Friday, January 5, 2018

Diary of a No Netflix January


Day 1
I feel like I want to start the year out intentionally praying for something.
I’ve done this before and usually fasted from something at the same time.
I’ve taken a break from alcohol and Instagram in the past.
I guess I could do that again?
What should I pray about?
Maybe I should pray about what I should pray about…

Day 2
What should I fast from while I’m intentionally praying?
What’s something I really enjoy doing but don’t really need?
Netflix.
Nooooooo! Not Netflix!
Okay, the very fact that I had THAT reaction means I should probably give up Netflix.
Any other ideas, God? God?
Okay, Netflix it is.

Day 3
I am really sad and missing all my friends after Christmas and New Years.
This is the time I usually turn on a Fuller House episode to make me laugh.
And to distract me from my depressed and lonely feelings.
Gah. I really just want to not feel this way.
The fastest escape is a funny TV show.
This no Netflix thing totally sucks.

Day 4
Wow. Awareness of one coping mechanism is making me aware of all my other coping mechanism: TV, yoga, exercise, coffee, good food, texting friends, writing, journaling.
All beautiful, wonderful things that are extremely easy to pop into the moment an uncomfortable feeling surfaces.
All beautiful, wonderful things that most people (including myself) would put in the “self-care” category.
The trouble is, they are totally non-damaging, self-care techniques and beautiful gifts from God.
Trying to figure out what the problem is, here. Is there a problem?

Day 5
Meditated on Psalm 4 today.
Mainly, “The Lord hears when I call to him” and “for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Read the Jesus Storybook Bible today.
“God knew his children could never be happy without him.”

---

No Netflix January. To be clear, the purpose is not shaming or punishing myself for enjoying entertainment. The purpose is to clear out some clutter so I’m less distracted while listening for God’s voice. In the Bible, prayer always accompanies fasting, because it’s not about giving something up. It’s about getting something better.

2017 was a very momentous, but very difficult year. I’m still reeling from it. I’m entering 2018 hyper-aware that I really can’t do this life without my Jesus. I’m giving up my go-to entertainment so I can spend some more intentional time talking to him.

I miss Netflix. But Jesus time is really, really great.



Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Great Storyteller and the Hope He Whispers


I’m pursing getting a book published. It’s the first installment of a trilogy. While I’ve been seeking representation by an agent for book one, I’ve been writing book two. I finished the first draft last night.
            Book two is dark. Very dark. Full of sadness and pain and fear. Yet even as the book is full or sorrow, there’s a very powerful thread of hope. In fact, I think I’d go as far to say the theme of the entire story is hope.
            I started writing the manuscript in March of this year. Now, the plan for this book was already in place years ago. I had most of the story plotted out before I started writing. But even with the planned plot, I’m not sure I planned on the story containing quite so much sadness.
            In March of this year, I was in the middle of a very sad—very hopeless—season of life. It made sense that my own pain would go into my writing. Yet I made a conscious effort of maintaining some distance between my own sorrow and the sorrows of my characters. The reader needs to experience the pain of the characters, not my own personal pain.
            With this intentional distance, I was also able to see this subtle thread of hope. It was like a friendly mist floating nearby—just along for the ride, you might say. As the creator of the story, I couldn’t avoid this thread of hope, because I know how the story ends.
            As dark and stormy as the story is, the foundation of confidence is always there, because the creator knows how the story ends, even if the reader and the characters don’t.

            Last night, when I typed the final sentence, I had a God-like sensation and whispered, “It is good” as I saved my creation to a thumb drive.
            And I wonder, does God feel that way about my story? As I lived a season full of hours spent on the floor of my room, sobbing and punching a pillow and feeling the kind of despair that causes you to wonder if life is really worth living, was God whispering, Just wait? Was he dancing giddily because he knew where my story was leading?
            I wonder this in my present season, where I’m experiencing some happy endings to some of the sad stories. I chuckle a little when I think of the despair I felt recently. I wonder if God was saying, “Just wait ‘till you see what’s on the other side of this.” 

            But what about when we don’t get a happy ending? What if the despair doesn’t just last for a year or two? What if the despair is dragging on for dozens and dozens of years? What if we’ve reached a place where hoping hurts worse than giving up, so we stopped praying ages ago.
            There were people in the land of Israel who’d given up hope a Messiah would come. After 400 years of silence, why keep praying?
            Then the Messiah finally came, and those who recognized who he was were baffled when he didn’t perform according to their expectations.
            Then he died.
            What the heck, God?
           
            Where is hope in the “what the heck, God?” moments? It’s a question we will ask ourselves until the final battle when ultimate hope is restored and all sad things disappear.
            In our personal stories, we’re left hanging a little, because none of us have reached the end yet. Even in the happiest of fairytales with the happiest of endings, there’s still a little bit of unsettled incompleteness. Even if the story has ended on the pages, the characters still live on, and we wonder what became of them after the prince was restored to his throne.  

            Ceasing to pray that circumstances will change, doesn’t mean we’ve given up hope in the Great Storyteller. If we reach a place where we just can’t stand to shed any more tears over something, it doesn’t mean we no longer believe in God’s goodness and power.
            He knows who he has created. He knows we are weak and frail.
            Which is why I think he gives us hope in smaller ways. Which is why, maybe we can’t see hope in one place, but we can see hope in another. The little hope is a whisper of our Creator, telling us to just wait.

God sent angels to sing to some shepherds and tell them his Son had been born. It was like he couldn’t wait to tell them what happens next.

            Back in the dark days a few months ago, I asked God for just a little bit of hope every day. Occasionally it was something small, like a really good cup of coffee. When I looked for that little bit of hope, suddenly I started seeing it everywhere.

            But even without the little hope: all the hope we will ever need, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and born in a barn over 2,000 years ago.
            And someday, he's coming back for us. 
           
 Photo by Jon Tyson 

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Irrational Tale of Les Misérables and a Prince Who was Born with the Cows

One of the most heartbreaking, gripping, and inspiring story of all time is the story of Les Misérables. Last night, I was listening to the 10th anniversary soundtrack on my way home from work and was so engrossed that I passed my street and didn’t realize it until I entered an unfamiliar part of the neighborhood.
            The character Javert has always stirred my heart, often bringing tears of sorrow. The song Stars is such a powerful and sobering musical creation. It expresses his purpose in life: finding all of his power and meaning in keeping the law and punishing those who break it.
            But he’s so blind. He’s so deeply rooted in the law that when he experiences grace at the hand of the criminal he’s been chasing for over 20 years, it shatters his entire worldview. His entire reason for existences is stripped away. He’s so completely broken that he can no longer go on living. His story ends tragically when he takes his own life.
            The criminal, Val Jean, says these words to Javert at their final meeting:

You are wrong and always have been wrong. I’m a man, no worse than any man.

            It was a long and difficult road for Val Jean, but these words reveal that this criminal has somehow come to understand the grace he has received. At the beginning of the story, when Val Jean is released from prison, he says bitterly:

I know the meaning of those 19 years a slave of the law.

            He’s tasted the sting of the law and came to hate it. He has yet to face the brutal reality of his own sinfulness. It’s only when he’s caught stealing from the only person who’s helped him that he begins to realize how dirty and underserving of mercy he really is.
            It isn’t until years later, when Val Jean is willing to put his own life at risk to rescue the man his adopted daughter loves, that he understands the love of God and is able to show mercy to Javert when he is given the opportunity to end Javert’s life and bring his years of living as a fugitive to an end.
            But Val Jean has tasted God’s grace. He has seen the bitter results of his own hate. He would rather live imprisoned by the law and free in grace before a loving and merciful heavenly father, than physically free and breaking God’s law by murdering Javert.
            Both men keep the law. One does so out of love. One does so out of self-righteous hate.

            We all have criminals in our lives. We’re Javert chasing a fugitive or Val Jean running from his past. Maybe we’re both. The ability to receive and extend grace isn’t something we can conjure up with our own efforts. It breaks into our lives the way it broke into Val Jean’s when he was facing a death sentence but a humble priest rescued him—by telling a lie.
            This story is irrational, but so is the story of a virgin with a supernatural pregnancy. It doesn’t make sense that the prince of the universe would be born in a barn to parents who lived below the poverty line.
            This Christmas season, let’s look around at the stories that don’t make sense. Let’s acknowledge the irrational and illogical relationships. Let’s take a break from chasing our fugitives or running from our crimes. Let’s praise God for an inexplicable grace that breaks stony hearts and shatters worldviews.
            And just for kicks, listen to the Les Misérables soundtrack or add the 2012 film to your Christmas movie watch list.


Years ago, I did a Christmas blog series on Les Misérables. You can start reading it here.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dear Grammie (Repost from 2010)



 I had such a strong woman as a grandmother. Her 15 year battle with cancer ended on November 11th, 2009. Very grateful I got to have a relationship with her and that I will see her again someday. The following is a letter I wrote to her one year after she died. 

Dear Grammie,
  Tonight we had Mandarin Orange Cream Cake in honor of you. We tried to eat the whole thing in memory of your sweet tooth, but that didn’t quite happen. Grandpa came and so did Uncle Dan. It was mostly laughter with a few intermittent comments about the disastrous state of our country made cordially by Grandpa.
  One year ago, today, November 11th, you left us and went away to heaven (an event I will forever envy you--at least until the day I get to do the same).
  A lot has happened since the day you left. Your great-granddaughter Sophia was born; Matthew got engaged (he’s getting married next weekend); and of course, the most momentous occasion of all, Uncle Dan met Millie, the woman we’ve all been waiting to meet for a really long time.
  I wish you could be here to celebrate all these things with us. It’s times like these that I wonder if you wish you could be here, too. Or, is heaven so amazing that you don’t mind missing two weddings and a birth? Is being with Jesus so satisfying that your family melts away to a distant memory and no thought of remorse ever fills your heart?
  I won’t be upset if this is true. I don’t think heaven would be heaven or Jesus, Jesus if it weren’t. When I think about you, I always think about heaven. It must be a place of safety and relief. How could it be anything but those things?
  Often I miss you and wish you could be here so I could ask your advice. But then I remember that you were never too keen on giving advice. You never wanted to tell someone what they should do. I could never figure out if this was because you didn’t feel confident that your advice would be helpful or because you wanted the other person to figure it out for themselves. It was probably a mixture of both. Either way, there have been several times in the past year that something has come up and the only person I want to tell is you. But you’re not here. So I usually choose to tell no one. God has yet to replace your presence in my life. There is left a small gap in the way things used to be. I wonder if every time I lose someone if that gap is just going to grow bigger. I wonder if those holes never mend.
  One thing I am grateful for in being in a family of girls, is that emotions are accepted. Tears for you are shed freely, even one year after you left. For me those tears are a mixture of sadness and joy. Sadness because you’ll miss so much of the lives we still have left to live and joy because you are safe and healthy. Forever. Nothing can remove you from that safety or take away your health.
  In Sunday School, we were studying Pilgrims Progress. We reached the end of the first book when Christian finally reaches the Celestial City. Our conversation, understandably, turned to a discussion of death and how we would spend our last days. The pastor who was leading our class said that he often asks elderly people if there is something they wish they could have done differently in their lives. A common answer he receives is that they wish they would have risked more.
  I know you risked a lot in your life without really choosing to risk. I hope you were satisfied with your risks when you reached the Celestial City.
  All in all, I am encouraged to risk more in my life. Not cliff jumping and sky diving risks, but risks with experiences and career moves and risks with relationships. Lately I realize, living life motivated by a desire to avoid mistakes is one of the greatest mistakes of all.
  The Celestial City may seem far away for me. But when I put its distance on the timeline of eternity, its gates are just a few steps away.
 So for now, there are things to be done and people to love.
 I’ll see you soon,
 Katie Girl