authors and developing characters: an analogy of God's sovereignty & human choice

The relationship of an author and his characters is a fabulous analogy that helps me understand the relationship between the sovereignty of my Creator God and my personal opportunity to choose. 

It's a greyish, rather-blustery, end-of-October day today. Time for some favorite flicks and home-cooked comfort food. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes are being plated up at our house tonight along with an assortment of colorful veggies: orange carrots and purple cabbage and beets. Inevitably, Muppet Christmas Carol will soon emerge. 

Tradition around here is to pull out Muppet Christmas Carol as the weather turns brisk. I love it! But ... there's one line in particular that irks me a bit every time I hear it. Rizzo the Rat chides Gonzo's authorial omniscience  as he plays the role of the classical author Dickens and calls him "Mr. God-like Smarty-Pants." It verges on taking the Lord's name in vain, at least in my mind, the way Rizzo says it. Still, I try not to take offense, because being an author really does reflect some realities about our Omniscient Creator God and His creation. We talked about this a little with my last post.

Authors say it all the time: "I'm curious where this is going to end up," or "I can't wait to find out who this character's going to turn into." I know it was interesting for me to watch Cassia, Gehazi, and especially Marcus make decisions in my current manuscript Voice of a Servant. 

Yes, characters actually make their own decisions. It's a bit puzzling. As the author, I create them, I write them into the story. I name them, and I shape key elements about their personalities. I can make them do whatever I want. But I don't always. You see, if the story is going to sound authentic, at some point along the way, the characters have to make their own choices. 

It's mystical really, how the character becomes his or her own person, how the author sits back and listens for what that character will say. At times, the character actually dictates to the author what she is going to do or how he is going to respond to conflicts the author creates. Oh, the author is still in control of where the overall plot is going and how things will turn out in the end, but the characters have a say and somehow shape their story with their own choices.

Are you starting to see the analogy? Analogies do break down somewhere, so I'm sure this one's not perfect. But it does help me start to understand that supposed dilemma between the sovereignty of God (the Author) and the free will or choice of individual humans (characters). 

God is writing His Story. He has His themes that He's developing, His purpose for writing (His own glory). And He includes all the really great stuff of writing: dilemma, conflict, vulnerability, love, mercy, redemption, forgiveness...and fabulous characters. 

In a sense, God's Story is a massive collection of short stories. Each of our lives is a short story. When God Writes Your Life Story, you are the viewpoint character for that short story. When He writes mine, I am the viewpoint character. Multiple short stories overlap and influence others just as many and varied people influence one individual's life. But each is significant as a unique creative work. Your story is important.

Now, developing character is a literary term. As opposed to a static character that remains unchanged throughout the course of a novel, a developing or dynamic character is crafted to change over time. I loved the way one literature teacher defined the dynamic (developing) character: 
"a person who changes over time, usually as a result of resolving a central conflict...." 
Each of us has multiple conflicts woven into our story's plot line. Along the way, there are some pretty intense antagonists. Some things are difficult to swallow. And though I can't understand or explain all the implications, as an author I do understand the necessity of bad guys and tough choices if the story's going to be worth telling.  

The central conflict, though, that major decision that effects change in each developing character, is his or her answer to this most important question: 
"What will you do with Jesus?"
We answer that question not just at a point of conversion to biblical Christianity, but every moment of every day. We as the viewpoint character make choices. In His presence and confident in His sovereign control over all, we choose. Still, He chooses according to what seems good to Him as the Author. 

It's a mysterious thing, this author-character, Creator-creation relationship. But it does illustrate the biblical tension of two simultaneous yet paradoxical truths: 

  • God is the Sovereign Creator and Author of it all, and 
  • I am His creation, a unique character, created for His purposes yet with my own will, my own decisions, my own voice. 

In "the End," each character will become subservient to the Author's will. And "every knee will bow and every tongue will confess (admit) that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." 

But right now, the question is this: What will you do with Jesus? Have you submitted your character to His Authorship? Have you chosen to acknowledge Jesus as God in your life? 

If you'd like to read more about making this decision, you can follow this link to a gospel (good news) presentation called "Two Ways to Live."

God is writing your story. But you have to make this choice: Will you accept Jesus as your Savior from sin and watch God transform your story into a dynamic life of praise to Him?

Thank you for letting my story overlap with yours today. I pray it's been a blessing to you and look forward to more interaction as we continue making choices and influencing one another. 

Grace and peace, with love, 

it's okay to get excited: a biblical response to personal creative accomplishments

Is it wrong to rejoice in something you've done well at? Is it boasting? Pride? Should I just be quiet? Stay Calm and Carry On? 

Think through this one with me. After all, we all create. 

Sure, our creations are different and certainly they reflect a vast variety of personalities. But we all create. 

My sister-in-law is a fashion designer, other friends are potters or painters, fiber artists or doodlers. Rachel Hrinko recently illustrated a favorite new hymn in this way (that I think is actually going to help me memorize it better--yay!): 

Still other friends are songwriters or videographers or web designers. A select number are authors, bless them. And let's not forget math and music are on the same side of the brain: those mathematicians deserve some credit for their creative genius with numbers.

And though some aren't employed in a creative field, they craft as a hobby or plate up beautiful meals for family and friends. They come up with bulletin boards or great games to reinforce important concepts for kids in their class at school or church. 

In a recent interview regarding songwriting, Paul Keew discussed the reality of each generation continuing to create as responsive praise to God's working in our hearts, in our communities, in our world. I loved this quote: "As long as God is still working in me, I've got to keep writing."

Yes! I completely agree. As long as God keeps working in me, I'll keep writing too. But when I finish that work, what is my biblical response to be? 

Well, let's think about it biblically. What light does the Word give us regarding this creative path?

In the beginning ... after each day of Creation, God as the Originator and Designer of it all said, "And it was good." When he got to mankind, He said, "It was very good." We were made in His image. That is an amazing thing! And the more we learn about the intricacies of His design, it is fascinating and incredibly good. 

Part of being made in His image is being creative--capable of imagining, planning, and creating. When I create, I am reflecting my Creator. I love getting to point the praise back to Him! Solo Deo Gloria, after all! To God ALONE be the glory! Still, I rejoice that He allows me to create and that He uses creativity to reflect Who He is and to point us again and again and again to Himself. 

I'm not surprised as I keep thinking through this that I find help in the collection of wisdom teachings called Proverbs. 

I love how the virtuous woman "perceives/sees that her merchandise/trading is good/profitable" and rightly so, for "her works bring her praise at the city gate" (Proverbs 31:18,31). She's our example, right? So, this is biblical to rejoice when your work is good. 

As a creative person, you make value judgments. You have to in order to hone your craft, to get a product worth sharing. It's subjective, for sure. We don't even always know what we're going for when we start. But, usually, in the end, we know when we've got a good thing. 

Proverbs 13 also teaches us about "the longing fulfilled [being] a tree of life" and "the desire accomplished [being] sweet to soul" (verses 12, 19).

And I'm sure there's more, but I want to apply it... because I can hardly wait to share this with you.

This week, I finished the final revision of my historical novel, Voice of a Servant. Well, I'm sure there she'll still have one more round of revision once she finds her editor, but she's to the point where I am satisfied and excited to introduce her to an agent. Please pray with me as I take this next step on an exciting adventure. Wahoo!!! "The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul!" For sure. 

Voice started about six years ago. We were in what I refer to as a muddy water time in our lives. And God gave us healing by adding to us a delightful little boy we named Jordan. I was nearing the completion of my second Reflections for Teens Bible study, No Matter What, and could not get the story of Naaman off my mind. The Lord seems to do this for me. As I complete one project, He burns a new theme on my heart. And I start researching, drafting, and finally writing. 

I took a three year semi-hiatus from writing during this six year time period while I taught Resource Math and English to middle graders as a means of teaming with my husband to put him through seminary faster. I'd write once in a while, after everyone else had gone to bed. But I only had so much energy. And too often I was finding typos in those late night sessions. 

When our third son was born almost a year and a half ago, I transitioned back to substituting and came home to be with him ... and to write. 

Family is still priority. I love picking up the boys at the end of the school day and spending time with them. I love having dinner ready (most of the time) when my husband gets home from work or studying. And believe me, they're all rejoicing with me in this "desire accomplished." 

I am thrilled. And I'm not ashamed to say this is a great story. Inspired by historical and biblical realities, Voice of a Servant puts flesh on the sketches in Scripture. It makes me understand and love God's Word more. 

It is my prayer that this book will do the same for you and your young readers. The intended audience is middle grade and young adult (probably ages 11 and up). But we all know adults love MG/YA too!! ;) I know I do. So I'm excited about where this book will go. 

I am almost literally jumping up and down. Thank you for rejoicing with me. 

All Grace,

What has the Lord accomplished in your life recently? Comment below or email me at vineandshoots [at] gmail [dot] com. I'd love to jump up and down with you too!

And, by the way, I didn't list all my friends' names who are creative people, but you most certainly will enjoy following the links within this post and exploring various ones of their studios, websites, and blogs. 

my crazy-busy but happy life

"The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation." --Deitrich Bonhoeffer quoted by Ann Voskamp in today's post on "How to Live, Blog, Write." Ann, I love your quotes. And I love you--the real you--that farmer's wife from Canada with six kids and a real faith in God that she's willing to expose.

This quote says it. It is why I write. To speak truth to myself and to you. Because we all need it. 

It has been a crazy-busy September-October. But, I have good things to report from what feels like a whirlwind tour to a land with restricted internet access. (I literally do not know when I could've blogged for most of this past month plus ten days.) 

What have I been up to? Some of the highlights all hit in rapid succession. 

  • I took my Praxis exam to renew my teaching certification here in SC. A dear friend at church was taking a comparable exam (but for elementary), so we were able to quiz one another. The night before the test, we met at Panera and finished reviewing. Then, the morning of, after dropping off the boys at a brave fellow-mother-of-boys' home,  I stopped off at Coffee & Crema for a Pumpkin Spice Latte. But instead of studying, spent some precious quiet moments with God in the latter portion of Isaiah. I was so encouraged by this portion in chapter 56: "And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to Him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be His servants ... these I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer ... For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." And the pithy "to love His name & be His servant" sang in my soul. Over and over again, He's been teaching me how beautiful it is to be His servant! I spent some sweet time in prayer, thanking Him for grafting me--a foreigner--into His household. And, BTW, scores were reported just today, and I am thrilled to tell  you that my friend & I both passed! Praise His name!
  • The very next week, my husband took his comprehensive exams for his PhD in New Testament Interpretation. We survived! :) And excepting a tw0-page report on the life & ministry of Paul, he is ready to move into the dissertation phase. 
  • Then, I had the privilege of serving on this year's planning team for our church's Ladies Conference, "Always in His Presence." 

Mrs. Diane Olson from Northland International University, a personal friend of our pastor's wife, came to speak truth to us.  The conference was a blessing! You can listen to the audio recordings at sermonaudio. The second session was my favorite: Diane listed a hugely long list regarding how the Spirit works in our lives.

While crafting the conference decor, I remember very specifically having this conversation with the Lord, "It sure is expensive to serve You, Lord. I hope you're keeping track." But the joy is, He is. "Your work and labor of love will not go unnoticed."

Everything turned out so well, and the best part was eliminating things that usually take our focus--good things, necessary things, wonderful things even--but getting away and getting to forge relationships with other ladies in my own church. I was very much encouraged by the fellowship and how God answered my heart's prayer to show me how valuable ministries like these can be for ladies. 
  • In the meantime, I started Graston Therapy on my back and heel. Can you say BRUISE!? Well, I went through some very difficult weeks where I meditated a lot on the concept of "It pleased Him to bruise His Son." But I am so thankful to say that the hope is already beginning to be realized through the pain, and I am seeing significant improvement!
  • Substitute teaching has been fun this season. I've done everything from 2nd grade PE (slipping rubber bands on the wrists of little runners for each lap they made), to MS Pre-Algebra, to HS English (throw in a Powerpoint), Bible, even Chorale. I love these kids. Many of them are my readers, my kids' friends, and even my friends. And Mark loves his days at "school.
  • One other highlight has been embracing the joy of being a mother of boys. Recently, several of their friends and they got together and built mini-catapults then launched marshmellows at one another ... and me. :) These are the things we will look back at with the greatest joy! The crazy pauses to enjoy one another in the midst of daily life and ministry demands.  We got the idea from this book

There are some dangerous things in this book and its companion books, but with proper supervision, it is so much FUN!!
  • Women for Missions is in full-swing, and though we deferred our October meeting to the Ladies' Conference, we still had a fabulous outpouring of love for our MKs studying in local colleges. Our next meeting will get us back on track, first Tuesday of November. We're planning on having an area pastor's wife who ministers to those in the Inner City share with us, and then we'll take some concentrated time praying for our nation. It'll be the night of elections after all. ;)

I enjoyed trying out Giada's Chocolate Chip Biscotti recipe as well as Taste of Home's White Chocolate Cranberry Biscotti recipe. Tucked together with some hot cocoa packets, this was our family's love gift to these MKs studying away from their missionary homes. A splurge none of us complained about taste-testing. Yes, I did make a vegan version for Micah.
  • Along the way I've been ticking off the chapters of my WIP as I do my final revision before sending out the query letter to a selected agent.  Down to just one more chapter of Voice of a Servant, my middle-grade historical novel based on 2 Kings 2-8, told from the three servant perspectives of Cassia (the little maid), Marcus (Naaman's attendant), and Gehazi (Elisha's servant). As my sister-in-law exclaims, "Eee!" :) I can hardly wait to share it with you!

And now you're caught up, at least with the major events. And I'm slowing down and "simplifying." Regrouping and reflecting. I do plan to post more of the things God's been working in my heart, the nitty-gritty, the real. Soon. 

But first, what have you been doing? Please leave a comment below or email me at vineandshoots [AT] gmail [DOT] com. I'd love to hear from you.