The Illusion That It’s Up to Me

I have a lot of ambition. Big plans, big dreams, big goals. I’m almost always working on something and I have a difficult time being in the moment because I’m usually thinking through what comes next. It makes me kind of a pain to live with, I think. If anyone I live with is thinking of complaining, though, I’d like to note that I’m married to an entrepreneur so, you know, people in glass houses and all that.

Some of my goals for the next year are as follows: I’d like to write at least one more new manuscript (my current new manuscript, Bai Tide, is going through beta reader revisions. Hooray!), preferably two, all in the same series as Bai Tide. I have a really good story and character arc planned for the intrepid Bai Hsu from Blood Money and I think it’d be fun to try my hand at a series. So, there’s goal number one: One, but preferably two, new manuscripts next year.

Goal two: Pitch my new book(s) to an agent and get one to sign me.

Goal three: A really excellent book contract that’ll qualify me for the International Thriller Writers.

Goal four: Attend the PNWA Writers Conference, and maybe the International Thriller Writers Conference, both of which happen in July. Only one of which happens in New York City.

Goal Five: Win either the Nancy Pearl award for Blood Money or the PNWA Literary Fiction contest for Bai Tide. Preferably both. Not sure how realistic this is but sometimes an outlandish goal is invigorating.

As you can see, all of my goals revolve around writing. My goals for 2013 were to get published by an actual publisher (check!) and lose the baby weight I gained with my daughter (just five pounds left to go!). So those are done, and it feels great to have those in the rear view.

If I can get published before I’m thirty and lose forty five pounds in seven months, who’s to say I can’t land a book contract and a kick-butt agent who’s going to help me get my work out there? As for the conferences and the awards, we’ll see. They’re not in my realm of control as much. But I can sure as heck make sure I get lots of new writing done this next year, and I can definitely query and pitch my little heart out until an agent takes notice of me. Lord willing, of course.

This, I think, is the hardest thing for me to do with my walk with Christ. To hand over the things and people nearest and dearest to me and ask Him to do what He thinks is best with them. I mean, I KNOW He’s wise and knows best, but it’s difficult for me to hand over the deepest wishes of my heart (to be a successful author) and acknowledge that this might not be what He’s planned for me.

So, I pray. I pray for guidance, inspiration, help, and direction. That doors will either open or close as He sees fit, and that He’ll kick me through the right ones when the time comes.

I might accomplish some of those goals this next year, I might not. I might have a great year, or I’ll have a year that has me limping to the next holiday season desperate for a break. I don’t know.

All I know for sure is that it feels good to dream big, and know that at the very least, I’m doing what I love. Whether or not I’ll ever be a household name is a separate issue. So long as I’ve got stories to write, I reckon I’m right where I need to be. The rest is up to Him.

Nothing Fuzzy About It

This weekend I did something I rarely do: I spoke. In public. Such is my overwhelming discomfort at public speaking that I even have a hard time typing it.

Now my blood pressure is going up. Someone grab a paper bag.

You might be wondering why I put myself in that position, knowing in advance how I felt about it. The reason is, I hoped it would be helpful for the girls I was speaking to. My testimony (fancy Christian term for ‘the circumstances surrounding your journey to Christ’) involves lots of issues that people that age are either going through or have friends who are going through, and it was my hope that sharing my story would bring them hope.

It went spectacularly well. There were quite a few people praying for me and, according to the group leaders I spoke with afterward, my story touched a chord with the people it needed to.

As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time thinking about my story in the week leading up to Saturday. It got me thinking about the term “Born Again Christian.”

I’d always thought this term sounded fuzzy and nice, but now that I think about it for a moment I realize it’s anything but. Birth is difficult for everybody. As a mother who’s been fortunate enough to give birth to two children, I can attest to this. It was tough both times. But not just for me.

If you do any research into birth at all, you’ll find that babies have a lot of work to do when they’re born. Taking that first breath, figuring out how to operate in a world that is the polar opposite of everything they’ve ever known. Poor buggers are tired after just a few minutes of that.

I realized it’s kind of the same when you accept Christ, especially if you’ve spent a good portion of your life not believing. There’s nothing fuzzy about it. Up is down, left is right. It’s hard work.

So that was my big revelation this weekend. I think it’s funny that the talk I gave was supposed to be for the benefit of the girls and instead I’m the one who walked away with a new realization. Oops.

The Church Crowd

I don’t know why, but it always seems to happen that April is one of our busiest months of the year. In a good way. But still, so busy!

In between birthday parties and other uxorious activities, Wes found the time and childcare to take me out for dinner and a movie. This is noteworthy because this was our first dinner-and-a-movie date since my birthday. Which was in May of last year.

We had a fantastic time eating dinner at an Italian restaurant, where our waiter was hysterical and more than happy to crack inappropriate jokes with us. Wes has a special kinship with waiters, as he worked in the food service industry for seven years. That’s actually how we met, when he was just my hot waiter and I was just the jail-bait chick making doe-eyes at him from one of his tables.

Anyway, as we’re getting ready to leave our waiter told us that we were his best table of the night. I replied, “I bet you say that to all your tables.” He refuted this strenuously.

According to him, and later corroborated with my husband, Sundays are the worst days to work in restaurants because of the church crowd. Apparently my fellow Christians suck as restaurant patrons. Bad tipping, demanding, discourteous, and inconsiderate.

Wes said that, during his days at Red Robin, he would recognize some of the people sitting as his tables and acting like jerks from the church we go to. How sad is that?! He even said some of them left Bible tracts in lieu of tips, leaving notes that they were giving him something more valuable than money.

I am a huge fan of the Bible, but that kind of behavior really ticks me off. What a bad example to set for people! I doubt any waiter or waitress who’s gotten stiffed for a tip is thinking charitably about the patrons who stiffed them, and if you then try to proselytize? What do you think will happen, other than that they’ll think Jesus is a jerk because the people who believe in Him are inconsiderate cheapskates!

Maybe I’m overreacting. Regardless, I don’t think my opinion is unwarranted. It is embarrassing when people judge what you believe, and then you later come to find out that their judgment is completely justified because there are some people who share your faith and act like jerks in restaurants.

So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t be a jerk. Don’t put a Jesus bumper sticker on your car and then cut people off. Don’t go to a restaurant after church and then mistreat the waiter.

I just feel like Christians should be the most awesome people out there. That they should be associated with random acts of kindness, generosity, considerateness, and awesomeness. If we’re representing what Christ has done in our lives, people should see that as extraordinary love, patience, and joy, not stinginess and rudeness.

Fight Club Christianity

fight-club-soapIt’s no secret that I love the movie Fight Club.  In fact, if someone asked me to name the salient influences that have shaped the person I am today, Fight Club would be among the top three.

Why?  It’s not because of Brad Pitt’s abs, and it’s not because I like watching people pound one another into cookie dough or giggle at the phrase “all-singing all-dancing crap of the world.”

No, it’s because of the deep undercurrent running though the movie/book.  The message that our present society, with its obsessive drive to consume and beautify, is hollow and rotting from the inside out.

A McMansion in the suburbs with an SUV in the driveway and a vacation every year sure looks nice, but it’s really not if lurking underneath it all is crippling debt and an all-consuming dissatisfaction.  With everything.  Because the minute you buy something it’s out of date, and therefore you need to start obsessing about the newer version of it, until you can wrap your hands around it and start longing for something else.

I first saw Fight Club when I was in high school, at Wes’ recommendation.  The movie blew my mind.  The violence skittered away into the background for me, and the resounding idea I walked away with is summed up in this one quote: “The things you own end up owning you.”

It is that short phrase right there that helped shape the person I am today.  It’s the reason I wasn’t dissatisfied during the years when Wes and barely scraped by and I couldn’t afford to buy socks so I just wore the ones I had until they were literally dissolving beneath my feet.  It’s the reason I don’t care that my house doesn’t have marble countertops, or that my wardrobe only has four pairs of shoes, or that nearly everything we have for our baby is secondhand.

It’s because I know that what really counts can’t really be bought.  If my house burned to the ground, I’d be annoyed to have to replace birth certificates and clothes and stuff, but I probably wouldn’t be terribly bothered.  So long as the three of us made it out ok, I’d have everything that matters to me.

Wes and I do not live a fancy life.  Our couches are falling apart, our clothes are old and unfashionable, and we get our hair cuts at Great Clips.  But.  But!  We are so happy, you guys.  We’re content with nearly everything about our life.  Because what we value can’t be ordered from Amazon.

That quote from Fight Club, which I internalized in high school, helped me figure out that cultivating contentness or contentitude or whatever you want to call it separate of whatever stuff you happen to accrue is one of the most important things you can learn.

The reason Christianity is in the title is that Wes and I were discussing this topic on the way to church last Sunday, and then when we got to church Wes’ Dad was preaching about this very thing.  He didn’t bring Fight Club into it, but he did elaborate on the idea that, for believers in Christ, our treasure isn’t down here anyway.

He explained how God provides for His children what they need, and that to be anxious about finances or to be panicking at the recession is not really necessary.  Chasing money isn’t why we’re here, we’re here to serve God.  Wes’ Dad was much more eloquent and concise than I am, but that’s why he’s a pastor and I’m a blogger.

What about you?  What have been the salient influences in your life?  Do they have anything to do with Brad Pitt’s abs?

My Dan Brown Manifesto

I love Dan Brown novels.  Dan Brown novels make me want to tear my hair out.  I enjoy learning academic esoterica from Dan Brown’s novels.  If Dan Brown gets any more blatant with the subtext in his novels, he may as well skip the story part and just keep trying to convince everyone to agree with him.

Such is my love/hate relationship with Dan Brown.  The author of The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and a few others.

I’ve been reading Dan Brown’s novels since I was in high school.  I own three of his books, actually.  His earlier work had a fun way of interspersing interesting facts with the story, so I always felt like I walked away from the book having learned something (I also felt this way when I was on my Tom Clancy kick awhile back).

I finished his new book, The Lost Symbol, this weekend and I have to say…I’m disappointed.  The story was a ton of fun, and I learned a lot about Washington D.C. and the Freemasons, but he should have stopped writing that book about 30 pages before he did.

The story wraps up, and then he goes on for another 30 pages with his personal religious views and how the established religious authorities have got it all wrong.  He quotes the Bible numerous times, but only ridiculously out of context, and the whole thing ends up just being really obnoxious.

I know a lot of Christians rose up in outrage over the things Dan Brown wrote about in The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.  To be honest, I was never one of them because I didn’t really know enough at the time to know whether or not I should be outraged.  I just enjoyed the stories.

Either I know more now, or he’s getting increasingly ham-handed with his attempts to stir controversy, but the ending of The Lost Symbol just annoyed me.  It’s fine if he doesn’t agree with Christianity, or want to be a Christian.  I’m not about to brow-beat anyone for disagreeing with me.

But, he takes it too far when he quotes the Bible out of context so egregiously that I wonder if he even understands what he’s doing.  For him to try to put Jesus on a par with Buddha or Mohammad is laughable because Jesus left no room for Himself to be anything other than the Son of God.  He’s either the Messiah or He’s a lunatic, but there’s no way He was just some wise dude who left us a good example like so many other wise dudes.

Dan Brown is just so silly when he says the religious establishment has gotten the teachings of the Bible all wrong by asserting that their way is the only way to get to Heaven.  When Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the father except through me” He isn’t being coy.  He’s laying it out on the table, and there’s really no way to misunderstand that.

So this may be the end of the line for me.  If Dan Brown wants to write stories, I will read them.  If he’s going to keep getting up on increasingly larger soap boxes in an attempt to convince me that we are all gods, well, no thank you very much.  This mere human isn’t buying what he’s selling.