A Tragedy of Emojis
Inspired by the hysterically funny OMG Shakespeare! series—especially srsly Hamlet by Courtney Carbone—I created my own emoji version of Hamlet a few nights ago when I was bored.
Just because we have the ability and right to speak doesn’t mean we should.
As a first year teacher, I talked far too much in faculty meetings. In my rookie idealism, I believed 1) I knew something worth sharing, and 2) people actually cared what I thought. I was wrong on both counts. Eventually, I learned to keep my mouth shut in meetings unless I could add value.
When I was a child, a popular TV commercial proclaimed, "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen."
“Why are people so anxious to listen to E.F. Hutton?” I wanted to know, hoping to learn the secret to his success. (Investment banking didn’t make sense to me as a kid.)
"Because he only speaks when he has something worthwhile to say," an adult told me. Sadly, the subtext of this advice was lost on me for many years. My words are responsible for 99.9% of the hurt, pain, and embarrassment I’ve caused myself and others throughout my life. And now that I write, publish a web page, and post on several social media sites, my power to hurt has expanded.
Ecclesiastes 3:7, NKJV reminds us, there’s "a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”
The time to speak is when our words will help, encourage, or lift up. Consider these prophetic words in Isaiah 50:4, NKJV: “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.”
Proverbs 31:8-9, ESV reminds us we have a duty to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves: "Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy." Proverbs 31: 8-9, ESV
But just because we have the ability and right to speak doesn’t mean we should.
The Bible suggests that words should be chosen carefully: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." Proverbs 25:11, ESV
Why are words were compared to inedible gold and silver fruit? Perhaps for the very reason that these gold and silver apples, like an appropriate comment, are equally noteworthy, valuable, and rare.
Words carry value, and they should not be used carelessly. No matter how “right” we are, we’re counseled to use caution before speaking (or writing…or posting…).
James 1:19 reminds us, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath” NKJV. James goes on to make an even stronger statement regarding our choices in what we say: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” James 1:26, NKJV
Even Jesus chose to keep silent on several occasions when I’m sure there was plenty He could have said.
Both our Creator and our country give us the ability and right to say whatever we like. But every word we say affects other people. We have a responsibility to be aware of the audience, the time, the place, and the situation whenever we open our mouths.
“Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and main.” Proverbs 15:4, The Message
Just because we have the ability and right to speak doesn’t mean we should.
Social Media and the Sermon on the Mount
The irony of posting this has not escaped me. For several months I've been considering the application of Biblical principles to online behavior. While I don't think an online presence or a social media account is a sin, I do want to be more thoughtful in how I use online mediums. My interpretation of Matthew 6:1-4 reflects that intention.
If you want to be like the Father, be more concerned with His presence in your heart than your presence on social media. When you proclaim your good deeds online, you miss the opportunity to develop an intimate, thirst-quenching relationship with the Father.
You can check in on Facebook to let the world know you're visiting someone at the hospital. You can post Instagram photos while you're feeding the homeless. You can take selfies in front of the church altar. You can tweet Bible verses or pithy quotes from religious leaders. You can even blog an open letter to hypocrites.
But you need to understand that the likes, shares, retweets, and comments you receive will be your only reward. Going viral doesn't bring you closer to the Father or earn you any heavenly privilege. Your online presence does not connect you with His omnipresence.
Avoid creating buzz about yourself. Instead, reclaim secrecy when you're working for Him. Shovel the snow off your neighbor's sidewalk without taking a selfie. Unload the dishwasher without a #selfless tweet. Buy a meal for a homeless person without posting your epiphany. Visit the sick or the elderly without "checking in" so people know where you are. Talk to the person you have a conflict with directly rather than blogging a passive-aggressive open letter.
Spend time with the Father offline. Let Him handle your publicity. Be at peace with whatever strategy He chooses, including obscurity. Focus instead on having an intimate, private relationship with your Creator. His rewards are eternal and bring infinitely more joy than any hashtags, search engine optimizations, page views, or clickable headlines will.
The affirmation you seek cannot be found in an online community. It can only be found by sharing the secrets of your heart with the God who loves and knows you best.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4, ESV)
Writing in Pursuit
She absconded with all the best ideas.
In her wake, dynamite, thought explosions,
a bank safe bereft of gold.
The marshal, style book holstered on his hip,
read her trail. She was writing fast
(uncrossed t’s, mistaken homophones, m’s with extra humps)
on a medium-tip ball point, black ink.
He clipped her with a bullet before she wrote away.
She was bleeding on the page.
He finally cornered her on a cliché,
her inspiration dead at her feet.
She held her wounded arm, sneered.
“Where’s the gold?” he demanded.
He cocked his editing pencil in intimidation.
She dangled a foot over self-doubt.
“Come any closer,” she threatened, “and I’ll jump.”
The way he saw it, he had two choices:
Let her jump and watch her action verbs fall,
her concrete nouns flatten
into sad adjectives, broken and alone.
Let her go, excuse her amateur indiscretions,
save her half-rhyming eyes and smile
for tomorrow’s chase.
The posse, several minutes behind him,
found him alone and on foot.
“She got the upper hand,” he said.
He shrugged, remembering her kiss and the way
she smelled of sunflowers, open prairie,
her smile when he passed her the reins
to his freshly sharpened lead point.
He eyed her path toward the setting sun.
“We’ll start again tomorrow,” he told the posse.
It was the write decision.
(Originally written in November 2006)
Confessions of a Time Traveler
What I'm about to tell you is a true story. I have traveled through time. Repeatedly.
A few weeks ago, while I was in the cookies and crackers aisle of Cub Foods, the store’s sound system played Jon Secada’s “Just Another Day.” Immediately, I was standing at the sink of my college dorm room in Tennessee. The date was mid October of 1994. I had hot rollers in my hair and wore my favorite red dress and brown flats. My recorded-off-the-radio mix tape was playing. Madonna’s “Take a Bow” would be up next. I could smell my Bath & Bodyworks apple lotion and hear the hum of the air conditioner. As soon as I finished fixing my hair, my boyfriend and I were going out for dinner at the Olive Garden.
Then, just as quickly, I was back in the grocery aisle in 2016. I didn’t physically go anywhere, but mentally I had taken quite a trip. That's not the first time this sort of thing has happened to me. (Please note: No chemical substances have ever been involved in this experience.)
In 2013 I was driving to work when my favorite radio station played the opening theme from To Kill a Mockingbird. Immediately, I was 600 miles away in central Michigan, sitting in my tall swivel chair in front of my English classroom as the student faces of sixteen American Literature classes scrolled before my eyes. I’m not sure what called my attention back to the road, but thankfully I didn’t cause an accident.
Music isn’t the only way I time travel. Without meaning to, I built a time-travel machine…several, actually. I’ve recently been reviewing my published books to update the back matter. I hadn’t counted on how reviewing my old manuscripts would transport me back to the person I was when I wrote them. The experience was so intense I had to stop.
I’m not the only time traveler on the planet, nor is time traveling confined to the creative, quirky types like me.
I know a lot people who have made permanent homes in the past. No, they don’t have medical reasons for doing so. They’ve just decided the past was better, so that’s where they live even though their bodies exist in 2016.
I know other people who live permanently in the future. Some of them are already living in their version of paradise. Others dwell in a post-apocalyptic world where all is darkness in despair. Whichever future they’ve chosen, their bodies are in 2016 but their minds are not.
Very few of us live in the moment. Very few of us are present. The implications of this, good or bad, tell us that time travel may not be possible, but it’s true.
Something to think about…
The Parable of the Closet
I wrote this a little over a decade ago, but every time I come back to it, I find it's still true in my life. I hope you enjoy. --Michelle
Although the hour was late, I couldn’t sleep. There was something menacing in my closet that prevented me from turning out the light.
I had always been afraid of closets at night. Once I saw two glowing eyes staring at me from the half-open door. My mom said it was my alarm clock reflecting off my silver shoes, but I knew better. Closets were meant to hide things—scary things—that no one else should see. That’s why my mom locked our closets when company came over.
Once, when I was playing hide and seek, I opened my parents’ closet, and the things I saw in there still give me nightmares. The menace in my own closet began when I learned it was easy to clean my room by shoving everything into my closet. But what went in often never came out. And now, something evil was growing in there.
When the doorbell rang late on that dark night, I was reluctant to answer.
“I saw your light on,” Jesus said when I opened the door. “May I come in?”
He had been coming over a lot lately to help me redecorate the house. He had suggested the week before that we start on the bedroom next, so I wasn’t surprised when He asked to see it. But instead of complementing me on my immaculate room, He looked directly at the closet.
“What’s in there?” He asked.
“It’s private,” I said.
“Mind if I take a look?”
He was about to open the door when I stopped Him. “You don’t want to do this,” I whispered. “It’s scary.”
“I can handle it,” He said.
I held my breath as He opened the door. A deluge of papers, clothes, boxes, and garbage engulfed Him. I pulled the bed covers over my head. But when I peaked out a second later, Jesus was unmoved, calmly surveying the mess. I was embarrassed. But then I got angry when He pulled out a garbage bag.
“You can’t throw all this out!” I protested. “I need it.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” He said.
The first thing he picked up wad of paper slips. I recognized them immediately.
“Those are my inadequacies,” I volunteered. “I’ve got a record of every time I came up short when something was expected of me. I’ve received them for being an inadequate parent, friend, role model, housekeeper, cook, teacher—and of course, an inadequate Christian.”
“Why are you keeping these?” Jesus asked.
“To keep me humble,” I said.
He frowned. “Can I trash these for you?”
Without asking me, He gathered all my anxieties and worries. As He was dumping them into His bag by the handful, I said, “You’d better save a few. Otherwise, You and I won’t have anything to talk about.”
He laughed and threw them all out anyway.
I got excited when He threw out my stack of To Do Lists. I wouldn’t miss those.
By the time He found my collection of painful memories, I was really in the mood to clean house. “Throw them out!” I shouted. “I never want to see those again.”
“These you should keep,” Jesus said. When I demanded why, He tucked them into His robe, smiled, and said gently, “I can turn these into something special.”
The huge pile of clothes was next. Jesus seemed particularly interested in my T-shirts. One had “Fat” printed on the front, another “Idiot,” and another “Failure.” He raised an eyebrow and glanced at me.
“I wear those!” I protested. “They’re my favorites!”
“They’re ugly!” He could be brutally honest sometimes. “Why don’t you wear the pretty clothes I bought for you?”
“I can’t find them.”
He sorted through the clothes and pulled out the lovely wardrobe I had forgotten I owned.
Near the back of the closet He found items hidden in paper sacks and cardboard boxes. As He pulled them out, I recognized dreams, talents, and blessings He had given me that I had hidden and forgotten.
“These don’t belong in a closet,” He said. “Beautiful things should be out where you and others can enjoy them.”
Then He arranged them tastefully throughout the house. I couldn’t believe the way they brightened up the place.
“We’re done,” He finally said as he tied up his garbage sack.
“How did all that trash fit in one bag?” I asked.
He winked at me and held out a nail-scarred hand. “Let me show you how the closet looks now.”
I squealed with delight when I looked inside. The place that had once caused me fear and sleepless nights was sparkling clean and almost empty except for my rediscovered clothes and the accessories neatly organized on the shelf.
“This is my new favorite room!” I said. “I wish I could live here.”
“It’s the smallest room in the house.”
Jesus laughed and said, “Are You sure?”
With that, He drew my clothes aside, and the back wall of the closet melted away to reveal a world I had previously only dreamed about.
“This is your private entrance to My world,” He said. “You can come in any time you like. There are no limits to the surprises, adventures, and delights you’ll find here. And as long as your closet is clean, you’ll always be able to enter.”
I was about to thank Him when I remembered my habit of shoving everything into the closet. “I won’t be able to keep it this clean,” I said.
He smiled. “I’ll help you.”
I slept peacefully that night and almost every night thereafter.
I go into the closet frequently now. Because it’s private, I’m not going to tell you what Jesus and I do in the special world we share. But I can tell you one thing; occasionally, we look at a painful memory. Jesus lets me see it from His perspective, and slowly, those times of hurt and are miraculously turning to moments of joy. He was right, of course, about saving them.
Occasionally, my closet gets dirty again, but Jesus always shows up to clean it out for me.
And, (for my future benefit, He promises), He’s teaching me a better way to clean my room.
Psalms 51:6 “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make known to me Your wisdom.”
Paranoid Bunny Trails with Backpacks
8:00 a.m. While listening to NPR on the way to work, I hear about the shootings in Kansas yesterday. What is the world coming to? Is no place safe?
8:04 a.m. I use my key card to enter the side door of the building where I work. The door opens directly into a stairwell I climb to reach the second floor. But something is different today. A black backpack lies abandoned on the floor beside the steps. The stairwell can only be accessed by someone with a key card. That means one of my co-workers left the backpack here. Why? Maybe someone forgot his lunch box (given the appearance of the backpack, I assume its owner is male). He’ll be back in a minute.
8:27 a.m. I sit at my desk, filing reports. Wasn’t the bomb at the Boston Marathon hidden in a backpack? What if there’s a bomb in the backpack I saw? If this bag was abandoned in a public space, the police dogs would already be sniffing for explosives. If there's an explosion, I will be responsible because I saw the backpack but didn’t say anything. But whom should I tell? My building doesn’t have security guards.There’s a 99.9% chance calling the police would end in embarrassment for me. I will keep my mouth shut because there’s a 99.9% chance I’m completely paranoid.
8:40 a.m. My desk is thirty feet from the stairwell. If the bomb explodes, there’s 100% chance I will be a casualty. The press will scour my Facebook page for an appropriate photo to show on the evening news. Is there anything on Facebook that will embarrass me? I should check on that.
9:12 a.m. My coworkers are nice enough. Most are introverts. None of them look capable of workplace violence. But isn’t that what friends and co-workers always say about the perpetrator? “I never thought he’d be violent. He was always quiet and nice…”
9:34 a.m. Why didn't the backpack owner take it to his cubicle? Isn’t he worried it will be stolen? That security voice at the airport is always announcing, “Never leave your bags unattended.”
10:06 a.m. The backpack is probably gone by now. I am blowing this out of proportion. The pun makes me laugh…and then I feel guilty.
12:30 p.m. When I enter the stairwell at lunchtime, the backpack lies in the exact position it was this morning. I text my sister: “An unclaimed black backpack stuffed with something has been sitting in the stairwell at work for the last 4.5 hours. I guess it’s a sign of the times that this worries me…” She asks me if I’m tempted to take a closer look. I respond: “That thought has definitely crossed my mind. But what if I get my fingerprints on it and am later incriminated?”
12:37 p.m. I text my sister: “If my building blows up with me in it, release my texts to the media and start some sort of crusading campaign in my honor. <wink>" She thinks I’m hilarious...and also paranoid.
1:00 p.m. The backpack is still here. I touch it with my shoe. The bag is squishy and light. I bet there are clothes inside. I notice a bicycle lock on a baluster. Someone must ride a bike to work and store it here. Maybe the backpack contains the bike owner's cycling clothes. But why would the backpack be here when there is no bike? Maybe the bike lock and backpack belong to different people. There’s supposed to be a gym on the first floor of the building. Maybe the backpack contains gym clothes. But why didn’t the owner store the backpack in a locker?
1:08 p.m. I realize I only have access to what looks like half of my building. There’s another section I have no idea how to get to. Might some secret organization operate there? CIA? ISIS? S.H.I.E.L.D.? Okay, I’m pretty sure S.H.I.E.L.D. is fictional. But given the degree to which Marvel has taken over popular media, I can’t be positive.
1:16 p.m. I have drunk too much caffeine today. That's why I think a fictional intelligence agency is in my building. I stifle my giggles. If I’m not careful, my co-workers might believe I’m crazy and pose a threat to their safety.
1:33 p.m. I cannot stop thinking about that backpack. I no longer believe it’s a bomb, but now I’m dreadfully curious about what’s inside of it, who left it, and why. It defies explanation.
3:45 p.m. What will I do if the backpack is still here when I leave?
4:32 p.m. I put on my coat and head out the door. My palms are sweaty with anticipation. I reach the bottom of the stairwell. The backpack is still there. If it’s going to explode, it will be after I’m gone. It’s a good thing I didn’t call the police. I never would have lived that fiasco down.
4:50 p.m. I’m home and it’s the weekend. I will never solve the backpack mystery. Silly me. I'm so paranoid. I blow everything out of proportion.
The Parable of the Short Man
This was inspired by the lesson I was studying this week for the weekly Bible study and discussion class I attend.
Once upon a time there was a short little boy who wanted to be tall. He noticed that all the best and most beautiful things in life were on the top shelf, far too high for him to reach.
“I want to be taller so I can reach the top shelf,” the short boy told his short father.
“Then you need to try harder to be tall,” his short father said. “Exercise a lot, eat healthy foods, and brush your teeth three times a day. That will make you taller.”
So the short boy exercised every day, ate healthy foods, and brushed his teeth three times a day, but he was still short and still couldn’t reach the top shelf.
So the short boy asked his short mother for help.
“You’re just not trying hard enough,” his short mother said. “Concentrate very hard about being tall, and you will be.”
The little boy thought so hard about being tall that he gave himself headaches, but he was still short. He asked his short teacher what he should do.
“Read books about tall people,” his short teacher said. “If you study tall people and learn to think like them, you’ll be tall yourself.”
But that didn’t work either.
“You just don’t want to be tall,” his short grandmother told him one day. “In my day, when a person wanted to be tall, he decided to be tall, and he was. There was none of this foolishness.”
That didn’t help the short boy at all.
“Why are you so worried about being tall?” his short friends asked him. “In case you haven’t noticed, everybody is short. Let’s find people who are shorter than us and make fun of them. Then we’ll feel tall.”
Sadly, that’s what they did. The short boy and his short friends found other children who were even shorter and teased them until they cried.
“It’s nice to know I’m not the shortest person in the world,” the short boy said. “I need to accept myself for the size I am and forget about all the good things on the top shelf. I’ll be happy with only the things I can reach myself.”
The short boy grew into a short man. When the short man went for walks, he couldn’t see over the fence to the beautiful scenery beyond it. “That’s okay,” he said. “I don’t care about the scenery. I go for walks because I want to see the fence.”
When the short man went to the library, he saw interesting books he wanted to read, but they were on the top shelf. “That’s okay,” he said. “I don’t care about those books. I really wanted to read these books on the bottom shelf.”
When the short man fixed supper, he could only reach the food in the bottom of his pantry. “That’s okay,” he said. “I like food that comes from the lower shelves the best.”
For many years he believed these lies he told himself. But as he got older, he began to have nightmares that he was growing shorter and shorter. Searching for answers that would put a stop to his terrible dreams, he walked into a church. He was so short that when he sat in a pew, his feet didn’t touch the ground.
“Jesus is very tall,” the pastor preached. “He’s the tallest person who ever lived.”
“I want to be tall like Jesus,” the short man said to the short church member sitting next to him.
“Then you should read your Bible and pray as hard as you can,” the short church member said. “Doing those things as hard as you can will make you tall.”
But no matter how much the short man prayed, read his Bible, or tried to be tall like Jesus, he was still short.
Then, one day, the short man went to his kitchen to fix supper. To his dismay, he discovered that he had eaten all the food on the lower shelves. Yes, there was food on the higher shelves, but he couldn’t reach it. He used a short stool, a short chair, and even a short ladder, but nothing would allow him to reach the top shelves to get the food.
“What am I supposed to do?” the short man cried. “I’ll starve because I’m short.”
Then the doorbell rang. To the short man’s surprise, Jesus was standing at the door, and Jesus was the tallest person the short man had ever seen.
“Would you like me to reach that food on the top shelf for you?” Jesus asked.
The short man welcomed Jesus in. Because Jesus was so tall, He easily reached all the food on the top shelf and used it to fix a delicious supper for the man.
When the dishes were washed and put away, Jesus asked, “Is there anything else I can do to help you while I’m here?”
“Could you make me taller?” the man asked. “My entire life, I’ve tried everything I could to be taller, but nothing works. What should I do?”
“There’s nothing you can do,” Jesus said. “You were born short. You need a tall person--Me—to reach the top shelves for you.”
“Can’t you just move all the things from the top shelf down low for me? Then I can reach them myself and I won’t need you.”
“I’m not going to do that,” Jesus replied.
“What am I supposed to do?” the short man demanded. “Do you want me to starve?”
“Not at all,” Jesus said. “I want you to have access to everything. That’s why I came over.”
“So I have to ask you every single time I need something?”
“Exactly,” Jesus replied. “I’m the only one tall enough to reach the top shelf. If you let me move into your house, I’d be here all the time to reach anything you needed.”
“Why do you want to move in with me?” the short man asked in amazement.
“Because I’d like us to be friends. I gave you your desire for the good things on the top shelf. If I lived with you all the time, we could go walking together and I could lift you up over the fence to see the beautiful scenery beyond it. We could go to the library together and I could pull down the most interesting books from the top shelf for us to read. We could cook dinner every night using the best food that only I can reach.”
“I don’t want to bother you with all that,” the short man protested. “If you just made me taller, then I could do all those things by myself.”
“You’re missing the point,” Jesus told him. “You will always be short, but you can be friends forever with the tallest person in the universe. I can reach everything you need.”
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, let anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8,9 (NKJV)
Debunking Christian Fantasy: If You Think Middle Earth or Harry Potter is the Problem, You're Mistaken...
When I saw the name on my caller ID, I cringed—John’s dad.* John was in my eleventh-grade creative writing class at the Christian high school where I taught. This was going to be an ugly conversation.
“I just saw the story my son wrote for your creative writing class. It’s about a dragon. I read the story, and I’m angry, but what upsets me the most are the comments you wrote on the paper. Let me read them to you: ‘Excellent story, John! This is exactly what I hoped you would do!’ What were you thinking?”
“It was a really great story,” I replied, “probably the best thing he’s written all year. He got an A.”
“I don’t care about the grade. What I care about is that you encouraged my child to write fantasy, which I do not allow in my house.”
“Did you actually read the story?” I asked. “John came to see me several times because he couldn’t think of anything to write about. I encouraged him to express his feelings in the way that made the most sense to him. While his main character is definitely a dragon, that’s not what the story is really about. It’s about how John thinks of himself in relation to his parents and his friends. My comments referred to this: In the story I saw John telling the world, probably for the first time, who he really is.”
“Dragons are evil.”
“Dragons are in the Bible,” I countered.
“Only in Daniel and Revelation, and even there, they refer to the devil. I’m very disappointed that you allowed and encouraged a Christian boy to write fantasy. I don’t allow any of that in my house. If he’s going to write anymore, he needs to find a different way of expressing himself that conforms to our beliefs. Christians don’t write things like that.”
For many Christians, the creative universe is limited to writing only about actual events and situations that could happen in real life. Anything else (especially fantasy) is sinful. But I think this attack against the fantasy genre is misplaced because conservative Christians have already created their own fantasy world that’s alive and well in church publications, worship services, personal testimonies, and the stories we tell other people and ourselves.
In case you haven’t noticed it, let me explain what this Christian fantasy universe looks like:
I could go on. While not all these elements show up in every Christian fantasy, I’ve read plenty of Christian books and seen plenty of Christian movies that live squarely in this universe. But this construct is just as much a fantasy world as the one inhabited by elves, wizards, and dragons that many Christians condemn.
In the real world, families have problems—lots of problems. Racial and gender prejudices exist in homes, neighborhoods, and churches. The people we love don’t always love Jesus. We all have questions but rarely have answers. Bad things happen—in our homes and in our churches—and the explanations people offer us make no sense. Sometimes we long to hear God’s voice, but we can’t. The real, adult world is often an R-rated environment with language, situations, and violence that aren’t suited for any audience.
The Bible does nothing to support this fantasy world. In fact, it debunks it in the first four chapters. Adam and Eve start having marital problems the moment they eat the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:7-13). Their first son Cain killed their second son Abel (Genesis 4:8). Think about that—one brother murders the other while the Garden of Eden and the angel guarding it are still visible (Genesis 3:24). And you think your family has problems!
Jesus wasn’t born into this fantasy Christian family either. As a baby he narrowly escaped being a victim of mass infanticide. His older** brothers disagreed with him and called him out in public (Matthew 12:46-50). His cousin was executed by the state (Matthew 14:1-12). The prominent religious leaders of the church he attended publicly challenged him on a regular basis, plotted how to have him killed (Mark 14:1-2), and eventually had him executed as well.
Yet, publishers keep spitting out book after book that supports this Christian fantasy world because we keep buying into it. We want it to be true. We want life to work that way.
What’s more dangerous: Writing about a dragon to symbolically express real-life struggles or pretending we live perfect lives in an insulated, fictional Christian world? Reading Harry Potter or focusing all our efforts on looking like a Christian despite what’s in our hearts?
I think about my student John sometimes and wonder what happened to him. I know from what he shared with me that his family life was challenging. I know he felt constrained by the life he was supposed to project to the world versus the way he felt inside. I know he felt like his parents didn’t understand. I also know he was a talented, creative individual who enriched my life and taught me about how much God values every individual.
I hope John is still writing or creating in some way. I even hope he’s writing about dragons because using that symbol may be the only way he can break out of the fantasy world many of us think we should be living in and start living in the real world where God is still speaking and working.
I think about John’s father too. I don’t care if he ever approves of dragons. But I do hope that before he condemns anyone else’s fantastical creative efforts that he checks to see if he’s hiding in a fantasy world of his own.
*Names and details have been changed to protect identities, but the conversation really happened.
**Thanks to the readers who have questioned this. While we know from the Bible that Jesus did have brothers (one of whom was named James [see Galatians 1:18]), I based my use of the word "older" on Biblical commentators I have read. However, since this is debatable and cannot be proven with a Bible verse, I should have left the word "older" out.
When Things Don't Go as Planned
Most of us begin new ventures with rosy expectations. We start school, adult life, relationships, parenthood, jobs, creative projects and even a new calendar year convinced the end result will be exactly what we envisioned. Sometimes, our expectations are met. But more often, we’re disappointed and think about giving up. Let me share just a few examples.
When I started my latest novel, I knew the tone, types of characters, and the thematic elements I wanted. Five months and two drafts later, I have a book, but it’s nothing like the one I planned. I have wondered more than once if I should abandon the manuscript and write something else.
I had dinner with a dear friend recently. Our friendship was formed years ago when both of us were facing challenges. Throughout the years, new problems keep arising, including serious health issues. Neither one of us will ever live in the fairy tales we wanted our lives to be. There’s no “happily ever after” in sight.
When I became a mom, my cherished expectations of what parenting would be like and who my child would be were laughably unrealistic. The toddler tantrums, the trips to the emergency room, and the awkward parent-teacher conferences told me a different story. Years later, my son is unrecognizable from the young man I’d “planned” for him to be.
This mismatch of expectations to reality is a universal problem. You only have to read the first three chapters of Genesis to understand how vastly different our world is from God’s original intention for it. If any being has a right to feel “disappointed” with the way things have turned out, it’s God. But instead of hitting the universal delete button, He accepted us as we were and put into action a plan that would restore the world to the state He intended, but get this—He had to die to make it happen.
I understand at least a fraction of this dedication when I think of my son. I don’t have the power to change him, but I would absolutely die for him. In my own imperfect state, I accept him as imperfect as well. He’s a great guy who continually surprises me in lovely ways. I am often delighted by how funny, intelligent, caring and interesting he is. His future is bright because it's the future he creates for himself, not the one I impose on him.
Similarly, as my friend shared her struggles with me, I was awed by her faith, courage, honesty, acceptance, and generosity. She reminded me that we can’t choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we react. Her choices tell a more inspiring story than any fairy tale. As long as sin and death exist, nobody gets a happy ending. But we can choose to make each moment a happy one.
These important life lessons are true in creative ventures, too. That’s why I’m not giving up on my manuscript. No, it’s not the novel I intended to write, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Once it’s free of my expectations, it might even be my best one yet.
Michelle is a former high school and college English teacher who writes fiction and blogs about creativity and Christianity.