Only Begin . . .

Lose the day loitering, 'twill be the same story
To-morrow, and the next more dilatory,
For indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o'er lost days.
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute!
What you can do, or think you can, begin it!
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated;
Begin it, and the work will be completed.
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Lyrical Sunday

Breakfast cereal instead of the other stuff.
Sunshine and delight and laughter.
Catching up on the little things.
Sweet potatoes.
Christmas carols.
Riddles.
Ice cream sunda(y)es.
Exuberant affection.
The yearly white elephant Christmas party.
A slow end to the day, and a red plaid blanket.

Lyrical: having a light and melodic style. Just like Sunday.

How to Get Better

I'm still reading On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. Today's excerpt:

Readers want the person who is talking to them to sound genuine. Therefore a fundamental rule is: be yourself.
No rule, however, is harder to follow. It requires writers to do two things that by their metabolism are impossible. They must relax, and they must have confidence.
Telling a writer to relax is like telling a man to relax while being examined for a hernia, and as for confidence, see how stiffly he sits, glaring at the screen that awaits his words. See how often he gets up to look for something to eat or drink. A writer will do anything to avoid the act of writing. I can testify from my newspaper days that the number of trips to the water cooler per reporter-hour far exceeds the body's need for fluids.

The best way to sound genuine in your writing is to write constantly. It's like anything else in life that you practice: playing piano, baking, drafting blueprints, etc. The more you do it, the better at it you'll become.

He Gives and Takes Away

The hardest things to understand are the hardest to write about.

As a kid, I learned about the sovereignty of God. I didn't comprehend that the sovereignty of God means sometimes I don't want or understand what He does. God doesn't ask me when He should give or take away.

Trust aside, it's really hard.

Today, I'm thinking about Caedmon's Call, and the last verse of their song "Mother India":

There's a land where our shackles turn to diamonds
Where we trade in our rags for a royal crown
In that place, our oppressors hold no power
And the doors of the King are thrown wide

Sometimes, the doors of the King are thrown wide for someone before we want to say goodbye. On this day in 1962, God blessed the world with Curtis' mom. Earlier this year, He took her away from us. We know that Belinda was ushered into the kingdom of heaven with a rousing celebration and a royal welcome:

Well done, my good and faithful servant.

And we believe that above all God is sovereign and good. 

But we miss her.

The Tiny Tiny Baby

This weekend, Curtis (he's very wonderful) and I drove three hours twice just to hold a perfectly cute brand new baby (I have a friend who says not every baby is cute, but every baby is beautiful. This baby, I can assure you, is both).

Our close friends' baby was due a few days ago but when they visited the doctor two weeks back, the baby was measuring small (around the eleventh percentile). The nurses said to come back the next day, hopeful the baby would be bigger. 

The next day the baby was in the fifth percentile (equals bad for 38 weeks, if, like me, you know nothing about childbirth, etc.). The nurses tried to check mom in and induce birth immediately, but after some bargaining she was allowed to go home and pack a bag.

The next afternoon the tiny baby girl was born, weighing five pounds something ounces. Her umbilical cord had been wrapped around her feet, stifling the nutrient flow and keeping her from growing past a certain point. But she's fine and healthy, just a little on the tiny size. Newborn clothes dwarf her, and her tiny legs aren't much bigger than my thumbs.

I could gush about her tiny hands, soft, flexible toes, and gaping yawn and miniature pink gums . . . But you've probably seen a baby before. She's absolutely perfect, though—a miniature baby, a tiny tiny human being. And right now even at her tiny size, she is completely equipped for her entire life on this planet (though she has to pass through some developmental phases). She's not missing anything important—like a nose or a brain.

God creates with us in mind, and he gives us exactly what we need for life. He gives some people the ability to be athletes, others musicians, others artists, others surgeons . . . The list goes on and on, but the point is this:

God gave you talents for a reason (i.e., legs to walk, mouths to talk, gifts to glorify Him with). It's important to use them for Him.

Sunday Marvels

Some Sundays are for unorthodox behavior:

Driving six hours.
Holding a perfect baby.
Eating curly fries (I promise you, there are few culinarily delicacies on this planet that rival fresh curly fries).
Listening to adventures.
Spending time with friends.
Being in love.
Reading out loud.
Watching the sun set (who says this has to be just one word?).
Planning for Christmas presents.
Giving gifts.
Sharing a chocolate milkshake.

Every week, Sunday is full of marvels. And how could it not be? It's the Lord's day.
 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I am thankful to God for . . . 

Curtis (he's very wonderful)
My family
My job
Donuts
Peace
Freedom from fear
Books

And myriad other things—but the list would be too long if I kept going. 

How Can We Not Say Thank You?

I feel gratitude by degrees. If someone holds the door open for me, I say thank you. If someone buys me a car, I say thank you—but if I'm honest, I'm feeling a lot more thankful for the car than I am for the door.

In a strictly utilitarian sense, I could make a chart numbering from one to ten, and instead of saying thank you for things, I could say, 

"My level of gratitude towards you is somewhere between five and six." Even though it's technically a more articulate way to express my thanks, it wouldn't make sense to anyone. But the simple phrase we use for everything can't always express the depth of gratitude.

Take the leper . . .

Jesus was on His was to Jerusalem when ten men who had leprosy called out to him from a distance, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"

Leprosy. For anyone in the first century A.D., the diagnosis brought the cold chill of dread. It meant pain, exile, shame, and a slow, excruciating, unstoppable death. It killed nerve endings, stunted the larynx, and slowly ate skin away until there wasn't much left. Leprosy was thought to be wildly contagious, so lepers lived in communities outside the city with specific boundaries for their habitation. They had to yell, "Unclean, Unclean!" if anyone even came near,

When Jesus saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests."

The priests were the authority on health. If they declared a person clean, he was clean. If they declared a person unclean, he was unclean. If you thought you were cured of an infectious disease, you had to be checked by the priest before you could re-enter the community.

As they went, they were cleansed.

Instantaneously, completely, just-like-new cleansed. Fingers and toes that had been lost were back, gaping wounds were suddenly new skin, and weak voices and limbs became strong and vigorous.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Samaritans and Jews were rivals. They hated each other—the Samaritans had intermarried with gentiles, the Jews didn't like it, and the Samaritans didn't like that the Jews didn't like it. They never interacted voluntarily, and when they did it certainly wasn't civil. But here, a Samaritan cast himself down in a position of voluntary subservience to a Jew and tried to express the breadth of his thankfulness to Jesus—technically his foe.

Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?"

The freshly healed leper, brimming with delight and gratitude, looked around in stunned silence. Maybe he had yelled to the others to join him and they'd started back with him then changed their minds, or maybe he hadn't give them a second thought. The biblical author didn't see fit to include a reply—maybe the only answer was a shrug.

Then Jesus said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."

And we can assume he did, and that's the end of the story. One man got a five verse mention in the Bible because he stopped, turned around, and said thank you. On the scale of gratitude, he would have come in at 10+, but all he could do was praise and say thank you again and again. Mere words couldn't express the wild joy he must have been feeling, or his thankfulness. Jesus had given him his life back. He could go back to his family, friends, community, and work. He could move without pain, talk louder than a whisper, and feel heat and cold again for the first time in years. Jesus had restored everything. It must have seemed obvious to the leper, now a whole man—how could he not say thank you?

God gives and God takes away. This year He's done both, and we don't know why—but we know He is sovereign and we know all He does is good. Sometimes that's all He chooses to tell us and it has to be enough. In the midst of pain and confusion we have a God who cares, who heals the leper, and who loves us unconditionally.

How can we not say thank you?

 

*Story from Luke 17:11–19 (NIV)

** Happy Thanksgiving!!!

How to Receive Critique

Everyone comes in contact with critiques and criticisms at some point in life. When you're under critique, it's good to remember a few things:

1) What you think about my work does not define me. I don't have to build my character house on the foundation of your opinions.

2) My style isn't wrong just because it's not how you would have done it. Compare Shakespeare to Dr. Suess—surely one wouldn't have liked the other's style, yet each is a master in his own right.

3) A little bit goes a long way. Don't dwell on the negative criticisms you receive, or you'll see them as truth. Don't just listen to the people who constantly sing your praise, or you'll earn an inflated ego and an inability to see your own mistakes. Hear criticism, evaluate it, and let it go. The past is the past, and you don't owe it anything.

4) You always have something to learn. In the vein of a humble and teachable spirit, listen carefully for the lesson in every critique. It could help your art, your style, or just your ability to critique someone else well.

5) Graciousness is king. It's hard to smile and say thank you when you hear something negative about your work—but the people who are willing to tell you the negative things deserve commendation for their honesty. And even though you may not want to hear how your work is missing the mark, it may help in the long run. No matter if it's off base, unfair, or poorly delivered, say thank you. In anything from a sticky to an explosive situation, it builds relational equity. And we all need more of that.

And, most of all, remember Who you do your work for, and what He thinks of you.

A Small Brown Bird

This morning I saw a dozen sparrows chipping through the ice of a frozen puddle in the parking lot. Each one persistently pecked and suddenly when one broke through the ice, they all did. They did small birdlike things with the water—drank, bathed, refreshed—and hopped around merrily.

Few things look as cheery as a sparrow. He hops around, tilting his head left and right, leaning forward to peck the ground, hopping more, and flitting a yard at a time. The staccato precision of his movements and the sparkle in his beady black eye signal mischievous intent, and his mottled brown feathers, though not vivid, are beautiful.

Civilla D. Martin was also fascinated by sparrows. Born in 1866, she was a schoolteacher. She likely spent her days surrounded by children who were keen on awe and wonder—and you'd imagine that's where she noticed the sparrow, but it wasn't.

In the spring of 1905, Civilla and her husband, Walter, were in New York. They became close friends with a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle—true saints of God. The wife was 20 years bedridden, the husband an incurable cripple who traveled to work in a wheelchair. Yet, though their griefs should have been many, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to everyone they met. One day, Walter asked the Doolittles for the secret of their bright hope. Mrs. Doolittle had a simple response:

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Walter and Civilla, gripped by her simple expression of boundless faith, wrote a song. It drew from Mrs. Doolittle's original inspiration, Matthew 10:29–31.

Conviction well expressed carries art a long way. More than a hundred years later, a hymn inspired by a bedridden woman and a small brown bird is still around—and still rings absolutely true.

* See the whole story of His Eye is On the Sparrow.

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He: 
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, 
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear, 
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see; 
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; 
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise, 
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free; 
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.