Tiger

Tiger is 11 today.

Eleven years of Star Wars, LEGO, origami, knot-tying, scouting, farting, belching, reptile-loving AWESOME.

Tiger is all boy. In some ways, he’s even more stereotypical “boy” than Boy Patriot, though there is no mistaking either of them for anything other than 100% testosterone powered.

This younger son of mine came into the world with a bang at 9 lbs, 6 oz and balancing a 15″ head on his short, stocky body. He’s built like a little wrestler. We used to call him Tank.

Tiger once ate a worm because a girl told him she would give him a dollar if he did. I asked if he got the dollar up front. He looked confused and said, “no. I’d have done it anyway.”

This is the boy who once entered the house cradling a white larva the size of his thumb. He had found it outside and wanted to keep his “worm” as a pet. It took all my strength to tell him that those kinds of worms had to live outside, and would he please get it out of my living room?

The boy is completely convinced of his “awesome.” He once told me, “girls love me because I am the awesome.” He was 8 at the time. Since he has eyelashes that any supermodel would envy, I’m sure that’s quite possible.

Tiger is funny. He has a deadpan wit that his teachers appreciate, even when they can’t condone it. His fourth grade teacher once told me how tired he gets of fourth grade humor, and how much he enjoyed having Tiger around since his humor is more mature.

But Tiger isn’t all “snips and snails and puppy dog tails.” He’s also the one we call our little theologian. Tiger has always had a deeper understanding of God at an earlier age than any of our other children. He’s the one who periodically tosses out some kind of thought or observation about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or some fine point of theology or doctrine that we just, quite simply, didn’t realize he understood. He is a quiet observer, taking in everything around him, processing it slowly, and then offering up his own, well-reasoned thoughts.

Tiger was my easy baby. I could put him in his crib, and he would play for 45 minutes, drift to sleep, and wake up happy two hours later. If I needed to entertain him, no problem–put him in proximity of some kind of lights or music, and he was thrilled. A Hot Wheels car to chew on and make “vroom vroom” noises with? Even better. He smiled at two weeks old, slept ten hours at night at three weeks old, and laughed a full belly laugh at eight weeks old.

He loves music. He has always danced, swayed, clapped, marched, walked, or in some fashion moved to any music he hears. He didn’t even realize he was doing it for years. We would see him swaying or dancing and point it out to him, and he’d deny that he was doing anything.

Part of that could be his stubborn streak. My word, this kid does have a streak! He can dig his heels in with the best, refusing to budge or move or in any way change his mind. Oddly, though, he does tend to be a rule-follower, and he loves his routines. It’s when he’s outside of the routines that the stubborn streak usually shows up.

There is a darkness in Tiger. We call him our “evil genius.” We’re all pretty much convinced that when it all comes down, he’ll either save us or rule us. I’m hoping I get some kind of special consideration since I know how to make chocolate chip cookies.

Tiger is a bundle of fun, wit, and just plain awesome. If we can harness his powers for good instead of for evil, we’ll be just fine.

Happy birthday, Tiger. Remember your mom when you take your position as Overlord.

 

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Joy

Hello, Lord. I’ve missed you.

Actually, to say that I’ve missed you is dishonest. One has to have a thing before it can be lost and missed. I’m not sure I’ve ever really understood you at this level before.

You know I’ve been fighting you for a long time. This is nothing new. And you know that I’ve struggled with joy for . . . ever. This is also nothing new.

It happened today–one of those moments that I haven’t had in years–or perhaps have never really had. I’ve been so angry for the last few days, and I’ve been grumbling and mumbling and writing arguments and defenses in my head, planning my assault, daydreaming about obliterating my opponents, prematurely enjoying a sweet victory that will likely never come. And you gave me an hour of blessed time in the car when I could do this–when I could plan my attack.

And then, in a moment, the desire to defend myself, to attack, to revel in my enemy’s blood, to savor sweet victory–it just . . . went away.

Dissolved.

Disappeared.

Melted.

And in its wake was your sweet whisper.

You seek vengeance for a thing that isn’t even worth fighting over. You know what I have called you to. Why do you care what that one thinks? Why do you worry? You can’t add a single hair to your head this way. I am your joy. I am your salvation. These other things are so much flotsam and jetsam. Focus here, right here. I will never leave you nor forsake you.

When my children were small, I told them, “your eyes on my eyes” when I needed to make sure they understood me. Now, Lord, you are telling me the same.

Your eyes on My eyes.

Your eyes on My path.

Your eyes on My will.

Do you understand?

Yes, Lord. And I think, perhaps, I’m finally starting to understand joy.

Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances. Joy doesn’t depend on what other people think of me. Joy doesn’t depend on my house being clean or my kids getting good grades or my husband being in a great mood or my scout troop being at peace.

Joy is a condition of my spirit that recognizes how beautiful and kind and loving and gracious you are.

No, I take that back.

Joy is a condition of my spirit wherein I rest in the knowledge of how beautiful and kind and loving and gracious you are.

There is surely a reason why the psalmist so closely relates joy and salvation. My joy comes from knowing how completely you have redeemed me–how total and complete is your grace, how excellent is your sacrifice, how perfect is your love.

There can be no other joy that could bubble up from the depths of my spirit this way. There could be no other truth that would draw my eyes away from earthly hurts and fix them firmly on you.

So yes, Lord Jesus. I have missed you. But I have missed you as one who has missed the sunrise for sleeping past it for a dozen years.

I have missed you not because you left me, but because I wasn’t looking for you.

You were there all along, waiting to bathe my soul in the warmth of a new dawn.

 

May

Here are several things I know about May:

May is the month after April, in which I took a trip with Mr. P and enjoyed six days away from the ducklings.

May is the month right before June, in which all of my ducklings will be out of school and home again.

May involves overnight school trips, campouts, AHG field trips, service projects, book fairs, school auctions, and Memorial Day.

May makes me feel like I have a timer running down in my head. Tick, tock, tick, tock . . .

May is a month of growth. Growth means a lot of blackberry brambles in my backyard. Blackberry brambles mean a lot of yardwork in my future.

May is the month I signed my first new copywriting client since reopening my doors.

May is the month in which Tiger turns 11.

May is also the month when I fully expect to amply supply several 11-year-old boys with pizza, soda, candy, and enough AA batteries to keep four XBOX controllers running for the course of a “sleepover.”

May promises to be a wild ride.

Till next we meet (perhaps in June) . . .

J M

Calling

It’s been an interesting week.

I’m not sure where to begin, so I’m just going to stumble into this and figure it out as a go.

I haven’t been shy on this blog about my anxiety over writing and returning to writing fiction. In fact, that’s pretty much what this whole blog is about–or at least, it has been a huge piece of this blog. I thought I’d finally found a place where I could be comfortable with the position of my fiction in my life–that I could be happy to just write it and not share it, that I could acknowledge my need to tell stories, even if I didn’t share them.

But I still had a restlessness in my spirit. I wasn’t sure how to account for it. I explored a lot of different thoughts, but none seemed right. I prayed about it, but the “answer” was unsatisfying. Why?

Because the answer I kept getting seemed to be directing me toward writing–and not just toward writing, but toward sharing.

I am always really hesitant to look for “answers” in the nudges and leanings and such that other people seem to be sensitive to. I don’t trust myself. I am too prone to seeing the answers that I want rather than the answers I need.

But this time, there was only fear, tension, and anxiety at the thought of following through with the answer. “Share my writing? God, you have to be kidding me. Don’t you remember what happened last time? Don’t you know what people will say? Don’t you understand how everything–everything!–I write is different from what’s accepted, appropriate, allowed in the church?”

I’m always amazed at how I continue to ask God if He knows things as if He doesn’t know things. I have a very short memory. I seem to assume that He does, too.

In any case, the very idea of sharing my writing again caused nothing but anxiety, fear, and dread. I argued with God a lot about this. For a couple of weeks, this was the bulk of my prayer–when I prayed, that is. A lot of times, knowing the wrestling match that would occur, I just avoided praying altogether.

But the Hound of Heaven is nothing if not persistent.

Everything came to a head on Tuesday. I found myself having multiple conversations about magic in literature–specifically, I found myself once again defending Harry Potter. The purpose of this post is not to rehash the debate over Harry Potter but rather to share my frustration over the entire discussion about the role of magic and such in literature, and specifically, in Christian literature. My frustration stems from what I think are very poor arguments against the magic in Harry Potter. In my opinion, one could use many of those arguments as justification to avoid C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein as well, but many Christians who refuse to read Harry Potter adore Lewis and Tolkein. I found myself in a very weird place on Tuesday where the same people who were refusing to read Harry Potter were encouraging me to write my worlds. I could not help but think, “how can you encourage me if you find fault with Harry Potter? Do you not know that my work and my magic systems will very likely offend you as well?”

I took to Twitter to rant. I finally tweeted the following stream:

I should not have to be braver in front of my Christian brothers and sisters than I am in front of the world, but that’s where I end up–I constantly have to defend my artistic decisions (the art I make and the art I consume) because I don’t fit the proper mold. Again, I’m too clean for the secular art world and too inappropriate for the Christian art world. One is a place I don’t want to live, and the other seems to be a place where I can’t live if I practice art the way I think I’m called to practice it. If Jesus doesn’t give me some baseball bat therapy soon, I swear I’m giving this whole damn thing up and burning my effing hard drive.”

“What’s baseball bat therapy?” you might ask. This is the form of therapy whereupon Jesus smacks one with the proverbial baseball bat to get one’s attention. This is also the form of therapy that seems to be the most useful for me. I can be rather hard-headed.

I went to bed Tuesday night ready to wake up on Wednesday and spend the day deleting documents from my hard drive. I had no intention of ever going back to my writing at all. If I was being called to share, then I just wouldn’t write. Period. Because the only way I could see to write the stories in my head–the stories that I’m quite certain God put there–was either to keep it to myself or risk being ostracized by my own brothers and sisters.

Wednesday morning, the hubby and I were lying in bed checking e-mail and Facebook and the like, and he started telling me about a weird dream he had. At the same time, I was scrolling through Facebook and noticed a status update from a writer friend for whom I have great respect who writes in a similar genre. My husband said, ” . . . and they told me I had to pick up my cross and be crucified . . . ” for his beliefs in creationism.

At the exact same moment–and I’m not even kidding, literally the exact same moment–I was reading “pick up your cross and die” on my friend’s status update.

The exact. same. moment.

That, my friends, is baseball bat therapy.

Because here’s the part I haven’t mentioned: I have always–always–felt a strong pull to write fantasy from a Christian worldview for a secular audience. I want to tell God’s story through myth, symbol, metaphor, and magic, but in a way that makes God’s story appealing and accessible for the secular audience. I have always thought that might be my calling–to be a witness through story for those whose hearts are longing to meet the Ultimate Storyteller.

But I feared that calling because I knew–because I know–that my work will not be well-received by those I rely on for my spiritual support. So it becomes a choice of playing it safe, keeping close to those who share my worldview, and putting all of my writing away (or at least keeping it hidden) for fear of the condemnation I will receive from the church, or . . .

Or . . .

Be obedient to the call God has placed in my heart and on my life.

This is my cross. This is the cross he has given me–the risk I have to take.

And it’s not just a risk with the people in my community–it’s also with those in the secular literary world. They will find my work too clean, too pure, not edgy enough, I’m sure, because that’s some of the criticism I’ve heard before. They might detect my worldview and hate me for it. They might slander me with all manner of insults.

But this is the risk that God has asked me to take–to carry this particular cross.

I realize how this sounds. I realize that I sound like I’m trying to be a martyr here. That’s not my intent. I’m just trying to wrap my head around the idea that God has called me to live in-between these two spaces–one that’s safe for my content but unsafe for my worldview, and the other that’s safe for my worldview but unsafe for my content.

So this is my baseball bat therapy. This is my calling. I will still pursue restarting my freelance commercial writing business, but it looks like I’ll be working on re-editing and republishing my short stories and novels. This won’t happen overnight, and there’s a lot of work to do here, but . . .

God has really left me no other choice.

And so, I will be obedient to this call. I will pick up my cross. And I will remember that I carry it for the One who carried it for me first.

A Prayer

Lord,

Give me the patience to wait when you say, “not now;”

The courage to charge when you say, “I am giving you this victory;”

The wisdom to know the difference;

And the humility to praise you in either circumstance.

 

Give me peace when you are silent;

Fill my lips with praise that overflows my heart.

Make ready my feet and hands for your open doors,

And embolden my spirit to do your perfect Will.

 

Lord, may I know when to rest and when to work,

When to bow my head and when to lift my eyes,

When to speak and when to listen.

 

Soften my heart,

Open my eyes,

Unstop my lips,

Free my hands,

Unshackle my feet,

Engage my mind,

Fill my ears with songs that anticipate my eternal life in your presence.

 

Make me ready, Lord, for the works you have prepared in advance for me to do.

May your strength always be made perfect in my weakness.

 

Amen.

On Facebook

Confession: I can’t figure out how to do Facebook.

I don’t mean the technical side. I have that part figured out. I mean, I can’t figure out the proverbial “sweet spot” of posting and interacting on Facebook.

I’ve been back on the dreaded network for a month. A month today, actually. And I still hate it.

I’ve tried to figure out what I should post. I didn’t want to post a lot of controversial things, but as I mentioned in my last post, I did manage to stumble into a controversial topic without entirely meaning to. I mean, I knew it would stir up a hornet’s nest, but I posted it anyway. I didn’t change any minds, and all I managed to do was give myself a racing heart and a stomachache.

Thing is, I have a wide enough range of friends that almost anything I post is bound to offend or irritate someone. Politics are going to irritate my liberal friends. Religious things are going to irritate my non-religious friends. Both could potentially alienate business associates. Art-related posts will probably alienate or offend my Christian friends, because I read all kinds of subversive literature.

So I should probably stay away from anything that requires . . . you know . . . an opinion.

That guideline eliminates a lot of things.

I can post about books, but there again, I’m certain I’ll have my more religious friends in agony over my soul due to my rather eclectic and seditious taste in literature. I allow myself a fairly wide latitude in reading material for a variety of reasons, but then, I don’t tend to find most reading material particularly troublesome. In other words, most of what I read hasn’t caused me to stumble, and when it has, I’ve quit reading it.

But I do worry about what other people think if they see that I’m reading something unapproved.

I can post about business things, but I don’t really feel like an expert in much of anything. I share the occasional article about business writing or marketing or something I find intriguing, but most seem to be just adding to the noise of Facebook, judging by the lack of response to the posts.

I can post about writing. I have posted about writing. I’ve shared writing-related articles, even, especially in the last few days. Some really good things (mostly related to writing fiction) have come across my feed, and I’ve shared them for the sake of those friends I have who write fiction.

But I feel profoundly uncomfortable sharing these things.

There’s a sense in which I’ve crossed into the Teach Zone–“those who can’t, teach.” I’m no longer a doer. I’m a watcher, at least when it comes to fiction writing. And I can’t shake this sensation that by sharing “how to write better” articles, I’m really just standing on the sidelines shouting at people who are better and more dedicated writers than I am.

So writing articles are out.

I refuse to share personal things anymore. I just can’t. I can’t let these shoestring acquaintances have that much insight into my life. I know Facebook is supposed to be a more personal medium, but when I share personal things, I only end up feeling exposed and anxious. Even using a status update to share that it was my wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago felt too intrusive.

I could post about knitting, but I’m not doing much of that right now. I could post about gardening, but I don’t really know what I’m doing in that realm, and I feel weird about sharing it.

I could post the kinds of mommy updates my friends post. I could tell everyone that I’m just sooo tired because I supervised homework, did a bunch of yardwork, made dinner, baked cookies for school lunches this week, and spent some time reading a marketing book, but . . . really? I mean, then I’m just adding to the Facebook comparison monster that always makes me feel so crappy. And what I’m NOT telling people is that my counters are covered in junk, my kids bickered for most of the evening, the light in the kids’ bathroom still needs fixing, half the groceries I got the other day still aren’t put away, and there’s always something sticky on my foot when I come out of the kitchen.

What am I left with for status updates?

Quotes.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of quotes to be had. Goodreads is always ready to spit out a good one. I always find it rather interesting who “likes” which quotes. A quote from Beverly Cleary gets “likes” from all the fun moms. A quote from Thomas Jefferson gets “likes” from all the patriots. A quote from J. K. Rowling gets . . . well, it’s a rather odd assortment, but I can only assume they are mostly fans of Harry Potter.

Somehow, the idea of being on Facebook just to share inspirational, interesting, or informative quotes seems like a bit of overkill. Why am I even there? My friends can find these quotes themselves. If they want more from me, I’m not sure they’ll be getting it anytime soon.

I don’t know. Maybe I just haven’t found a good stride yet.

But if I don’t find one soon, I’m outta there again.

On Controversy

It’s inevitable.

I tick people off.

I reluctantly waded back into the rather terrifying waters of Facebook recently as part of my return to the world of freelance copywriting. I was trying to keep my posts to things related to business, books, and grammar, but inevitably, I found other things of interest to post. Mostly, I’ve attempted to keep it all fairly innocuous. I post things about art. I post interesting quotes. I post TED Talks that, hopefully, won’t raise too many hackles. I’m trying to be informative, but not combative.

But then, an article came through my feed that I thought was important to share. It was about a controversial topic. The specific topic isn’t important, but suffice to say that I knew in sharing it that I would alienate a lot of people and stir up a lot of simmering coals.

I shared it anyway.

And then I immediately regretted it.

A few hours after I posted it, I went back and saw some of the responses. I considered deleting the whole thing then, but decided to wait till morning. After going back and forth with a few of my friends on the subject matter, I couldn’t take it. I finally deleted the post.

I am just not good at being confrontational on Facebook.

The experience of the last day has me thinking about the nature of controversy, though, and how I respond to it. My husband thrives on vigorous debate. It doesn’t bother him in the slightest. He can mix it up over any number of topics.

Me? I shrink into a quivering mass of heart palpitations and knotted stomach.

It’s probably not a secret to anyone who reads this blog that I’m a fairly right-wing sort of person. And yes, my politics are informed by my Evangelical faith in Jesus Christ, but they are not dictated by it. In fact, what may not be obvious from reading some of my tweets and posts here is that I diverge from a lot of my brothers and sisters in Christ in MANY areas, not just those concerning art. I am probably more libertarian in my views, and that does make me a bit of an odd-man-out in a lot of conversations.

My libertarian politics tend to bleed into how I practice my faith, I think. I think there’s a huge, gaping prairie of liberty between what the Bible actually says about how we should live and how a lot of Evangelicals interpret what the Bible says. Drinking, for instance. We aren’t teetotalers. We go to a Southern Baptist church. This can cause some issues at times.

(Side note: A Free Methodist friend joked a couple of weeks ago, “know what the difference is between Southern Baptists and Free Methodists?” Pause. “We drink our beer on the front porch.”)

I don’t mind being more open about my beliefs on Twitter or here on my blog. But on Facebook, I’m posting under another name, and I have a lot of real-world connections there, and I guess . . . I guess I want them to still like me.

But maybe the question is, do I want them to like me, or do I want them to respect me? How can they respect me if they don’t know me because I’m hiding who I really am for fear of offending or angering or hurting people?

This is why I hate Facebook.

I guess it seems like the last few years, we just have to always be angry about something. I wake up every day and go to Twitter wondering what the daily rage will be. Is it the government? Culture? Entertainment? Doctrine? There’s always something I’m supposed to be angry about. And I find myself siding against–or at least being irritated by–my Evangelical friends and family almost as often as I agree with them. (I can’t say the same of the political progressives. I pretty much always disagree with them.)

To be perfectly candid, Internet, I don’t have the energy to be constantly angry.

I can’t maintain that kind of constant passion for the offense du jour. Half the time, once more information is revealed, I alter my perspective a bit, or I discover that it’s not as big a thing as I thought, or I just decide it’s not a hill I want to die on.

So I guess it comes down to a question of balancing a need to be liked and a desire to be respected. How much controversy can I endure in order to be respected? Turns out, not much–at least not on Facebook. And it also turns out that a lot of things I think might be innocuous are probably going to stir up some kind of rage from somewhere. That article on how literary fiction improves brain function is probably going to piss off the writers and readers of genre fiction. That doctrinal analysis of Noah or Son of God is probably going to ignite a firestorm from both sides.

Facebook does not invite respect, I’m discovering. In general, social media does not invite respect. And I will confess that I have lost respect for a lot of people I know in real life once I’ve seen their Facebook posts.

So, I guess it’s back to posting pictures of grammar snark and the occasional cat video. Facebook seems a lot safer that way.

Till next we meet . . .

J M