From the Basement

October 15, 2011

On the Writing-Spirit Connection

Filed under: Faith,Writing — jeannablue @ 1:08 pm
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I was recently talking with a friend who is going through a bit of a rough time; a few symptoms mentioned were spiritual dryness and a lack of writing fervor. That struck a chord with me—when I’m spiritually dry, I don’t write, or maybe it’s that when I’m not writing, I’m spiritually dry … which comes first is a mystery. Call it the creative version of the chicken and the egg.

Truth be told, I communicate best with God when I’m writing to him—love letters, complaint letters, missives filled with the banality of daily life. And, of course, the why am I here? What have you done? Why are you letting this happen? What do you want me to do? letters (the answer to those is invariably: have faith, read the Bible, and make a decision that seems best).

I have tons of prayer journals stacked up on shelves in the closet. I don’t know that I ever set out to write a “prayer journal,” as I’m thoroughly terrible at committing to similar courses of action (for example, reading my Bible every day—never been too good at that). It’s that I can’t focus my thoughts in a conversation. Whenever I’m reading a novel and see the “s/he thought” notation, I laugh. Goodness, that’s not realistic—at least not for me. For me, critical thinking is critical writing. In order to think hard about anything, I write—oh, ideas come as thoughts, but I have to find a paper and pen or else I’ll lose them like leaves in the wind. (Hence why I carry a notebook and pen with me everywhere.) I use sheaves of paper to map out my academic arguments, my stories, the occasional poem, and, yes, just about every prayer that requires any length. I’ll find pages in notebooks where I started trying to write through something—a difficult discussion with my now-husband, for instance—and it inevitably turns into a prayer.

There’s something very spiritual about the writing process. It’s not just that writing is a connection to God, but it’s almost as though God, or the fabric He’s created, speak through the writing. There’s a phenomenal chapter in The Right to Write by Julia Cameron where she talks the spiritual nature of writing, that as writers, we are vessels that are filled a story that comes from something greater than ourselves. I don’t know where my characters or stories come from, I don’t know how I know what happens next—the story just writes itself, and the characters do things that continually surprise me. Cameron is not committed to any one idea of God or the Universe, and while I obviously see that creative source as God the Father, I still agree wholeheartedly with her main point: that writing is a listening process, a spiritual process that is good for the soul.

But this butts up against the ego, against pride, against the relatively new Western idea that as writers, we have to be Original and Inventive, making a Big Cultural Contribution. Cameron delves into this negotiation of ego vs. channel with clarity and insight:

            The ego hates being a “channel”—or whatever other nonoffensive word you can find for it. The ego wants to take credit…. The ego wants to have it both ways: to receive the work effortlessly and then take the full glory for having “thought it all up” instead of “taking it all down.”

It is possible to write out of the ego. It is possible, but it is also painful and exhausting. Back in my drinking days, I used to strain to be brilliant, to write the best, the most amazing, most dazzling …  Is it any wonder that chemical additives seemed like a good idea, like the secret advantage I just might need?

…. I was told by screenwriters Jerry Ayres and Diana Gould, and by nonfiction writer Maurice Zolotow, to post a little sign by my desk that said something like, “OK, universe. You take care of the quality, I’ll take care of the quantity.”

…. I came to the humbling conclusion that over time that I wrote pretty much at the same level all the time, a few peaks and a few valleys but overall: just Julia. I began to think of myself less as “author, author” and more as a word processor. I began to be more willing to let “it,” whatever “it” was, write through me. I began to write more quickly. My ego was less invested. (The Right to Write, 102-103)

This probably sounds very odd to those who don’t write, but to me, it’s like a breath of fresh air, a cool drink of water on a sticky summer day. The ego—the pride—is exhausting. It is demanding, it is fed by the culture we live in that we are all Special Snowflakes, and goodness, it is tiring. The realization that the writing doesn’t come from me, it comes from my Creator—that there are stories He’s built into the universe that the spirit in me can tap into, listen to, and take down … it probably sounds terribly odd, but let me tell you, it is so freeing. The pressure is off me to be an original, creative genius. After all, I’m the daughter of the original, creative genius!

This post may seem a bit varied and disjointed ~gestures to early morning hour~ but suffice it to say, a few forces have been at work lately—the fact that I’ve been more prolific this week than I have in a long time, the conversation with that friend, and the fact that I’m working on a paper of western notions of authorship—and they’re all converging to help renew my creative energy and, with it, my spiritual foundation. I am never more alive than when I am writing, and this has to do with my Creator, too. He wired me for words, but ultimately, he’s wired all of us for His Word, for the Word that became Flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In order to feel alive in writing, I must be alive in Christ, and that is a beautiful thing.

P.S. Since I am no longer writing from my mother’s basement :-), any ideas on a new name for the blog? This is one area of writing where I struggle muchly: titling things.

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May 15, 2011

On Faith, Writing, & the Freedom of Letting Go

Filed under: Faith,Writing — jeannablue @ 3:45 pm
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My writing is deeply connected to my faith; the writing and the spiritual often go hand in hand. When one suffers, the other suffers; when one is going well, the other tends to be going well, too. Curious how this happens.

Last year, I wrote through spiritual difficulties. But I reached a point of—depression, acedia, call it what you will—where I ceased writing along with praying, reading scripture, etc. There have been glimmers over the last few months, posts where I was trying to break through.

It’s starting to break away. I’m writing again, and while I feel tremendous guilt for leaving the blog relatively untouched, I am to the point where I can no longer write with expectation, with the albatross of obligation ‘round my neck. I’m trying to let go of that guilt of what I “should” be doing, like working on the blog, because I have friends who’ve said they’ve benefited from it as much as I have … but God uses us where we’re at. For a time, this blog was exactly what I needed. It may become what I need once again in the future. But I’m posting this to say that I’m releasing myself from the “expectation” of writing here.

I am writing every day, three pages a morning in a classic black-and-white Composition book. It’s a move straight out of the Julia Cameron playbook. Those are three pages that are never reread, that are for no one’s eyes but yours. Because truly, there are some things I’m dealing with right now that I simply cannot work through in such a public forum. So I’m working through them in morning pages, and it’s good.

This might sound strange to say, but to me, writing is more vital than prayer: perhaps because so often my writing goes in and out of prayer. I cannot pray or think for any length of time without a pen in my hand, and so my thoughts are addressing God one moment and then dwelling on something else the next, and then jotting an idea for the chapter in my story and then praying again …  Writing brings clarity, so when I am in a dry period, or a depressed period, or one of acedia—again, I hardly know what to call these spells I go through—I miss writing almost as much as I miss God. Writing is direction. It is freedom. It is calming. It helps me think through things. And I feel close to God. Not that faith is driven by emotion, but when I’m writing, I feel like I’m a hair’s breath away from heaven, away from seeing Him, and there’s just no better feeling in the world.

I did not start this post intending to sort of release myself from the “obligation” of this blog, but … I am. No obligations. No expectations. No one else. Just me, my notebook, my pen, and my God.

Writing is like breathing, it’s possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what.

—Julia Cameron, The Right to Write

January 6, 2011

Paul Wrote Letters – Realizations and Reflections

Filed under: Faith,Writing — jeannablue @ 6:11 pm
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I started reading Colossians the other day, totally random and a bit out of the blue, given how out of scripture I’ve been over the last few weeks. I was reading the commentary on the first few verses, in which Paul greets the church at Collose, and it noted that this was a letter Paul wrote from prison.

Paul wrote letters from prison. Let that sink in a minute. We hear it talked about so often that I think the incredible point is missed: Paul was in prison, his body bruised, his days confined to a solitary place with little opportunity for activity. He could not visit churches… to put a modern day spin on it, he couldn’t attend classes or host bible studies or go to a talk by returning missionaries or [fill in the blank here]. He couldn’t preach from a pulpit, in the traditional sense. He couldn’t do so many of those activities we in the western church seem to consider essential for a vibrant Christian life.

But he wrote letters.

Over the last few months, I have reflected on the purpose/direction of my life, which mostly included questioning it and typically being very frustrated with God. On the worst days, I lamented the amount of time spent applying for jobs I didn’t get, and the futility of various other aspects of life: being confined to my mother’s home for months in the middle of nowhere with no transportation and virtually zero social interaction – those feelings of isolation and loneliness and despair that breed when you question the futility of the situation in which God has placed you.

But I blogged. A lot. I am not about to compare myself to Paul, but the principle of the matter – that he wrote letters while in a confined space, trusting that God put him there for a reason and that no amount of isolation could separate him from others, as long as he could put words to paper – that is a source of hope. Paul did not know how his letters would be received. He wasn’t even guaranteed assurance of their arrival. But he wrote, and he trusted, and he sought to exhort others in their pursuit of Christ and conformity to Christ’s image.

The observation raises a lot of questions, of course. A blog is not a letter, and it doesn’t necessarily have an intended audience. A blog is somehow intrinsically more personal – akin to “this is what I’m going to, let me share” – than the letters Paul wrote to instruct and exhort the churches which, while personal, were definitely others-focused.

This year, I want to live more intentionally, which also includes writing intentionally. So I’m sort of coming back to the drawing board on why I blog and who I blog for – for myself, for God, for my friends, for random strangers who encounter this writing – or some mix thereof? I’ve always considered myself a writer, but if I’m not working on a novel I tend to think I’m failing, and the fact is that the majority of writing I did last year was on this blog. So reevaluating what “I am a writer” constitutes as well as stepping back and seeing the varied ways in which the Lord works through our words, in their varied formats, is also a must. And how do we define “success” in writing? Paul’s goals are the ones I need to adopt. Getting a literary agent and selling a novel does not mean that I am walking in the gift God has given me. Am I writing to love and better understand him? Am I writing to love others? Is the writing others-focused, or does it constantly dwell on my own problems?

Lots of food for thought.

But back to the point. The fact that Paul wrote letters from prison is an incredible encouragement to those of us writing letters from seemingly isolated places. You could be surrounded by dozens of people and still feel isolated. Paul’s ministry is an example and an encouragement – that our words are seeds that, sent out on the wings of the Holy Spirit, will find fallow ground. It may not be in our lifetime, and we may never receive even an inkling that those words have encouraged, convicted, exhorted, or brought forth fruit. But I have faith that His word does not return to Him void.

January 2, 2011

Happy New Year: A (more personal) Update

Filed under: Faith,Grad School,Writing — jeannablue @ 3:23 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

You crown the year with Your goodness

And Your paths drip with abundance.

Psalm 65:11 (NKJV)

My dad has reminded me of this verse lately – it’s been at the heart of the sermon series in his church, and I’ve been letting those words just marinate, becoming firm in my heart. He crowns the year with His goodness, and His paths drip with abundance.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, because New Year’s Resolutions are made to be broken, but it just so happens that the dawning of this new year coincides with the tail end of the graduate school application process, so – there are many changes (in some cases, returns to previous habits) that will be happening this month, the first of which is blogging. I miss writing daily (or almost every day) just… down to my bones, I miss it. So I’ll be blogging regularly again.

And there are a few habits that, since moving to Dad’s, have fallen by the wayside that I’ll be picking back up. First and foremost, going to church. And, frankly, connecting with a body of believers. I have my excuses, and they’re just that – excuses – for not having connected with other believers in the last year. Even if I’m only here for eight months (and since I’m getting married this August and then hopefully going to grad school, I will only be with my dad for eight months), I still need to plunk myself down in a church and get involved in a small group. My social life is composed of Skype and phone dates with faraway friends, and what’s more, I need to dig into God’s word and have conversations with other believers in person, in a structured study. I haven’t had that for a long time, and I’m a little nervous. My fiancé and I were informed by the results of a premarital counseling questionnaire that I am “low” on the pleasing factor and not very socially inclined – that is, I recharge by being alone and can come off as proud, arrogant, cold, and hostile when I don’t know people. I tend to self-isolate when in new territory, especially with other believers, which is not good, so I’m pushing my boundaries. I started going to church again tonight, actually, at a church downtown that has a service on Saturday nights. It was a good service, and there’s a “women’s welcome” next weekend that I’m going to go to. I have never been to one of those so that will be interesting.

Second: getting back in shape. I actually enjoy cardio and was really good about keeping up with it in college. So going to the gym and jumping on the elliptical is not a problem for me. More difficult will be moderating my diet and maintaining a weight lifting regimen. Frankly, I am the heaviest I have ever been in my life. My clothes do not fit (I’ve gone up a size), I am physically uncomfortable, I can tell that I’m slower, and my flexibility is fleeting – and flexibility is something I’ve never had to work on, so that more than anything freaks me out. Also, I’m getting married, and a wedding goes a long way in giving you a deadline to get in shape by. I don’t need to drop a ton of weight – just tone up, trim down a bit, and get back to (a more fit version of) the size I was before. That will make me very happy – and self-control is something I need to work on, anyway.

Third: reading. For the first time, I did not read my reading goal. I wanted to read 50 books in 2010 – I read 48. Darn it! Grad school and job applications are largely to blame, since they sucked my life toward the end of the year, but I got a slew of new books for Christmas that I am eager to dig into. Also, reading is just better for the mind than internet-surfing, and it makes me a better writer.

Fourth – maybe finish the novel I started last year and abandoned in August.

While major sources of stress in my life are mostly gone (I’m finally working, and the grad school apps are almost done), a few have entered. Wedding stress continues and there is family drama that promises to make this year the most interesting year yet. I have body image issues to keep working through, and relying on the promises of God is a must. Digging into scripture is crucial – these last few months have been very dry on that front and I miss it. I miss a close relationship with Jesus; he’s sort of been on the backburner lately and while we go through dry periods, it’s still not good.

On the plus side, I’m happy to report that my jobs are going very well and living with my dad is turning out better than expected.

Okay: this mostly personal update is coming to a close. I hope to be with you tomorrow or Monday talking about something in scripture, or possibly my review of the Disney film Tangled, which I have now seen twice (once on my birthday and once again with my fiancé when he came to visit – yes, he went to see it with me). I am quite happy to say that my predictions in an earlier blog did not come true; it blew me away, to be honest.

Wishing you all a blessed start to the year. No matter the circumstance, the year is crowned with His goodness.

December 9, 2010

Writing, Music, & Little Women

Filed under: Grad School,Writing — jeannablue @ 3:35 am
Tags: , , ,

Over the last few years, I have come to appreciate the role that music has in writing. And not only in creative writing, but critical as well. I’ve had a playlist going for my graduate school applications, composed of rather different tunes:

Siuil a Run – Celtic Woman

The Mystic’s Dream – Loreena McKennitt

Love Game – Lady GaGa

Marry Me – Emilie Autumn

The Highwayman – Loreena McKennitt

The Mummers’ Dance – Loreena McKennitt

Fairytale – Sara Bareilles

Telephone – Glee Cast Version

I recently added Sting’s “Field of Gold” and Loreena McKennitt’s “She Moved through the Fair” and “Annachie Gordon.” I like songs that will soothe in the background as I concentrate intensely on a passage. Others, like “Marry Me,” really articulate the context of the paper I’m writing, and still others  – like Lady GaGa – serve to rev me up when my energy is flagging. I know that Love Game is playfully explicit, but I dare you to not sit up a little straighter when you’re listening to it.

Those songs, however, are not what is so deeply affecting me. Thomas Newman’s soundtrack to the 1994 film Little Women never fails to move me to tears. Someone – bless their heart – has put the entire soundtrack on youtube videos, and I am listening and am just still in a way I haven’t been in a long time. There’s something about that film – and its music especially – that holds a powerful place in my heart. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been watching it since I was six or seven years old… I don’t know if it’s because growing up, I wanted to be Jo the writer who moved away to the big city… who sacrificed a safe marriage to pursue her dreams. She was – is? – one of my heroes. If there is a character in all literature who I adore, it is Jo. Above Elizabeth Bennett, above Anne Eliot, above Elinor Dashwood, there is Josephine March, and hers is the story I will watch on screen over and over again. Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever made it through the entirety of the book Little Women – I’m sure I did once upon a time, but when I want to be comforted or encouraged, particularly when writing, I watch this film. It is a powerful sensory experience.

Given that I’m not working on my applications but rather am basking in the glory of the music of one of my all-time favorite stories – in any medium, print or film – I should probably stop listening to the soundtrack. But I can’t just yet. … not quite yet.

October 31, 2010

What is the life of the mind without the love of God?

There is a video that was posted on the lit forum at thegradcafe.com which I then shared with various friends. Entitled, “So you want to get a PhD in the Humanities,” it has been hailed as alternately funny and depressing by friends who are professors and grad students – depressing because it’s true. (http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7451115/)

The video isn’t what took the wind out of my sails this week, but it reminded me of the numerous doubts and thoughts that creep into my mind unguarded:

Do you think this is a good use of your time, doing research that no one cares about?

Academia is one of the most hostile environments for faith in the United States. Do you honestly think you can make a difference?

Won’t any impact you have be impeded by your own intellectual pride?

This isn’t a Christian pursuit – how does teaching about women’s writing in the 1790s further the cause of faith, exactly?

Not to mention the concerns over the fact that I’m in a dual-academic relationship, so we’re trying to get into schools in the same geographic area (easier said than done) and then, on the job market (provided the Lord allows), we’ll have to limit our choices in an already difficult market to places that are hiring in both Physics and English.

Then there’s the fact that the first application is due December 1st and my statement of purpose and writing sample have yet to be written.

And then, that several of my professors or friends who are professors or grad students are suffering severe disenchantment with the field.

And then there’s the cloud hanging over all of this, that I got across the board rejections last year.

My friends, it is very easy to become discouraged, but in times of discouragement, we must cling to His hope.

I was spilling my guts to God and partly trying to remind myself of why this is a godly pursuit, and the line came to me:

“What is the life of the mind without the love of God?”

My brain is obviously taking cues from the Think conference I attended earlier this month, but it is so very true. To the doubts that look to the disenchantment in the academia, especially in the humanities, that say it’s not worthwhile, that say that God could not place this desire on my heart – of course the life of the mind is painful WITHOUT the love of God! Knowledge and intellectualism do not satisfy. We are human. We fail. But when the pursuit of knowledge and – more importantly – ministry to those who pursue knowledge is buoyed and anchored by a passionate knowledge that I am loved by God, oh, the mighty things that can happen!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

I must remind myself, ever, that it is for His glory. I am aware of the danger in this pursuit, namely that it plays very close to a great weakness of mine, which is intellectual pride, but Lord, keep me humble. I pray for a passionate love for my future students, colleagues, and advisors –

My fiancé and I have often talked on how our hoped-for ministry as professors is sort of like going into the lion’s den. These are people who, for the most part, think they have life beat. They are the educated, the knowledgeable, the worldly wise, the philosophical elite who Paul tangoed with in Greece… they are the Seekers who have yet to find – who perhaps do not want to find. They turn down their nose at religion. Are there believers among college faculties? To be sure. But many of my closest advisors had a distaste for religion, especially Christianity, and of my peers… well, in college it’s cool to seek but not quite as cool to find.

I know that, should God choose to use my fiancé and I in this way, it would be powerful, and Abba, let it ever be for YOUR glory and not our own. That He chooses to use us in ways that magnify our gifts and give us great joy is truly beyond me. I remember hearing harsh scriptures or sermons as a child that had me convinced that God only used people who were in “Christian” careers. I thought, is it bad that I don’t want to be a missionary? It took me years to realize that He uses us where we’re at, in many, many careers “outside” official Christian ministry. That being a college professor, as a Christian, is your ministry. That teaching about women writers in the 1790s is a ministry!

We are all called to ministry in different ways. Writing is my primary calling, but I am inextricably drawn to academia, and I love to teach, and I see great opportunity, a great platform on which to build a ministry. Should God allow. I keep saying “should God allow” because this last year has been an exercise in being brought to my knees… he humbles us to draw us closer to him.

God has been putting this verse in my life through sermons and readings, and I want to share it:

Psalm 18:1-3: “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.”

And this verse:

Psalm 73:23-26,28: “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by your right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge.”

We are called to place our hope in Him. To trust His plan. To know that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. To be assured beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is our Savior, our lover, our husband, our friend. He holds us. Even when we do not want to let him, he is still holding us.

In Angela Thomas’ Do You Know Who I Am?, she offers the following as exhortations to hope:

Hope ushers in the goodness of God: “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” Lamentations 3:25

Hope gives us protection: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness.” Psalm 33:18

Hope gives us strength, courage, boldness: “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24

Hope gives us confidence for this life and our callings: “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” 1 Timothy 4:10

And in closing, she writes:

He is worthy.

He is your comfort.

He is the God who sees.

He does not grow weary.

He is your sufficiency.

He is your Savior.

He is here.

He is your strength.

He is generous.

He is your King and Father.

He is your Redeemer.

He is your hope.

He calls you His daughter and treats you as His own. (211)

One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is Matthew 22:36-40: “ ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I love that. We are called to love God, and a means of loving God is using our minds. And then we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. And John 13:35 follows this line of thinking: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

Love is the mark of a Christian. Not what we do as a career, but what we do in the everyday minutiae: when you’re in the break room, when you’re in the hallway, when you’re greeting your co-workers in the morning.

A struggle for me is making plans for myself while knowing that God has “better.” I struggle and think, since I’m applying to grad school, does this mean I won’t get in? Am I pursuing the right plan? What if this isn’t what He has for me? And then I remember: he places desires on our hearts for a reason. He places people and situations in our lives for a reason. And sometimes what we think is “no” just means “not now.”

I don’t know how these next few months will turn out. But I know that my Abba is good. I know that he loves me. I know that to love Him is the greatest thing I can do in this life. I know that only by His enabling will I ever be able to love him and other people. And I pray for the grace to endure, to persist in that truth.

August 12, 2010

Trusting God vs. Trusting Numbers

I want to let numbers determine my success, because numbers are easy things to measure.

It’s easy to feel like a failure when I have written approximately 0 words in a day. It’s easy to feel like a failure when I get on the scale and see that I’ve gained weight (when I can also say that I have worked out for approximately 0 minutes in a day). It’s incredibly easy to feel like a failure when I look at my grad school record – 11 rejections, 1 offer for an unfunded MA. Ouch.

On mornings like this, I whine and bitch and moan and want to throw up with the anxiety. I ask God, what is the point of taking a month off from job hunting to write if I have written very little? What about all those missed job opportunities?

It’s easy to get distracted by other things – good things, but other things which take away from our time with God and (feeling convicted here) from the things He has called us to do. It’s easy to forget that, like Angela Thomas said, God doesn’t make us superwoman; He makes us more dependent. And the thing is, He promises to make us more dependent. Isaiah 41:10 says,

Fear not, for I am with you;

Be not dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you,

Yes, I will help you,

I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

When we are afraid and feeling weak, God’s response is that He will help us, that He will strengthen us. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you.”

This morning, I’m in need of His comfort and strength. I have asked Him for strength and self-discipline, but I’m still learning about what to do with what we receive… how to focus on Him, focus on the task at hand. I’m in a lazy slump and am in desperate need of a push to get out of it (the image of Jesus lifting me out of a pit while my feet are on his shoulders and him pushing my butt to get me over the freaking edge is rather funny).

Mornings like this, I read Isaiah 41:10 over and over and over, and I listen to songs like the one below, desperately reaching up for my Abba to take me in his lap once again, to take me back after my own failure, to comfort me and coax me back onto my feet again.

August 9, 2010

On Inspiration

Filed under: Writing — jeannablue @ 1:56 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Today, I tripped down memory lane, writing wise. I spent a few hours downtown this afternoon at two of my old haunts. Two years ago, when I worked downtown, I’d walk to the Acoustic every day for lunch – sat at the same table, eating the same thing, writing non-stop for an hour straight. It was marvelous. I’d trained myself to do that; that hour was my writing time. I was able to write there today – I did a few exercises from The Art of War for Writers, which is great inspiration. Then I went to a coffee joint I’ve been frequenting for over ten years. It’s moved locations once and changed owners several times (it’s currently a raw food place/coffeehouse), but the coffee’s still decent. Its current location is in a former auto repair shop, so it’s got high, open beam ceilings, wood floors, and a counter that extends for more than twenty feet. I parked myself on a couch, watched the cars go by outside, listened to the writing music from two years ago, and relaxed.

Lately, I’ve been remembering how important it is to soothe the soul. Sometimes artists get so wrapped up in approaching our art like a job that we forget the value of inspiration, of sitting back and just nourishing our creativity. For me, that means not reading to learn craft. It means reading Jennifer Crusie or Elizabeth Peters, not Jhumpa Lahiri and Margaret Atwood (I still learn from Crusie and Peters – I just enjoy their stories more than literary prose). It means watching Little Women and Lie to Me (for some reason, that show really gets my juices flowing). It means trying not to get too addicted to youtube watching my favorite performances from So You Think You Can Dance and American Idol – there’s something about watching vibrant young performers pursuing their passion and all-out going for it every single week.

It means remembering that life is to be enjoyed, and even if art is our calling, it’s not our burden. Trust our Creator, trust the talent we’ve been given, buckle down and do the hard work, and freaking enjoy it. Life is short. It’s so short. Let’s not get lost in needing inspiration – but let’s not shove it, either.

August 3, 2010

On Faith, Daughtership, and not being Superwoman

The one writer I follow on facebook is Angela Thomas. She posts words of encouragement regularly, and I take heart in her exhortations. I want to share something she posted the other day:

“I asked God to make me superwoman. He is choosing to make me more dependent.”

Amen, sister.

Lately, the writing has been very difficult – I’m still relying on my own strength. I’ve been doing a poor job of dedicating this time to God and praying through writing, and so my weakness is becoming ever-apparent and ever-crippling. A lack of focus has pervaded these last days – to quote David Mamet, “I have contracted to write a book about Vermont, and so find myself obsessed with Indiana.”

But – His strength is made perfect in our weakness, and He brings us to our knees to raise us up in Him. John 3:30 says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I was reading in Hebrews this morning and found encouragement in such verses as, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (10:23) and “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance…” (10:35-36a).

The author of Hebrews exhorts us in our faith, stating: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…. Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:1,6). And we are reminded that the reward – hope in Jesus Christ, the fruits of the spirit, everlasting grace, eternal life with our Abba Father – is so much greater than the things of this earth. “By faith Moses…. [esteemed] the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (11:24,26).

In chapter 12 comes the great exhortation of Hebrews, the “race of faith”: “Therefore… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1-2).

And chapter 13, the last chapter of Hebrews, opens with what was my initial prayer for this month: “Let your conduct be without covetousness: be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (13:5-6).

To quote a popular worship song, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe, sin had left a crimson stain – He washed it white as snow.” What can man do to me, indeed? We have nothing to lose by casting our anxieties, fears, worries, and even our talents on the cross. “Oh, praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead!”

We decrease so that He may increase. We are not superwomen – we are women stripped bare of every care and concern, humbly clinging to our Abba. We crawl up in His lap and say, I can’t do this alone.

He desires to bring us to that place. And I can’t say it eloquently like John; all I know is that in our weakness and brokenness and utter failure, there is redemption. Because He delights to show us mercy and grace, to give us strength where we knew we had none of our own. It’s for His glory. And it is His pleasure to love us like that.

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together – Romans 8:15-17

August 2, 2010

Don’t Give It Away: Notes from My Younger Self

Today, I was digging for books in the closet under the stairs, looking for books from a favorite series I’ve been re-reading, but I found a few other things, instead: books on writing, books on business, my long-lost Scrabble dictionary,The Sacred Romance, An Unfinished Marriage – all these books I remember from pre-college days but had long since lost and forgotten about.

There was one particular book I pulled from the pile: Don’t Give It Away! by Iyanla Vanzart, a workbook on self-awareness and self-affirmations for young women. Can I just say that I love my mom for giving me that kind of book as a teenage girl?  I learned to write through my emotions at an early age, and I was bad at keeping a consistent journal, so books like this one are precious to me – glimpses into the psyche of my earlier self.

True to form, my mom wrote notes to me throughout the book, many that were centered on Jesus, as Vanzart’s books – while spiritual – draw from a variety of faiths. Mom was wonderful, writing things like: Be patient and fearless. Let Jesus be the center of your joy! You are an original, unique creation. You are overflowing with linguistic intelligence – use it for good! Don’t worry over someone else’s opinion of you! Ask yourself, ‘Am I pleasing God?’ If the answer is yes, then let God take care of the rest. The answers to all of your questions can be found in God’s Word. Bury His Word in your heart!

My mom had a mom who did not encourage her, so she was always sure to affirm and encourage her daughters; she poured out her love into us and told us about the ever-flowing, gracious love of our Creator.

I wanted to share some notes I found in the book, notes from my earlier self and notes I wrote down today. Something I love about myself is how I date things; I’ve been like that since I was a kid. I like to go back and see what I’m thinking. The first notes in this book were between 1999-2001 (mom gave it to me on my first day of middle school).

And then, there are notes from 2004, when I was at the Crazy Church (I don’t think I’ve written about the Crazy Church, but I will at some point). Even if there weren’t dates, I would know it was that time – the language (the emphasis on being “sold out”), the belief that God would do what He wanted with me regardless of the desires He put on my heart, the overpowering guilt – these feelings are both tacit and stated in my comments. Now, being God centered is, of course, not a bad thing! But everything was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus – there was no enjoyment of the gifts He has given, and no faith that He would work in ways I enjoyed (He doesn’t always, of course, but feeling sure that He never will is not healthy). There are two extremes: being so about Jesus that you totally ignore the world and the gifts that are here and, alternately, being so consumed with the world and the gifts that we forget the Giver.  I’ve definitely been on both sides of that coin.

So, sharing a few notable items that stuck out. The first one caught my eye because I was talking about striving. At age 13 or 14. And thinking it was good. Oh goodness.

Prompt: The most perfect thing about me is…

2001, age 14: that I strive in my spiritual life. I nurture my talents. Note: this is when I still thought striving was a virtue. I say that because I’ve only recently realized that it isn’t.

2004, age 17 (at the Crazy Church): I am not perfect. I’m a work in progress, needing continual rebuilding. I can’t get through a day without God catching me at least 50 times. Note: that is so true! But I can feel the self-recrimination in my younger self’s voice (in this comment and others), and I know what happens to her the next year: total spiritual breakdown, total darkness. I feel her feelings of not being enough, of being constantly told she’s a sinner without being reminded that God’s grace extends beyond initial salvation! I feel her lack of mercy. Oh, I have such compassion for her!

2010, age 22, almost 23 (because I couldn’t resist making more notes): That I am a daughter of the King. He loves me perfectly, exquisitely! His promises are always true and His mercies are new every morning. When all is stripped away, there I am, in the middle of the road, walking hand in hand with the One who put the stars in the sky.

Another prompt demonstrates how changeable and glorious the young, imaginative mind is – I was always coming up with crazy new careers to pursue. What careers did you want to pursue when you were younger, and what did they say about your desires?

Prompt: I dream that one day I will…

6th grade: Save a premature baby. I will write a bestseller. I will score the winning basket!

7th grade: I will be a market-researching executive. I’ll write a bestseller. I’ll make varsity volleyball. I’ll get a full ride scholarship to UM. I’ll grow in Christ. I’ll own my own business.

8th grade: I’ll be a lawyer/writer. I’ll go to Duke and Harvard Law.

10th grade: Writer, business – but whatever God puts in front of me. (There’s that doubt that God would give me what I wanted… so pervasive in the 2004 comments; it wasn’t there earlier.) U of Chicago. Wheaton. U of Iowa. (I went to a private, secular liberal arts college, LOL!)

After college: write a novel, marry the BF, adopt kids, learn to rest! 🙂

Some things are so striking in their consistency across the years: a seeming inability to believe in good things, the prayer for wisdom, frustration with my baby sister, the song “Hold Me Now” by Jennifer Knapp, issues with control and striving.

Can I share a few funnies? I laugh when I read things my younger self wrote, but she is so right!

“When I look at me, I see a young woman with drive, ambition, and gorgeous lips! I love me! I am totally awesome – a rockin’ gurl who is 14 and one day!” (Yes, girl is spelled that way and it is underlined.)

“The best thing I can do for myself is eat healthily, read the Bible, and pray – and pamper myself!” (this was pre-Crazy Church, when I wouldn’t have written “pamper myself”)

My 13 or 14-year-old self, in response to The thing that really confuses me is: “Love! Everyone says it’s wonderful and horrible. I have no clue.” Amen, sister.

And last but not least… after one of the notes I wrote today, I added a P.S. for my older self:

I hope you are writing. I hope you are finding peace and joy in Him who loves you as no one else will ever love you. I hope you are resting in His arms.

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