Why Repetition?

A lot of life is about repetition. We wake up in the morning. Do some sort of workout. Eat. Get ready for work. Go to work. Daily grind, daily grind, finish some projects, eat lunch, daily grind, get off work. Make dinner. Eat dinner. Do dishes. Do a few small things. Go to bed.

Wake up in the morning. Do some sort of workout . . .

You get the point, probably because you do some iteration of it. Over time, we work ourselves into ruts. We eat this for breakfast—because it's what we always eat. We go food shopping at this time—because it's when we always go. We wear this dress to weddings, walk that route to school, listen to this music in the shower—because it's how we've been doing it for years

Repetition makes some things better—if you write every day, little by little, you'll become a more clear, effective writer. If you paint every day, you'll be quicker, sharper, cleaner. If you chop wood, you'll get stronger. If you give IVs, you'll be faster. If you cook, your food will taste better (unless you always burn it or use bad recipes. But that's a different topic for a different day).

Repetition makes some things worse—if you fight with your husband (wife, brother, parent, neighbor) every day, you'll get better at fighting (and conversely, worse at agreeing, and relationships, and being friends in general). If you follow the same mind-numbing routine every day, it's easy to lose sight of the small beauties and tiny moments that make the humdrum magnificent.

There's a two-fold point: 

1) Make sure you're repeating the right things. Choose the good things (creating beauty, loving, being kind) and scrap the bad (picking fights, disrespecting, being malicious). In the long run, when your character ruts run deep, you'll be glad you did. So will everyone else. 

2) Remember why you're doing what you're doing. If you're creating (or any verb) every day, it's easy to become disenchanted with your craft. But when the going gets tough, remember why you began in the first place. Everyone has different reasons, but many artists share at least one:

Because I love it, and I must create . . .

Turn of Phrase

Merriam-Webster, the be-all and end-all of word definitions, capitalizations, and spellings, defines turn of phrase as a way of saying or describing something.

One of the key aspects of being a writer is your turn of phrase. As a writer, if you can't say what you want to say well, no one will listen. If you aren't able to articulate points 1) clearly, 2) concisely, and 3) engagingly (I couldn't think of a good c-word for that one), not many people will read your writing. When you're a writer you have to think before you write, consider the implications of what you've written, and study the back story of what you're covering so you know the whole story.

After all, you want to give the correct impression and send the right message. Writing is a big responsibility.

It's not difficult to pick it out when another writer has good turn of phrase, because their writing makes you want to keep reading or makes you stop and think. It's inspiring because if someone else can do it well, you can do it well too.

The best part about writing is that no matter how you feel about your skills today, there's always room to improve. It's all about 10,000 hours and not stopping when you get there.

*Not a writer? Try replacing writer and writing in the paragraphs above with your noun and verb—politician, librarian, professor, businessman, doctor, pilot, actor—and see if it doesn't apply to you too.

You're Born with Talent

I have written thousands of words today, but promised myself I'd write a post before I a) cleaned a little more and b) went to bed. Thankfully, the post doesn't have to be long. You'll probably like it better if it's short. So will I.

They say you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient at anything. That means we're all good at sleeping, and probably before anyone gets too old we're experts at eating too. You're likely also a pro at bathing and breathing, but what do you do that you had to learn (suspend the detail-oriented side of yourself that reminds me you had to learn to eat and bathe)?

What are you good at? What do you want to be good at? What can you do that takes specific knowledge?

Choose something to become an expert at, and then practice. You're born with talent, but you earn skill.

Home is Where You . . .

We've all heard myriad "home" sayings . . .

Home is where the heart is
Home is not a place, it's a feeling
Home is where our story begins
Home is where the anchor drops
Home is where my bunch of crazies are (my personal favorite)
Home is where the horse is
and etc. etc. etc.

Every saying came from somewhere. Someone had an epiphany and wrote it down or made a picture or sang a song. Then they sold it, gave it to someone, or just started saying it all the time. You know what happens next. It's how creating works.

You realize something that's inexplicably true for human nature, and you find out how to express it, and you tell other people, and they realize it's true too. Then the message spreads.

When you're thinking about how and what to create, remember two things:

1) Create with the truth in mind, because that's what people are looking for. 
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (saw Him, proclaimed Him)

2) Create with human nature in mind, because people want to personally relate.
The sun will come out tomorrow, you can bet your bottom dollar. (optimism, hope)

Create often by these guidelines, because even if you don't become famous for every single (song you sing, picture you paint, word you write) thing, practice makes better, and better is better. And who knows, maybe something you create will catch on.

Settling Down to Write

Sometimes, the hardest thing about settling down to write is, well, settling down to write.

I usually finish dinner, put the dishes in the sink, and sit down to start—then get distracted because I want to clean or cook or draw or read or go outside, or all of the above. These desires seem especially prevalent when I stop moving and start thinking about words.

Sometimes, I give in to my chore-oriented urges. I promise I'll just do something else real quick, but inevitably it takes more time than I planned and soon my train of thought is derailed before it left the station. Gone forever.

The longer and the more I write, the more I realize two things:

To become a better writer, you have to have staying power. If you're getting up and doing something around the house every ten minutes, your writing will show it. It'll be disjointed, and only half-thought out, not to mention it'll take you five times longer to finish things. To get better at something, you have to stick to your commitment to improve, no matter what you remember needs to be done.

To become a better writer, you have to prioritize. When I finished The Cup during my senior year of college, I spent most of August, all of September, and the first half of October inside hunkered over my computer, watching longingly as the autumn days passed in all their charm and mystique. You have to practice to get better, and if you're serious about getting better, you'll have to say no to other things.

When it comes down to it, writing follows the rule of everything else in life: if you want to get better, you have to make some sacrifices.

The Marvel of Christmas

The marvel of Christmas is that God sent His Son to the earth to be human—to breathe like we do, eat like we do, and cry like we do. God dropped His infant Son into a city too full, a temple too suspicious, and a race (the human one) doomed to sin no matter what. He gave heaven's royalty to be earth's sacrificial lamb, so weary, broken sinners could receive eternal life. That's the marvel of Christmas (although there's really so much more).

The marvel of the rest of the year is that it's always true, not just for the month of December. I personally think we should celebrate the meaning of Christmas all year long.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

The Feelings of Christmas

There are two kinds of feelings: the feelings that you feel, and the feelings that you touch. Even though almost one hundred percent of our days are spent experiencing feelings of touch, we focus much more on the feelings that we're feeling (happy, sad, disgruntled, content).

The first Christmas was full of emotional feelings, which we've all thought about before—a virgin feeling wonder at bearing a child, a righteous man feeling responsibility that he would be raising the Son of God, local shepherds feeling terrified at the whole heavenly host showing up at their campground—but we seldom think of the touch feelings when Jesus entered human skin.

The historical assumption is that Jesus was born some time in September, so the Bethlehem climate was warm and dry. Sleeping in the stable with the animals would be no big deal (besides the other obvious hesitations).

Mary didn't give birth on a hospital bed, and maybe there wasn't even a bench or couch. She could have been just sitting on a pile of straw or hay, or even just the dirt. Straw always pokes something—readjust one poke, and you're just getting poked somewhere else. And soon you start to itch.

Mary delivered her baby and wrapped him in a scrap of cloth (whatever they hand on hand) and placed him in a manger. It was likely rough hewn wood, liable to scape his baby cheeks and snag the already rough material.

God, a baby. Mary and Joseph's wonder, befuddlement, and downright astonishment probably left a stronger impression than the itching straw, the warm air, and the wooden crate where they laid the Son of God. But I'm sure they remembered it.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger.

The Smells of Christmas

Christmas is hard to fully capture, for a lot of reasons: we weren't there the first time around, it's rich with significance that's been commercialized by hallmark and tree farms, and there's too much wonder to quickly describe. It's hard to slow it down and capture one thing at a time, but today I'm only thinking about one tiny part of Christmas.

What it smells like.

Inside, there's snappy pine musk, rich spices, cookies in every flavor and scent, the holiday honey glazed ham, cinnamon rolls, maple sausage . . . Christmas inside basically smells like food.

Outside, sniffing quickly can make you gasp. There's still the smell of pine, and a faint scent of fresh snow, sugared nuts, holiday drinks from the closest cafe, and the occasional smoky drift of a winter bonfire.

All the smells we associate with Christmas are pleasant—mostly spices, food, and warmth—but the very first Christmas probably didn't smell like sweet spice and holiday ham. Mary and Joseph were sleeping in a stable because all the inns were full. They were with the animals. The animals. And the stable boys were probably distracted by the hubbub and neglecting their cleaning duties, so it smelled like, well, manure.

And after Mary delivered a baby, she probably didn't take a sponge bath. Apparently having a baby is pretty messy, and a lot of work. So, it smelled like sweat, and all the rest that comes with one tiny human coming out of another full grown human.

In a city full of people walking around all day, there were all kinds of crazy particles kicked up in the air. It smelled like dust.

There was also smoke, likely the remnants of whatever all the neighboring inns had for dinner, hay and straw, and animal breath.

Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger. Nativity scenes are neat and clean, Mary isn't sweating, and there's no manure. In real life it wasn't a sanitary or romantic place to sleep, much less deliver a baby. It doesn't seem fitting for the King of kings—but then, this King isn't like anything we were expecting.

For unto us a child is born, and unto us a son is given . . . And by His stripes, we are healed.

Sunday, Love

Wrapping dozens of Christmas presents.
Taking a nap.
Walking around the prettiest Christmas-flavored city.
Eating cheeseburgers and french fries.
Listening to Christmas music.
Looking at our tree.

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent and we lit the candle of love. This love is beyond what we can imagine: God becomes human. It changed everything for us.

For He will save His people from their sins.

A Great and Mighty Wonder

A great and mighty wonder,
a full and holy cure!
the Virgin bears the Infant
with virgin-honour pure:

The Word becomes incarnate,
and yet remains on high;
and cherubim sing anthems
to shepherds from the sky.

While thus they sing your Monarch,
those bright angelic bands,
rejoice, ye vales and mountains,
ye oceans, clap your hands.

Since all he comes to ransom,
by all be he adored,
the Infant born in Bethl'em,
the Saviour and the Lord.

Repeat the hymn again:
'To God on high be glory,
and peace on earth to men.'

—St. Germanus (634–734)

Some people understand what life is really about. Others can write well. There are a few gifted souls who know both—one of them was St. Germanus. In his hundred years of life, he wrote only a few hymns and A Great and Mighty Wonder isn't even the most popular.

Maybe he penned it sitting in front of a 700 A.D. Christmas tree—or perhaps he was on silent barren hills at night, contemplating the miracle that God sent his Son as a baby to save His people from their sins.

This we do know: St. Germanus understood both the miracle of the incarnation and exactly what life is about.

Since all he comes to ransom, by all be he adored . . . To God on high be glory, and peace on earth to men.