At the beginning of the Christmas season, I went housesitting for a week, then dogsitting for the next. Since I had the house to myself, and it was Christmas after all, I spent the evenings watching Christmas movies. I tried out a few I hadn’t watched before, with one of those being Disney’s Godmothered.
If you haven’t seen or heard of Godmothered, imagine Elf but with a Fairy Godmother instead. Was it terribly original? No. But it was sweet and funny enough that I was engaged.
The movie drew to a close, the sort where because this is not a terribly original movie, the titular Fairy Godmother would rather obviously declare the moral before the crowd. Throughout the entire movie, she’d been trying to help her assigned child (who now was a grown woman) to find her true love and live happily ever after.
Essentially, she boils it down to, “I’ve been so busy trying to force her to live happily ever after, that I forgot about living happy. Who am I to say what true love looks like? Maybe instead of telling others what true love looks like, we should let them show us.”
It was sweet enough, I suppose. But it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth even after the movie had ended. It confused me. I had enjoyed the movie, so what was the hold up? Was I just being overly uptight?
Christmas movies can be like that.
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve watched some very wholesome Christmas movies. Of course, there are classics that have been around for a while. And there are family favorites that I have back at my house. But I’ve also tried out some newer titles that turned out to be equally good.
In fact, many of the Christmas movies that I love the most never mention Christ in any way. But even if they’re fanciful stories about Santa Claus or reindeer or elves, they still manage to point back to Him. (I’ve written about some of them, which you can check out in the Christmas category on the right.)
But every so often, one comes along that as much as you enjoy watching it, there’s just something missing in all the sweet. They say that the season is full of love and joy, but there’s no center there. Where is all the joy and love coming from? Are we simply expected to manufacture it? If I’m not happy at Christmas, am I simply not trying hard enough? What if the person who’s supposed to love me doesn’t?
The notion presented in those sticky sweet films isn’t entirely wrong. True love does manifest itself in a lot of different ways through family and friends. And it is good to be selfless and set aside our own desires in order to see someone else’s point of view. But rather than feeling empowering, the idea that we make the rules of what true love looks like just seemed . . . sad.
The longer I thought about, the more I realized that if I depend on someone else to show me what true love looks like, then I will forever be depending on other people to feel loved. Like it or not, I have to find true love for myself.
Luckily, I have found it. And I found it in Christmas.
Christmas is a season of love for a reason. Because on Christmas we celebrate when the Son of God, Who lived a life we can never imagine, left all of it in order to come save us. To endure a life in this dirty world and die in the most excruciating of ways. And not to leave us alone afterward, but to stay with us, loving us.
My love for others or others' love for me doesn’t keep my feet on the ground. God’s love for me does. And once I’ve got that, then I can show others true love, and allow myself to be shown love back. And it will be a non-fickle kind of love. It’ll be a love that lasts through the hard and the crazy and the sad. It’ll be a love that elevates the happy and the sweet and the good. It affects my writing, it affects my work, it affects my home. It affects every aspect of my life.
I think the difference between the stories is where its love and joy comes from. In movies like Godmothered, it comes from within us, and we’re responsible for keeping it going.
But in the movies and stories that have truly endured, even if they can’t quite name it, it comes from somewhere outside themselves, something bigger than themselves.
Welcome back to the Springtime in Surrey blog swap! Today, Andrea Renee Cox, author of The Cottage on the Hill, helps us think about compassion versus apathy. Let's get to it.
Apathy is unfeeling disinterest in others’ problems, worries, and situations. Everywhere I look these days, I see evidence of this lack of tender care for my fellow human beings. In the movie The Book of Henry*, a young character declares that apathy is the worst thing in the world. That line has stuck with me for years, because it’s the truth and I’ve seen evidence virtually every day since I first watched that film.
I have to wonder, can anything overcome such a dark and uncaring choice as apathy?
Every time I read the Bible and spend time with Jesus, I know the answer is yes. Yes, something is more powerful than apathy. God is bigger and stronger than everything on this planet, but there’s something we humans can choose that is stronger than apathy as well, if we follow His lead.
Compassion is greater than apathy.
Compassion is seeing other people’s plight and feeling their pain with them. It’s choosing to care about people and whatever trial or tribulation they might currently be going through. Compassion is not easy, because it means being vulnerable to wounds the world might wield against us. But I’m here to tell you that choosing to be compassionate is always worth it. In fact, Jesus commanded us to “love one another” (John 13:34 NKJV). He went further to say that His followers would be recognized by their “love for one another” (John 13:25 NKJV).
Loving one another is choosing compassion over apathy.
Often, I wonder if I’m doing enough to infuse an abundant amount of hope, cheerfulness, and especially compassion—all traits of love—into my community to counteract the apathy that is so prevalent in the world around me. What I’ve learned over these years of intentionally choosing to care (and show it!) about the people in my life is that every delicate moment matters. The incredible thing is, God can use even one person’s kindness to make a humongous impact in the world. The ripple effects can spread out in waves for a longer time than we can imagine, because of God’s work behind the scenes. This, to me, makes every attempt at showing love to those around me completely worth it.
This theme of showing compassion to the people around us is spotlighted in The Cottage on the Hill, my novella in Wild Blue Wonder Press’s debut anthology, Springtime in Surrey. When Adrian sees Moira crying into her afternoon tea, he wonders why. The neat thing is, he doesn’t stop at mere curiosity. Instead, he takes up the challenge of making her smile. His creative efforts throughout the book give her chance after chance to rediscover hope and joy. Even when he doesn’t know if she’ll ever feel comfortable enough with him to divulge her troubles, Adrian goes to great lengths to let Moira know that someone cares about her, that someone sees she’s hurting and chooses to do something about it.
How many times do we see people going through hard times and rough days but keep on walking by, not giving them more than a pitying glance?
What do you think would happen if you paused to give that person a helping hand or encouraging word?
Let me tell you from experience: Both the person you help and you will be blessed in the moment you reach out to connect with another member of humanity. Whether it’s encouraging a harried mother of three rambunctious children in the grocery store or helping a tearful, lost toddler find their parents or assisting someone in picking up items that spilled from a purse or split sack—or a thousand other scenarios—I challenge you to take a few minutes out of your busy day and infuse some compassion back into your community. Beyond that, I encourage you to take Jesus’s advice and “love one another,” so that people will recognize you as one of His compassionate followers.
It takes action from each one of us to make sure that compassion remains greater than apathy.
*Some content (language, thematic elements) in The Book of Henry is not suitable to all viewers. Discretion is advised. I suggest parents preview the film before sharing with any child under 18.
Come back next Wednesday to hear another Springtime in Surrey author discuss the top five writing mistakes she's made according to Strunk and White.
Good morning! I'm kicking off the first stop on my blog for the Springtime in Surrey blog swap today. (For more details on where to find other articles by all the authors in the anthology, check out this schedule: https://andreareneecox.com/2023/07/01/blog-swap-information-and-schedule/) Today we start out with Grace A. Johnson, author of Her Heart's Home, who will get us thinking about what Hallmark can teach us about character interactions. Let's get to it!
When someone says Hallmark, the first thing that comes to mind is what not to do. Don’t be cheesy. Don’t be cliché. Don’t be unrealistically happy all the time. Hallmark is rarely—if ever--the gold standard (heck, it ain’t even the bronze standard) for good storytelling. Not even for romance. (Some of their older, circa the 20th century, films, yes. Their newer stuff? Nope.)
But if there’s one thing Hallmark has actually managed to do decently in a lot of their productions is create engaging, meaningful character interactions.
I know that sounds crazy, but I’m serious! I’ll be using their two most popular series--Signed, Sealed, Delivered and When Calls the Heart--for examples, just to prove it to you! (Speaking of, beware of spoilers for these two shows! If you’ve already seen them or don’t care to ever watch them, you may proceed. Otherwise, caution is advised.)
Even though Hallmark is visual, you can still learn a lot from their methods and apply it to your writing, from utilizing nonverbal communication to enhance dialogue and creating unique character voices to tailoring your dialogue to the story and being intentional with every moment!
There’s not much about Hallmark actors that set them apart from the crowd...but you gotta admit, they have the most expressive faces! With just the bat of their eyes, they can convey a million emotions, and it’s mesmerizing!
Even though books don’t have the capability of showing you the characters’ faces, you can still use changes in facial expressions and small gestures to enrich or even replace dialogue!
To enrich dialogue: Include action tags or breaks in the character’s dialogue to show their actions or expressions. Sometimes, just a gesture or a blink can reveal more about your character’s thoughts and emotions than their words can! Let’s take a look at a few examples...
Her eyes widened. “Are you sure?” The line of dialogue is so simple that it could be anything from sarcastic to angry; adding the change in her facial expression indicates that she’s surprised.
“Did Joey mention when he was coming?” he asked, his foot tapping on the floor. Again, the dialogue is vague, and we could easily add an adverb after “he asked” to clarify that he’s impatient, but adverbs don’t give the readers an image or add any motion to the scene. So having his foot tap adds movement and clarification without telling!
To replace dialogue: Substitute a line of dialogue or any small talk with an action. Actions speak louder than words, after all, so in tense or active moments or with quiet characters, consider trading most of your dialogue for actions. In fact, in any dialogue-rich moment, try cutting out a few lines and turning them into nods or sighs and see how her scene comes to life! For example…
She held up the missing necklace, and he lifted his eyebrows at the sight of them. A simple gesture or two can convey what clunky dialogue like this would: “Oh, look, I found the necklace,” she said as she held it up. “Where did you find it?” he asked.
He glared at her. Even an entire argument or rant could be summed up in an expression, which makes characters seem more alive and genuine, as well as making your scenes flow smoother and faster instead of dragging them down!
How Hallmark did it: They used every facial feature and body movement to convey a thought or emotion. They kept the character’s personality in mind too, making both their dialogue and action authentic and their interactions natural.
One of my favorite moments is in When Calls the Heart, where the typically-bubbly Rosemary Coulter just looks for a minute, her expression solemn and her dialogue limited to just an “oh,” after Dr. Carter tells her she’s probably pregnant. Seeing this happy, peppy character reduced to such a sober state is so poignant, and it’s all done through nonverbal communication.
My other favorite moment is Shane and Oliver’s (Shane’s the heroine and Oliver is the very dashing hero *winks*) first on-screen kiss in Signed, Sealed, Delivered...or, actually, the interactions between them leading up to it! Shane’s motions and expressions are so powerful and emotional, enhancing her dialogue, which would’ve been dull and mundane without her amazing performance! And even though Oliver isn’t very expressive, the smallest movement on his face can say a lot, sometimes even more than his words!
How you can do it: Practice by imagining your characters as actors. You can use clips from your favorite movies, task your friends with acting out their interactions, or just studying your expressions in the mirror to find the right ways to communicate different words, thoughts, and emotions non-verbally! I also recommend paying attention to how other people react in real life, and how you see or understand others based on their nonverbal communication. After all, 93% of communication is nonverbal, and 55% of first impressions are based on what we see—whether that’s their expression, their clothing, or the way they walk or shake hands!
Unique Character Voices
One of my favorite parts of reading and writing are the unique character voices. (This is apparent due to the fact that I will spend three months developing their voices and no time plotting or actually writing.) Some authors simply excel at making their characters come to life through their distinct narratives and dialogue, and so does Hallmark.
Even though their voices are real, verbal voices, they all begin as dialogue in a script, and I’ve noticed Hallmark has actually done as pretty good job making them unique and distinguishable—especially in Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
All four of the main characters—Shane, Oliver, Rita, and Norman—as well as the secondary characters like Ramon and Ardis, have voices, tones, speech patterns, and preferred phrases so original and them, that I could easily tell them apart just by reading their lines!
The fun fact is that the stark contrast in how everyone talks is even addressed in the show, when Shane starts making comments that sound eerily like what Oliver would say! Even without making mention of it, the audience could easily pick up on the change in Shane’s lines when she began talking like Oliver, as well as just how different the entire cast is according to what they say.
How Hallmark did it: They stayed attuned to the characters’ personalities and background while writing their lines, making their dialogue sound natural and authentic to the characters, as well as unique. They also stayed consistent with specific speech patterns and preferences, like Oliver’s tendency to quote Shakespeare and the Bible, or Shane’s blunt, no-nonsense attitude.
How you can do it: Think of your narrative (especially if it’s first-person) and dialogue as lines in a script. How would your characters say the words? Would they sound natural or forced? Would they repeat themselves because they’re shy or ramble because they’re hyperactive?
Ask yourself if your characters have any specific speech or thought patterns, impediments, or preferences. Keep a list of any phrases or quotes they might use continually, or any accents or hindrances they have. Remember that their culture, how they were raised, what time period they live in, and their current lifestyle have an impact on how and what they say.
For example, I’ve been raised in the South by godly parents, and I live in a rural area with lots of farmland, poor whites, and African-Americans. Because of my specific culture, I have a Southern accent, I use a lot of slang, I talk fast (no, Southerns do not drawl around here, believe it or not), and I’m often quoting Scripture, making idle threats, or using sayings that make absolutely no sense. (Y’all ever seen a chicken run around without a head? No? Yeah, me neither.)
So, some of my nonsensical sayings would be interspersed throughout my narrative; my dialogue might be phonetically spelled with a lot of missing consonants; and my internal monologue might just be a bunch of run-on sentences. And just like that, you can incorporate different aspects of your characters’ personalities, lifestyles, and cultures into every aspect of your writing to make them stand out!
I’m not quite certain how to describe this, because I don’t believe I’ve ever heard someone talk about it in specific terms. But one of my favorite things in books/movies is dialogue that is meaningful and actually tailored to the story. And I don’t just mean dialogue that goes beyond the realms of small talk—I also mean things like inside jokes, catchphrases, pertinent questions, etc.!
Like what I mentioned above about the continuity in the characters’ voices and how they were tailored to their personalities, Hallmark has done a fabulous job at tailoring the actual words to the story! Characters from past episodes/movies are brought up, specific quotes are repeated, nicknames are reused. Sure, it takes a bit to keep track of everything, but it’s worth it in the end when your dialogue flows as smoothly and naturally as a real-life conversation!
How Hallmark did it: They stayed continuous. From the episodes of When Calls the Heart, which are literally back-to-back and always include a recap, to the movies of Signed, Sealed, Delivered, which sometimes have two-to-three years between installments, Hallmark is always continuous. They kept track of characters—even the minor ones from only an episode or two—and made sure to bring them up in conversations. They were aware of the themes and stuck with them. They allowed the storyline to impact the characters’ discussions, emotions, and actions.
For an unrelated example, Hallmark’s A Perfect Bride film duology stuck with the theme of perfection. In the first film, the hero Nick’s fiancee wanted her everything about wedding to be, well, perfect—including the groom. Naturally, those expectations were entirely too far-fetched, and the wedding fell through. But when the second movie came around, Hallmark stayed true to the characters and their situation and let the Nick’s ex-fiancee’s decisions influence how he and his new fiancee, Molly, moved forward. They were constantly quipping about how their wedding could be good, but not perfect, and they avoided even saying the word! This theme played out even more, and it was so fun from a writer’s perspective to see how the screenwriters made that unfold so effortlessly, especially just through their dialogue!
Another moment I love is when Oliver and Shane have a bit of a spat . . . but they use the context of their current case at the Dead Letter Office in reference to themselves!
How you can do it: Keep track of your characters, scenes, and previous conversations—even if that means making a list or two! (Can never have too many lists, in my opinion. *winks*) Be aware of what your themes are and how they will continue to unfold throughout the story. Focus on how the plot/premise affects the characters and influences what they say, do, think, and feel.
I highly recommend reading over the last scene or two you wrote before you move on to the next one. Consider it your “Previously On…” moment, and let the story linger on your mind as you write it. Remember important aspects of previous books, too, and how characters could still be joking—or arguing—about them months later!
For some quick examples, whenever my characters do something impulsive or stupid, they say they “did an Elliot” or “Ellioted” the situation, in reference to my notoriously impulsive character—you guessed it—Elliot. And my heroine Rina always brings up her quartermaster Keaton’s role in an attempted mutiny whenever she’s miffed with him or feels like teasing him. (Even though he was only pretending to go along with it, there’s still a few hard feelings, of course.)
There’s something about being specific and intentional in your dialogue that makes the story so much more authentic!
Speaking of intentionality (which my writing software says is not a word) . . . Hallmark has learned the hard way to make every moment count. Their movies and TV series are often short, compacting an entire romance into 90 minutes, let alone countless conversations and character interactions.
But there’s never a dull moment in a Hallmark movie; there’s always something going on or being said that moves the characters’ relationship forward! Just as their growth is never stagnant, their conversations are purposeful and intentional. No time for small talk here!
And as important as small talk and fluff can be in fiction (they really aid character development), intentionality is key. Every interaction should do something, whether that’s twist the plot, spur the character on, or provide key insight to your characters, world, etc.
How Hallmark did it: They kept their focus on the task at hand. With time constraints, there simply isn’t time to get caught up in random conversations or monotonous scenes, so they—and their characters—stayed on track and kept the story progressing in some way at all times!
Try watching any episode of When Calls the Heart, and you’ll find characters constantly asking questions or bringing up subjects that are pertinent to the plot. Same goes for Signed, Sealed, Delivered, in which every scene is either focused on their dead letter case, developing the characters’ relationships, or one of the few side plots! Even a standalone movie is a great example of how every moment has a purpose and contributes to the story (most of the time, the romance) in some way!
How you can do it: The first and last step to being intentional with every scene or interaction is actually the same—edit. If you write a line of dialogue that has nothing to do with what’s going on, delete it and try again. If you read back over a scene that’s just fluff and no substance, cut it. If you have a few paragraphs of unnecessary rambling, shorten it and make your point in a sentence or two instead.
Of course, staying focused while you write makes editing a lot easier. Keep an outline of your scenes or, if you’re a pantser like me, brainstorm what should happen and how important it is to your story before you get started on the next scene!
And don’t forget to stay balanced. You’ll need a few more moments of fluff than a Hallmark movie, and those moments can be very beneficial for character/plot development and overall reader experience. Just keep in mind that it has to contribute to your story, so balance anything extra with moments that really move the plot along!
So, the next time your mom forces you to sit through a Hallmark movie with her, pay attention to how the character interactions play out! Watch how the actors’ expressions and movements bring their dialogue to life; focus on how each character’s voice stands out; listen to their inside jokes and references to past movies/episodes; and take note of the purpose behind each scene!
You’ll find that your character interactions are stronger, more meaningful, and easier to write when you utilize nonverbal communication, craft unique character voices, tailor the dialogue to your story, and are intentional about every moment!
Come back next Wednesday to hear another Springtime in Surrey author share lessons learned from writing through creative difficulties.
Did you go see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 last month?
Before going to see it, I wouldn’t have said I was a huge fan of the Guardians. They were definitely fun, enjoyable watches. But when all was said and done, that was it. Fun.
But Vol. 3 was in theaters, and my sisters and I wanted to go see a Marvel movie in theaters for the first time. By all the trailers, this one looked like it was going to be a great one (which, when it comes to Marvel, are getting more and more rare). So we took our chance and off we went, and it was worth it. I could go on and on about how great a movie this was, but that’s not what you’re here for.
After that, I went back and watched the original Guardians of the Galaxy, seeing it in a new light after Vol. 3.
One of the things that struck me the most in a rewatch, was just how unlikeable most of the Guardians truly were. (Well, with the exception of Groot.) By Vol. 3, they had quite a bit of character development under their belts.
But in the original, all of them were criminals, whether that was for murder, theft, or whatever Peter Quill was up to. They’d stab anyone in the back to get what they want—it’s pretty much how they all wound up in jail together. And even when forced to work together to escape, they spent most of the time fighting and shouting at each other.
But then they discovered that orb they were all squabbling over had the power to wipe out entire cities. And then, thanks to one of their members, that orb fell into the hands of a very wrong person. And the only people that could get it back were the most unlikeable.
As Peter put it, a bit less eloquently, the universe was asking them to care for once.
That particular chance that was handed them may have been just that—chance. Or maybe it was a nod to something deeper. Sprinkled within all that fighting and shouting and galaxy-saving, I spotted grace.
Grace is defined as “free and unmerited favor.” You get something good just because. Not because you did anything for it—in fact, usually because you didn’t do anything for it—but just because the giver chose you.
Gamora attempted to kill him, but Peter still risked his own life to save Gamora in a prison fight.
Drax called the villain on them and caused them to lose the power stone, but the Guardians still took him back.
Groot sacrificed himself to save the rest of the Guardians, even though none of them had done anything that would make anyone care.
Rocket cruelly mocked Drax’s grief for his family, but Drax still chose to comfort Rocket when he lost his friend.
Nebula was an active villain throughout the first film and much of the second, but the Guardians (Gamora especially) still chose to reach out to her and give her the love she so desperately wanted.
A lot of days, I don’t feel very likeable. I know I do things that are wrong. Some days I hate it, some days I just don’t care. Even at my best, I’m bound to do something that might annoy someone somewhere. I don’t like making mistakes. I don’t like being unlikeable. I’ve been known to fight and shout in my own ways.
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8, CSB)
The Guardians didn’t come together when they were a family largely healing and learning to treat others with grace. They came together and held each other up when they were in prison for trying to kill, kidnap, or at the very least steal from each other.
Jesus didn’t come for the version of me that I will be someday. He came for the mean version of me. He came for the version of me that makes mistakes. He came for the version of me who gave Him no reason to care. The version that tried to kill Him. But He cares anyway.
The Guardians didn't just accept the grace given to them and go on with business as usual. Grace changed them. The Guardians at the end of Vol. 3 are wildly different than the ones at the beginning of Vol. 1. They care more about each other. They trade in crime for protecting the galaxy. They give more grace themselves.
Jesus didn’t come and save me and then leave me to my own devices, He sticks with me, even though I make wrong choices over and over again and I’m just not quite there yet. But we will get there one day.
Grace is free, unmerited favor. I didn’t expect to find grace in Guardians of the Galaxy. Then again, I wouldn’t have expected to find grace towards me. But it’s still there.
If you’re feeling unlikeable today, maybe this is the time to remember that Someone still loves you no matter what you do or say, and that He has placed people around you who will extend you the same grace. And hey, maybe it’s time to rewatch Guardians of the Galaxy while you’re at it. You know, if that’s your thing.
*Who's your favorite Guardian? What did you think of the movies? Share your adventures in the comments below!*
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.
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.
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!
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.
You ever gone into a movie and then come back out with something entirely different than what you expected? That’s how I felt watching Pixar’s Inside Out. Sure, it’s a kids’ movie. But if you’ve been around here for a while, you know that doesn’t stop me.
It didn’t this time, anyway. I came out of the movie feeling like I’d been hit in the face with a Pixar movie, a psychology lesson, and a counseling session all at once.
It really explains so much, these emotions running around in a bright, colorful version of our brains. Explains why we get random songs stuck in our head. Explains why facts and opinions get so jumbled. Even explains why cats can be perfectly calm and then need to be in the next room RIGHT NOW.
In Riley’s head, Joy is in control. At least, she was until this whole move happened and all the other emotions thought they needed control of the board. And Sadness (who is secretly Joy’s least favorite person, uh, emotion in the world) felt the need to touch everything no matter what Joy tries.
When you think about it, it’s really that misguided attempt to keep Sadness from touching everything that gets Joy and Sadness sucked up a tube and deposited in long term memory. Leaving Anger, Fear, and Disgust to rule Riley’s head.
It’s a long movie with a lot of nuances that I can’t dive into here. (Well, I could, but it’s not really necessary.)
But really, the whole journey isn’t as much about getting back to Riley’s headquarters. I mean, Joy and Sadness are stuck together for this whole journey. And along the way, Joy is forced to admit that Sadness gets some things right. Like the way she comforted Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong who was in danger of being forgotten. Like the way she came up with the idea to scare Riley awake to get the train of thought running again.
But that’s not enough. When it comes down to keeping Riley’s core memories entirely happy or getting them both back to headquarters, Joy chooses to go on alone.
Of course, the tube she’s taking back breaks and lands her in the dump, where any memories left fade to gray and then into ash and then into . . . nothing.
Joy wanders through the gray memories, picking up one here, another one there. “Remember this?” “Remember that?”
Finally Joy drops all the memories, wraps her arms around herself, and begins to cry. “I just wanted Riley to be happy.”
That’s when she notices the one glowing memory still scattered among the grey.
It’s one of Joy’s favorites—a time that Riley spent with her parents and her entire hockey team. But when she rewinds the memory a bit, she realizes it only came because Riley missed the winning goal and was sitting in a tree alone wanting to quit the team.
“They came to help because of Sadness,” Joy realizes.
Nobody really likes Sadness. Not many of the people watching the movie. Not her own emotional peers. In real life, we don’t like feeling sad. (I don’t, anyway.) We don’t want Sadness invading our everyday life, our memories, our anything.
It’d be so much easier to just skip and dance our way through our happy days.
But what I’d never thought about or expected when watching Inside Out was that sadness is what makes happiness possible.
The best moments of joy come from the deepest moments of sadness.
Sadness is like the listening ear that comes and sits next to us in our darkest moments. Joy is the friend that comes and helps us stand back up.
I wouldn’t know how deep joy is if I hadn’t known how deep sadness was.
I wouldn’t know how much my friends and family care about and support me if I hadn’t felt alone first.
I wouldn’t know how much God loves me and His power over the darkness if I hadn’t felt unloved and helpless first.
Sadness isn’t a place to camp out. It’s a checkpoint, a train station on the way to Joy. A checkpoint we need.
We need sadness. But we need joy too.
Luckily, I know the Source of all joy—the One Who works even sadness to lead towards the brightest moments.
*What about you? Did you like Inside Out? Any insights from your own emotional journey?*
Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!