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Post-NaNoWriMo 2014: The Book Preview

If you know me, you probably know I finished another round of NaNoWriMo approximately one month ago. And if you’re a reader of this blog, then you might guess my book’s subject. I have continued to pursue the calling I announced last February and March. NaNoWriMo gave me just the push I needed to finish the first draft. For your enjoyment/amusement/criticism, here is a long introductory excerpt from my book, The Prayer Group (working title).

The prayer group photo shoot at the end of the first year.

The varied wacky characters of prayer group by the end of its first year.

Prologue/Chapter 1

“’Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’” Matthew 6:9-13

Praying out loud always felt awkward. I had grown up in a Christian family, but we only prayed together for holidays, dinners out, and the rare family emergency. I liked hearing my parents pray, and I would obediently bow my head and close my eyes. We usually held hands in a circle.

But when asked to pray for the group, by my parents or youth pastors, I got nervous. I don’t know quite why. Maybe I was afraid of saying something wrong or not having anything to say at all. My mind would freeze up. No one taught me how to pray, so I would resort to the usual, “Thank you, God, that we can all get together here. Please bless our food. Amen.”

In ninth grade, a few teenagers from my youth group, my sister, and the youth pastor took a trip to a district conference. We stopped at a fast food place, and when we had all sat down with our trays, the pastor told me to pray for us. I complained, trying to get out of it, but he held firm. He said I needed to learn to pray in groups, that it would be good for me. Something like that. I didn’t get his point.

Wasn’t it good enough that I prayed to God on my own? Why did other people have to listen in on my private conversations with my Creator? Was it any of their business?

I mumbled out some ragged prayer, and we all ate, the pastor seemingly satisfied with my compliance.

I slowly accumulated more practice praying in groups, but it still seemed awkward by the time I attended a private Christian school, Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. When my theology professor asked for volunteers to pray, I avoided eye contact and instead bowed my head.

My first summer after moving to college, I became a camp counselor at a small camp in the foothills of Washington’s Cascades. There, every counselor led a daily Bible study shortly after breakfast with his or her cabin of campers. For six week-long camps, we read and discussed the story of Moses in Egypt. By the sixth week, I practically knew the story by heart and looked forward to sharing it with my campers. But I would still ask different campers to pray for us before lights out each night. This was done under the excuse of teaching them how to express their faith and connect with God. Really, I was avoiding praying myself. Most nights I would anyway, and there were times that I felt it necessary to pray with a camper one-on-one, but I still lacked confidence. I knew the campers looked up to me as a role model, so I often silently prayed for God’s spirit to supply me with the words.

Despite the growth I still needed, I returned to college eager to lead a small group on campus. Whitworth has a built-in campus ministry network that trains, equips, and supports students in spiritually leading their peers. I was partnered with a friend in my dorm to be co-leaders of a group. From the start, my co-leader would call on the group members to lead in prayer. He fully expected them to step up and fearlessly pray in front of the group. We teased him that he picked on us just so he could avoid praying in front of us.

We all did pray, though. As a leader, I again felt the need to set an example and pushed myself to get over my own fears. At the same time, it nagged at me that we should want to pray together. Why were we avoiding the privilege of bringing our thanks and concerns before our Savior? We were intent on studying the Bible and talking about God, but we hesitated at talking to Him, especially in front of each other. Why did it feel like I could only meet with God in private and not with my fellow believers, my brothers and sisters in Christ?

At the same time, a friend of mine was studying abroad in China. We exchanged a few letters and emails, and he mentioned in one that he had heard from some of his friends at Whitworth that they were having a lot of fun together, particularly in pranking each other. I didn’t take much note of it at the time since they were not my friends, and I didn’t know whom he might have been talking about.

Michael returned to Whitworth that January. He quickly made a point of reminding me of the friends he had told me about. He had found out that there was a solid group of friends who met together every night to pray.

“Every night?” I asked. “To pray?”

Michael was excited. He invited me to come see for myself. I had my doubts. A group fanatic about praying together didn’t sound appealing and certainly not something I could easily join. Besides, I had my small group to lead and enough other friends and acquaintances to have a decent social life. I didn’t think I needed another Christian social group. Didn’t I get enough of prayer between church and small group?

Then a mutual friend bumped into me at the campus coffee shop. Anneliese mentioned that I might be interested in a student group that met together to pray. “We’re upstairs every night if you want to come,” she said.

They’re recruiting, I thought to myself.

Within a week or two, I was chatting with Michael in his dorm room. It was a Friday night, but I didn’t have any other plans. The campus is generally quiet all of the January term since many students are gone for short study abroad trips or just taking the month off from school. After visiting a while, Michael said he would head to the prayer group in a few minutes and I was welcome to come along if I wanted to keep talking. Since I had nothing else to do, I decided to follow him and see what the hype was about.

That night, we prayed for at least an hour, possibly the longest I had ever prayed either by myself or with others. The security guard came around to kick us out so he could lock up the student union building. By the time I was back in my dorm room, I had caught the bug. I excitedly told my roommate where I had been and that they would be gathering again the next morning for breakfast and more prayer.

I went that Saturday morning to a room in a dorm across campus. Most of the group showed up, filling the double bedroom. Some group members had brought cinnamon rolls, muffins, clementine oranges, and bananas. We shared the food and sang several worship hymns together. And we prayed.

From then on, I counted myself as one of the group. I kept going, shocked at my own sudden eagerness. There was something that drew me in, something that stirred a longing in the deep recesses of my heart. I realized I was thirsty. The group offered living water. And I met Jesus.

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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in Books

 

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NaNoWriMo 2013: Another Month, Another Book

2013-Winner-Facebook-ProfileAnother NaNoWriMo has finished. I still feel crazy to have gone through with it, but the greater feeling of accomplishment pays off in the end. The resulting book has the working title of Foster, though I’m still brainstorming other options. A mother-daughter drama, the book covers broad themes such as identity, family, and the need to be loved.

This story begins in Spokane, Washington, a mid-size city on the border of Idaho. A 15-year-old girl named Angela comes home to find out she and her mother are about to be evicted from their apartment. Then her mother is arrested for drunk driving, and CPS picks up the girl to take her to foster care. Everything in Angela’s life depends on whether or not her mother, Cynthia, can take care of herself and her daughter. Angela tries to be independent and responsible for her own life, feeling forced to grow up early. But despite her façades, she still waits for her mother to grow up too and be the adult for the sake of their family. If Cynthia doesn’t, Angela may spend the last three years before legal adulthood in foster care, bounced from family to family, house to house, until she can live on her own outside of the state’s guardianship.

“The eviction notice wasn’t a surprise. I was used to moving. I couldn’t remember spending longer than six months in one location. Such a childhood makes it hard to ever feel settled. You have to stay on your toes. One tip: keep everything precious to you in a backpack. Then keep that backpack in your sight at all times. All times. You never know when you might need a quick escape or when you’ll come home to find the locks changed.”

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2013 in Books

 

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Adopted by Our Abba

With Halloween over, that means NaNoWriMo season has begun. This is my second year participating, and I’m hoping to start a winning streak. As you might remember from last year, I bent the rules and wrote a nonfiction book of rambling essays rather than a traditional novel with characters and plot. The first week of writing is done, but I still haven’t got into the swing of fiction.

Each time I sit down to work on my book … well, let’s say we are not on good speaking terms. I have about half as many words down as I should by this point. And I still need a title. It’s a young adult book about a teenage girl who struggles for independence and control of her life despite living in state foster care. So far, I just call the book “Foster” for short.

I grew up knowing both foster and adoptive parents. I saw personally what it meant for the children they would take into their homes. The children had hard lives since birth, suffered abuse in many forms, and felt the pains of abandonment and loneliness. The parents I knew offered shelter, security, and the love of a family, blessings other children take for granted. Like I did. Not every foster care situation is healthy or beneficial for children, but when the parents genuinely love the children who are not their own, that is beauty in my eyes. It calls to my heart because it reminds me that I am adopted too.

If you are a Christian, then God has adopted you. He rescued you from abandonment and abuse, bringing you into his loving protection and care. Paul says, “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father'” (Rom. 8:15 NLT).

My adoption by God is a more powerful truth to me than knowing he also created me. Adoptive parents struggle with difficulties unique from parents raising biological children. Children in foster care or adoptive homes do not come fresh out of the package. Other adults have already left their marks, even when parents take home a baby girl the day after her teenage mother gave birth to her. In choosing to adopt, parents have to recognize that their new child has been hurt and broken. The longer the child has lived in foster care or in bad family situations, the more apparent the damage from an unstable, unhealthy childhood. Parents with biological children cannot guess the faults of their children. But adoptive parents can see beforehand, and they willingly choose a child who may struggle with ADHD or self-destructive habits or a tendency to violent anger. They see the faults and choose to love anyway.

God does the same when he chooses us. He welcomes us into his family, knowing well our every wound and scar. He knows the faults and weaknesses that we try to hide or ignore. He knows every part of us and yet wholly loves us.

Paul continues, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39 NIV).

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2013 in Books, Other thoughts

 

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NaNoWriMo: The Raw Cut

Is the suspense killing you? I know I promised to update in a week after my last post, but hey, 26,055 words really takes it out of a girl.

Yes, I conquered NaNoWriMo.

Winner-180x180

After a writing blitz during the last week of November, in which I locked myself in my apartment after work each day and ignored my friends, the book crossed 50,000 words on the evening of November 30th. I had almost four hours to spare before the midnight cutoff. With a relieved sigh, I submitted the completed manuscript to the NaNoWriMo website, confirming my winner status. Then I emerged from my apartment and went to a friend’s Harry Potter party to celebrate.

The feeling of accomplishment floated me along for the next week. My self-esteem enjoyed the boost after all the deriding remarks I kept feeding it up until I finished my book.

At the same time, I felt perfectly content to not write again for a good long while. Even two weeks after finishing, I still look forward to a break from serious, lengthy writing until at least January. I above all don’t want to work on my book. We spent too much intimate time alone, so we’re taking a break. I need the distance to clear my head before I jump into the waist-deep editing that it desperately needs.

Unfortunately, my eager and supporting friends and family now want to read the book. Too many have already asked, “So when do we get to read it?” Thank you for the encouragement, but you don’t want to see a fresh NaNoWriMo book. I don’t even want to read it, and I know what it’s about. No, this one needs severe cutting and stitching before it will be ready for eyes.

That said, I will consent to revealing a raw cut from the middle of my book, if only to increase my motivation to edit and eventually, hopefully–one day–publish the full book. So, without further ado, please enjoy the following excerpt:

Secondhand Lions is one of my favorite movies. With three exceptional actors, Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osment, and Michael Cain, it was practically a guaranteed winner. I found the DVD on sale for five bucks at Walmart and couldn’t pass it up. The basic plot is a boy, Walter, gets dropped off at the house of his great-uncles, whom he has never met, to stay for the summer. His single mother assures him she will be back in a couple weeks or a month at the most. She encourages him to try, in the meantime, to find the rumored treasure the great-uncles have stashed away.

Walter and his uncles act awkward around each other at first, but they start to bond once Uncle Garth begins to tell Walter stories of war, sword fights, an evil sheik, a princess, and a treasure of gold. In a gripping scene between Walter and his Uncle Hub, who would rather fight than tell stories, the boy asks if his uncle’s stories are true. Growing up with a mother who only lies to him, he desperately wants to believe the fantastic stories of his uncles but doesn’t know if he can.

Uncle Hub says it doesn’t matter whether the stories are true, neither confirming nor denying them. He responds, “If you want to believe in something, believe in it. Just because something isn’t true, that’s no reason why you can’t believe in it.”

He decides to give Walter a small taste of the speech he calls, “What every boy needs to know about being a man,” and the full length of which he had given to many boys and men in his life. As he goes on, he tells Walter, “Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil. And I want you to remember this that love,” and choking up a bit, “true love never dies.” Whether or not those things are true, Uncle Hub says, “A man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.”

That isn’t an opinion you will hear often. It almost sounds new age and like believing in subjective truth, as if there is no absolute reality. But I think Uncle Hub wasn’t trying to teach Walter to believe in whatever he wanted or what made him happiest. He wasn’t denying that truth is important.

Rather, I take it that he meant there are certain things that we have to hold onto even when life seems to prove it wrong. In the face of opposition and in the middle of battle, we should believe particular principles to carry us through. If we give them up, we will lose everything. When a soldier forgoes hope for victory, he will lose his strength and courage to keep fighting. In a way, he contributes to his own failure by losing faith. So our beliefs affect our lives and may even save them. It matters what we choose to believe.

Some people call religion and spiritual faith a crutch for people who can’t accept reality. I also heard a Christian respond, though I can’t remember who, that Christianity wasn’t just a crutch; it was a full-body stretcher. This Christian fully acknowledged that his faith not only gave him something to lean on, but it completely supported him when he had no strength of his own. Is that an ignorance and denial of truth? Of course. That is, if the faith is based on false beliefs. But trustworthy faith deserves full reliance. If the faith is in truth, then why shouldn’t you use the stretcher? Refusing that support and confidence only reveals cynicism and doubt, not loyalty to objectivity.

Let’s take Christian faith, for example. If there’s nothing reliable in believing the gospel of Jesus Christ, then people are just accepting it to make themselves feel better. It gives them some false hope that makes life seem more meaningful, as if life has purpose. It also eases their minds about death if they can believe that they will go to heaven for an eternity of rest and joy. If Christianity is a lie, then Christians use it as a crutch to be happier, but it simply deludes them so they can escape reality.

On the other hand, suppose there really is something to all this hype about the Bible and Jesus. If salvation and eternal life come only through believing in Jesus, believing God became a man and died to save the world, believing his sacrifice frees you from the punishment for sin, then your only hope is to throw yourself fully into trusting the truth of Christian faith. If you hold back, you’ll be lost. Choosing to not let faith in Jesus carry you will condemn you to eternal death, instead, which we call hell. Yes, faith takes a leap, but it’s a reasonable one if the object of your faith is truth.

You can watch the scene I discuss from Secondhand Lions here. Please leave constructive feedback in the comments if you have some to spare.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Other thoughts

 

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One Week to the End

Once again, I must apologize for infrequent, irregular updating. I preferred to use my time spent writing to write for Nanowrimo than my personal blog. If I’m going to form words into sentences, it might as well be for the 50,000-word behemoth, right?

Yet, even neglecting blog posting has not guaranteed Nanowrimo success. I have 23,945 words written so far, leaving 26,055 to finish by next Friday at 11:59 p.m. That means over three weeks were not sufficient for me to make it halfway. Now I have one week to make up the rest and reach my goal.

My biggest hurdle is to find topics to write about. It feels as if I’ve already used most of my thoughts and opinions that I wanted to say. Now I’m drawing blanks. Why is it when you focus on writing originally that, instead, all your writing comes out bland and boring? Wish me luck, and you will hear from me in a week whether I managed to think up 26,055 more words in time.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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