an amateur writer’s advice for amateur writing

I hesitate to call myself a writer, and I often even hesitate to call myself an aspiring one. “Amateur” even seems too grand a term for me because I feel like other “amateurs” have a better grasp of this whole thing than I do and are way ahead of me.

When my friends call me a writer, I flinch.

It’s a great honor to be considered so by people who know and love you, but it also feels daunting and big, like there are high expectations to meet and big clown shoes to fill, and I only have size 7 feet.

In my head, I feel that I haven’t earned the privilege to be categorized among people like Toni Morrison, Joseph Conrad, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ray Bradbury, JRR Tolkien, Sandra Cisneros, etc., etc., etc. In my heart, I know they all sat where I’m sitting, agonizing over blank notebooks with a pen weighing heavy on their hand, needing to put to paper what makes sense in their own minds but may not translate properly outside of it. In my heart, I know they risked being misunderstood, I know they had moments where they didn’t know if they would make it, I know they had bad first drafts and more than their share of rejections and criticisms—fair or otherwise. The heart may be more deceitful than all else, but sometimes you need to listen to your heart over your head.

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking of all the things that I assume writers do that I’m doing wrong and learning to accept that none of it matters. We don’t write for others so much as we write for ourselves, and we don’t write for the finish line so much as we write to discover the adventure that lies on the path to it—whether “it” (the finish line) even exists at all. There are a lot of weird things that I do as an aspiring storyteller that I highly doubt anyone else does (though I’m sure I would be surprised. We are an odd bunch after all), and there are things others do that don’t work for my brain. Whatever the process, what matters is that we do what we must.

So here is a list of amateur advice from a fellow amateur that has been marinating and baking in my brain:

1) Don’t let anyone tell you how or what to write.

I was at lunch with a group of writers and aspiring writers who were all just meeting each other (it was introvert hell, let me be upfront). One of the guys had always written mystery, but he decided he would write romance this time around since there’s money in it. Perhaps he will find his groove and produce a wonderfully written romance novel. But if it were me, and I was writing to sell novels, it would read like a dry and boring piece that I wrote in order to sell novels. It doesn’t help that romance is not a genre I’m actually interested in. It doesn’t excite me or make me feel alive or accomplished. It makes me feel gross actually. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a little romance within the big narrative, but I don’t fancy it as the big narrative. For me, I feel alive and accomplished after going on an epic quest, slaying beasts and conquering foes. And it’s likely going to be other adventurers like myself who will enjoy the things I want to write about, so long as I’m honest with my words and myself.

But that being said…

2) Write outside of your comfort zone.

While you know best what you enjoy writing about, don’t be afraid to write about things you don’t know or understand (bonus points if you explore something you don’t agree with). If we all only wrote about comfortable subjects and things we totally get, we wouldn’t have books that touch our souls and make us sing and weep and grow. Stay within your moral boundaries and be true to yourself, but don’t shy away from uncomfortable subjects or situations either. It’s a delicate thing to balance, I know. But writing is about growth and discovery after all. Be forewarned, however, that your characters may not share your moral grounds, and you’ll need to be prepared for that tension and decide which is more important: your beliefs or theirs, your behaviors or theirs. One of you will lose the argument, and both options could have dramatic effects on your story. Whose voice is needed in what you’re doing? I understand it is not easy to walk the line, so give yourself a little grace, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Baby steps are how we all learned anything after all.

Along the same vein…

3) Find your people.

Your people. Your tribe. Your crew. The ones who may “get” you and your quirks, but definitely the ones who appreciate it. This could be fellow writers or the people you want to take on your adventure (which I guess could also be fellow writers… we were all readers and adventurers first after all). Recently, I’ve been realizing how “compromising” some of my Google search history can look because I’m trying to write about something I don’t know that may be outside my comfort zone. If you judged me based off that alone, your conclusion would likely be that I am a pregnant serial killer who is deeply involved in a cult. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m actually just an office worker with lofty dreams of writing fantasy stories (and I’m most definitely not pregnant). In talking to other researchers, I feel at ease that it is not just me that the CIA/FBI/Interpol have their eyes on, and if we’re ever imprisoned together, we can rest assured we will never be bored. It would suck, yes. But we would be with our people. And we will always understand the struggle. 😉

4) Find/do what you need, no matter how ridiculous or small or crazy it is.

I’ve seen the way people outline their novels, and I am so jealous. It looks so… structured and simple, and it works for them. They have a pattern established, a formula to fill in, and everything just falls into place and clicks for them in their heads.

I can’t do it.

Instead, I write in the most roundabout and convoluted way that would elicit the criticism of being inefficient, and that criticism wouldn’t be wrong.

But you know what?

Who cares.

I’ll share my crazy method so that you can feel better about yours because I’m fairly confident that no one else is this inefficient in their plotting.

I like to interview my characters. Yes, I know there are character profile forms out there that I can fill out with their hobbies and favorite songs, but it’s just not enough to know them on paper or to only know about them. I want to know them. Who they are, how they’ll react to spiders, what happens after they eat spicy food. I’ll ask mundane questions to get to know their personality and mannerisms, and I’ll interview multiple characters together sometimes to see how they interact. But I don’t leave it at just this. I have my protagonist tell me the entire story from beginning to end, and ride along whatever rabbit trail or detour they want to take me on (and sometimes that I take myself on because I do not write from beginning to end. I’ll write the scene I want to write at the time I am sitting down to write because that excitement will translate into the scene itself). And I’ll ask supporting characters to tell me about certain big or small events that I find important within that grand story from their perspective. One thing I am not so great at yet is doing this with my antagonist and actually wanting to do this with my antagonist. I want to hate them so bad sometimes that being in the same room with them is unnerving. But their story is important, too. It also has a place in the larger narrative.

And once I’m satisfied I’ve covered all my bases and have looked at it from enough angles, I’ll get started.

I can’t tell you how successful this is or isn’t because this is one of the first instances where I’m spending so much time and effort, but I can tell you that throughout this process, everything that I’ve attempted so far has clicked in my head, and I feel like I can fill in the details and do the story justice once I really get it going.

Fair warning, though, you can very easily get sick and tired of your characters and story with this because of how much time you spend together. Which is largely why I’m fairly confident no one else is this crazy. 😛

Oh. And I also need to do everything with pen and paper first. My brain thinks differently with a pen than it does with a keyboard. This one I know other people run into, so at least in this, I’m not alone. Tack this onto “inefficient” as well, though. Like I’d just mentioned, I don’t write in order; I write what I feel like writing when I sit down to do it. I’d get lost having to scroll through a Word document and hoping that I’ve put it out of the way enough from the previous scene I wrote or that I pasted it back in the right place. My notebooks have notes all over that a certain scene “continues on page XX” or “continued from page AA,” etc. And THEN I can piece it together easily when I type it out and feel confident that I have things in the right places.

Speaking of pen and paper, here’s another ridiculous quirk I have that I’m convinced is important: I cannot use completely blank notebooks. I find blank pages to be totally intimidating, and I struggle to start and put something on it. It feels judgmental and sterile. Too clean. Untrustworthy.

But it’s more complicated than that. It’s not enough to just have a picture or something in the corner, and it’s most certainly not good enough to just have the same pattern or design on every page.

You can imagine how complicated and difficult it is for me to find a proper notebook! It’s hard to explain what kind of notebook I like, but the best I’ve got is “stained” or watercolored. I usually have a pretty good run with Ellie Claire journals, but even those don’t have everything I want (they have most things, though, so I like them).

My ideal journal:

  • Has stained pages that are unique to each page (MOST important – see image)
  • Is a thin hardcover
  • Lays flat (I will settle for a spiral bound, but I like the ones with a flat binding just a bit more)

I think that’s about it as far as what the non-negotiables of the perfect notebook are for me. But little details change here and there as I discover more notebooks and whatnot.

See? Don’t you feel better that your Type A brain is not as ridiculous as mine? And don’t you feel better knowing your plotting methods are probably not as complicated as mine? But you know what? This all works for me. And if this is what it takes to get me writing and moving forward, then it’s a good method, no matter what it may look like from the outside. I am completely unapologetic about any of this. Don’t ever apologize for being who you are. You do you, friend. No one else can do it better. 🙂

Finally…

5) Get out of your own way.

We’ve all heard it. “You’re your own worst critic.” It may sound cliché and trite, but you know what, it’s true. You really are the one that is and will be most critical of yourself and your work. There are days I feel like I don’t want to or legitimately can’t write. Whether I’m too full or too empty, some days I just don’t have the energy to transfer thought to paper. I’ve been told to write anyway because if you wait till you feel like it, you’ll never write.

I’m learning to take that advice with a grain of salt.

There is a lot of truth to that statement, but you also know yourself. If you need to discipline yourself to write in order to build good habits, then do it. Just remember that no one needs to see it if you don’t like it, and also remember that you’re writing to develop a discipline. You’re not going to fart rainbows. Allow yourself to have crappy writing because all first drafts suck (sometimes second and third drafts, too), and the sooner we accept it, the better off we’ll be. And don’t be overly critical of yourself or beat yourself up for not wanting to write or for needing to force yourself to write. I don’t want to get out of bed some days, and I don’t feel bad for needing to force myself to do so in order to get to work and make a paycheck to pay for all my complicated notebooks and pretty fountain pens, and I’m not sure if you’ve realized it, but traveling to new and exciting lands can be expensive (BUY ALL THE BOOKS!).

This is in no way a comprehensive list of things to do or not do, or to be or not be (that is, indeed, the question 😉 ) in order to be a good writer, but these are things to keep in mind in order to love what you’re doing and not let anyone convince you otherwise. Writing is for you before it is for anyone else. It doesn’t always “feel good,” but it is rewarding in its own way.

In writing, there is a vulnerability that most don’t realize exists. It’s not safe. It’s not quiet. You are not in control. It is a raging storm, threatening to overthrow your mental stability and challenge everything you’ve been taught and everything you believe to be good and right and true. Writing is an entire ocean trapped within a single, solitary tear. The writer is both slave and master to her words. She can give genesis to them in her mind, but they will do as they please once she does, and she will be as bound to them as they to her.

The road from amateur to writer is fraught with adversity and frustration, and you’re going to want to quit more times than you can count and certainly more times than you’ll care to admit.

But if this is what makes your heart sing and your soul breathe, hold onto it with all your might and then some.

Some days, I need to write more than I want to write. Some days, I have to remind myself that this is the dream that God put in my heart. Some days, I have to remember that writing is how I must worship because it is how I will best worship. When our passion and our talent brings us closer to God than anything else, then this is a gift that He has given us in order to bless and love us that we may, in turn, bless and love Him and work to His glory, and it is a waste to not experience what makes us feel so alive.

I don’t feel like a real writer yet, and maybe I never will. Maybe we never really do. Maybe the journey to becoming one is the whole point.

So, my fellow amateurs, novices, and friends, let’s keep our pens moving and put to page the story that is trying to escape from our hearts through every pore in our body. Let’s write and write and write as though our very breath depends upon each word, each letter that graces the page. Let’s build worlds that will welcome us home with warm tea and a fresh pie when we just need a little me time. Let’s allow the beating of our hearts to be heard through the words and imageries that are coursing and singing through our veins.

Write, writers, and see how we can change the world.

Advertisements

daughter day one

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”Luke 8:48

“Daughter.”

In a time and culture where fathers advocated for their daughters, this woman came to Jesus alone and ashamed. She was known to all as unclean, and there was no father to defend her or speak on her behalf.

Upon touching His cloak, she was healed from her ailment, from what made her unclean.

Yet, it is the word “daughter” that restores her identity and heals her soul. In a situation where no other defended her, Jesus chose to be her father. With one word, Jesus filled the lack and accepted her. She was clean. She was directly addressed. She was seen―seen by a man who would call her His child.

I have always been uncomfortable with this relationship of father and daughter. It is the identity of God that I relate to the least. While I never expected God to hurt or betray me in this role, I simply didn’t get it. I didn’t understand who I was in this relationship or who He was. I didn’t know how to be a daughter to a father, and I didn’t know how a father would normally relate to a daughter.

Several months ago, I felt that God was inviting me to discover this with Him. I felt that He wanted me to know Him fully, and this was the relationship that was most awkward for us.

So I did what any daughter who grew up with an absent father would.

I turned around and walked―no―ran the other way. I could not get away fast enough.

Because I know that exploring this would ultimately bring me back to the father I never had, the father who never wanted me.

I spent years trying to heal, forgive, and move forward from the abandonment I experienced at his hand. While in college, I had finally done it. I was at peace that he was not there, and I decided I would forgive him so as to not be eaten alive by the pain and anger I felt toward him. His sin was my sin―just manifested differently.

This was the place I refused to go. I already healed. That was it. I would revisit this no more. So I built up my walls, hardened my heart, and wondered why I felt so empty.

(Pro-tip to those who receive an invitation from the God of the universe, Maker of heaven and earth: take it.)

Last night, my mom and I somehow got on the subject of my father. My mom asked me a question about his new family, and I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. So she told me about an article she found, and I looked it up.

Within seconds, I realized this was the biggest mistake I’d made in quite some time.

What I was looking at was an interview about my father, conducted by a girl who could possibly be my half-sister.

I read about his upbringing in China, which was similar to my mother’s. I read about how he did not want his children to experience not having food or clothing like he once did. I read that he came to America in 1988 and struggled until he learned English and could open his own business.

And I was angry.

In one sentence, he managed to insult both my mother and me, as he didn’t seem to care if we had food or clothing. The factual error of 1988 tells me that no one knows about my part in his history because we were a family in America by 1987. There were no details of how he came to America because that would have to include the ugly story of how he married a woman so that he could join her family, who was beginning to emigrate from their side of the Pacific. And then sired a child with her that he did not raise.

And then at the end of his interview, he boldly proclaimed that what he was most grateful for was that he would not have known Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior had he not come to America.

I was livid.

We may have happened before this, but we still happened. There was no attempt to reconcile, despite having been in contact with one of my uncles for years. This made me furious, but my anger only served to mask the deep hurt that was coming from a wound I thought was long closed.

This was why I didn’t take that invitation. This was why I ran. I had been hurt by this man long enough, and I did not want to invite him to live rent-free in my head once more. It took too much to heal the first time.

I have written countless letters, journal entries, and at least one poem regarding what I was feeling toward him, how I was processing, what I needed to do. And a few years ago, I wrote him an eviction notice. I was free from him. Finally.

I do not regret my life without him, despite having wondered more times than I’d like to admit, “why not me?”, “what would it have been like?” I was sent into the fire early, and from there, one can burn, or one can rise. It’s no one’s choice but your own.

But in the midst of this, God blessed my father and allowed him to gift the character “phoenix” toward my name as part of His plan: before I was even born, God declared that I would be victorious.

I was afraid to come to this place because I did not want the wound to reopen. I feared returning to a place of darkness, anger, hatred. But it seems the difference this time is that the wound is shallow and uninfected, and I am pressed to address it while it is so. And it is God who will have to help me keep it this way because my natural leaning would be to pick at it.

To be here now, as difficult as it is, God had gone to drastic measures to barrel through all of the walls I had built up, for the sole purpose of extending His invitation to me again.

God is a God of second chances, and when your heart is as hard as your head, He will break that rock-hard heart to give you one that beats and lives, and ask you to try again.

A spiritual mentor recently told me that because I have endured this much pain, my capacity for hope is this much greater. My wounds and scars run deep enough that the foundation is set for hope and love to be poured in to fill these broken places.

Months have passed since I was invited on this adventure. I was not ready to accept it then, but I think I am now.

It feels like the first step toward something huge.

I am terrified of the idea, but I am also feeling something I didn’t feel the first time.

Hope.

The one gift my father gave me is also my greatest burden. To bestow the name “phoenix” is ironic and fitting and everything I don’t want to bear. But it is a name that is redeemed because God called me something else.

Daughter.

He saw my lack and chose to fill it. He saw my wound and chose to heal it. With one word, He claimed me as His own―His own daughter. With this word, He chased away the hurt, shame, and lies that I had chosen to believe for much of my life.

He gifted me the bearing of a phoenix to fulfill the promise He made to me with this name. I will be refined with fire in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)

And a phoenix will always rise.

Above the ashes.

I am a daughter―His daughter. And I will learn to live what that means.

This is day one.

you keep using that word

Words are powerful little creatures, made up of as little as one letter. They have the ability to lift up and tear down, encourage and demoralize. Humanity is fascinated by the strength of words. We seek to wield its potentials as a weapon, using it to cut our enemies down and defend our loved ones.

But sadly, we don’t often do the work required to wield them. We don’t train, we don’t listen to another’s words or what they mean. We throw around single retorts like a wild swing in order to end conversations. If someone doesn’t agree with you, s/he is an ignorant bigot. If someone is very passionate about faith or theology, s/he is a dogmatic fundamentalist. If the same someone speaks up about it, s/he is intolerant and needs to learn how to coexist.

Someone with the figure of a model is called beautiful, whereas someone with a full-figure is called overweight. Students who are more partial to math and science are called intelligent, while those who are more partial to arts than logic are not given such high a praise. Asians are nerdy, non-Asians are something else.

Can you see the problem?

We decide a word needs to fit another word, and when it doesn’t, then we use a third word to judge it.

One of the biggest words against me is how unfeminine I am. That’s the word I’m going to focus on for this entry.

I’ve been called “kind of like a dude,” a “guy with boobs,” a lesbian, among many other things–just because I love hockey, sci-fi, action movies, and the like. I’ve been asked if there’s anything about me that’s actually girly, if I’d ever considered wearing more makeup and dresses, and a whole slew of the same such questions. I am a word that doesn’t fit a word that people have decided I should fit, and as a result, the aforementioned words are used in a desperate attempt to define me.

What does it even mean to be “feminine”?

When we take traits and interests and apply them to gender, this is where we get into stereotyping people into this one area, and this is where people who don’t fit such a stereotype become confused, upset, or depressed as a result. Who died and made the rule that boys like blue, and girls like pink? Who decided that boys can love Batman, and girls get left with Barbie? Why do guys get action movies while gals get romantic comedies?

This is where the judgment sets in: I hate pink, I love Batman (I just purchased an adult onesie for crying out loud), and my idea of a romantic comedy is Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

41gR9euH6TL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

I’ve been slowly going through this book for a while. She describes dominant masculinity very well, and it’s her James Bond example that I used in this entry.

Hollywood has a type of masculinity that it calls “dominant.” This is your misogynistic James Bond-type character, but he has to rely on other masculinities in order to exist and be elevated. We, as a society, buy into this dominant masculinity, and, as a result, we allow it to define what masculinity and femininity mean. Guys have to be suave yet totally tough and rebellious (and a bit of a jerk), and ladies have to be Bond girls—size 0-2 (but super curvy), sexy (like, objectifiably-sexy), and flawless (and often need to be rescued by a guy).

Why do we allow ourselves to be put into boxes? Why do we tell the six-year-old girl that she can’t like Batman or the color blue because she’s a girl? Why do we shame the six-year-old boy if he doesn’t like Batman but likes the color pink? What exactly are we telling them when we treat them like they’re doing something wrong by enjoying things that they aren’t “supposed” to like because of their chromosomes? What will the repercussions be?

I had a conversation about these two words with a college roommate several years ago, and this is how she defined masculinity and femininity:

“Masculinity, as it should be, like femininity, is having confidence and strength in one’s own skin—gender and sex and whatever essence the individual has claimed for himself or herself—while remaining respectful for self and others.”

She says there is room for this quote to grown and change. I think we just have to let it.

When I was first trying to figure out what “femininity” meant, I did what lots of people do: I read a book. It was a book called Captivating, which boasts of exploring what biblical femininity looked like. And I spent most of my time yelling at the book in the margins: about its theology, about its use of verses out of context, about reading into verses what they were not saying, and mostly about the fact that all of the females they used as examples were characters in movies (I mean, I’m sure the elven ladies of Middle Earth had their own struggles and strengths, but they kind of don’t apply here, so… yeah…). I also talked with girls who seemed to have this femininity thing down pat. But every time that happened, I ended up getting dressed up by them, and I kinda hated it. Whether or not this was their intention, the third word I kept hearing here was “conform.”

These days, I’m taking my friend’s advice and claiming femininity for myself. I am a feminine female in some areas as well as a masculine female in others. I possess an undefinable, unboxable feminine masculinity and masculine femininity. I am in the cluster of “other masculinities” that the dominant masculinity needs to reduce in order to build itself up. And I love it here, but I won’t be reduced for it. I don’t have to become someone I’m not in order to be me. I’m already me! I like what I want! And I won’t let anyone try to package me up with nice, shiny wrapping paper, crisply folded and taped where things need to be wrapped and hidden away, and then finish me off with a bright pink bow.

The most harmful things in this world are words and the people who use them without thinking of what they actually mean or learning to do so properly. We decide girls should play with dolls, and boys should play with superheroes. We decide girls should be nurses, and boys should be doctors. This makes it very confusing for adults, let alone children.

So what does it look like to be biblically masculine and feminine? Who knows. Seriously. Whoever knows, please tell us, because this whole exercise is getting exhausting. But one thing I believe it means is that our masculinity and our femininity work together in the Body for the glory of God. We don’t reduce one to raise the other. Both are necessary to work in the Kingdom. Both fall under the umbrella of the identity “child of God.”

Carry your uniqueness proudly, and take words with a grain of salt or learn how to put some on as armor. But don’t be the person that cuts people down with it. Words can just as readily bring peace as well as war.

How will you use your words?

up to the highest height

Let’s go fly a kite
Up to the highest height!
Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring

On my way home yesterday, I drove past a man on the bridge. He was likely homeless, the childless jogging stroller carrying all of his material possessions. It was a brief glance, but what I saw in him was something I’d not had myself in quite some time.

Determination.

The man was flying a kite. At this point in the seasons, California is not exactly known for having breezes. There was a slight one, but certainly not such that would pick up a kite and fly it high. The amount of room he had on a sidewalk with a divider certainly added amongst the challenges against him.

Yet this man stayed on the bridge and moved and positioned himself as he was able in order to send it soaring as high as he could with what wind he had been given. I couldn’t see his face, but I would imagine a mix of joy, frustration, excitement, and resolve. The wind current and the weather worked against this man, but he flew his kite.

My passion for writing had somehow diminished in recent months. As it stands, I’d lost sight of the goodness of God and believed I had to take on the challenges of the world on my own. I put my kite down and went to work and came home and survived to do it again the next day. Whenever I thought about picking up a pen, I just as quickly pushed the thought away, feeling as though I had deserted my passion and, therefore, had no right to take it back up.

Challenges had begun to arise, revealing survival to be as hollow and unsustainable as was meant to be. I was put on this earth for more than what I’ve been doing. I am most alive when I am following my passion, and I do not have a passion for surviving. It is time to pick up the pen and move forward, adjusting with what I’d been given to work with and pursuing my dream as rigorously as this man pursued his delight.

I don’t know how long the man stayed there or how long he had been there before I’d spotted him, but I would imagine he’d lost track of time, possibly recalling a moment when life was simpler, and he was just a boy with his kite.

And isn’t this the best way to lose the time: doing what you love, what makes your soul soar, and your heart thrive?

Just a girl.

With her pen.

Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Oh, let’s go fly a kite!

Do you wish to get well?

Jesus asked the man at the pool if he wanted to get well. The man made lots of excuses in his response: no one would help him; people keep getting in front of him (John 5:1-17).

Jesus asked a simple “yes or no” question. And I think the message underlying it is, “Say ‘yes,’ and I’ll make you well.” He was there. He was ready. Like in Isaiah 65, God made Himself available. He made Himself ready to answer when His people cried out to Him for help.

But no one did.

Not the Israelites. Not this man.

Not me.

Sometimes we convince ourselves we’re too dirty for God to want anything to do with us. It’s easier to believe God doesn’t care than to ask Him for help. Why is that?

“I’ve screwed up too many times.”
“God has better things to do than care about me.”
“I need to atone for this myself before I can be ‘clean enough’ to see God.”
“God bailed me out of this exact same thing last week; His patience has to be wearing thin.”
“I’m afraid to face the people I’ve hurt.”
“I’m afraid to face the people who hurt me.”

We make so many excuses, but are they actually valid?

How can they be if they are keeping us from God?

We hold onto everything: our excuses, the reasons we think we’re “doing God a favor” by keeping away from Him; and they are poisoning us slowly.

It’s time to let them go. As the chorus from “Yesterday is Over” goes, you have to “open up your hand.”

And let go of what’s behind you
The past can’t hurt you anymore
Or keep you on the ground
Will you let this be the moment
That you let go of yourself?
Let His love hold onto you
And He won’t let go

“I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me” — so let us ask for Him.

“I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me” — so let us seek Him.

“I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation which did not call My name” — so let us call His name.

(Isaiah 65:1)

“I called, but you did not answer” — let us answer.

“I spoke, but you did not hear” — let us hear.

(Isaiah 65:12)

And be healed.

“Do you wish to get well?”

Yes, I do.

Good job, baby

Good job, baby! Good job! Daddy’s so proud of you! Good job!

I decided extremely last minute that I would go to City Rock Fest this last Friday. It had been several months since I’d seen Disciple live, and I didn’t know when the next opportunity would be.

This small decision healed my heart in a way that I didn’t expect to ever experience on this side of eternity.

When Kevin shared a story about teaching his daughter how to walk, a door in my heart that had been swollen shut from the ache I felt beyond it had managed to crack open. This story let me see what a father should be like, what it’s like to be loved like a daughter. As she learned to walk, she fell often and sometimes with great harm to herself. And with patience and joy, he would pick her up, place her feet on his, and show her how to use her little legs. She would still fall; he would still pick her up and teach her again, never tiring of doing so.

Then one day, she propped herself on here feet and walked, and he applauded her and rejoiced with her. “Good job, baby! Good job! Daddy’s so proud!”

This is how God teaches us to walk. He picks us up and walks with us, showing us how to do the same. This is how we learn to give up our sin and choose Him—because He had been tempted in every way but remained blameless.

In Isaiah 65, God talks of allowing Himself to be found, to be sought after, of having His arms open and ready.

And no one looked for Him. No one received Him. No one asked for His help.

But when we do seek Him, He still allows Himself to be found (Jeremiah 29:14). When we ask for His help, His arms are still open, and He is still ready. He picks us up, comforts us, puts us on His feet, and teaches us to walk all over again.

And the day we prop ourselves on our feet, the day we take one step… and another… and another…

Good job, baby! Daddy’s so proud!

The day I take my first step away from my addiction.

Good job, baby!

The day I decide that sin will not ensnare me any longer.

Good job, baby!

The day I stop shaming myself but accept His redemption.

Good job, baby!

The day I stop atoning for all He’s already atoned for.

Good job, baby!

The day I choose Him above all else.

Good job, baby! Good job.

Daddy is so proud.

This is the relationship I’ve been missing my entire life. This is what a father looks like. This is how a daughter can be a daughter to her Father.

I have lost sight of what it means to call you “Papa.” After last night, I wonder if I ever actually knew.

But I’m thankful that with you, it’s never too late.

You are my Papa.

I am well loved by You.

Good job, baby.

2/20/15 Disciple

just lucky, i guess

I seriously don’t know what it is, but for whatever reason, I seem to always get into conversations about singleness. In particular, conversations where I have to convince someone I don’t need to be cured from it. It’s the most bizarre thing.

Anywhoo.

At my age, most of my friends are getting married or have gotten married and are starting families. So when there are oddballs like myself around, one of the first things I get asked from people is whether or not I’m seeing anyone.

It’s a seemingly harmless question, but what kills me is when it’s used as a measuring stick. “Oh, good. She’s still single. I’m not so badly off.” “I just need to find someone before she does.” Or, “well, at least I’m dating someone right now.”

(I suppose this entry is a little more tailored to the ladies because well… I don’t know the guys’ perspective on the subject.)

The second most popular question I get asked is “how/why are you still single?” I get it. I’m awesome, and it doesn’t make any sense (just kidding… but seriously). Sometimes people are well-meaning and think a single friend of theirs is great, and can’t fathom why it is that someone that could be a significant other hasn’t figured it out yet.

But listen to that question.

“Why are you still single?”

“Why are you still single?”

It doesn’t ask anything of Mysterious Person X who hasn’t got the brains to be attracted to this person, but it speaks everything of the person you’re talking to.

“What is so strange or incomplete about you that you’re not married yet?”

I’m not saying this is on everyone’s mind when they ask this also seemingly innocent question—chances are it doesn’t even come into thought—but it does linger in the air for the listener and receiver even if we don’t realize it at first. I don’t doubt people have had their confidence shaken up by that question. I know I have. To the point where I had to talk about it to justify myself. But why should I have to?

Why am I still single? I don’t know. Why is it so important for me to not be? I don’t know that either, except that society tells me it’s a big deal.

Now, if any of you have had these conversations, you know what’s coming next.

Consolation.

“I’m sure he’s out there somewhere; you just haven’t met him yet.” “Guys are idiots (I really don’t find it reassuring when we just put guys down either, but I know we’re all guilty of playing the blame game). Someone’s bound to figure out how awesome you are.” And my personal favorite: “God has a purpose for you while you’re still single.” (And yes, He does. It’s called serving God. Which I’m pretty sure is not limited to just me and my single friends.)

And then sagely advice and wisdom.

“The moment you’re completely satisfied in your singleness is when God will bring someone to you.” “When I decided I was done with guys, I met my husband.”

Well, that’s great, and I’m glad that’s how God decided to provide for some of you, but that’s not the formula for all of us. There is no formula. God doesn’t work in formulas. If we’re all unique, and God created us to be so, why would He impose formulas to blanket us with?

Also, there is some really bad theology going on.

For those of us who do desire to be married someday, we will never be completely 100% satisfied in our singleness. And Scripture doesn’t tell us to be. We are called to find our worth and satisfaction in God alone and desire God alone above all else (Deuteronomy 6:5; Romans 12:2; Psalm 139:14; Psalm 62).

Besides, it seems cruel for God to suddenly give me a boyfriend the moment I’m fully satisfied in my single status. What a jerk! (I’m sorry, I guess that should be “Jerk,” capital J.) And should that not work out, then I have to go through it AGAIN? Yikes.

What I’m trying to communicate is that we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by our relationship status. If we did, what would happen if or when that status suddenly changes? We cannot allow the world to define us because the world has no right to do so. The world did not create us; it does not provide us with purpose.

Only God can define us.

We’re not more or less holy because we’re more or less married. We’re holy because God has set us apart for His purposes. We were all created to bring God glory. The purpose of our lives is to serve God and give Him glory, and we can do that no matter what our relationship status is.

The purpose for single people is to serve God. The purpose for married people is to serve God. That doesn’t change. The only thing that does a little is how.

Single people, God does have purpose for us at this point in our lives. He doesn’t need to bring us a significant other before He can finally use us to our fullest potential. But only He knows if “this point” will ever actually end. Will you still believe and trust that God is good even if He decides not to change your relationship status?

One of my absolute greatest fears in this area is settling. “Well, he’s close enough.” I’m deathly afraid of rationalizing all the reasons some guy may not be right for me.

And for me, for all of us, the greatest defense against that is being rooted firmly in the God who created us and everything beyond us (Jeremiah 17:8). He defines my value and worth, and if I believe that I am worth the death of God, then I will behave as though I do. From our heart, from our identity, will flow our actions.

The advice that often follows that last one is to “wait for God’s best.” Okay, yes, but don’t leave it there. Waiting is not a passive verb; it can be as active as we want it to be. Yes, absolutely wait, but don’t wait for God to sit a husband in front of you and part the clouds to tell you he’s the one. We deserve more than to just twiddle our thumbs and wait for our soulmate to suddenly appear. We deserve to live and be alive before we ever meet someone.

Another meaning for “wait” is to serve.IMG_3113

Serve God because that is your purpose. That will always be your purpose. But don’t play games to try to get God to submit. Reverse psychology doesn’t work on Him (trust me).

Don’t do great godly things in hopes of attracting a great godly guy. Do great godly things because you were born to serve and belong to a great God.

We’ll never be able to “trick” God into doing what we want. He does not exist to make all our dreams come true. We exist to make His.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have absolutely made my relationship status my idol at some point in my life.

But I don’t live for men, I don’t live for marriage.

I live because He gave me life. And I won’t waste it waiting around passively for someone to finally see my worth. God has already seen it. I will submit to Him and wait on and for Him because He deserves to be praised and worshiped for the sole reason that He is God.

So single people, rejoice! Married people, rejoice! Rejoice because we have one God, and that God is good and gracious and pours love and grace with a generous wrist (Ephesians 3:19).

home sweet home

Hard to believe I’ve been home for a little over two months now. I keep promising an update, but truth be told, I haven’t really been in the mood to say much. Not a whole lot is going on in my life right now, and I guess I want to write when something takes a turn for the better for me in this chapter. I keep thinking that I want to write when things are finally going properly in my life.

But that’s not why we’re here. That’s not why we write.

We write through the pain and the awkward, through the rough times, through the valley, as well as on the mountain, during times of peace, through healing. Otherwise, it gives a false sense of who we are if all we show is our highlight reel.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” —Ernest Hemingway

Whether I realized it before or not, I’ve always lived (or survived) like life can only happen after the transition; I just have to hold out until I get through the awkward part and into the life part. That’s when I’ll write. That’s when things get good. That’s when I’ll be alive.

I was reminded yesterday that living happens during transitions as well as during times when roots have become established. And it’s in these times of upheaval where we can live the most freely, simply by choosing to live. “Transition” is kind of a fancy word for “fork.” At this fork, you can choose to go God’s way, or you can choose to take it on yourself. (*Hint: God gets His way eventually, and it’ll really spare you some heartache and wasted effort if you pick the former to begin with. I need to take my own advice on this one.)

These forks are the most exposed area, however, and your indecision can open you up to an ambush from the one who wishes you harm. It’s in these times when the enemy advances his ranks and tries to overtake us. It’s in these moments when we are most vulnerable to his attacks. He got me pretty good just a few nights ago.

I’d been surviving, redirecting what little energy I had left in order to keep me going to the next day and the next and the next. I was not prepared to defend myself. I was not equipped to resist and flee. And so I fell on my face. But rather than dwell and dig myself into a pit and allow my life to spiral out of control like I’m prone to do, I was surprisingly able to get up, dust myself off, and choose to live for Jesus.

It’s in these moments of transition where we can see God work most clearly. In these moments, we can choose God. In this moment, I can choose God. In God there is life, and in that life is the light that overcomes darkness (John 1:4-5).

If Israel simply sought to survive in the desert, would that mentality have allowed for them to get through forty years of wandering? It was one big transition time out of captivity and into freedom, where they had to learn to take on a new identity as a free people and shed their slave identity. They were completely physically removed from what they knew to be a way of life so that they can achieve the promise of something more. The entire identity had to be re-written. You have to be alive to allow for such a shift, or you cannot survive it.

I have not been alive. I have been existing, surviving. I’ve allowed my circumstance to define my being. Unemployed, passed over. Failure. This is the identity I’d taken on in the last five weeks. I survive in hopes that I can live again.

But I’m living now. Or rather, I can live now. Life is happening whether I choose to live it or not. My tomorrows are about as guaranteed as anyone else’s. Each breath I take is a breath borrowed from God.

I have a lot of fear in this time of unknown, this fork. However, the sky’s the limit every single day, especially now. I don’t have to protect God from my fear and lack of faith; He knows they’re there. The only thing to do is bring them to Calvary and leave them at His feet.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” —Joshua 1:9

Beyond my strength, beyond my ability, beyond my means, God is greater, bolder, and He is with me always. Because of this, I can have joy even now. There is life and joy in the tension and the transition.

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” —Romans 5:3-5

God pours grace with a generous wrist. I will have what I need to make it through.

broken cisterns

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” —John 4:7-30

What kind of water have I been drinking? Where have I gone to fill my waterpot?

The water that I’ve been drinking is intimacy—or rather, an imitation of it. Growing up, I’d never seen an example of intimacy (healthy or not) between a man and a woman. There is a great desire in me to seek it, find it, and experience it. However, I am looking in dodgy places with cheap copies.

Intimacy is not cheap.

Intimacy requires time, energy, effort, amongst other things, and I have been left thirsty because I chase after these substandard replicas that appease my thirst for the moment, then I come back when I can afford to, and repeat the cycle, investing mass amounts of valuable time and energy into something that is worth as much as a piece of rubbish on the side of the road.

Then appears this Man, sitting by the well I draw my water from, asking me to give Him a drink.

“This isn’t fit for You, Sir.”

“Let Me give you what is, then. And we will drink of it together.”

This Man, this Jesus, this Messiah, offers me His water, which satisfies the soul and more than quenches the thirst. He tells me this water is alive, that if I drink of it, I will never thirst for any other water again. All other water will pale in comparison and be revealed for what they truly are.

Poison.

Filling ourselves with something other than Jesus will never satisfy us. The water we drink is dead and only satisfies for the moment, and when we are thirsty again, when the tickle rises in the back of our throats, we guzzle more in hopes that we will not be thirsty anymore—merely to repeat the process shortly after and hoping again that it will be satisfied. (What’s that they say of the definition of insanity?)

“None but God can satisfy the longings of an immortal soul; that as the heart was made for Him, so He only can fill it.” —Richard Chenevix

The body, the flesh, has a time limit. We’re given 70, 80, 90, maybe 100 years, and to God, it is a blink of an eye. Each soul will have eternal life—the question is only where we will spend it. God existed in eternity past and will exist in eternity future. Absolutely only an eternal God can satisfy an eternal soul. He created each of us with a purpose, and in seeking our purpose from Him, He is glorified, and we are filled by Him to do His work.

“Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.” —Proverbs 27:20

Death and destruction are being filled day after day with more and more of the lost, and yet they keep taking. Our desires are just as demanding and gluttonous. We keep going back to the well day in and day out to find a way to be satisfied, but that can never happen. It takes an exorbitant amount of effort to seek after a water source that does not satisfy. In running toward it, we spend ourselves and become more thirsty, and the swamp tempts us with the rancid water that it holds, and we, being so desperately thirsty, drink it in gulps and allow it to pollute us from the inside.

“…and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” —Ephesians 4:19

It becomes easier to sin each time we choose to do it. Our guilt may be heavy, but our thirst is more urgent still. We see the well for what it is; we know it is unclean, made up of the dirtiest, most putrid stuff we’d ever seen.

But it is there.

It is the closest thing to an oasis we’ve seen in this desert, and we are parched from our journey to seek it out—it is a destructive cycle indeed. After a few gulps, it’s not so bad. After a few gulps, we’ve drowned out the Voice of our Maker that tells us this water is poisoned.

“For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” —Jeremiah 2:13

We are a prideful people who are trying to usurp God’s place in the universe. This verse has roots deep in Eden. In the Garden, our sin wasn’t merely disobedience—disobedience was the medium by which we truly sinned. Our sin was that we told God He didn’t know what was best for us. We told God that we could take care of ourselves. We told God that we are God.

But we cannot be God.

Our feeble minds and the dirt that formed our bodies are not meant to hold God. We are broken cisterns. We cannot hold all that is God inside us—we would go mad trying. But we put a lot of effort into trying, and we put a lot of effort into failing.

“Men are in a restless pursuit after satisfaction in earthly things. They will exhaust themselves in the deceitful delights of sin, and, finding them all to be vanity and emptiness, they will become very perplexed and disappointed. But they will continue their fruitless search. Though wearied, they still stagger forward under the influence of spiritual madness, and though there is no result to be reached except that of everlasting disappointment, yet they press forward. They have no forethought for their eternal state; the present hour absorbs them. They turn to another and another of earth’s broken cisterns, hoping to find water where not a drop was ever discovered yet.” —Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Human pride is an amazing thing. We will go to the point where we are broken and beat up and near death, when we can receive that which we are searching for should we simply extend a hand forward. And yet, we ignore it and try to gain it with our own will and strength. It is the age-old concept of karma—as we reap, so will we sow.

But then in bursts Grace—glorious in its modesty, simple in its complexity—to tell us that we are doing it wrong. Grace topples our defenses—the bricks we lay in stacks to build walls high above our heads—and tells us we are wasting our time trying to fulfill something that was fulfilled by God, trying to attain something that God has freely extended to us.

“I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?” So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” They went out of the city, and were coming to Him. —John 4:7-30

When one meets God, all other things seem trivial. The things we thought we needed, the things we sought to grasp and keep, the things we filled our broken vessels with—all of it is rubbish when faced with Heaven’s glory. The Samaritan woman met God face-to-face. What good is a waterpot after this meeting? He sparked something in her, made her curious about Him. The Messiah would surely prove more interesting than a waterpot. He was more important than anything else she did or had to do that day, and He was so important that she dropped everything and hurried back to town to face the people she lived in community with—all of whom seemed to know about her history since she so casually mentions that He knew all she had done—and told all of them about Him.

We seek to satisfy our desires on our own, but that only leaves us thirsty again later. The bait is placed in front of our eyes in our lowest, most desperate moments of hunger. And we take it, even knowing a hook spears the bait and will spear our cheek and hold us captive. Then along comes Jesus, who—seeing all of the hooks that pierce our flesh, indicting us on account of evidence of the baits we gobbled up as though we were starved for years—gently removes them and places our hand in His in order to show us a better way.

Jesus is the only one who can satisfy us eternally. Nothing is hidden to Him, and though He sees all that I have done, He refuses to let all that I’ve done be all that I am or will be. Instead, He says that He is the fountain that won’t run dry, that He is the one who will give me rest. Instead, he satisfies my desperation to be filled and continually fills me each day with what I need. I want my entire life to change as a result of this teaching. What more can I do or give as response to having been given more than what I could ever hope to deserve?

Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost… Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David. —Isaiah 55:1, 3

This water is quite possibly the most intimate thing that exists in the universe. It comes from a Man who has been so wronged by all people—by me—in so many ways, yet He offers it to each of us in reconciliation to Himself and lets it cleanse us from the inside, blessing us in order to fulfill His promise for His glory.

sealed by Spirit

Sin, by definition in the Bible, is not wronging another person. It is assaulting the glory of God, rebelling against God. Sin, by definition, is a vertical phenomenon. — John Piper

Ephesians 4:30 says not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, who seals us as God’s own.

To grieve = to oppress or wrong; to inflict sorrow on.

Grief goes beyond anger; it is the intersection of anger and love. It is anger after being stripped of its bite, its bitterness; anger softened by affection, turning it toward the offense and not the offender.

What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit?

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…”

AKA.

Do not stir up this painful anger soaked in love, do not distress Him, do not cause Him to mourn.

“… by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

We carry the Holy Spirit with us everyday: when we love, when we laugh, when we worship.

When we sin.

No wonder David said, “Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight.”

Just before this confession, David also described sin to be “transgression” and “iniquity.” And forgiveness is described to “blot out,” to “wash,” to “cleanse.” These words express the seriousness of sin and the great lengths God goes to in removing ours.

Our sin grieves the Holy Spirit.

Grief is anger tamed by love.

The Holy Spirit loves us.

He loved us without beginning. The words used to describe the love of the Father and of the Son apply also to the Spirit. His love is just as eternal, just as sovereign, just as loyal, just as unchanging, just as unfathomable.

He loves us by sanctifying us to be more like our Savior. He marks us as God’s own. When we stray, when we sin, when we grieve Him by our sin, He pursues us and brings us back to Him.

This is why it is only against God that we sin. Yes, we do sin against others, but it is first God that we grieve before all else. It is first God that we offend; He lives in us. Sin is disobeying God’s Law, going against His holiness, denying that He alone satisfies our souls completely and totally, rather than our addictions (which, isn’t the reason why we are addicted to these things because they do not satisfy?).

When Nathan exposed David’s sin, he did not pick at what David had done to others (which were definitely legitimately sin); he instead asked David, “Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight?”

God’s love is loyal. The Holy Spirit’s love is loyal.

Was it not the Spirit who showed us Christ, who brought us to Calvary, to the base of the cross of Jesus? What love is this, that He should bring me to the place, the moment that would change my life forever?

Because of the Holy Spirit, I can fall in love with Jesus and be His bride. Because He let me see who Jesus was; because He broke my hardened heart and made way for Jesus to rest His throne in it. Because He opened my blind eyes, opened my deaf ears, opened my clenched fist to allow me to see and receive His grace.

He loves me as deeply as my Father and my Savior. He compels me to return after I wound His heart, after I grieve Him. He calls me to confess, to release all the dirtiness of my life into His hands; to repent and replace those things with gifts given by Him for the work of His glory.

No faith is genuine which does not bear the seal of the Spirit. No love, no hope can ever save us, except it be sealed with the Spirit of God, for whatever hath not his seal upon it is spurious. Faith that is unsealed may be a poison, it may be presumption; but faith that is sealed by the Spirit is true, real, genuine faith. — Charles Spurgeon

He calls me His and brands me with Himself to set me apart as His most beloved bride, daughter, friend, and servant. He walks through life with me, and He is a Friend and Helper beyond my wildest dreams.

I do not want to grieve this Friend again. Through I know, in my imperfection, it is inevitable that I will fail and sin, I pray that I will recover quickly, seek Him out immediately, and be willing to be humbled, discipled, changed for the better—because He will not leave me where I land.

Because He loved me, I can love Him back.

What a wonderful gift of grace and love we have.