Tag Archives: reflection

The NaNoWriMo Hole…

I have not actually stopped blogging, but if you’ve ever tried to NaNo…you know it becomes all consuming. ESPECIALLY if you are still living your life at the same time.

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This month, I have…

-Been teaching a new prep (I LOVE my English 1 students!)

-Taught, read, graded and re-graded research papers, outlines, and rough drafts (and I’m still not done with that)

-Had an AWESOME slumber party with the Grace Life Student Ladies (if you’ve never played Mafia with 15 teenage girls at midnight in your historical house with a dog underfoot, well let’s just say that was an awesome adventure)

-Recovered from a poinsettia attack (hey, ya’ll, I am tired of Christmas in November…not because I don’t have the spirit, but because I’m allergic to Holiday cheer. sheesh).

-And tried to Nano (I’m behind, but I don’t lose. So I WILL make 50,000 awesome words.)

SO…here’s a taste of what I’ve been doing with BLAZE this month:

*Special note, this scene is inspired by a story our pastor told about an experience he had taking one of our Global Outreach speakers to lunch. It really struck me and I wanted to find a way to share the concept with others. Thanks Jimmy Currence @GraceLifeChurch


 

“Gwyn’s my whole world,” Jeremy said, tossing his phone back in the console. “Her mother was going to give her up for adoption, but I convinced her to let me raise her. One of her conditions was that I stay in a small town. Not a hard decision to make—I didn’t want the military life anyway. So I left the West Point, and enrolled in a criminal justice program, then did the academy training and voila.”

“Wow—you did all that for your daughter?”

“I would do anything for her.”

“That’s beautiful.” Aidan looked out the window.

“It’s no more than what Jesus did for me.”

“What?” Aidan turned her head to look at Jeremy more closely. That was not what she expected him to say.

“Jesus. He gave up everything for me, his divinity, his popularity, even his life.”

“You know,” Aidan said slowly. “I believe all that, but I have a hard time understanding it.”

“I didn’t even believe it for the longest time,” Jeremy held the door open for her and then the chair as they sat at a small corner table near the back. “But I found it easier to understand and believe when I became a parent. When I look at Gwyn, I understand the kind of amazing love it takes for someone to sacrifice so much. It takes parental love, which is what He is and what he wants to be.”

“Hey, what can I get ya’ll today?” the waitress came up to the table, pad in hand.

“Hello, Patricia, I’d like a cup of black coffee and whatever this gorgeous woman will have.”

“A latte would be great.”

“That all for you?”

“Actually, I’d like to know if there is anything I could do for you, Patricia?” Jeremy asked the question sincerely and looked at her directly. And for the first time, Aidan looked up and really saw the woman in front of her. She looked tired, her hair was falling out of the bun that was probably carefully crafted sometime yesterday as this was an all-night diner the poor woman had probably worked a graveyard shift the same as the two of them. The more Aidan looked, the more she saw; lines around the woman’s eyes, a hole in the top of the woman’s shoe, and a stain on the apron that had been bleached, but still hadn’t come out. Aidan remembered what Edward had said about operating under the false illusion that everyone else was living a perfect life, and deep in her gut, she felt a little sick.

“Yes,” she said, almost as if it wasn’t her speaking. “Please, if there is anything we can do for you, Patricia, we’d like to serve you too.”

Jeremy looked at her, smiled and nodded his approval.

“Well, I’ll, um get your coffee, and think about that.”

“Thank you,” Jeremy said.

Aidan watched her walk off. “So what would you do if she says she needs money to pay her rent?”

“I’ll help her pay her rent.”

“Even if it’s like $1000?”

“Even so,” Jeremy took a breath. “That certainly wouldn’t be ideal, but God told me to serve this woman.”

“God told you? He spoke to you?”

“Well, yes. But not like a booming voice, Aidan.”

“Then how?” she was intensely curious. Edward kept telling her to listen to God, but that sounded crazy. God didn’t talk to people any more. And yet, here was Jeremy saying that he talked to God and God talked back!

“Well, the more you know God, the more you learn to recognize his voice. Sometimes I hear his voice through scripture, sometimes through the conversations I have with other believers, and sometimes through the feelings and nudges deep inside, those things that ‘just dawn on you’ or ‘you knew you shouldawouldacoulda’. I find that most of the time, those things are actually God’s spirit compelling us to move forward in his purpose.”

“So how did God tell you to help this woman?” Aidan asked, willing to accept that explanation.

“When I walked in, it was like God pointed and said ‘look at her, Jeremy, she needs love’.”

The waitress came back with the coffee, and Jeremy looked up at her and smiled. “So, how can we serve you?”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes,” Jeremy nodded, and never broke eye contact.

“My car,” the waitress looked about ready to cry. “It stopped working this morning, and I’ve no idea why. I can’t afford a new one, and I doubt I can afford the repairs, but I need a car to get to my three jobs.”

Jeremy’s smile widened. “Done.” He pulled out a card. “This is my friend, Wallace. Call him today. He will tow your car and work on it free of charge.”

“What?” Patricia blinked.

“Seriously.”

“But, why?”

“Because I love Jesus and Jesus told me to love other people. Please?”

Patricia nodded, the tears were in her eyes as she took the card, and Jeremy focused back on Aidan.

“Your friend, he’ll really do it for free, or you’ll pay for it?”

“For free. Wallace has about 12 car dealerships in the area, but he owns his own body shop here that he takes on, by recommendation only, people who need assistance but can’t afford. He will work out a deal with them for payment, or he’ll do it for free. All Patricia has to do is call and give him that card I just gave her.”

“What a coincidence,” Aidan murmured.

“No,” Jeremy said firmly. “That was God.”

Aidan took a sip of her latte, because it was all she could do. Words would not come to her. Her heart was too full. Finally, she spoke.

“It’s hard for me, sometimes, to see God as caring,” she said quietly. “Maybe because he is pictured as parental. To me, parents cause a lot of pain.”

“I’m so sorry,” Jeremy reached across the table and took her hand. “That is unnatural. And it sucks.”

“My dad left when I was six; he took my twin sisters, Lilly and Lilac, with him. For years I wondered what I had done to make him hate me. Why I had driven him away. My mother blamed me too, and even now—you saw her—she’s not quite in her right mind, but I know she still blames me.”

“Aidan, it’s not your fault,” Jeremy started.

“No,” Aidan shook her head. “And I recognize that now, but in a way it is even though I didn’t actually do anything to cause it. The hurt still remains. I’m not sure either of my parents even considered what they were doing to me when they made their decisions, so ‘parents’ to me has always been a very selfish term.”

“Thank you for telling me that,” Jeremy nodded. “I could tell after the other day that it isn’t something you share.”

“No,” she sighed. “But I’m trying to move past it.”

Jeremy reached across the table and took her hand in his; he rubbed his thumb across her knuckles.

“It’s a long road to forgiveness,” he said.

“Forgiveness,” she repeated the word as if it were foreign.

“It took me a long time to realize that’s what I needed in my life too, but once I let go and forgave, especially my ex, God was able to move in and help me move on.”

“Forgive them,” Aidan tasted the words; they were bitter. “I’m not sure I’m ready for that.”

Jeremy nodded. “But you will be.” He finished off his coffee. Aidan’s had been gone for a while.

“Maybe,” she said, standing at the table.

“In the meantime,” Jeremy reached around and put an arm around her shoulders as they walked out to the car. “Let’s just take it one day at a time.”

“Now that,” Aidan said, hugging him around the waist. “I can do.”

Jeremy let go as they walked to the car and Aidan couldn’t stop smiling all the way home.

 

My Mission Statement

Many businesses have their own mission statements, ways of attracting people, consumers and even workers to their products and places. Even schools have mission statements. It is a way to tell the world what you stand for, but more importantly it is a way to set a standard for yourself and for those who see you.

So why don’t we have individual mission statements? I’ve just finished reading 48 Days to the Work you Love and the final task in the book is to create your own mission statement. Of all the tasks in the book, this is the one I found to be the most profound (though there are many useful tasks that help you dig inside yourself to find answers).

This is what I came up with:

My mission is to create a world in which I am free to be creative AND analytical knowing that having high standards leads to growth, but failing to meet those standards DOES NOT require that I give up; always bearing in mind that moving forward will take me to new places, but learning from the past will keep me from becoming a flat, static, uncultured idiot. I will stay fair and honest looking for the best in people, even when I am utterly disappointed. I will work hard every day to respect people around me because only then will I earn respect. Above all I will maintain my morals and faith, without which I am nothing. 

Which leads me to this burning question: what is your personal mission statement?

The Artist’s Way Week 1: Monster’s Hall of Fame

My Creative Stifling Monster Hall of Fame

  • Me

Of all the monsters in my life, I am by far the worst. I have been my own worst enemy for as long as I can remember. I have wonderful friends and family who have pretty much always been supportive of my dreams. In fact I can’t remember a single time someone telling me that what I want to do or be was a bad idea or that I might fail. I was the one who decided (as a realist) that writing ‘wouldn’t pay the bills’ and maybe I was listening to main stream society, but I made that decision. I knew I couldn’t—or that I didn’t want to try to live off it and I was good at teaching so Poof! Teaching career. And don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, and I’m a wonderful teacher, most days, but my first love has always been writing. I can’t even remember a time when I wasn’t writing or telling stories. I convinced myself though that it wasn’t viable.

But, what if it could be?

  • A guy who in middle school ranked my “prettiness” on a scale and let’s just say I didn’t measure up to his standards

I know I’m not a super model, but when I was in elementary school I was a confident kid. I was out to conquer the world. I had loads of friends, and I was pretty extroverted. I was the first to make friends with new kids, and never allowed anyone to sit by themselves in the cafeteria. And then Middle school came and I was still that same girl…

Until…

I asked a boy to a dance.

And the boy said, “Well, on a scale of ugly to pretty Ashley falls right about here.” It was pretty close to the ugly side.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am aware that this is one child’s opinion, but I do realize that this is the moment when my personality began to change. I became less extroverted, I was no longer the center of attention (nor was I trying to be the center of attention), and quite frankly I preferred the shadows from there on out. I was ashamed. Not only of my physical appearance, but of what I created and did as well.

As a friend of mine once wisely said, middle school is quite a bitch and it’s a miracle any of us survive. If we could press a fast-forward button and skip ahead we’d all be happier people probably, but none of us would be the same. And quite frankly these experiences are what make us who we are. We can’t divorce ourselves from our pasts, or our past monsters (and quite frankly compared to other people and their monsters, I got off quite easy), but we can learn from them and move forward—fighting to become men and women, artists, we want to be.

  • Q from middle school who either didn’t like more or I perceived that she didn’t like me—either way I felt stifled as an individual and persecuted as a result.

I have always been a teacher’s pet. And maybe that’s why Mrs. Q didn’t like me. Some people don’t like kids who are constantly trying to please adults. But again, it was middle school and by this point, I think I was feeling persecuted by pretty much everyone. Sometimes I wonder if Mrs. Q actually disliked me as much as I felt like she did. I’ll never know though. She passed away not long ago, and I never asked her. Regardless, in her class I didn’t feel free to be creative, or open, which was ironic because many people who had her would say the opposite. They loved her style and how she helped them to open up and become more creative people.

  • My school system

My school system was small and had few resources for creative outlets. We had music and some art, but that was about it. I would have really thrived had I had the opportunity to take a creative writing class or even drama in high school, but I didn’t have that option, and that feels like a shame to me.

  • The NC Voter

For not fighting for the educational system more. For not making it a priority and for taking the wind out of creative outlets in schools and in teachers and in individuals who are trying to fight for these things for students and for the future.

So who are the monsters of your past? Who stifle your creativity? How do you plan to overcome them?

Every story has a story


Every story comes with a trace of other stories it could have been.


This is a truism, a statement from our discussions this summer that really struck me hard. Not only did this statement sum up what we discussed in our class sessions, but it also came in a moment where I was preparing to publish a novel and I was struggling, as I read through it, with some self-esteem issues about how it would be received in the public. Let’s be honest, I’m still struggling with that, but riding on the tail skirt of this statement has helped me come to terms with where I can and will go next with writing, and to some degree what I love about the process of writing itself.

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Window in the rock formation at Big Sur (Pacific Coast Highway RT 2014)

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love a good story. I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb begging to be a part of a great story (ask my parents and the doctors—I made quite an entrance with the cord wrapped around my neck and trying to be a Smurf instead of a human. I don’t recommend this to any babies out there). By the time I was able to talk, I was begging to be told stories—I have the fondest memories of my mother reading me bedtimes stories from longer novels even when I was a toddler—Hop on Pop just wasn’t enough for me. But I didn’t stop there. I began to live in a world with these stories, sometimes pretending that the characters were real and sometimes making up new endings, or sequels. For a large part of middle school, Jo March was among my very best friends and I would sometimes ask myself what would Jo do in this situation? It wasn’t enough for me to just read the story; I had to be a part of it.

Which I guess is a tell-tale sign that you are born to tell your own stories, because you can see the traces of stories within the stories that you love so well. I remember asking questions about the stories like “What do you think happened to Susan in America after her whole family was whisked off to the Narnia/Heaven at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia?” It broke my heart to think that Susan was the only one left on Earth—having lost her whole family in one fell swoop. Not that Susan was my favorite character, but no one deserves to be alone. And at the end, she was utterly alone. There is a story in there, one I wish had been told, but one I’m also terrified of. Now I know Susan is just a character and she’s not real, but she represents millions of people who are real, and not every story has a happy ending when it is told to its ending—if there is ever really an ending at all.

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The Village and The Farm on UCSC campus

For that matter, traces of other stories are never limited to just endings. One event can change the course of an entire story and if an author had chosen to write it another way, then the story would reveal other truths about characters than what we are currently privy to. For example, what if Pip had succeeded in getting Magwitch out of England?  That is an entirely different story with great potential for…something?

The point is, stories are like life. Full of moments. Moments where decisions are made and people are molded from the events that happen in their lives. Each day we get up and we have the potential to change our story solely by making new decisions, meeting new people, or accepting new challenges. Or not doing any of that. Because just like stories we are full of potential stories that may or may not get told.

So as I’m preparing my novel, I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of stories bursting forth from the one story I’ve told and that’s not a bad thing. When I’m satisfied with what I’ve written, then I might as well stop writing altogether, because there will never be an end to the whispered stories that come in and out of what is and isn’t told. And that is actually quite lovely. 

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Full Moon over the Pacific Coast Highway

Maybe It’s Just Me…

Maybe It’s Just Me

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inside restaurant Pan e Vino

Tick…Tick…Tick…Tock…My life clock continues louder with every little tick and each resounding tock it chimes and chirps wand each day rotates just a little bit fast.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” responds the girl in the salon. When did I become a “ma’am”?

I wonder…

Maybe it’s just me but…

I thought my life would be different. At sixteen I had a plan. I knew how my life would be at 28.

Maybe it’s just me but…

Everything seems so mundane, blasé, not at all what I had in mind.

Maybe it’s just me yet…

I know I am blessed beyond measure with beautiful people, meaningful work, and wonderful space.

Maybe it’s just me yet…

I am grateful, I should be grateful, I have forgotten how to be grateful. I am lost in a world of self-deprecation disguised as a sort of humility. I want to be proud. I want to own my pride. I don’t know where to begin.

Maybe it’s just me and then again, maybe it’s not.

 

These are just words, thoughts strung together as I reflect one Friday evening. I’m not even sure what form you’d call this. Maybe it’s verse, but I think it’s a kind of stream of consciousness. Really, it’s just me. Wondering. I’m not unhappy with my life. In fact most days I’m very content. But sometimes, especially recently I begin to wonder if maybe, just maybe I’m letting life pass me. And after I get done with all this wondering, I start to pray. My conversation with God is not exactly thrilling, it more just wondering about two little words: too late.

Are those not the most devastating combination of words? Too late—lost hope, dreams and future. They taste bitter on the tongue, as sour as the poison their power holds because once someone believes it is too late…

What is left to them?

That’s when God reminds me of Lazarus. (I started to say “I’m reminded of” then I realized it is no coincidence that this story launches into my brain).

The story is in John 11 and the NIV reads this way:

“Now a man named Lazarus was sick […] so the sisters sent word to Jesus. “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” […] he stayed where he was two more days.”

HE STAYED! He heard the news that his loved one is sick. Jesus knew what this meant, to the family. He knew what pain it would cause them. Agony, anguish, mental torment—not to mention what the physical illness did to Lazarus himself. It must have been painful to have ended in even a temporary death. And still, he didn’t go. He waited two days. Two of the longest days of his friends’ life (I’m sure they were no picnic for Jesus either).

Then the story continues with Jesus telling his disciples they are returning to Judea. His friends are worried because of the trouble brewing there, which makes me wonder if Mary, Martha and Lazarus didn’t question Jesus’ loyalty and love. I know I would have. Hardly able to understand why he didn’t come help their brother, they search for an explanation—even an irrational one. I imagine they might have thought that he cared for his own safety more than the well-being of their brother. Can you imagine the sick feeling of disappointed hopes and dreams? Maybe it’s just me…

Jesus tells his disciples they are going to see Lazarus who is dead and I love Thomas’ reply, but it is so sad. “Let us go that we may die with him.” Caustic, bitter, untrusting. Thomas doesn’t see the point in visiting the dead man. It’s too late. There are those words. It’s too late for him! Why put ourselves at risk?

When he finally arrives at Mary and Martha’s home, they greet him with the same response; although they greet him separately they are of the same mind. “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died. “

You’re too late, God.

Ah, ye of little faith.

Too late, oh so devastating to us mortals—as Alexander Pope said “born but to die.” Of course we will lose our hope and our faith with those words.

Restoration comes from one place alone.

And it’s never too late for God.

We may not like his timing. We may not understand his timing. But He’s never too late.

“Lazarus ,come forth!”

How I want to be raised from the deadness of disappointed hope and resurrected into the life of gratitude each and every day.  But, maybe it’s just me…