CinderLouise: A Fairy Tale

Hi, everyone!

So, a few months ago I got a crazy idea that I couldn’t shake-

What if Cinderella was, well- normal?

I mean, so so many times, the Cinderella story is about this beautiful, perfectly lovely girl who is just PERFECT. You know, graceful, kind, a sweetheart- and besides a few cinders on her nose- gorgeous. And the only thing holding her down is a few ugly stepsisters!

But that’s not realistic at all. I mean, real TRUE love stories happen all the time between normal, average looking people- where are their fairy tales?

So I decided to write it.

CinderLouise is a short novel, soon to be available on kindle and in paperback about a happy, friendly, normal girl named Louise- and how she has her own Cinderella happily ever after.

It has some of the elements of a fairy tale- a far off kingdom, beautiful dresses and a golden ballroom- and a King looking for a bride- with touches of real life. Muddy feet and cattle escaping from pens- relatives who are hard to deal with and the reality of not being the belle of the ball.

And in the midst of it all, I tried to tell a love story about true love- what it looks like when you make a choice based on wisdom and good council, and how love can blossom even when you aren’t a princess.

If you’re looking for a fun, lighthearted read to sweep you off your feet this chilly winter, look no further! CinderLouise will be released January 25, 2020!

Click to order!

And as a little PS. I have a few more “fairy stories” in the works for later this year! Stay tuned!

Brianna

Noelle: a Christmas Story – an audiobook!

Hey, everyone! I am super excited to tell you that my Christmas novela, Noelle, is available on Audible as an audiobook!

If you’re looking for a sweet Christmas story to listen to this week, this might be the one for you!

Noelle is a dancer at a ballet company in New York. She has a tidy life that is right on track – she’s up for promotion and the biggest role of her life. But as she prepares for the annual production of A Christmas Carol, her mother suddenly crashes the party. 

Barb is bohemian, bossy, and has just had surgery, and that means she can’t live alone for a few weeks. Will their tiny apartment be able to hold two strong personalities? 

Escape into the world of plies, tutus, and the giant tree at Rockefeller Center. Come dance with Noelle: A Christmas Story.

It’s also available in paperback and on kindle!

Merry Christmas!

Waiting in the Wings

When I was a child and a young teen, I loved theater and music and ballet. Most of my daydreams were about some day pursuing it professionally. But when I was around 16, I really felt as if I began to understand that God was real, and he had a will for the Earth and for me. I was overwhelmed at the repercutions of this thought, and that the proper response on my part was to “find out the will of God, and do it wholeheartedly.” (As Maria said in The Sound of Music.)

In my earnestness and naivety, I decided that pursuing the Fine Arts was probably out of my own pride and selfish desire to be on the stage. So I threw away my Shakespeare books, my pointe shoes, and my showtune CDs. I wanted to be sold out for the Lord.

I threw myself into working at the church- I did anything and everything, I was there whenever the doors were open. I taught Sunday school and kids club, I worked in the nursery, I was on the worship team singing, playing flute, guitar, piano, bass, even violin badly. I took a turn cleaning once a month. I hosted a small group, I wrote and coordinated a VBS and a few Christmas plays. In the summer, I worked at a Christian Camp. As I got older, I was an assistant youth leader, a worship team leader, a ladies bible study teach, and after school Bible club coordinator.

I married fairly young and had three children immediately, and before very long I was homeschooling them. I was still often, and always doing everything I could for the Lord. I mean… every so often, I would remember things like ballet and art and music, and I would feel a little sad because I didn’t have it in my life. and honestly, as the years went by, I began to feel not just sad but a little… Miffed. I began to notice that there were Christians who love the Lord wholeheartedly who were pursuing Fine Arts. Going to college for it, pursuing careers in it, even working in the church with it. But I was a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, and I felt as if I had foolishly made a sacrifice that was unnecessary and unnoticed.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” it’s a verse that a lot of us learn while we are very young, but as the years went by, I began to feel as if the Lord had forgotten me. That I had given him the thing I loved best, I had thrown my lot in after him, and in return he had forgotten me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my children. I have spent 16 amazing years with them so far and I would not trade any of the time I have been blessed to spend with them. I thank the Lord everyday for them and for my husband, and I am not unaware that there are women who will never enjoy such a blessing as I have in them.

7 years ago, we moved to this area, primarily because my husband had always wanted to pursue more agricultural endeavors, and we would have land to work with. At that time, the Performing Arts and Fine Arts were, to me, completely off the table of my life. I was trying at that time to accept that they were never going to be a part of my life. I had given them up, foolishly or not, and I just needed to come to terms with the fact that they were never coming back.

I was not having an easy time of it. I was trying so hard to be this person I thought I should be, but the harder I tried, the more I failed.

One day, I went to visit a friend who lived in the area. she had a very large Garden in her backyard, and we were walking by admiring it. I also had a very large garden at the time. When I say large I mean a half an acre. at the time, I tried to plant, tend, weed, harvest, and can all of our vegetables every year, and I hated it. Every part of it. but I would grit my teeth and try to make it happened, because for some reason I thought that’s what I should do. well, on this day, as I was walking with my friend admiring her garden, I was trying to figure out why her garden was so beautiful and mine was never. I asked her how much she worked in her garden. You see, I used to set my timer and tell myself that I had to work in the garden for an hour everyday. I would go out there and weed and rake and hill potatoes, and I would watch the clock go and just wish for the hour to be over. But no matter how disciplined I was, my garden just never looked as nice as hers did. And so finally I asked her how much time she spent in her garden every day. Was it half an hour? Was it an hour, was it 3 hours? What would it take, what would I have to do to succeed at this Garden thing? And do you know what she said to me? she said, “Oh, I have no idea how much time I spend. I’m always out here. I just find myself wandering out here and before I know it hours have gone by.”

Something clicked in me right then. I realized that would never happen for me. My heart wasn’t in that garden.

But when I realized that, I began to realize that there were things I did find joy in. There were things that I would pursue where the hours would just fly by.

Something shifted in me that day and I begin to realize that I was not my friend. I was never going to be that farm wife that I was trying so hard to be- and it was okay. It was more than okay! Somehow, at that point, something started to wake up in me that said that it was not just acceptable, but good if I begin to understand who I was created to be.

Honestly, over the last few years I have felt as if I am slowly unraveling a strange cocoon made of layers of things that I have tried to be, things that I have thought I should be, things that I have never been able to accomplish, and underneath it all it turns out that there is just a happy little girl who loves to sing and dance.

The strangest and most wonderful part of this story today is that in the middle of this very rural area of New York, in a place where you never think there would be, there is a performing arts center that is so excellent it is astounding. In the last few years I have sung in the concert version of Les Mis, played Miss Hannigan in Annie, and tonight closed the last performance of my second Christmas musical- and that’s not all. Besides being full of talented and skilled professionals, it is also a ministry that bases every production, class, and performance on proclaiming the good news of the Lord!

I can’t over emphasize how unusual this is. The performing arts department at Family Life, in a little town that happens to be a short drive from my house, is easily as good as the theater companies in most small cities. It has been an honor to have the privilage of being part of their productions.

Before a performance, as the overture is playing and I am waiting to go on, I stand in the blue light of the wings, looking up at the tall velvet curtains, with a hundred million particles of joy pulsing through my veins- because every happy dance number, every beautiful chorus, every satin costume and silly prat fall and tender dramatic moment feels like one after another after another shining, bright Christmas gifts from the Lord directly to me- Him saying, “I didn’t forget you. I didn’t take lightly what you gave up so long ago. Look what I was planning this whole time.”

All these years where silly me was thinking he brought me to the desert to die, He was always preparing a place for me.

Truly, truly. He gave me not only the desires of my heart- but in all these years, he has become my delight. I really, truly believe ever word of the familiar Psalm-

The Lord is my Shepherd. I truly have no wants. He has brought me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the stillest waters. He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name sake. He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies, He annoints my head with oil.

My cup runs over.

Illegal

If you lived in 1862 in New York State, and a black man and his child and escaped from slavery in the south to your hometown, he would be “an illegal” and the legal thing to do would be return him to his “native” land in the South. If they were separated or treated without humanity, you could, legally, say, “they should have thought about that before they tried to cross the border without correct papers.” But you know what? Brave men and women disregarded what was “illegal,” and did what was right. We honor them now as heroes who worked in the underground railroad.


If you lived in London in 1938, and a Jewish child refugee from Czechoslovakia somehow found their way to your neighborhood, they would be “an illegal.” Smart elected politicians and economists had decided there simply weren’t enough resources in the UK to take all those refugees. They had to “make sure we take care of our own first,” and they had already given out the maximum number of asylum visas. The correct and legal thing to do would have been to report them for deportation. But do you know what? Brave men like Sir Nicholas Winston disregarded what was “illegal,” and did what was RIGHT by secreting them away in foster homes with forged paperwork all around the UK. We honor heroes like him, because later we learned that the people who didn’t manage to escape were systematically rounded up, from the youngest child to the oldest grandmother, and taken to gas chambers. (Btw, the USA wouldn’t take those refugees at that time, either.)


If you rode a bus in 1955 with a woman named Rosa Parks, and you saw her refusing to move to the back, the legal thing would have been to move out of the way so the police could more easily arrest her. She was breaking the law, you know. It was illegal.


If you were in Tienanmen Square in 1989 when the tanks rolled in, a law abiding citizen would have stepped aside and let them massacre their fellowmen unhindered. It was 100% illegal for “tank man” to do such an illegal, heroic act.


If you think you might have signed the declaration of independence if given a chance, you might think twice if you realize how it was actually an act of high treason against your sovereign government. Illegal, Illegal, Illegal.
If you think its a natural right for women to own property or vote, do you believe that only because our current laws reflect this? If we rewound history and plopped you down 200 years ago, would you still believe this? It was illegal in New York State then, you know.


The thing is- ALL SORTS OF THINGS have been illegal or legal at one time or another, but being legal does not make it RIGHT, nor does something (or “someone”) being illegal automatically make them WRONG or evil.


LAWS ARE NOT ALWAYS RIGHT. Laws are only society’s attempt to define what is right, and often society gets it wrong. That’s why laws get updated and changed all the time.


When humans go against laws that are wrong in order to do what is right, history usually ends up calling them courageous. Heroes. We read stories like this and we stand in awe of the amazing things that people did in the face of some very unjust laws, and we hope to inspire ourselves to act in courage like they did.

Some of the most wicked and unjust laws are only changed by brave men and women doing daring, illegal acts. Petitioning and lobbying and protesting and voting are great, but when gross injustice is legally happening, it is incumbent upon a just person to do something other than hope and vote for the the laws to change. We cannot be those who sit by and watch as murders and atrocities are carried out quite legally.


The immigration issue is something that needs addressing. It does. But we can’t do it while painting a picture of people as wicked because they are not in line with current laws. We have to back up and ask whether those laws are actually just or not. That is the conversation we have to have, and there is room for debate.


But we have to stop equating “legal” with “right” and “illegal” with “wrong.”

10 things I’ve learned about How to Teach Kids about the Lord

Sooo you’re going to teach a Sunday school class, but you feel a little overwhelmed? It’s okay, I’ve got your back. I’ve been teaching kids in church settings and non-church settings about Bible things for over 20 years, and I’m going to give you my 10 best tips. I hope they help! Let’s jump right in.

The first, number one, most important thing to do- is pray. Seriously. I know this sounds elementary, but before I teach any kids, I take time to talk to the Lord myself, and ask him to speak through me, and to give me just the right words. I invite the Holy Spirit to open the ears the child’s heart so that they can know how much the Lord loves them and is calling to them. I sometimes also ask for any lying spirits or strongholds to be shut up so that the child won’t be hindered from hearing the truth! It helps most if you are praying for the lesson while you study or write it, and praying for the child regularly, but I also pray while driving to the meeting, and I pray over the room before the kids get there! Prayer is the MOST IMPORTANT PART. Remember, you are the vessel of the Spirit- but it is the Spirit who does the work! And then… Pray with them! Don’t be shy. Talk to God like you talk to a friend. Show them by example that they can talk to God in imperfect, normal language just like you do.

2. Trust God to use you, just as you are. Don’t beat yourself up about not being smart enough, learned enough, mature enough, or especially- good enough. Most of us were not brought to Christ by perfect, seminary educated theologians. We were won to Christ by the love shown through an ordinary human being! Take a deep breath and give freely, as you have been given. And don’t try to be someone you aren’t! It’s easy to try to emulate someone else’s teaching or speaking style. But you are YOU. Your flavor of speech and manor of dress are okay, and your story and your witness is more powerful than trying to put on a “perfect show.” Be real. You don’t have to reveal every little struggle and doubt you are having, but being honest about your relationship and walk with God helps the kids to see that THEY don’t have to be perfect, either. It helps them to realize, “Hey, if she can follow God, I can too!” And on the contrary- if you seem too perfect, when that child can’t live up to the “perfect” they think you are, they will tend to believe a lie that says that they can never be a Christian like you are. So be yourself.

3. Memory! Okay, here’s the thing. No matter what the occasion you have to minister to kids, use the opportunity to teach them words from Scripture. Even if they forget you, forget the bible story, even if they forget the main point of your lesson and that they ever even came to your class, someday in the future, the Holy Spirit will absolutely pull those memory verses out of their deep memory for them in the future. (Isaiah 55:11) But please, please, please, make it fun, and not a drudgery. Some kids will find it really easy, and some kids will struggle with it a little. Competition and drilling doesn’t work for a lot of kids, but music and teamwork works for almost all of them!

4. Kids can understand more than you think. They think about things like death and heaven and fear and the devil. Don’t try too much to “clean up” bible stories or even your own testimony. We never want to glamorize sin, but honestly? Many children these days have seen murder, adultery, and worse on their TV’s, ipods, and in their own homes. They don’t come to church to hear sweet little stories that sound like nursery rhymes. They want to know if the Bible talks about the important things in life. And it does. So tell them.

5. That being said, kids need words they can understand. A ten cent word that works is better than a ten dollar word they would have to look up in a dictionary. Use simple language as much as possible, even for kids who are “older.” Unchurched kids have no idea what words like “Holy,” “Righteous,” “Sanctified,” “baptized,” and even “sin” mean. You can use them, but ONLY if you explain them clearly in clear language every class period you use them. I assume that if their public school teacher would never say it, they don’t know what it is. Also something to note? Most kids these days are Bible illiterate. You can’t refer Moses, Joshua, the Israelites, or David, and have them know what you’re talking about. You have to start from scratch if you want to tell a narrative from the Bible. ( For instance, to talk about the battle of Jericho, I would say, “Today I’m going to tell you about a group of people who lived a long time ago. God promised them that if they followed him, he would give them a home in a new land. One day, their leader, a man named Joshua…” and then I go on. )

6. Kids understand more than you think when it comes to unspoken communication, too. If you are irritated with them, frustrated with a fellow teacher, or just plain in a bad mood, they know it. The best thing to do is take a deep breath and be honest. Say something like, “Hey guys, I just wanted you to know that I have a headache today. Please bear with me, I am trying my best.” They are usually understanding, and it’s better than having them wonder if it’s them you don’t like.

7. Because… this is probably the biggest part: Kids want to be loved. Honestly? You can be the coolest, funniest, most entertaining, educated, and prepared teacher out there- but if you don’t love them, they will. not. care. They won’t care! Kids can tell the difference between being loved and being endured. Being tolerated or being celebrated. Kids can see it, and maybe for a little while they might continue to come for the pizza or games, but if they aren’t loved, they will never open up to you- or let you speak into their lives. You can only influence them for the Lord if they feel the love.

8. Relax. Have fun. The curriculum is only a tool. The lesson is only a guideline. Every class you teach is an opportunity, a short window that you have, to look at a child, to ask the Holy Spirit to let you be the Lord Jesus’ hands, heart, and maybe voice to that child. Remember that Jesus blessed the children. So you do the same! If that’s all you do, sometimes that’s all you were called to do that day. Sometimes the most productive teaching sessions are just sitting sessions, where you sit on the rug with them and let them talk, and talk, and talk, and talk… Because you’re teaching them, “You are seen, and loved, and cared about.” You are doing to them what the Lord does for us. And maybe, like we should, they will someday learn to listen to the one who listens to them.

9. The only eternal things are people. A million years from now, those children will still exist, and your building will be only a memory. Remember that when the kids break something or run in the hallway. Rules are great for keeping order, and kids do thrive better in order than chaos. But the rules are for the people’s good. When we value the building over the children, we communicate to the kids that the stones and the carpet are worth more than them. We can always get more stones and carpet. But a lost soul is lost forever.

10. When the Lord calls you to do something, the best feeling you can have is to feel unqualified. Use that feeling to press in to the Lord and ask him to do the work through you. If you feel confident and skilled, you’re likely to lean on your own confidence and skills! The Lord says He lives with the humble and answers the cry of the low. And honestly, I think if you ask him for help with ministering to a young person, that’s one of his favorite prayers to answer. So go ahead- volunteer to teach Sunday School or VBS. Prepare your lessons as diligently as you can- and then the Lord use you- just who you are. I bet he surprises you. I bet you learn more than you end up teaching! I sure have.

Well, that’s my top 10. It’s not exhaustive, but I hope it encouraged you. If you’re reading this, and you have kids in your life that you want to reach for the Lord, I believe the Lord will give you the words and the wisdom you need to do it. Just ask him.

See ya!

Brianna

What the Lord has Done for Me

He has never let me go.

He has never abandoned me.

He has never unjustly chastened me.

He has never been unkind, or vicious, or mean spirited.

He has never withheld his love.

He has never forgotten me.

He has loved me with an everlasting love.

His right hand has led me, even when I pulled away from him.

When I was faithless, He was faithful.

He was my shield and my guard, even when I didn’t see it.

He has answered countless prayers, in ways I didn’t see or understand, but also in miraculous ways that I did see.

He has taught me how good he is.

He has been my comforter.

He has been my friend.

He has been my teacher and counselor.

He has been my encouragement and my buffeter, my stronghold and safe place.

He has redeemed me from the pit of hell. He not only made me, gifted me with life, but then he bought me back when I was lost in sin. He gave his son, he died a painful disgusting, terrible death, so that his blood would pay for my rebellious and selfish and wicked ways.

And after he bought me back, He called me lovely beloved child of God, co-heirs with his perfect, beautiful son. He gave me an inheritance I didn’t deserve. He called me righteous and chosen.

He picked me up, turned me around, set my feet on a solid ground, Hallelujah!

He gave me hope and a future, his plans prospered me and gave me peace.

He set me in a family where I was taught of him and brought to him, and loved and accepted.

He brought me a husband who is faithful and wonderful and fun and forgiving. He gave me a beautiful home in a peaceful nation where I enjoy freedom and prosperity and the luxury of fellowship with other believers, and the chance to choose my days and my ways.

He gave me three beautiful and intelligent and compassionate children, and the fun of spending every day with them.

He gave me a thousand beautiful people to surround me, and fill my life with conversation and laughter and beauty and support and adventures in music and art and hiking and swimming and bonfires and food and warm affection.

He gave me every beautiful thing on this earth for my enjoyment- mountains and sunsets and rainbows and ballet and puppies and the Caribbean waters and the dark woods of Alaska and the happy tulips in spring. And then he gave me his word- to guide me to what is best, to warn me of what is wrong, to lead me in the way everlasting.

He gives me each new morning, like a little gift, unwrapped, a new chance to find more of Him, and how wonderful He is, and how wonderful it is to walk after him, to search for him and find him like a hidden treasure.

He gave me the heritage of thousand upon thousands of righteous ones, a bright cloud of witnesses, who have already gone before me and danced out lives of faith, full of pain and glory and joy and sorrow, and he gave me the blessing of their testimony- written and spoken and sung, all of us like the blind feeling the elephant, and describing to each other a bit of the Lord that we are experiencing, so that only together we can get a glimpse of the Great, Glorious, wonderful God that He is!

He gave me a future- an eternity of further up and further in, where each day is a new beginning of the bright, great joy it will be to know Him, really know Him, the way He knows us.

And he knows me, He really knows me. He sees to the depth of my heart, and He loves me. He sees where I stumble, where I fall, and he lifts me up, and tenderly nurses my wounds, and he makes all things work for my good, and he goes ahead of me and prepares my way, and he doesn’t scold me over my failures, but overwhelms me with his generous grace. He genuinely cares for me, and wants to see me succeed- to become just as his Son is- fully loved and fully loving. He is not slow to forgive, He is not lax in his provision for me. He is abundant, overflowing, He is good, always.

There is a lot more. But do you know what? He would do the same for you, if you want.

You Need an Editor

For those of you who write, or aspire to write, the need for an editor might not be glaringly apparent to you. You might have read and chuckled at “Eats Shoots and Leaves,” or been the county wide spelling bee champ in middle school, or you might consider yourself a self-appointed “grammar police,” silently or openly judging and correcting punctuation and apostrophes everywhere you look.

person using green typewriter on brown wooden surface
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

You might think, as I thought, that your need for an editor is less pressing than some others’. After all, you reason, you’ve seen some horrific grammar and spelling in many other pieces of writing- in fact, you’ve already cringed at several of my commas and hyphens. Yours is miles ahead of the competition. You and spellcheck are doing things just fine, aren’t you?

I thought so, too.

When I wrote my first novel, I was fairly confident in my spelling and grammar- and even in my large scale editing process. I worked from an outline and was fairly sure I had no gaping plot holes or inconsistencies. I had read and re-read my book a few times, and a few other friends had gone over it once or twice and highlighted a couple of tiny mistakes that my spellcheck hadn’t caught.

What else did I need?

My editor, Amy Clutter, took my book and a colored pencil and told me.

She underlined lazy adjectives, asked clarifying questions, crossed out redundancies. She found (horror!) plenty of spelling mistakes that spellcheck didn’t. She caught plot discrepancies, character inconsistencies, and many, many, MANY incorrect commas. Many commas. I like, LIKE, commas. If you know what I mean. She found them all and crossed them out.

My first novel, The Next Chef, tells the story of a home cook’s adventure on set of a reality cooking show. If you’ve ever watched one, you might have noticed that the first episode or two you can be in awe of the amazing skills that the home-cooks have. They produce beautiful, complicated dishes that look astounding to your untrained eye. But when they bring their plate in front of the judges, the experts look at their Beef Wellington with sophisticated opinions. They see things that you and I don’t see. The bottom isn’t crisp. The pastry hasn’t laminated, whatever that means. The tarragon overpowers the goat cheese. They take a beautiful plated dish and after a few thoughtful chews, they tell you everything that’s gone wrong that you never noticed.

My writing got that same treatment. I gave Amy my best dish and was pretty proud of it- and she thoughtfully, kindly, and fairly, dissected and evaluated it, and handed it back to me.

At first, I have to admit I was shocked. Like a chef at her first competition, my first experience with an editor was quite the eye-opener for me. I had gone from being satisfied with my cooking writing to being shell-shocked at the many edits it needed.

But as I read through her notes, I realized that she was giving me just what every amateur needs- honest corrections. Her kind and gentle questions and comments were so encouraging about my talent and passion, while holding my writing to a stiff standard- one that would allow me to serve my novels up with pride and dignity.

I adjusted my manuscript to fit her edits and found that every suggestion she had made was like a Master Chef giving notes to his kitchen staff. I was shocked and astounded at the finished product, and how improved it was from my initial draft. It still had the same substance, style, and flavor that was all mine- but without all of the novice mistakes that mark an unprofessional.

The way of fools seems right to them,
    but the wise listen to advice.


Proverbs 12:15

In most reality cooking shows, you’ll notice that over a whole season, not only do the best cooks rise to the top, they themselves often improve immensely under the strict and faithful critiques of the weekly judgings. The ones who are eliminated are not only the ones who didn’t start with the best skills, but they’re often the ones who don’t take the judge’s criticisms and learn from them. In fact, I think that those who succeed in any path are usually the ones who take constructive criticism well.

Amy was that for me. She held writing up to a stiff standard- but not with cruelty or any kind of rudeness.
In terms of ease to work with, she is no Gordon Ramsey or Simon Powell. You don’t have to be afraid at all. She’s more like… Mary Berry. Ha! Her gentle way of suggesting and commenting encouraged me to work harder and not quit. She genuinely seems interested in seeing me succeed as a writer and not be hindered by my own untrained eye.

If you want your writing to progress and improve beyond what you can do on your own, I recommend an editor. In fact, I recommend my editor- Amy Clutter. She is fair, encouraging, easy to work with, and highly skilled at what she does. I love what she’s done with my novels, and I think you’ll love what she could do with yours! You can find her at cluttereditorial.wordpress.com

Sincerely,

Brianna

PS. She didn’t edit this, and if you see any typos or extra commas, I take full credit.

 

The Importance of Stories; or How Netflix Helps you Find the Meaning of Life

My daughter just turned thirteen. On the day after her birthday, as I was brushing out her long golden hair and trying to resist singing the Rapunzel song to her, I started reminiscing to her a little about when I was that age.

I told her that by thirteen, I considered myself more of an adult than a child. I had plans for the path I wanted to take- what I wanted to be when I grew up, where I wanted to live, and the kind of family I wanted to have.

While I was thinking about these things, and how none of them transpired the way I thought they would, my daughter said, “I don’t have any of those things figured out yet. I don’t know where I want to live, or work, or anything.”

She seemed a little distraught. I stopped brushing her hair, and she turned around.

And then… out of my mouth came something that I didn’t know myself.

This happens to me sometimes. I’m teaching, or trying to encourage a friend, and out of my mouth comes truth from the Holy Spirit that I don’t even understand myself until I say it. For the last week or so I’ve been blown away by what I told her. I feel like I’ve told everyone. I told my husband, I told my mother-in-law, I told my best friend and her daughter. And now I’m telling you. But I mostly telling all of you, because I know that I need to hear it. The Holy Spirit spoke to her, and to me, through me, and the magnitude of what He said has been washing over me like waves.

Here it is.

It doesn’t matter, I said to her. Don’t you know none of those things matter? It doesn’t matter what job you do, or where you live or move.

I mean it does. Those things are worth thinking about and praying about, and I believe the Lord cares about every little decision in your life. But when you are thirteen years old and thinking about your future, you don’t have to think about the mechanics and specifics. You don’t have to decide whether you want to be a vet or a lawyer, or whether you want to live by the beach or the mountains or in a house with horses or in an apartment with cats. Those things are temporary.

What matters is the eternal. That’s what you need to decide about.

I homeschool my children, and I’m constantly pushing literature at them. Stories of knights and Nazis and Amazon jungles and Austen heroines. Stories about space travel and princesses and struggling during the Depression, stories about foxes and beavers and witches, stories from all cultures and all climates. I’m always pushing them to read.

I remember a friend saying to me about a year ago- “What is the point of reading fiction? It’s all pretend!” And when she said it, something inside of me rose up in horror. I told her that the point of fiction is that stories- whether real or imaginary- stories communicate truth.

But I didn’t fully understand what that meant until now.

I said to my daughter- when you’re reading these stories -these hundreds of stories, whether they’re in books or in movies or film or whether they are stories told by a friend over dinner- when you listen to stories and something inside of you wells up and resonates; that’s the time to take notice.

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Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

For instance, if you read a story about a family who is hiding a Jewish child in their home during the Holocaust, something inside of you burns. What is it?

It is the recognition of Truth. You recognize when you read that story how true it is that we should rescue the oppressed. That is a truth. And as you listen to stories- whether in books or film or youtube or instagram- there are different concepts that rise up. Concepts about the value of love, freedom, justice, truth, and peace. The Great Stories- often the ones that earn Newberry Awards and last for generations- are often heroic and moving stories. Stories that make us laugh or cry or understand life. These are not just entertainment. These stories are communicating Eternal Values. When we read of men giving their lives on the battlefield for their families, we learn about freedom. When we read about a grandmother caring for her grandchildren with grace and patience, we learn about love. The greatest stories are the ones that are communicating about the deepest things to the deepest parts of us.

Of course, some stories communicate false things. They speak lies and hopelessness. Which is why we, as parents, should walk through these stories with our children, and discuss with them what they’re hearing from the storytellers in their lives. I don’t know how many times I’ve paused an animated movie to point out something to my children about life or theology, and asked them if it’s true, or if we don’t believe what the filmmaker or author seems to be trying to communicate.

The truth is that no story is neutral. All stories communicate something about life- and as we listen to them, we have to make judgements about what we believe in. It is a foolish person who thinks they can binge watch a netflix series and not be affected by the worldviews of that producer. But this is all of life- nothing is neutral.

But Stories are the means by which most conversation about eternal things are said. A few people will listen to sermons, or teaching, and some people will listen to political speeches- but stories- stories are consumed by millions, every day. And the storytellers are the ones that are telling our generation what is True, and what is Important, and what to Believe in.

And most of the time we don’t even notice that it’s happening.

But back to the thirteen year old.


When you are thirteen years old, and you are trying to decide about your future, you don’t have to decide the specifics. Those things will become apparent. What you have to decide about is what Eternal values you believe in.

Because if you believe, for instance, in fighting for justice, you will find that whether you love mathematics or volleyball or selling real estate, you will use your skills and talents and gifts and abilities to fight Injustice. And if you believe that truth must go out, you will use your talent for painting or journalism or teaching to speak truth. The gifts and talents you have, your natural inclinations and abilities- they are only instruments to pursue what is deep. They are not the ends themselves, they are the means.

I see so many young people who are highly skilled and good-natured, but they don’t have a passion. Oh, they might have a passion for Comic-Con or a drive to play soccer, but they don’t know WHY they are doing what they’re doing. They become obsessive about the niche culture they’re interested in, or they become competitive in the field they’ve got abilities in, but if they break their throwing arm or get laid off, they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s because they don’t see their skills, talents, and interests as a means to do something deep.

They don’t know what they personally are called to fight for.

I think that this is the answer to so much in life- to find out what you are called to do here. Are you called to promote the cause of love and peace? Are you called to fight for freedom? Whatever that deep value is that resonates within you, use your gifts and talents to do it!

Use your amazing talents in making costumes or your advanced welding skills to stand up for the poor and powerless! Build your farm in such a way that it brings peace to your corner of the world. Whatever you do, whether for work or play- know that it is just a tool for something more deeper and more important.

I told my daughter that when you are thirteen, your job is to listen listen to stories, listen everywhere you go, to hear those deep things call to you.

And when you know what is calling, use everything you have to answer.

You don’t have to be thirteen.

I’m thirty-seven, and about since the age of thirteen, I have struggled. I have so many different things I love to do. I love the Fine Arts, I love working with children, I love writing and travel. And ever since I was young, I have struggled with figuring out which things to pursue and which things to set aside. I’ve always worried that I would “miss it.” I would miss that amazing destiny that I am called to.

When I was in college, I couldn’t pick a major. I love biology and I also loved art classes. I loved the theater, but also wanted to take advanced writing classes. I felt as though the answer was to “specialize, specialize, pick a path!” And to specialize, to choose- meant laying down all the other paths. And I couldn’t.

I got overwhelmed, and I didn’t chose any of them. To make a long story short, I didn’t finish college. I got married and have been a stay at home mother. For some people, this is a dream and a specific choice. I don’t feel like it was that way for me. I did it because it was right in front of me, and seemed the best thing to do, but it wasn’t really my life goal- to be a stay at home, homeschooling mother.

For years I have watched other people go towards career goals. I’ve watched friends succeed on paths that I had the opportunity to take, and honestly I have many times regretted not taking them! Not that I would give up one day with my children. But to be honest, I have often believed that I messed up- I missed it. I took the step in front of me- motherhood- and I missed my destiny. I don’t know how long- maybe since the beginning- that I have felt like a failure and ashamed of myself because I didn’t “do” the thing I was meant to do while I was busy raising my children.

This might seem like another digression, and I’m sure many of you who are mothers will feel offended and as though I am belittling your chosen path. I am not, I’m really not! I’m trying to be honest about my own path, and my own inner struggle. I obviously value motherhood, or I wouldn’t have devoted the last 15 years to it.

But I bring this all up because as I think about this concept- that there are deeper, more important things in life then what career path you take- I begin to realize that the Eternal values that I value are Truth and Justice, love and peace, and these things I have continued to work towards in my life. I have taught my children them, I have used my talents in writing and art and music to further them. I have supported them with my time and money and prayers.

And so I haven’t missed it! My career “path” took a completely different route than I expected. It hasn’t involved broadway, or advanced degrees, or traveling… but it has ABSOLUTELY been in the pursuit of the eternal ideals that I believe in.

My thirteen year old self planned to be an artist or to find Broadway and conquer, my thirteen year old self probably would have looked at me right now and been ashamed. I am not president or a Nobel Prize winner. I’m not in great physical shape and I am I’m pretty poor housekeeper. I don’t make good money at anything I do, and I don’t have any degrees or titles. But guess what? I am not my thirteen-year-old self anymore. I’m thirty-seven, and my thirty-seven-year old self, who values love for others, fighting for the oppressed, and speaking out for truth- My thirty-seven year old self says, keep going. You are on a good path.


I want to say before I close that I have been vague about my Christianity in this post. Some of you who are believers will think that I am getting off path- that I’m not teaching about the Lord, that I’m not pointing out the gospel or saying explicitly that it’s about Jesus or reaching the lost, or pointing to the Scriptures. But I want to say to you that I’m not writing only for you. Yes, I believe in the Bible that points to Christ as the Messiah and the only to the Father. I believe in evangelism, and one of the most vibrant examples of a life lived well is a young woman I know and honor who uses ballet as the means to be an evangelist.

But I also believe that anyone searching for truth, in honest, genuine pursuit of truth and justice and love and hope- can’t help but find the Lord Jesus. Because He is all of those things. So I’m happy to use language that isn’t American Christian, if it maybe speaks Truth to someone outside of our culture.


Thanks for scrolling all the way down here. I hope if this encourages you about anything, it encourages you to think deeply about the stories you engage with these days- to listen with your heart, and recognize what they’re communicating with you- and to seek the truth. I think that the most heroic, happy, satisfied, and lovely people on the planet are the ones who have deep, passionate reasons for the things that they do- the ones who create or build or serve or suffer in the name of something Great and Eternal, and that we recognize it when we see it, and we all aspire to be that- and the way to start is by seeing- really seeing- what those eternal things are that are so important, and acknowledging them. And it so convenient that we find them in the stories that we fill our lives up with all the time.

So go ahead- watch a Marvel film, read a novel, listen to your Uber driver talk about his crazy mother. But when you listen, listen.

Listen for justice, love, and peace. Listen for freedom.

Listen for Truth.

And go after it.

How to win a wrestling match with Envy

Isn’t it amazing how the Lord can use almost anything to teach us about himself… and show us more of ourselves?

This week, a series went around through my facebook friends about films and the impact they had on us. The “copy-paste” thing said to post one poster per day for ten days of films that made an impact on you.

I made up my list fairly quickly- some dramas, some children’s movies, some comedies. The first one, at the top of my list, was Amadeus.

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Amadeus is a lavish, amazing movie about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I first watched it when I was a young teen, because I loved music and wanted some future as a musician. Before I went to post it as one of my ten films, I wanted to watch it again, because I couldn’t remember if there was anything that I wouldn’t recommend to young viewers. Apparently I originally saw the PG version? Or perhaps an edited version. But when I watched it this time, I saw a “director’s cut” that had a few nude scenes.

The other reason I wanted to watch it again was because as soon as I started thinking about this movie, parts of the plot started to remind me of things I have been talking to the Lord about… and I wondered whether it hadn’t resonated with me only because of the music genre, but because something in the message of the movie was speaking to a major heart-theme in my life.

If you’ve never seen Amadeus, it is a fictional account of a man named Salieri. He was a real life contemporary colleague of Mozart, and in this historical fiction, Salieri is portrayed as someone who is extremely envious of Mozart’s gift from God.

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As I started watching the movie, I remembered how sympathetic I felt towards Salieri. He loves music, and in the beginning of the film, he makes a “deal with God,” saying, “I will give everything to you- my life, my work, my money, my chastity. If only in return you will allow me to create music for you.”

And at first, he has some success. It’s as if the Lord answers ‘yes.’ But before very long, Mozart shows up on the scene. Mozart, who in the film is shown to be an air-headed, vapid, womanizing drunkard.

Salieri is aghast when this horrible depraved creature then proves that he is blessed with the gift of divine, almost supernatural music.

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This first half of the movie, where Salieri reels from this seeming unkindness of God, is what I really remembered. I haven’t seen the movie in years, but I could remember feeling such empathy with Salieri. In fact, even before I opened the movie to watch it, I started to remember so many instances in my life where I struggled with envy while watching other people succeed and have opportunities to do things I wanted so badly to do.

I remembered grade school, and envying other girls’ white-blond hair and My Little Pony lunchboxes and pink canopied beds.

I remembered middle school- where I envied other people their solos in church. And high school- where I envied private lessons and indoor pools and boyfriends and open-top jeeps.

I grew up and envied other women’s pretty homes and university degrees. I envied my friends who traveled and my acquaintances who succeeded in business. I envied famous singers and popular politicians, talented writers and even inspired preachers. I envied thinner women and smarter children. I even envied kinder, gentler, and harder working people for their virtues!

I am a pro at Envy. And a side effect is this double sided coin I carry- self-loathing and a deep, horrible sense that I should be loved more.

Envy.

I began watching the film again, with a growing light shining on this massive snake in my heart.

Salieri, halfway through the film, shakes his proverbial fist at God and decides that he will do anything to thwart Mozart, to get revenge for what the Lord has “done to him.” He goes quickly down a dark path of slander, manipulation, and depravity of his own sort, and without ruining the movie for you, (because this is just history) he watches Mozart lead his short, ruinous life before dying as a pauper.

As the final scenes began, I was so desperate to know the outcome. I couldn’t remember. Would Salieri ever repent? Did he ever somehow redeem his mis-treatment of Mozart? Would he have some revelation from the Lord, and reconcile his heart? What would be the conclusion? Would he ever, at all, relent and be free of the monster of envy that consumed him?

I felt as if watching Salieri’s redemption would somehow give me a clue for my own. How do we stop envying and rejoice in other’s successes?

But sadly- the film gave me no answer! As the final requiem played and the credits rolled, I sat feeling unsatisfied. (Spoiler) Salieri never reconciles with God. There is no resolution, there is only his continual railing against God’s ways, even to death.

I wasn’t content. I had to have an answer! I started scrolling through reviews and comments on Amadeus, thinking that maybe some other viewer had understood better than I.

Apparently the film was not only a critical success, but has been performed live as a play in many, many places. I think that in addition to being a lavishly decorated, costumed, and captivating peek into one of the most famous composers that ever lived, the issue at hand- this conflict with the divine- resonated in many of us.

But how could the film writer leave it unresolved?

I brooded on this a little while. How to kill envy? How to overcome and restore the broach of relationship with God that it causes? Did no one know the answer?

And then, one beautiful paragraph-long summary of the film gave me a glimpse- because the writer called Envy by another name.

Ingratitude.



Ingratitude caused the Pharisee to be discontent with what the Lord had allotted him, and to complain, “Why does he get paid as much as I do? Haven’t I worked harder?”

Ingratitude caused Salieri to spit on the Lord’s gift to him, and give himself over to the base desire to destroy another.

Ingratitude causes envy, and is itself a symptom of pride- we look at ourselves, and expect better. We look at others, and we want what they have. We see all the reasons why we deserve better, and they deserve less.

Ugh, my ugly heart.

How many times have I wanted more and been discontent? How much of my life has been spent praying for things I thought I should deserve, and envying others who had it?

I immediately remembered the beginning of James 4.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people,don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.


Isn’t this what the real issue is? When we wrestle with God, isn’t it because our inner self thinks that we deserve more, and God is withholding from us?

I want to know more than Salieri knows. I don’t want to grow further depraved and hideous with hatred and malice, and die with a sneer on my face!

Instead, I want to leave behind this constant turmoil of envy, malcontent, and grumbling inside of me. I want to to stop letting myself think I deserve better-I want to go on from this silly quarrel that Salieri and I have had with God- and to rest in his portion for me, because I know that’s where real peace is! I want to stop looking on other people’s gifts as evidence that they are loved more, and I am loved less.

And I think that it begins with gratitude, true appreciation and acknowledgement to God that everything I have is by his mercy and grace. To see everything I enjoy as a gift from him and to remember that I am owed nothing.

As if the Lord is shining his flashlight on a poisonous viper, I take the sword of truth, and hit it with a deathly blow.

I raise my hymn of thanks and Envy will have no hiss left in me.

Brianna

I am not naturally friendly.

One of the most memorable parts of “Mere Christianity,” to me, is in the chapter on morality and psychoanalysis. I’m going to try to paraphrase it, but forgive me if I get it a little wrong.

C.S. Lewis tried to make a case that each of us starts at a different place of base “goodness,” depending on our upbringing, personality, and environment. And that the behavior can’t really be compared, person to person, as a measure of our inner self.

For example: he said that “a man perverted in his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing” who “does some tiny little kindness” may be doing more than another person who gave up his whole life to rescue someone.

I really resonate with that.

There is another place in his writings (that I can’t find the reference for, ) where he compares two hypothetical people- Mrs. and Mr. so-and-so. He says, Mr. S may be a naturally friendly person, taught from youth to be polite and kind. But Mrs. S may have been a curmudgeon her whole life, and naturally grumpy. And she finds the Lord, and is full of joy in Him, but even in her redeemed state she is never quite the outgoing and friendly person that Mr. S. is. CS Lewis said that we shouldn’t look at these two people and say, “What’s the point of being the Lord’s, if this unsaved person is nicer than the saved?” He says that we don’t know what she might have been if she hadn’t had the Lord, and we don’t know what he might be if he did.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Because I think I am Mrs. S.

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I feel sometimes as if the “perfect Christian” should be friendly, not shy, flexible and easy to get along with. She should love going to church. She should love when the phone rings, or when someone stops in.

And I don’t. Not any of that.

Don’t get me wrong, I love people. And when I say love, I don’t mean “I love being with people, I love a party, I hate being alone,” like some kind of otter-sanguine ENFP Enneagram 7.

I mean: I sincerely care about people. I think they are valuable. I feel compassionate and tender towards pretty much everyone I meet. I do. I think people are the eternal things. I think people matter. I usually enjoy some part, if not many parts of every one I meet, and the good things in my life are largely due to the blessings of the people in it.

But I also know that I don’t wake up in the morning wanting to talk to anyone. I don’t tend to want to be in a crowd, to want to get together with people. I get anxious before a gathering and irritable easily when I’m in one. I get “done,” where I’ve talked to too many people and spent too much time with people, and I’m ready to sit down and read, and the phone rings, and my reaction is frustration instead of happiness.

I’m not naturally flexible. When my plans get interrupted or messed up, I don’t naturally shrug and pollyanna it. I sometimes lose it and freak out.

I’m not naturally thoughtful! If I remember your birthday or anniversary or that your grandmother is in the hospital, it is because I purposefully put it in my calendar or wrote it on my hand to ask you about it.

I’m not naturally calm- I get overexcited when I’m happy, and I am easily loud when I’m angry.

I’m not naturally friendly. I would prefer to slip in the back of the church with my coffee and my notebook, and worship alone, and take notes alone, and duck out to the bathroom during meet and greet. I force myself to shake hands and say “good morning” and compliment your outfit. But it isn’t because I don’t love you! It’s because I do! And I know that my “natural” tendency isn’t loving, isn’t friendly. Isn’t kind, good, or righteous.

I guess what I’m saying- is that- is there anyone else like me out there? I feel like so many Christians out there are extroverts and naturally kind. Naturally thoughtful. Naturally easy-going and flexible. My closest friends are so naturally kind and thoughtful that compared to them, I feel like a troll!

In fact, to put it bluntly, I would say I’m an intense, easily irritated, loner who has to work really, really hard to be friendly, and patient, and thoughtful, and flexible. I don’t think I do it particularly 1well, and I’m wondering if anyone else out there feels like this.

I’m wondering if anyone else knows how hard it is to plan a bible study because you love the scripture, and you love the ladies, and yet an hour before it starts, you’re almost crying on your bed because you’d rather just be home alone.

I’m wondering if anyone else hosts a cookout to welcome a new family to the church, and escapes into the kitchen for ten minutes to “make more lemonade” because you just can’t do the small talk thing one more minute.

I’m wondering if any of the rest of you get angry easily, hate the sound of your loved ones chewing, throw a fit when the cat poos in the bathroom, or just plain don’t answer the phone occasionally.

Are you out there?

I’m not writing because I want permission to be mean. Or unkind. I’m not saying, “We should be allowed to be brats!”

I’m also not writing this asking people to give me more space or stop interacting with me!

See- The thing is, I do want to be more like Christ, all the time. I know the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22 is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I know that we have to “put on Christ.” I know that our fleshly tendencies are selfish and it is easier to hate than to love. I know that Christ himself is kind, and tender-hearted, and friendly! He is “the friend that sticks closer than a brother.”

I’m not writing this in any way trying to say, “I’m tired of that, I’m done with being friendly.”

I guess I’m writing for two reasons. The first is to say that if you are naturally outgoing- if none of this rings true to you at all- if you’re shocked at my admissions (or you guessed them about me a long time ago) I would like to ask for some grace. I would love if you’d understand that my inner mean girl isn’t naturally friendly, but because I love you, and Christ loves you, I’m trying. It’s a lot of work for me, but I’m doing my best.

I would love if you would have patience with me if I take a little while to get back to you when you call or message, or if I say no sometimes to getting together, or I’m not particularly chatty at church.

And I sincerely apologize for the times when I haven’t been able to tame my unfriendliness, and I’ve hurt you.

And if you are reading this and you get me- you aren’t “thrilled to be there” on Sunday mornings, you feel like you’re a thousand years behind the “good” people- Hey, you won’t get any judgy side-eyes from me. I want you to know that I 100% understand. I feel ya, and I know what it’s like.

I guess I’m writing to all of us- whether you’re naturally friendly or not. I want to say- let’s be kind and tender to each other, because none of us knows how hard it is in someone else’s shoes.