I woke this morning to the sound of air raid sirens, which slowly resolved into the high whine of a jet flying overhead. As my confusion ebbed and I started to consider going back to sleep, I heard gunshots in the distance. Someone getting ready for goose or deer season, I assumed, since there were no sirens forthcoming. This violent first few minutes of wakefulness followed a horrible night’s rest. One of my dreams involved a harrowing bus trip with impossible hills, descents and breakneck turns. The unsettling dreams were interspersed with wakeful intermissions within which I wrestled pointlessly with worries. Was my mom getting a good night’s rest before her mastectomy? Had we sisters planned well for helping her out during recovery? Would my mammogram on Tuesday be clear? Have I done what I can to get my kids ready for school? What have I forgotten, what have I missed? Nothing constructive came of this. The morning was a mess of trying to keep moving, keep doing, staying focused so I couldn’t watch the clock, staying as positive and grateful as possible.
Worry is weakness and worse, a thief of energy and clarity. Nothing is accomplished better under the cloud of fear and anxiety than it is with clear eyed thoughtfulness and rational optimism. Many of Jesus’ best quotes have to do with casting off fear, and that is one of the reasons I am such a big fan. Still, like most of what Jesus stands for, I have a long way to go before I truly live the Word. (Don’t be me. Be better.) Aside from the fact that my mom was having a surgery to remove cancer from her body and I spent a lot of time wavering between functioning human being and a waste of space, it was a good day. No cancer in lymph nodes! Satisfied surgeons! A living, breathing post-surgical mom! A lot of people were praying for her. Did prayers bring her a better outcome than worries? I can’t prove that, either way, but I know for sure that that same lot of people faced the day with strength and hope beyond what faith in modern medicine provides. It isn’t magic. It isn’t even easy to be faithful or hopeful in difficulty. But it is effective, important, and life-changing. Every moment I remembered to put aside fear and embrace faith, I turned inside out, like a pocket being emptied of old Kleenex and last week’s shopping list. Tomorrow will bring its own troubles. Hopefully, they won’t be near as dramatic as today’s were, but how much better would my life be, would I be, if I faced even the everyday tiny worries with the same intentional faith that helped me get through today?
Is it possible to be solemn and joyful at the same time? Ask anyone facing a trial while holding tightly to faith, hope and love. Look into the heart of anyone who walks in the valley of the shadow, who knows regardless of what happens we are not forsaken. Walk a mile with one who has chosen their treasure well, whose spirit is secure, even when the body crumples. Lift up your hearts and know the joy of thanks in all things. Join the unending song.
I love you, Mom, and all my friends who are walking their own valleys right now. You are in my prayers!
The problem with religion is the same problem that exists with any system (like politics) in which ideology motivates human behavior. The problem is us. Divine spark notwithstanding, humanity is a mess of conflicting values, needs, and desires.
Do you need to feel you belong, that you are part of a community? Do you seek to transcend the daily grind of economic and social survival? Do you need to find hope that the future of the world is better than the brutal violence, spite and indifference to suffering we today? Do you personally need to find comfort,strength and meaning in light of your own difficulties? Do you want forgiveness, a clean slate, a new beginning? Organized religion has a lot to offer you along these lines. Do you need to feel better than somebody else? Do you need to feel important? Do you want to belong to a club where you can get closer to people’s money and children? Do you want scriptural justification for hating a particular group of people, even though the number one and two commandments are Love God and Love others, no exceptions? Unfortunately, you can also find those kinds of opportunities in religion as well.
I think the purpose of religion is to provide a structure to help people grow closer to God. Some would say that is unnecessary, that the problems of organized religion outweigh its value and anyone who wants to seek God can do it on the golf course, the hiking trail or in their own home. I reply that you can grow closer to God through private meditation and study, but ultimately seeking God by yourself is looking for God in the mirror, and that will only take you so far. Faith communities give people a chance to share their various experiences and beliefs, for even within a single community there are as many underlying ideologies as there are people. Everyone experiences and understands God in their own way, and in a living faith understanding grows and changes over time (note I didn’t say God changes.) As messy as we are, with our conflicting values, needs and desires, we can help each other grow and support each other through difficulties. Together, when humanly possible.
I have written a couple of novels. Both are 50,000+ words thanks to the rules of National Novel Writing Month and both are unpublished. One is horrible and will never see the light of day; the other one I like to think of as promising. In writing both of them I found that I came to a point where I had no idea what was happening. I had created the whole scenario and knew how I wanted it to end, but to get from “here” to “there” required something more: some fancy literary footwork, or acrobatic maneuvering. There has to be tension in reading or it isn’t worth it, but writing? The tension can be a killer. I got through it both times, just more convincingly in the second novel.
I am now back to my “promising” novel and find that revision has the same issue as the initial writing. This first draft has a beginning, middle and an end, some pretty good characters, an intriguing premise, and several action scenes that make it a story I would hate to see just end up in a box but I am at that knot in the string that has to be dealt with to get from promising to good. I am at the hammer and tongs phase where it’s time to revise the draft into a real manuscript, a story worth reading. I have to pare away the stuff that sort of spilled out with everything else, but doesn’t really add to the story. I have to check my timelines; can my heroine really do all that in a day? and why doesn’t she do anything the next day? I need to flesh out other characters or remove them all together. And the big question: who dies in the end? I can still see it going a couple of different ways.
It is time to move from the role of anxious protective writer to patient thoughtful editor. I need to distance myself a titch from what I have already done and look at it with some objectivity. When I am at risk of slipping into self-loathing over the parts that aren’t ready for primetime, I have to pull it back and congratulate myself on the good stuff and keep building on that. Writing a novel can be a little like living a life. It gets messy. Sometimes it flows and other times you have to “put your back into it,” as Dad used to say when he could see the job required more effort than what we kids were applying. Sometimes in life you pick up stuff and it turns out to be not helpful, like an activity that was entertaining or instructive in the process but doesn’t really add to the quality of life and can now be left behind. Sometimes you have to hang onto stuff and make it work even if it is unwieldy and frustrating, because it is worth it. Sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference, but the older I get and the less anxious and protective I am the clearer that seems.
I have less say about how my life develops than I do about the direction my novel takes; life has a lot of extenuating circumstances. I can edit where I am at, though. Less puzzles and TV, more reading and conversation; less worry and more giggles—that sort of thing. The rest has to be left to faith and I can work on that bit, too.