Sunday, May 30, 2010

Metaphor, Tall Grass, and Prayer

I was pulled to the waterfall tonight, but I resisted. “It’s late already.” I argued. “The mosquitoes will be terrible. And what about the snakes? And the poison ivy?” But the urge was insistent. It wouldn’t let me loose. While walking the dog, clarity struck. This wasn’t just some random hunger for nature’s respite, but a pull of the Spirit; an insistent tug which had been building in intensity since last night. So I settled my dog back at home, told my husband where I was headed and I took a chance, believing the Holy One would meet me there.

The sun was setting, and I didn’t bother to take the phone--there are no reception bars at the waterfall. It was after 8pm when I arrived since I’d put it off so long, and the sun was already below the tree line. The woods were dark and held untold creepiness within their depths. What was I thinking coming out here—by myself—this late?

It’s been a wet spring and the county hasn’t mowed along the road yet this year. The grasses were tall—some above my waist. I parked in the ditch break above the culvert and walked up the gravel road, hoping for a wide, flattened deer trail where the weeds would be tamped down enough that I could cross without having to fear snakes, ticks, and other creepy crawlies which might be hiding there. But no luck. So I stood at the edge of the road, less than thirty yards from my destination, and tears came to my eyes.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t complete my mission. I couldn’t get to the waterfall.

I was too afraid.

When I was a teenager I came here all the time. Heedless of danger and so steeped in the immortality of youth, the thought of creatures and potential accidents was the furthest thing from my teenaged mind. But my thirty-seven-year-old self could not begin to channel that girl. I was trapped on the edge of the gravel road, frozen with the realization that I am afraid of everything. The sad, humbling wrench that my faith is, for all practical purposes, a sham.

Can you trust me with this?

The Still Small Voice was unexpected, but not shocking. He wasn’t mocking, nor was he daring me. The Voice wasn’t asking me to go down the bank and across the water, just to reach its top; to go through the tall grasses; to place my feet on unlevel, possibly inhabited ground. The Voice was as quiet as a thought, but without the timbre of self origination. And with that simple question the Spirit caressed my mind—and tore open my heart.

I swallowed and looked back toward my van. Then toward the waterfall, and back at the weeds and tall wildflowers. My heart sank. Anything could be hiding in those grasses.

Can you trust me with this?” The question reverberated around my soul, gently demanding an answer.

“I don’t know.” I admitted, though hesitantly, aloud.

I stared at the grass some more while I considered the question. I walked back and forth along the road’s edge, looking for a clean path where there was none. I heard creatures, small creatures, move to my left, but I didn’t see the evidence of their existence.

Can you trust me with this?

And , suddenly, I knew my answer. It was shocking to admit, but achingly true. “No.” I said. “I can’t.” And my honesty took me the rest of the way to a revelation moment—the realization he’d planned for me all along with every urge that had tugged at my heart for the past twenty-four hours. “I haven’t really trusted you for a long time.”

I gazed at the bank. I knew right where the path would be, even though I couldn’t see it. The steep deer trail down the mud with hidden rock outcroppings just the right size for a foothold. Even from my low point on the road I could see the young tree trunk—thicker than I remembered—which my youthful self had grabbed onto for balance before using it to swing down to the rock-lined creek bed below. But I couldn’t get there. Something was in my way.


Trust me with this.”

It wasn’t a question anymore. It was a nudge. And to disobey seemed... wrong. But my feet were heavy.

"Trust me with this."

“Okay.” I took a deep breath and pushed a size-nine’s worth of grasses down, then another. And another. I jumped over a low spot and up to where the grass wasn’t so tall. I stepped carefully, and the sticks in my path remained thankfully inanimate. I made it to the top of the creek bank.

I made it. But I couldn’t have done it on my own. Without that nudge, I would’ve already been back to the van, crying and feeling defeated. But I made it through the tall grasses, across the place where I’d seen a coiled snake just last spring, and to the top of the creek bank.

“I did it.” I said. “I trusted you to get me this far.” And as I stood there at the top of the bank, I thought, "Now what?"

The far ledge of the waterfall called to me as if it could smell the girl I once was. I really wanted to get across the creek to where the white wildflowers grew out of the rocks (always on the opposite side—the sun-facing side), to sit on that ledge and dangle my legs above the pool below—but the crossing would be slippery. Though I wouldn’t have hesitated at fifteen, I knew the creek was running too swiftly for common sense to take me to the waterfall’s ledge. Strangely, however, the urge was gone. The message had been simple. He hadn’t asked me to trust Him to get to the destination today, just to get to the place where I could see the path clearly. And He didn’t need me to go the whole distance tonight. He only wanted to take my hand and bring me close enough to see it—and to see something else-something hidden from the naked eye and from my fear-veiled heart.

This was not simply a trip to the edge of a waterfall. This was a safari to the edge of my faith which took me a few pitiful steps beyond its borders. At his urging, I was forced to take the stage as a player in my own allegory. I guess the Holy Spirit had a message for me that wasn’t making it through the static-filled channels of the daily grind, so He had to bring me to this place tonight to show me how my commitment to Fear paralyzes me—and limits him from accomplishing that Good Work which he has begun within me. On this stage, this weedy amphitheatre, the Holy Spirit chose to pierce my consciousness with the power of metaphor.

It was time to go. I headed 8 miles west and home as day wept orange through its hazy blue eyes. I’m not sure what to do with tonight’s revelation, but I think my fear—that ugly gray lump which has lurked on the corners of the last several months, staining my ability to write, relate, and, yes, even, at times, function—has been somewhat crippled by this revelatory visit to my sacred space.

I have been humbled tonight; an adventure which rarely happens alone. Seeing my allegorical self was painful, though necessary; for how else could I accept that fear cannot stand fully erect in the presence of the wooer of my soul?

Oh, that each day I would be willing to step out on faith and to bleed honestly upon the page; that I would move forward through the mysterious tall grasses knowing that, although this may not be the day I reach that place where I can sit and dangle my feet over The End, I can type my heart onto the keypad and trust that His hand rests upon mine to take me exactly the distance he wants me to go. Oh, that I would faithfully follow his leading—his urging—his wooing—to that place where metaphor comes to life… and where fiction mirrors truth. Amen.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"If music be the food of love, play on." -Wm. Shakespeare

I just had to share this link to a song by one of my new favorites, Broadway phenom, Sutton Foster. This song is so moving--makes me think of the Holy Wind, "Sarayu" as depicted in William P. Young's novel, The Shack. (READ IT NOW IF YOU HAVE NOT YET READ IT!) I don't know if the songwriter had any thoughts of God while writing this tune, but I have no doubt the Holy Spirit inspired the lyric and the absolutely gut wrenching melody/harmony with THIS DAY and me and my need for Him in mind. This song, to me, speaks to the hunger and restlessness and great gaping need to be solitary while soaring in the presence of God. Perhaps your need and mine are not in the same place today, but I hope you enjoy the song nonetheless. And I hope the link works! If not, go to you tube and type in Sutton Foster Flight and click on the one which is accompanied by the album cover for her album WISH.

May you hunger and soar upon Truth's breeze today.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Colors of Fiction

Last fall my daughter decided she wanted blue hair. Not blue all over, but one thick streak of bright, electric blue. I said, "Cool." (to my husband's surprise) and set about finding an inexpensive way to add this startling hue to my child's repertoire of individuality props and fashionista experimentation tools.

In our small town it isn't considered "normal" for a tween girl--or anyone, for that matter--to have blue hair; even a streak. But, I reasoned, now is the time. Seventh grade. And why not? Someday she's going to have to go out and get a job and I don't want her having the lifelong regret of, "Oh, man. I wish I'd had the guts to have funky hair when I had the chance!"

Though, as regrets go, I suppose that isn't too heavy a burden to bear.

Are you gasping at my parenting skills? Well, I guess you don't know me very well, then. You see, for two years my own stylist has been routinely talking me out of putting a few cherry-red streaks in my hair. I really, really want a couple--just a couple mind you--of thin, cherry red streaks. But, alas, I have listened and stayed with my "normal" (aka: crazy striped) three-color dye job of natural human colors (though not mine--that color remains unknown.) And then? I lost the chance. I took a job in a place with a dress code. A dress code which includes a proviso for "no non-human hair color."


Around the same time, my daughter went out for cheerleading, which also had a proviso. Luckily, my research had discovered several options for azure hair coloring and Delaney had decided on using a blue pseudo-weave rather than permanent color. Removable and reusable, she kept it in a drawer during basketball season.

And me? Well, I have yet to purchase my own cherry red weave. I may, instead, be forced to live my secret, deep desires upon the page, creating a heroine with cherry red streaks in her hair. There's something within me that balks at the lack of commitment a removable streak implies. I mean, if I'm going crazy, I'm going all the way, baby. No backing out. All or nothing.

So I'm stuck with nothing.

For now.

But that's just me. Good thing my daughter has a good head on her shoulders.

It's amazing what a little color can do to create atmosphere and change a person's outlook--even in fiction. In Hard Times, Charles Dickens writes page after page of gray imagery, so utterly dull in its exceptionally long description that the reader's skin begins to take on a sickly pall. (Can you tell how much I loved that book? Can you tell how much sarcasm and loathing have colored that last remark?) But for all the bleakness a perpetually dark book can, well, perpetuate upon the reader's soul, I have also found that dark, cold imagery, when used skillfully, can speed the heart rate (like in Dean Koontz's No Fear) and send a chilly sense of expectation (like in one of my more recent reads, A Great And Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray.) But the skillful author knows how to juxtapose light and heat against these sensations, these black and gray-nesses, to keep the reader from following a character too far into despair. Bray does this exceptionally well. If you can handle a Gothic novel which touches upon mythology and a bit of the occult and remember that it is FICTION, I do recommend this title.

I'm now reading Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, an epic fantasy which combines history with Celtic legend and lore and quite vividly paints scene after scene with effusive color. I'm a bit ambivalent about this story line--I do not, as yet, feel vested in its outcome--but I am sticking with it. I'm not on the edge of my seat, but I am intrigued and have been drawn into the sights and scents of the forest by Marillier's exceptional setting descriptions--many of which rely on color and the play of light. I think I can learn something about the craft by sticking with this story and seeing where protagonist Sorcha will end up. And I am anxious to know with whom, though I already have my suspicions. I am, at heart, a romantic. I want her to rescue her brothers from the evil sorceress and find love along her silent journey. And I want to see it in color.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


The comments have been posted. Whatever the glitch was, it is now fixed. Thank you, Blogger techies.

Thanks for your patience and your comments!

Now go read a book or something.

Will pub comments soon! and... disclaimer.

Just a note--a few of you have left comments on my rant and my anti-rant which haven't been approved yet--I've tried! Really! but there's some error at blogger. Your comments WILL be posted ASAP. Maybe the crazy weather is interfering with my DSL....

A little disclaimer: I spent a good portion of my childhood around the Amish (old order, Beachy----and everything in between) as well as several different levels of the Mennonite denomination (from the very conservative, almost-Amish to the contemporary, more liberal congregations). I never meant to imply disrespect to these people groups/subcultures/denominations--my comments and sarcasm were directed toward the FICTIONAL depictions of the Amish by Christian authors and the plethora of gagtastic bonnet book fiction being published in the CBA arena.

One of my best childhood friends was/is Mennonite (surname: Graber) and the life I observed within her home, family, and church (where I attended VBS every summer) greatly enriched my own faith journey. Additionally, it was at a conservative Mennonite Book Store where I discovered the YA Fiction series which changed my life and showed me the way to the Cross. so.....

If anyone was offended by thinking I was dissin' the real Amish or Mennonite PEOPLE, be assured that I was not. Only their fictional (truly, truly fictional) counterparts.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

THE ANTI-RANT, or, A Recant... sort of

Before heading off to bed tonight I went back and read the post I wrote this morning.

Wow. PMS much, anyone? Yeah. It's about that time again--hormones are a doozy, aren't they?It's been more than an hour since my first attempt at sleep. With stomach clenching and anxiety building, I had to get up, had to make amends, as it were, for words fitly spoken (typed.)

Do I gag and/or roll my eyes every time I see a new book cover from a Christian publisher with the Amish "life" portrayed? Yes, I do. Does that invalidate that author's hard work and contribution to the world of literature? Umm. gulp. No.

We don't all like the same stuff.

Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote:

“Words -- so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”

And to think that just a few posts ago I wrote about getting over my critical attitude. Oh, the power of words. Forgive me, Amish book authors. You're doing what you feel called to pursue--you are passionate and you're getting published. Congratulations should be in order rather than the scathing criticism of an, ahem, unpublished author.

Another wise writer/philosopher (Dolly Parton) once said,
"Get down off the cross, honey, cuz someone needs the wood!"

Yeah. Poor me. Nobody's pubbing my books. Mayhap there be a reason for that, eh? Maybe someone needs to take one of those heavy beams and wack me upside the head. Maybe I'm just jealous. They're getting published and I'm not. Yeah, I'll admit it: I am jealous--the ugly, green monster kind of jealous--and it ain't pretty. But that doesn't have me rushing to open up a new Microsoft Word Document so I can start writing my new Amish novel. Instead, it has me reaching for my Bible and putting my heart near my knees.

Is that critical, sarcastic person who I really am?

A character from one of my novels stole a line from my real life when she said, "Sarcasm is my native tongue." But tonight I'm reminded of the speaker I once heard who listed sarcasm among the baser human cruelties. Sarcasm has it's place, I think, in our culture... but perhaps it is too easily dripping from my mouth and my keystrokes.

So, is this inability to sleep, guilt-induced recant based on just another hormonal mood swing? I don't know. But I do know that I wish, wish WISH there would be more variety offered by CBA publishers. And , regardless of my guilt over how I expressed myself, I really, really, really, don't like Amish books.

But you might. Or your friends might. And, perhaps, even your teenage daughter might. Gulp. It is possible that within the fiction those bestselling authors create you've found a mirror that I have discarded--one of a different shape and size--one that comes wearing a bonnet. Or maybe not. Maybe you just read to escape--and the Amish life is so different from your own that you just love transporting yourself to that other world.

Escape. Ahhhhh.... I get that. I've done that (though not with Amish books.) I will, from time to time, pick up a regular old fluffy beach read, just for the fun of it. I'm not looking for Truth, I'm looking to be entertained. And that's okay--publishing is a business, after all, and market driven. If sales are steady in a particular genre in this particular economy, then, perhaps there is a place for Amish literature, if for no other reason than to provide a living for some struggling, well-meaning authors and editors. Well, then, as Tiny Tim said, "God Bless us, everyone."

I don't much care for Dickens either, but that's another post, and, since the dude's dead all bets are....

Whoa, girl.

Sorry. Little tangent there. Maybe PMS makes me a little ADD. And LMNOP, just in case you were wondering.

PMS aside, many of my friends could tell you that I suffer from an overdeveloped sense of guilt. If I feel that I've hurt someone, or found out that I (unintentionally) hurt someone, it literally eats me up inside. I lose sleep--I become anxious, feel sick--until I make it right.

Guilt plus hormones equals me posting a recant at a quarter to one in the morning on a day I've gotta get up and go to work in a few short hours. So I guess this is my anti-rant; my apology--my attempt to make it right.

So justice begs to ask: How dare I give a scathing review to a book simply because of its genre? How dare I judge the creation of an author and her publisher without having given it full perusal? I read part of Chapter One of Book One of a new series. I did not read the full book and, as I've stated recently in this very blog--I've grudgingly "stuck it out" on several other-genre titles and been glad for it.

Shame on me.

Does that mean I'm gonna rush right out and get this series and read it? Nope. Cuz Amish books just ain't my bag, baby.

But they might be yours.

And that's okay.

Sometimes our own reflection is the one we most need to hold up against Truth.

Sometimes the mirror needs to be cleaned.

Rant Warning: Amish Books for Good Christian Teens (?!?)

Just when I thought CBA couldn't possibly offer one more collection of bonnet-driven drivel, I come across a new Amish series offered from Thomas Nelson's children's division, Tommy Nelson. A Summer Secret is the name of the series. Inspiring Amish fiction for teens. (Gagging now, please go get me a five gallon bucket!)

I read an excerpt of Chapter One, Book One online. A book for teens? Not any I know. Maybe a denim-jumper-wearing, I-haven't-cut-my-glory (hair) since I was 2, socially inept, immature, mama's-taught-me-to-fear-the-"world" kid whose reading level tapped out around age nine? Maybe. A Summer Secret might be an acceptable choice for a fourth grader. But not a teen. I will not be among those good Christian mommies who plan to force their tween and teen daughters to read these books (instead of those other books) so they can become good little bonnet-book reading Christian girls.

Jeff Gerke at Marcher Lord Press sarcastically refers to Amish Fiction (and I paraphrase--see his comments for yourself on his website) as the only fantasy fiction published regularly by mainstream CBA publishers. And I agree. Here's his quote (which I love) taken from an interview with author/artist Rachel Marks.

"It’s a whole genre about an alternate world with a bizarre culture and it’s own language and odd rules. It’s truly another world. It’s called Amish fiction. Christian readers apparently have no problem jumping to alternate realities. They just want certain alternate realities, with bonnets and buggies as the fantasy trappings of choice."

Glad I'm not the only the only one with a bonnet-induced gag reflex.

From the ages of 2-13 I lived in a community with a large population of old-order Amish residents. I have a hard time seeing the characters portrayed in this "fantasy-fiction" as at all comparative to the characters I saw in that community in my daily life. The Amish lifestyle is based upon tradition, legalism, and some downright crazy ideas about indoor plumbing, procreation, women's roles, facial hair and "The English." But they do make some mighty fine quilts.

The Amish lifestyle is not charming. It's not like Witness (starring Harrison Ford). Neither does it resemble For Richer or Poorer (starring Tim Allen and Kirstie Allie) as entertaining as those films are-- and I can guarantee that, other than a sense of place and an adherence to culturally acceptable wardrobe, the truth holds little resemblance to anything like what I've read in the one or two Amish "Christian" novels I choked through a few years back. The Amish life is a hard life filled with religiously sanctioned abuse--especially against women--and with little or no room for a theology of Grace.

And this is what we're selling to our girls. Go team.

Warning: please set your Sarcasmometers to stun before reading the following paragraph.

Forget secular market trends in teen fiction, because that ungodly tripe could not possibly be suitable reading for our sweet, impressionable young ladies of the church. Give them the stuff that's selling so well to their mammas and grandmammas (forget that it's all we're publishing right now) because then they can carry it (along with their Bibles, of course) in their quilted tote bags with them to youth group and not embarrass us in front of the adults of the congregation. Big sigh of relief. God will surely bless us for our prudent publishing practices.

Puh-leeze. That mirror is cracked.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Clarity and Sunshine and Stillness

My dog, Vivvi, was greatly in need of exercise, so I took her out to “the farm” – the now-houseless two acres my Gustafson grandparents lived on for sixty years. I poked around in the old buildings for a while and wandered around the yard while Vivvi ran with the happy abandon of a much younger dog. Eventually, I pulled the big green blanket out of my minivan and spread it under the ancient Matriarch of the farm.

I can never remember what variety of tree it is—and it doesn’t matter. This early in May the Matriarch’s leaves are sparse and so high that I couldn’t identify them even if I was into that sort of thing. Which I’m not. No matter, the Matriarch is a giant tree which gives a mountain of shade in the summer. But I’m not looking for shade. I’m reading a good book—a gothic novel recommended by Rachel Marks—and I just want to pick up where I left off last night. So while Vivvi proceeds to find every cocklebur and puddle of water within a six-acre radius (this is how we measure things in rural Iowa), I read.

Libba Bray’s evocative prose soars across the streets of London, but the tone--the atmosphere of the scene—is dark; chilly. And I am sprawled in the sunshine—the pure, undiluted, life-affirming light of Spring. Deciding the words can wait, I close the book and roll onto my back.

It’s pretty windy. It’s almost always windy at the farm—breezy at the very least. Today the wind is conducting the fledgling leaves of the tall cottonwood at the other end of the yard in a waterfall chorus. I don’t know if it is the shape, texture, or proximity of the leaves of that particular cottonwood tree (yes, I know a couple of tree names—but only because I’ve asked ‘the people who know.’) but if you stand under it, or even near it, on a windy day, the sound mimics that of a roaring waterfall.

It’s totally cool.

So I’m lying beneath the Matriarch, listening to the wind rustle her leaves, hearing the imaginary waterfall across the yard, and feeling the white blaze of the afternoon sun against my closed eyes. I’m doing… nothing. And I like it! It feels decadent… and yet, right. It’s been so long since I’ve taken a moment to just be still; to clear my mind of all the have-tos, the want-to-dos, and the should-dos to just be.

There was once a chicken house under this enormous tree, but it’s gone now. I am resting almost exactly where the old, red building used to be. Like my mother before me, when I was a little girl visiting my grandparents in the summertime, I would invariably climb up onto the sloping roof of the chicken house, spread a towel on the rusty tin, and read for hours on end. Sometimes, however, I would just lie there and listen to the birds, the wind, and the whooshing, wishing gossip of the trees. I would plan, I would imagine, and I would dream of the wonderful adventures I would have when I grew up. I was a child. I knew little about the art--the practice, of being Still.

I’m still learning.

The trees whisper while the sunshine seeps through my skin and into my soul. It is welcome. Lately our weather has been cold wind and thunderstorms and pummeling rain--the chill gray days which seep into your mood if you let them. But this blue sky is far from moody gray and the wind is playful rather than the vengeful slapping of recent memory. As these thoughts flit like butterflies across my mind I’m reminded of Elijah waiting within a cave for the Lord to pass by. And I’m feeling His Presence within the whispering leaves, the clear blue May sky, the birdsong, and the waterfall cottonwood tree. I feel His Welcome in the sway of the Matriarch’s arms as she welcome’s back a girl with a book, though it is closed, to nearly the same place that this now-grown-up girl found enchanting as a child.

I feel Stillness.

And it is good.

I guess people like me need to step away from the reflecting pool of books for a moment or two every now and then. We need to take time to close our eyes to the addictive power of words in order to soak within the bright, warm embrace of a Whisper rather than a reflection.

Time to go. But I won't leave empty-handed.


I'm home again. It's a new day. It’s time to take that solar energy and apply it to my work; to let my fingers be the conduit for a whisper to reach the page--hoping that Truth is reflected with a clearer freshness now that the waters have, for a moment, been stilled.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

WHERE THE MAP ENDS interviews Rachel Marks

Jeff Gerke, publisher at Marcher Lord Press, recently posted an interview on Where the Map Ends with one of the edgiest author/artist/cool chicks around.

Rachel Marks was one of my first online friends at ECFL and I try to keep up with this witty, talented world-weaver whenever I can, checking out her ECFL page as well as her website,

Rachel’s artistry is human enough (considering she often depicts non-humans!) to be confused with photography. Amazing. Her writing is tight while remaining evocative. Absolutely worth hardcover price, in case any pubbers are listening!

If you check out the interview I guarantee your “must reads” list will gain a few new titles. (Amazon cart? FULL!) Once you've finished reading the interview, try visiting Rachel’s website. If you're an urban fantasy lover, you'll will be salivating for the release of Golden.

Have a great weekend!