March Madness #4: Writing as Magic or Ministry

We’re different, you and I. As readers, you may love to lose yourself in a richly told romance, while today I might prefer a faith-filled inspirational story, and tomorrow a mystery.

As writers, we choose our genres based on a particular level of comfort… telling stories that may be close to our hearts or based on our knowledge and experience, or our desire to master a challenge. How we get those stories out of our heads and onto the page is a unique process for each person. Why we do it and what we accomplish may be equally unique. For many there is an element of creative magic that is intoxicating.

“Writing is magic, as much as the water of life
as any other creative art.”

[Stephen King]
 

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Those of us who are Christian writers sometimes question the validity of our calling to write if we’re drawn to produce secular instead of Christian fiction. We may think it’s frivolous to write something that doesn’t intend to convey an inspirational message, or at least a message of significance.

It’s an attitude that can spill over into other daily activities and even our careers. However, I truly believe that any task done with passion that attempts to bring beauty, help or healing, is a calling… a legitimate form of ministry. At first glance some writing may appear only to entertain but will still have a purpose — providing a brief escape from the mundane, or showing how characters overcome difficulties and solve life problems.

It’s not so much what we do but the attitude we have towards doing it, that determines whether our work is self-indulgent or a ministry/calling.

How do you view your work, whether it’s writing or any other regular pursuit during these thirty days of March Madness? Is it a calling, a satisfying hobby, or simply something you do because you’ve become caught up in the routine of doing it?

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We’re on the brink of our last week of March Madness.  Are you ready to push ahead and make the best use of these final days?

As a bit of encouragement I’d like to give away another prize from our huge prize arsenal today! Today’s winner is…

Nicole Luiken!

Congratulations! Stop by our goal-setting post, and choose your prize from those still listed. Email Denise at d(at)denisejaden(dot)com with your choice and we’ll get it out to you as soon as possible.

And if you didn’t win, there are still LOTS of great prizes to be won. Winners are chosen from participants who comment at the daily check-in blog locations, so keep checking in each day. Tomorrow’s check-in is at Angelina Hansen‘s blog at  http://yascribe.blogspot.com

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Repetition: Reinforcing or Boring?

BlogBlankYesterday my husband brought in a pussywillow branch he had discovered on his daily walk with the dog. I was ecstatic! Yes, he brings me one almost every year, but I never tire of seeing this early hint of springtime in the wings.

Pussywillows

I regularly rejoice about pussywillows. (If you doubt it, I can point you to a number of previous posts such as this one, and this one, too.) I’m not exactly sure what their attraction is. They aren’t nearly as pretty as unfurling pink-tinged Helleborus buds  or  petite Snowdrops with their nodding white heads. I suspect it has something to do with the contradictory nature of their silken hardiness. It probably helps that since my childhood and beyond, they have never failed to appear with their springtime promise, despite late season snowfalls such as we had yesterday. You’d think I’d grow accustomed to their annual appearance instead of going on and on about it, but I never do. (I’ll stop now, before you start muttering about how boring I am.)

Repetition has its uses. For the child constantly reminded to ‘stop, look and listen’ before crossing a street, it can get boring, but the repetition hammers the message home and helps keep him safe on the way to school. For choir members who don’t read music, many repetitions of a new song eventually cement the melody and harmony into a cohesive unit… a creation suitable for performance.

Repetition reveals old things in a new light, and it provides emphasis. At my writers’ group yesterday I was reminded that I often need to hear the same message, and read the same advice multiple times but from different sources, before I finally ‘get it’.

Writers also know there are no new plots — nothing that hasn’t been written about before — so we keep producing new stories by putting our unique spin on the same old themes.

The reappearing pussywillow? I suppose it’s a visible reminder of God’s endless promises…

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat, summer and winter,
day and night, shall not cease.”

[Genesis 8:22]

“… His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”

[Lamentations 3:23]

How have you experienced repetition? Has it been a positive or a negative?

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My Bird Watching and ‘The Great Backyard Bird Count’

You’ve heard of activities that lack excitement being compared to watching paint dry, right? So would you put counting birds in the same category?

robinbutton_enI’m not an avid birdwatcher, but I enjoy seeing the ones that flit through our trees or stop at the bird feeder throughout the day to snatch a few nutty morsels. As a member of a Facebook Backyard Bird Watchers group I was urged to participate in the annual global bird count hosted by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. The Great Backyard Bird Count begins today.

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Dark-eyed “Oregon” Junco

I’m not expecting any appearances of rare species to report. There won’t even be a particularly large quantity of birds to add to my tally sheet. Just the average everyday visitors, stopping by for their daily snacks. There haven’t been a lot this winter, but I’ll record what I see.

Somehow I don’t think I’ll learn as much from watching birds as I would from watching people. (See Monday’s post for that discussion.) But there is value in today’s pursuit.

The news release says, “Bird watchers from more than 100 countries are expected to participate in the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), February 14–17, 2014. Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count and enter their sightings…. The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible.”

Since moving to this rural area I’ve kept a page in the back of my journal where I list the species that have dropped in during the passing seasons, either in the backyard or at the marsh. When I reviewed it, I was surprised to discover there have been thirty-seven different ones! I have photos of several, but not all. Maybe that should be a future project. It’s not as if I don’t have enough projects on the go. I’m not a serious birdwatcher, either. Still, these little feathered creatures fascinate me. Why else would I bother to count them?

What’s your favourite kind of bird? Do you enjoy watching them and do you encourage them to visit your yard by putting out suet and seeds?

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“Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
they sing among the branches.”

Psalm 104:12

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There’s light, and then there’s enlightenment

You know how it is when you’re sitting in a darkened room basking in the glow of your Christmas tree… and you let your eyes get all squinty so the tree lights will blur into magical glimmers? Everything else disappears except those tiny bits of illumination.

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I love the abundance of lights at Christmas time. They always make me think of the message repeated at our church every Sunday morning when a child lights the Christ Candle and proclaims, “Jesus said, ‘I am the Light of the world.’”* At the candlelight service late on Christmas Eve there were many candles burning in addition to lights on the tree, and the soft glow was soul-warming.

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But light isn’t just something to look at, it’s something to live by — it reveals, illuminates, enlightens. It helps bring things into focus, helps keep us from stumbling. Walking in the light is an intentional action.

It’s true in life and it’s true in writing. (Of course this last post of the year has to have a writing application!)

A recent tweet from my daughter Shari Green (@sharigreen) announced, “Ooh, look! A light at the end of the Revision Tunnel!” Like me, she’s been working to polish a writing project and it’s beginning to look like we may both finish by year end. It hasn’t happened by itself, by waiting for inspiration to provide a way, but by deliberately sitting down and wrestling with words. Our efforts may have started in darkness, but by working consistently we’ve made progress towards the light… and we’re almost there. I love it when I suddenly realize I’m on a roll!

As 2013 draws to a close, a lot of people will be making New Year’s Resolutions. Not me. I gave up that discouraging practice a long time ago. I adopt key words for the year. As I squint at our tree in these final days of Christmas time, I think mine for 2014 will be:

Light (as in, following it)

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If you’re in need of further end-of-the-year encouragement, here are links to a few of my previous posts:

2010
(Resolutions and the journey of life and writing)

2011
(Making the most of your December writing time)

2012
(What will this New Year mean for your writing?)

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* Again Jesus spoke to them, saying,
“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

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LIGHT OF THE WORLD  (Chris Tomlin) – a music video

Light of the World
You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes, let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore you
Hope of a life spent with you

(chorus)
Here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that you’re my God
You’re altogether lovely
altogether worthy
altogether wonderful to me

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“… if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus His Son
cleanses us from all sin.”

1 John 1:7

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Facing Fears: Admissions of a Writing Introvert

Today I’m admitting to something I rarely talk about beyond the circle of family and close friends. And I’m stepping way out of my comfort zone by discussing it in a guest post on Jenn Hubbard’s blogs.

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As gatherings go, the Surrey International Writers’ Conference is a big one for me. It’s my favourite weekend of the year but it’s also my biggest challenge.

DSC06310Approximately 600 people fill the ballroom for keynote addresses and calorie-laden meals, crowd into conference rooms for their choice of seventy-two workshops given by fifty-eight writing professions, and cram into elevators to get between the two.

It’s exhilarating, rejuvenating, motivating… and terrifying! Why? Because I’m claustrophobic. Oh, not wildly so, but moderately, and the challenge is to keep myself under control so I can absorb all the benefits of the annual October weekend.

Many writers claim to be introverts, so I’m not alone in my reluctance to mix, mingle and schmooze with strangers. A lot of us would prefer to hunker down and write in solitude….

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If you’re a fellow introvert, or deal with any degree of claustrophobia, anxiety or panic attacks, click on over to one of Jenn’s two blogs to read the rest of my story and some of the tactics I employ to cope:

Writer Jenn at Live Journal, or

Jennifer R. Hubbard at Blogspot

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Christmas preparations, secular and sacred

Our family has a dual heritage when it comes to Christmas preparations. There’s a combination of the sacred and the secular because my hubby and I came from those two backgrounds. Christmas was always a special time when we were children, but for different reasons, and celebrated in different ways.

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When Advent begins, along with the nativity figures, our decorations come out, lights are strung and a tree goes up. Christian friends might wonder how we can put energy into all the secular preparations and still focus enough on the anticipation of such a holy season, but somehow we do.

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Last night, for the umpteenth time, we watched the movie, “Miracle on 34th Street“.  “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” will probably be next, along with “It’s a Wonderful Life“, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and assorted other television specials. Years ago we watched these with our children. Now we’re on our own and we still watch them.

Soon I’ll turn my attention to a bit of baking. Not a lot, since there aren’t many of us to eat it, but we need a few of the annual goodies, like Shortbread, Melting Moments and Peanut Butter Snowballs. We’ll also be caroling to shut-ins, finding delight in the children’s Sunday School Pageant, singing a Cantata with our choir, and of course attending all the special Christmas worship services.

There’s a little magic and a lot of mystery associated with Christmas, and we experience both, in ways that are meaningful to us. I doubt that God minds our strange muddle of traditions. We still meet Him at the manger.

What are some of the meaningful traditions you’ll experience again this Christmas? In your writing, have you allowed your characters to establish traditions?

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Finding new gems among the old

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Just dead leaves, right? The fall leftovers of a clematis vine that I haven’t managed to trim away yet. Nothing special to look at. But look closer…
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Frosted Leaf.

Maybe look even closer…

(Consider clicking on photos for a more detailed look)

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Frosted Wood

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It’s nothing more than frost. But among the old, brown and curling leaves there are glimpses of something new and beautiful. You won’t see it if you aren’t looking carefully.

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In writing, I discard a lot of words — words I’ve struggled to create in sentences sometimes days in the writing. My method of discarding is to copy and paste them into a new blank document before deleting the originals. I may never use them, or perhaps I will, but in a different part of the story, or in an altogether different manuscript when I suddenly see them in a fresh way. Sometimes they might end up being the perfect gem in a new setting.

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In Advent, the old crumbles away as we look toward the newness of a hope reborn and of a peace that is ours because of God’s promise. There is to be a precious remaking of life itself, revealed in the stripping away of the past. If we look closely, we will see a new creation!

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So if anyone is in Christ,
there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSV)
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Transitioning from Thanksgiving into Advent

 

 

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Sunlight filtered through the trees last weekend as we neared the spot where we would see the eagles. It was more of a stroll than a hike to get there, as the trail meandered through the woods toward the Chehalis River.

Bald Eagle 5

Later we crossed over a stream via a log bridge and wandered back along an easier path that paralleled a golf course. It was a gorgeous day — a day that filled us with thankfulness for the beauty of our surroundings.

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But thankfulness is more than expressing appreciation for what we have. It involves a response to Him who is the giver of all we have and are.

This weekend many will be transferring attention from Thanksgiving to Advent. We begin the annual time of preparation, readying ourselves to receive again the Gift beyond imagining… God among us, the Creator and Saviour of the world. But truly, there shouldn’t be a transitioning from one celebration to another. We need to carry our thanksgiving on through and into Christmas.

What traditions are a part of your Thanksgiving-into-Christmas preparations?

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“Thanks be to God for his indescribable Gift.”

2 Corinthians 9:15

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Transitioning from Autumn to Winter and Pre-Christmas

Fall’s wardrobe is dusty with a hint of winter to come — a sharp, crisp morning turned fuzzy with frost.

Frosted Rhoddie

Neglected garden flowers are iced and finished, reminding me there is still work to be done before winter takes hold… before I turn resolutely away from summer memories and embrace Christmas preparations.

Frosted Flower

Except for baking my Christmas cakes six weeks ahead, I don’t begin thinking seriously of Christmas until Advent begins. This morning I realized that’s barely a week away! I won’t begin digging out the bins of memory-drenched decorations quite yet, but it’s not too soon to start planning how I want to celebrate this year.

Yesterday I watched a webcast with Ann Voskamp and Liz Curtis Higgs, Christmas at the Farm: Unwrapping the full love story of Christmas. It was the perfect precursor, reminding me that having “a sane, sacred and simplified Christmas” is not a matter of circumstances — but a matter of focus. “Simplify Christmas? Celebrate Christ.” The webcast video will continue to be available online, so if you missed its debut, do please consider pouring yourself a steaming cup of coffee or fragrant tea (or perhaps a spicy eggnog if you’re already that far into the season) and settling in to watch it now.

Frosted Leaf

Frost is in our forecast for the next week or so, with freezing nights and sun-filled days. I’ll need to take advantage of this last opportunity to finish up some of the fall chores and get set for the about-turn into winter. Then, except for meeting my NaNoWriMo goal, I’ll be more than ready to welcome December! How about you?

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(Consider a click or two on the photos to enlarge for a closer look.)