“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.
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.
In hindsight, last year gave us the means to sharpen our vision for the future, to balance what is important, and find a better way to manage and appreciate life. The means to seek a clearer vision according to God’s perfect vision for us (his will, not ours) and be grateful for each day we have despite what storms around us.
We’ve been rocked—and not in a good way—by the pandemic and politics. We can’t help these things… or… can we? To some extent, we can. It’s our responses to these things that make the difference. I’m fond of the phrase, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Here’s another by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” Our behavior should correspond with the root of our beliefs. So now, I’d like to address some of my fellow believers in Jesus.
Call this a heart’s cry, but I’m crushed by what I see. Most disheartening, the attitude and angry speech from quite a few of my Christian peers who are spouting steam worse than an old locomotive. How persuasive is the demonstration of anger and the spirit of hate, which is contrary to God’s spirit, when the entire world rolls in hate-hysteria? Where’s the differentiation? Where’s the hope and encouragement? What difference does political affiliation make in loving your neighbor? Some of us have lost sight, are losing sight. If there was, God forbid, a massive earthquake in your neighborhood and people were trapped under rubble, would you reach in there and offer a helping hand or would you stand by and say, “What’s your affiliation? Because I’m only helping you if it lines up with mine.”
If you’re one of those screaming about injustice, remember that Jesus, the one in whom you believe, suffered the greatest injustice of all. Yet, he went as a lamb to the slaughter--as a lamb—for the sake of us all; not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s coming back as a lion, but that time hasn’t come yet—and it’s his right to roar when it does. In the meantime, by his grace we’re commissioned to be examples of light, salts of the earth, human versions of God’s steadfast love. Instead, social media, especially, reeks of an old famous bar where everybody knows your name and has to prove a point, prove a point, prove a point! It’s a frenzy; it’s an addiction. Easy to get caught up in—but where is the higher standard if we do as the world does? Where are the lambs?
I hope that instead of heated tongue-wagging, name-calling, and other adverse reactions, we can create an element of infectious peace—even, and especially, if we don’t agree with the climate. If you think I’m saying that we need to strive much harder to live and lead by Jesus’ example, then you are absolutely right—and I’m speaking to myself first.
Finally, if the present affairs are just too ugly and you feel like a loner going against the whitewater current of popular hysteria, then find a nice quiet place to pray. Because in the Lord’s presence is peace. There, we can find the strength to hold higher, a shield of honor, emblazoned with the blood of Jesus, this scripture:
“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” — Colossians 3:12-14
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
Okay, so it’s not so much about dilly-dallying, since I’m not really a procrastinator, but 2020 has presented many other challenges in the “D” grade. This includes Disruptions, Delays, Difficulties, and Derailments.
Unfortunately, I’ll not meet a few of my creative-writing deadlines this year. I’m truly sorry to those waiting for the next novel or sequel—and I thank you for your patience. I am so grateful for my readers and strive to do the very best for you with each project.
Since we’re all dealing with our own set of unique circumstances during this pandemic, I won’t burden you with the details of mine. But I will share that of the three books I was working on, two derailed. They’ve turned into something other than what I set out to do. I scrapped these manuscripts after having reached the halfway point and started again from the beginning. Right about the time I made this tough decision, I saw a relevant meme floating around social media:
With a sigh of relief, I can now laugh at myself and move along. I think these books needed to take on a different perspective and I’m treading, faithfully and prayerfully, towards completion. Unless more unforeseen demands (hey, another D-grade!) are looming, we can expect the launch of these titles in 2021. I’m just going to be an early bird on this one thing and say it now: Happy New Year!
May 2021 be your best year ever. 💝✌️
I’ve moved a lot in life. In fact, we’ve relocated again during this COVID-19 era. It’s not the woodsy rural environment I prefer, but more urban with constant buzz and people present. First time in the real burbs, but there are viable reasons for making this transition and, honestly, I look at it as temporary anyway. I’ve lived in exceptional situations, sucky ones, and in-betweeners. As far as materialism, I know what it is to have little, a lot, or thrive in moderation. I’ve gained and I’ve lost, so I don’t get too attached when I regain. Life can present us with all kinds of living situations and circumstances—sometimes changing on a dime. Some we bring on ourselves by choices we make; other times it’s circumstances beyond our control. But we have the means within us to adapt to life’s seesaw.
Life on earth is transitory. And because we are spiritual beings destined for eternal life, heaven is our true home. So in a big-picture sense, if you ever feel like a stranger in a strange land, it’s because we all kind of are. Strangers passing through in what is a privilege to live a purpose-filled, lungs' air-filled life… wherever we are… by mindset. We can bloom wherever we’re planted. It’s not where we are, but how we are.
We can bloom from whatever situation we’re handed, too, even the self-inflicted ones. Because no matter where we move, or how things pan out, what we do, or who moves in or out of our lives, the one constant is that Yeshua, Jesus, loves us unconditionally, as we are, where we are, without terms or conditions. By the time you reach a certain age in a fallen world full of broken people, you’ll have experienced friends who wound you, partners who break you, situations that hurt you and you hurt back. We are flawed, but God takes it all and loves us, as us, anyway, just like that.
The other day, I listened to an artist I admire, Kendall Payne, in a shuffle mix. I was on the treadmill maintaining my half-century-old body; I was also musing over blooming and belonging when her track “Belonging” played. Gah, if my heart didn’t ache to hear it just then. The timing, the bittersweet message of the song, the relatability, made me realize again how profound faith is and the absolute love God has for us as he waits for us on the other side (home, at last) with arms open wide.
I tire of political ads, speeches, campaigns wherein the focus centers on dissing opponents. Can’t recall when this became customary, but it has always struck me as poor taste. I hate few things. This is one of them. It might be the especially volatile climate of today and weighty bitterness and injustices witnessed cities-wide, a shaking pandemic, or that I’m just getting older and less tolerant of subjecting myself to this much negativity. Because I seem to have developed a recent habit of turning off the radio or television just as soon as a politician begins this focused rant—and it’s usually by the third or fourth word. I know I’m idealistic to a fault, but I just wish I could hear a passionate speech on proposals, personal principles, and persuasive stands with the strength to stand on its own merit without the use of harsh words ripping another by ugly comparisons and throw-downs.
Years ago, I’d served as a ghostwriter for political content. It can be well-paid, eye-opening work, but not for me I finally realized. I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. Am I tainted by the experience? Sure. I’ve had more than my share of exposure to those who like to rule with brutal words and iron fists. But I always end up asking: Do unsavory words for the purpose of propelling an agenda (or for any reason) add virtue or honor? Do they truly enlighten or inform us on the issues at hand?
Yet, instead of growing harder, I seem to be softening under iron fists. I suppose I’m yearning for people, leaders, who dare to operate by a different slogan; one I’m trying--really trying to implement in my own circle: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8). While I’m aware we will not all have unity of mind in this lifetime, on this earth, with such a range of discordant issues and beliefs, I think if we practice sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (that is, putting the welfare of others before our own)—even just one of these—then maybe we’d behave a little better toward one another. Take better care with the words we use for each other, our fellow humans. We might even earn respect. Today, I value kindness to a much greater degree, and I beg, I beg it begins within me.
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”—John Muir
The forest is calling me--always calls me—and I can’t wait for life’s weather to let up a bit where I can head out to my sweet spots once again. As a lover of not only nature but literature as well, I can devour works regarding the wilderness experiences of others if I’m planted inside the home for long. A while back, I’d posted a review on Cheryl Strayed’s trek. Her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, offered much to digest. Even better is Paul Stutzman’s Hiking Through. Never mind that I dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and have lived vicariously by reading this author’s 5-month 14-state journey to complete the AT, his spiritual transformation brought me to tears. Just goes to show, as was pointed out, words have meaning. And our lives, purpose, aside from—and maybe because of—grief, heartache, choices, and possessions that weigh us down. What a stunning and freeing memoir! I highly recommend reading it. And then I urge you to get out in nature and let God speak to you and refresh you through his creation, the church of the mountains. See you on the trail!
Being human today means you can hardly do, speak, or blink anything without making waves. So the waves will come: small ones, large ones, and the inbetweeners. But one must persist, unwaveringly, in the turbulent surf by exhibiting kindness, love, and integrity. It’s hard being human. A gentle answer turns away wrath...? (Proverbs 15:1). Okay. But if somebody is especially wrathful, a tsunami, then maybe we just gently turn away. Find another spot in which to wade.
*Image by Patricia Alexandre from Pixabay