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Showing posts from 2011

Story-writing and Providence

As I keep working on a long story with friends this summer, I have discovered that one of the chief things I try to do to characters is to break them. I am continually throwing them into very difficult situations, and forcing them to meet and get to know other characters who they can't stand, and generally making their lives miserable.

Why do I do this?

It's not just because I'm sadistic and enjoy driving my co-writers insane (although I do sometimes enjoy that too...) but it's because that is really the only way in which the story works. Characters, even ones that I designed, do not typically want to do what they should. If I leave them where they're comfortable, they never go anywhere. A lot of them would never interact, and there would be very little depth or richness to the story. They grow through the things I force them into.

Breaking reveals what they are made of.

Over and over, I keep pushing them until I find their flaws, burning that out of them, a…

End of Summer

I've been busy with countdowns recently.

One more day of work.

In two days, I'll be at a wedding reception for two of my dear friends. We've known each other since we were in highschool. It's crazy -- and pretty exciting.

In two days I'll be flying to Massachusetts.

In a week I'll be 21.

In less than two weeks, my next-oldest-sister will be coming to college to start her freshman year.

In less than a month, I'll be in China.

There are other countdowns, like the people I wanted to say goodbye to, wanted to spend time with, before I head home and then across the world. Or, more accurately, the people I don't want to say goodbye to.

And there are the counting-up lists. It's been a good summer.

Days spend in sunshine and dinners with the Wrights and Joanna, full of laughter, weekends with the Kennedys, who kept bringing me home... all summer... the guys in the grounds garage and the tennis balls flying back and forth; lots of Madeleine L'Engle; trees…

It's a Wonderful Life

...I think about examples, how you act and what you dare
'Cause you never know who's watching or how far the story goes...
[Heather Dale -- One of Us]

Maybe it's inevitable that I resonated with those words, me being a child who grew up watching It's a Wonderful Life every year around Christmas time, learning my whole life that what you do affects others in ways you can't know.

I still think it would be nice to know, sometimes.

What's striking me is that there are people who I know have changed my life unconsciously. What do you say to them? Hi, you don't know me, but I'm so glad that you did what you did?

They didn't do it for me, they just did it because... that's who they are. It's who God made them to be. But sometimes I think about my life and how it ties in with the lives of those around me, and I think,

The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.
[Psalm 16:6]

The particular example that brought th…

Purpose, Prosperity, and a Pilgrim Heart

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This weekend I was given the amazing opportunity to go to a conference in DC, hosted by AEI, called "Purpose & Prosperity: Exploring the Confluence of Faith, Economics, and Public Policy". Sounds like some pretty heady stuff, doesn't it?
I felt rather like Odysseus.
I walked into the conference and was overwhelmed by the affluence of it. AEI is well-funded, and they didn't skimp in hosting us, a bunch of college students. I could get used to this all too easily, to living in a world that is polished and professional. I could get used to a job where you get to look at the intricate puzzle of public policies and research the issues that drive these things, because I love mental puzzles a lot.
But I felt a little bit like I was listening to the sirens' song.
This isn't the world I come from, this world of metro tickets and business casual and a room full of predominantly white college students. Where I come from, my siblings and I look nothing alike, a …

Broken Stories and the Goodness of God

All I know is the broken.
That's all that makes sense to me.
It's not a pleasant thought, but there it is. And along with that thought come the words of the Mumford & Sons song Roll Away Your Stone.
Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see.
I realize this when I get quiet enough and still enough to look inside my own soul.
I'm realizing it again as I work on writing stories, pushing at new characters to see how they respond, digging deep into backstories to find what makes them how they are. I like writing stories; it helps me understand the real world around me better.
But I don't like what I find as I search for deeper connections, for motives and stories. I knew good characters are broken at points, but they are broken all the way back, and the further I go, the more there is deeply wrong with them.
Because it's what makes sense.
I don't like finding these things about my characters. It's bad enough that they&#…

Weeds, sin, and hope

Pulling weeds tends to make me philosophical, because there is not a whole lot else going on. That means that I have an abundance of time to be philosophical this summer, as my full time job consists mostly of pulling weeds.
One thing that I tend to think about a lot with weeds is how they're like sin, how pulling them is like sanctification. So here are some thoughts for the week.
It leaves you far more sore and exhausted than you think you should be.
Especially for the first two or three days, I hurt all over. It was awful. I got back to the house where I was staying, went into the bedroom, and fell asleep on the floor for, oh, a good hour. And I felt absurd about it... I mean, all that I did all day was pull little plants out of the ground. It doesn't sound like it should be that hard.
I think I tend to do that with sin too. It can't be that hard to not be selfish. It can't be that exhausting to hold your tongue.
Yes it can.
The little weeds are often the wors…

And the class of 2011 graduates...

They have been here as long as I have been here, and so I do not know what to say.
I can't yet imagine it without them.
I've had friends in other classes who graduated, but the class graduating tomorrow morning -- the class one year ahead of mine -- is the class full of people who mentored me. The ones who were just out of the awkwardness of everything being new when I came in and everything was new for me. I was a mess of eager confidence energy and a lot more cluelessness than I realized, and they were gracious enough to not let onto it for the most part.
So tomorrow I am going back and I will watch them graduate. And I am proud of them, because I know the work they have put in. I've spent three years watching these people, and learning from them how to do things, and I am delighted to get to see the beginning of the next piece of their lives, this stepping over the threshold. But also sad.
I will miss them.
I will miss the laughter and the familiarity, the having some…

Tangles in the Weaving

It's hard to wrap my head around, to know how to feel.
January 24th, Monday, and I was checking my email before going to Dag, and found the breath knocked out of me as I read words on my screen. No, this doesn't happen. Not to people I know. Not to students in the class I TAed. Not here. How do you lose a person? Where could he be? What was going on in his head? Was he okay? The questions seemed to stretch endless.
And the time between then and now seemed endless in some ways too. At first it cuts through everything. We lost someone. There is the oddness of waking up thinking about it, of walking down the sidewalk and wondering when you'll see him next, of seeing that no one is sitting at that particular table in the library. A lot of searches on google.
And then, eventually, there is nothing, and there continued to be nothing. The prayers continue, but so does the rest of life. Searches continue, and classes do too. Winter gradually gives way to spring, and t…

Plans

I'm going to China, I keep saying.
It's funny to me how these things happen, words becoming truth, from the first time last year when I picked up a brochure, thinking that it would be interesting to study in China.
And I am excited, very very much so, and also a little nervous.
Everyone wants to know, Do you know anyone else going?
I say, No; I've learned to make it a half-joke. It'll be like being a freshman again. But I know that it won't be like being a freshman, because I know a lot more about a lot of things than I did then -- about the people around me, about the world, about the things I've studied, and probably most of all, about myself, about who I am. About how I am ever and always caught in the hand of God.
So that is a plan.
And at the same time, I think about what classes I will need to take the semester after, to finish all of my requirements and graduate. Between hearing her memories of Rome and whatever else we feel like talking about, my fr…

From the End of the Earth

Part of my job as a counselor last summer at camp was leading devotional times for the cabin. Some weeks we spent a lot of time tailor-fitting them to the girls' needs; sometimes they were more generic.
One of my favorites that I did with maybe few cabins was based on Psalm 61. If I remember correctly, we focused on the first three verses or so.
Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.
We were focused on prayer, and these verses are hauntingly rich in what they teach about how we can pray.
What is the man who wrote this doing? Praying.
How does he feel about his prayer? It's a cry...
Where does he feel like he's talking to God from? The end of the earth!
Does he feel close to God at all? No!
So he feels like God is really really far away... but what's he doing? He's praying.
He's praying! It still ge…

Lessons Exquisitely Crafted

We're a little more than a year away from graduation, two girls -- women, although it's hard to feel like I fit into that word -- riding in a car on a day when the sky above is startlingly blue, with no cloud anywhere to be seen. And we talk.
There are a lot of things, we both say, that we wish someone had told us before we came to college. We're discussing what our plans are for the summer, what we'll do after we graduate. The conversation wanders all over the place as we drive back to campus from church.
But we wouldn't have known how to listen to it before college, we say. We're trying to make sense of the world we'll be graduating into, and our options. More school? Finding a job? The weight that we should put on what our parents want? What is with the whole idea of "calling"? Willingness to take jobs that are more humble than what we've trained for?
At some point, the choices we make really do have consequences and affect the rest…

Spring Break Report

I rub at my wrist, water washing away the words that have been inked there for the last week.
Overcome evil with good.
Words from Romans 12:21, from the Newsboys' song Elle G.
Good words for a missions trip that is all concrete vision, working to see the kingdom of God come and invade a ghost-steel-town, a drug capital.
So we spend days filling wheelbarrows from a heap of rubble and then filling Gabion baskets with that rubble. That way, when the river floods, it won't cut through the homes of the people who live in the trailer park. We get to know some of those people too -- Chuck, Kelly, Tim, Ed, Brenda, Dick. I spent one day there last year, but there were no faces for me then; I hadn't knocked on their doors, played with their dogs, had picnics of sandwiches and cookies, been offered dry shoes.
We spend other days and evenings working in the cafe, the small colorful space that offers safety on the main street of a town that people used to fear. And in the evening, the ta…

Mark 5

I didn't just fall before him.
I flung myself at his feet, landed awkwardly, face uncomfortably close to all the dirt.
And we talk about it now, me sitting on a very squishy couch, listening to John's Australian accent, wrapped in the warm smell of coffee.
Isn't that how it works -- you don't really choose to fall, you have no option but to throw yourself at His feet and trust Him?
I hadn't thought about it that way before.
And I say, I wouldn't have done this two years ago; I had to learn to trust you. He nods. I had to learn that this was a safe space, that all the talk of listening is much more than just talk. We acted out the story of Mark 5, of Jairus coming to Jesus about his daughter and of the other daughter who came to Jesus for healing, throwing herself in desperation at His feet. This was my third time to do it, and this was the year that I said, I want to be the woman. I'm learning my need to throw myself at the feet of Jesus.
In our debrief ri…

Spring Break -- for the third time!

I'm getting ready to go on an adventure again. It's the beginning of spring break.
And I'm going back to the same city where I've spent my last two spring breaks, and my heart is gasping with anticipation and excitement, and also feeling very vulnerable. Both other years were astonishingly raw and shattered me into a million pieces, dissolving pieces of facades that I or someone else had built up. So I am a little bit tentative going into this year.
Yet mostly I'm excited. Waiting to see what He has planned for this year.
And there is, it seems, no limit to all the things I remember and look forward to. It's my third time, and this will be the fourth year of the trip. Which means that after this trip, I'll be tied for seniority with those who have gone the most times, and that's fun for some reason.
It's a different trip every year, as we work on different things and the group changes. My first year there were three who had gone before, last …