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 your head’s just as bad.

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.

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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).

a prayer for Hong Kong

Three Sundays ago, I browsed my Instagram and Facebook feeds as I was getting ready for church. I was overwhelmed by photos taken by my friends and former students in the midst if a peaceful protest in Hong Kong—a peaceful protest that was interrupted by police armed with tear gas and batons.10628432_536877118441_8472212080523922738_n

These are teenagers and young twenty-year-olds. My heart was and is still heavy concerning over their safety and the future of their city—a city I had fallen in love with long ago. These young people are fighting for their rights as promised to them by China: the right to free election and to be semi-autonomous as they had been for so long. Part of me wanted to stay home and find all the news articles I could on the subject, but I felt I should let the matter sit and go to church, and that God would give me a blessing then.

And He did. There was a devotional sharing from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young that day that spoke to my nerves.

From 22 September:

“TRUST ME AND REFUSE TO WORRY, for I am your Strength and Song. You are feeling wobbly this morning, looking at difficult times looming ahead, measuring them against your own strength. However, they are not today’s tasks–or even tomorrow’s. So leave them in the future and come home to the present, where you will find Me waiting for you. Since I am your Strength, I can empower you to handle each task as it comes. Because I am your Song, I can give you Joy as you work alongside Me.

Keep bringing your mind back to the present moment. Among all My creatures, only humans can anticipate future events. This ability isa blessing, but it becomes a curse whenever it is misused. If you use your magnificent mind to worry about tomorrow, you cloak yourself in dark unbelief. However, when the hope of heaven fills your thoughts, the Light of My Presence envelops you. Though heaven is future, it is also present tense. As you walk in the Light with Me, you have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven.”
Exodus 15:2; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Hebrews 10:23

God also placed Scripture on my heart that more or less let me know He was listening and aware. And it has been my experience for these last nearly dozen years of walking with Him that if God is listening, if God is aware, then God is working, God is prepared. However minute the detail may be, God is very much moving.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all [a]comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

My prayer for Hong Kong stems from 1 Timothy 2:1-2 and Isaiah 9:6. I pray, and ask that we pray together, for the leadership and those in authority in Hong Kong and even Mainland China. And I ask that we remember that ultimately the government stands on a firm foundation. It is on Jesus’ shoulders that Hong Kong rests and is subject to.

One of my students asked me specifically to pray for hope—that whatever the outcome, Hong Kong does not lose hope. She is wise for such a young girl. With God, in God, because of God, there is always hope.

Things escalated again near the end before businesses opened back up and students went back to school, but the protestors have been above reproach throughout the entire situation. The government and officials, however, have been significantly less so.

While the protest itself is done, Hong Kong has a long way to go on the road to desired democracy. While I alone feel powerless to help you or support you on the other side of the ocean, please know—my students, my friends, my family, my beloved Hong Kong—that prayer can moved mountains, and I will be on my knees praying for you every chance I get.

You’re a part of something greater than yourselves. I feel it in my bones.


Since the writing of this entry in my journal, the government has chosen to cancel its meeting with the people and have blamed the Occupy Central movement for deflating its chances at negotiations. Please keep praying for the city, that the corruption will not be tolerated, and that hearts will be changed. No matter the outcome, the new generation has a lot on its shoulders, and Hong Kong will be subjected to many challenges.

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.

wake your dreams

“A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.”

I came to Seattle in chase of a dream. I was positive that this dream was in my future, so I looked for reasons to be up there. The ones I found were so good that I myself was completely convinced.

In my time in the Pacific Northwest, I’d grown leaps and bounds spiritually and emotionally. I attributed the growth to being far away from home and therefore having only God to rely on and no one else. So I thought I needed to stay here in order to keep growing. But really… God is all I have no matter where I am.

I wanted to have more experience in my writing and learn more in order to use this gift properly, so I decided to check out a graduate school. I fell in love with the Bothell campus of UW. Then I got my first student loan bill for my Bachelor’s, and the honeymoon was over. While it’s not as bad as it could’ve been, it is enough to rethink grad school and postpone it indefinitely.

So then, where does that leave me?

I’ve enjoyed this past half-year in Washington. God taught me a lot about trusting Him and growing with Him. He taught me truly what it meant to have faith in Him when all that was around me made no sense, and I had no way of providing for myself.

I’m waking from that dream now, but the end of one dream allows the birth of a new one.

I’m going home.

It’s time to go back to California.

Four years ago this month, I set off on a quest to finish college and get a degree. I’ve gained so much more than an expensive piece of paper in these four years. I’ve become emotionally healthier (though there will always be room for more growth); I’ve healed from wounds I’d numbed myself to and hadn’t realized they’d never properly healed; I gained new family; and I learned to love deeply from the part of my heart that I’d thought was too broken to love at all. It’s time to put that healing to use and stop running from the past.

I love who I was in the Northwest, and that person will always be me in some way, shape, or form.

“Times change and so must I. We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives and that’s okay. That’s good. Gotta keep it moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.”

I was uneasy making this decision. I was so sure I was supposed to be up here; if I was wrong about that, I could be wrong about this. But when I could finally see past my pride to remember the dream that brought me here, it did not seem such an ordained step after all. Still, I can’t call it a mistake, not after all this place has given me.

Sometimes you have to take the long way home to know that you belong there.

“He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?'” —Hebrews 13:5-6

One of my life verses of this year has been this: “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

I will wake and live this new dream and do so bravely. I will trust in God’s sovereignty and believe that I cannot escape His will. I will take this step into a future known only to Him.

See you soon, California.

“Our destiny is in the stars, so let’s go and search for it.”

hemmed in

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.

You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
~ Psalm 139: 1, 5, 7

I have a stalker.

Okay, not really. Not at all, actually.

I broke out along my jawline overnight, and after a round of weeping and mourning that my skin is up to its old tricks again, I thought about what else could’ve caused it. And I think I figured it out.

Stress.

As you beautiful people know, I quit my job a little over two weeks ago now, and I’ve been waiting for a position I really want (I’ve also applied to some other places and signed on with a temp agency). As rough as this time has been, there hasn’t been a part of me that’s regretted leaving the Renaissance. I’ve also been very thankful that so many people have been encouraging at this time. I know more than anyone the weight of that decision, and I’m grateful a lot of people understand that.

I think that in this waiting period, God’s trying to get me to make up a bit for the Sabbaths I’d skipped the past decade (hopefully not ALL of them, or else I’d be out for over a year). I’ve been spending time in the Book of Hosea, and what I clearly see in that book is how faithful God is, how patient He is, how loving He is while we are none of these things. And He pursues us and refuses to let us live apart from Him for our sake.

Today, God and I had a pretty good chat. I was thinking about the stress that caused me to break out and realizing how much it just wasn’t worth it. And while I’ve been honest with God as to how I’m doing and feeling, I’m not so sure I was honest as to the depth of it.

I’m nervous. I’m scared. I’m frustrated. I’m annoyed. I’d voiced these (you learn eventually that you can’t hide your feelings from God, and also that you don’t have to protect Him from them. He can handle it) just about every time we talk. But deep down there’s more.

I’m petrified.

I’ve never not been able to take care of myself before. I have student loans coming due in a little less than a month and another round of rent and bills in the next few weeks.

I am literally in a position where I can do nothing about that.

And this verse came to mind earlier: Psalm 139:5 “You have enclosed (NIV says “hem”) me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.”

I’m sure many find a lot of comfort and security in that verse, and I probably would’ve as well.

If I weren’t feeling trapped and stuck instead.

God has fenced me in. There is nothing I can do by my own power to escape or take down the fence.

At first, I did what anyone would do in this kind of situation: panic. I was crawling up the walls, frantic for something to do! (Can you tell why I need a Sabbath?)

And then I realized who I was stuck in a yard with.

And it really wasn’t so bad. There are worse people to be trapped with (way worse).

If I was going to be enclosed behind and before from God and with God, I’d best make the most of it. So I pulled a chair up and we chatted and hung out.

The time we spent together drove some truths from my head into my heart: that I am not able to do anything for myself but He is. And because of who He is—because He is good and works in us and for us for the sake of His glory—I am in a safe place.

John Piper said this about Ruth, “She has esteemed God’s protection superior to all others. She has set her heart on God for hope and joy. And when a person does that, God’s honor – not the value of our work – is at stake, and he will be merciful. If you plead God’s value as the source of your hope instead of pleading your value as a reason for God’s blessing, then his unwavering commitment to his own glory engages all his heart for your protection and joy” (excerpt from A Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper).

God knows what I’ve got coming at me. He understands the urgency. He knows that these are needs, not desires (I’d desire nothing more than to not pay student loans and rent). And He’s laid His hand upon me.

There is not place I can go to escape Him. There’s nothing I can do to hop this fence and go off to try and fix my life, though days will come when I’d want to, as they have before.

But because the Person in here with me will fight for me, I also know that it is a safe place.

working and waiting

I quit my job.

And I don’t have a new one. Yet.

This decision was the most aggravating decision I’d been faced with since choosing to move to Seattle. I felt guilty that I was so pessimistic about my job. I knew that working in the hospitality industry could be a wonderful ministry opportunity. I repeated this to myself everyday.

When it wasn’t enough, I felt more guilty. Obviously my faith wasn’t big enough to see all God could do with my position and my job. I was definitely being selfish and prideful for not wanting to be in the same position I was in before I got the degree.

I tried. I tried so hard to stick with this job. God provided it for me after nearly two months of unemployment and e-mountains of e-mails sent to e-mployers. I felt like I was failing Him by not thriving or enjoying this position.

I also remembered the email exchanged I’d had with Dan from WitnessLA. He’d told me he felt the Holy Spirit’s moving to find me a job. I didn’t want to be ungrateful to God or those who prayed for me.

And then I realized how toxic the environment was there. Along with how much my worries centered on myself.

It’s difficult to describe the suffocation I felt during my time there. I am still having difficulty putting it into words. After some managers berated all the new-hires for mistakes made because we weren’t properly trained, I put in my notice.

And immediately I was relieved.

I did not make this decision lightly. Having grown up on the heels of poverty, this decision went against all my logic. As soon as I was old enough to work, I worked. This was how I could guarantee my survival. I could pay for rent, food, bills, etc. And my student loans are coming due soon. Of course, I need a job.

The one thing that concerned me most was that by quitting, I would be testing God. “I took a risk, so now You have to reward me with a blessing.” But considering how deeply concerned I was with that, I trusted God knew my heart. And I realized what my attitude and response really was.

I took a risk.

So I need You in order to live.

Working had become a stronghold, an idol, for me. I was bound by it. It was the only way I knew how to ensure my survival. I relied on my paycheck more than I relied on my God. It was the one tangible way I knew I’d be provided for: by my own hands. I think we took this stronghold down the day I put in my notice.

It was a terrifying decision, but I am at peace with having made it. Thinking back to that conversation with Dan again, I wondered if I might’ve slapped God’s hand. But instead of rebuking me for quitting, God seemed to rebuke me for other things. “Who says I’m not still at work for you? Who said My promise extended only to the job you just left? Will you trust Me to keep working for you as it pleases Me to do?”

God is still working. Amazing.

The night I put in my notice, I received an email from Mars Hill Church in regards to an application I sent in for the editor position. I could not believe the timing. I eventually had my first interview with them and am being scheduled for a second as I write this entry.

Right now—as always—my survival, my life, depends on my God. There is no firmer foundation than Him. I realized when I’d quit that I didn’t come to Seattle to work in hotels again; I came to Seattle to grow with God and serve Him in a way I couldn’t serve Him previously. I came to use the gift and talent He’s grace upon me in order to touch another soul. And another. And another.

As thankful as I am to be out of hospitality, I am still grateful having worked there. In a very eccentric way, God taught me and grew me to listen to His voice and re-evaluate my trust in Him, while providing for me until I learned the lesson and became ready to step into something new.

Here I am, jobless once again in a state where I am still new. I don’t know what’s coming next, but I know and trust that God does and is actively working to get me there. It is an absolutely terrifying position to be in, as I am in the wake of student loan payments on top of other existing bills.

Yet I am absolutely confident—more so than I have ever been—that God is working for my good and His glory.

The theme since I’d moved here was God telling me to take a step and see what He could do.

Here’s one rather large step.

I’m pretty stoked to see what God will do.

I’m in the middle of one enormous adventure. It’s alarming and scary and very exciting. And I’m not going it alone.

Please be praying for me in this season. I am excited to share what God does with it and to see where He brings me.

“They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the LORD.” —Jeremiah 1:19

Shattered

A creature created from the earth, living with borrowed breaths from the Sculptor. Her heart is weak, and her flesh is ever more so. How does a creation with these qualities come to gain so much pride?

She had asked for brokenness. She had asked for a glimpse of His heart for His people, for the students He’s blessed her with this summer. He hears her prayers, and He answers in His time.

His time came a few hours ago. In fellowship with the body, she felt the weight upon her heart called “conviction.” She wasn’t giving her all, and she’d known it for some time. Going through the motions and giving only half her heart.

But no one can survive with half a heart. In order to have life, it must be whole. No one can love with half a heart. It is all or nothing. Completely devoted or completely not.

Her hardened heart was shattered in the most remarkable way. While gathering to pray, she suddenly experienced it: a glimpse of His heart for His children.

Oh, how beautiful is His love and how perfect. A love that He wants to flood into His creation. A bigger glimpse into the heart of God to see the great love He has for the young lives He’s entrusted her with this summer.

His heart breaks for the lost, and she thinks of the lives and the faces she comes in contact with everyday. A glimpse of His love for them, His desire for them, His jealousy for them, His heart for them was all she could take. To have taken the entirety of His overflowing emotions for them would render her to her knees and flood her with great longing and heartbreak.

Her doubts have been washed away. This return shook her confidence. Is she truly meant to return after finishing her educational responsibilities?

The crash of her shattered pride and broken heart tells her yes. Her Father has shown her this night that He is not a God of confusion. He is the Good Shepherd, and she is one in His flock. This night, she can have confidence through Him that she will return here in His time, that she will go where she belongs, where He calls her to in His time.

A glimpse of His heart. To see and experience the intensity of His love shook her to the core.

All this time, she could’ve done so much more. Yet now, she has only four days left at her school with her students. What will she do?

Give me a tender and malleable heart, that I may love them with all that I am and give them the best for what’s left of the time we have together and after. If I leave without having a relationship with these students, then this entire summer was in vain.

Let my love overflow. Fill me that I may have what I need in order to pour into them and be fed as well.

This is the day her God gave her the gift of the answer she’d been waiting to know.

Tuesday 27 July 2010 – 12:54am Hong Kong

Break

Isaiah to the modern world is a great prophet, well known as a man of righteousness. Yet in the sixth chapter of his book, he cried out, “Woe to me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

Isaiah beheld the glory of the Lord as a broken and sinful man, whose skin was made of the dirt of the earth, whose breath was bestowed by a Creator so humble, so loving, that He knelt in the dirt and pressed His lips against it and breathed His breath into it to give it life. And Isaiah expected to die as his unholiness came in contact with the holiness of the LORD of hosts. To his lips a piece of burning coal was touched in order to take away his iniquity and forgive his sin.

We gaze at one another with judgment in our eyes. We look upon one another with wrath behind our masks. We glare with a venom more deadly than a serpent’s.

But what are we? Are we not but men and women of unclean lips living among other men and women of unclean lips?

He has refined us, though not as silver. He has tested us in the furnace of affliction.

We should be on our faces before the Creator of the universe, realizing our own iniquities and exactly how much we don’t deserve to kneel, let alone stand, in His presence. And reveling in the power of His gift, of His grace.

For all who call ourselves disciples of the Most High, my prayer is harsh, but it is my conviction. I pray that we will be broken. Completely and utterly shattered before our Beloved. That we may truly, truly see our unworthiness and see His grace shine hundred-fold. That we may give glory to Him because He finished the work and reached His hand out to us. That we may stop seeing each other through filtered and broken lenses. And I pray that we will be touched with burning hot coals and tested in the furnace of affliction. In order to see our brokenness. In order to see His glory. In order to be blameless in His sight.

Make me ready for the fires. And let me revere You in all of my brokenness. Let me see You as I’ve never seen You before. Break me and touch me with burning coals that I may stand before you redeemed and forgiven. Break me so that I will not look upon my brother or sister with a plank in my eye and proceed to dislodge a speck. Humble me, beautiful One, that I may truly love my neighbor as You have loved me.

Ruin me for the ordinary.

Break me that I may be of use to You.

Tuesday 13 July 2010 – 1:58 am Hong Kong

a key of tears

You have taken account of my wanderings
Put my tears in Your bottle
Are they not in Your book?

~ Psalm 56:8

An emotional day following an emotional day. Eyes filled to the brim with tears of longing and loneliness. Cries caught in the throat as mourning is bitten back.

She misses home.

She misses her friends, her mother, her old job (believe it or not), her old haunts. She misses them all. The sunshine, the laughter, the ocean breeze, the smell of the sand and the waves, the coldness of the rink. She longs to be near them.

Conversations are beautiful. Catching up with old friends, a gift. Keys to the door she locked tightly shut when she left. As the door flings open wide, emotions flood her senses and overwhelm her thoughts. How has she stayed up here so long without breaking down? Now that she has broken, what will happen?

How long has it been since she’s felt? How long has it been since she closed off her heart? How long will it take to swing the door wide open again?

Heart overflowing with emotions. It tells her it’s alive. It tells her she’s alive. It cries out in joy that it is heard, that it is no longer neglected.

Heart of flesh. This is what she wants. This is what He wants for her. Her heart of unforgiving stone broken to reveal a heart of tender flesh. A heart that is whole. A heart that can love from even its most battered depths.

Oh, God, a heart of flesh is so vulnerable.

But it feels.

And it’s alive.

The tears shed today will be collected in His bottle, recorded in His book. They mark the day a heart hardened by defense was broken with love.

It’s a new day.