On Loving Flawed Stories
Have you ever read a book that your friends hated and liked it? Have you ever read a book review that bashed anyone who read the book if they dared say they liked it? Have you ever held back on sharing about a movie you love with your friends because you’re afraid they’ll think you’re stupid?
You’ve been here long enough to know—I always love swapping story opinions with others on books or films, whether or not we agree. I love discovering which stories captivate them, which ones failed, and why.
I have enjoyed a number of flawed stories. I can watch The Last Jedi and acknowledge a lot of plot decisions just don’t make sense, while still enjoying the ones that do. I can watch a Disney remake that didn’t meet people’s expectations and appreciate the something different.
But I can also tear apart something that didn’t resonate with me or that didn’t do well. I can be too hard on my own stories when I spot flaws or people point them out to me.
I wonder if we’ve forgotten how to love something flawed. I wonder if we’ve forgotten to just love the stories we love.
It’s okay to love flawed stories.
Of course, sometimes a flaw isn’t just a poor plot point or an overall bad reception. Sometimes it’s something really wrong. That’s not what I’m talking about here. If there’s something truly wrong with a story or an event or a project or whatever, we’d do well to stay away from it.
I’m talking about the mess. The work needed. The lack of resolution.
My opinions are just that—opinions. They may have strong influential power, but they can’t make anyone do anything. That is ultimately up to the person themselves.
We have this idea that everything needs to be perfect. Maybe it stems from the Garden of Eden. Maybe we know that everything isn’t right here on earth, and we want to fix it.
But the things that really matter have already been fixed. God knew we could never put it back together again on our own, so He sent His only Son to take the horrible consequences for us. Our eternity started then. But in the meantime, we still have to deal with the brokenness here.
It’s okay if you love your own story when you know it needs work.
It’s okay if you love your life even if it’s messy and unresolved.
It’s okay to love yourself even if you make mistakes or don’t look the way you think you ought to look.
I think when we love the things that captivate us, even when they’re flawed, it points a little bit to a Creator who loved us even though we broke our perfection. He loves you every single day no matter what comes. He chose you when you were flawed.
In fact, what seems to be a flaw to you might just be the perfection He designed. What throws someone off of a particular story might be what captivates me. It’s the same with us.
We’re almost halfway through 2023. How did that happen? Maybe it didn’t look the way you expected. Maybe there are a lot of bumps along the road. But it’s okay to love those things. Because those flaws are the things that brought you here and will continue to nudge you forward.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether you liked a certain story or not. But it does matter how you felt about your flaws.
I'm back with another guest post today! I met Eliana through the Young Writer's Workshop and have loved getting to know her and her writing journey. I appeared on her blog nearly two years ago, but today, we've swapped blogs. She's going to share her thoughts on Psalm 73. I was inspired and uplifted by her thoughts and hope you will be too!
Hi, my name’s Eliana, and I’m borrowing Rachel’s blog today! I shared a devotional at a summer camp last year, and I wanted to share this word of encouragement with all of you.
During that week of summer camp, we focused on what it means to “rejoice always,” as commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:16. However, it isn’t always easy to rejoice. It isn’t always easy to find joy or even just contentment.
We live in a world that’s not what it was meant to be. Ever since a man and woman named Adam and Eve started a rebellion against their Creator, our world has been broken.
Earth is cursed with wars and conflicts, sickness and pain, cruelty, hardships, sadness, and death.
You and I have experienced the brokenness of our world on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s a conflict with a sibling, the guilt of our own mistakes, or grief over the loss of a loved one.
We have a huge problem. The joy-crushing problem of sin.
Today, I want to talk about Psalm 73 and introduce you to its writer, a man named Asaph.
Here’s a little bit of background first:
But even though praise and thanksgiving was part of his job description, Asaph struggled a lot, just like we do. In Psalm 77, he writes about feeling weary and sad and troubled. Sometimes, he felt like God was too far away.
This is because Asaph was made to have a perfect relationship with God, just as we were. One of the wonderful things about our God is that He is perfectly holy. Sadly, we are not. Even if we tried as hard as we could, none of us could meet God’s perfect standards. Our sin blocks us from having that perfect relationship with God that we were meant to have.
Asaph often saw people doing terrible things and forsaking God, and at the same time, these people still seemed to find happiness. Asaph knew that God was good and that following Him was the right choice, but seeing bad people prosper made him jealous, even when he wasn’t supposed to be jealous.
At the beginning of Psalm 73, Asaph wrote:
Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Asaph struggled with the rotten world around him and his own rotten heart. Sometimes, he wondered if it might be better to be a person who hates God but is happy than a person who loves God but is sad. But eventually, Asaph learned four secrets that helped him to find heavenly satisfaction even in the midst of his struggles.
The first secret is one Asaph actually found as he looked at the wicked people around him.
Secret 1: The things we go to for satisfaction—food, entertainment, even friends—don’t fix the problem. They only cover it up.
When you eat a bowl of delicious ice cream, it’s great at the moment. You can find some happiness in eating that ice cream. But then it’s gone. It doesn’t satisfy you for long, and it might even give you a stomachache.
You could try to find joy in a book. I love books, so I get it. But books aren’t perfect, and even if the book you’re reading is a really, really good one, you’ll reach the end of it eventually.
Maybe you like playing music or painting pictures. Those can be great ways to spend your time. But if you stake your happiness in your own performance, every mistake will be painful. You won’t find true contentment there either.
There are a lot of ways you can try to find happiness, but none of the world’s pleasures will fix the world’s problem.
The world’s pleasures never last forever. And if we don’t put God first, the world’s pleasures are only a trap.
In Psalm 73, Asaph writes about the people who try to root their happiness in themselves or something else outside of God. I’ll start at verse 6. He says:
Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
And then later, in verses 18 and 19, he writes about what God has done when He lets the wicked people have happiness in earthly things:
Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
Asaph’s point here is that it’s not safe to look for happiness apart from God. Looking for happiness in something like ice cream is like a slippery slope.
Secret 2: We can only find true satisfaction in knowing God.
Asaph knew that looking to the world for satisfaction doesn't work, because the world is broken. He knew that he couldn’t look to himself for satisfaction either, because he had an unclean heart. The only perfect source of contentment was God Himself.
In Psalm 73:26, Asaph said, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
This is Secret #2: We can only find true satisfaction in knowing God. Maybe that seems obvious, but it was an important truth for Asaph to accept. We are nothing without God and the forgiveness He offers through His Son, Jesus Christ.
I told you earlier that the perfect relationship we were made to have with God is broken. Well, the beautiful truth is that God loves us too much to leave us hanging.
We had no power to save ourselves from our sin. We could try to conquer our sinful desires, but it would be like trying to throw a rock at the moon with just your human arm. We all fall short. Hundreds of thousands of miles short.
And yet, God sent us His one and only perfect Son to redeem our relationships with Him and give us the eternal lives in heaven that we didn’t deserve. By giving up his perfect life and by miraculously rising from the dead two thousand years ago, Jesus offers grace, mercy, and forgiveness as a free gift to all of us today.
Even in this broken world. Even as we continue to sin. Jesus offers this gift to us for our joy.
How great is God’s grace?
God tells us that His grace is sufficient for us. When a preacher named Charles Spurgeon thought about God’s grace, he thought of a little, thirsty fish who is afraid he might drink the river dry. But the river is huge, and it says, “Drink away, little fish, my stream is sufficient for thee.”
Or a little mouse in a huge granary, who is afraid he might die of starvation after having plenty of food for seven years. “Cheer up, little mouse, my granaries are sufficient for thee.”
What if a single hiker were worried that he should exhaust the oxygen in the atmosphere? We should tell him the atmosphere is more than sufficient for him to breathe away and fill up his lungs for a lifetime.
And it’s the same way with us and God’s grace. This is GOD we’re talking about. His grace is more than enough for all of us. His grace should be where we find our joy.
Sometimes God’s grace is tough love. God will give us weakness to teach us humility. He lets us make mistakes so we can learn wisdom. And as we grow, we can see more and more how richly blessed we are, even in the hard things.
Secret 3: Finding grace and joy always starts with recognizing that we are in need.
Alright, you know that the world’s pleasures are not good places to find joy. You know that God’s grace is the right place to find joy. What’s next? Asaph’s secret #3 is that finding satisfaction in God’s grace always starts with recognizing that we are in need. Finding satisfaction in God’s grace always starts with recognizing that we are in need.
Asaph was able to accept God’s grace because he first realized that he struggled with jealousy and other weaknesses. We can also open our hearts to God’s forgiveness after we recognize our own sins.
You could lie to yourself if you wanted to. You could tell yourself that a bowl of ice cream is all you’ll need to be happy. Or you could tell yourself that you don’t need God’s grace, and you can just rely on yourself to be “good enough.”
But if we put our pride aside for just one moment, we’ll find that no earthly thing can really satisfy us in the long run. And we can’t put our hope in ourselves. Jesus is the only way.
We start to find grace and joy by being honest with ourselves and honest with God.
In Psalm 73:21 and 22, Asaph admitted his problems to God. He said that his soul was “embittered,” he was “brutish and ignorant,” and he even confessed that he “was like a beast” toward God. He was angry.
But after making a diligent search in his heart, he was able to realize how much he needed and loved God, and he was able to worship God with a happy heart. In verses 23 through 26, he says to God:
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Secret 4: True satisfaction is something you want to share with others.
Asaph knew that he couldn’t find true, lasting joy in the temporal things here on earth. He knew that God’s grace alone was the solution to his deepest problem of sin. And he knew that, in order to accept God’s grace, he would first need to admit that he needed God’s grace.
The fourth and final secret Asaph was reminded of is that true satisfaction is something you want to share with others. Have you ever read a great book or watched an amazing show that made you want to tell all your friends about it?
Asaph felt kind of like that. After reflecting on how amazing it is to know the holy and almighty God, Asaph felt like he could have talked about God all day. I’m going to read Psalm 73:26 again and the last few verses of that psalm. Asaph wrote:
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.
Even though Asaph knew he was a sinner and he deserved God’s wrath just like other unfaithful people, he got to experience God’s nearness and mercy. This was where he got the satisfaction that you feel in these verses, and this is why he wanted to tell the world what His Savior had done.
Asaph didn’t rejoice because he had a perfect world, perfect life, and perfect, sinless heart. Just like us, Asaph lived in a broken world with a life tainted by sin. Just like us, he fought temptations to look for joy in earthly things instead of God. But he found that true satisfaction came from knowing God.
Asaph recognized that he was made to have a relationship with God, and he not only wanted God in his life—he needed God. He was a broken man in need of God’s love and grace. And he rejoiced even more because he knew how important God was to him. He was so happy that he wanted to share the good news of what God had done.
When your flesh and your heart fail, may you look to God to be the strength of your heart for all your life. Rejoice in the free grace that Christ offers you.
I hope you've enjoyed Eliana's post! I'm so grateful she shared it with us. Let us know in the comments how it resonated with you. And check out my post on Eliana's blog about how the Spider-Verse might be a bit like Christian diversity: https://www.elianathewriter.com/2023/05/diversity-is-like-the-spider-verse/
Last month, I went to theaters for the first time in a good long while to see the movie Jesus Revolution.
It was more than worth the price of admission. This movie is beautiful. It is unapologetically Christian, but they focused on telling a good story first.
In case you haven’t seen it yet, Jesus Revolution tells the story of the Jesus Movement in the 1960’s. It’s the story of Pastor Chuck Smith who (albeit reluctantly) invited a hippie into a church that was more focused on keeping themselves safe and unspotted. And that invitation sprouted something big. Revival spread through thousands of teens and young adults, including a lonely boy named Greg.
Whether or not you’re a Christian, I think Jesus Revolution is an important movie, especially for my generation.
Jesus Revolution shows just how much young people matter.
The majority of the Jesus Movement was made up of teens and young adults, because the majority of hippies were teens and young adults.
(While I'll be writing mainly to young people, don't tune out if you come from another generation, because this applies to you too. Age is just a number.)
They looked at their world and saw something truly wrong and broken, but they also looked beyond it to the world that they thought they could make. They’d been silenced and overlooked enough. Enough was enough. They were going to do something about it.
But they’d seen enough fighting and lecturing to know they wanted nothing to do with it. So they set out to find the thing they’d been deprived of for so long—love.
I believe that each generation sees things that the others don’t. I believe young people in particular have a unique perspective and gift to see the broken things others may have become comfortable with. To see creative ways to solve those problems. To see what could be.
We’re not so different from the hippies of the sixties. We’ve seen some truly hard and horrible things, sometimes things that others want to deny we’ve seen. And we won’t allow ourselves to be silenced. We have the heart and the fire and the energy that forces us into action. We can’t sit still. We have to do something.
But many of us are done fighting. We’ve seen enough fighting. We’re war-weary, even though we’re young and most people say we have nothing to be weary from. We want to embrace love, but all the things we think are love fall through.
The hippies made some pretty big mistakes in how they tried to pursue peace and love. Very little of what they did would ever be advisable.
But they tried. They were willing to take that risk.
That’s another special thing young people have. We have the energy and the willpower and the courage to try something wildly different, completely out of the blue.
So when someone came along and truly loved them, they could fit all the puzzle pieces together. They found that the love they’d been searching for was found in Jesus. And since they’d found what they were looking for, they couldn’t keep silent.
The Jesus Movement spread because teens kept coming into churches and bringing friends and sharing Christ whenever they could. Because young adults kept coming forward to be baptized. Because teens kept proposing solutions to problems they saw in the church. Because young adults were willing to lead.
God worked crazy mightily because a group of young people wouldn’t stay silent.
The world today largely dismisses young people. You have nothing of importance to say. You’re stupid. You had best sit down, shut up, and let someone else take care of it. Gen Z is treated as a fun joke in TV and film, because what’s funnier than a caricature that only cares about making TikToks and protesting for a cause they don’t even really know what it’s for?
But we’re not a joke. God crafted each one of us uniquely, with a special way of seeing the world, something important to say, and a fire deep inside.
And when young people, especially Christian young people, realize that, incredible things can happen.
We can fight all we want. We can speak all we want. We can try over and over again. But none of it matters unless we work alongside Christ. He guides us all different directions—one to write books, another to a job in their hometown, another to a career in science.
You and Jesus are the two ingredients that might start a fire wherever you are.
It’s believed that about 100,000 people were involved in the Jesus Movement. That’s just the ones who were actively involved, not all the people who were impacted or touched by it.
That is the power of our generation. And it’s just waiting for us to realize it.
We have something that could change the world for the better. We have the most important thing there could ever be, a very real God who loves every one of us. We can’t stay silent. We can’t sit still.
If we stand up and speak, there will be another Jesus Revolution. And another and another on into eternity.
That's not just true for young people, but for every generation living and breathing on this earth right now.
Good morning, everyone! Here I am, finally posting one of two long-neglected guest posts that got lost in the shuffle of work on the anthology. Today Kathryn shares what she has learned about choosing her friends wisely. To read my lessons from an overly dramatic dog (the other half of this swap), hop over to her website: https://thestorycubby.wixsite.com/home/post/lessons-from-an-overly-dramatic-dog-by-rachel-leitch
When I first sat down to write this post, I needed some inspiration to get going. I knew that it was time to write the post, but my brain was not kicking into gear. So I said to her, “Mom, when you are thinking about how to choose your friends wisely, what is the first Bible verse that pops into your mind?”
She repeated my question to herself for a second and then she looked at me with a smile.
“The first thing that comes to mind is: when the blind lead the blind, they both will fall into the ditch.”
Well, since I asked her, I decided I had to use it in the post, but when I think about it, the verse does get down to the root of why to choose your friends wisely.
"And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?" (Luke 6:39)
As young people, we often long for people our age to spend time with, and to talk to. We want to be around people that understand us because we are going through the same life stage. But not all young people make for godly influences on our lives, and when we hang out with people who are figuratively blind, without knowing it, we’ll fall into a ditch with them. This is something that I have had to decide on personally, and I believe that it is something every young person has to deal with.
But, the question is, how do we avoid falling into that ditch? How can we be sure we are spending our time with people who will influence us in a godly way?
Here are three ways that you can do that.
Choose your conversation.
Notice that I did not start with choosing your friends. This is because choosing your friends is not the first decision that you need to make.
"Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." (Philippians 1:27)
The way the Apostle Paul who penned this verse usually uses the word "conversation" to mean our daily walk, which includes the way that we talk with each other.
If Jesus walked up to you while you were talking to your friends, would you feel like you need to change the conversation? Or would you feel like he would be pleased to hear what you were talking about?
We ought to be talking about things that will bring honor to The Lord. This is not to say that we can’t joke around every once in a while, but our jokes ought to be acceptable to Him, and our conversations ought to steer in His direction.
Sometimes it is difficult to know how to bring up Biblical conversation, which is very important to our spiritual growth. One of the things we can do to learn how to have a spiritual conversation is in on the conversations of deep-thinking adults in our church. There are usually some adults who are steadily meditating on the Word, and their conversations are good examples for us to follow.
As you have something you’ve been thinking about, casually bring it up among your friends. If they seem to want to avoid talking about it, then keep that conversation until you find someone who will talk to you about it. In some circumstances, only adults seem to want to talk about spiritual things, but they often make better friends than young people our age. However, adults do not always have the time to spend a long time talking or doing other sorts of relationship-building activities because of their responsibilities. That is one special blessing of being a young person. We have more time on our hands to spend with each other.
Choose your activities.
As young people, we enjoy doing activities like playing board games together or participating in a fun sport. But even then, we need to be mindful of how much time we are spending on frivolous fun versus how much time we spend pursuing our relationship with the Lord.
"Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." (Revelation 2:4)
This was part of a message from Christ to the church of Ephesus because they got so caught up in doing things that they left their First Love. They got so busy with the things that they were doing that they forgot to do them for the Lord.
If you reflected on your activities of the past week or twenty-four hours, how much of that time could you say was spent on your First Love? If you played a sport, why did you play it? Was it to please Him or simply to win a game or have fun?
If you played a board game, what did you talk about while you were playing? Was it honoring Christ?
Before you do any sort of activity ask the Lord to help you do it for His glory. If it is something like having a meal with a friend, ask Him to open up your conversation to things that will please Him. Or if you feel that you ought to be spending more time serving him in some sort of ministry, ask Him to show you opportunities where you can do that. He will be glad to answer that kind of question with a yes if you are open to His help. However, making that kind of choice can be hard if your friends are not willing to make it with you.
Choose your friends.
This is the last point that I wanted to make because it comes as a matter of course after the first two. Deciding to talk about spiritual things, or to spend less time texting with your friends to write cards to shut-ins at your church does not always make you popular.
A negative Biblical example of this would be King Solomon’s son Rehoboam. He had a choice about how he was going to rule, and even before he sought counsel he had decided how he was going to rule. This was evident in his choice of counselors.
"But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him." (1 Kings 12:8)
But there were consequences for the decision that he made. They may not have been immediate because he had to implement his plans before the people realized how faulty they were but eventually, his decision came back to bite him.
"So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day." (1 Kings 12:19)
My point is not that we need to stop taking the advice of people our age. Instead, I want to show that the way you decide to live, will dictate your friends and your friends will dictate the way you live. It’s a vicious cycle if we don’t follow the Lord in our choices.
Spending time around the kind of young people that are old in maturity, especially as God’s children, will help us to continue in the decisions we’ve made about our conversation and our activities. Sometimes it is hard to find young people that are like that. In that case, it might be best to make friends with adults who will support those decisions. But finding the right kind of friend will help not only you but your friend to develop a deeper relationship with Christ.
Choosing friends is one of the ways we can please the Lord. When we decide that our conversation will please Him, and we learn to think about spiritual things we take a step closer to Christ in our relationship with Him. If our time is spent doing things that please Him or participating in activities in a way that honors Him, we are living for our First Love. After we have made our choices about what we will say and do, we will already know what kind of friends we want. By choosing ones that are God-honoring as well we can help each other to keep walking closer to the Lord.
I watched a movie over the past month-ish called The Commuter.
I had no idea that this thriller was going to systematically unmask one of my greatest fears when I watched it.
Michael has done literally the same thing for ten years. No deviation from the routine. Even when the things around him change—his son graduates high school and sets his sights on college, fellow passengers come and go, financial situations teeter—he stays the same.
He goes to work. He does his job. He comes home.
He takes the train in to work. He takes the train home.
Until one day when he meets Joanna on the train. Joanna claims to be a human behavior specialist and challenges him to a hypothetical experiment.
“If you had the chance to do one little thing, that would impact everyone on this train, knowing you would never see or know the result, but knowing you would get a reward . . . would you do it?”
It isn’t until she gets to the end of the explanation that Michael realizes it’s not hypothetical at all. In the course of a seemingly innocent conversation, he, his whole family, and every passenger on that train have been placed in immense danger.
I don’t want to tell you too much. But in order to protect everyone and get to the bottom of things, Michael does something different. He doesn’t get off at the same stop as before. He doesn’t keep to himself as before. He doesn’t speak to the same few people as before.
While this movie is great entertainment, in real life, it’d be my greatest fear.
I can think of few things I fear less than going about my safe, predictable business and having something terrible happen that changes it all.
I’m a lot like Michael. I do the same job every day. I arrive at the same time and leave at the same time. I make the same drive on the same roads, sometimes even with the same Spotify playlist in the background. Every day.
Sometimes, in all that sameness, a little thought comes to me. It goes like this.
Why is change so scary?
I like to know what’s coming. I like to be prepared. If I can prepare for something, I reason, I’ll be in control of it. My routine assures me that I’m calling the shots.
Until I’m not.
And then even a simple thing—a change in my work schedule, a traffic block on the way home, a last-minute appointment—becomes much larger than it needs to be.
And once that small thing becomes big, all the large things that could happen press in on me.
Joanna’s motives in The Commuter are dubious at best. But if she hadn’t changed Michael’s routine, if she hadn’t shattered his calm, things would have just kept on as they were.
Sometimes things keeping on as they were is more dangerous than the terrible change.
It was true for Michael. Maybe it is for me.
Change hurts. Change is scary. It doesn’t feel good. Sometimes that pain lets up once that change is made. Sometimes it never leaves.
The hard truth is that whether or not it feels good, any change that happens is being allowed by Someone so much bigger than me. Someone with so good a heart, towards me and towards everyone else who has ever lived or will live, that I can never fathom it.
And I don’t like that truth. Because uncertainty hurts. And I’d much rather have Someone Who will just take the trouble away. I don’t want to have to trust anyone else to keep me safe. I want to do it myself.
It’s hard to imagine Someone good seemingly standing by and just watching it all happen.
But He’s not standing by. He’s in the center of the chaos with me.
For the majority of the movie, most of the other passengers have no idea what’s happening. They see only the irrational actions Michael is taking. They call the police, believing him to be a threat, having no idea that he’s saving them from something truly horrible.
I don’t have any idea what’s happening. I only see what seem to be irrational actions. I complain and worry, having no idea that I’m being saved from something truly horrible.
I’m unlikely to meet a stranger on a train whose hypothetical experiment turns into a nightmare. But no matter what I do meet in the middle of my normal, Someone good faces it with me, protecting me all the while.
I don’t know. I don’t understand. But one day, I’ll get to the end of this train ride, and it will all make sense.
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!)
Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!