Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"And ye, beneath life’s crushing load"

The tragedies in Newtown, Connecticut, have saddened this Christmas season for me—and for you, too, I’m sure.

My heart goes out to the victims’ families, the first responders and their families, the community’s clergy and educators and doctors and nurses and law enforcement officials.

I ran across this artwork in an antique Christmas book and its caption took my breath away

I know the words so well, words I have sung my entire life, but in the past I’ve glossed over them.

This Christmas that phrase takes on deeper meaning: “Ye, beneath life’s crushing load.”

And I’m thankful the words caught my attention. I’m thankful they jostled my heart and made it care.

Sometimes it’s good to step back from our giddy holiday festivities to think about and pray for those struggling beneath life’s crushing load.

And then, let’s take it beyond that. Let’s search for vignettes we can write for our memoirs, stories to bless and encourage our readers. We can’t know, now, what crushing loads they might carry in the future, but we can pray our stories will give them hope and faith. 

Have a blessed Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

“Where Are You From?” for your December stories

Do you remember our “Where Are You From?” exercise? It’s a deliciously fun writing project—but it’s much more than that!

Based on a poem by George Ella Lyon, your “Where I’m From” sheds light on “the sources of your unique you-ness that you’d never considered before,” according to the website.

And you know what that means! It means your “Where I’m From” is valuable memoir material. It can make your stories come alive for your readers.

Lyon’s online template suggests you write “Where I’m From” something like this:

“I am from _____ (specific ordinary item), from ______ (product name) and _______.

“I am from the ______ (home description … adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

“I am from the ______ (plant, flower, natural item.…)

“I am from _______ (family tradition) and ________ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) .…

“From __________ (something you were told as a child).…”

.… and so on. (Read more at this link.)

For example, Lyon’s poem begins this way:

“I am from clothespins, from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.…
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm.…”

I propose you make a unique “Where I’m From” specifically for your December stories—maybe as an introduction to one or more of your vignettes.

Use Lyon’s template as a jumping-off spot, but feel free to soar way beyond it: Branch out in new directions. List December song lyrics, weather, tastes, smells, sights, sounds, textures. Add activities: Did you go ice skating? Make gingerbread houses? Go to The Nutcracker?

Did your parents or grandparents read you a special story every Christmas?

Did mistletoe play an important role in any of your December stories?

Consider writing several December lists: one for early childhood, one for your teen years, one for young adulthood, and so on.

Here’s a fun idea: Include winter fashion trends from various eras in your life.

My “Where I’m From” December stories capture deep-freeze winters in eastern Washington State, Christmas Eve ferry rides in western Washington, and one Christmas in Washington, DC. They include Salvation Army bells and fireplace smoke in crisp night air. And hot chocolate with candy cane stir sticks. Gag gifts and laughter. Bayberry candles. Cordial cherries and newborn babies. And Christmas carols, lots of Christmas carols.

My nine Christmases on the equator, however, were much different: three of them with temperatures of 104 degrees, hot winds, wildfires, and ashes heavy in the air. Melting Jello salad carried to Christmas dinner at the home of relative strangers. Being “home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

My Christmas list does not include lefse, lutfisk, or herring, but for some people, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without them!

Some of my friends and relatives celebrate Hanukah rather than Christmas. Maybe you do, too. If so, what flavors, songs, traditions, and stories will be on your “Where I’m From” list?

Give this some thought: What kinds of December details might your readers (kids, grandkids, great-grands) never guess about you?  

This is a busy time of year so maybe you can simply make a list of snippets to remind yourself later.

Then, when the time is right, create your own “Where I’m From” specifically for your December stories, and have loads of fun! (Warning: This can be addicting!)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

In your memoir, how are you teaching values and beliefs?

Does our culture’s focus on consumerism bother you?

It bothers me.

It burdens my heart.

Our craving for material goods and comfort makes me very sad because, the way I see it, such pursuits clash with the reasons God gave us life.

Often I feel out of step with people around me, especially at Christmas when I recognize, yet again, what we’ve made of it: an emphasis on consumerism.

This year I’ve made time to ponder how it is that I dance to a tune different from so many around me. I want to know how it happened because I want to include my values and beliefs in stories I write for my grandchildren.

Looking back over the years, I’d say it’s God’s fault I’m out of sync with so much of my culture.

He sent me way out of my culture—to South America for three years and to Africa for eight—and He did some heavy-duty remodeling of my heart.

On those two continents, God showed me that millions of people live always on the edge of desperation. I watched them, got to know them, sang with them, cried for them, and prayed for them.

The experiences humbled me and changed me and broke me.

He shook up my priorities, my worldview, my lifestyle. He shook up the way I spend money—or not.

It’s as if He said, “You and your family don’t need more stuff! Instead, use your money for the poor and needy, the orphan and widow!” (James 1:27 sums it up pretty well, but also see Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and Isaiah 1:17.)

God turned me into what Kay Warren calls “seriously disturbed, gloriously ruined.

In Dangerous Surrender: What Happens When You Say Yes to God, Kay writes of those who belong to the Seriously Disturbed, Gloriously Ruined Club:

They are no longer content to live with the focus of their lives on their world—themselves, their problems, their family, their career. 

Their eyes have been opened to new realities. 

They have seen how the suffering world lives, and it is now real. 

They cannot ignore the suffering or pretend it doesn’t exist.

They are compelled to do something about it.

Kay helped me see: God trained me, He gave me a counter-cultural view of consumerism—and of our purposes for being. He impressed upon me that my life’s goal is not to increase the number and quality of my possessions. He whispered to me that gifts for family members don’t need to be expensive and extravagant. He said loud and clear: “Be generous with the needy instead!”

So I ask myself: What vignettes can I write to illustrate those values and beliefs to my children and grandchildren?

And, at the same time, how can I emphasize Jesus’ warning not to give to the needy for the purpose of drawing attention to ourselves and receive honor from others? (See Matthew 6:2)

How about you? Do you ever feel you’re marching to the beat of a different drummer?

Do you know why or why not?

What experiences re-shaped your heart and cemented your values and beliefs?

What stories can you write for your readers to reveal values and beliefs different from those the world offers them?

Write stories to communicate James’ message: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

Take care to emphasize Jesus’ warning not to give to the needy for the purpose of drawing attention to ourselves and receive honor from others (Matthew 6:2).

Pray, as you write, that God will give your children, grandchildren, and other readers a sense of purpose and joy in being generous to those in need.