Monday, October 14, 2019

The Wanting Ships

All my wants are ships set sail
For Middle Earth, Hogwarts, and Narnia.
I've read all the books and seen the movies,
And now I'm determined to find them.

So I send out my fleet in hopeful anticipation
Of the epic adventure and magic I'll wield,
And the lion who will tell me the answers I seek.
Before long, I hear one ship is lost in a storm.
Another raided by pirates.
One sprung a leak and must moor far away,
And yet another has crashed on the rocks.
Only one of my ships has spotted dry land,
And this one has reached Japan.

Can you blame me for grieving
When all my wants are snuffed out,
And my dreams are dashed against the rocks?
I consider my planning a waste
Because I've charted fake worlds instead of real maps.
That is why the wanting ships were bound to fail.

But all is not lost, no, nor dreams unfulfilled
If I take up an interest in the orient,
And study the repair of broken vessels,
And learn from experienced captains
How to outfit my ships with cannons and soldiers.

I may yet join the ranks of explorers
And discover what there is to discover
In this world I didn't make or dream up.
But in the real world, the epic adventures are frightening.
And the magic doesn't come from a wand.
And the lion I meet won't answer instantaneously
What can only be found out when I confess
I am not master of my fate nor captain of my soul.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Taking Stock When Life is Crazy

I thought I'd share a way of thinking about life that I've found extremely helpful. This has helped me after the births of my children, during the holiday seasons, and when on vacations—whenever life is busy, really. It is during these busy seasons that I often forget to take care of myself and as a result begin to run low in one of these four areas: my physical well-being, my mental space for thinking, my engaging in multiple healthy relationships, and my focus and reliance upon the Lord. 

When I run around all day, I frequently forget to eat (physcial neglect). When I go from one family function to another, I have no time to recharge on my own (mental neglect). When I am ill for a week, I don't go anywhere or see anyone (relational neglect). Lastly, when I think I've got my life managed quite well, I forget about God (spiritual neglect).

I've come to realize that I am responsible for meeting all these needs. No one is responsible for them but me. It's not fair for me to get angry at my husband or children or friends for sapping my energies in these areas. I am in charge of saying no in order to maintain my own needs. 

A few details about each category: under physical needs I would include eating, sleeping, exercise, and sex. Under mental needs, I would also include my need to take in and process new information. My relational needs can't be met by just anyone, but rather those who are closest to me. So if I don't connect with my husband for a long time, I feel an emptiness. If I don't see my children for a few days, I miss them too. I also have a few sweet friends that I miss when I don't connect for awhile. The spiritual needs tank has many facets. I can spend lots of time talking to God but not reading his word and so I feel an emptiness there. I can read his word everyday but not connect with it and feel an emptiness. I can also neglect prayer. Petition, reading the bible, application and discussing things with God are all facets of abiding with the Lord.

Usually when I start to neglect one area of my life, certain warning signs start to appear. For example, I get really judgmental or fearful when my spiritual needs aren't being met. I start hating my kids when my relational needs aren't being met. I get really irritated and ungrateful when my mental needs aren't being met. And I can wind up in the doctor's office if I don't meet my physical needs.

Recognizing and accurately naming the warning signs are the hardest parts of all this. It means I have to stop and notice that something is not right inside me. Then I have to take stock of my needs and figure out what is low. Lastly, I have to find a way to get those needs met. 

Stressful situations have shown me what I can do without. I used to think I had to have eight hours of sleep a night in order to be pleasant and functional. Having children has shown me that I can get by with much less and still be kind to others. I used to think that I had to have a time to myself each day to be nice. Turns out, that's not essential either.

In truth, I've learned that when my spiritual needs are being met, sometimes I don't need all my other needs to be fully met. God sometimes gives me my health, my mental food, and my relational fix. This is not the norm, but sometimes it's all I can get. So, being with Him and Him with me must take priority because it is the bread and butter of my soul.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Romans 5:12 in Poetical Form

We are not water droplets, separate and divided,
Each harboring his own secrets within.
Rather, we are a sea,
Enmeshed with the crimes of the world
As the world is enmeshed with ours.

Like the ocean currents,
Round and round,
All connected,
In relationship
In effect to one another.
Unrestricted by time or place.

Our sea,
Our humanity,
Our immorality,
With Adam savoring the fruit,
With Israel nailing Christ to the cross,
With Germany butchering Jews,
With America electing poor policy
With industries polluting the earth,

We are all participants
In the shockwaves that ripple this ocean.
My sin is yours,
And yours is mine.
No one is innocent.
No one is blameless.

"We have sinned against the Lord, Our God,
Both we and our ancestors," (Jeremiah 25b).

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

My Discipline Reminder

I am writing this down so I can refer to it in the future. This is not a how-to on parenting nor a model for everyone. I'm merely writing this because in the heat of the moment, I forget what I'm supposed to be doing as a parent and, hopefully, this will remind me.

Step One: name the undesirable or naughty behavior.
- My fourteen-month-old keeps spilling his bottle on the floor when he's done.
- My seven-year-old talks back to me.
- My five-year-old says yes, she'll do what I ask, and then she forgets.
- Children are fighting on the way home from school.

Step Two: identify the desired behavior. (Be sure expectations are age appropriate.)
- I want my baby to put his bottle on his tray when he's done.
- I want my seven-year-old to say, "Yes, Mommy," when I give a command or "May I ask a question?"
- I want my five-year-old to do what I ask right away so she doesn't forget to do it later.
- I would like a peaceful ride home where everyone shares the talking time.

Step Three: know why you wish this behavior.
- In our house, we try to keep things tidy.
- Stevens' children are respectful to adults.
- I will not exhaust myself nagging my children. I expect them to obey right away.
- I would like our family to value peace over being right.

Step Four: have the consequences in mind. (Again be sure consequences are age and personality appropriate. The more memorable the consequence is to the child, the less likely, you'll have to give it again and again.)
- Baby gets a "No," and flick on the hand whenever he throws his bottle down.
- Seven-year-old gets one chance to try answering respectfully again or will get hot sauce on the tongue.
- Five-year-old may obey immediately or accumulate an additional chore before dinner.
- I will have kind words in the car or no talking at all while I BLAST classical music!

If having trouble coming up with consequences, write a list of all privileges and then remind yourself (and later the child) that these are privileges for those who obey your rules. Such privileges can/will be revoked when children do not obey. For example: choice of a snack, sitting at the table to eat with everyone, choosing what show to watch, choosing outfit for school, sitting on chairs, playing with toys, listening to music of choice, sleeping on a bed, sleeping with favorite blanket or animal, freedom of time, etc.

Step Five: inform child of expected behavior and consequences if he or she chooses to disobey.

Step Six: FOLLOW THROUGH EVERY TIME. Tweak consequences to ensure they are memorable enough to instigate change.

Step Seven: Take the time to renew relationship and remind child of love after each consequence.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Reality Check About How Good Things Are

This is my reality check to help me remember that I'm doing WAY better than just getting by. In this graph the very bottom is death, like you're in the grave. The very top is you're thriving, like things couldn't be better. The middle of the graph is obviously just getting by. I'm sure some graphic artist (ahem, Brittany Douglas) could make this look fabulous, but here's what I got.

Line B is like: there's riots in my city and we had to board up the windows and my husband can't drive to work because of the fuel restrictions and the water pipes broke from the aerial hate-bombs. We can't get to the store because of the shootings and my son has whooping cough and I contracted leprosy and we can't sleep at night because of the helicopters and the pollution is getting into the windows and the electricity just went out and all our bedding has bedbugs and the roaches crawl over our faces at night and my right hand fell off and a bomb dropped on our house and . . . I died.

Line A is like: I got a new job and I like my coworkers and it's what I've always wanted to do and it's paying the bills and I live in a safe and beautiful neighborhood. My friends just threw me a great birthday party and I feel so loved. My kids are doing well in school and their teachers appreciate them. My marriage is going strong and my in-laws think the best of me and I just ate at Napa Rose at the Disneyland Grand Hotel!

I think it's obvious that my life is neither line A nor line B. In reality, my life is most like line C. I am always doing way better than just getting by. In fact the only time I dipped down below just getting by was that time I had two babies crying their heads off with coughs and I had a UTI and I just threw up and I had no food appropriate for the stomach flu. But that only lasted for like an hour because then my relatives swooped in and bailed me out.

All my other ups and downs are fairly minor things like, the bathtub water won't drain, the baby got an ear infection, I offended so-and-so and I feel really bad. All those minor things just show that I have water and drains and ears and doctors and friends and a conscience. Praise God! Life is pretty good.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Comstock Chronicles: The Summer

As I walk down the ramp leading up to the children's school, I smile at every passer-by. I can hardly believe how blessed I am. Five days a week, I get to walk my children to school in the cool of the morning. We pass bungalow and Victorian and Spanish houses along the way. The children ask me to tell them my story, and it's hard not to oblige. Then I hug them goodbye at the front door and they go in hand in hand. What a country we live in that educates our children for "free"! (Yes, I realize it's not free-free.) With a warm heart, I walk Benny home in the quietness after the morning hustle.

The summer proper has come and gone, and it saw a number of momentous events that warrant mentioning. Lee graduated from kindergarten. Benny turned one and began to walk. Grandpa Seelye went to be with Jesus. Kimmi, our studio renter, got engaged and moved out. Brittany, our house-mate moved on to live with her brother in Irvine. We met out-of-state cousins for the first time. The children had their first marina boat ride. Grandma and Grandpa Stevens took Lee and Rose to Disneyland for the first time. Benny met Ed and Barb Dickenson in Monterey. Teri and myself celebrated my mom's birthday at the Huntington gardens for tea. Phil and I celebrated our 12-year-anniversary at Napa Rose at the Disneyland Grand Hotel. Lee got stitches. And we celebrated Phil's 36th birthday. Phew! There was plenty more that happened, but I'll leave it at that.
Cousin Ollie and Lars sun bath with Lee and Rose after splashing around in the pool
Mama Mina's birthday cupcake
Uncle Ed shows Benny his tongue
Kids first Duffy boat ride in the Long Beach Marina
Kids first day of school. Thank Annette White for snapping this.
Napa Rose dessert! No idea what it was. Too fancy to tell.
Miss Brittany's last day with us. She was Benny's favorite.
Mena Chng's rice flour cake with bean paste frosting

Mullet birthday sign designed by Phil
Kimmi let us photograph her apartment for future renter advertising. Cute, isn't it?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Comstock Chronicles: Stitches

I have leveled up past Novice of Newborns, Apprentice of Diaper Blow-Outs, Pupil of Played-With Poop, Sensei of Spit-up, Whiz of Cloth Diapers, Sorcerer of Snot, Adept of Temper Tantrums, and Master of Barf.

I have now completed level 8: Ace of Stitches. Lee unlocked this achievement for me.

It really wasn't very difficult, nor that exciting. In the middle of some complaining related to homework, the man-child tipped over his chair and knocked his head on the tile floor. He gave himself a nice egg with a deep slice to go with it.

I'd like to think the injury taught him a lesson about messing around while doing homework, but his injury produced two lollipops, some Thomas the Tank Engine, a lego set, and donuts. Dang! Those friendly relatives emptied their treasure chests for him.

The doctors were kind and efficient at Urgent Care, and I learned a few things about such injuries. One: I don't have to rush off to Urgent Care right away. Two: Charge my phone's battery before going. Three: bring snacks. Four: I can dump hydrogen peroxide on wounds to clean them.

Still in the midst of level 9: Expert of Attitude. This one seems to be a tricky one. Can't figure out how to get through the canyon with the big trolls and falling boulders.

Lee gets stitched with the eyelet sheet over his face

Stitches are in!
Lee's next day of school
Lee does new lego set, gift of Uncle Jacob

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Ode to a Pink Walker

O Pink Walker,
O Rolley Chair of Danger,
Who supported the bottoms of our children
And taught them to walk,
Very fast,
We who are about to discard you,
Salute you.

You relic of the past
From an era of responsibility and danger,
In you our children ran over our toes
And rammed the bridges of our feet
Even to the point of swearing,
For you do not adhere to codes of safety—
Limiting range of motion
And preventing passage over curbs and steps.
No, in you our children had free range.

From a garage sale, you first came,
To be Lee's transport at the Taylor's.
But for Rose, we took your pinkness home,
So she could glide across our wooden floors,
Lee hitching a ride.
By you, she escaped out the kitchen door
And went down the cement steps,
Bruising black and blue.

Then after four years of dormancy,
Benny races you again
Over rug and kitchen tile.
You are the means for his success
At keeping up with his siblings.
You are the sweet revenge he wields
Stubbing Lee and Rose's toes.
But alas, now Benny can tip himself out
And toddle all on his own.

O Pink Walker,
You have served us well.
You prevented our children from eating marbles off the floor.
And you buffered them from knives on the counter.
But now your era has come to a close.
Your padded backing has disintegrated.
And several wheels are missing.
Your pink seat is ripped and dirty.
And all our children have outgrown you.
For they have learned to walk.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

How People Are Offensive & Believing the Best of Them Anyways

People are offensive. And here's why:

1) People do things differently than me. I like to have a clear workspace; others like to have their items all over the place. I find this annoying, especially if we have to share spaces because, not only do I like my way more, I also think it's better. Sometimes my ways are better; sometimes they aren't.

2) People's words can brush up against my insecurities. For example, I'm not very good at doing my kids' hair consistently or really at all, so if I'm around a parent who starts gushing about the type of gel they buy for their son's hair, I might feel insecure or annoyed or inept. No harm was meant, but I might be offended anyways.

3) People don't meet my expectations. Like I ask them about their day and spend a good amount of time listening to their story, and then they hurry away without inquiring about my day. I am resentful because I was listening with the hope of being listened to. I expected something in return. Maybe the expectation was realistic; maybe it wasn't.

4) People say silly things. Like maybe in their family the middle child is the most dramatic, so they say, "Middle children are drama queens." And I'm offended because I'm a middle child and I rather pride myself at not being dramatic. I'm irked, and not only because I think they're wrong, after all, I wouldn't be irked if someone said that Palm trees were in the succulent family. I'd just think they were ignoramuses. I'm irked because their statement makes a false assumption about me. Likewise, I'm irked when people make false statements about Jesus, the bible, women, and the church.

5) Last of all, sometimes people offend because they are selfish, greedy, vain, jealous, angry, afraid, or hurt, and I am in their line of fire. Like they minimize my experiences because they are inconsiderate, or they belittle me because they feel small themselves. They may have been hurt, so they hurt back. Or they're unhappy with their lot so they insult mine.

When people wrong me, I tend to ask, "Why did they do that?" and then make up a reason, usually one of the motives from that fifth option, and thus, I frequently enter dangerous territory. I play God, acting as judge and pretending I know the intricacies of their heart. I divvy out blame and diagnoses where I think fitting. By doing so, I place myself on a little pedestal of righteousness, which usually serves as a nice barrier against my own deficiencies. "At least I admit my faults. At least I apologize when I hurt others. At least I listen. At least I don't . . . or I do . . ."

"Judgement creates the distance that moves us away from each other. Judgement keeps us in the competitive game and is always self-aggrandizing." (Boyle, 54). "Judgement takes up the room you need for loving." (Boyle, 57)

If I am ever to believe the best of my brothers or sisters, if I'm ever going to be brought alongside them to do life together, if I am ever going to love them, the judgement has got to be replaced by understanding. And I don't mean I must understand why someone hurt me. I shall probably never understand all the intricacies of that. I mean I must understand that I too have done just as much harm as them. They and I are, in fact, the same.

In God's eyes I am equally as wicked as those who offend me. And through Christ's blood, I have been made equally right.

All the harm we have done to one another has cost God the same price—both the violent rapes and the teenage disrespect. Every lie and slanderous word, every slight and flippant look is a laugh in the face of God, a flipping him off, a slapping, a stabbing in the back. It is all the actions of rebels saying, "No! I don't want to live your way!"

God has reason to be offended.

However, when he showed up among us, he didn't throw stones. He, of all people, had every right to assign blame and punish, and instead he demonstrated what it means to believe the best of someone. That is, while we were still sneering at him, he absorbed the wrath of God in his dying body. God was indeed offended by our sins, but Christ has taken the blame for it.

". . . while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His son . . " (Romans 5:10a, ESV)

That is the great equalizer that can bring me into sisterhood with people who snub me or make false assumptions about me or discriminate against me or don't seem to love me well. Instead of withdrawing in hurt, instead of drawing lines and erecting walls or hitting back, I can stand beside them. Yes, even draw them in close. I can let their offenses pass me by because I see those offenses as God sees them. They are offenses against him and not me. And he has paid for them already. All of them: the offenses that are obvious and the ones that I don't even know exist, the ones that hurt many and the ones that seem to hurt no one. Even before they were committed or confessed, God had already said, "My son has paid for that too."

Yes, others can hurt me because I am human, and words and slaps sting, but I needn't write them in my mental score book. I needn't be offended at all.

"The more you take things personally, the more you suffer. You observe it, hold it up to the light, release it, and move on. One can choose to let suffering be the elevator to a heightened place of humble loving" (Boyle, 105).

I cannot love the people who offend me so long as I see them beneath me like moral beggars while I live in the neighborhood of the morally-upright lords. If I cannot say that I am among the worst of these, I shall forever be ignorant of how much my sins have cost God.

I with them. Us. We have cost God his son. And that is how he now calls us good.

"We honor the other and step away from critique. We seek to embrace what Ignatius called 'adoration,' which was principally expressed through reverence. We are reverent, then, for the weight carried by those on the margins and stand present before the wordless goodness of our God in them" (Boyle, 69).

Boyle, Gregory. Barking to the Choir. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2017. Print.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Everyone's Painted Red

I have a tendency to think God is beside me on this side of the "goodness" chasm. I've chosen to believe, and I've walked across the bridge, which is belief in Christ's work on the cross. I've made it to God's side because Christ spanned the chasm between this side and that one. I'm God's friend now. I'm good.

But all those other people, especially the ones I don't like or who cause me to prickle, they're on the other side of the chasm, the "bad" side. I'm looking at them across the gap. And I shout at them. "You should come over here where I am! This is where God is! I'll be happy to tell you how to get here!" And then frequently I give them instructions that have nothing to do with Christ.

But what if this chasm and bridge analogy is good for understanding Christ's work, but not good for understanding our position? What if it's more like God in his mercy has brought all people over to his side of the chasm, that is, the whole world. He brought everyone over through the death of Christ, and now we are all reconciled to God. When God looks at us, he sees everyone through Christ's blood.

"For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." Romans 5:10 ESV

"Therefore, as one trespass lead to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness lead to justification and life for all men." Rm 5:18 ESV

I don't know about you, but those verses sound like God made things right for everyone, not just the chosen. I'm not saying everyone is heaven-bound and saved from a second death. After all, what kind of God forces people to be with him for all eternity? But it does seem like God's blood covers everyone's sins before they even believe. Sure, some continue to say, "No. I'm not reconciled. I'm not covered by Christ's blood. I'm not good enough. I've got to do something. I've got to prove to everyone how good I am."

If everyone has been brought over to the "good" side of the chasm, then when I wish to help someone, I don't have to shout across the chasm at them. Instead, I can put my arm around them and say, "Look! You're already here! Because of Christ's blood, you're good enough already. You don't have to cross that chasm. God has already brought you here. Isn't that great! We're here together. Don't you see?"

This brings me in close to the people that I'd like to separate myself from. They're not over there on that side being naughty. They're right beside me. We're standing together washed in Christ's blood.

Here's another analogy. Let's pretend God requires everyone to be painted red in order to be right with him. So God went out and painted everyone in the world red. Everyone. Some look down and say, "Oh, my God! I'm red! Woohoo! Christ did it!"

Others shut their eyes and say, "Naw! You can't be red. You're the worst of us! And I'm not red either. At least not yet, but I'm going to paint myself red and then I'll show you what red really looks like!"

It's like that parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22 where the king invites guests and they won't come, so he sends more messengers, and some messengers are killed, which I think is supposed to symbolize the Jews killing the prophets and eventually Jesus. So then the king burns the city of the wicked people (the Jews and Jerusalem perhaps?), and orders his servants to gather guests for his banquet from the streets.

"And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad. So the wedding hall was filled with guests." Mat. 22:10

Everyone was admitted to the party!

Then the king at the banquet discovers that some haven't put on proper wedding clothes, which I think could mean that they haven't believed in Jesus, they haven't put him on (Rm 13:14), so they must be thrown out because "many are called, but few are chosen." (Mat 22:14)

When I became a believer, I think I was believing in something that had already been done, not something that would only be done after I said the words. Otherwise, I don't think it makes sense that I could say them. What I mean is I must already be painted red in order for me to believe that I am. It makes no sense to believe I am red and then for the red to appear. That's like this dream I frequently have that I can fly only if I believe it, but if I don't believe it, I fall flat on my face. Anyone else ever have that dream?

Anyways, this could really alter the way someone witnesses. We're not trying to convince others of what their position before God could be, but what it is already.

I think this also coincides with how Grandpa Seelye used to lead people to Christ. He used to read them 1 Peter 2:24 and ask them where their sins were. And if that person could understand English and were relatively cooperative, they'd say on Christ.

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2:24.

An unbeliever says, "No, I'm not!" A believer says, "Yes, I am!"

An unbeliever says, "I gotta do it myself. I gotta prove my goodness." A believer says, "I am already! God did it!"

An unbeliever sees others as a threat to themselves and their own goodness. A believer knows nothing can threaten their goodness, and sees others as good just like themselves.

Yes, I realize some verses seem to contradict this. Not sure about those yet. Will have to think some more . . .

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Our Biggest Challenge Regarding Finances

I think our biggest challenge has been to include God in all areas of our finances not just faith promise or when money gets tight. It’s just too easy to leave him out and believe that we can figure it out on our own. 

I have a tendency to think I can figure it out on my own because I’m an INTJ and good at money management. I’m organized and I know how to operate Quickbooks. God gave me these talents so I could use them. Right? I mean, mature Christians shouldn’t have to bug God about everything.

But I’m learning this is a false view. It makes God out to be a god who helps those who helps themselves or who demonstrates his approval of us through worldly success.

It also assumes some false things about myself: namely that I am able to find out God’s will on my own and that his will will coincide with common sense and being money wise and making a good retirement plan—all good things, but not guaranteed to be God’s way.

Thankfully, God has been in the business of grinding down my small view of him and asking me to drink it so that I can discover how unpalatable it is. I drink it when my house and my plans and my organization is disrupted. Suddenly circumstances force me ask myself, “Is your God big enough for this also?” And so many times, I’ve realized, no. My idea of God was too small. 

I forget that my plans are not his. He is the master planner, the master organizer, the master of cleanliness and maintenance.

He ordered this universe at the beginning of time, separating this from that, giving names, telling the waters where to stop. And when God was teaching the Israelites about himself, he gave very strict instructions on how to maintain a sacred house with some pretty detailed cleaning instructions. And Revelations is full of fascinating number codes, beautiful order and patterns that I don’t even get. God loves order and taking care of things properly.

But he is also a God who put mud in a blind man’s eyes so that he could see.Yeah, that didn’t follow the rules of proper hygiene. That’s because God’s order and rules and plans are not what I think. He uses dirt to open our eyes. We can’t see on our own.

I need everyday to say like David in the Psalms, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord. Teach me your paths.”

I’m learning to do this by talking to him about all those little things that bug me everyday. God, I wanna reupholster the couch. When can we have the money to do that? God, why do we keep running out of spoons? Where do they all go? God, why are we getting charged this $5.50 finance fee. Should I look into this? God, the children are letting the water run down the drive way again. I’m going to kill them.

It’s like we’re learning to drive a race car and we're blindfolded, and there’s a formula one race car driver in the seat next to us. Why wouldn’t we talk to him about everything? He’s not going to be annoyed. He wants this. And we need it. He knows the car. He knows the course. He's driven it before. Perfectly.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

What It's Like To Write A Scene

It takes a fair amount of time to write a scene, and that's not just because I have children that frequently interrupt me. I begin by gathering together my strands just as I would when braiding hair, but these strands are details and there are dozens and dozens of them. I take hold of them all in my mind being sure not to give one more attention than appropriate.

My protagonist is wearing commoner clothes. She is happy to be leaving this foreign town, but she feels that something is unfinished. She feels guilty for the destruction she's caused, but she thinks she's done all she can to make amends. Her broken wrist is healed, but it is crooked. She still has bruises from her cave river episode. She is thinking about what was written in that letter. Her relationship with that woman has suddenly come into new terms. She is grateful to that leader for taking action. etc. etc.

Every character—his or her physical appearance, clothes, attitudes and relationships—must be gathered together before I can sketch out the action. I have a general idea of what I'd like to happen, but I must put my characters into it and see how they do.

Then I leave my computer. I put the scene down, do the dishes, and while I do, I rerun the scene in my mind. I see the characters moving and saying what I've given them to do and say. If I have put words in their mouths, I hear the hollowness of it. If I have forced them to act, I see them as puppets. I see the problems and make a mental note so that I can work out those problems another day.

When I take up the scene again, I gather up my strands and corrections, and rewrite. I work the scene many times over, like dough, to be sure my characters are acting naturally. When I'm confident of that, I then ensure that something new has been revealed. Each scene must draw the reader deeper in or higher up. This is not merely a repeating of what I've already mentioned; this is a time to work in new strands. After all, real people are never the same. They change moment by moment. If I am to make a replica of reality in writing, then my characters must live and change and grow as well.

I ask myself: does that letter compel her to remember scenes from her past that I've not yet mentioned? Does she view these scenes differently now after her cave river episode? Does she hope that her family has changed back home while she's been away? Does she recognize the change in herself?

Only after I've worked through all those bits, do I fill the scene with color. I insert the smell of horses and the taste of flat cakes. I paint the mountain-tops pink in the morning light and sound the town bell as they ride out.

A scene is created. And I gather up my strands for the next. Frequently after I written a number of scenes, I realize one of the strands I've been using won't work and have to go back and change that bit from the beginning.

Perhaps now, you'll see the great significance that I see in Paul calling Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. Jesus has written each moment. He has woven all the details together. There is a masterful arranging in every scene in his story. Every little detail pulls the characters further in and further up. And there are no mistakes in his writing. He doesn't have to go back and change something. He knows where every little incident will lead. There are no insignificant scenes or events. It is all adding to the color and sound and sights of the story. There is a building up of events. The story is gaining momentum. New aspects of each character are coming out. Every moment is holy. Every moment is sacred.

"Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me
When as of yet there was not one of them." Psalm 139:16 NASB

"You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?" Psalm 56:8 NASB

"Then I said, 'Behold I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.'" Psalm 40:7-8 NASB

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Can't Mess This Up

A streak of perfectionism:
An inability decide
For fear of choosing less than the best
And messing things up.
Feeling the weight of responsibility
For an outcome that may be unpleasant
Or undesirable to others
Resulting in criticism and disapproval.

A streak of perfectionism:
Says, "Get this right,
Because so much depends on it.
Your likability depends on it."
But that is not how God measures.

Don't you know? Haven't you heard?
Your choosing and its effects
Have been brought under a new policy.
The power of choice
Abused in the garden
Has been ironed out through
The policy of the cross.
Now no faulty choice or impulsive decision—
Not David's adultery
Or Gideon's fear
Not Paul's approved murders
Or Peter's denial—
Can ruin this masterpiece,
Can derail the plans,
Can sully your reputation,
Can bring down God's disappointment upon you.

Don't you understand?
You can't mess this up.
Though your sins are as scarlet
He has made them as white as snow.
Those results, those people, those words,
There is nothing to which God says,
"Now you've done it!"
Or "That's what you get!"

No. He says, "That too I died for.
That too, I've made right.
You are good.
All your choices are good
Because I have made them right.
You can never mess this up."

So have no fear in the choosing
The way has been made straight.
It is not strewn with trip wire
Of tricks and tests
Of condemnation and blame.
No, it is the way of beauty
And goodness and truth.

So fear no results
Fear no disapproval.
It will be good.
God said so.
You can't mess this up.
Do you believe Him?
Do you trust Him?

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Many Ways We Say It

"His arms spread wide where mine should be . . ."
-"Red Letters" by David Crowder

"Then like a hero that takes the stage
when we're on the edge of our seats saying it's too late . . ."
-"Flawless" by MercyMe

"Took the blame, bore the wrath—"
-"The Power of the Cross" by Keith and Kristyn Getty

"His final breath upon the cross
Is now alive in me."
-"Resurrecting" by Resurrection Worship

"To look on him and pardon me."
-"Before the Throne of God Above" by Charite Bancroft and Vikki Cook

"If you wanna know how far my love can go,
Just how deep
Just how wide,
If you wanna see how much you mean to me,
Look at my hands
Look at my side."
-"Drops in the Ocean" by Hawk Nelson

"And as you speak
A hundred different failures disappear
Where you lost your life so I could find it here."
-"So Will I (100 Billion X)  by Hillsong United

"On the cross He sealed my pardon
Paid the debt, and made me free."

-"I Will Sing of My Redeemer"  by Philip Bliss

"You bore the wrath reserved for me."

-"All I Have is Christ" by Jordan Kauflin

"The work was done with nothing but
wood and nails on Your scar-borne hands."

-"Wood and Nails" by The Porter's Gate Worship Project

"Heir of salvation purchase of God
Born of His Spirit washed in His blood"

-"Blessed Assurance" by Fanny Crosby

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

-2 Corinthians 5:21 by Paul the Apostle

Comstock Chronicles: The Green Monster of Envy

It went something like this.

Rose came down with a fever the afternoon that Mama Mina, Lee, and Rose were see Joseph and Technicolored Dream Coat. So Rose was left behind while Lee went. There were lot of tears and bemoaning the lovely time she was missing. Nevertheless, we attempted to have a good time ourselves by making a fairy garden in a shoe box. It had a glitter-covered T.P. roll as a lighthouse and a play-dough whale in a sea of shiny blue rocks.

Two days later Grandma Stevens offered to take the kids to see the same production. It seemed only fair that Rose have a turn while Lee stayed behind this time. Her trip included an afternoon at the Stevens and an over-nighter. Obviously, when Lee discovered this, he declared that he wanted to have his own private sleep-over in the future too!

We made a fairy garden with Lee this time, hot-glueing sticks to an empty paint tub and for an ocean, we smashed up old pieces of a blue plate, which oddly-enough was one of the plates we got for our wedding and had long since been broken and used to block up the holes of terra-cotta pots. Lee had declared that he wanted to paint his hut rainbow colors, but he ended up mixing all his colors together and painting parts of his hut black. Oh yes, there was also a bloody whale in the ocean.

The next morning I attempted to clean the studio because we have new tenants moving in at the end of the month. Having done this many times while watching children, I set my sights low and decided that dusting the upstairs was a good goal for the morning. As I was gathering rags, a step ladder, Simple Green, and screwdriver, I told Lee to take a few of his own toys into the upstairs to keep him occupied. When he didn't return I went to investigate. There was a loud banging sound coming from inside, and I soon discovered the boy rapping on the spiral staircase railing with the stick end of the feather duster. He looked surprised to see me.

"I'm trying to get my lego out," he said.

"Where is it?" I asked.

He pointed at the hollow railing where he'd popped the cap off and sent his lego man down the largest tubular slide ever invented for a miniature man.

"Well, it's gone now," I said, and then we spent a few seconds frantically searching for the railing's cap because he hadn't any idea where he'd put it.

After plugging up the outlets and bringing over my computer for music, I brought the boys over. Benny stuck his hand in my scaling hot tea while I opened the door. The cleaning lasted no more than thirty minutes, and included Benny unwinding a roll of toilet paper and eating some. He also unrolled the roll of paper towels and crumbled them.

Lee kept attempting to climb things, the closet drawers, the spiral staircase gate, the counters—doing anything but play with the legos he'd brought. You'd be surprised how many climbing surfaces there are in a completely empty room. At one point Benny discovered that by opening and shutting the bathroom cabinet doors, he could create a pleasing and loud banging sound, which he enjoyed until I thought that perhaps this was the adjacent tenants' day off.

I decided to work until I'd finished drinking my favorite tea, which ended up being earlier than I expected because Benny managed to get ahold of my cup again and spill it across the bathroom magazine rack and floor. Thankfully, it wasn't hot anymore. We left the studio looking rather less clean that we'd found it, but I did manage to dust all the surfaces above waist height.

There were errands to run next on our way to pick up Rose. Lee and I enjoyed browsing the aisles of Daiso and the fish market before we picked out some delicious-looking pastries at 85°, which ended up tasting less than delicious.

At the Stevens' house, Rose ran out in a new blue dress. She'd had a lovely time. She'd got a bag of new fancy dresses and a new dolly with long braided hair that she'd named Rebekah. She'd had a bag of M&M's and a new magic wand with a glittery heart.

The green monster of envy was at work in no time at all. And after Lee broke Rose's wand, albeit supposedly on accident, he was decidedly too smug and gleeful to join in our company. Only after a sit-and-think outside with Grandpa Stevens did he decide to apologize in the right spirit. Then he was determined to squeeze as much juice out of his short visit with Grandma and Grandpa Stevens by inquiring what he might have: a silver half-dollar, some action figures, a candy?

I was thoroughly disgusted with my children's greediness by the time we left, and they were no more content at receiving their gifts. In fact, they were down-right hostile to each other. I made my visions of a future involving spankings and prolonged solitary confinement quite clear to them, and they straightened up for the drive home during which Lee lost his silver half-dollar down the crack of the car seat, and I asked Rose about how she liked spending the night by herself. She said she was afraid and she'd wanted to have Lee there with her because of the monsters under the bed. Lee then declared that he wasn't afraid of anything. Rose then wanted to know if Lee's fairy garden was better than her own.

Apparently it was because when we got home and while Lee went tearing the car apart to find his coin, Rose barricaded herself in her closet crying because she said her fairy garden was dirty (i.e. we had used sand to create a seashore). She went to dump out the sand and tear up the rocks that she'd glued on.

At lunch I declared that there'd been a lot of complaining about having different experiences when they'd both had lovely times away from each other. I required them to both name five nice things about their times away from each other and then tell one another, "Wow, sounds like you had a nice time!"

Naturally, before any of this could happen, Benny, who'd been rocking his high chair inches closer to the table, happened at this moment to encounter the corner of the table with his head. Cries drowned out a number of the bigger kids lists of blessings, but I managed to quiet Benny down by the time they turned to each other and said giggling, "Wow! Sounds like you had a nice time."

And so now it's my turn.
1) Benny had a full day to spend with just his big brother.
2) We have a new tenant lined up to move in at the end of the month.
3) There were leftovers in the fridge for lunch.
4) I enjoyed examining the live shrimp at the fish market.
5) I got to drink half a cup of my favorite tea this morning.