Who do you think is the best fiction writer ever? This question initiated a lively discussion at my house over the weekend. Most agreed that J. R. R. Tolkien was in a class of his own. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the best-selling novels of all time. Tolkien began writing his trilogy eighty years ago, but it is as lively, captivating, and relevant to readers today as when it was first published.
Who else is on your list of top/best fiction writers? The answer to this question was more varied. J. K. Rowling was a heavy contender, as was C. S. Lewis.
Mom, do you think that maybe one day you'll be as good a writer as J. K. Rowling or Lewis? At this question, I wanted to crawl in a hole and disappear. Maybe one day, if I work hard at my craft every day and if I live to be a hundred and fifty-nine...maybe one day, Son, I will write well enough to pen a foreword for the umpteenth edition of a Rowling or Lewis book. Maybe. Write as well?Ha! Such presumption!
Last week, I wrote about the temptation to be jealous of those who are more successful than ourselves. (You can read that post HERE.) No, I am not jealous of Tolkien or Lewis or Rowling, neither of their ability nor of their success. When I think of these amazing writers, I am simply grateful. I am grateful that God has extraordinarily gifted these individuals to communicate the gospel in powerful ways through the fiction they write. However...
This morning, as I recalled my family's best-author conversation, I got to thinking: with so many excellent writers in the world, why do I write at all? Why not get back to mopping the kitchen floors and leave writing to those who are so much more talented than I am?
So I asked God that question: "God, I love to write, but my writing gift is small. Should I devote my time to writing - and to learning to write better - or should I set writing aside altogether?"
God is so kind.
He took me to the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, to the parable of the talents. In this parable, a man entrusts his property to his servants before he leaves on a long journey. He gives one servant five talents, he gives one servant two talents, and he gives a third servant one talent. After a long time, the man returns home. Servant #1 invested the five talents, and earned his master five talents more. Servant #2 did likewise with his two talents. Servant #3, however, buried his one little talent and earned no interest for his master. And for this - for refusing to invest his one talent - he was punished.
Reading through Matthew 25:14-30, I was reminded: my job is not to compare whatever talent God gives me with the talent(s) He gives others, but to be faithful with the talent with which I have been entrusted.
I can look at 100-talent writers like Tolkien and Rowling, and think of my 1-talent writing: "One talent? That's too insignificant to invest. I'll just bury it in the ground." - OR - I can look at the small talent God has given me, and ask, "Lord, how can I invest this for you? How can I grow this for you, to advance your kingdom work?"
God doesn't call me to be faithful with what He has not given me. He calls me to be faithful with what He has given me...even if what He has given me is one small talent.
What "talent" has God given you? Is it big? Is it small? Maybe, like me, you think your gift is too small to even matter. I encourage you - delight in the small gift God has given you, and then invest your gift, grow it, and present it back to God with interest.
I think we will both be amazed, you and I, at what God can do with one small talent.
"For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's...you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God...each of us will give an account of himself to God." - Romans 14:7-8, 10, 12
* * *
If I am not my own, then why am I jealous?
Jealousy is all about comparison. It's about one-up-manship. It's about feeling better about myself because I have more notches in my stick than you do...or feeling like a failure because I don't. Jealousy causes me to be unduly critical of those who achieve greater success than I do, it robs me of joy, and it sets me on a path toward discouragement and defeat. At its core, jealousy is about finding my worth, security, and delight in something other than God.
God created each of us as unique individuals: no two people are exactly alike. Each of us has been gifted to reflect God's glory in a unique way.
For me, as a writer, that means I am called to write the story God has gifted me to write. Yes, I have much to learn from other writers, but writing is not a competition between me and the author of today's New York Times best-seller. God requires me to give an account of my obedience to his calling on my life - He does not require me to give an account of how well I fulfilled his calling for Best-seller Bob.
Karen Ball posted an excellent article at The Steve Laube Agency this week about the green-eyed monster called Jealousy and about how it preys upon writers, in particular. Karen confronts jealousy as sin and she exhorts writers to repent of the comparison game. Then, she issues a challenge to turn the temptation to indulge in jealousy into an occasion for praise instead: instead of envying the writer whose success is greater than mine, I can rejoice with other writers over God's blessing in their lives! (You can read Karen's entire post HERE.)
Jealousy demonstrates a large view of myself and a small view of God: when I am jealous of another's success, I believe and act on the lie that life is all about me, and not about my Savior.
I am thankful for the reminder in the Romans passage above that whether I live or die, I am the Lord's. Because I am the Lord's, I do not have to play the comparison game. Because I am the Lord's, I can rejoice with those who are rejoicing, even if they are other writers who are more successful than I am. Together, we can glorify God and give thanks for his goodness!
I can't help but think that Satan smiles when we indulge in the sin of jealousy. How our enemy must recoil, then, when we turn from self-interested comparison to celebrating God's goodness to others! Is there someone in your life who, when you think of them, you feel jealous? Repent, and thank God not only for the blessings He has given you, but for the blessings He has given others, too.
* * *
"Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.'...May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." - Romans 15:2-3, 5-6
This is my Father's world, and to my list'ning ears,
all nature sings...and sings and sings and sings!
We have a Situation at the Kendall house, one involving a bird.
I love birds. Birds are like messengers from God. The electric blue of an indigo bunting, glowing like the tip of a fairy wand on a stalk of waist-high grass; goldfinches, sparks of sunshine exploding from the creek bank; the sooty gray of delicate phoebes nesting on the porch. The slow, elegant grace of a blue heron as he lifts off the pond behind the house. The hypnotic honk of geese calling to one another as they slice a vee across the sky; the drum-like boom of owl song echoing across the valley in the evening; the buzz of wood duck wings, just above the surface of the water; the friendly whistle of the Bob White quail. I love birds.
But that mockingbird...
We have one particular mockingbird who neither sleeps nor eats. He perches on the rooftop and sings his heart out all day long. He sings all night long, too. He sings loudly, all hours of the day and night, frenetically cycling through his repertoire of quail and cardinal and meadowlark impersonations.
Did I mention that he sings LOUDLY? Did I mention that he sings ALL THE TIME?
I am normally an early-to-bed girl, but last night, I got trapped in a book. I crawled into bed around 10:30, promised myself I would read "just one more chapter," and then proceeded to read until midnight. My mockingbird provided background music for this late-night book fest.
At midnight, I turned off the bedroom light. Morning would come early. I needed to crash fast.
Mr. Mockingbird sang on and on in the darkness just outside my window.
At 1:30, I wondered, "Is this one of those things that will eventually become background noise?"
Train whistles and the slice of steel wheels down metal track became background noise when we lived in Millington. The trains rumbled through the night and shook the house, but they did not disturb my sleep. Frogs and cicadas in the summertime, shrieking so loudly you have to yell to be heard over them - I can even sleep through frogs and cicadas.
But this mockingbird...
At 3:30 this morning, he fell silent.
Shortly after 5:00 am, Mr. Mockingbird was back at it, piping like a Scotsman. Right now, he is warbling down the chimney, his song amplified like a rock star's by the narrow brick tunnel into the house.
I have the windows open this morning so I can hear the other birds, too. The music is beautiful.
But this mockingbird...
He has been singing for days, weeks, months, almost nonstop. No, his music has not yet become background noise.
I hope Mr. Mockingbird takes the night off tonight. I am tired and need some sleep.
Sometimes you find yourself stuck at a party you don't want to be at.
As a rule, I don't do action films very well. If an action movie has a great story line or if it attempts to engage in a meaningful way (even a very small way) with significant questions, I do better. I loved The Matrix(although, technically, I guess The Matrix is more accurately categorized as sci-fi than as action). I guess what I'm saying is...I don't like gratuitous violence. Watching violent movies for the sake of watching violence does not make sense to me. On the contrary, it seriously disturbs me on many levels - physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially.
Yesterday evening I came home from a meeting to find my family watching the movie John Wick. The first thing anyone said to me when I walked in the door was not "Hi, honey!" - or - "How'd the meeting go?" - or - "Have you had any dinner? Can I get you something to eat?" Instead, I was greeted with: "Oh? You're home already? I though you'd be out a least a couple hours later?" I guess I should have taken that as a warning, some kind of disclaimer. Maybe as a sideways confession: "Guys, Mom's home! We are so busted!"
I fixed a plate of dinner and sat down to watch John Wick with the rest of the family. They watch my movies, so I should make more of an effort to watch theirs, right? Besides, our house has a very open floor plan, so I had nowhere to hide away to read or write and sleep would have been impossible.
The movie had just started, so I hadn't missed any significant plot development. If I had sat through the entire movie with my eyes closed and my ears plugged, I still would not have missed any significant plot development...because there wasn't any. After nearly two hours of blood splatters and a body count that grew faster than bacteria in a petri dish, I was left asking, "Guys, what was the point? I don't get it."
To which one of member of the viewing audience replied, "There isn't a point. It's just fun."
"There isn't a point." Except that everything has a point. The writer of a book, the director of a movie, the composer of a piece of music, the potter in the clay studio...people create because they want to communicate something to others.
I didn't get a satisfactory answer to my question. I went to bed and mentally talked my heart rate down from heart-attack mode and struggled to calm my frantic brain - What was the point? What was the message? What was this movie trying to say? - so that I could go to sleep. (Movies like this distress me, remember?)
This morning, I looked for answers to my questions in online reviews.
Paul Verhoeven, over at junkee.com, wrote in his article "In Praise of 'John Wick,' Angry Keanu Reeves, and the Intensely Gritty Action Movie"-
"[John Wick] is a very serviceable, ridiculously enjoyable, unashamedly B-grade action film which plays less like a revenge flick, and more like exploitation cinema on steroids...In John Wick, we're subjected to a film that is utterly classless, but totally aware of how classless it is; it takes place in the blingiest, skeeviest [skeevy: morally or physically repulsive] yet most polished nightclubs, and it's filled with tacky cars and tackier music..." - Paul Verhoeven, "In Praise of 'John Wick,' Angry Keanu Reeves, and the Intensely Gritty Action Movie"; May 18, 2017. (Read Verhoeven's entire review HERE.)
Note: Paul Verhoeven was praising this movie. Just in case you missed that.
Over at The Atlantic, Sophie Gilbert, also in praise of John Wick, wrote:
"John Wick kills, by my count, 78 people in the movie's 93 minutes, and he doesn't just kill them, he toys with them first like a cat with a mouse, delivering a stray bullet in the shoulder or a kick to the kneecap before offing his targets with two shots to the head, assassination-style. The movie's tagline is 'Don't Set Him Off.' but it really should be 'This Idiot Killed My Puppy and Now Everyone Must Die.'" - Sophie Gilbert, "John Wick: An Idiot Killed His Puppy and Now Everyone Must Die"; October 24, 2014. (Read Gilbert's entire review HERE.)
Strange praise, indeed.
After spending a good chunk of my morning reading action-movie connoisseurs and experts in an attempt to better understand the point behind the movie John Wick, here is what I have concluded:
There isn't a point.
This is not a movie about good vs. evil: everyone in the movie is bad - there are no good guys, not even John Wick himself. It is not a movie about healing from brokenness or grief: the movie concludes with no healing, only a hint of more pointless violence to come in a possible sequel. It is not a movie about overcoming a terrible past: nobody overcomes anything, and John Wick ends up right back where he started.
If there is a point to this movie, it is this: watching people get slashed and shot up and tortured and beaten to death with steel pipes is fun. At least, it is fun for some people. In fact, some people even enjoy munching popcorn and sipping soda while they watch another person get dismembered onscreen.
Which leaves me back where I was late last night when the movie credits finally rolled: "I don't get it."
Obviously, gratuitous violence - excessive gratuitous violence - feeds something in the human soul. (John Wick: Chapter 2 was released in February of this year.)
I am inclined to think that what this kind of violence feeds is our depraved nature. It grieves me that people I love think this kind of depravity is fun.
We are all depraved, every single one of us. But why someone would want to feed that depravity? I don't get it.
"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." - Romans 5:1-5
Listen, people: I reallyreallyreally want to have my life together.
I do not like suffering, not for any reason whatsoever - not because of my own sinfulness, not because of the sins of others against me, not because of the sin that infects the fallen world in which we live.
I do not like being broken.
I do not like being a mess.
I know - honestly, I do - that God redeems my brokenness, that He somehow sanctifies my mess and uses it for his glory. I know He does.
I do not want you to see my brokenness. I'd rather get past the mess and have God tidy everything up with a Holy Ghost house cleaning before I invite you into my life.
I want to be able to say to you, "My life was a mess, but through suffering, God taught me endurance. He produced character within me and gave me hope. Because God helped me get my life together, because He cleaned up all the mess, I now know that God loves me. And I'm here to tell you - God loves you, too."
Concerning my suffering, my brokenness, my trials, my mess, I want to speak to you in the past tense: I want to tell you what God HAS DONE, not what God IS DOING.
I want to postpone rejoicing until after my suffering has passed. But this passage in Romans says "we rejoice IN our sufferings" - NOT - "we rejoice AFTER our sufferings are over."
The above passage in Romans was part of my daily Bible reading this morning. These verses remind me anew that God gets glory for himself not through my strength or my success, not through my competence or adequacy, but through my weakness.
My insistence on looking like I have everything together before I invite you into my life is contrary to the way God works. It is living out a philosophy of salvation by works and not by faith. It is living by law, not standing in grace. My great desire to appear competent is idolatry.
I am reminded to "rejoice in hope of the glory of God," the glory of God revealed through me, to myself and to others, through my suffering.
Jesus gives peace, faith, grace, joy, endurance, character, hope, assurance, and a deep and abiding knowledge of God's love for me - not in spite of suffering - but in the midst of suffering.
If I want to experience for myself and to communicate to others the power of the gospel, I can't wait until I am on the other side of suffering. I can't wait until I have my act together. I'm going to have to invite you into my mess, right smack dab into the middle of it, right now.
So many dear friends are going through difficult trials right now. Others are facing scary life changes. Me - I'm not wrestling any demons or scaling any mountains, just trying to run a marathon like it's a 100-yard dash...and I'm exhausted!
One of these friends shared recently that she begins each day by asking, "Well, I wonder what adventure I will have today?!"
As she has faced one trial after another, my friend has found much for which to be grateful. She is thankful for the support and encouragement of friends. She is thankful for the physical, mental, and financial resources to meet tremendous challenges. She is thankful for God's protection and provision.
Instead of trial or hardship or setback, she thinks in terms of adventure. Instead of focusing her thoughts on all the difficulties she is facing right now, she looks for and acknowledges ways that God enables her to meet and even transcend those difficulties, and then she says, "Thank you." I love this!
Ask any of my kids, "What is your mom's 'Big Trifecta'?" and they will answer, "God is sovereign. God is good. And God loves me very much."
God is sovereign. He orchestrates every detail of my life - EVERY detail - for my good (for my GOOD!) and for his glory.
God is good. He never regards me with evil intent. He never treats me with capriciousness or malevolence.
God loves me very much. How much? Look at Jesus.
What difficult, scary, or painful things am I facing today?
God is sovereign. God is good. And He loves me very much. Because these things are true, I can, like my friend, say, "Thank you," regardless of my circumstances.
In a post from a couple of years ago - THANKFUL - I wrote this:
"When the enemy of my soul conspires with my sinful flesh to discourage and defeat me, I can meet my adversary with this prayer in my heart: 'This affliction does not come to me without the knowledge and good purposes of almighty God. Thank you, Lord, for Jesus, and for the life and the security and the joy that are mine in Him. Thank you, Lord, for even this present trial. Teach me, Lord - what would you have me learn?' Oh, how our adversary must recoil when we respond to his onslaughts with praise to our Father in Heaven!"
Thankfulness can transform even scary or painful circumstances into an adventure.
Does God have an adventure in store for you today?
Oh give thanks to the LORD for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 118:1
Last weekend, I resolved to get back on the fitness wagon first thing Monday morning - yesterday morning.
But I was up until after midnight Thursday, up until almost midnight Friday, in bed again late on Saturday and then again on Sunday...
I am an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of person. Funny thing is, if I go to bed late, I still wake up early. By the end of last week, I was completely pooped. Running on fumes. Exhausted.
In the gray light of predawn Monday morning, I looked at the alarm clock and thought about my resolution to go to exercise class at Caroline's. "I'm too tired!" I whined to myself. I turned off the alarm and burrowed back beneath the blankets. I dozed on and off for the better part of an hour, then gave up pretending I could actually sleep past my usual rise-and-shine time.
I didn't exercise Monday, but in spite of trying to sleep in, I still felt tired all day.
So today - Tuesday morning - still running on fumes...
I got out of bed, had my morning coffee and quiet time, and drove to fitness class in Troy.
Here is the irony: you would think that strenuous exercise would make you more tired, completely drain you of energy. Instead, it has the opposite effect.
Yesterday, because I was tired, I skipped class, dozed late, then piddled around rather unproductively all day in a gray stupor.
Today, I was still tired, but I went to class anyway. Caroline led a great workout, and I left the studio soaked in sweat. I came home and...
I ate breakfast, washed dishes, mopped the floors, cleaned the bathrooms, dusted the downstairs, and finished the laundry.
Still running on the burst of energy that this morning's exercise class gave me, I hope to finish up a couple of writing assignments and then maybe take a late afternoon walk back on the farm.
Looks like if I want to have the energy to do more productive work, then I need to get up in the morning and rev my engine!
Instead of telling myself, "I'm too tired to exercise" - I need to tell myself, "I'm too tired to not exercise!"
Planking - thanks, Caroline, for a kick-start to my day!
During a recent conversation with friends about an apparent dearth of doctrinally well-grounded young women at a local college campus, I commented that perhaps some women are reluctant to study doctrine because they feel that this kind of higher thinking will somehow make them less feminine. I related the awkwardness I felt as a "smart girl" growing up - you know, the girl everyone wants to help them with their homework, but that no one wants to date.
Smart girls are dangerous. They analyze things. They ask difficult questions. They blow the class curve. They reap the barbed comments of fellow classmates who are jealous or who feel stupid.
Being a smart girl is kind of like being the tubby, uncoordinated kid who is always chosen last for gym-class relays (yep, I was that kid, too) - people aren't generally out-right mean about the fact that you're "different," but they keep a little distance between themselves and you. Like you might be contagious.
"Our cultural tendency to associate intelligence with gender affects more than a woman's education and future work. It also affects how she views herself and often prompts her to ask: 'If people tend to see intelligence as a male trait, does being smart mean that I'm somehow less feminine than my peers?'"
As a girl, I developed coping mechanisms to hide my disorder. I was naturally quiet, but I became even quieter - talk much at all, and people will figure out you're smart. I created a "ditzy girl" persona for social situations - much more fun on dates and at parties than a smart girl. I did truly stupid things - things no girl with half a brain would ever do.
In response to my comment during the conversation mentioned at the beginning of this post, one man at the table replied that he had never personally encountered the kind of negative bias I described. He thought accounts of such bias were untrue or exaggerated, because his experience had been quite the opposite.
He explained how when he was a young woman attending college (I am being totally tongue-in-cheek here), intelligence in females was encouraged and admired, not only by professors, but by classmates as well. Even within the church, he was invited into significant dialogue and his input was respected and thoughtfully considered. Being smart in no way caused him to question his femininity.
Perhaps my friend never experienced the kind of subtle and not-so-subtle cultural bias I encountered because he was not actually a woman.
It saddens me that, without thought or hesitation, this man completely dismissed what one woman had personally experienced as a woman.
Do you see the irony?
* * *
I want to be the woman God created me to be. I want to be a fully-female, uniquely feminine image bearer. With a brain.
God makes men and women who are musically gifted. He makes men and women who have keen minds for business and organization. He gives people of both genders the gift of great empathy, or of giving, or of service. Is it possible for both to also be brainy?
Later in the same article, Anderson concludes: "More than simply allowing for a category of the intelligent female, the Scriptures actively encourage women to develop their mental capacities. Just as much as men, women are called to love God with all their hearts, souls, and minds...It's taken me years, but I finally understand that nothing about my womanhood is at odds with my mind."
I am thankful for the brave, vigorous, intelligent women in my life who have demonstrated that it is possible to be both brainy and womanly. I am thankful for godly women who have taught me that intelligence is not something I need to learn to cope with, but something I need to develop and to invest in kingdom work.
If you are a woman who has felt the sting of being labeled "brainy," listen to me...
The sideways comments and not-so-subtle jabs at your femininity are real, and they hurt. But they do not speak the truth.
Your mind is not a curse or a stigma or a social handicap: it is a beautiful gift from a loving Creator. Use it for His glory.
(To read Hannah Anderson's entire article - "How Brainy Women Benefit the Church" - click HERE.)
* * *
People tell me the bias against female intelligence is not real.
I enrolled in an engineering graphics class several years ago. The first day of class, the instructor singled me out in front of everyone (I was the only female in the class): "Mrs. Kendall, there is no place in the field of engineering for a woman. Upper-level mathematics is too complicated for a female brain to understand."
I blushed and nodded. "Yes, sir."
"I don't expect you will complete this course," he concluded.
To his credit...
He apologized later, also in front of the entire class, when I made the top score on our first exam. I finished the course with an A. My teacher and I both learned a lot that semester, and ended the term as friends.
Wish You Were Here: Letters From the Foot of the Cross
It is difficult to imagine that someone with an ideal family, a Ninja body, and a six-digit income can relate to my messy life in the middle of a hay field: my pants are too tight, my marriage is stressed, and my closets are a disaster.
But the truth is, life is messy...whether you look like you have your act together or not. If you are struggling in the trenches of life with muck up to your eyeballs, then you and I have something in common. Welcome!
This collection of "letters" explores the practical implications of the gospel for the nitty-gritty business of everyday life. Join me on a journey to discover strength for the day, encouragement to persevere, and flashes of joy to brighten the way.