Saturday, December 31, 2016

Subplots and Storylines - December 2016 // Year-End Recap

O December, how paradoxical art thou
Long as the White Witch's winter
Short as a bearded dwarf
Crowded on one end
Tranquil at the other
Thirty-one wonderful, taxing, joyous, exhausting, brimming days
Farewell 2016.*

*Starting out with free verse was not my intention, especially considering my sleepy brain is still trying to figure out where to take this post. But there it is, random Narnia reference included.

This really was an all-over-the-place month. My brother's birthday . . . long, long, LONG volunteer days . . . family gatherings . . . more Christmas parties than I've ever attended . . . big projects . . . Needless to say, by the time I reached Christmas break, I was rejoicing!

Near the beginning of December, an honest to goodness snow day kept my brother and I home from school, and then the following day we had to battle slick roads, iced up windshields, and poor visibility. Fun, fun.

Upon request (thanks, Savannah!), here is
the tree ornament I received this Christ-
mas: an angel made entirely out of paper.
Besides presenting my second speech in my public speaking class, I also had the opportunity to speak (preach?) in two high school chapel sessions this month: one about standing up against familiarity, the other about three ways to improve family relationships, particularly over the holiday season. I received excellent feedback and constructive criticism, leading to visible growth in this area. It's stretching me, but I love it! Honestly, after delivering the first chapel and realizing I could actually do it, I was on top of the world.

As a college class, our biggest project this month was running the Christmas hampers. My brother was put in charge, and I was one of two "assistant managers," so to speak. Most of the work was placed in our hands--acquiring and wrapping boxes, making grocery and toy lists, overseeing the shopping and organization, and forming delivery teams. Though it was a lot of work, it was also so rewarding to see the joy on the recipients' faces!

A second blizzard hit at the tail end of Christmas Day, and this one actually was fun. (Minus the fact that my car got stuck at the end of my driveway two days later. Thank goodness for helpful neighbors.)

Christmas itself was cozy and quiet, just the six of us at home. Nowhere to go, no one to see. Exactly what I needed. My family is an incredible blessing. Wherever they are is my favorite place to be.


A wee bit of Once Upon a Time Season 1 with my parents and sisters, and a wee bit more of the same with my brother, since we finally roped him into the show. Season 5 showed up under the Christmas tree (!!!), so I watched one episode with my sisters too.


Princess Protection Program -- Re-watched with my sisters. It was very . . . Disney-ish. Crazy to see Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez so young and innocent, though. This time around I recognized Jamie Chung, who also plays Mulan in OUAT.


Finding Dory -- OH MY JELLYFISH, THIS MOVIE. It had the perfect balance of Finding Nemo nostalgia and new story freshness. Baby Dory was the most adorable animated creature to ever grace the screen. Watching her story play out was both hilarious and heartwarming. (My favorite scene is still when Hank the septipus--aka the seven-armed octopus--drives the truck.)


The Star of Bethlehem -- This is more of a documentary of sorts that I first watched in class, and then showed my family on Boxing Day. It uses historical timelines, Biblical text, and the math behind the universe to pinpoint what exactly the Star was. Utterly fascinating! The symbolism is incredible, and I was touched by the way God set everything in motion with a perfect, precise plan to announce our Savior's birth.


Civil War -- Finally. I have been waiting and waiting since this hit theaters, and let me tell you, it was worth it! Y'all probably know by now that Captain America is my favorite superhero. This third movie does not disappoint. My incoherent reaction pretty much consists of: ALL THE FEELS EVERYONE'S FIGHTING LOOKIT THE ALLIANCES AND CHARACTER INTERACTIONS AND MORAL DILEMMAS AND EPIC ACTION AND FRUSTRATIONS AND SADNESS AND BUCKYYYYY.


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children // Ransom Riggs
This pretty book was a birthday present, not like you were wondering. I found it to be less creepy, overall, than I had expected. The language was unfortunate, especially considering the protagonist's young age. (I tend to think the protag's age is a reflection on the intended audience. A 15-year-old should not be using those words, okay?) But the settings and characters were super fascinating, and I loved all the strange old photographs. Definitely a unique formatting style! I also would've liked a bit more explanation about certain things, but maybe the next two books will clear it up. Four stars.

Cress // Marissa Meyer
One word: awesome. And a few more words: amusing, intense, heart-wrenching. I'd definitely say Cress rivals Cinder for favorite Lunar Chronicles instalment thus far. Cress herself is adorably naïve, yet brilliant. Pairing her with cocky Carswell Thorne was a stroke of romantic genius: the two make a hilarious couple! Following the rest of the Rampion crew was way too much fun as well. Cinder and Kai continued to be precious, Scarlet and Wolf were better than in their own book, and Iko made me ridiculously happy.

I almost considered reading Winter immediately afterward, but decided not to on the singular basis that I probably couldn't finish it before the end of the year, and then it would have to count toward 2017's Goodreads challenge. (Yes, I am particular like that.)

(sorry for the fuzzy picture quality; this is the only
one I could find of my cover)

Treasures of the Snow // Patricia St. John
Rereading this childhood favorite right after Christmas was like sipping hot chocolate whilst bundled up in a cozy quilt. I had forgotten portions of it, but the general direction and feel of the book was very familiar. The themes were more overt than I tend to enjoy, but this book is a classic to me, and so for nostalgia's sake I forgive it all. It really does have some profound things to say about forgiveness and pride. Five stars.

Paper Crowns // Mirriam Neal
I was surprised to find this little gem wrapped under the Christmas tree this year! I've been meaning to get it ever since my lovely blogger friend Mirriam announced it was being published. I'm not quite to the end--though I hope to finish tonight--but so far it's been a light, fluffy, adorable book! I adore Hal. And Azrael. And Salazar. And basically everyone but Maven. I know I'll be giving this four or five stars.

I was blessed by an EPIC Christmas book haul: Paper Crowns, Quiet (a nonfiction book about introverts), The Calling,
Reapers, Five Magic Spindles, and Golden Daughter. ^_^


11,734 words in The Prophet's Quest this month! Most of that, as you can imagine, was done in the latter half of the month. I have for sure crested the halfway point. It's a relief to bring all the characters back to Demetria at last. I'm hoping the return to a purely fantasy setting will help the words flow better in the future.

I had plans to hit 80k before Christmas holidays, and then use my break to reach 100k. I'm behind schedule, since I didn't hit 80k in time, but I still want to write as much as I can while I have time. Without running myself ragged, that is. I do need to rest during this break as well.

This recap will cover only life-y stuffens and writerly stuffens. (That is my own invented word, if you were scratching your head and wondering what sort of typos this supposed 'writer' just made. It's more fun to say than stuff, don't you agree?) I almost decided to list bloggy stuffens, too, but decided those highlights would be better saved for the next blogoversary celebration. Keep an eye out for an upcoming Books of 2016 post, though!
For now, prepare for lists! Because lists are life. And lists are easy to write, easy to read. Lists keep overweight blog posts from becoming positively obese.

2016 life

  • was a bridesmaid at a best friend's wedding
  • watched Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time
  • went on a young adult/youth retreat in the spring
  • bought my first car
  • got promoted at my job
  • went to a Piano Guys concert
  • started college, which included . . .
  • another retreat (much more intense than the other one)
  • public speaking
  • projects (like chapels and hampers)
  • volunteering
  • youth ministry

2016 writing

Things I Did:
  • finished some minor edits in The Prophet's Quest
  • researched some literary agents and some book stuff (like psychology, delusions, airplanes, and exotic locations)
  • discovered my novella, The Brightest Thread, was a top ten finalist in the Five Magic Spindles contest
  • bought and started Ted Dekker's The Creative Way writing course
  • revamped my publishing plans
Things I Actually Penned:

It's been quite the year! Don't let me give the false impression that 2016 was one glorious highlight after another, though. Monotony, weariness, and blandness made their mark on a number of days in between.

And yet the storyline weaving through the last twelve months was undeniably one of growth. The fast, painful, stretching kind . . . and the slow, gradual, imperceptible kind. The sandpaper days are smoothing a few of my rough edges, and yet the more I learn, the more rough edges I discover.

I've become a more confident person.

I've become a better writer, largely through the sheer keep-on-keepin'-on element of my writing life lately.

I've become a better public speaker, even though I'm still working on inflection and talking more slowly.

I've invested into myself.

I've been learning how to work hard, and how to keep working hard when I think I'm too tired to go on.

I've been learning how to rest, and not feel guilty for resting.

I've been learning that excellence is doing the best I can with what I have, and that there's no reason to beat myself up when I can't do more.

I've seen how very patient my Father God is with me. How faithful His love is, even when I am not. How deep His grace is, how perfect His plan is.

2016 was not an easy year by any means. But looking back over my shoulder, I can see that it was good. It was sandpaper to raw wood, fire to a forge, and in between, it was breath to oxygen-starved lungs. 2017, you will be even better.

How was your December? And your entire year? Highlights, lowlights? In-between-lights? Life is hard sometimes, so let's find empathy and encouragement in each other's company!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Prince of Peace

For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

Prince of Peace. What a beautiful name. It is a sound of hope when calamity strikes us or busyness unravels us or hardship grinds us down.

Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. To me, these names paint a picture of the enormity of Christmas.

One whose perfect plans and infinitely wise counsel are met with awe. A champion God, glorious in His strength. A loving Father so ancient He has no beginning, and so eternal He has no end. A Prince of complete and utter peace.

All of this was wrapped up in a squalling infant boy thrust into a cold and broken world. All of this majesty, all of this strength, all of this infinity . . . confined within human flesh, a vulnerable baby completely dependent on his teenaged mother. Mighty God. Everlasting Father.

Every time I pause and let the weight of it sink in, I can hardly fathom why He would do such a thing. It's then I sense His heartbeat, and it's there I find His answer.

For me. For us.

It was for us He came. For these glorious, incredible, imageo Deo--made in the image of God--creatures. For these broken, lost, fallen human beings. He entered our world because of love, to accomplish one purpose: to bring us peace.

The original Hebrew word is shalom, and it's used 239 times throughout the Bible. The English word, peace, doesn't even begin to convey the depth of its meaning. This shalom speaks of wholeness, soundness, and well-being. Completeness in number, safety and soundness in body, health, prosperity, quiet, tranquility, contentment. Peace in relationships. Peace from war. Peace with God.

We were cut off from this shalom, struggling to recreate it or achieve it or be worthy of it. Locked into a covenant of law that promised us shalom only if we could live up to its impossible standards. Then Jesus came to fulfill the law and restore us to this all-consuming peace, this rightness with Himself.

Shalom dawned on the first Christmas day, and it was brought to full light on the day this crucified Savior returned to life.

My Prince of Peace came to fill me with shalom. Completeness, soundness, absolute rightness. A quiet strength inside that knows that no matter the storm, I am anchored in Him. A contentment welling from within, unthreatened by outside circumstances. A haven found in the shadow of His wings, in the shelter of His love.

In Him, shattered hearts are made whole. Dead soil springs up with new life. Old coals kindle with fresh flames. Peace reigns.

This Christmas, may the Prince of Peace fill you to the brim with shalom. Merry Christmas, my friends!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Yesterday's Bread

Life can be dry sometimes, admit it. Sometimes we let our passion die down to embers. All that's left is dust and ashes and maybe a barely-surviving coal or two, and so we trudge onwards in the dark, wishing for brighter times.

Sometimes that doesn't just describe our life, but our relationship with God.

I've been there more times than I care to admit. I've heard all the trite phrases about being sold out, on fire, all in. Those are nice when you're feeling sold out, on fire, and all in. Not so much when the emotions wave goodbye, and you feel neutral or depressed or angry or tired or scared.

Maybe you've heard this one too: passion isn't an emotion, it's a choice. It's an oft-used phrase, at least in my circles, and though it may be clichéd, it's absolutely true. You can have passionate emotions (there's nothing wrong with that--I love feeling passionate about something) but if that's as deep as the passion runs, it doesn't take much to send it crashing down.

Passion is a choice.

And sometimes you'll have to fight against every ounce of your current feelings to make that choice. Sometimes you don't feel terribly enthusiastic about someone or something, but you choose to value them anyway. You choose to put energy into building that relationship or pursuing that project. The awesome thing about making that choice, is that if you keep making it and keep making it and keep making it . . . the feelings of passion will often follow.

Revelation 3:16 in The Message version says, "You're not cold, you're not hot--far better to be cold or hot! You're stale. You're stagnant. You make me want to vomit."

When I'm stale and stagnant, I usually want to vomit, too. Being stagnant sucks. No growth, no movement, no passion--it makes me feel gross. I find in those times, I look back longingly at seasons in my life when I was passionate. I wish I could extract the feeling of blazing enthusiasm out of the past and inject it into my present. I wish I could return to those times.

Perhaps you've been there too, or maybe you're there right now, longing for that old spark.

Guess what? It doesn't work that way.

And that's okay.

You probably know the story of Exodus--in one of the most epic exits in all of history, Moses leads his people out of slavery in Egypt and heads for the Promised Land. But in chapter 16, we find the Israelites struggling through the wilderness with nothing to eat. It is then that God provides manna, bread from heaven that covered the ground of their encampment each morning. But He instructs them to gather only what they need for today, to keep nothing for the next day.

If I were in their situation, in the middle of a desert where food is scarce, and I saw the ground blanketed in bread, I would probably want to save a few extra snacks for the road. Who knows when food will be available again, right? Obviously some of the Israelites thought the same, because a few of them kept extra manna. And overnight, it became wormy, smelly, rancid. Completely inedible.

I find that's a striking picture of what happens with us. You might have had a mountaintop experience, a spiritual high, a time when you felt deeply connected to God. I've experienced that, and if you have as well, that's amazing. But when life gets hard or boring, and those feelings aren't there anymore, you wish you could somehow go back to that. Yet you can't.

You can't feed on yesterday's bread.


You can't expect to be nourished by the time you had with God last year, last week, or even yesterday. That food, so to speak, was for that day. It's like if I eat a five course meal on Monday and think that I won't need to eat for another week. I'm going to be hungry on Tuesday, no matter how much I ate on Monday. The same is true for our spiritual lives.

I used to think that was depressing, until I realized I don't even need yesterday's bread. There's a feast spread before me today. Day after day after day, it's like God scatters fresh manna across the ground, there for the taking.

Every day I can choose to gather fresh inspiration and nourishment for my heart. Every day I can choose passion. I can choose to dig in, to be enthusiastic, and to make another connection with my Father.

Do I make that choice every day? Nope. Some days I huddle in my tent, nibbling on rotten bread. Some days I see the manna covering the ground like snow, and I don't lift a finger to fill my jar. But those choices, too, belong to yesterday.

Today really is a new day. I challenge myself, and I challenge you: gather fresh bread.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Problematic Opportunities & Opportunistic Problems

Okay, grab a pen and paper before you read any further. Or open a fresh Word document or a note on your phone--just something to write with.

Ready? Set? Go.

First question: What are three of the problems you're facing right now? Quick, write them down--whatever comes to mind. It's only a three item list, but my guess is it's either annoying or depressing to look at it, isn't it? That's okay. The next step will be even more annoying, at least at first.

Because now I want you to write down as many benefits to having each of those problems as you can think of. All of the positive things about them. All of the good things that can come out of them. There is at least one thing to be found for each problem, probably many more.

As part of our ongoing college class on attitude, we did this exercise earlier this week. It really gave me pause. Those problems I listed? For a long time I've viewed them as limitations.

My job is a setback to achieving my dreams.

It's really hard for a young adult to make money.

Because of my personality I can't do ____.

But are they truly limitations? In a way, I suppose they are. But these obstacles are not nearly so insurmountable as I think. The greatest obstacle is in my mindset. Do I see these things as problems, or as challenges? As opportunities?

For years, athletes believed that running a mile in four minutes or less was physically impossible. Until a man named Roger Bannister broke the record. After that, runner after runner after runner broke the four-minute mile . . . because they believed they could.

The more cynical among us may dismiss this whole attitude/positive thinking thing as a mere mind game, but I disagree. There's tremendous power in your words. The words you think, but especially spoken words. And if you think something often enough, it will come out verbally. As you continue to reinforce those words, they will turn into beliefs--often subconscious ones--and people will act based on their deep-seated beliefs. There's scientific and Biblical evidence for that.

So what do you believe about those problems staring back from your screen or piece of paper? How are you limiting yourself?

God doesn't limit us. He designed us in His image, full of His nature--as believers, full of His Spirit. The only limits are those we place on ourselves.

The first step towards breaking past those limitations is changing our perspectives. I'm not discounting your problems, by the way. They're real. They're hard. But there's more within your control than you may think! Start seeing the good in those situations.

Is my retail job a setback on my way to becoming an author? Maybe not completely. I'm paying my way through college with money from that job. I'm learning valuable leadership and people skills. I'm learning how to sell a product. After all, what's the difference between a pair of jeans and a book? There's got to be some common sales principles I can transfer from one to the other.

Is the system really designed against young adults, the newbies trying to work past their entry-level jobs? Try Googling a list of the current youngest entrepreneurs. There are some very young people making a crazy amount of money. More people than ever are striving to think outside the box. Why can't I forge multiple avenues for myself and use my imagination?

Is my personality preventing me from doing things? Or is some of that just learned behavior, habits I can replace? I'll never stop being an introvert, but I can learn to step out of my comfort zone more and be friendlier. I can grow leadership skills so that becomes more natural. I can become less controlling, more flexible and spontaneous, and more affirming of teammates even when I'm focused on a task.

What about you? Are those problems a little less daunting now? When we view them as opportunities and challenges, life becomes a thrilling adventure rather than a series of backbreaking trials. Maybe tackling all three at once is overwhelming, but attitude is contagious. Pick one and decide to change your attitude about it . . . and watch what happens as it spills into other areas of your life!

(Hint: it works even better when you invite God into the process and ask for His help.)

What's one problem, big or miniscule, on which you're resolving to change your attitude? Share in the comments, and let's motivate each other to find new perspectives and march forth with courage. Our adventures await us.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Subplots and Storylines - November 2016

I don't know how it's physically possible, but somehow this month seems even fuller than the last!

November opened with my birthday, which I celebrated a bit differently than other years in order to fit with my school schedule. Later on in the month, we also celebrated my lil' sister's birthday.

I grew a bit more in my public speaking skills: I was called to answer Q&A in one of our communicators meetings, I was the timer for another meeting, and a classmate and I got to preach a mini message to the youth volunteers.

My class and I helped build our church's float for the city's Santa Clause Parade, which was so fun, especially because we also got to participate in the actual parade, walking alongside our beautiful float.

There was a last-minute event I volunteered at, a youth worship night, a youth talent show, Christmas shopping, friend stuff, and my first exam of the year.

And through it all, my little corner of the world disguised itself as London, with miserable rain mixed with melting snow, and some of the densest fog I've ever seen.


Very little this month. I watched the last episode of Once Upon a Time Season 4 with my sisters (oh my goodness, THAT ENDING) and saw some more of Season 1 with my parents.


(I searched high and low for an image of my copy. This ain't it.)

Journey to the Center of the Earth // Jules Verne
I wanted to read one of the unread, second-hand books on my shelf, and randomly picked this one. It was more enjoyable than I expected, quite honestly. I remember not totally loving Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea during high school, and while Journey does pause now and then to dump facts on the reader, it keeps a good pace overall. And it was funny! Axel and his enthusiastic uncle, Professor Liedenbrock, make an amusing pair.

[Professor] "Do you remember a visit the famous English
chemist Humphrey Davy paid me in 1825?"
[Axel] "No, I don't. For the very good reason that I wasn't
born until nineteen years later."

Was the book scientifically accurate? Probably not, seeing as it was written in the 1800s, but it was still fun to pretend that Verne's theories could be true, to envision a whole new world beneath the earth's crust. My biggest quibble was the ending. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but let's just say the characters didn't accomplish quite as much as I expected they would.

Prophet // R.J. Larson
I loved it! I haven't read very many fantasies with a Biblical type of setting, so that was neat. I found it especially intriguing to follow Ela's journey as a Prophet of the Infinite, to see how it mirrored real prophets in the Old Testament. She was so compassionate even when she had to communicate the Infinite's judgment on people who deserved it. (That compassion is a trait I need to grow in.) I adored Kien, a charming ambassador who spends a goodly amount of time in prison and has a strong appreciation for food. Ela's little sister, Tzana, was sweet and sympathetic.

The plot slowed down a bit once or twice, or maybe that was just me taking a long time to finish the book. There was another seventy-ish pages after the big climax, so I was expecting a plot twist, but instead I got an abrupt segment of story that might have been better left for the beginning of book two. I also had some thoughts to sort through about the Infinite, who seemed loving but also enforced a works-based sort of faith among His people . . . but then I remembered that this is, in effect, the Old Testament, and a savior is not part of the story yet. (There might be one later in the trilogy?)

Don't let either of those things stop you from reading, though! Prophet is a wonderful, refreshing book that took the fantasy genre down a less well-trodden path. Between readings, my mind kept going back to the story--definitely the mark of a good book.


I felt a lot more productive this month than I have in quite a while! I wrote a poem for the first time in forever,* and wrote 9,497 words in The Prophet's Key. That's more than I've written since college started, so I was happy. I'm close to the halfway point in my outline, too. The villains are gaining the upper hand, so the whole situation is about to change for the worse for my protagonists!

*breaks into song (I listened to the Frozen soundtrack earlier this week, okay?)

I've also set my writing goals FOR THE REST OF 2016 (and a little bit more), so I am super pumped. I want to reach 80k by Christmas, which means writing almost 10k in three weeks. Then the goal is to utilize my Christmas break to add another 20k, which will bring the book to 100k. Then if I can finish the whole first draft by springtime/the end of college/sometime around there . . . I just may have enough time to rewrite The Brightest Thread into a full novel so I have something to pitch at the Realm Makers Conference.



I'm that crazy.

And as I look at the things filling up my December calendar, I'm questioning the sanity of that plan even more. But if you shoot for the moon and miss, you still land among the stars and all that jazz.*

*Except not really. Because the stars are light-years away. So if I miss the moon, you can find me floating aimlessly in space or headfirst in a crater on earth somewhere.


Just trying out a new feature in S&S. We'll see if I have enough material for it each month.

I learned about the DISC personality system in college, and found out that I'm a CSD. To give you some background, D=dominant/driver/determined, I=influencing/inspiring/impulsive, C=compliant/correct/cautious, and S=supportive/stable/steady. A CSD is otherwise known as a Contemplator. Basically, I like to get things done, and get them done well. I'm detailed and logical; have high standards; precise but competitive; sensitive to others around me; a natural peacemaker; etc. Reading through the full descriptions, I was amazed at how accurate most of it was! Now that I know the personalities of my other classmates, I hope to develop better ways to communicate with all of them.

I started experimenting with bullet journaling in an old notebook of mine, just to see if I like it. So far I do, though I'm not quite happy with the layout. Hence the term experiment. Come the new year, if I'm still enjoying the practice, I'll start fresh in a brand new notebook and go from there.

So how was your November? Anything out of the ordinary, or perhaps ordinary but still worth mentioning? Have you ever taken the DISC test? All ye lionhearted NaNo'ers--how did it go? And who's all cranking the Christmas carols now that we're in December?