How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jumping for Joy

Do you know the feeling when you’re wound up because excitement after excitement has piled up on you all at once? I returned from my trip to Fredericksburg last Wednesday evening, and I was excited to be home and tell my parents all about my good time. There was another thing that happened before the trip that had my nerves a-tingle which I’ll share in my next blog post. But the third thing made me bolt from my chair and jump in the air with extravagant delight, perhaps a little more than was merited ….

I was checking my emails, thinking about the just-passed deadline for a short story contest I entered. Do you remember how I mentioned possibly entering such a thing on Katie Sabelko’s Whisperings of the Pen? The theme was “Life: From Your Point of View” and the stories had to be 500-1500 words long, in first person, about you. The first category was for chronicling a happy moment in your life; the second was for a hilarious or embarrassing moment; and the third was for a fantasy about something you really didn’t do but always dreamed of doing, like meeting your story characters. I decided on the first category, and rather quickly typed up something about my day in the Colorado mountains when the sky was gray and there was no one but my family around. I wanted to capture the exceptional solitude and contentment. It felt so good to be creative again and to try to express exactly how I felt. It was a shot of vitality when I needed it most. I titled it The Day I Went Back in Time.I sent the story in, not knowing what to expect.

But when I returned from my trip, the Lord used this contest to give me another shot of joy, one that had me jumping and running to my mom and dad at 9:00 at night: I’d won second place in my category. I was so thankful that all of this happened -- all I had to do was write my story, and I prayed for help there, too. So God gave me a wonderful gift. What makes it extra-fun is that I won a prize from an Etsy store:

Thank you, Katie!

The first-place winners of each category got their stories posted on Katie’s blog. They’re excellent, so if you’re interested, here is the link. The grand prize, overall winner’s story was particularly delightful; you can tell from the title: “Dancing with Stars.”

Friday, April 26, 2013

An Enchanted Land

What a lovely little vacation! Sunday through Wednesday found me in quite another world. There the land was filled with dramatic, undulating hills, awash with mesquite trees and more live oaks than I’ve ever seen in one place. The wildflowers must have drunk a growing potion because they were so full and bright, taking over the grass of the fields and banks of the highway. Prickly pear, too, grew profusely. Among those hills three strange humps of solid granite rose higher than everything else -- the surrounding land tried to clamber up them, and the greenery came close to overcoming one, but the domes of the other two towered bald and barren. Indians thought them enchanted … it’s easy to see why.


This is the realm of Enchanted Rock, the central and highest dome of the three. People today are fascinated with trying to conquer it, and climbing to the summit isn’t hard as long as you’re in shape. From there you can see the surrounding tree-filled hill country and feel like you’re standing on top of the world. But of course Enchanted Rock is too big for you to really feel as if you’d conquered it … rather it is more like a friendly giant who’s helped you to a splendid view.

Farther south, this was also the land of touristy shops and restaurants, many of which played off the German heritage of the original white settlers. Yes, Fredericksburg does a fine job of retaining German flavor. I met one shop owner with a German accent, and another shop owner told me that not too long ago he would hear people speaking in German everyday. The town ensured plenty of German food and antiques were available and that quaint German architecture was abundant.

I mentioned wildflowers earlier … this was indeed the land of the wildflower farm. Wildseed Farms was another enchanted place, on the much smaller scale of petals, stems, and leaves. It grew native wildflowers in fields, and sold seeds and other things for a garden.

I could have used more exploring of all these wonderful places, but I was very satisfied with my adventure. I love getting to know a place because it can offer great fodder for a story. And I love a short vacation because it recharges my mind and gets me set and excited to continue my normal life.

What was your favorite mini-vacation, and what did it do for you?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Style, Experience, and Philosophy

                                                       Tapev Monastery, Armenia.

Style … the question about its supposedly nebulous definition is rather cliché, so I’m not going to ponder it here. I’ve read good definitions of it recently so I don’t find it all that foggy. But, if you would indulge me, I’d like to ponder my style. I find discussions of other authors’ styles quite fascinating, so I thought I would do a little self-analysis here.

I confess: I love sounding intellectual rather than simplistic. I drool over the densely-packed writing of many a classic author like Mark Twain, Fanny Burney, and Charles Dickens and, to a point, wish I could emulate them. Perhaps a little pride is mixed into this, but overall I just want to be pleased with what I write. Lately several things have caused me to simplify my writing somewhat: in Six Cousins, the reality of its young adult audience has influenced me as I edit; the mostly devotional articles I write as assignments for my writing course need to be clear and to-the-point -- no dense sentences or flowery language allowed; even my newspaper article made an impact on me.

As I strip away the more elaborate elements of the way I express myself, at least in nonfiction, I seem to be left with often very basic ideas, which I don’t know is a good thing or a bad thing. My fiction is safe -- fiction has room for anything. But when I’m trying to communicate truths, I find my mind works simplistically. In other words, I’m not a philosopher. But … I want to be. There is so much that I don’t know, so many complicated things I don’t have a grasp on that need to be searched out … for defending my faith, for example. I love being able to understand complex subjects. I love giving my mind a workout.

But … what if my writing doesn’t reflect that? I’ve taken stock of my life and discovered I don’t have a great many experiences; and if one’s life doesn’t have experiences, one’s nonfiction writing tends to reflect that. Of course, it depends on what one is writing about -- everyone has a wide experience in at least one or two things, so if they’re writing about that, they’ll have awesome things to say about it. There are so many things, about the spiritual life, about science, about history, etc., that I wish I could comment on and sound intelligent about, but that I can’t seem to pull off. Which leaves me wondering … am I really that simple?

Lest you think I’m wandering from my style self-analysis, let’s get back to that. Style is the method of pouring out what’s inside you, and it says a lot about you. If my nonfiction style is simple, that means I’m simple, doesn’t it? Anything I truly understand has a simple feel to me, actually. Is that a problem? Perhaps not. The most important things in life, the ones that everyone is capable of grasping, are the simple things.

But -- I know that I better keep learning and building my mind, stone by stone. I can do that by experiencing life and by thinking deeply and by reading deep books -- and the reading deep books part is what I really wanted to get to in this post today. If I’m going to be building up my mind, I need to deposit stones and mortar in it, which means better reading than I’ve been doing. Here is a partial list of ideas:

Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy L. Sayers
Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis
Sophy’s World, by Jostein Gaarder and Paulette Moller
Writings by Leo Tolstoy (I’m rather intrigued by snippets of his), Henry David Thoreau, and other philosophers and thinkers
Biographies of and writings by significant contributors to the history of society, such as Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass ….
Books by creation scientists
Any other ideas?
On a side note, I won’t be posting next Tuesday because I am going on a short trip to Fredericksburg, TX -- I should have a fun blog post to write next Friday!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Israel Independence Day

Wow, it seems like I’ve had so much on my mind lately … but it’s all good! Six Cousins is maybe a month or so away from being published. My writing course is keeping me busy exploring possibilities for magazine articles et. al. Then there’s a trip in the planning (more on that another time!). My grandfather turns 87 today and the biggest blessing is he’s in great health.

And then there is Israel Independence Day. In Hebrew you’d hear Yom Ha’atzmaut. On the Hebrew calendar, it’s on Iyar 5, but it shifts about on the Gregorian calendar. In 1948, the year Palestine became the independent state of Israel, it was May 14 when the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel was made. Here is a link to the text.

                                                        Israeli Flag.

This day is significant because it was a huge, neon sign in the fulfillment of biblical prophecies about Israel’s return to the land that God promised them. The soil of the land called Palestine once again became Israel’s possession:

“And I shall turn back the captivity of My people Israel. And they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them. And they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them, and shall make gardens and eat their fruit. And I shall plant them on their own soil, and not uproot them any more from their own soil I have given them,” said the Lord your God. (Amos 9:14-15)

This is exactly what has happened! Before the Jews returned to their land, it was a desert. But since their return, they have “made the deserts bloom” as the Declaration says. When the land became their own again, a timeline began that will culminate in Yeshua/Jesus’ return! The Jews who live there now are only the beginning of the complete fulfillment of return. Isaiah 11 describes how Yeshua is instrumental in the return of all the people to their ancestral heritage. He will be their King, and the King of all the world, at long last.

“And so all Israel shall be saved, as it has been written, ‘The Deliverer shall come out of Zion, and He shall turn away wickedness from Jacob, and this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’” (Romans 11:26-27, quoting Isaiah 59:20-21)

Israel’s return to the land they were torn from millennia ago is a sign that God exists and is still involved in the world. It’s a sign that He keeps His promises. It’s a sign that we will someday see Yeshua/Jesus face-to-face!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Book Review: The Wanderer

                                                          The Wanderer

The Wanderer was Fanny Burney’s last novel, and, in my opinion, her magnum opus. It was published in 1814, years after her third novel, Camilla (1796). She had started it soon after Camilla, but it was set aside when she turned to plays in order to earn more money to support her family.

There are so many superlatives I could apply to The Wanderer. It blew me away. Fanny Burney (or Madame d’Arblay, her married name) had an incredible mind. My edition was 873 pages long, 5 volumes and 92 chapters. Throughout that thick pile of pages, Mme d’Arblay sustained a mystery -- the identity and story of the Wanderer -- that kept me worried and intrigued to the last chapter.

It’s hard to say much about the plot without giving anything away; perhaps the greatest pleasure of this novel is knowing nothing at all about it, being surprised and breathless at every turn. That’s the way I read it -- and I loved it.

But I should share something to whet your appetite: The Wanderer cannot give her name to anyone; we immediately apprehend she is in danger when, in the first scene, she boards a boat fleeing to England from France during the French Revolution. The alternate title of the book is Female Difficulties, and that is likewise a very apt title. Because she is alone, she must support herself once in England. For a female, that was next to impossible -- very few careers were available, and those that were either did not earn much or were not in high demand. And any working woman was looked down upon.

Fanny Burney d’Arblay supported a cast of maybe forty realistic characters, from all spectrums of society -- and I do mean all. The Wanderer ended up in the city, in the country, in the seaside town; with the nobility, with the gentility, with the working class, with the peasantry. The scope of this novel was vast; the author had an outstanding grasp on that part of the world in 1793-94. Running throughout the story was a political commentary that was ahead of her time.

It was partly this political commentary that caused the 1814 reviewers to give The Wanderer poor reviews. Yes, that’s right; not everyone thought it was Fanny d’Arblay’s magnum opus like I do. Her comments on society -- for instance, the oppression of the poor and of women -- touched too many nerves for it to be popular. I would not say she was a feminist (at least not like Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women) or a radical, because she was not extreme; she excused no one, portraying equally the respective flaws of rich and poor.

Hmm … there are so many things to say about this incredible work, but I must limit myself. It includes some great theological discussions. Its many adventures sure make it appealing, though back then some dismissed it as “improbable.” Perhaps because it was not a Gothic novel people thought it should be as straightforward as Mme d’Arblay’s other fiction and as Jane Austen’s. After 1814, The Wanderer was not republished until 1988.

While I feel sorry for the generations that missed it, I’m so glad it’s available today. It’s joined my list of favorites. In one of my posts about Evelina, Fanny Burney’s first book, I had stated that Jane Austen was the superior artist but Fanny Burney had some talents that went beyond her; The Wanderer shows its artist fully matured, at the top of her game, and -- while I can’t say she leaves Jane Austen behind, because when it comes down to it, comparing writers can be like comparing apples to oranges -- I see her now for what she was: a genius.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Ordinarily, newspaper writing is not my style of writing. Bare facts, plain words, current events … to me those requirements look like a list of how to make writing not fun.

But newspapers can be a relatively easy way to get your name in print, I have discovered. See? I am now published:

My writer’s course assigned me to write an article for my local newspaper. I was pretty nervous about it -- it wasn’t easy to find a story and then, since I’m shy, interviewing and researching took me out of my comfort zone. The article wasn’t perfect, but the newspaper editor was very receptive, happy to publish it, and was interested in other things I might do!

Basically, my article was about a fundraiser held by a church that my family visits. Here’s the first line: “While garage-salers are out and about on Saturday, April 6, Hope Ministries is going to be on the lot next to their church … cooking food for their youth group to sell.”

I thank God that He’s brought all this together, because I’d never have done it on my own, either without the writer’s course assigning me or with my own teaspoonful of courage.

For other “news,” I’m formatting Six Cousins for CreateSpace! It’s so cool to see it in book-sized pages. I’m also giving it a thorough edit -- sometimes I feel rather ruthless, but I really need to lessen the page count. :-)