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

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

From Death to Life

I've avoided working on my book the past couple weeks. Yesterday, I realized the reason I was avoiding it was not because I was blocked (I knew what I wanted to write next). It was because one of my characters was about to experience a death. It was a death I've planned since the beginning of the trilogy, but I didn't want this character's story to end. Just like I don't want a lot of real life stories to end. I've experienced a lot of small deaths lately: death of dreams, death of friendships, death of hopes for the future. I couldn't handle another death! Even if it was fictional. This was a very powerful moment of art mirroring life. It was a very powerful moment of my character becoming a real friend that I am going to have to say goodbye to. I. Just. Can't. Say. Goodbye. Yet. 😔 I shared my real-life, fictional experience with a friend. She asked, "Why can't you just not include the death?" But just like real life, the death has to happen to make way for something else. Without the death, the trajectory of the plot can't continue. There is great life on the other side of the death, but the death must happen first. Just. Like. Real. Life.

Photo by Trent Erwin

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Joe's


I knew it was going to happen. I knew there was going to be a moment when I suddenly realized I’d moved to the other side of the country and there was no going back. But I didn’t expect that moment to happen the first night I arrived in LA. I did not expect to be sitting cross-legged on the cement ground of a park somewhere, sobbing on the phone to my best friend and my sister, hyperventilating as they tried to calm me down.
As I sobbed and sobbed and tried to grasp any leftover, coherent thoughts—all of which seemed to have disappeared in the last two hours I’d been driving in the glorious reality of LA traffic—several homeless people passed by. They seemed to shrug and say, “Well, at least my life isn’t that bad.”
Eventually I got up off the ground and went in search of food. I wandered into a restaurant called Mateo’s. I almost fled when I saw how empty it was. Fading into anonymous obscurity would be difficult to achieve in this quiet little bar with dark paneling, leather seats, and Sinatra’s singing voice wafting about. But I was too tired to try to find someplace else. I took a seat at the bar, and after staring at the menu for what must have seemed too long, the bar tender said I looked like I could use some red wine.
            How did he know that’s what I was about to order? Or would have ordered eventually, once I’d taken a nap—I was so, so tired.
            After a while, I noticed a small gathering of people at the other end of the bar. The one who stood out was a man with a very elaborate mohawk. mohawks are hard to pull off no matter how old you are, but this gentleman was close to seventy. And he was wearing his mohawk proudly. He said to his friends, “Joe likes my mohawk. Don’t you Joe?”
            “You’re a dumbass, Dot,” Joe the bartender replied.
            “Joe, you should try a mohawk,” said the older women beside Dot (Mary Jane, I later learned). “You’ve got great hair for your age.”
            Joe really did have great hair. He was also probably in his seventies and had a thick and puffy head of gray.
            A few other people wandered into the bar. They greeted Joe by name and took their seats. He immediately supplied them with drinks before they ordered anything and they each ordered food without looking at a menu. What I began to notice, as my fuzzy brain became less congested with the help of food and wine, was that ever person at the bar was over sixty. They were also on first-name basis with the bartender—and each other.
            A man who had come in after I arrived introduced himself as Eric. “We’re like that TV show—Cheers, I think it’s called. Only the old-people version.”
            I’ve never seen Cheers but I nodded and smiled like I had.
            We watched the Dodgers game together. The bar closed down around us, but none of Joe’s patrons made any sign of leaving, so I stayed, too. It was way past closing time when we all pealed ourselves off the barstools and headed for the door, saying, “See you later,” to Joe, who waved a disgruntled dishcloth in our direction as he cleaned up the remaining wine glasses.
            On the sidewalk outside of Mateo’s, I told Dot I liked his mohawk. “It’s taken me four years to get it this way,” he told me. Then he walked up beside me and looked deliberately down both sides of the street. “I’m going to make sure you get across the street okay,” he said.
            I went back to Mateo’s the following Tuesday. Tuesdays and Fridays are the nights the Cheers club gathers to poke fun at Joe while he takes care of them, knowing what they want before they ask and religiously filling their water glasses as they drink way too much.
            In a city where loneliness is an epidemic; these seasoned residents have found a place of connection. And during one of the loneliest moment of my life, I happened to walk in on their oasis. 

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sophia’s Last Ride

 From Alabama, to Mexico, to St. Louis, to D.C., Sophia has carried me on many an adventure. Her life has been long and her courage has sustained me through unthinkable battles with dragons and other dangerous creatures.

On Sunday, October 1st 2017, we will embark on our last adventure together. If all goes well, Sophia will carry my to her final destination—the place she will eventually find peace in a junkyard somewhere, when her heart finally sputters its last dying fumes.

Los Angeles.

When I accepted a job in LA, I considered retiring Sophia before making the trek from one side of the continent to the other. But circumstances called for us to enter this last battle together. So I’ll be driving Sophia, with all of her hard-earned scars, to sunny California.

Will she survive?

Ah, that is what makes this next adventure the most exciting of all. There is no guarantee that she will come through this encounter unscathed. This final journey could end with her in flames in the middle of the desert as I call roadside assistance from a cell phone I can only hope will have service.

So join us on our adventure by following Sophia’s journey on my Instragram @katherinespearing I will be announcing the times I will Instagram Live, where I’ll show you our current location and give you an inside peek into Sophia’s long life.

This is also a call for recommendations of podcasts and music to listen to. Use #sophiaslastride or comment on photos to give me your ideas.

Follow us on our last journey together and find out if Sophia makes it.





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