Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas 2007

Imagine you agree to have yourself, your soul, your immaterial essence, all your thoughts and experiences and hard-won lessons, all your knowledge and vocabulary and understanding, all your memories -- to have all that put into the body of a newborn baby. To be raised by your own children, if you have them. Or maybe your younger siblings. You can't talk, you can't move, feed yourself. You must depend upon them utterly to feed you, clean you, keep you safe. You have to be taught things you already know, maybe even things you yourself invented or devised.... Imagine that and you have some vague inkling of what it was like for God the Son to take on the form of a man. Starting with babyhood.

It's not the best analogy because Jesus became fully human in his humanity and had to learn like any other baby, so it wasn't as if there was a fully mature "soul" in the baby Jesus. But the deity part of Him was still there, the power that holds the universe together, and He voluntarily put aside the use of it, and also the privileges of treatment and respect that go with deity to become a human baby. A creature that in those first few weeks couldn't even roll over! It's mind boggling what He did. For us.

I pray that as the Christmas season enfolds us, you’ll take time to reflect on the significance behind this. That He temporarily set aside his privileges as deity to take on the form of a baby, grow to manhood and lay down his life for us on a Roman cross some 2000 years ago. Jesus Christ, the only true celebrity, our hero and savior, born to die so we might live forever. May His love and life touch your heart in a special way this Christmas.

I'll be back blogging again sometime after the first of the new year. See you then.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Trigger Fingers

Based on the number of hits the writing parts of my body are taking, I'm beginning to think I must be writing something really important in Black Box. Now, just as my left arm is finally getting to the point of being useful and not too troublesome, I find I've developed tendonitis in my right hand, particularly my thumb. I think it's from too much housework, too fast.

It's not the first time I've developed tendonitis from housework -- scrubbing the tub is something I have to do in parts or I'll get it in my elbow. I've also developed painter's elbow when I painted the outside of the house a few years back. This is the first time I've gotten it in my hands (and I do have it in both of them, though it's much worse in the right hand)

Too much squeezing and scrubbing led to my fingers growing stiff and painful. I can't make a fist. In the morning they are especially stiff, and when I try flex them and straighten them out they lock and then suddenly spring open. I researched it last night and discovered this is called trigger finger or trigger thumb. And I have it in my thumb, as well as the fingers, and lately it's been worst of all, because when it "springs open" it sends a sharp pain through my thumb and palm. It's also visibly swollen.

It's officially called tenosynovitis and involves the inflammation of the tendons and sheath around the tendons, which prevents them from flexing open smoothly. The treatment? Advil. Ice and... of course... immobilization. They advise a splint. I'm just trying not to do anything. It's been going on for about a month, and seems to be getting worse, so finally I went to the Internet and realized I really have to stop doing everything. Which is what I've done today. I thought I'd give it a couple of days of the above treatment, and if it doesn't get better I guess I'll have to see a hand surgeon. I can't open bottles, turn faucets, door handles, locks, open the car door, or turn on the ignition. I can type, but I feel I need to do so on a limited basis because I can't always tell while I'm doing something if that's going to bother the thumb or not. Writing longhand is definitely problematic. (Does that mean I should just sit down and start typing out scenes and stop making notes?)

Sheesh! What a crazy year. But as with all the rest of it, I know this is the Lord's problem not mine. If He wants me to write, He'll have to work all this out.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

To Write a Good Book

Back when I was thinking about what makes a good goal, I asked myself what my goal was for writing, and the first thought that came to mind was "I want to write a good book." A few moments' thought led me to the conclusion that this is really not a good goal.

For one thing, what is a good book, anyway? Who gets to decide? Me? Other people? God? Well, yes, God, but how can I know if He thinks it's a good book? I suppose if He was intimately involved in its writing you'd have to conclude He thought it a "good book" but this whole concept just seems bizarre when you think of it as from God's viewpoint. He called me to write the thing. He's promised to provide me everything I need to do it. He's promised to enable me to do it, and I believe He does so. So... if all that is true, than "good book" just seems irrelevant. If it's what He wanted me to do, then it must be good.

And here's the corollary: If I am filled with the Spirit and writing from a soul prepared with doctrine and with craft (preparation He provided) then it would be impossible to write a bad book. That doesn't mean people will necessarily like it. Some might. The majority might not. Many, in fact, might reject it outright or with general disinterest. Is that a bad thing?
God had Jeremiah write some things that his "readers" didn't much like, either, and in fact, outright rejected. They made him a laughingstock, and sang mocking songs about him. Moses said things at God's leading that his congregation didn't like, either. A few of them tried to depose him. Paul said things in the power of the Spirit that people disliked so much they stoned him. And last we have Jesus, the only perfect man, who did only good, and the people rejected him, chose the criminal Barabbas over Him and crucified him. So you obviously cannot base the value of your work on its public reception.

That's hard stuff for a perfectionist mind that builds its worth on what others think. But it's true stuff and the perfectionist, as I've already established, is deluded and masochistic. So "writing a good book" is not a good goal, nor even an achievable goal. I must come up with another, better goal. How about, "write a book"? It's measurable, it's doable and you know exactly when you've accomplished it!


Monday, December 10, 2007

Plan Z

I love how the Lord is just pounding in the lesson that it's HIS plan, not mine. That He wants me to be flexible, not fuss when my plan gets demolished. Even when it's plan Z for the day (plans A - Y having previously been demolished).

This being a Monday after a very full three day weekend (my hubby gets every other Friday off), I shouldn't have expected to get much done writingwise, but having done nothing since Thursday I was hoping... Alas, it was one thing after another including a hail storm with lightning late in the afternoon. I finally got started writing around 4:45pm, planning to work until 7:30 or even 7:45 since my husband would not be home until late. I'd worked an hour when he suddenly appeared. The rain had canceled his pole vault practice. No problem though, because he would do his practice in the street. I went back to work and around 6:24, bam! The power went out and unlike last summer, this time I was plunged into total darkness.

I groped my way through the house to the flashlight, then went around trying to find our puck lights. Finally found one, but couldn't turn it on. Was it my hands, weakened from tendinitis? Or were the batteries out? It took me some time to figure out how to take the back off the thing, and when I did, I discovered one of the batteries had leaked all over it. So I gave up on that and went to candles and the petzl head lamp and sat down to read a book.

Then my husband came back and we went out to eat at the Mongolian Barbecue where you put together your own bowl of fresh/raw ingredients, and they cook it for you. It was fun and yummy. From there we cruised back toward home, but since the power was still off, we went shopping. I picked up a couple of Christmas gifts and some other things we've been needing. Then it was home again, and finally the power was back on. Just in time for bed!

You just never know what a day will bring.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Need for Blood

I recently read a book about a civilization set in a pre-Messianic times, and one of the things that struck me – bothered me, truth be told – was that there were no animal sacrifices. God was portrayed as powerful and loving, but His righteousness and justice were completely ignored.

There was one line where the stones of the demon temples were blood-stained from the rites of child sacrifice, whereas no blood stained the stones of God’s temple. And yet… and yet, it DID. Much blood stained the floor of the Tabernacle and later the Temple. When you consider the Levitical offerings of ram and bull and ox and goat and lamb, and the fact that the head of every family was to bring an offering to the Temple on the holy days, you realize that's going to result in lot of blood. The beast was tied on its back to the altar and its throat cut so that the blood spurted out. There would have been blood everywhere. On the priests, on the stones, on the altar. And it was supposed to be that way. The pure and helpless and unblemished and innocent white lamb, bright red blood spurting out with every beat of its heart. It’s a shocking picture for us. I suspect it was shocking for them…

And one thing was sure: it was very clear a creature was bleeding and dying for the sins of the person who had brought it. A death was required. Just as a death was required from the very beginning. The first thing God did after Adam and the woman fell was to give them the promise of a redeemer, and the second thing was to kill at least one animal and more likely two to provide for them the skins to cover the nakedness brought about by their sin.

Abel’s blood sacrifice of a lamb from his flocks was required and accepted while the work of Cain’s hands, even the best of his human efforts was rejected. We know because God is fair and because of the way he questioned Cain after his offering was rejected, that Cain had been instructed as to what sort of offering was needed. No doubt he resented having to go to Abel to get a lamb for his own sacrifice and thought God would like it better if he did a lot of work and offered something his own efforts had produced. He didn’t understand the point of the sacrifice at all – not to give something of ourselves, but to obey the command so we would understand that one day God was going to provide that ultimate sacrifice – the perfect seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head.

By blotting out all the blood-sacrifice imagery of the OT, we lose the impact of what Christ did. The life of the animal is in its blood, says , but the life of man is in his soul and spirit. Jesus didn’t have to have his throat cut like an OT lamb or ox, because he wasn’t dying physically for our sins. The blood spurting was to make a picture of the death. The substitutionary and spiritual death He would one day die for all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and unbeliever alike.

Why is this needed? Why does it matter if a story left this out? I’m sure some readers wouldn't care, and others would even be grateful to have been spared such gruesome imagery. But for me, it circumvents the most vital aspect of salvation, the whole reason Jesus had to come. God does love us, and does want to give to us and have a relationship with all of us. He is love; it’s part of His essence. But He is also perfect righteousness and perfect justice and He cannot compromise any aspect of His essence or he would cease to be God.

So even though God loves us, if He were to ignore our sin, his righteousness would be compromised, His thwarted. So here we are, sinful people. He loves us and wants to give to us, be He cannot because His righteousness demands that sin be punished, destroyed, separated from Him… put to death. That’s what death is, really, a separation. We are born spiritually dead – spiritually cut off from God. We have no relationship with Him as sinners born and we cannot establish one with Him on our own. He has to do it.

So He sent His son, who put aside the powers and rights of his deity to take on the form of a man, walk this earth for 33 years and then die spiritually on the cross outside Jerusalem when the sins of every person that ever lived or ever will were poured out on him and judged. Righteousness was satisfied by this payment, and Justice declared God free to bless us – but only because of what Jesus had done. So yes, He loves us and he seeks us and draws us to Him, but only through Jesus’s work on the Cross. He offers us an eternal relationship with Him if we will acknowledge we are sinners in need of a savior and believe that Jesus is that savior, the perfect one who paid the debt we owed and couldn’t pay.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Holy Days

When God became a man, He took a HUGE step down from where He was. He chose that humiliation because of His great love for us and because it was the only way to give us eternal life and bring us out of the darkness in which we were born. A darkness which was our total lack of relationship with Him, and our total helplessness to do anything about. It was the biggest problem any of us would ever face, and one God solved without any work on our part.

How ironic, then, that at this time of year, during the holidays that are devoted to recalling this great sacrifice on His part, this work of His on our behalf, is when we get most frantic about doing things. We go into overdrive -- gotta get this done, gotta get that done, gotta go here, do this, send that... In fact, on top of all our regular activities we add more -- holiday preparations, parties, activities, shopping, decorating, etc. At least, that's what I realized I had done today, even as I wondered why I didn't seem to have enough time for it all!

A holiday, though, is a Holy Day. A day set apart from the others as special -- to relax, to remember or to consider and honor something or someone. If anything we should stop doing at least some of our regular things so we can concentrate not just on preparing for the "holiday," but also on the reason. And of course, the reason for the Christmas season is the Lord. More than any other, this holiday should not be spent out of fellowship with Him as we enslave ourselves to the details of life.

Yet this special "set apart" time seems anything but set apart. We leap into frantic mode, buzzing from one task or activity to the next with hardly a breath between before falling into bed at night. Oh, and let's not leave out the tension, stress and frenzy of lashing ourselves as we try to get all this stuff done and inevitably fail.

This is not God's plan for us. Yet, it's become a confusing time. Routine is altered and compressed. Things don't happen according to plan. The weather intervenes. Needed items break at the most inopportune time. Worst of all, priorities get muddled. What is it that is really the most important thing to get done today?

I decided today that I didn't want my season to be one of frenzy, but of peace, quietness, and focus on the Lord. There's always time to do the Will of God, I just needed to know what that was. So midmorning, when nothing was going as I had planned -- starting with when I overslept by an hour -- I switched over to "step by step consultation mode." I recalled my basic priorities (Bible class, morning routine, exercise, sleep) and purposed to take things one day at a time, to make it a habit to go to the Lord when I got confused and ask Him what I should do next.

As a result, I got quite a bit done today, some of it what I'd planned, some not. But I maintained the peace and quietness of staying in fellowship, and that's really the only thing that matters.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Messiah Sing-In

Monday night we went to the annual Tucson Messiah Sing-In which, according to what they said, is the longest running community sing-in in the nation. In the sing-in Handel's Messiah is performed with a small orchestra and four soloists; the audience serves as the chorus. The Tucson Sing-In has about 1200 in the audience/chorus. Some of them have been going all 31 years of the Sing-In's history. I sang the Messiah first in college, then with a small town chorus up in Northern Arizona. When we returned to Tucson I attended the Tucson Sing-In when it was still in its infancy. Once I started home schooling, though, I didn't return until last year.

I love it. All the words are straight out of Scripture, much of it from the Old Testament: Isaiah, Haggai, Psalms, Malachi. It lays out the prophecies of Christ's coming, the promises to the Jews that a Savior would be sent and then it brings in the New Testament verses that confirm it. Ending with the fabulous Hallelujah chorus and then the shiver-producing Worthy is the Lamb (that was slain), it's awesome.

This morning when I woke up it occurred to me that in singing the Messiah, the chorus is like the Body of Christ. First there are four different parts designed for four different types of voices -- soprano, alto, tenor and bass. You need to find the part your voice is ranged to sing and sing with that group. That's where you're going to sound the best.

Once you get in your correct group, you have to sing the part you have been assigned. Of course first you have to know what the part is. Since I've been practicing my part by itself for a month or so, I've found that it wasn't always what I'd thought it was. Sometimes the notes weren't at all intuitive. And it didn't always sound as good or as fun as the soprano part. Still, alto is my part and it has a place in the whole. And the better I learned it the more I came to like it.

As a result of learning your part, when you get to the performance, you will be prepared to sing it. That may not be the case with everyone else who comes. In fact, though I did practice, I didn't do nearly enough to meet the challenges of singing in the big group. For one thing, there were others who didn't practice at all, and some who'd never been to the Sing-In before. They knew the Messiah from listening to it whole, which is a lot different from singing a part. Some people could read the music, while others had just muddled along, trying to guess what they should be singing. That means that when you are singing, those around may not sing because they don't know what they're supposed to sing. Others sing notes of their own choosing, feeling they have to sing something. Still others sing the wrong notes, thinking they are right. And of course some are the old pros who have it down pat and don't have to have a group of other singers to help them along the way.

I saw parallels to living the Christian life in all the above. One of the things that really hit me was how hard it is to sing when you're the only one doing it. You wonder if you have made a mistake and shouldn't be singing, even though you've prepared and are pretty sure you should be. In retrospect I realized that most of the people around me weren't singing because they didn't know what to sing, not because I was singing when I shouldn't be (though sometimes I was...) I learned also that you need to keep your own time and not depend on cues from other parts of the chorus because you might not be able to hear the cue you were listening for. Also, the director doesn't always tell you when to come in, so that's not something you can rely on either.

Sometimes I wasn't surrounded by silence. Sometimes the people around me, or a particular voice in my periphery would be sounding heartily -- just not the same notes I was singing. When that happened, I always felt a pull to match with it, even if I thought the notes I was singing were right. Sometimes my notes were right and sometimes they weren't. But even when I was certain I was on track, it was still hard to hold my own.

The solution to all of this? More practice. You really have to know what you are supposed to be singing, and you have to have it down. You have to be confident in what you've learned and practiced. In the confusion of the whole chorus, with people who are at all positions on the scale of knowledge and expertise, you can't afford to rely on others too much. And you have to be ready to sing out what you know to be right even if no one around you is singing with you. Though if you're lucky the voices of the old hands down in the front rows may come drifting back to comfort you and encourage you to stay the course...

Just like learning and applying doctrine in the spiritual life.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Unhurried Tinkering

"Good rewriting demands easy, unhurried tinkering with words. Each unsuccessful try eliminates another wrong solution and leads you to the right one. I can’t emphasize too strongly how important this is, the fact that writing leads to writing, that failed attempts lead to eventual success, that the solution to a rewriting problem is made up of all the attempts that led nowhere." - Dorothy Bryant, novelist (I made no note of where I got this quote from when I copied it into my journal).

And here's John Gardner again, whom I've quoted before...

"Fiction ... begins with a rough sketch. One gets down the characters and their behavior any way one can, knowing the sentences will have to be revised, knowing the characters’ actions may change. It makes no difference how clumsy the sketch is – sketches are not supposed to be polished and elegant. All that matters is that, going over and over the sketch as if one had all eternity for finishing one’s story, one improves now this sentence, now that..."

Just more examples of taking Baby steps.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Notes on the Process

Where did the week go? I don't know. Nor do I know why I kept forgetting to write a blog post until I was too tired, but... it went. And I forgot.

Last Thursday a storm blew in, the first in a long time. It rained in the morning and again in the evening. I enjoyed that -- I always enjoy the rain -- and I also had a bit of a breakthrough in my writing process. In the days before I'd set myself to get to work, using the timer and, eschewing perfectionism, determined that I would write out a sketch of the notes I'd come up with for a scene. I did it and was quite pleased with myself. What I wrote was bad, just as I'd said it could be.

So then the next day, Thursday, I got myself behind the computer at 9:30am (my new tentative time to get there - Flylady's routines are working splendidly) but instead of pressing on, I was just dismayed and confused, upset, hamstrung. The scenes I had written the day before weren't right. And I just had to get them right. I had to do that right then, on Thursday. But every time I looked at the work, my thoughts would snarl and I would run away.

So I went back and reviewed earlier entries and recalled -- duh! -- I was taking BABY steps. When I wrote that draft, I was letting it be completely bad. Of course it would be flawed and grossly imperfect now. Nor was there time to let the perfectionism take over, either. Baby steps needed to be applied on subsequent drafts just as much as on the first draft. Every day, in every project, it seems. Just like I'm not going to get the house decluttered or completely cleaned in one day, so I'm not going to get the chapter, or even the scene right in one day. In fact, it almost never works that way. Whatever I do today, the work is better, clearer, closer to what it will be when it's done.

So I decided to set a specific, concrete goal for the day: I would go through the material I'd written paragraph by paragraph and note briefly what was there and any thoughts that occurred as I did so. When I began to do the work, though, I suddenly became aware of the awful negative, mocking tone of my thoughts as I analyzed. When I noted something illogical or out of the blue, my approach with myself was critical, dismissive and mocking. "What an idiotic development!" my inner voice would say. "WHY in the world would THAT happen?!" And so on. Since Flylady has addressed this aspect of the whole perfectionism syndrome -- be aware of the negative voices in your head and shut them down -- I think I was better able to be aware of them. And being aware of them helped me to tone them down.

Instead of heated denunciations, I was able to ask myself why such and such might have happened, or what could be the result of something that I'd written as occurring. I think that was very helpful, not least because you don't give yourself such a feeling that it's all horrible and there's absolutely no hope. The very language you use with yourself reminds you it's a process, a series of steps and adjustments and it's not all going to get done today.

Having done the analysis, I did a summary of it and discovered what the problems were: contradictions and/or nullifications in the dialog, no stakes, no goals, no consequences for any of the supposed threats and no specifics. Seeing all that was great because now I knew what I needed to do. Lay out the contradictions and decide which way I wanted to go. Set up some goals and stakes and consequences. And work on being specific.

Best of all, I did all that in 3 hours.

Have a great week!