Morning Prayers and Profanities

Blue Me
This has been an interesting morning. I got up early to write and spend time with God. I prayed, I sang songs, I wrote praise and blessed God for the beautiful morning. Then, I read by writing book, the one that encourages me to remember that writing is hard work.

I was ready. I went to turn on the computer and the blasted thing wouldn’t respond. I was patient for all of 15 seconds before I bit my lip and started wondering which door I’d like to throw it out of. As I rebooted it and waited an inordinate amount of time (like a whole minute, people!) I began to fight the urge to scream obscenities. Yes, obscenities. Goody-two-shoes me wanted to scream the most vile obscenities imaginable.

Eventually, as the computer became more stubborn, I not only yelled a few nasty words, I threw a notebook over my shoulder and it flew all the way to in front of the door, the entire length of the room. That was a pretty good toss, I’d say.

Finally, Word decided it would finally show up and do something, after I threatened it with a painful, bloody death. When it did boot up, I was so in a tizzy I wrote something that thoroughly expressed my fury that I will not let anyone see. But, that is what writers do. It is therapy. We write everything down because we have to. To put it down somehow lances the poison and lets healing start. I was snake-bit with rage and needed to get it out.

Now, this swearing and anger was not a proper thing to happen the day after Easter, was it? I just spent a glorious weekend celebrating a sacred holiday for me and many others. Good Friday was a triumph. We held a unique service and I was thankful to have written testimonies for biblical witnesses – Mother Mary (played by me), Peter, Doubting Thomas and the Roman soldier. I wrote some foundational testimonies for Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary of Bethany, but saw those testimonies transformed in the work of the talented people who played them. Then we opened the floor up to other witnesses, people who would express just what Jesus has done for them. We had two people we knew were going to talk and hoped that others would be encouraged to also give a word or two of their stories. We were incredibly blessed that five other people stood up and shared. It was such a blessed night.

Sunday, we gathered back together, still glowing from the spiritual blessings we’d witnessed on Friday and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus with pancakes, new dresses, music and the word of God. I got flowers that I’d bought in Amber’s memory and in the memory of my neighbor’s husband Paul.

I started out my Monday with prayer and song and good intentions. Then, I blew it, right? I lost it and expressed incredible anger at what was really a minor inconvenience.

But, did that ruin all that happened the days before? I say no way. You know why? Because the anger I expressed was honesty and just as much a prayer as all the good things I’d said earlier. God already knew what was in my heart – he knew my impatience and the pent up frustration that was building, so why not express it in the safety of our relationship? I mean, if God is your best friend, you can tell him anything, right? That’s what we do with earthly best friends, right? There are people you hide your flaws from, and then there are people who love you and accept you, warts and all. Ideally at least. I mean, I wasn’t sure I wanted to share with anyone my unlovely behavior and thoughts, but everyone has moments like this, so why not be honest?

Presenting the world a perfect face does nothing but make others feel they can never measure up. The truth is, I am just as selfish, flawed and sinful as anyone. We all are. That is what makes Good Friday necessary and why Easter is such a triumph.

Because, when we couldn’t save ourselves from our unloveliness, from our weaknesses and human failings, Jesus stepped in and took that junk with him to the cross and killed it. It has no power over us. He sees every speck of dirt on our souls, every rotten thought, every selfish impulse, and picks those filthy rags up to place upon his own shoulders so we can walk free. Then, he rises from the grave clean and free, laughing in the face of evil because it does not have the last word. When we mess up, we aren’t defeated because we live in the truth of Easter, that we can rise again.

So, I won’t hide my truth from my best friend. He already knows it, so what good will it do me to try to bury it? Here I am, Lord, dirty, smudged face and all. Clean me, will you, Papa? Thanks for never giving up on me. Thanks for understanding. Thanks for healing me. And, thanks for being the kind of God I can trust. I know you love me, so I am not afraid to tell you all of my stuff, good and bad. Let’s take the day together now, shall we?

Festival of Faith & Writing

For three days I gathered with hundreds of other writers at a beautiful little college called Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was a newbie at the Festival of Faith & Writing, a biennial writing festival that has many committed regulars.

FFWprog

I had been attracted to the festival through Facebook, where I learned of it by reading Rachel Held Evans’ blog. Being a writer-type person, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life and my deep calling from God, I was more than interested. First, Calvin College is in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My sweet sister Sherri lives there with her wonderful daughter Audrey, who is getting her Master’s degree. Secondly, Rachel Held Evans was going to be there. RACHEL HELD EVANS! I had been wanting to meet her, having devoured her two books The Year of Biblical Womanhood and Evolving in Monkey Town, which has now been renamed Faith Unraveled. Third, it was very inexpensive compared to many writers’ conferences. I didn’t have the money, but I figured if I asked my family for money for the conference for Christmas, instead of anything else, I would get a good portion of it, if not the entire fee. Fourth, I did receive the entire fee. My mother in law is such a great supporter, cheerleader, mom and friend, she wanted to make sure I was able to attend. Fifth, I found out that my niece Audrey had also signed up for the conference, getting a student discount. That sealed my desire, because anytime I have the chance to spend some time with my niece, it feels as if I have been given a special gift that I cannot pass up. Sixth, her friend Lindsey was going to also attend. I had never met Lindsey, but was told by my sister that she was a graduate of my alma mater, Indiana Wesleyan University, and that she wanted to be a writer.

So, I booked my Megabus ticket from Chicago to Grand Rapids, boarded that chariot filled with hope and anticipation. There was also some anxiety, because I am that sort of person. I am always plagued with the stress monkey that I have to wrestle. I tag teamed God on this match, however, and he stepped in and took care of it.

I arrived the night before the conference opened, and had a nice evening visiting with the family. The next morning, Audrey, Lindsey and I piled into Audrey’s little car and made it over to Calvin. After signing in, we took part in the new attendee reception. It was wonderful,welcoming, informative and it had pastry.

Then, we hoofed it to Van Noord Arena, graced to hear a delightful, brilliant speaker in Gene Luen Yang, graphic novelist of books such as American Born Chinese and Boxer Saint. First of all, I was shocked that the opening speaker of a Faith & Writing festival was a comic book guy. It could not have been more perfect since, if you didn’t know, my husband is a comic book guy and I’m a comic book gal. His talk, “Is Art Selfish?” resonated with me.

With this wonderful opening, the festival had truly begun and it was time to choose one of many concurrent sessions to attend. THIS was the most difficult part of the festival – choosing. We all joked at the new attendee reception that it was like being at a buffet with a very small plate.

I won’t tell you each session I attended. That would make this a very long read, and not terribly interesting to most. I do need to write about some of the highlights of the festival for me.

One of the best things about the festival was being with my niece, and meeting her friend. Lindsey and I hit it off right away. She is an intelligent young lady who is delightful to talk with, mainly because she is just as big of a geek as I am, if not more.

Because of the Plenary opening session with Gene Luen Yang, Lindsey and I decided to go to the interview with this genuinely funny, interesting author. Going to the event, I bumped into him in the hallway as I tried to find the auditorium, and I asked him if he had heard of our comic Knights of the Dinner Table. He had, and we talked a little about conventions and card games and the like.

Mr. Yang was not the only geeky genius to offer wit and wisdom at the festival. G. Willow Wilson, author of the novel Alif the Unseen and writer of the monthly comic book series Ms. Marvel, the first Muslim-American superhero, gave an interview and also a session on genre fiction and faith. I was pleased to meet her and discover that she had also heard of Knights of the Dinner Table.

Another highlight of the festival was having the opportunity to attend a session by Richard Foster. There are many people who won’t know who this is, but to others, who are into theology, you will know that this was akin to a rock and roll fan getting a music lesson from Mick Jagger. He is the author of several books, including Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth and most recently, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer. He is also the founder of Renovare’, a Christian organization committed to the renewal of the church.

Mr. Foster’s talk, “The Humiliation of the Word in our Day” was brilliant. He spoke about how cheap words have become these days, thrown about on the internet like so much refuse. He challenged us, who know the Living Word, who value God’s Word, to cherish words and to use them wisely. He spoke about the importance of silence and solitude to the writing process. He was joined by his son, Nathan, on stage, and by another woman whose name I didn’t catch, unfortunately, because she was brilliant and funny.

Oh. Did I mention that Anne Lamott was there? Yes, you read that right! Another hero of my heart, author of the brilliant book on writing Bird by Bird, and dozens of other brilliant works, Ms. Lamott, spoke at a plenary session, and then was on hand for an interview session. I soaked in all of the grace she had to offer and felt as if I had been blessed by the pope afterwards. She is indescribable, but I will offer that she is humble, witty, winsome, gracious and exudes love. She also gave us the best advice any writer could receive: get your butt in the chair. If you don’t, not even Jesus can help you.

And, of course, we were all graced with the presence of Rachel Held Evans. I attended the interview session with her and all of us packed the room when she delivered the closing talk to end the conference.
Rachel was hilarious, as usual, but also encouraging, challenging and humble. I was pleased to meet her and introduce myself as one of her online followers, the one with the crazy love for squirrels. I’m sure that was the highlight of her conference, or maybe not.

It was a packed three days, and I rode the bus home Saturday night with a head and heart full of inspiration, blessed with the renewed conviction that writing is my calling. I had been encouraged to pursue the craft with renewed commitment and confidence. I am so thankful to God, my mother-in-law, my sister, niece, and the conference staff for making this experience possible. I am going to start saving my money now for the next one in 2016. By then, I also hope to have written the next Lord of the Rings trilogy. What do you think? Can I do it? Not if I don’t get my butt in that chair.

My Story

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I caught the tail-end of a radio show as I was driving to Walmart last night and it challenged listeners to write their stories. I didn’t need to be asked more than once. I have always loved writing assignments.

So, here goes.

I was born into a Protestant, Christian household. My family was actively involved in the Wesleyan church denomination. I was 11 days old the first time I went to church, and as I grew up, I rarely missed a service. Services were Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings and Wednesday or Thursday nights, depending on the church. We did change churches when my two sisters and I neared our pre-teen years.

As such, I never questioned the existence of God, and always believed in the Bible and Jesus. I wasn’t always sure about the Holy Spirit, especially because they called it the Holy Ghost.

For me, it was normal to say prayers at night, before meals and anytime really, as well as read the Bible when I was old enough. I admit to loving my picture book Bible with the pretty paintings of David and Goliath and Jesus blessing the children.

So, when churches urged us to give testimonies about how Jesus changed our lives, I really didn’t think I had much to offer. I remember being jealous of the people who got up and talked about how Jesus delivered them from drug addiction, alcoholism and other terrible, dark things. I always thought my story was just too boring.

I “asked Jesus in my heart” when I was 7. Twice. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to hell because that place did not sound nice. At all. Nope. No way am I going there.

But, I over the years, my understanding grew, and I realized there was more to Jesus than escaping damnation. I realized, for instance, that when your life crumbles around you, when everyone else leaves, Jesus is still there.

You see, under our family’s godly exterior was a lot of pain and fear. I grew up oppressed by fear and I will tell you that this is no fun at all. I still battle it on a regular basis, but not as much as I did. It wasn’t just my dad’s volatile temper that would blow up without warning. There were all of those stories about Satan, how he could look just like anybody, how he appeared to people in their rooms, and all sorts of nasty, horrific images. I grew up seeing him in every shadow in my bedroom at night, and I could never sleep. I would cringe in my bed, praying and wishing for morning. I even got tested for anemia as a kid because I was so listless and tired.

I used my imagination to defeat nightmares after awhile, trying to think of stories that would soothe my mind. I made up stories as I fell asleep. Eventually, the nightmares let up, though they still plagued me on occasion.

What really helped me was joining a United Methodist Church when we were stationed in South Carolina. I also started going to a psychiatric counselor to help me out after my parents were divorced, and my own marriage hit the rocks. It’s been a stressful life, more than I had ever imagined. It was far from boring.

At the church in SC I began to really learn who God is, and begin a true relationship with him. I was surrounded by a spiritual family who was there for Amber and I when we really needed them. I went on an Emmaus Walk, which is a spiritual retreat where people are truly surrounded by the unconditional love of God.That was a life-changing experience.

As I began to heal, a foundation was being rebuilt in my life and it was built on truth. I began to see that evil was not more powerful than good. And, I learned how to trust God to lead me into relationships with people who scared me — people who didn’t believe the same things I did, people who seemed to be so different but I found out they really aren’t that different after all.

Amber taught me a lot too. She taught me that being helpless can be scary, but it can also be victorious when you have someone you trust caring for you. She showed me how God teaches and interacts with even those who society says can’t understand things, or can’t contribute. I remember after tucking her in at night, I would hear her giggling and talking. I’d ask her who she was talking to and she’d say “God.”

Since her passing, an event I knew I’d have to face one day, I have changed a lot about what I think about how God works in the world. I’ve become very hungry to learn and grow and know all I can because I have such a huge hole in my life and heart. I cannot believe how much my life and point of view has changed. But, I feel like a veil was lifted from my eyes at her passing. All I care about now is being kind, positive, loving and merciful and following Jesus, actually doing what he said, and rediscovering who he is through different eyes. My vision has shifted to heaven, and I see that there are a whole lot more children of God in the world, with a whole lot different ideas, who can teach me things.

So, that is where I am now. It’s been quite a journey so far. The fun thing is, I know when the ride hits the last destination, it’s just the beginning of something even greater and my girl will be waiting to give me all of the inside information.