On Living in a Box

IMG_4072

Sometimes my life feels like a long saga of making proclamations to myself…

I would never do that.

Nah, that’s not really for me.

That’s not my thing.

Or conversely:

This is what I am made for.

This is my thing, my purpose.

This is who I am.

…And then God bringing me around later and showing me, “Surprise!  Now this is your thing.”  “Tell you what – now I’m going to have you do that.”  “Guess what?  This is for you.”

As a silly example of what I mean…

When I was a kid, I once proclaimed that I’d never feed my kids sandwiches.  We had PB&J most days for lunch and I eventually decided sandwiches were boring.

And now I have an entire Instagram account dedicated to sharing my sandwich inspirations and all the sandwiches I enjoy making, because making sandwiches is one of my favorite hobbies.  (And my kids don’t really appreciate the fancy sandwiches yet, so guess what? Most of the time they have PB&J. 😉 )

I also maintained for years that “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations,” (as said J.R.R. Tolkien) and that I generally eschew symbolism in my stories.

Lo and behold, the most recent story God gave me to write started as straight allegory, and has evolved into a more varied but still deeply symbolic fantasy story.  And I love it with a great passion.

Surprise!

These kinds of things keep me humble…or they should. 😉

Perhaps more startling and painful is when God shows me, “No, that isn’t what you were made for.  No, that’s not actually your purpose.  No, that is not who you are.”

I like to have a very solid perception of myself.  Who I am.  What I am.  Where I’m going.  What I’m made for.  I like to do the things I’ve always done and be the person I’ve always been: solid, steady, reliable.  I like to know why I’m here and then stalwartly fulfill that purpose.

But who I am needs to grow.  And in my finite human perspective, “why I’m here” is always my own subjective idea.

As much as I loftily think I understand God’s purpose for me, His ways are not my ways.  He is in charge of my life and how He uses it.  Who am I to even dream that I would fully understand who He made me to be and why?

sky

God is in the business of showing me, again and again, that “who I am” is a lot more fluid – and a whole lot bigger – than I think it is.

“Who I am” isn’t habits or preferences or projects or talents.  “Who I am” is broader than any of the things I use to define myself.  How can my identity be anything but vast and broad, when I am created in the image of an endless and infinite God, a new creature being remade into a picture of His all-powerful Son?

I pride myself on being someone who thinks outside the box to some extent.  Yet here I sit, chalking out little boxes for my identity and then planting myself in them and making myself at home.

And then freaking out when God spray-hoses away a side or two of the box I was so comfortable in.

Hopes, dreams, ambitions, talents, abilities, callings, habits – I’m prone to believe that who I am comes from those things, the things that I “am.”

But what a fragile and shaky identity that is!

Any one of those things God could remove in a moment.  He is always changing me and growing me.  Erasing my boxes.  What I think defines me one decade may seem small and silly to me the next.  Worse, I may remain stubbornly planted in a box when I am far too big to fit inside anymore, like a baby bird trying to squeeze itself tight inside the broken eggshell…when in reality, it’s big enough to fly.

bird-1541297_1280

I believe we each have a unique identity.  I personally dislike the reductionist mentality of only ever saying, “I’m a sinner saved by grace – that’s all I am,” to explain who we are, because clearly each sinner saved by grace is an individual loved and called by the Lord, hands and feet and noses and toes in the body of Christ.  We are each created and redeemed for a purpose, and it’s not unspiritual to believe that we have an identity of our own.  We are one in Christ, and our identity is in Him – but we are not a hive mind.

Yet I cannot allow “who I am” to rest on who I think I am.  I am being sanctified into Christ’s image.  I’m a work in progress!  Maybe I think I’m a quick piece of flash fiction allegory, but I’m really a long, symbolic, high fantasy paranormal romance short-story/novella thing – who knows? 😉

That story I’m writing is still in progress.  I know how it ends, and I know how it began, but I still have no idea what’s in the middle!  My own life is not too different.

Unlike God, I’m not unchangeable.  And praise Him for that! – I am tiny, blind, flawed, sinful.

If I’m going to fly to unknowns where God wants me to fly – if I’m going to grow to new heights that God wills me to grow – then I have to stop telling myself that my limits end at the four corners of some tiny box that I’ve used to define myself.

Why be satisfied with a basic, simple explanation of what I’m made for, when He made me for Himself – for absolute infinity?

Not only is He vast, but He is constant, un-altering, and trustworthy.  In this world, He is the only thing we can rely on to define our souls.  Looking to anything less than Him to be our all-in-all is locking ourselves in a cage.

I am a child of an infinite, all-powerful God, an ever-growing work-in-progress by His grace.  I should never be content to live inside a box.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. – 1 John 3:1-3 (emphasis mine)

Let the September 2016 #WIPjoy Begin!

Time for another month of celebrating our works-in-progress and encouraging one another in our writing!  I’m thrilled to see many, many new faces tweeting and sharing this time.  What a joy! 😀

If you’re a writer with a work-in-progress, you’re invited to join the party!  Tweet it, Facebook it, blog it, or even Instagram it!  Just make sure to include the hashtag #WIPjoy in your public social media posts so other writers can find you. :)

Here are the daily challenges for the month of September.

WIPjoy Sept. 2016

Geeking Out Over Noblebright

Last night I discovered the term “noblebright.” I’m still geeking out about it. *happy squeak* 😀

It describes so much of what I write, and the tone of almost all my favorite stories.  Finding this term is like finding a word to describe a mood I have seen and loved all my life, but not had a way to describe.  It makes me so happy.

The term “noblebright” was created as a reaction to the negative term “grimdark,” which generally describes a setting that is dystopian, amoral, pessimistic, and/or violent – think Game of Thrones, or possibly Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.  (The last few books of Harry Potter might also be described as “grimdark” in tone, although overall I don’t believe the series could be called grimdark.)

This Wiki page describes the differences between grimdark and noblebright:

In a grim world, no matter what you do, an individual can’t secure more than an individual victory, if even that, because the rest of the world is too big/scared/powerless/selfish to act upon his impulse. A noble world is one where the action of a single hero can change the world, and a single big villain can f*** it all up : there are important people, who are so either by birth, rank or sheer willpower, and every single one of these people matter.
Now, a bright world is one full of opportunity, of wondrous sights to behold. It doesn’t mean that it has to be [My Little Pony], it can be dangerous, but your first instinct when looking at a new location should be awe and wonder: people may adventure to save the world, but they leave town with a smile upon their face, eager to see what comes next. The shadow of Risk is largely erased by the glint of Adventure. … A dark world is one where life sucks, and usually not long: whether it be because of demon overlords… or even the lack of water, everyone in this story may die, and they die for good.”

Art by Jane-Aspen

(There are also hybrids like nobledark – heroic heroes fighting evil in a very dark world – and grimbright – which I guess would be the ability to secure only individual victories in a world of wonder and adventure?…weird combo.  But I’m just sticking to the two main terms here.)

There is a basic worldview difference between these kinds of stories.

There are the stories where there is no hope, no meaning, and no lasting joy to human existence, where everything is sad and pessimistic – versus the stories where lives are meaningful because every individual makes a difference, good triumphs against evil in both small and great ways, there is beauty in the world, and there is real hope of victory.

Which of these is truer to my own worldview as a Christian?  The answer is obvious.

Art by Sandara

Now.  I believe there is truth to grimdark stories as well.  The world is fallen, cruel, full of atrocities and sometimes unspeakable evils.  Sometimes we need to look that in the face.  Sometimes we need grimdark stories.  They show us truth about this passing life.  We need to confront not just the evil in the world but the evil in ourselves.  We do live in a universe where “good people” do bad things, where every person has a dark side (except Christ).

But that’s not where my worldview ends.  When I look at the universe I see a noblebright place. I see true beauty.  I see right and wrong.  I see God working through even the worst circumstances to bring about ultimate glory for Himself and joy for His people.

So it makes sense that all the books and movies I love best fall under the “noblebright” category in some fashion.

Art from a video game: Lord of the Rings Conquest

Noblebright stories include: The Lord of the Rings [edit: one could argue this one is more nobledark], The Chronicles of Narnia, Firefly, some Marvel movies, and most 0f Star Trek.  There may be horrible villains, and dark parts of the tales, but a sense of wonder, morality, and nobility courses through these stories.  Beauty is real.  Life might be full of despair and destruction but that is not the end of the story.  The heroes might be flawed, but they are ultimately fighting for the good, and good will ultimately win.

I never knew there was a word for it.  I knew it was there.  I knew this undercurrent of hope, light, and beauty ran through all the stories I love the most.  It was part of my goals as an author to create worlds like this, running deep with joy, beauty, and love.  But I didn’t know it had a name.  And now I do!

I love noblebright.

Noblebright stories forever!!! 😀

Do you like stories that are darker or lighter in tone?  Which kind of truth impacts you more?  What are some awesome examples of noblebright stories you’ve seen or read (because I want to know more!!)?

Art by Sandara

Simmer Starters – August 5, 2016

I’m currently recovering from VBS, which was back-to-back with my trip to Philly for Realm Makers!  I will blog about RM next week, Lord willing, and I have plans to shift to a new style of Simmer Starters…one where I add more of my own personal thoughts on the links I choose to share.  Please comment and let me know if that’s something that would interest you more! :)

For now, I’m simply sharing the links I’ve gathered recently, as always.  Do check these out, because they are all wonderful!

Storytelling with Faith and Free Will (R.J. Anderson and Stephen McCranie) – I enjoyed this dialogue about faith and storytelling. There’s a lot of good stuff to glean here.

5 Reasons Writing Is Important to the World (K.M. Weiland) – “Let’s face it, people, the world’s a mess right now. I think the vast majority of us agree on that, to one degree or another, regardless our worldview. And what are we doing about it? What can we do about it?… We’re just folks who put words on paper. We’re just people spinning little tales that make us happy or fulfill our own fantasies: romance and superheroes, dragons and femme fatales. We’re just writers. That doesn’t seem like much right now. It certainly doesn’t seem like enough.”

Harry Potter, Jesus, and Me (Andrew Peterson) – ALL OF THIS. “I couldn’t get Harry’s story out of my head. I doubled over in the back of the auditorium and sobbed with gratitude to Jesus for allowing his body to be ruined, for facing the enemy alone, for laying down his life for his friends–Jesus, my friend, brother, hero, and king–Jesus, the Lord of Life, who triumphed o’er the grave–who lives that death may die! Even now, writing those words, my heart catches in my throat. In that moment I was able, because of these books, to worship Christ in a way I never had.”

Why Christians Should Paint, Dance, Quilt, Act, Compose Music, Write Stories, Decorate Cookies, and Participate in the Arts (Mark Altrogge) – I LOVE this post so much. And the title of it reminds me of that quote from Joss Whedon: “Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”

Realm Makers 2016, Here I Come!!

Things will be pretty quiet on the blog this week because….I’m flying out to Philadelphia for REALM MAKERS!!!

I have been dying to go to RM ever since it existed, so I am over the top excited. 😀 😀  I’m meeting a lot of friends who I’ve known online for awhile, rooming with some of my best friends and meeting them in person for the first time, getting to learn from experienced authors and professionals in the industry, and getting to have a ton of geeky fun with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who enjoy speculative fiction as much as I do.  It is going to be a BLAST.

So I’m packing my cosplay stuff for the costume banquet… (Here’s me so excited about my costume jacket and arm braces when they came in the mail.  Can you guess who I’m going to be?)

13318447_10209466435519931_1095128962_n

…and my Nerf “arsenal” – which consists of one gun and some darts.  Girly ones, because I can.  When I’m going out shooting I might as well do it with feminine style! 😀

IMG_0410

13615043_10209912144662381_8051689748938342528_n

And in addition to the geeky fun stuff, I’m organizing a sample packet of three chapters, plot summary, and a one-sheet for my current work in progress.  I won’t be pitching this year, contrary to what I originally thought (due to setting aside my dearest WIP and starting a new one in June), but it’s always good to have your materials on hand in case somebody…*gulp*…asks about it!

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 10.35.07 AM

And between all the packing and prepping before I fly out tomorrow, I’m trying to give my kids lots of extra hugs and loves because I’ve never travelled without at least one baby since I became a mom!  I know my husband will hold down the fort fantastically and probably better than I do on a given day, 😉 but I will miss him and these four little snugglers! <3

So I may not be putting out a Simmer Starters this Friday, but I will definitely be posting to all the social media with the hashtag #RealmMakers2016, because it is going to be awesome. 😀

*

Are you going to Realm Makers??? Will I see you there?  If not, maybe next year? 😀