“Thank God I’m Not the One”


In Phoenix this weekend, I enjoyed getting to be a part of an authentic Johnson bday celebration of great magnitude. It made me smile to see whipped cream on people’s faces and three generations of Johnson trying to dance. I was a little on the outside (my own doing) because the Johnson sense of family is rather foreign to me, so I often don’t know how to participate without feeling super self-conscious. Regardless, it was a joy and an honor to be included.

In the evenings, Dave, Lisa and I quieted down and watched TV, but, true to form, my Phoenix parents didn’t let me leave without giving me much to think about.

That boy has been rather a heavy thought to me for the past few weeks. Mostly, I’ve been preparing my heart and mind to move on from him.

I find it difficult to move on from anyone ever because it seems like just a breath away from the not-able-to-bring-myself-to talk-with-you or the you-don’t-live-up-to-our-standards that were both said and done to me. I don’t want to abandon him. I don’t want to dismiss or give up on him. So I kept theologizing myself into being the gospel to him.

Which, I think, is good and right in some ways.

If we have a chance to love the unlovable or grant unmerited grace, I believe we should usually do it. That’s a part of being an image bearer, intended to reflect the Almighty. It’s a chance to show someone who has never known God what He is like.

However, there’s a fine line between the necessary endeavor of constantly becoming more and more conformed to the image of the Son (Romans 8:29) and trying to be the Son in someone’s life.

I don’t know if I’ve crossed that line or not, but I do know that not moving on now would be a willful step over that line. In prayer, I’ve been convicted that he belongs to God and not to me.

I’ve tried to be a friend to him. I’ve done everything I could think of to help, to rebuke, to encourage, to correct, to love, to point back to the Father, and none of it has worked, and thus I hand him over to the Creator, knowing that he wasn’t ever truly mine.

The idea of not being able to save another is intellectually easy enough. It’s painfully obvious that I’m hardly capable of making right choices on a good day, and it’s even more obvious that I’m generally sinful and therefore inadequate to save myself, much less to make substitutionary atonement for another.

And yet, the intellect isn’t always what guides us.

My heart would rescue him if I could. My heart would give anything – short of nothing – to see him thrive. My heart seeks his good, often at great cost to itself.

So, though I’d love for it to be right to continue that seeking – for God to command me to chase after that boy – I have been given no such command and I will leave it up to the Lord, Who holds that boy in the palm of His hands.

And I leave you with some lyrics. I’ve been into a band called The Afters, of late, and one of their songs seems pretty appropriate here, for its message and because that boy is the one who taught me to close my eyes and enjoy music.

“Thank God I’m Not The One”

How could You walk when You went down that dusty street
How could You speak when all your friends checked out
How could You love after the great betrayal
How could You reach out when they nailed You down
[Chorus:]
True as true can be
That’s what they say You are to me when I’m so fake
Does Your heart ache
If I had been the one I would not have been that strong
If I had been the one, yeah, I’d have been long gone
How could You hang on with Your mama crying
How could You keep on breathing in and out
How could You watch while Your whole world was dying
Did it all happen cause we let You down[Repeat Chorus]

And all the things we think of as eternal would come undone
All I have to say when I’m praying
Is “Thank God I’m not the One”

Fiction and Agenda Aren’t Compatible


I have a finished draft!

New Year’s resolution: complete a draft before I turn thirty.

Done – like four months early!

I will probably take these four months to revise the thing, and then I’ll get to the sending it out to agents sometime around my bday (end of November). In addition to a draft of the actual manuscript, I’ve also got one of my query letter done. I’ll need to do a chapter-by-chapter synopsis soon ish, but I’m pretty close to making a real go at trying to get published!

Hurray!

As I was nearing the end, I felt a little more confident talking to people about what I was writing because it didn’t feel as much like their opinions would impact my ability to finish.

You see, sometimes people say things that make me think I should change everything or they say things that make me feel like I’m far more finished then I am, so I get complacent and don’t work at it.

Aside from how people’s words impact the writing, it’s funny what people think.

The most common thing I got in talking to people was, “What’s your agenda?” They knew I was writing about a minority character and the church, so I kind of get it, but it’s actually a hilarious question to me, because I tried incredibly hard not to have an agenda. In On Writing, Stephen King explained that his process in getting a story started and drafted was taking a few characters and putting them into a situation that’s riddled with conflict. Ex: Intelligent guy who is innocent ends up in prison for life. Right? And then Stephen King lets the character work through that conflict.

I’m not quite so relaxed about it as Mr. King is; I definitely do some plotting, but it has little to do with an agenda. I hold a strong belief that agenda actually has NO PLACE in fiction. My plotting has more to do with what would happen or what would be cool or terrible or fill-in-the-blank if it happened. Or how can I make ________ that happens in a few chapters even plausible? Can I embed something in chapter 3 to bring it all together? Also, I consider which parts of the story haven’t I told that would fill out the corners of the picture a little bit or unlurr-ify certain characters.

Then, I write and research. I do both at the same time because I find they inspire each other.

In researching, I often found that what a character would do isn’t anything like what I planned for him to do. Sadly, my characters initially tend to be passive, like luggage being carried through a plot-driven story, so the research helps me figure out what sort of proactive things my characters would do, and the outline morphs a little bit.

Because fiction, to me, isn’t primarily about what the author wants to communicate. It isn’t about theme. It isn’t about agenda.

It’s about empathy.

It’s about people.

It’s about emotions.

I don’t believe in deciding what the reader should get from a story before I’ve written it. In fact, I don’t believe the author actually has much say in what readers take away from any given story. I’ve learned that from the blog, here. People see what they see, and it is often incredibly different from what I thought I communicated.

Takeaway From Readers Seeing What They See: Readers push their own agendas onto authors just as often as authors push agendas on readers.

Empathy should always trump agenda in fiction. Empathy for the reader. Empathy for the characters.

And empathy for the writer.

Empathy should probably trump agenda in life too.

A Giggle at the Sensuality of Running


I started reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall because I watched the episode of Boundless where they run the Copper Canyon race. Also, I’m trying to motivate myself to run the P.F. Chang’s full marathon in January, which means I have about a month before I need to make myself serious about training, so it makes sense to read a book about running.

Here are some funny quotes from chapter 2:

You know what kind of nerves are in your feet? The same ones that network into your genitals.

In terms of stress relief and sensual pleasure, running is what you have in your life before you have sex.

(pages 10 and 12).

:-)

Hugging the Prodigal


I recently spoke with a friend and discovered that he’s bitter about things from a long time ago. He was in ministry, and felt that the church took from him without giving back, helping, growing, working, etc…

I get it, because I was in ministry at the same church at the same time, and it often felt like I cared much more than the rest of the church cared. About the church. About people outside of the church. About everything. I did a lot of things that went unnoticed. I repeatedly put myself in situations to be hurt, spent, etc… so that someone else could have something he or she needed or wanted.

So I get feeling used.

I get the thing that happens in the back of a person’s mind when he’s talking to someone who cost him something weighty. I get not being able to think of that person without remembering the hurt and considering the person’s flaws. I get the need to keep a mental list of everything he did for them and another list of everything they did to him.

However, being bitter is obviously toxic to everyone involved.

I’m not bitter. About that particular piece of ministry or much of anything right now.

That was a pleasant and surprising discovery for me this week, as I’ve tried to figure out how to help my friend. I’ve spent the past several years, considering my own older brother tendencies – I sometimes can’t stand that my Father would slaughter the fattened calf for that prodigal asshat when I’ve been oh-so-very faithful. I think my upbringing predisposed me to keeping records of wrongs and believing that I’m somehow superior to the rest of the world.

I’ve been publicly corrected for unforgiveness, and discovered that those closest to me forgave and forgot. They let me not talk about things when I didn’t want to or couldn’t… and instead showed me that life was the same as it was before I screwed up. Our friendships were the same as they were before I screwed up. We could still talk and they still listened without discrediting what I said, or me, because of my errors.

In the quiet after that, I studied my Timothy Keller and his Prodigal God as well as my Bonhoeffer and his Life Together. I tried to teach my heart to right its inclination toward hate and judgment. I said and did good things that I didn’t want to do, hoping and praying that my heart would follow – that I would eventually learn to hug my brother who returned after being lost, without thinking of all the work I’ve done in his absence. Work that should have been his. I’ve prayed that God would teach me to hug him violently, with genuine care for him and his plight, no matter what that damn plight cost me.

I’m pleased to see that, in many ways, I’m becoming the woman I try to be… but, as I think, I’m at a loss for what to say to my friend.

How do I remind him of what he’s already learned?

I discovered that he counts me among those who used him during that time, and while I’m more confident that he’s wrong than I’ve been about much of anything before, I’m not sure how to be what he needs rather than seeking what feels like justice to me. Correcting his opinion of me won’t actually help him very much. It would make me feel better, because I’ve got a long list of good works from that time, predominantly of services to him… quiet services that I intentionally allowed to go unnoticed. Services that everyone except for him seemed to see.

So I’m confident that I could change his opinion of me with one, well-written email. He’d apologize, and I want that apology, but I’m left with the reality that he’d still be bitter. I don’t want for him to be the kind of man who is bitter, but only at people who deserve it. I want him to be the sort who runs outside to meet the prodigal, violently hugs him, puts a robe on him, and wholeheartedly celebrates his return. Being the kind of woman I want to be requires that I can’t seek the apology I want (and probably even deserve) when I should be seeking his sanctification and peace of heart.

While I will pray for the Holy Spirit to shape his heart and suck out the bitterness, I will also pray for the right words, the selfless ones that seek mercy rather than justice for myself. I will pray for opportunities to show him what our friends showed me, in rebuking my unforgiveness, talking with me about normal things while my heart was crumbling, and giving me time to grow. I will pray for comfort for him while it hurts, and that those people for whom he harbors bitterness, hurt and resentment will each receive the apologies they deserve… and that he’ll see how the people who he hates are the ones who taught me the lesson he needs to relearn. I will pray that I relearn how to forgive someone who has hated me without cause, and hasn’t asked for forgiveness.

Clearly, UNARGUABLY, Not My Fault


After not drinking the bad coffee in Atlanta, I boarded my 4 ish hour flight back to Tucson.

I had not shaved my left leg for more than a week; I had not showered that evening; I had not slept that evening; I was not wearing make-up; I was wearing workout pants that probably smelled like sweat, because I had not washed them for more than a week; I sat down, put my headphones on, willed that “Eff off” onto my forehead (you know, the one from Hitch that my friends claim I lack) and I LITERALLY prayed that God would seat me next to a frumpy, middle-aged woman who was too caught up reading The Fault in Our Stars to even think about talking to me.

Instead, the person who took the seat next to me was a 33-year-old aviator who was born in Jamaica, currently living in Milwaukee, but making his first trip to Tucson to try to figure out his impending move here for work. It was evidently going to be his job to fix our airport and help it grow an extra terminal.

He was nice and undaunted by the “Eff off” and Annie Lennox screaming through my headphones. He kept talking to me even though I kept trying not to talk to him. He also laughed at me and tried to explain that airplanes are super safe, because I sometimes grip the armrest violently when a plane I’m on makes one of those unexpected, roller coaster drops that gets my stomach.

Eventually, he asked me if I’d show him around Tucson that evening because he only had 24 hours to make up his mind. I sort of lied, telling him I was going to spend time with friends, which was true ish, because I did spend time with them, but had plenty of daylight left after getting lunch with Lauren and the kiddos.

Then, he asked for my phone number.

I told him that I wasn’t comfortable giving it out.

He said that he understood.

Like an hour later, just as we were landing, he asked if he’d be able to see me again.

I said no.

He looked sad, so I told him that I’ve recently been less careful than I ought to be.

He said he was sorry.

He waited a few minutes, then told me that he really just wanted friends, and I’d described my friends in a way that made him feel like he could connect with them. He was concerned about making the move to Tucson without knowing anyone… which could’ve been a creeper tactic, but I also felt for him.

So I gave him my email address.

He offered me a heartfelt thank you.

And it is not my fault!

NOT MY FAULT! NOT MY FAULT!

I don’t know why men are into me lately, but it’s not because of anything I’m doing, so don’t blame me. I could not have made myself less appealing or less approachable before that flight.

Airport Coffee


My grandmother and I pulled an all-nighter last night, watching American Ninja Warrior and Boundless. Neither is really my grandmother’s speed, but she put up with my need to watch people who are in awesome physical shape do impossible things. It’s always fun for me to discover what I’d watch if I had access to the channels. In addition to the hard-core athlete shows, I spent two hours trying to figure out if NASA has covered up information they have about alien structures on the Moon. :-)

Sidenote: RIP Anne and d’Artagnan. The ducks evidently died while I was away. :-(

So… I’m in the Atlanta airport, and it’s 5:46 a.m. Tucson time, and I haven’t slept at all. Thus, I bought myself a coffee. And it’s terrible. The question is, “To drink the bad coffee, or not to drink it?”

Top Ten Reasons I Reject Date #2


There’s been much speculation as to why I don’t go on a lot of second dates. Often, there’s psychoanalysis about my internal struggles and character flaws…  my fears. It’s glaringly obvious that I’m the one putting on the brakes, which makes it seem like I’m ultra-appealing and ultra-picky. However, I’d like to submit to the interwebs that the truth is most people who are doing online dating are weirdos or just a little too awkward.

Thus, I give you a list. Here’s my reasoning for rejecting date #2.

10. Talking about my online pictures –  Okay, so being complimented once is nice. “You have nice pictures.” :-) Being complimented twelve times is weird. “Are those your real pictures?” “I have to ask, is that really what you look like?” “Those are gorgeous pictures.” “You’re really pretty.” “Thank you for being pretty.” “You are as pretty as your pictures.”

9. Not getting enthusiastic or happy about anything – It’s really difficult to be happy, but the happiness is impossible to achieve when attached to a chronically unhappy person. Smiling is important. Genuine amusement is important. Passion for ANYTHING is important.

8. Living with mommy – I can’t avoid picturing him sitting on the couch, watching tv, drinking a beer while I do his laundry… not my cup o’ tea.

7. Not having a job – Enough said.

6.Touch – A guy who gets weird about a hug is a real turn-off. Side hug is fine, but it should be a confident one, rather than scared-shitless. Fear of hugging me usually suggests a fear of women in general and me in particular, which is disappointing and unattractive. I don’t have cooties and I will not get pregnant from a hug. It’s okay.

5. Fear of trying new things – A man who won’t go to a new restaurant or a new part of town probably isn’t for me. When a guy is like this, it makes me feel like I have to take care of him, which is not what I want on a first date. More than anything, I want to meet a guy who can take care of me. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t take care of him later in the relationship… I would hope he’d let me do that, but on the first date, I should feel like he’s in control of the situation. I should feel like he’s able to walk beside me, rather than behind me… using me as a shield from a danger that may or may not exist.

4. I think I have a 100% rejection rate on guys who ask me why I’m single. First of all, the way they ask is often with reverence, which is a bit too far. Tell me I look nice, but don’t act like I’m Helen of Troy… because I’m really not and it seems like forced flattery. Second, if I knew why I’m single, wouldn’t I do something about it and no longer be single?

3.  Phone – A man who checks his phone more than once or twice is a HUGE turnoff. Once or twice may even need some explanation, like, “My sister is pregnant, so I need to stay available if she goes into labor.” Checking a phone during a first date suggests that there are more important things to pay attention to than the person in front of you – not good to communicate to a prospective spouse.

2. Touch – I will absolutely reject a guy who touches too enthusiastically. If this is our first date and we don’t know each other, he gets a hug at the beginning and a hug at the end. There may be a few other acceptable touch barrier crossings, but they are few and far between.

1. Phone – It’s probably silly for this to be number 1, but it’s the one that happens most frequently. I have a dumb phone, and there’s nothing a guy can or should do about it until after we’re in a relationship. The first date is not the time to try to bring my technology up to date. Also, maybe there’s a reason I don’t yet have a SmartPhone, so maybe a guy should not try to change me before he even knows what I am and why.