What is February largely known for? I hear you saying Valentine’s Day. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)
So naturally, I’m here to talk about an entirely non-romantic movie.
I recently completed my first trip through all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Aside from the Spider-Man films, my favorite movie was Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the second in the Captain America trilogy. Generally applauded as one of the best Marvel films ever made, it sports a good story, deep character arcs, and all-around amazingness.
But I took away from it one simple lesson that might connect to Valentine’s Day more than one might expect.
There will be some spoilers ahead for The Winter Soldier, so if you care about that kind of thing, you might want to pass on this one until you’ve seen the movie.
A large turning point for Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) in the first film was when his best friend Bucky Barnes fell off a train to his death due to an enemy attack. A very close second was when he crashed his own plane into the Arctic Ocean and was frozen for about seventy years.
Now that he’s been brought back seventy years after he crashed, he has a lot of catching up to do. And time hasn’t helped heal any of the losses.
He doesn’t have any time to grieve, either. He’s just uncovered a sketchy-looking project within his native organization SHIELD. And the person who uncovered it with him has just been attacked by a masked and silent assassin who goes only by the Winter Soldier.
Steve and fellow Avenger Natasha are the only ones left to discover just what this sketchy project is and who exactly is behind the mask of the Winter Soldier.
Spoiler: They do.
During a fight, his mask falls off and Steve recognizes his friend.
A lot of people would have cut their losses. Sure, it’s terribly sad. But Bucky could have chosen to work for them himself. And even if he didn’t, he’s likely so brainwashed that nothing will penetrate it. He’s killed dozens of people, including people they care about. Everything and everyone says he’s better left alone and taken out.
Steve disagrees. He’s certain his friend is still in there somewhere. Even though the Bucky in front of him has no idea who he is and doesn’t seem to care, Steve refuses to give up on him. He risks his life time and again to try and bring Bucky back.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a very likable person sometimes. I make bad choices that morph into disasters. I have a lot of messy things tangled up in my mind. I hurt people that I care about. I hide a lot of my true self. Sometimes I don’t even know who I really am.
But Someone keeps coming after me. Someone believes in me when I don’t believe in myself. Someone shows me the way out. Someone puts Himself out there time and again, even when He knows I’ll hurt Him.
Someone gave up His life—literally everything He had—for me, when I was at my worst.
It’s so simple, yet so complex. I’ll never understand why He keeps coming after me, and yet, it’s so simple and natural, written into the very universe around us to the point that I can see an echo of it in a Marvel movie of all things.
Whether you feel like you can take on the world today or you feel like the worst person to walk this earth today, Someone is still coming after you. Someone is going to stick with you no matter what happens to you or what you do.
Till the end of the line.
Happy Endings in Real Time
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know one of my favorite movies of all time is Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon. And it usually pops up at least once a year on my blog. So here we are, revisiting it again. Because as I watched it again at the start of this new year, I noticed something new, yet another reason I love this story.
In the movie, Hiccup is the only one not strong enough to fight and kill dragons. And when he's offered a chance to learn to fight, he discovers he's the only one not interested in it. Made worse by the fact that he's the chief's son. Throw the dragon he's secretly training in the woods into the mix, and you've got quite the storm brewing.
Maybe you can look at Hiccup’s character and relate a lot. Maybe you’re the odd one out, too, both of you desperately trying to be capable and failing miserably as far as you can tell. Maybe you’re made fun of and talked over the top of. Maybe no one knows what you’re really thinking until you erupt.
And once we relate to someone, we get the chance to see ourselves in their story. Which, in turn, casts a whole new light on ours.
So as Hiccup becomes more confident—stands for what’s right, stops apologizing for all of himself, and does things his unique way, the way he was meant to do them—we feel that maybe we can, too.
Better, we begin to know we can.
Deep down, we wish for happy endings like the ones in movies.
We wish the people who underestimated us would apologize. We wish our time in the positive spotlight might come. We wish someone would give us the chance to speak up.
We want them to celebrate us, to accept who we are.
But Stoick never fully got Hiccup, did he? The second movie is proof of that. While he may have been more open to learning, the fact of the matter is that he still clung to his pre-formed ideas of what his son should be.
How to Train Your Dragon doesn’t have a happy ending because Hiccup became what the villagers expected. It doesn’t have a happy ending because everyone accepted Hiccup at last.
It has a happy ending because Hiccup accepted himself.
He just decided to be all of him, to help others do the same, and to surround himself with people who do the same.
At the end of the day, How to Train Your Dragon is still just a movie. Just a movie that nods to something very real.
But in real time, we have something far better. We know that everything about us—personality, likes and dislikes, appearance, passions—was hand-crafted by God. Hand-crafted for a purpose that only we can fill. Hand-crafted perfectly.
And our happy ending begins not when everyone else understands that, but when we do. When we decide to live that truth regardless of what anyone else thinks.
What if we all gave it a try this new year? To be authentically ourselves? To like what we like and not apologize? To follow the leads God gives us? To stop thinking about what the others will think?
To just be.
What might that look like for you? What part of yourself do you try to fix or hide for others? What are you most excited to authentically be this year? Share your adventures in the comments below!
A Grown-Up Charlie Brown Christmas
My favorite Christmas movie is A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s not overly long or even overly complicated, and yet it has held up for decades, still touching today’s generation as much as it did the ones before.
As I watched it this year, it occurred to me that it might be even more meaningful to me as an adult.
Each year, no matter how old we are, we look forward to the coming of Christmas. We’ve been counting down the days since last Christmas even, or at least since we took the decorations down and packed them all away.
But whether we like it or not, Christmas can come with some problems.
Problems that never crossed our mind as a child can interrupt even the most exciting of moments.
Maybe someone’s no longer with us who ought to be, and the hole just feels bigger at Christmas.
Maybe the people who are with us aren’t who they ought to be, and coming together for a holiday is more like preparing for war.
Maybe you’ve lost a job or stuck in a job that brings you as much stress as being without.
Despite what we want to believe, the hardships that follow us throughout the year don’t magically vanish around Christmas.
Sometimes, if anything, they seem larger.
Charlie Brown gets it. He confesses to Lucy, “My trouble is Christmas. I just don’t understand it. Instead of feeling happy, I feel sort of let down.”
Of course, Lucy suggests all he needs is involvement. But directing the local Christmas play or even going out to select a Christmas tree doesn’t solve his problem. If anything, it makes things worse.
Maybe you feel let down, too. Maybe the traditions you’ve looked forward to all year just aren’t ringing the same for whatever reason. So you pull back and withdraw, or you frantically charge forward, scheduling more and more on the calendar to fill the gap between you and Christmas.
Because even the sweetest of traditions was never meant to solve our problems. They were never meant to take our hardship away.
Christmas plays, Christmas trees, and whatever else comes with this season are only little bits of joy. Signposts in the snow that remind us what truly will ease our burdens.
As Linus reminded Charlie Brown, Christmas isn’t about any of those things. Christmas is about what we read in Luke chapter two. “That’s what Christmas is really about.”
It’s not a something, it’s a Someone. A Someone who will never let us down. A Someone who never leaves us, not at Christmas, not at any other time of the year. And all the things we look forward to are little slivers of the joy He has promised for us now and forever.
A Christmas play can’t bring back someone we love, but Jesus can sit with us in the hurt. A Christmas tree can’t end a cycle of abuse or reconcile estranged family members, but Jesus can hold us together. Traditions can’t ease stress, but Jesus can breathe peace into us.
Christmas doesn’t take away our hurt, our sadness, or our worries. But Christmas--real Christmas—doesn’t let us down either.
So this year, as I watched Christmas movies, made sugar cookies and gingerbread houses, and decorated the tree, I searched for Jesus’ joy in it, instead of fulfillment.
I didn’t have far to search. You don’t either.
As we enjoy the last few evenings of sitting in the light of the Christmas tree, maybe it’s a good time to stop and think of how we might find Christmas in this new year.
That thought might even bring a bit of the excitement back, no matter what season it is.
One of the interesting things about my job as an elementary school paraprofessional is that I get to see how different teachers manage different situations. It’s neat to watch how their unique personalities influence the simplest of things.
Like morning meetings. You know what I’m talking about—all the students gather on the rug or at their desks and have a little chat first thing in the morning.
Some teachers use it to update kids on what’s going on during the day or the week. Some use it as a chance for students to share about their previous week or evening. Some use it as a teaching opportunity to work on behavioral concerns.
And the kindergarten teacher I work with uses it to teach students about mental health.
Every morning, she asks her students to give her a thumbs-up, thumbs-in-the-middle, or thumbs-down to show how they’re feeling that morning. Then they may say one thing they want to say.
When a student gives her a thumbs-down, she doesn’t freak out or demand to know why they feel that way. She simply asks them if they’d like to share why.
Sometimes they do. “My mom is gone on a business trip and I miss her.” “I had a bad dream last night.” “We were in an accident on the way to school.”
Other times they don’t say anything at all. And other times they say something completely unrelated.
Their teacher doesn’t push for answers that may not be there. She just lets them share how they feel and listens carefully.
Many mornings, I find myself wishing I had a spot on the rug. That someone could ask me how I’m doing, and I wouldn’t automatically jump to the “I’m good” reaction. That I could say I’m not having a good day and not feel as if I have to give the three-hour explanation as to why. And on the other hand, that I could honestly say what’s on my mind.
It's not so much that people don't ask. It's that I don't answer.
Do you ever feel the same way?
It’s okay to not be okay.
It’s okay to give a thumbs-down. Everybody has bad days and it’s time we came out and said it.
In Marissa Meyer’s Alice in Wonderland inspired novel Heartless, the Raven says, “To be all right implies an impossible phase. We hope for mostly right on the best of our days.”
We’ve got this idea that if we’re all right all the time, we're somehow stronger than the rest. We’ve got this idea that stronger automatically means better. I love this quote, because it points out that even the people we think have it all together are really just mostly right, even on their best days. And it’s a reminder that even on our best days, there’s something far better coming.
Author Nicki Koziarz adds, “It’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to never be okay.”
To say that you’re having a bad day, or to allow your friend to tell you they’re having a bad day, isn’t saying that life is all bad or that it always will be. You can’t help a sick person unless they tell you their symptoms. You can’t begin turning a bad day into a little bit better one unless you admit that things are not okay.
It’s okay to not have the reason why.
Some days you just don’t feel good. Other days you know exactly why you don’t feel good, but you wish you didn’t have that reason.
I am very much a processor. When something stressful happens, it might take me hours or even days to be able to put into words what I’m feeling.
So often when people know something has happened and they ask me, all I know is I’m not okay.
In one of those times, a coworker simply gave me a hug when we met at recess (I say simply, as if it were something small. It wasn’t.). “Are you okay?” she asked.
She does this every day, so I didn’t see anything different about it. I didn’t realize she was aware of the situation, so I simply said, “I’m good” in a fake cheerful way that I’ve perfected for just such an occasion.
“Really?” she asked.
Something clicked and I realized she knew. But I couldn’t answer her. I didn’t have the words to tell her what was going on, what I was feeling, that it felt like every emotion was colliding at once inside of me. But I felt like I needed to say something, that she expected some answer.
She said exactly what I needed to hear right then. “I don’t know the details. And I don’t need to know. But I’m here if you ever need anything.”
It’s okay to explain why.
Venting is not complaining. Sometimes I need to get the words out to understand that they are only feelings. Sometimes you have to get the feelings out before you can see the facts and reconcile the two.
It’s okay to be sad something happened. It’s okay to be angry. It’s what we do with those feelings that defines it.
Earlier this week, a coworker I haven’t seen in a while subbed for a teacher on the playground. We work in different areas of the school, but do similar things, so she asked how the group of paras I’m a part of were doing.
I knew her and was comfortable enough with her to tell her we weren’t doing okay, that we’d been given a schedule with no prep time that was causing a lot of stress and anxiety.
She didn’t have all the answers. But she listened and she made me feel safe to say that I wasn’t okay with what was going on.
Maybe today you can imagine you’re sitting on that kindergarten rug. Everybody’s going around the circle sharing how they feel. Maybe it’s a thumbs up today. Maybe in the middle. Maybe it’s a thumbs down.
Maybe you’re the one that needs to admit you’re not okay. Maybe you’re the one who needs to be vulnerable.
Or maybe you’re the one who needs to listen. To not need all the details and to just be.
Any way it goes, you know you’re going to be listened to and loved.
Because the reason that it’s okay to not be okay is because God loves us. He loved us when we were sinners—when we were definitely not okay. He isn’t afraid of our mess or of anything that we feel or experience. He knows we’re not perfect and He’s preparing a place where everything will be entirely okay, entirely all right forever.
But for now, He listens carefully. He doesn’t push for answers that aren’t there. He doesn’t overreact or need to know all the details.
He just wants to love us.
Kind of like a kindergarten teacher.
*If you could give your thumb indicator, what would it be right now? Have you ever learned something from an unlikely source? Share your adventures in the comments below!*
Why I Adore Young Adult Fiction
If you’ve read my bio or been tracking with me for a while now, you know I mainly write young adult historicals and historical fantasies. If you were to look at my shelves right now (or the Rachel's Reads tab), they’re an interesting mix of historicals such as Roseanna M. White, Kristy Cambron, and Jocelyn Green; and quirky, unique fantasies such as Nadine Brandes, Kara Swanson, and Sara Ella.
Last month, I read an article by blogger Olivia G. Booms about why she is not a fan of YA. It was a well-written article with some excellent points and she laid it all out very well. I highly recommend giving it a read and giving her blog a follow. https://oliviaspenn.wordpress.com/2022/09/12/why-im-not-a-fan-of-ya/
I agreed with everything she said in the article. But once I finished reading, I couldn’t help but sit there and think, “But what about this book? And this author? And this . . .?”
I’m not discounting what she had to say. She was absolutely correct in her assessment.
Olivia’s observations brought her to the conclusion that YA is no longer worthwhile. My observations have brought me to the conclusion that YA is wildly worthwhile. While she sees these weaknesses of the genre as a whole, I’m immersed in that genre and can see all the authors trying to change it.
Here are three reasons why I adore YA fiction.
YA is more creative than other genres.
I see originality in YA books that I don’t see anywhere else.
Who else would have thought to recreate the story of Guy Fawkes in a version of 1600’s England where everyone can control colors? (That would be Fawkes by Nadine Brandes, by the way.)
As adults (and I can say that because technically I am one), we suddenly find ourselves boxed in by certain expectations. If you don’t conform to those expectations, you become the spectacle of much scrutiny and concern. As a result, we often become worried about fulfilling those expectations and lose sight of our whimsy.
YA strips all those expectations away. It’s a safe space to break the rules, to be crazy, to be weird, to bounce off the walls, to learn to fly.
YA is more open-minded than any other genre I’ve experienced. Authors and readers alike are willing to try things that are completely ludicrous, that would never work. Sometimes those things majorly flop. Sometimes those things become our next favorite read, stories we carry with us the rest of our lives.
We’re willing to try anything. And when it doesn’t work, we’re willing to pick ourselves back up and try something different.
In the words of Angela Lansbury in Mary Poppins Returns, we “choose the secret we know before life makes us grow. There’s nowhere to go but up.” (And if the voice of Mrs. Potts says it, then how can it be wrong?)
YA is willing to discuss the hard things of life.
People complain that YA is entirely inappropriate. So is anything else. Seriously. You will never find a genre of book where you do not find both ends of the spectrum—wildly inappropriate books and squeaky clean books and everything in between.
I think people go harder on YA because of the age bracket it’s written for, and it makes sense. YA (along with MG and children’s) targets some of the most formative years in a person’s life. The wrong books can have a terrible influence.
But the right books can have all the influence.
Which is why it’s such a big deal that YA is frank about the hardest things in life.
More than any other genre I’ve seen, YA is willing to discuss topics such as abuse, depression, anxiety, suicide, self-harm, divorce, sexuality, disabilities, bullying, and mental health.
As we grow up, we’re expected (or we believe we’re expected) to have it all figured out. When someone asks “how are you,” we’re supposed to be able to wholeheartedly answer “fine.”
YA doesn’t expect that. It lets you be a mess. And it sits next to you in it. Maybe it helps you find a way out. Maybe it just points to a firefly in the corner. Maybe it just sits and is quiet for a while.
I read the book Shadow by Kara Swanson over the summer of 2021. Though some people immediately leapt upon it, claiming it was too dark, that book touched me in a way not many stories ever have. I was going through something extremely hard and all the feelings that came with it. I understood this feeling of a shadow tearing me apart. And that book came alongside me and helped me find the light in the darkness. I still read that book when I’m discouraged.
Has YA failed in some of its representation of this hard stuff? Absolutely. The book Thirteen Reasons Why and the resulting TV show were meant to come alongside suicidal people and instead wound up glamorizing suicidal thoughts and actions. And that’s only one example.
But at least they’re willing to talk about it. At least they let you be not okay and don’t judge you for it. At least they try.
And if more people committed to using this power for the most good that they can? Can you even imagine?
YA brings deep messages into no man’s land.
I once read an article where an Academy Award winning director claimed that Marvel Cinematic Universe movies “aren’t cinema.” Other directors and actors concurred that it “diminished quality of films” and that watching one didn’t gain anything, enlighten you, or inspire you at all.
Actors who had been in the MCU films immediately came back.
Tom Holland, who played Spider-Man throughout the films, said, "I’ve made Marvel movies and I’ve also made movies that have been in the conversation in the world of the Oscars, and the only difference, really, is one is much more expensive than the other. But the way I break down the character, the way the director etches out the arc of the story and characters — it’s all the same, just done on a different scale."
Natalie Portman, who played Jane Foster in the Thor films, said, "I think that Marvel films are so popular because they’re really entertaining and people desire entertainment when they have their special time after work, after dealing with their hardships in real life."
Karen Gillan, who played Nebula in the Guardians of the Galaxy and later Avengers films, said, "I would say art is subjective, and so it is artistic to make a big project superhero film for sure — it's just a different type of art."
Why am I talking about this? Because YA is the same way.
Read those quotes again, but put YA in the blanks where it says Marvel films, or superhero films, or whatever.
We’re the MCU. We’re seen as a lesser form of storytelling because we like whimsical worlds and epic battles. We’re seen as nothing more than entertainment. It corresponds with what today’s world believes about young people. They believe we’re shallow, that we have nothing of value to say.
Think about it, though. Between an Academy Award nominated film (with the exception of Little Women, of course, it's a legend that everybody should see regardless of the awards, I shall write about it someday) and, say, The Avengers, which one are you more likely to have seen? So, which one has been more likely to speak to you?
The fact of the matter is, a fun, whimsical story is what people look for after a long day of just being human. It gets our foot in the door, it gets us in.
And once we’re in, whimsy has a way of speaking to people that nothing else can do. Whimsy just might be one of the deepest things there is—it allows us to say the things we’re never allowed to say out loud without ever saying a single word.
For the record, I do walk out of some MCU films with inspiration for my real life. YA does the same thing. Only different.
This is why I write YA. This is why I write at all.
I believe God is still up to His elbows, working through the YA genre. He works through books that may or may not ever acknowledge Him, so imagine what He can do with books and authors who do, whether that be explicitly or implicitly. He's not done with YA, and He has given YA some unique superpowers (to continue the MCU analogy) to reach people in some of the most formative years of their lives.
I'm honored that He has called me to be a part of this particular mission.
What about you? You don’t have to love YA. Why do you love books? Let me know your adventures in the comments below! (And remember, give Olivia a follow, she has more than earned it!)
During my first year of blogging, I couldn’t come up with something to put in my newsletter. One of my family members jokingly told me to write about how I didn’t know what to write.
(*in SpongeBob imitation voice* *wait, I haven’t even watched SpongeBob* Three years later . . . )
Here we are.
I’ve been blogging for three years (three years! We made it, everybody!). And usually before I post something, I still sit and stare at a blank screen for half an hour before tapping out the worst couple hundred words I’ve ever written in my life.
(What have I been up to this month? What’s been occupying my headspace? What’s on my mind?)
Sometimes, there’s just nothing. I went back to school at the end of August, and even though I slipped back into old routines fairly easily, sometimes I just find myself sitting there with nothing in my brain because it’s full of other things.
(Does that make any sense? Can anyone relate?)
Sometimes, things immediately spring to mind. I mean, I could write you thousands of words about my recent Marvel Cinematic Universe fascination, the psychology of my favorite book character, or the profound-ish (well, I thought it was anyway) thought that entered my head while I was watching a Disney movie.
(But would that be too weird? I mean, does anybody really need to hear all that, or is it better left in my brain?)
And other times, I reluctantly settle on a ho-hum topic and force out a couple hundred words—only for a stroke of inspiration to hit me halfway through the month when my post is already behind schedule. And of course, I completely abandon that hard-earned hundred words for a mini-rant on the topic of my choice.
(I always come back for those hundred words, though. Most of the time.)
Because even though I’ve been blogging for three years, no matter how explosive the stroke of inspiration or how interesting I find my random topics, a tiny voice in the back of my head never quite shuts up.
"No one wants to read that. Or really needs to, quite frankly."
"That’s just too weird. Choose something normal to write about already, like this blogger over here."
"What’s even the point of this? Remember that really profound blog post you read last week? Shouldn’t you have something like that waltzing around in your head? Look harder."
It’s silly, I know. I have all of you who show up every month to read this randomness and to leave encouraging comments. Maybe, if I’m lucky, it even blesses you a little.
(You all know this blog is about you, too, right?)
It’s easy to forget what this is all about.
"I’m just not an interesting enough person to run a blog."
"I’m really just annoying everyone and they’re only subscribed because they feel pity for me."
"Am I just standing here going on and on, while the people I’m writing for have completely zoned out and are looking at memes?"
"I’m not important and my voice doesn’t matter."
But this isn’t really about me, is it? I’m not writing this so you all feel bad for me and shower me with love and affection.
I’m writing this because maybe you feel the same.
This is just one of the many channels where I’m hoping God’s grace shines through. And the fact of the matter is that He made me this way with my randomness for a reason.
(Is it still random if I have a reason?)
I and my voice are important, not because of what I have to say, but because of the One Who gave it to me.
So maybe it’s time to loosen up and just be me. Maybe I don’t have to fit that particular idea I’ve got of what I should be.
Some days that may mean writing a post when I feel like my brain is empty. Some days it may mean embracing the randomness. Some days it may just mean clicking post even if it doesn’t feel quite ready yet.
Because someone needs to hear it. Just like someone needs to hear you.
So. What’s on your mind? I'd love to hear it. Share your adventures in the comments below!
I also realized I posted the same meme two months in a row. So I'm giving you two memes this month!
C.S. Lewis once said, “The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.”
I wasn’t sure what I thought of that at first. How could a Christian writing a good story be better than a book that clearly laid out the steps to salvation and what Christianity looks like?
Now that I’ve been writing for seven-ish years, I agree with Lewis.
I recently researched and wrote an article for Kingdom Pen about the bestsellers of the past one hundred years and how they impacted our writing today. I’d slogged from 1920 all the way up to the year 2020 when I found something very interesting. (Read the article here: https://kingdompen.org/best-selling-books-last-100-years/)
One of the top ten bestsellers of 2020 was the book Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. That was a Christian novel written by a Christian author and published by a Christian publishing house.
Christian fiction is finally getting its head in the game. We’re sitting up and realizing that there’s something more out there. That it’s not just about writing a convincing conversion scene—it’s about writing a good story with God.
Don’t get me wrong—conversion scenes are wonderful and even appropriate in some stories. But Christian writers are beginning to widen their focus to the bigger array of nuances, themes, problems, and solutions that the world is looking for.
We’re beginning to value compassion and diversity more than our own personal preferences. We’ll go out of our way to write a different race, a different sexuality, a mental illness, a trauma, a physical or mental disability. And we’re doing one up by not just writing those things, but by showing the hope in, through, or out of them. We have started to truly see people, and we value the people we see more than being comfortable and bolstering our own personal pet peeves.
We’re writing less books that stay in neat tidy cabins on the prairie and more that get out into the messy city squares of life. We’re not expecting an angelic miracle to save our climax, for prayer to fix everything exactly as we want it, and for a conversion scene to be the only way out of the low point. Rather, we use them as they are the most helpful to our story and more importantly, our reader.
We’re writing books where instead of banging you over the head with a Bible, we come and sit next to you on this crazy ride called life. We help you escape the dark for a few hours and give you a few things to think about when the book’s over.
Even if we write stories that never once say God’s name, it’s clear He’s all over every page of our manuscripts.
We’re writing real stuff. But we’re not discounting the truth. We’re doing what Jesus did. We’re getting down where the action is happening and we’re writing there instead, bringing the hope with us.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. We’ve still got a lot to do. But it’s an exciting time to write. And it makes me so proud to be able to call myself a Christian writer alongside so many other people who are trying to do the same thing.
*What are the best Christian books you've ever read? Share your adventures in the comments below!*
*A meme for your troubles.
*kicks soapbox out of the way so we’re on the same level, eye to eye*
I was watching Zootopia (which is a pretty fun film with some very timely messages). You know that scene where the gazelle gives the speech about celebrating our differences? From a seat a little ways away from me, I heard someone scoff and mutter, “Oh, brother.”
Somewhere in between those two words, other incidents sprang back. Like when I was in the car with someone and they spit out their window at a gay person’s car and called them names that no human being should ever be called.
I remembered being told that as a woman, I had no right to speak, and that because I was a young person, I was stupid.
What disturbed me was all these people called themselves Christians.
It made me wonder if we’ve gotten diversity all wrong. And it made me excited to think that we have a chance to make it right.
God created diversity. God created differences. He created two genders instead of one. He created all races, abilities, sizes, shapes, and personalities of people. And He called them all very good. (Genesis 1:31)
Somewhere, we got the nerve to call that good bad. Because of the fall, we can’t see things clearly on our own. That’s why we needed Jesus to die and rise again.
I, at least, have the tendency to take the saving grace, yes please, but I’ll keep using my own glasses, thank you very much.
But if Jesus died and rose for me, then He died and rose for anyone I might call “them.” He created them, too, called them good, and sees who they really are, can, and will be.
Nowhere do I see Jesus condemning other cultures—their traditions, the way they talk, the way they look, their viewpoints. He went out of His way to go through their area, to eat with them, to hear their story. (Matthew 9:9-13, Matthew 26:6-13, John 4)
We are missing out on so much by attacking, bullying, scoffing at, making fun, or even just ignoring our neighbors. I don’t have to be ashamed of my differences to love someone, just like they don’t have to either. I don’t need to push someone down so I can stand taller. Christ is all I need.
I know it hurts when someone does it to me. So why is it so hard for me to extend this common courtesy to someone different than me, someone I might not completely understand? (Luke 6:31)
Because the unknown is scary and fear is powerful. But perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18) Have I been saved from fear or haven’t I? Who am I to call evil what God has called good?
But what if what someone else calls their diversity is tearing down what God called good?
It’s important to know the difference between preferences and standards here. Standards may hurt at first, but ultimately lead to a healing place. Preferences (when inserted into an argument) never heal, always hurt.
Political views aren’t worth tearing someone down. Dress codes aren’t worth it. Bible translations aren’t worth it. Church policies aren’t worth it. Worship music isn’t worth it.
But what about when it’s not just poking my preferences, but is actually tearing down the beautiful thing God gave them?
My God is big enough to handle it. If it weren’t for Him, I’d be in a far worse boat. If God can change my mind, He can change theirs. It’s not my job to “fix” them, and it’s nothing short of arrogant to believe it so. It’s my job to show them what God’s love and truth looks like in real time.
Jesus hung out with and talked to wrong people, too. How do you think I got here?
Even if it were my job to fix them, am I going to win them over by spitting on their car? I certainly wouldn’t listen to anyone who did that to me, much less want anything they had to offer. Love wins, not hate. Christ showed us that firsthand.
Everyone has a story. Everyone has feelings. Everyone has hurts, fears, hopes, and dreams. Everybody laughs and everybody cries. Everyone matters. God created everyone good and He loves them.
We’re all the same. Just in different ways.
And I want to listen. To see past labels and hear stories. To learn and to try and to experience and to love. (1 Corinthians 9:22)
After all the love He’s shown me . . . how much more should I? (1 John 4:19)
God loves diversity. God celebrates differences.
And so do I.
*now please enjoy a writing meme for your troubles*
Yes, I am in my twenties.
Yes, I live twenty minutes from a professional theater.
Yes, I just went to see my first live professional musical earlier this month.
See, when I was younger, I thought I didn’t like musicals. What was the point of interrupting a story with some random songs? Just tell the story all the way through, thank you very much.
However, as I got older and began developing my own unique tastes, a friend encouraged me to try a couple musicals. And shock of all shocks, I really liked them. Turned out musicals were just like everything else—there were ones I absolutely hated and ones that I absolutely adored.
That was how I wound up seeing Cinderella at our local theater this summer.
It was unlike anything I had ever been to before. I’d been to concerts, one of them at this same theater. I’d been to high school plays and musicals. I’d watched filmed musicals.
But this was different.
As soon as I got home, I jotted down some of my noticings, mainly so my brain would quiet down and let me sleep. Why not explore some of those things here?
After all, musicals are a form of art, just like writing.
Just like life.
The musical was different, but better.
I’d listened to the 2013 Broadway Cinderella recording before attending the show and filled in the gaps between the songs with how I thought it might go.
Very little of the show matched what I had imagined—and am I ever glad it didn’t. The story flowed in a way that it couldn’t have had I forced all my ideas and presuppositions on it.
Not only was the story different, but the show itself was different. It differed from other versions of the story, other versions of the show, even other actors’ portrayals.
For instance, I honestly thought the live Topher’s voice was better (but it could just be that the soundtrack version was also the voice of Hans from Frozen . . .). I could understand what Marie was saying in There’s Music in You (vibratto makes it hard sometimes). Each character was nuanced, unique.
The actors and actresses took a show, a story, and made it their own.
Different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong, or bad, or a disaster. In fact, different is often the best something can ever be.
I was included.
Since the theater I attended is circular, the story was literally happening around me. No seat was a bad seat, I could always see what was happening on the stage. Sometimes I had a unique perspective that someone across the stage from me didn’t have, and vice versa. A few rows ahead of us, dancers whirled, and a few seats away from us, actors and actresses entered and exited in the aisles. (The Fairy Godmother walked right past me.)
Even as lovely romantic scenes played out before me, I was so in the story and the mindset of it all that I was scanning the entrances and exits and glancing over my shoulder for Sebastian and Madame lurking about.
It was something beautiful and glorious to fit so perfectly into a story, like it was written with me in mind and wouldn’t have been the same without me.
Even though we know life is the same way, sometimes it gets lonely, and we need the reminder.
Mistakes were the most beautiful thing.
One of my favorite small moments was during Ella’s transformation.
It was seamless. Almost.
Except for a snag in the back of Ella’s dress that hitched the fabric in a weird way. A snag Ella was oblivious to.
The entire audience waited and watched. The fox and raccoon footmen behind Ella debated via facial expressions just how far their duties extended.
And then the Fairy Godmother turned Ella around and smoothed out her dress. The gesture fit her character, the story so well, so seamlessly. It was a simple, yet heartwarming moment.
One we wouldn’t have seen if a mistake hadn’t been made first.
My favorite moments were the villagers’ dance in The Prince is Giving a Ball and the waltz at the ball. When the ensemble gets in on the action, whirling and twirling and turning cartwheels all at once, the choreography, how all the diverse and moving parts work together, amazes me.
But something more, you can feel the energy they’re passing back and forth to each other. And somewhere inside those acts, they pass that energy to you and allow you to join in, even if you’re in a seat and they’re on a stage.
Of course, it also may have helped that I attended with a friend, too. :)
That energy is life, isn’t it? We’re all part of something so big and wonderful, and there come those moments where we’re right where we’re meant to be, playing our part and working alongside others who are doing the same.
The ache in my throat.
At one point in Loneliness of Evening, Ella and Topher’s voices blended so perfectly that against my will, my breath caught. Goosebumps raised on my arm. An ache rose in my throat. And I couldn’t help but look up, raise my chin a little bit.
It’s the only way I can describe it. Such a raw, perfect moment that reminded me of all that was true and all I could be.
The hardest part of attending this musical was waking up the next morning to a world that had clearly not just attended their first musical. The excitement inside me dimmed a bit as I returned to the real world with all the usual things to do.
But why should I let the world dim that? They don’t get to make that call.
In a way, I had my own Cinderella moment. The world may be rough. But there’s real-life magic, too. Sometimes a musical is the best way to remember that.
What about you? What are some of your favorite musicals? Share your adventures in the comments below!
Why Theme Matters To Me
Looking back over my posts, I spotted one common theme weaving through all of them.
And that theme is . . . well, theme.
It’s not just on here, either. Whenever I go to discuss a book, movie, or show with someone, the first thing I’ll bring up is theme and how the characters and plot artfully reflected it.
Which got me wondering. Because I wonder about things a lot.
Why is theme so important to me?
But first off, what is theme?
Theme is simply what a book is saying. It’s what you think about after you close the book. It’s what it makes you feel and think both as you’re reading and when you’re not. It’s what seeps into your life and changes you for the better.
You might be able to sum it up in a one-line question. You might not be able to. That’s the funny thing about themes. They are usually far bigger than you think.
Theme is memorable.
Don’t I mean those long monologues or snappy morals tacked on to a story?
No. In fact, if a story contains either one of those, I will probably throw it out the window and go running in the other direction.
Few humans that I have met yet like to be preached at by a book. The great thing about books is that they can get a point across without ever saying a word.
(Not sold? How many stories are in the Bible?)
Tell me a pithy quote and I might forget it immediately. Tell me a story and I’ll remember it in some shape or form forever.
Why? Because stories show us what things look like in the real world. They weave their way into our lives. When you have to think about something to figure it out, it sticks with you longer. Kind of like when you do the work on something, it means more to you.
Theme makes a difference.
When I close a book and am still thinking about the characters and plot, chances are that it had something to say that got my attention.
For instance, I thought about Shadow by Kara Swanson long after I read it. Not only was I in love with her story world and characters, but what she had to say through that book touched on some really hard things I was going through at the time. It was extremely comforting and I still return to that novel when I’m having a hard time.
What made this theme so beautiful for me was that I got to see it work in my life. I got to see how a book can come alongside someone and make them feel less alone. I love theme because it changes my life and others’ lives.
Theme is something big in a little world.
If you want to crush my soul, then read a book that I’ve read and completely miss the theme.
Seriously. That is a hill I will die on. *laughs*
Some people choose to be so little-minded. We get wrapped up in news headlines and controversies and conspiracy theories and personal differences.
Which makes me incredibly sad. They stay within the tidy lines of what they think is right and what they think is wrong, refusing to step out and try anything that looks suspicious. But they miss out on so many beautiful, messy things.
I mean, like God for one thing. We have no lines on earth that can measure Him. He won’t fall between our lines. Does that make Him bad? No. It makes Him something to be explored, which is an immense privilege.
He gives us the privilege of exploring other things, too.
And what safer way is there to explore things than with a book in the corner of your couch?
The great thing about story is we can try things without ever putting ourselves at risk. I would not advise you become an angry, self-absorbed villain for instance, but through a book, you can see it played out. You see your choices manifested and where they will lead.
Of course, you do have to be careful. Some things really are just right and wrong. Because like I said, theme does make a difference.
But the best thing about theme is it is something truly big in a little world. The best books are the ones where they say something with as few words as possible. Where the theme is so much bigger than even the book itself. Where you have to keep exploring it after you put the book down, because there’s just so much to explore.
The best themes encourage you to keep an open mind, to see the world in a different way, to maybe even change your mind.
Those are just three reasons why I love theme, and why you’ll probably still see a lot of theme-oriented posts on here. What about you? What do you love about books and movies and why?
Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!