Wednesday, November 9, 2016

On Writing Yourself into Your Characters

Hey there.

This is a post I started out nervous to write, because it meant I'd have to get a little honest, but writing is about getting a lot honest, so here's a good place to start.

Every character that I've felt I developed well has pieces of me in them.

Zayla deals with anxiety.

Cameron doubts his ability to care for those around him.

Alyssa cares what people think of her.

Keiko feels alone at times.

Macy struggles with her self worth.

Bellamy is self-centered.

Judah would rather listen than confide.

But what I've realized is that, by writing about my own flaws, I've touched on the very things that connect us all as humanity--as readers, as writers, and people.

Because, whether or not your flesh looks the same as mine does, we all struggle at times with something, and our struggles are connected.

I was thinking back on the writer's conference I had the chance to go to last year, and reminiscing about what was one of the boldest things I'd done as a writer. In front of most of the conference attendees, I decided to read my work.

I was originally going to read a poem I'd written that day, because it was safe. (and an entertaining analogy between a bad relationship and a fridge.)

But I listened to the heart the other writers had poured into their work, the rawness and yet the quality of what they'd written--and right there, minutes before my turn, I realized I needed to be brave.

There was a piece I wrote about my precious baby Macy, in which I quoted myself.
You see, Macy has anorexia.
I do not have anorexia.

But I knew what it felt like to be trapped in my head, in a cycle of thoughts. I knew what it felt like to be in bondage to fear, to attempt to control that with regulation.

And, even though I wasn't anorexic, I wrote my own thoughts into this character. I knew I hit on something, then. I knew I had written something that might just resonate with another person who had battled fear.

And I read that piece.

I didn't realize just how connected one person's pain could be to another's, but, after I stepped down, and the reading ended, a woman came up to me. Her piece had been about hospitalization--for anorexia.

And she looked at me with tears in her eyes, and she thanked me, and told me I was brave, and hugged me.

The next day, she came up to me and hugged me again, told me I was beautiful. She said she didn't know what my story was, but she said that I needed to keep writing.

She didn't know I wasn't anorexic. She didn't know. I didn't have the heart to tell her. And I felt that I didn't need to--because the words I'd written still came from my heart. And those words connected with her.

Looking back on this moment--something I come back to whenever I need the motivation to keep working on my craft--has taught me something.

We don't all have disorders. We don't all have stories that brings tears to the listener's eyes. But, man, we've all got struggles. Some of us have to fight harder than others in some areas, or even in general, but pain is part of living in this imperfect world. If we are willing to look at our struggles and see how those manifest in other people, maybe even in greater ways, we can begin to understand them.

Empathy and understanding can help. People facing huge battles are the same people that face little ones. They are human. And yes, their thoughts may look different than yours, but, if you're willing to understand--you might find you and they are more similar than you thought. You might find a place of compassion. because, no matter the battle--physical, mental, situational--we are all human, in need of grace, and desperate to be understood.

Basically, what I want to say is this:

I don't know what hurts you now. I don't know if you have a condition. I don't know if you have a backstory that brings tears. I can't say I do. But I know you have experiences that, if you're willing to look at them honestly, can bring hope to people you'd never expect it would. If you have found hope, you can share that hope with anyone. So write pieces of yourself into your characters. Let honesty bleed through. Don't assume everyone will be able to fight the same way--listen to their stories. But find places to connect with them, because those places exist.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

God is not In Love with You

That's right, I said it. God isn't in love with you. I've seen this phrase used over and over to comfort someone who's feeling worthless, or to assure someone that everything will be okay, or to encourage someone to come to the cross, because God is in love with them.

Heck no.

Now, don't burn me yet. I'm taking this thought a step further.

First of all, let me define what I believe to be the widely accepted definition of being "in love," just to make sure I'm not throwing anyone for a total loop. As it appears to me, at least, "In Love" is a state of mind--and often, body--that signifies a significant attraction towards another in a way that magnifies their goodness and downplays their faults. It is experienced by the person "in love," and is demonstrated by actions or commitments, or even an overall rose-colored view of a person.

I'm sorry, but that's just not how God sees us.

We are not his highschool sweetheart. He doesn't want to take us to prom, he doesn't want to scream to the world how perfectly wonderful we are, He doesn't want to embrace everything we are. He doesn't need us to be happy. God does not look at us and get super warm and fuzzy inside because we make Him feel good.

We sin. We fall short. We make God angry, because while He is up there loving us, we're running around with all the wickedness and sinfulness that He hates.

Wait!, you say. You just said God loved us! Make up your mind!

There's a big difference between this concept of a God that loves everything we are, that is infatuated with our beauty, that accepts our sin and rebellion, and a God that actually loves us.

See the difference: Love is action. Love is a choice to acknowledge faults and still choose someone. Love is a devotion to a person, Love is selfless. Love has open arms despite the risk of being hurt again. Love is experienced by the person on the receiving end, who is known in all their weakness and still given Grace.

God. Is. Love.

God sees the way we rebel against Him, our sinfulness, our nonchalant view of Him, and He pursues us, because He loves us.

He is Holy, and because He is holy, sin separates us from Him. As you might imagine, because of His love for us, he hates our sin. He wants us to repent, to be in fellowship with Him. Because He's not going to just embrace our sinfulness. He's going to open His arms and call His people to Him, but that also means calling them away from the sin He hates.

A God "in love" with us doesn't have to be Holy. He could just open up and adore us despite all our choices that show a lack of love for Him.

A God that "Loves" us is Holy, desires us to run to Him, sacrifices Himself to give us that choice.

We are not His highschool sweetheart-- We are His bride. He knows us completely-- he is not blind to our sin-- but He still wants us.

He still loves us, even when we bring nothing to the table but weak attempts at goodness. He asks us to spend eternity with Him, and He asks us to repent.

He is there for us when we fall, to pick us back up out of the dirt He hates, and to wash us clean and help us try again.

So you are not worthless, but your value is found in a God that loves you, not in all the amazing qualities that made Him fall "in love" with you. Everything will be okay, because you can repent and be in fellowship with Him, no matter your circumstances. And you can come to His cross, because, even though God hates your sin, he absolutely, completely, sacrificially LOVES you.

God is so much more than "in love" with us.