular nature fest, several long hikes—one in the early morning in fog so thick you could cut it, which is my favorite condition! (And I so love witnessing fog dissipate when the sun breaks through). At night, with the temperature dropping allowing the cover of frost, I pulled my blankets outside stumbling to the hammock and wrapped up in a cozy cocoon, all toasty, with just a slit for my not-yet-frozen eyeballs to take in the spread of stars. Sensing his presence, I whispered, “Ah, there you are, Lord, I’ve missed you.” Just then, a shooting star wrapped the night sky above with a bow around my heart. I had the best night’s sleep!
It’s not that God isn’t omnipresent, but it’s sometimes hard for me to sense him in the daily grind. Once out in the woods teeming with life, though, I admire his creativity in the sights, scents, and sounds of nature. My mind unclutters, and I can pray with clarity. I don’t feel alone anymore. I feel more alive than ever. (I’ve been like this since I was a kid seeking adventure, getting lost in the woods that ever drew me, along with my sisters, or on horseback, more times than I can count). There may be some reading this who might not relate; however, I know there are many others like me who relish nature and consider it a part of God’s healing balm, a hug for the seeker. (I know you’re out there because I read your blogs, memoirs, and autobiographies!)
I don’t know why I’ve shared this, but there it is anyway. Enjoy your day.
“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has the power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, Rejoice, for your soul is alive.”—Eleanora Duse
Today, I’m restless. The weather is cooler and I’d like to take advantage and go on an amazing hike. However, I had oral surgery yesterday, and while the procedure went well, I’m down for recovery.
I’m fortunate there are areas nearby allowing for a four or five-mile wooded trek I can speed through at a clip. These are my short excursions and all I’m allotted these days. But today at home, I’m only daydreaming about the trails… and of healing. And it dawned on me that I’ve unwittingly practiced a ritual on my nature jaunts. I sing the same Hebrew prayer for healing when I set out. Adon Ha Kavod comes quietly from my lips, sometimes a little louder. It hasn’t always been this way; I’ve also been reckless out there. But for some time now I’ve been doing this, singing this prayer, and the revelation took me by surprise today.
No doubt, I’m happy in the woods. I can think clearly and reflect deeply. I enjoy watching the birds, and if I can be honest, I envy them too. Adon Ha Kavod comes from a state of worship—to the Lord of all that surrounds us, the Lord of all glory, and he has healing in his wings. By his wings, he heals our brokenness and gives us flight when we worship him. Adon Ha Kavod prepares our hearts for worship, a place we need to dwell, in the shadow of Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) wings, to receive healing. I guess from this perspective, it’s not a usual hike. I’m going on Adon Ha Kavod, the Lord of Glory trek. To worship, give thanks, deepen trust, and from the process, heal. Because life and people dish out so much that we need healing from—and healing is a process, as is forgiveness. In these strange times, we all need healing, and we might practice forgiveness more.
There is another prayer of Jewish healers and sages, Mi Shebeirach, The One Who Blessed. This one is special because it is never spoken over oneself or in a general sense; it is recited only over specific others on which your mind is drawn. Wherein we ask the One, Almighty, who blessed our ancestors to bless those in physical and spiritual need with complete healing. So my trail outing transitions from Adon Ha Kavod to Mi Shebeirach—and it didn’t dawn on me until now. That’s where we find the greatest healing anyway, I believe, by dwelling over and praying on behalf of others; putting others first.
Troubles are endless. Prayers should be too; therefore, striving to lead a life of prayer is monumental. When we do it often, pray, it becomes a subconscious part of our existence. Maybe that’s what I’m really missing on this day: a sort of pilgrimage communion with the only One who can rescue, deliver, grant freedom, and heal by his mercy.
This is a time to build/rebuild and uplift rather than destroy. So Adon Ha Kavod and Mi Shebeirach, these long-sung prayers with far-reaching sentiments… may they be yours too, regardless of your cultural ties or background, walk in life, or predicaments.
Just a thought for today. Shalom.
Science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein, coined the term “speculative fiction” in the 1940s. Since then, the industry often uses the “spec-fic” label as an all-inclusive phrase for any fiction that is science fiction, fantasy, horror, space opera, steampunk, superhero, alternate history, dystopian, paranormal, supernatural, weird fiction, or a combination, and more. But I think the genre today has strengthened into something more specific. Add in faith components to explore and--voilà!—you may have Christian speculative fiction.
There’s an element, a key to what makes something speculative. I find a lot of authors call themselves speculative but aren’t. Maybe they’re science fiction or dystopian; however, something is missing. Because a writer pens fantasy, for example, doesn’t make him/her spec-fic.
So what is it, what’s the needed key?
Speculation is defined as a notion based on conjecture rather than knowledge. Something formed over incomplete information. It’s abstract reasoning or exploration of an opinion based on guessing. It’s mystery. It’s the book that makes you grab your chin and say, “Hum… I’m not sure what to think about that, but it’s interesting, and let’s dwell on it for a spell.” It’s a walk on the bridge between the intellectual and the visceral and not based on a plot or characters in a world-build where the author spells everything out. It’s asking, “What if?” in an imaginative landscape that’s open for exploration.
Too often I grab a book to read that’s labeled Christian Speculative Fiction, yet it’s a straight up Christian fantasy, for example, (though perhaps well-done) that’s mapped out and exposited leaving no room for real speculation or imagination from the reader’s mind. I see it as a common mistake in branding. In fact, some authors might do better if they branded in a particular subgenre rather than speculative fiction because it’s harder to define. Ask eight people what spec-fic is and you’ll probably get eight different answers.
I think for a book to be truly speculative it needs to leave room for questions, be an enigma, puzzling, something difficult to understand. My favorite spec-fic books have ingredients that leave me with a big fat question mark in the shape of a stairway to climb within my mind. “What did I just read? That was an interesting slant. It challenged me; haunted me. Let’s revisit.” In fact, if you find a novel that doesn’t quite fit in a specific subgenre, such as horror or fantasy, yet it does at the same time, and you scratch your head wondering what it even is—because the labeling is difficult for you to determine—then I’d say you’ve probably discovered the heart of speculative fiction.
There are those reading this who would speculate on the accuracy of my speculation. And I’m just speculating, but the more the merrier.
Kind of feels like we’re in a slip of mass hysteria. We’ll remember it by the Toilet Paper Commemorative 2020. But did you know that over 40,000 people die from car accidents per year in the United States, more than 95 people per day? It might behoove us to practice safer, kinder, focused, and more patient driving practices as opposed to mindlessly ripping the road up as if we’re in a video game and can’t get hurt or hurt others. Yet, today, panic over a certain illness has taken precedence as fear spreads fear among humans. Maybe we’ve watched one too many viral-zombie apocalypse movies—I don’t know, but there can be moments where the observational reaction is suffocating.
So as I was experiencing one of those high-anxiety moments the other day, I stepped outside on my back porch, looked to the skies and earth, and was struck at the normalcy of nature. It breathes, “All’s well here; life goes on greatly and without concern.” Birds frolic in the sky dotted with clouds moved by a breeze, as cheerful songs trill and chirp from those happy little beaks; dogs trot along, their tongues hanging in joyful slobber; rabbits are getting frisky; and the deer still tiptoe to the silver stream lapping refreshing water to quench a moment of thirst. Then they all move on their way to wherever they go and do what they do. These things of nature, they don’t worry about tomorrow. As the Word says—and the Word is life—tomorrow will take care of itself.
So, sure, maybe we humans take reasonable precautions, just as we should when getting behind the steering wheel with our incredibly well-washed hands. But maybe at this time we should strive more to do as the following scripture tells us. We go about our business taking one day at a time, our souls seeking after the Father, the only true balm, the only real soother, our only pure provider when the world has gone mad.