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On Encouragement…Again.

Posted by on Apr 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

A few weeks ago I had a series of interviews for a possible job, and I was fairly exhausted when I arrived home. So I had two cups of coffee and realized I would not sleep until 2 AM, which meant saying goodnight to my wife and spending the late hours writing alone on the couch in another part of the house, as a sort of self-imposed exile so the glow of the Mac wouldn’t keep her awake.
As I said goodnight to her, I kissed her, and I moved to leave the bedroom, but she held my hand a moment. I turned back, and she smiled and said, “You did good today.”
To say that I was encouraged is a gross understatement, akin to saying that the earth has water on it sometimes. I was not merely uplifted but overwhelmed by the words and the assurance they carried. I know that may sound very strange, as though I should always know she feels that way and the vocalization shouldn’t have any real impact. But it does.
Words of support are a funny thing. Oftentimes when we receive them, we know the other person’s feelings toward us beforehand, and we do not doubt them in the least, but hearing their affirmation when unsolicited, well, it is a rush of emotional adrenaline. I feel this effect is compounded based on the depth of the relationship to the person from whom said encouragement is given.
I wonder if spouses (or parents and siblings for that matter) on average know the power of their words to uplift or, contrastingly, destroy. Inasmuch as they may recognize and avoid the reality of the latter, I would wager that they often forget the value of the former. We become complacent too often in regards to uplifting others, particularly those we see day in and day out, whose virtues and goodness we get used to and take for granted.
That being said, I would encourage you all to voice to your spouse (or those closest to you) more than your love but your pride in who they are, in what they accomplish, or in how hard they work. Do it when its not solicited or expected. Do it with your voice, not with a card; let them hear it with your sincerity and unique inflections. And do this often. You never know, you may just make their week without doing much at all.
Thanks for reading!
C

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Countdown to Stronghold Part 1: The Wave of Insecurity

Posted by on Apr 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

Two weeks ago, I announced the coming release of Stronghold on May 28, 2013

I have since been shocked. Shocked, I tell you. I would have thought that the announcement would put me into a tailspin of anxiety, neurosis, and terror at the thought of people reading my work. I really expected it.

Truth is, those emotions came like a wave that crested and broke over me…but it was a small wave. Low tide. The kind of wave that comes to your knees and crashes into white suds that cover no higher than your calves. Have you ever experienced this sort of thing? You walk along the shoreline, and you see the rolling blue, and you think to yourself, “Oh my, that’s going to be a big one,” only to have it gently head to shore, crest low, and break gently, not even stopping your step? That is the best picture of how I feel. Nothing too serious.

I was bracing for my insecurities to well to maddening levels once the reality of my endeavor hit. But no such onslaught came. Rather, I made the announcement and went about working, understanding that I had appropriate time to refine and prepare for the release.

This is an encouraging sign. I have great peace regarding this project. In fact, I have not only peace but excitement. As I have said many times, I felt led to write a novel. And this novel, specifically, from inception to completion, has been the result of Christ-exalting, God-pursing action. I thank him for it often. I thank him for the fact that I had it to draw my attention and keep me encouraged while being out of work. I thank him for the source of value it has been for readers up to now, and I thank him in advance for the manner in which he will use it to touch more readers in the future.

Hard to feel uneasy about releasing my book when I have that level of excitement over its creation. Let’s just see how I do come May…maybe that’s when the high tide will arrive. We’ll see together, won’t we?

Thanks for reading,
C

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Longing for Home

Posted by on Apr 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

Christians struggle. They sin. All the time. Some of them, though eternally loosed from the bonds of sin find themselves in shackles anew, not for lack of faith but because the flesh is weak. I have seen so many Christians wrestle with depression, sin, and deep-rooted pain. I have seen them. I have been one of them. Some days I am still one of them. I used to become so discouraged by this. I used to question my salvation and consider how I could possibly be a Christian if I wrestled with these things…

…But Christ is so good. The Holy Spirit is true, and he whispers into our souls with persistant love and grace toward us, that while we are yet still sinners, Christ is for us. Though the regenerate heart can still buckle beneath earthly pressures and feel the weight of burdens in the present days, God does not abandon us, he unchangingly loves. His love is full at the beginning of salvation, at the lowest valleys, the highest peaks, and it will remain so, until the end.

So, why do Christians struggle, and why do they hurt so often? If we are real believers in Christ Jesus, who he is and what he has done, how can we hurt and fail as we do? The truth of the answer lay in the text of the question. For Christians whose heart is truly drawn to Christ, who desperately crave heaven like the runner craves the marathon’s finish, this world is not home. This present world is not where we want to be. We long for a righteous throne at which to bow our heads. We wish for a glorious appearing that will blind our eyes and melt our hearts. We desire the presence of one so good, so true, so terribly awesome in his grandeur and power that our knees buckle beneath us and send us to the ground in praise. We want to see our Father’s face.

This is a real longing for the Christian. This is a desire–a desire that seems to trump all other desires less one: to love God by staying here, by serving him as we can, while we can on this side. But that is hard, being here can be hard, for it’s not home. Not yet.

All that to say, I try not to judge Christians for having emotional problems. If anything, I know how they feel. I feel that way too some days, and at times that hurt and longing send me toward fulfillment with the wrong things. But it always comes back to love. Love for God, and love for others. Love is hard, but it is the narrow path, and it is the path to which Christ calls us.

Nor sure from where in my heart this post came, but I felt it worth sharing. Thanks for reading,
C

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April Links: Readings from the Web

Posted by on Apr 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

On Writing

3 writers provide their no-no’s for up-and-comers.
Some great inventory to consider when revising one’s book
Why Your Amazon Kindle Book Could Be Far Bigger Than You Imagine
A wonderful encouragement to writers heading to the online marketplaceOn Faith

Phil Cooke takes a look at why faith-based, values-centered media is a solid investment.
A wonderful article about those chipper church ladies!
…even when they are imperfect.
A good reminder about some of Jesus’ most famous teaching
One Blogger Weighs in on the Equals Sign Avatar and Christianity.

Miscellaneous

The Weekly Standard Analyzes the dogmatic fundamentalism of philosophical naturalists and the scientific community.
A great opinion piece on the loss of paper media.
Fun and informative
A fascinating look at how some of the most educated people educate their children.
This is just too cool not to share.

 

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Patience, Driving, and Matrimonial Bliss

Posted by on Apr 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

On Sunday, my wife and I drove into downtown Philadelphia to meet a friend for dinner. We had a delightful evening. The traffic was negligible, the parking situation was simple, the food was delicious, and the company, wonderful. My wife was full of joy on the way home, and her being so joyful filled me with greater satisfaction as well. Despite the fun we had experienced, however, I could not help but focus on one seemingly overlooked fact: we had handled the drive and parking situation with a patience toward one another we have not always had. It’s an odd observation to raise, to be sure; but I was really basking in it.

You see, my wife and I have had our tiffs whilst driving, as all couples do. In unusual or high-stress driving situations, we tend to both operate under the assumption that the other sees little, fails to react, and misjudges the road. We have often shared these observations with one another in a way that is less than encouraging. In fact, we can exasperate and infuriate each other.

Not Sunday. Sunday we navigated the trip alongside one another in regards to the correct exits, the other drivers, the parking, and so forth. My wife voiced her observations calmly and gently, and I responded in kind and adjusted accordingly. We made the trip a success together.

Now, what does that have to do with patience? Well, two things. First, in days past, her impatience with me in those situations was part of the problem. She felt that her reaction time was always appropriate and correct, and my operating with a slower hand was not–despite the fact that had she held her tongue, most times I would have done exactly as she would have, only a moment or two later. Second, I would lose patience with her as my navigator as soon as she voiced her first concern of my failure to do as she would. This was due to my own insecurity, but I would have taken her comment as a slight and furthermore would have begun my process of frustration with her. This angst would have been compounded with each additional observation, resulting in my driving less attentively and her feeling the need to make more comments. Through the snowball effect, we would have both been very unhappy with the other by the time the drive had ended. Her impatience with my technique led to my impatience with her assistance. Bottom line: we both failed.

I am not saying we are perfect now. Like all couples we have a long way to go…but my how far we’ve come. She now watches and waits for my actions, and I often adjust accordingly when her comments come. Tis a good thing, folks. Tis a very good thing, indeed. Sunday, I feel we were rewarded for it.

Thanks for reading, be full of love (and patience) this weekend,
C

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Story as Clothing: An Imperfect Analogy Inspired by G.I. Joe Retaliation

Posted by on Apr 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

Last week, I took my nephew to see the new film G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Being a lifelong fan of the real American Hero brand, I had a very specific emotional response to the movie–not because of the film itself but because of my personal wrestling with it during my viewing experience. Bottom Line: I really wanted to love this movie, but I didn’t based on both its content and writing.

This latter issue is the focus of today’s post, for I think G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an excellent case study in how not to write an action film. The best way I can explain it is this: G.I. Joe Retaliation (as well as many other similar projects) fall victim to the “clothesline effect.” For those unfamiliar with the term, a clothesline is an extended, thin rope on which one hangs articles of clothing to dry. The clothesline serves the clothing but has little value in and of itself. A film’s narrative should never, ever, ever, ever be a clothesline that exists solely for the purpose of hanging scenes: action, slapstick, or otherwise. Like the rope in question, the overarching narrative will prove merely serviceable and will fail to truly connect with audiences. While they may enjoy the overall experience as entertainment, the story will not be beautiful or moving.

This is not the way to write a film–even an action film. In fact, this is the inversion of good storytelling. Perhaps a contrary picture to the clothesline in this scenario is the ensemble or outfit.  Granted, this is an imperfect counter picture but bear with me.  Whereas the clothesline effect makes the narrative a thin and negligible thing on which to hang setpieces for their own sake, an ensemble begins with an idea and all choices thereafter are made in service of that idea. This “outfit effect” might be one wherein every scene, beat, moment, and sequence serves the whole. For example, the ensemble may be for “hot summer day”. So, one puts on a shirt of a certain cut and color, maybe sunglasses, flip-flops, several “I support the [insert cause] bracelets”, specific shorts (cargo if you are bringing a glasses case and wallet/ bathing suit if going to the beach), etc, but the theme of the ensemble dictates those choices.

Apply this idea to film/story. The jokes are your sunglasses, the action sequences are the sneakers. Maybe the theme is the underwear: An essential component of everything that is hidden beneath the surface and invisible until you start removing layers. Like I said, it’s an imperfect analogy, but I think you catch the meaning: a full story is an ensemble, not random items of clothing clipped to a thin rope. You use a bracelet’s worth of comedy, a belt at the midpoint that holds the first and second half together, maybe running shorts and sneakers for a fast paced actioner. I don’t know, I’m making it up as I go this morning.

When you base your story on nothing more than providing a throughline for action sequences, your narrative will be neither engaging nor memorable. But, if you design your story as an ensemble, wherein each thing you “put on” serves to make the whole stronger, your tale will be full, dynamic, and interesting–like good wardrobe, people will be unable to look away (in a good way).

What do you think? Am I reaching with this one? If so, I blame G.I. Joe: Retaliation for breaking my brain. Just kidding. We all that internet broke my brain long ago.

Thanks for reading,
C

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