No Time for Writer’s Block: Why I Must Finish Writing this Story NOW!

With a story as intriquing and inspiring as the one I’m writing (see details here), I never imagined how much trouble I’d have with writer’s block when I first started on the project. Yes, I know, that was the naiveté of a beginner. Still, when writing about a friend who is living under an assumed name provided by the Federal Government because his testimony was key to bringing down a crime syndicate … well, lack of good material is certainly not the problem. So, what is?

As Tony S. put it in a recent blog post on writer’s block, I’m a PROcrastinator. He gave physical, mental/emotional and spiritual reasons for combating that tendency. I found those to be helpful for me, but more importantly, it got me to thinking about the physical, mental/emotional and spiritual impact the delay is having on my friend.

My friend needs to have this book finished. Living in anticipation of his former identity being revealed brings with it a roller coaster of emotions. Will the friendships and professional relationships he’s come to know in this new life be jeopardized once people know the details of his past? Will the demons he left behind come back to harm him once they know where to find him? He’s willing to take on whatever may come, but needs to get on with it. Dealing with “what is” would be a welcome relief from pondering “what might be.”

He also needs his life to be unified instead of fragmented. There are many things he’s set out to accomplish, but the process is hindered by having to guard his secret. He is a pastor, the founder of an outreach ministry to help those who come from a background similar to his own, and a mentor to urban youth. Each of these roles requires a certain amount of transparency he is currently unable to offer.

My friend and I are both excited about the greater impact he will have once he can freely communicate the fullness of his own transformation to people who need to believe transformation is possible. His is a story that will bring hope to many. We both feel God brought us together to collaborate on this book.

Remembering these reasons for taking on the project in the first place now has my creative energies flowing. I’m tempted to elaborate on this newfound method of fighting my writer’s block. Instead, though, I think I’ll get back to the book. Stay tuned for an excerpt.

(To see all posts about my book, click here.)

The Pain in Peace

The labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Church, where I sometimes go to find inner peace.

The labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Church, where I sometimes go to find inner peace.

My husband will be very happy to see I’m admitting this in public. I have a hard time saying I’m sorry when it comes to an argument.

It’s not that I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. I’m a firm believer that both sides have usually fallen into some form of error when embroiled in an argument – if not from the outset, most definitely once the battle begins.

And it’s not even that I don’t feel sorry for something along the way. At the very least, even when I feel like I’m 100% correct in my original point of contention, I’m always sorry we’re fighting. And I’m sorry the other person has been hurt in the process of airing out our grievances.

Here’s where my hang-up with “sorry” comes in: I can’t stand the thought of it being issued prematurely. I refuse to make an apology until I feel like my voice has been heard. I dislike the idea of a peace treaty that comes from either of us not having said what we’re really thinking and feeling. For me, a peace that stems from sugar coating or backing down from a perceived truth is only temporary. The issue will inevitably come up again because root issues were never really resolved.

I share all of this, not because I think I’m right or justified in this approach to conflict mediation. Rather, I put all this out on the table as an introduction to processing the quote from Jean Vanier. Here, I will share how I am working through the challenges presented in the quote, with the hope that the lessons I’m learning will also be seen as applicable to those who are praying for peace and justice in Ferguson, Missouri and beyond.

The quote really challenged me to think through the idea of what I’m willing to lose in an effort to pursue peace. Now, I’m still working through the processing of this, but here’s what it looks like so far:

Contemplating the loss of certitudes – Am I willing to admit I may be wrong? If I am, then the resulting action would be to listen more closely to the person on the other side of the debate. Instead of only listening for signs that they hear my point of view, I will listen more closely to theirs. What hurts are they expressing? What feels like injustice to them? What valid points are they bringing to the table? Instead of only seeking to be understood, perhaps I should ask questions about their history and what has led them to the conclusions they are expressing.

Contemplating the loss of comforts that shelter and define me – Am I willing to get out of my comfort zone and explore this issue from the perspective of “the other”? Am I willing to probe my own heart and see why I think saying “I’m sorry” is equivalent to saying, “I’m wrong”? Why does the withholding of my apology bring me comfort and a sense of security? Am I willing to give up that security in order to pursue peace? Why must the apology only come at the end of the discussion? Perhaps mingling in a few sincere apologies along the way would bring a level of comfort to the other person and foster truer, more effective dialogue. After all, I’m not just sorry after they’ve acknowledged my points. I’m sorry at various points in the discussion, so why not throw it out there as it’s occurring instead of waiting for them to earn it? (Darn! This is a difficult thing to admit.)

Contemplating the loss of hurts that shelter and define me – As difficult as that last area of contemplation was for me, this one is even harder. Am I willing to let go of my hurts? Holding on to my hurts shelters me from being hurt again. Will I risk all that in order to restore relationship? How does my hurt define me? Not just this hurt, but all the past hurts that feel similar to this one. Is it fair to bring all that baggage into this current conversation? It seems reasonable to allow both sides to acknowledge those hurts as reasons for their current stance on the issue and to promote understanding. If, however, I’m unwilling to release my grasp on those hurts … well, then I’m still in self-preservation mode and not yet working towards relationship preservation.

“Peace is the fruit of love, a love that is also justice.” In seeking peace and justice, which of the losses is hardest for you to take?

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 12:18 (NASB)

Weeping for the City

Mark_Twain_statue,_Garden_City,_KS_IMG_5875

Today, I feel connected to the heart of Jesus when he looked out over the city of Jerusalem.

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.'” (Luke 19:41-42, NIV)

I am disheartened by the way people indiscriminately latch on to stories, pictures, and social media posts that support their view of events – regardless of whether those things are based in truth. No fact checking. No hesitation to hit “share” even if the post might be offensive, or a lie. And for those who profess to be Christian, I have to wonder, where is spiritual discernment?

I’ve said before [see prior post], and will continue to say, the biggest challenge in finding the truth in the Ferguson situation will be that many do not really want truth. They just want to support their agendas.

I’m all for working for causes, promoting change, and letting our voices be heard. But for Christians this simply cannot be done at the expense of truth.

When Christians have blinders on that prevent them from even considering possible truths in the perspectives of “opponents” – or worse yet, when we willingly align ourselves with those spreading lies – it is imperative to lay our hearts before the Lord, yet again, and ask him to reveal the sins we hold in our “hidden parts.”

If you’re willing to challenge yourself in this way, here are a few Scriptures to guide your prayer time:

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being. And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. (Psalm 51:6, NASB).

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. (John 3:19, NASB)

And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit. (Matthew 15:14, NASB)

Dancing for Peace

As I was trying to gain focus for a Facebook prayer group I’ve started to unite people in prayer for Ferguson today, I kept thinking of dancing. Yeah, it sounded strange to me, too, so I moved on to try to think of more spiritual things. I decided I’d like to find a quote by Nelson Mandela. When I found this quote, I realized the earlier prompt regarding dancing just might have been Spirit led after all.

“It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world, and at peace with myself.”
— Nelson Mandela

I’ve been using the phrase a lot lately, “putting feet to our prayers.” Today, I’m saying, “Let’s put dancing feet to our prayers.” Dance alone to be at peace with yourself so you can then bring that peaceful spirit to others. Dance with someone in solidarity. Dance with someone you have not yet found a way to engage with relationally. Dance with someone as a first step to dialogue.

As for me, I’m declaring tonight at The Merge Coffeehouse a night for dancing together. If you’re in the area, come dance with me. If you don’t live nearby, create a dance party of your own. Let’s dance to set our hearts free. Let’s dance for peace.

And for a more philosophical look at the effects of Mandela’s dancing, and the power of dance in general …

A Prayer Prompt As We Continue to Pray for Ferguson

Notes/disclaimers/ground-rules before you read this prayer prompt:

1) This kept coming to mind yesterday, but I hesitated to post because I really want it to spark personal prayer and not discussion or debate. So, please, know the purpose is NOT to have you post your responses here, but to ponder your response before the Lord today.
2) Despite yesterday’s hesitations, it continues to come to mind, so I’m posting despite the fact that I’m not really sure about it.
3) This is not meant to promote any one position over another. It is meant as a prompt for each of us to lay our own hearts bare before the Lord.

So, with all that said, here’s the prayer prompt:

If it was actually possible for the truth of what happened in the Michael Brown shooting to be revealed with absolute certainty, but the truth was contrary to what you have been prone to believe … if that were the case, how would you FEEL? I’m not asking whether you would doubt the outcome. Remember, in this hypothetical scenario, the truth has been proven without a shadow of a doubt. I’m asking how you would feel if the truth was contrary to your current presuppositions.

Would you feel glad and relieved that truth was found and justice served? Would you be disappointed that this case no longer served an agenda you promote? How might your heart be changed? Could your heart be changed? How would you feel towards the people “on the other side” of the issue? Would you desire to tag on a “yeah, but …”?

Wondering if maybe this prayer approach will let us know if our hearts are truly seeking truth and justice … or something else.

Holy Spirit, please guide us into all truth (John 16:1-15) – especially to the truth in our own hearts.

Initial Prayer Thoughts after a Walk in Ferguson

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While participating in a march in Ferguson last night, I talked with five or six different young people. I asked two quick questions: 1) What do I need to know? and 2) What do I need to do?

Here are their responses:

1) What I need to know –

“We’re living in prison.”

“We’re all in this together.”

2) What I need to do –

“Speak”

“Pray”

“You’re doin’ it.”

“Walk with us.”

My mind and heart are stirring following this event, and I will be writing more on this later. But for now, I want just give some thoughts for those who are praying with us here and in our Facebook prayer group.

As you pray, you might want to think about these things:

  • How will you help continue Christ’s mission to free the captives?
  • How will you show that we are all in this together? If you don’t believe this to be true, put that before the Lord in prayer.
  • Will you obey Proverbs 31:8-9 and “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy”? If you’re not sure how you can do this, pray for direction.
  • What can you DO? How can you walk with others in their struggles?

Sometimes the Whale Is Your Salvation

Man, this place stinks! How did I end up here? The darkness … the slime … it’s suffocating. God, I can’t take much more of this. I haven’t been that bad have I? Why are you punishing me? I know I didn’t want to go to Ninevah, but nobody wants to go to Ninevah – no self-respecting, righteous person anyway. I am one of your people, so why would you treat me like this? It’s just not fair.      

This is how I imagine Jonah’s inner dialogue during his “whale of a crisis.”

The story of Jonah and the whale is one of the first Bible stories told to children in Sunday School and at bedtime. We learn from this account not to disobey God as Jonah did.

As the story goes, God told Jonah to go to the wicked city of Ninevah and warn the people that they were going to be punished for their sins. Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah (mainly because he didn’t like the part where God was also offering to extend mercy to the Ninevites if they turned from their sinful ways). So, he fled from the Lord and hopped on a boat going to Tarshish. During this trip a great storm arose.

When the men on the boat discovered that Jonah’s disobedience was the reason for the storm, they threw Jonah overboard. This is when Jonah was swallowed by the whale. After Jonah said a prayer of repentance, the Lord commanded the fish to spit Jonah up onto dry land. Once Jonah recuperated from his ordeal, he finally went to Ninevah and did as the Lord had instructed.

We usually think of the whale incident as part of Jonah’s punishment, his “trial” if you will. It did, of course, help Jonah come to repentance, but consider what Jonah’s state was before the fish swallowed him – he was drowning. Chapter 2 of the book gives a very graphic account, in Jonah’s own words, of what that experience was like…

“You hurled me into the deep,

into the very heart of the seas,

and the currents swirled about me;

all your waves and breakers

swept over me…

The engulfing waters threatened me,

the deep surrounded me;

seaweed was wrapped around my head.

To the roots of the mountains I sank down;

the earth beneath barred me in forever.

But you brought my life up from the pit,

O Lord my God.”

What means did God use to deliver Jonah from this horrible state of drowning? He used the whale! The great fish came and swallowed Jonah, thus saving him from death. Jonah 1:17 says, “…the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.”

Granted, a three night stay in the belly of a fish would not be pleasant. It was surely dark, smelly, and slimy. Yet, this experience was provided by the Lord to deliver Jonah. It was a blessing.

This brings to mind James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Trials may come for various reasons. Some are our own doing. Many of the epistles warn us to be careful that our desires for riches or pleasures do not lead us into troublesome situations (e.g., I Tim. 6:9; James 4:1; Gal. 6:7,8).

Other trials seem to be set up by God himself to test us and purify us. Paul said he was given his “thorn in the flesh” to help keep him humble (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Likewise, David (Ps. 119:67-75) acknowledged that God afflicted him to teach him to obey God’s word.

There are also trials brought on by the enemy of our souls (see the book of Job). And, alas, many of our trials are just the natural consequences of living in a fallen world. In the book of Romans (especially chapters 5-8), Paul goes into great detail as to how the world has been corrupted since the fall of Adam. Death, sickness, and strife will be a part of human existence until we are in heaven.

Regardless of the source, however, James and Paul both tell us to count it a joy when we face these trials. We can do this because we know that the Lord will use the trials of life to perfect us and help us mature. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Even things that seem bad in our lives will be worked out by God for our eventual good. Paul says that the good that will come is better than we can ever imagine. He reminds us (Rom. 8:18) that “…our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

When we feel as if we are drowning in our troubles, it may help to remember this lesson. Sometimes what we consider to be a terrible trial is being used by God to make us become more like Christ. We can come out of trials better people than when we went into them. In this sense, the trials can rescue us from our own nature and help us mature in spirit. Sometimes the whale is our salvation.

 

* Scripture references from the Holy Bible, New International Version.

FREEDOM – Day 14 of The One Word Devotional

NOTE: Today is the final day in this two-week go around with The One Word Devotional Series. I’ll do another round sometime in the fall. Glad for all who have joined us for this two week series. Now, for today’s focus …

Today’s word is FREEDOM.

There are many things you can do to “process” this word today:

Think on it.

Look it up in Scripture if you choose. An easy way to look up biblical texts on the topic is to go to biblegateway.com and do a search on the word.

Discuss it with others.

Google it.

I’m sure you can think of others. Whatever you choose to do to process this word today, please check back in at the end of the day and let’s have a discussion about your thoughts, experiences, etc.

To see the introduction and table of contents for The One Word Devotional Series, click here. Remember, for this series, the actual devotional thoughts are found in the comments.

GLORY – Day 13 of The One Word Devotional

Today’s word is GLORY.

There are many things you can do to “process” this word today:

Think on it.

Look it up in Scripture if you choose. An easy way to look up biblical texts on the topic is to go to biblegateway.com and do a search on the word.

Discuss it with others.

Google it.

I’m sure you can think of others. Whatever you choose to do to process this word today, please check back in at the end of the day and let’s have a discussion about your thoughts, experiences, etc.

To see the introduction and table of contents for The One Word Devotional Series, click here. Remember, for this series, the actual devotional thoughts are found in the comments.