Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Review: Healing Waters

Back in December, needing some Christmas gifts, I allowed myself to wander in and browse our library's book sale room (always a temptation). I found two small books for my niece, as I had hoped and I picked up two books for myself, one a collection of devotional thoughts by Karen Kingsbury and the other one this novel by Nancy Rue and Stephen Arterburn. If I had already read this book, I would have chosen to give this to my niece instead of the two (unread) books I selected (always a gamble and this time one I wasn't happy with).

Healing Waters is probably the first Christian novel I have ever read where it began with a skeptical narrator casting Christianity (or at least a toxic version of Christianity) in a negative light. I won't lie ... I found that intriguing. The story brought the narrator from a place of unbelief to a place of stable faith. The fast paced, action-filled story unfolded beautifully and clearly identified that even Christians sometimes present Christianity in a way that is harmful and scarring.

Lucia Coffey is a giver. She meets the needs of those around her, but stuffs her own and drowns them in food binges. The story begins as she is heading to the airport to pick up her sister, Sonia Cabot. The slender, attractive Sonia is a well-known spokesperson for Abundant Living Ministries, an organization pushing a prosperity gospel that says God blesses those who allow Him to heal them of their sins. While God does, indeed, heal and bless those who turn to Him, at ALM, they believe that coin to be two-sided, so that those who are not feeling His blessing must not be following close after Him. Tragically, for Sonia, tragedy strikes and the foundations of her "religion" are shaken to the core.

As Lucia stands by her sister, determined to protect Sonia's six year old daughter, Bethany, she realizes that she needs some help in knowing how best to help this frightened little girl. She turns to Sullivan Crisp, a psychologist who is battling some of his own demons but who sees Bethany, Lucia and Sonia's desperate need for healing and decides to stand in the gap.

I loved that this novel kept me guessing as to what was going to happen next. Although I did figure out the main perpetrator of the tragedy well in advance, it was still a very suspenseful book. The characters were genuine and the plot, well-executed. At just over 400 pages, I devoured this book quickly.

It was chosen as the 2009 Novel of the Year for Women of Faith. They promise "a reading experience that will capture your imagination and inspire your faith." This book delivered. And with an excerpt at the end from another Sullivan Crisp novel, titled Healing Stones, I'm liable to be looking for further tales in this series. They seem to deliver real characters with real problems and real faith!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Book Review: The Graveyard Book

I first encountered Neil Gaiman's work a few years back, when I stumbled upon a video of his Blueberry Girl book. I loved his voice. I loved the beauty of his turned phrases. I loved the images he stirred. So, when I saw Neil Gaiman's Newbery Award winning book, The Graveyard Book, available at the library in audio book form, I snatched it up.

I made a regrettable mistake when I decided to listen to it during a ride with Trevor to his wrestling practice. As the first ten minutes played, in Gaiman's lovable British accent, it didn't really seem like Trevor was paying attention. I did hesitate, wondering if I should turn it off, but in the end, I let it run until we arrived at his practice.

Trevor has always been fixated on things associated with Halloween. He is not afraid in the slightest of vampires and ghouls and skulls and gargoyles. But, I am realizing now that he clearly understands the distinction that these things are fictional. What he heard brought fears of a different kind because the actions were real and terrifying. I have paid for that dearly. Ever since that night, Trevor has been praying for God to keep us very, very, very, very safe at night and wakens routinely with fears that robbers are breaking in. This book is not for small children (although I noticed on-line that there are elementary school children who have created trailers and done reports on the book).

Really, it was an excellent book for a grown up and even probably for a middle school child. But that beginning happened to be toxic for my six year old child and I regret exposing him to it.

The book tells the story of a small boy who toddles out of his crib, down the stairs and out of his house while an intruder is killing off his family. The boy wanders into a graveyard up the hill and the spirit of his mother pleads with the spirits within the graveyard to protect her son from the man, Jack ... the man with the knife, who is intent upon finding the small boy. The graveyard spirits agree and Mr. and Mrs. Owens, who had never been able to have children in life, give the lad the name Nobody. Nobody Owens, "Bod" for short, is given free reign within the graveyard and even taught helpful things like how to fade and slip through the bars.

For a while, Bod's life is pleasant enough. Everyone in the graveyard (usually noted by their full inscriptions on their headstones, which was quite comical) embrace Bod's presence there and become a sort of family to him. His guardian, Silas, engages tutors to teach him until he becomes old enough to beg to go to the outside world and attend real school.

Silas knows that real school will bring dangers that he may not be able to protect Bod from, but Bod is insistent. He wants to be among his own kind ... the living. Sadly, Silas' warnings bear merit because the man, Jack, is still on the lookout for the boy.

At times, it felt like the story was, indeed, too dark, too full of the evil, twisted stuff of death. But, the longer I listened the more I wanted to know how Bod would make the transition from being among the dead to being among the living (ah, that is the hook, the unexpected twist, which makes this story out of the ordinary and enticing to consider).

The end of the story was quite triumphant, really. It was so utterly affirming of life and of the desire to get out there and live and have experiences and face the dangers that living can bring. In the end, Bod became a part of my internal landscape and a character I will never forget.

I have heard that they are making the book into a movie. I'm not sure how I feel about that. If my own son, whose psyche I didn't initially predict to be too sensitive for such a tale, ended up scarred from the first ten minutes, what could viewing this scene do to smaller children who might be brought into a theater unaware of what images will be portrayed? Can they tell the tale without portraying the beastly murders that orphaned poor Bod and provide the framework for the story? Will they provide a disclaimer warning parents of small children that the images might linger and haunt these impressionable minds?

At the same time, I heartily recommend the book. It was a masterful example of storytelling at its very best. I found the cause of pursuit of Bod to be a bit flimsy, but the tale was riveting and entertaining. And as for the audio version ... well, you can never beat a fabulous British accent, can you?

Here is a trailer Neil Gaiman did for the book which conveys quite succinctly the message and spirit of the book.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Several weeks back, when I was at the Goodwill store, I found Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak on the shelves there. I've really been trying to cut back on purchasing books if I know that I can secure them at our local library. I was pretty sure I could get this at the library, but my blogging friend, Amy, had written a post about this book and it sounded intriguing.

I'm glad I spent the seventy cents and acquired my own copy. I began reading in the van on the way to the water park and had the entire thing finished before ten the following morning. I had to read the passage about the main character's Spanish class out loud for my oldest son's enjoyment (really ... all H.S. Spanish teachers seem a bit over the top on that first day, don't they?). The story was thoroughly absorbing and felt dead-on for its description of the teenage experience.

Melinda Sordino is beginning her freshman year of high school in a state of utter alienation from her old friends. Shunned by everyone because she called the cops to an end-of-summer party, Melinda withdraws deeper and deeper into her own skin, refusing to come out even to speak to her parents. School becomes a chore and her life feels like a prison. Her only comforts come from her hiding spot in an abandoned janitor's closet at school and her art class, where she is attempting to make an image of a tree "speak" to the observer. Just as she cannot seem to get the tree right, she also cannot seem to bring forth the words to explain what is going on inside and what drove her to call the cops in the first place.

The main thing I loved about this book was Laurie Halse Anderson's great command of voice. Melinda speaks plenty, even in her silence. It is not surprising that this book has received numerous awards. Although the subject matter is heavy and difficult, it is a book that teens would easily relate to and benefit from. Melinda survives the unspeakable and finds her voice ... and so can they.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Water Park Weekend

For the past few years, John has been campaigning for a trip to a water park. Way back when we were a family of three, we visited a wonderful indoor water park in Geneva, Wisconsin. We have fabulous memories of that outing (John and I had a walled off room to ourselves and Bryce slept on a pull-out couch near a fireplace ... Bryce got a huge goose egg on the back of his head from one of the slides ... then, he placed his knuckles up against the glass of the fireplace and burned them, which led to a half hour stint with his hand dipped in the ice bucket ... once he finally slept, I enjoyed our bathroom's hot tub).

However, I haven't been able to match his enthusiasm for the idea. Last year, I managed to put him off. This year, I went along with his plans and he scheduled us for a two night visit to Big Splash Adventure in Southern Indiana. We selected this past weekend because the boys were supposed to have Friday and Monday off from school for a short winter break. However, due to the four snow days we had during our wicked ice storm, those days had been reinstated into the calendar.

As the dates crept closer, the dog's bacterial infection returned and I began to worry that we would lose our deposit because we couldn't take the dog to the kennel, as planned. Thankfully, an expensive visit to a vet (plus more medications) and we were assured that he was all clear to spend a few days at a kennel.

The deadline for cancellation came and went. Friday morning Trevor awoke with a high fever. I kept him home from school. Once he was doped up with acetaminophen, he seemed his normal self, so I made the executive decision to take him to the water park in spite of his obvious illness (what would you do, if faced with the loss of a couple hundred dollars deposit?).

It turned out fine. He did continue to run a high fever (usually at night), but the meds soon brought it down. It may have even worked in our favor because both nights, he was sound asleep by 8 p.m. and it slowed him down a bit during the day.

Apart from some frustration with the noise level in the hallways (I don't know if they could manufacture doors that slam louder than these doors! Plus, one group of adults decided they would take their party to the hall), we had a wonderful time.

The food was magnificent. The weekend package came with a free breakfast buffet and the spread was amazing - eggs, biscuits & gravy, sausage, bacon, pancakes, hash browns, french toast sticks, cereals, yogurts, fruit ... all of it delicious.

Our suite included a king size bed (which I shared with Trevor, due to his fevers and illness) and a small cubby hole room with two bunk beds and a television. When the boys weren't swimming they were hanging out in the room, plugged into their electronic amusements.

At first, I must say, I found the stimulation level of the water park to be overwhelming. It was impossible to keep an eye on both Trevor and Sean, since they ran off in opposite directions. I worried that one would drown while I was looking for the other one. When John and Bryce joined us there (they had been unloading the van), John reminded me not to worry so much about Trevor because he knows his limits and can swim to a certain extent. From that point on, I focused on keeping track of Sean and my anxiety level diminished.

Thankfully, Sean chose one favorite slide and remained in the same area for the most part.

Trevor's favorite place to be was in the lazy river.

He did go down a few of the bigger slides with Daddy and Bryce, but mostly just wanted to float in an inner tube. The final morning (the only time I remembered to bring my camera along - thus the empty look), Trevor convinced me to go down the biggest slide (one I called "The Big Flush") with him on a double inner tube. It was a blast!

Of course, the fun and frolicking didn't help Trevor's illness. He ended up missing three more days of school as it all settled into a horrible cough. Plus, Sean began running fevers on Monday. Yippee! We've survived another week of illness and one late start (due to another round of snow - which I don't really mind because things were starting to look ugly and the new layer was just enough to return the world to a pretty glimmer).

To pamper myself a little, and to follow another Pippi-esque adventure, I snagged a deal for half fare massages and invited an old friend (who happens to live on the other side of Indy) to go with me. One of these days soon, I'll be leaving the boys behind, forgetting all about the snow and the illness, the whining and the curse of too much television, trading it all in for an hour long massage and a reunion with an old friend. I'm guessing it will be even better than the weekend at the water park.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book Review: Though Waters Roar

I stumbled upon this book quite accidentally. Whenever Trevor receives a Scholastic Book Clubs catalog, I have him go through and circle all the books that tickle his fancy. Then, I look on-line to see which ones I could obtain through the library, and purchase a few of the ones not offered there. In January, he circled Robert Munsch's book, Roar. When I looked it up, the library also offered up Lynn Austin's novel, Though Waters Roar. Loving the title, I had to read more of the specifics. The description hooked me and I requested it to be held for me (so much better than having to wander the shelves with a four and six year old in tow.

I believe I have found a new author to explore. This was a fabulous book. It contained a mixture of interesting, flawed characters in difficult situations, and quite a bit of history. I was thrilled to read that Lynn Austin has won Christy Awards for five other novels. In fact, when I searched for the Amazon link and read other reviewers, many said that this book, while good, isn't even her best. Great!

The title obviously refers to a passage of Scripture taken from Psalms:

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their swinging." Psalm 46: 1-3

The story brings these verses to life as it follows four generations of women and the troubles they encounter, as well as the strength they find.

Harriet Sherwood, the narrator, always wanted to follow in her Grandmother Bebe's footstep, but now she finds herself incarcerated for the very activity her grandmother rallied against. As she sits in jail, she contemplates the extensive back-story to her life, outlining her great-grandmother's activities with the Underground Railroad, her grandmother's troubled marriage to a man of wealthy social standings and her own mother's difficulty finding a place and a voice. These characters were strong in the midst of adversity (from dangerous runaway slave transport to quiet vigils of prayer outside of taverns) and held passionately to their convictions and their faith in God.

My chief complaint with Christian novels tends to be that authors too often place the message they wish to communicate above the importance of quality story line. At times, it did feel like Lynn Austin pushed her faith message a bit too vocally, however her story was certainly strong enough to carry the message without any extra push.

I couldn't put this book down. It was thoroughly compelling and I found myself thanking the Lord for my own trials because the story so clearly demonstrated the presence of God in the midst of overwhelming circumstances. The historical details were absorbing and the characters were real.

I can't wait to pick up another Lynn Austin novel! It looks like it is going to be a great year of reading for me.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Review: Inside Narnia

When my mother gave this book to me (after visiting Asbury College and hearing the author, Devin Brown, speak), I had not yet even fully completed The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I had started reading the book with my oldest son quite a few years back, but we hadn't finished it. Now, that I've read the entire series, I dug this book back up (from the endless stacks of books around my house).

In Inside Narnia: A Guide to Exploring The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Devin Brown offers what few other authors provide - a literary study of the work. Most books (and believe me there are legions of books out there since Lewis's step-son, Douglas Gresham, brought the series back into the limelight by producing three movies from the books) approach the Narnia series from a theological perspective.

As a former literature major, at first, I was thrilled to immerse myself back into a work of literary analysis. The book gathers together comments from other sources concerning the Narnia series. It traces the work's development, often considering it when held up to similar works by Lewis' friend and fellow Inkling, J.R.R. Tolkien. Devin Brown walks step by step through The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, analyzing every tid-bit available.

Towards the end, however, I began to tire of the literary criticism and review. The Narnia books say so much to each and every reader, but I don't think it is really necessary to delve into every tiny aspect and tear it apart. I found myself resenting the thorough analysis ... the placing of the book under a microscope, so to speak. I wanted to pull away and return to my own opinions and understandings of Narnia.

Of course, Devin Brown himself must have acknowledged that the scouring might be too much. At one point, he writes: "In the end, TLWW is what it is - not what critics or even Lewis himself may have said it is."

For Narnia enthusiasts and literary scholars, this is an excellent book. But, it is clearly just an addendum. The real meat and the meal that only you can enjoy for yourself is within the actual series itself.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia Series

It is really quite shocking to me that I have gone 45 years of my life without reading this famous series, especially since I spent four years of my life transcribing the personal letters of C.S. Lewis and often reading comments in reference to the Narnia books. I did attempt to read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, to Bryce several years back, when he was probably 7. It didn't go well. I think the only thing he would remember from our progress in that book (we read probably 2/3 before he lost interest) was the image of young Edmund and his insatiable desire for more Turkish Delight.

Bryce, God-love-him, may never be a willing reader ... but his brothers still hold great promise. Trevor has been roused by every single commercial he saw for the "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" movie. Of course, I always hate to take them to a movie based upon a book unless we have already read the book together (what a fuddy-dud, I know!).

Thus, in early January, the two little boys and I began reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. At 4 and 6, they didn't last long either, but I remembered that I had picked up an excellent comic version of the book in the discarded books at the DeKalb Public Library many years ago. This one was far easier for them to stick with and still follow the story. Trevor loved it so much that he begged to photocopy one of the glorious pages inside (the page revealing the grand battle between the witch's allies and Aslan's army). Indeed, if you are looking for an excellent introduction to the Narnia books for those too young for the full novel, this is a steal through Amazon for used copies starting at only $2.43!

After we finished reading the book, we rented the movie. Trevor watched the whole thing with me. Sean gave up about 20 minutes into it. By this point, it was clear to me that we would never make it through the novels leading up to the "Voyage" book. I gave up that lofty goal and decided I would continue reading them for myself. I was sad to discover that the very day I finished reading the "Voyage" book, the movie was no longer showing in our theaters. Oh well.

When I worked at the Marion E. Wade Center, transcribing Lewis' letters, I had the privilege of meeting Douglas Gresham (C.S. Lewis' stepson). He was there doing his own research into Lewis' life and letters. We sat at the same grand table, in the collection, working together and even went to the Stupe to chat. He was utterly delightful. We made a pact that whichever one of us published our book first would send off a signed copy to the other. Alas, I have a copy of his Lenten Lands, but will he ever get a copy of a published book with my name on it? I have also seen one of his three produced movies.

As for the books, there were certainly some I enjoyed more than others. I'm glad I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe first or I might not have been quite as interested in Narnia. I was aware of the issue of what order to read the books in, but couldn't really remember what the advice was (to read them in the order they were published), so I read them in the order that the Scholastic book set comes in after finishing LWW (Scholastic puts them in roughly chronological order for Narnian time).

I appreciated reading the books and catching glimpses of deeper spiritual truths within the story. But, I also wondered how it might have felt to have read them for myself when I was yet a child. I am hoping that I can read the series to my younger boys when they are a bit older. There is so much to chew on within these books. They are truly a series you could read time and time again and, with each reading, glean new fodder to consider.

I think my favorite part of all was coming to the end of The Last Battle. It was a glorious moment, full of such a strange mixture of sadness and joy. Finishing the books, no doubt, felt a lot like finishing one's life journey. There is the grief that such grand adventures are coming to an end, but also a wondrous reunion with those we have encountered before and a clear vision of eternity.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Book Review: Andy Miller: A Legend and a Legacy

I'll never forget the first time I met Bill Miller. He was a friend of my older brothers. We were heading out to Central Music Institute (a territorial music camp in The Salvation Army Central Territory) to pick my older brothers up (which means I was not yet 14, or old enough to attend the camp myself). During the Sunday morning worship service, Bill Miller got up and gave his testimony. He was nervous. There were lots of ums and pauses, interspersed with outbursts of expression. He told of how the Lord met him while kneeling in a latrine at boot camp. Let me tell you, that kind of story sticks with you.

About a year later, my family moved to Chicago and I had the pleasure of getting to know Bill even more. He is one of the most sincere, intense individuals I've ever known. I'm sure he gets a lot of that from his father, Andy Miller - another sincere and intense individual.

Andy Miller is, indeed, a legend within The Salvation Army and even in some circles outside of the Army. Known by common men and women, as well as the highly influential (presidents, CEOs, Catholic dignitaries and big name reporters), Andy Miller welcomed them equally and encouraged each and every one. The few times I found myself in his presence, I felt an irresistible pull to run to the Mercy Seat (the altar for prayer) and to become a better person than I had ever been. He inspired that in people.

This little book, Andy Miller: A Legend and a Legacy, is only 138 pages in length but it is chock full of anecdotes from the life of this legendary individual. So what made Andy Miller legendary?

I think partly, he was legendary because God gifted him with a charisma that was irresistible. Anyone who met this short power-house of a man knew that he was dynamic and attractive. But, he didn't attract people to himself, he attracted them to the Lord.

Another thing that contributed to his legendary status was his willingness to commit wholeheartedly to his calling. When Andy was a cadet in training to become a Salvation Army officer, one of his instructors asked the cadets, "Who here will witness to one person every day outside The Salvation Army and outside of family?" Andy's was the only hand to go up. He kept that commitment, saying he only probably missed four or five days in the six decades or so after commissioning.

He talked to strangers on the sidewalk. At one point, he was jogging and met up with Robert Kennedy. He gave him a brief word of encouragement and made such an impact in the limited number of encounters they had that he was later asked to be an honor guard at Robert Kennedy's funeral. His older son remarked that when he was out and about with his father, it was like his dad was running for office or something, but he was merely following his commitment to woo as many souls to God as possible.

If he committed to pray for someone he would add their name to his prayer list for a full ten days. Moreover, he never seemed to leave an individual without offering to say a prayer with them. One of my favorite anecdotes recounted a time when Andy was meeting with the CEO of Firestone. Prior to leaving his office, Andy spoke up saying, "Mr. Firestone, our Founder said that we should go for souls and go for the worst, so we would like to pray with you!"

I was especially convicted by his words regarding his own mother, Martha Miller. He said of her, "She was my clearest, dearest idea of God, a God of love, tenderness and grace, leaving an indelible spiritual imprint in the formative years of my life."

In his own parenting, he clearly followed her example. Bill acknowledged that his father called him to be everything that he could possibly be. After one particular bout of trouble, Bill was expecting his father to lower the boom. His father said, "Willy, I love you. I'm only disappointed in you because you're a better boy than this. Go up to your room, know that I love you, know that Jesus loves you, and you better never do that again."

His loving tenderness as a parent was clearly expressed in his affection and dedication to his oldest daughter, Martha (who, because of her Down's Syndrome, lived with them clear into her fifties). Later in life, Martha developed Alzheimer's. The author writes,

"Andy was led to take the measure of sleeping in the same room with Martha, himself tied to her so that if she moved he would know she needed him, and not injure herself during the night. From the time of Martha's incapacity to rest safely through a night, Andy had 1,074 consecutive such nights, all without a full night's sleep for himself."

Several weeks ago, on Facebook, I read with great sadness Bill Miller's post stating that his father had been "Promoted to Glory" (the Army's term for death). It had only been a few months before Christmas that I had picked up this little biography at a Goodwill store. As I read the many stories of Bill's father, it was clear that Andy Miller most certainly left behind a firm legacy for his children. He was a man after God's own heart, calling others to draw nearer to our Lord. Heaven is, no doubt rejoicing over this good and faithful servant!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Craving Time Alone

My blog has been severely neglected. I know. Frankly, my own personal needs have been severely neglected, as well.

Despite being an extrovert, I really do need some time and space alone. Lately, I haven't been getting that. My mood is less than kind.

At first, it was the foul weather keeping everyone here on the home front more than usual. Then, it was bouts of sickness of one sort or another.

Plus, my evening hours to myself have been interrupted by several things: sore back, bad cold, need for sleep, and the oldest son staying up until midnight and one in the morning doing homework on the computer. GRRR!

Don't the members of my boy-tribe know that old adage: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I never get a chance to grow fonder of them because THEY ARE ALWAYS HERE! Well, except for this moment, right now (I have just dropped the two little boys off at afternoon school and have an undetermined amount of silence here by myself until hubby returns home from a doctor's appointment to grab lunch before he heads back to work).

Even Sean, who used to be my primary source of sweetness and light ... has turned sour. He is in a stage of endless tears. If he has to go to school, he cries. If he doesn't win a game, he cries. If his brothers tease, he cries. If he has to eat his peas, he cries. My sympathies have all dried up and I have taken to sending him to his room with his tears and turning on the radio to drown them out in the van.

I battle feelings of guilt for wishing them all away, but I could scream right along with Kevin McAllister from "Home Alone." Perhaps, one day, as Kevin's mother warns him, I'll regret these feelings ... but they are what they are and I need some space.

Even the clocks are annoying me. John purchased two new clocks for the house and I have noticed (only after the fact, that they tick loudly). Is there not enough clamor and noise in this house full of boys already? Silence, you stupid clocks. Go away ... so I can be ALONE!!!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Curse You, You Tube, for Your Window to Possibilities

Trevor will cause me to come completely undone with his passion for art. I am ALL FOR PASSION. I fully believe that God gives us these penchants and intends us to pursue them with abandon.

HOWEVER ... I cannot get my child to understand that everything you see on the computer is not possible to pursue at the present moment in time.

Lately, he has been on a paper airplane kick. Our house has been literally littered with paper airplanes. This is especially so since my back makes it difficult to bend and pick all this stuff up and cracking the whip to hold him accountable stretches my patience level.

This morning, after watching the DVD of "How to Train Your Dragon" (a most excellent gift to the boys by my sister, Dawn), he decided to search for Origami Dragon instructions. Of course, he couldn't follow it all, so he has begged and cajoled until I agreed to step in.

For the love of all things holy, there is no way in the world that he or I will start our origami adventures jumping right to the instructions for making a dragon. You try to explain that to my six year old.

Here is the video he wants me to follow (I should note that it is 35 minutes long and I gave up only about 9 minutes into it). I would beg someone more skilled to send us this origami dragon ... but I know exactly what Trevor's reaction would be. He would say ... "But I want US to make it, MOMMY!"

Maybe four or five origami books from now and lots of practice, kid. I don't think he'll hear that. I'm guessing we're off to the library again today! First crawl then walk, BOY!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Refuse to Give Up

I have been laboring over a lengthy review of the Chronicles of Narnia for the entire past week. Since I have some personal connection to these books, I have personal things to write, but when I try to write it from that angle it sounds less like a review and more like stream-of-consciousness banter. I find myself asking, "Does all this really matter if someone is contemplating their first go at reading these fine books?" Then, I answer, quite honestly: "It doesn't matter a hill of beans what I think about these books or how I came to know them or why I didn't read them sooner.

Added to the internal storm of debate, I had external storms of weather grounding my whole family so that we experienced a week long imprisonment with each other (no, it was not like an island getaway experience). Even if I wanted to write, I had three boisterous boys and a driving husband to deal with.

Frankly, I spent most of the time buried in books. I finished the last two Chronicles books and a biography and then began a book about the Chronicles and several other novels. Indeed, I think my husband wondered if I intended to do anything besides read during this enforced hibernation.

So, on Saturday, I exercised (actually, I've been doing that every second or third day since the new year started) and then scurried around straightening and cleaning with abandon. Just moments before he arrived home from work, I had bent over a chair with the hose attachment to the vacuum, attempting to get rid of all the frustrating dog hairs that cling. I must have wrenched into an unnatural angle or something, because I felt a spasm of sharp pain and collapsed onto the floor. I literally thought I might never get up again. I have been applying Icy Hot Patches and taking ibuprofen ever since. It is finally getting a bit easier to move around, but by no means back to normal.

Of course, this brings its own discouragement. However, I have been even more deeply discouraged by the outcome of the Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest, which I entered back in November. I knew the finalists were due to be announced at the beginning of this week.

When I mentioned to my husband that I obviously hadn't made it to the top five spots in the contest, he asked, "Did you really think you would?"


Well, even if I had thought I should have fine-tuned the entry more, I was most certainly hoping for the best. It would have been grand to be noticed without all the leg work of finding an agent or a publisher who believes in what you've written.

Then, my brain begins the usual slide into warring factions. One side is shouting, "There are a million writers out there. If you don't believe it ... just take a look at how many people have blogs these days. All of them think they have something worthwhile to say. All of them want to have loads of people reading their words and feeling something as a result. All of them consider themselves to be 'writers.' What makes you think you even belong to that category of word? What makes you think you are more than just a dabbler who enjoys spitting out the endless words that swirl in the brain? How could you even think that you will find success?"

The other side, is far more timid. It is whispering, "Don't give up, Wendy. You can't know if you'll ever see success, if you give up just because you didn't win a contest. Writing is a craft. It takes hours and hours of practice. It takes drive and determination. It sometimes even takes the luck of the right person stumbling upon your words at the right time."

They sent an e-mail today with the names of the top 20 finalists and the names of their novels - none of which seemed better to me than the title of my novel). The very fact that it hurts so bad to learn that I didn't even make it to the top 20, tells me that this was very important to me. It indicates that there is, deep within, a passion about this. If it is a passion, I must continue to pursue it, even when I want to give up and say, "Forget it, why am I wasting my time thinking I could actually write a publishable novel!"

Thankfully, I did receive some encouraging words from a friend from my old writer's group. I had mentioned my difficulty with the Narnia review because I have nothing new to say and those books have been reviewed plenty. She wrote back to remind me that I am not charged with writing something new. I'm charged with writing what God wants me to write.

Here is how she so eloquently put it (thanks, Anne):

"Don't worry about what's already been written, just ask God to show you insight to what He wants said. Fear is a strangler of what we want to accomplish, I'll pray for you. Satan loves to immobilize us, I know this from experience. I will pray you are in step with the Spirit. Not ahead pulling Him along, nor behind giving Him a push."

So, I'm proclaiming here and now that I will not give in to defeat. I may cry a few more tears about the contest, but I will not give up. I will get back to that novel and fine tune it until it is ready to be sent out into the world of publishers. I will not give up after two submissions. I will not back down when further ideas pop into my head (I did indeed stumble upon a new novel idea just a few weeks back and it sounds promising). I will submit my writing to the Lord and ask Him to bless what He chooses to bless WHEN He chooses to bless it. But, most of all, I will show up to do my part of the process ... which is clinging to the passion and putting words down as often as I can.