Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The "It was" and "There Was" Brouhaha

Discussion erupted on one of my writing loops about the rightness or wrongness of using the terms "there was" or "it was" (or variations thereof) in writing. I take the side that such constructions are fine. They serve a purpose, more than one even. They can work as placeholder pronouns (the "dummy pronoun"). They can be phrases that refer to an existential condition that doesn't require a clarifying antecedent.

Since the matter arose on a loop of fiction writers, I decided to take a tour of the canon of literature and see how the masters of the art--Dickens, Twain, Bronte, Crane, Conrad, Eliot, Tolkien, Woolf, etc--side on the matter. Do they use "there was" and "it was" in those problematic ways.

Yes. Yes. Yesyesyesyesyes. Yes.

(With no apologies whatsoever to Joyce.)

I hereby offer the examples I gleaned from the classics:

First Line of JANE EYRE (my fave classic novel):
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

First sentence of LORD OF THE RINGS by JRR Tolkien:
When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

From the first page of CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT by Mark Twain:
It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape, as lovely as a dream, and as lonesome as Sunday. The air was full of the smell of flowers, and the buzzing of insects, and the twittering of birds, and there were no people, no wagons, there was no stir of life, nothing going on.

From the opening pages of ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton:
It was during their night walks back to the farm that he felt most intensely the sweetness of this communion.

From page one of THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE by Stephen Crane:
There was much food for thought in the manner in which he replied. He came near to convincing them by disdaining to produce proofs. They grew excited over it.
There was a youthful private who listened with eager ears to the words of the tall soldier and to the varied comments of his comrades.

From the opening page of THE SECRET GARDEN by F. H. Burnett:
There was something mysterious in the air that morning.

From the opening page of THE TURN OF THE SCREW by Henry James:
It was thrown in as well, from the first moment, that I should get on with Mrs. Grose in a relation over which, on my way, in the coach, I fear I had rather brooded...
...But it was a comfort that there could be no uneasiness in a connection with anything so beatific as the radiant image of my little girl, ...

From the first page of HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad:
On the whole river there was nothing that looked half so nautical. He resembled a pilot, which to a seaman is trustworthiness personified. It was difficult to realize his work was not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind him, within the brooding gloom.
Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea.

From the first paragraph of MOBY DICK by Herman Melville
With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this.

From page two of THE ADVENTURES OF PETER PAN by J.M. Barrie:
For a week or two after Wendy came it was doubtful whether they would be able to keep her, as she was another mouth to feed...
...There was the same excitement over John, and Michael had even a narrower squeak; but both were kept, and soon, you might have seen the three of them going in a row to Miss Fulsom's Kindergarten school, accompanied by their nurse.

The first page of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ by L. Frank Baum:
There were four walls, a floor and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cookstove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner. There was no garret at all, and no cellar--except a small hole dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar, where the family could go in case one of those great whirlwinds arose, mighty enough to crush any building in its path.

From the first page of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER by Mark Twain:
There was a slight noise behind her and she turned just in time to seize a small boy by the slack of his roundabout and arrest his flight.

The first paragraph of A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair...

From chapter one of ROBINSON CRUSOE, by Daniel Dafoe:
It was not till almost a year after this that I broke loose, though, in the meantime, I continued obstinately deaf to all proposals of settling to business, and frequently expostulated with my father and mother about their being so positively determined against what they knew my inclinations prompted me to.

From the first page of MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot:
It was hardly a year since they had come to live at Tipton Grange with their uncle, a man nearly sixty, of acquiescent temper, miscellaneous opinions, and uncertain vote.

From the first page of THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO by E. A. Poe:
It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend.

From the second page of FRANKENSTEIN, by Mary Shelley:
There was a considerable difference between the ages of my parents, but this circumstance seemed to unite them only closer in bonds of devoted affection. There was a sense of justice in my father's upright mind, which rendered it necessary that he should approve highly to love strongly. Perhaps during former years he had suffered from the late discovered unworthiness of one beloved, and so was disposed to set a greater value on tried worth. There was a show of gratitude and worship in his attachment to my mother...

From the beginning pages of DRACULA by Bram Stoker:
I did not sleep well, though my bed was comfortable enough, for I had all sorts of queer dreams. There was a dog howling all night under my window, which may have had something to do with it; or it may have been the paprika, for I had to drink up all the water in my carafe, and was still thirsty...
...It was on the dark side of twilight when we got to Bistritz, which is a very interesting old place.

First page of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L.M. Montgomery:
There are plenty of people in Avonlea and out of it, who can attend closely to their neighbor's business by dint of neglecting their own; but Mrs. Rachel Lynde was one of those capable creatures who can manage their own concerns and those of other folks into the bargain.

First sentence of THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS by Lewis Carroll:
One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it: -- it was the black kitten's fault entirely.

From page one of ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND by L. Carroll:
There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, `Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!'

From page two of MRS. DALLOWAY by Virginia Woolf:
For it was the middle of June. The War was over, except for some one like Mrs. Foxcroft at the Embassy last night eating her heart out because that nice boy was killed and now the old Manor House must go to a cousin; or Lady Bexborough who opened a bazaar, they said, with the telegram in her hand, John, her favourite, killed; but it was over; thank Heaven-over. It was June. The King and Queen were at the Palace. And everywhere, though it was still so early, there was a beating, a stirring of galloping ponies, tapping of cricket bats;

From page one of RAVELSTEIN by Saul Bellow (Nobel Laureate):
I filled up a scribbler with quotes from Mencken and later added notes from spoofers or self-spoofers like W. C. Fields or Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, Huey Long, and Senator Dirksen. There was even a page on Machiavelli's sense of humor.

From page two of HALF A LIFE by V.S. Naipaul (Nobel Laureate):
There was a lot more about the temple and the crowds and the clothes they were wearing, and the gifts of coconut and flour and rice they had brought, and the afternoon light on the old stones of the courtyard. Everything the maharaja's headmaster had told him was there, and a few other things besides. Clearly the headmaster had tried to win the admiration of the writer by saying very good things about my various vows of denial. There were also a few lines, perhaps a whole paragraph, describing--in the way he had described the stones and the afternoon light--the serenity and smoothness of my skin.

From the first page of A GRIEF OBSERVED by C.S. Lewis:
There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.
There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don't really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man's life.

From page one of ZLATEH THE GOAT AND OTHER STORIES by Isaac Bashevis Singer (Nobel Laureate):
Somewhere, sometime, there lived a rich man whose name was Kadish. He had an only son who was called Atzel. In the household of Kadish there lived a distant relative, an orphan girl, called Aksah. Atzel was a tall boy with black hair and black eyes. Aksah was somewhat shorter than Atzel, and she had blue eyes and golden hair. Both were about the same age. As children, they ate together, studied together, played together. Atzel played the husband; Aksah, his wife. It was taken for granted that when they grew up they would really marry.

A teeming chorus of literary masters answers from within the pages of their beloved works: Yes. Use "there was." Use "it was." Don't be afraid. If the telling of your tale calls for it, use these language tools.

On my desk at this very moment is my copy of WINTER'S TALE by Mark Helprin, which begins thusly: "There was a white horse..."

On my nighttable at this very moment is a King James Bible, whose first page speaks in an English that pre-dates the Brontes and Dickens, and it says:


And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.


And you know what? There was.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Quote For Today: Advice to Artists

Michael D. O'Brien, the Catholic author of FATHER ELIJAH (one of my top ten novels of all time) has written "An Open Letter to Fellow Artists" at his website.

Here is an excerpted quote:

Go to the very source. Go to Christ and ask for all that you need, ask for growth in skill, for the spirit of perseverance, for faith and courage and love. Ask for a spirit of discernment in order to find your way through the fog of our times. Ask for humility and faithfulness, and for the ability to incarnate Truth in beautiful forms. Be a servant of the One who is the source of all Beauty. Be his beloved. Be very little, and trust in this absolutely.

Oh, how I want to "incarnate truth in beautiful forms."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

WRITING A NOVEL IS... A round-up of ACFW member replies

A previous post collected several similes by various authors answering the question: "What is writing a novel like?"

I asked the question on the main loop of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a terrific organization, well worth joining by any of you interested in writing stories, plays, screenplays, and (especially) novels with a Christian spiritual content.

These are the replies I received:

~Writing a novel is like putting on pantyhose:
At first you start out enthusiastically and everything falls into place. Then things get tougher and you work and stretch to make it all fit. Through sweat and tears, the end approaches. You suffocate under the pressure, but manage to squeeze everything into place. When you finally see the finished product, you're relieved and pleased. All the effort was worth it.
--Gina Conroy

~Writing a novel is like walking the dog. Sometimes the dog pulls you
barrelling forward, other times he's doing his own thing and you have
to stop and wait, other times he's sniffing every which direction and
you have to do a convoluted backtrack. It's never straightforward,
predictable, or in your control, even if you are holding the leash.
After all, who's the one picking up who's poo-poo?
--Camy Tang

~Writing a novel is like boiling an egg. You're never quite sure when it's done.
--Vasthi R. Acosta

~Writing a novel is like giving birth. There is the joy of it growing from the tiniest germ of an idea until it matures enough to push out into the world.
--Alice K. Arenz

~Writing a novel is like...having your life to do over again.
--Deb Kinnard

~Writing a novel is devotion to the character's cause all the way to completion!
--Jennifer Clark Vihel

~Writing a novel is like cooking dinner. You have a several things brewing in many different pots. Timing is crucial.
--Betsy St. Amant

~Writing a novel is freeing, frustrating, exhilirating, gut-wrenching and dream-fulfilling when you're over 60.
--Bonnie Engstrom

~Writing a novel is like learning to play golf. It looks easy. You can't imagine what all the fuss is about. You pick up a club, or a pen, and realize maybe a lesson or two wouldn't hurt.
--Peg Brantley

~Writing a novel is like raising a puppy.
--Gail Sattler

~Writing a novel is like being in love for the first time over and over and over again. You get to fall in love with the characters, with parts of yourself, with the world around you, and with God on different levels, in different ways, even in different times and places--this is has got to be the coolest job in the world!
--Staci Stallings

~Writing a novel is the ultimate in highs and lows, like eating dark chocolate one day and scraping your fingernails across the chalkboard the next.
--Marion Kelley Bullock

~Writing a novel is a giraffe of a project, needing to cough up a lump of words.
--Ane Mulligan

Hope you enjoyed those.

I'd like to close with one that I liked a great deal, one I agree with, even though it's an answer to a more general question than the one I originally posed:

~Writing is worship.
--Katie Byers-Dent

AMEN!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I Gave Up Comics When I "Grew Up." Really Dumb Decision.

Like most, I first dipped my toes into and swam in the sea of comic-book-dom in my childhood. We're talking the sixties/seventies. (Spring gone. I'm a mid-autumn chicken.)

If you're middle aged, you may have read the same stuff I did back then:
~ARCHIE: I loved Veronica's total self-confidence, her black shiny hair, and her moolah; but I coveted Betty's perky goodness. I sure didn't want Archie, though.
~CREEPSHOW and TALES FROM THE CRYPT: I still like scares and enjoy a good horror novel now and then.
~ROMANCE comic books: They surely predestined me to a later addiction to romance novels
~SUPERHERO comics, mostly MARVEL: Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Thor, Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Avengers, which featured my especially beloved Vision. I heard they killed him off later. Bummer. Glad I missed that. And, of course, X-MEN, the comic book that fed many a fantasy of being a kick-butt flying gal and that taught me that hairy, wisecracking, cranky guys with cowlicks could be ever-so-alluring, and prepped me to love alpha romance heroes.

Thankfully, hubby is not cranky or hairy, but he does wisecrack and sport this clump of hair near his crown that...never mind.

I stopped reading comic books (and attending conventions--how geeky is that?) at the age of 23 or so. I'd had a lousy, brief romance in the summer of '80 with a comic art dealer, which nearly killed the genre for me. But after darkness, the sun: My hubby and I met through the unwitting assistance of the owner of a local comics book store, and that redeemed the genre for me for a while. Hubby had a large collection. After reading through some of his old-time goodies--vintage Dr. Strange, Spiderman, She-Hulk, X-Men, etc-- that was the end of that. Fork, thermometer. I was done.

I chose to dwell in the realm of stories unadorned with seriously tacky outfits. I had art books for pictures. Novels for prose. I was a grown-up.

Big, big mistake.

How was I to know that not too long after I quit the medium that huge things would happen in Comic Book World?

Obviously, prophecy ain't my gift.

So, what did I miss in the 80's and 90's?

Well, WATCHMEN, for one, the comic book series--er GRAPHIC NOVEL--that has found a place on several "best of" reading lists, including TIME's best 100 novels. WATCHMEN is getting new buzz. Entertainment Weekly's recent article on its influence on super-popular writers such as Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon and rumors of a film are stoking new fevers.

It's worth catching this bug.

This is a dark, complex,beautiful meshing of great story, intriguing characters and artwork. Look at the panels closely. Watch for recurring motifs. Look at how the writer, Alan Moore, adds layers and uses a comic within a comic to add depth, to enhance. Plus, you get one of the most mental, yet root-for-able anti-superheroes ever: Rorschach. I was waving pom-poms for the sugar-crunching psycho with the ever-changing ink-blot mask. The issue where you get inside the nearly omnipotent Dr. Manhattan's now-is-past-is-future-is-now-is-always perspective is astonishingly good. WATCHMEN is the only graphic novel, I believe, to have won the HUGO award. It deserved it. And if Gaiman and Whedon both judge it as a major influence to their own work, we're talking about something that really is not just good storytelling, but landmark.

Speaking of Whedon, that's the guy who brought me BACK to comic books. Er, I mean graphic novels? Oh, forget it. They're comics to me, and that's that.

How did he do this, you may ask?

Well, I'm a BUFFY The VS and ANGEL fanatic and an admirer of FIREFLY/SERENITY. Joss wrote those shows. (You knew that, right?) So, when I happened upon the first volume of his comic book series THE ASTONISHING X-MEN, I had to have it. And when I read it, I hyperventilated with excitement. The artwork is so much better than anything I had growing up. And the storytelling is top-notch. The man knows how to make you keep reading and go, "ooooh." The next bound collection is due out this week. You know I'll be getting mine! If you're smart, you'll get both, volumes one and two. Trust me.

Now, Joss brought me back with X-Men. Which immediately lead me to order his FRAY, a futuristic vampire-slayer story, from my local comics book supplier, Glen Lightfoot, owner of a shop named VILLAINS. FRAY got me looking for other recent comics that I might enjoy. My searching led me to...

...J.M. Straczynski, creator/writer of Babylon 5, a fabulous, five-year, science-fiction television epic. One of my fave television series ever. Naturally, I bought Joe's comic SUPREME POWER. Wow. Thought-provoking work with characters that are alter-egos (darker, revisionist ones) of well-known comic characters of the past, such as Wonder Woman, Superman, Flash and others. I recommend the bound volumes. Three are out already. The last one ended on a helluva lesson from the alter-ego Superman to all those who manipulated him. I did say "Wow," right?

And all this leads me to the current series I'm reading, one I missed out on the first time round--cause, yeah, you know, I stopped reading comics yadda yadda. SANDMAN.

SANDMAN!

Neil Gaiman is a brilliant fella. He's taken historical/Biblical figures(Shakespeare, G.K Chesterton, Cain, Abel, Eve, Lucifer, etc) and mythic-literary figures (Orpheus, Calliope, Thor, Odin, Titania, Oberon, Puck, etc), added a delicious Goth element, and many fine quotes from and allusions to classic literature. He then added the earth and air of his own vast imaginings to produce a complex and fascinating cosmos full of angels and devils, and books that were never written, and gods who wear black leather and punk hairdos, and flawed humanity in various pained forms. In the middle of this he drops beings who have existed nearly forever--the Endless ones. The leading character is an endless one, and his name is DREAM. And Oneiros. And Morpheus, the Lord of the Dreaming, which is his kingdom. And his name is also... Sandman.

I read the first bound edition of the series, Preludes & Nocturnes, bought handily at Glen's shop... and was hooked. I subsequently bought every other volume of the 10-part bound series in one swoop over at amazon.com. (AMEN for gift certificates.)

I have one more thing to say about SANDMAN, the series: READ IT NOW.

On a more current note: I've started buying a new comic book series by Warren Ellis called FELL. The artwork--by artist Ben Templesmith--is different and pleases my senses. He has a great use of white. No, I kid you not. It's "artsy" and moody and minimalist, and sometimes clever, and sometimes gruesome, and not-at-all what I grew up staring at back in my youthful days of comic feastings. The afterwords by the writer are a big part of the pleasure, I find. And each issue is less than two bucks. The writer planned it that way. How nice to find someone thinking of readers' budgets.

If you enjoy comics/graphic novels now, keep reading them. I'm a cautionary tale-teller. Whenever you think a medium is dead, it might just be ready to resurrect.

If you are a writer-apprentice, study WATCHMEN and SANDMAN and ASTONISHING X-MEN and SUPREME POWER and learn. Yes, very good storytelling can come with cool graphics, too.

Comics book. Not just for kids anymore.

Not for a long time, apparently. Duh me.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Writing a Novel is...

If someone has the vaccine against the Writing Procrastination Flu, please come to my house, where the pandemic is in full force.

No, I'm not kidding.

The hurricane got me so sidetracked, that I lost momentum. Today, things are brewing in my head, but I still avoid the actual page work.

Part of my dilly-dallying consisted of a web search using the phrase, "Writing a novel is." Just for your enjoyment, I offer you some of the results:

*Writing a novel is actually searching for victims. As I write I keep looking for casualties. The stories uncover the casualties.
John Irving

*Writing a novel is like making love, but it's also like having a tooth pulled. Pleasure and pain. Sometimes it's like making love while having a tooth pulled.
Dean Koontz

*Writing a novel is easy. Writing a good novel is hard.
Randy Ingermanson

*Writing a novel is like beginning an investigation, and you don't quite know where that investigation will take you.
Ian McEwan

*Writing a novel is a little like training with weights. And writing short stories is the sprint you get to have without them.
Pam Lewis

*Writing a novel is like solving a puzzle: you just have to keep at it till it’s done, but it feels so good when you get there.
Elizabeth Inness-Brown

*Writing a novel is like swimming through the sea.
John Fowles

*Writing a novel is like taking a long trip.
Anne Tyler

*Writing a novel is kind of like building the Taj Mahal, in the dark, by hand.
Nalo Hopkinson

*Writing a novel is the most difficult thing I have done in my entire life.
Shree Ghatage

*Writing a novel is more like a marriage; you live with it every day, you work at it.
Mary Morris

*Writing a novel is like walking across the country: I've got my map in front of me, know where to change freeways... I don't necessarily know exactly how the road will twist and turn along the way, but at least I know which cities I'll be passing through next.
Adam Cadre

*Writing a novel is an act of egotistical self-assertion.
Philip Kerr

*Writing a novel is like driving a car with a flat tire. You have to see which way it pulls.
Jennifer Wasilko Haigh

*Writing a novel is sort of a way to fix things.
Barry Siegel

*Writing a novel is like jumping off the Eiffel Tower. It’s a long fall, and you need to know where you’re going to land.
Michael Byers

*Writing a novel is much like scaling a mountain. The task is fierce, with many unexpected turns, near tragedies, frustrating standstills, and miles of uphill sluggin'.
Shane Wiebe

*Writing a novel is like carrying a very large, heavy suitcase in your brain.
Claudia Casper

*Writing a novel is a most peculiar business.
Natasha Cooper

*Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
E.L. Doctorow

*Writing a novel is a stormy thing
Douglas Clegg

*Writing a novel is mostly pure pleasure
David Ignatius

*Writing a novel is like telling a long lie to a psychiatrist.
Ernest Hebert

*Writing a novel is like navigating in the open sea.
Tarun J. Tejpal

*Writing a novel is one of the biggest, craziest, most mathematically unsound bets one can make.
Pete Hautman

*Writing a novel is a lot like playing God.
Darline Dorce-Coupet

*Writing a novel is a lot like a striptease -- there has to be a slow unveiling of key pieces of information.
Tom Grace

*Writing a novel is like potato salad; everybody has a different recipe.
Dennis Lehane

*Writing a novel is like building a castle and in some cases, people build the things too big and put too much crap in them.
Steven Francis Murphy

*Writing a novel is quite stupid work.
Zadie Smith

*Writing a novel is the very finest thing a person can do.
Irving D. Yalom, M.D.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Ugh! Christmas Ads Already. Behold! My Gift-Giving Suggestion, Part Uno

It makes The Mir cranky, it sorely vexes the Mir, to see Christmas retail ads weeks before THANKSGIVING, for St. Peter's Sake!

There, I've vented.

Now, I'm going to segue into my regularly scheduled, end-of-year rant about consumerism among Christians at Christmastime. Ready to get offended? Good.

Off I go:

In contrast to the ads begging you to purchase consumer yumyums to satisfy all your fleshly desires--and I know about fleshly desires of the Valrhona chocolate, Barnes & Noble, Family Bookstores, music cds, dvds, and Easy Spirit shoes type--I'd like to offer a suggestion for Christmas gift-giving for all the adults in your family and among your friends: Give Jesus the present. In the name of your loved one.

Hey, it's HIS birthday we celebrate on Christmas, not yours or yours or hers or theirs or mine. His.

Jesus's.

(Unless, er, you were actually born December 25th, in which case, here, have a scrumptious cake and this shiny box of goodies.)

So, how do you give to Jesus? It's, ahem, a piece of cake.

He already told us how. Give to the "least of these." If you give to those who do not have, who have real need as opposed to mere want, those who are downcast and oppressed, the hungry and thirsty and naked, and you do it out of love for God, then you're giving to Christ. You've just handed him the wrapped box with a big irridescent bow.

News Flash: The Body of Christ is suffering.

I'm not talking about a tight budget or a bashed fender or a root canal or the usual sufferings of mankind (deaths of loved ones, lost jobs, illness). I'm talking parts of the Body are having their hands chopped off, are being captured and enslaved, are being tossed into prison for just saying, "I believe in Christ." They are starving and freezing. They are raped and beaten. That's His body, his arms and legs and back and face being slapped and stabbed and burned and broken. Again.

Give the gift to Him. To His body. To "the least of these" that He loves.

It's our job to do this. We are commanded. It's not optional.

Many fine organizations have Christmas Gift catalogs where you can help widows, orphans, the disabled, and the destitute via donations that reach them as food, clothing, medicine, shelters, livestock, agricultural supplies, or schooling.

How much do Americans spend at Christmas for gifts that will likely be soon forgotten and not all that much appreciated? (Come on, did you really swoon over that fruitcake or inexpensive cologne or novelty mug? Did you really need that new cd or dvd or pair of pumps? Aren't there enough clothes in your closet? Didn't the old computer work fine?)

Billions and billions every year. The last estimate I read was of about $180 BILLION.

Think of what, say, half of that--90 billion dollars--could do if channeled toward helping villages dig wells for clean water, buy seeds for crops, purchase saplings for groves, supply clinics with antibiotics and syringes, obtain teachers and nurses for farflung provinces? Or closer to home, serving the elderly and chronically ill, the disabled and homeless.

Because tradition and social obligation and just plain wanting to feel like a big-generous-giver--and don't think that Christmas doesn't have its share of self-aggrandizing and self-congratulatory elements--makes it hard to totally blow off presents, hubby and I do both: We give to charities in the name of loved ones, and we buy discreet gifts, especially for the kinder, who we've trained from birth to be greedy little gumbos come late December, and that's our fault and, so, hey, what's an auntie to do?

That's right, we cave. We are not perfect in our convictions. But we're trying!

Side Note Rant: Training kids from birth to give in December as opposed to expecting to get would not be an unChristianly new tradition, methinks. Kids have their own birthdays for gathering booty, not to mention nearly every week of the year, if my observations are anything to go by.

So visit Samaritan's Purse or World Vision, who both offer great "charity gifts" for Christmas at their websites. Visit Habitat for Humanity International. Visit Food for the Poor. Visit Voice of the Martyrs, who help persecuted Christians globally, and their needs are ever-urgent. Give to local shelters in your town.

Give Jesus the gifts this year.

Friday, November 04, 2005

After the Storm: From Darkness to Light

It's been a rough couple of weeks in Mirtown.

Wilma left quite a mess. Thousands of my fellow residents in South Florida are temporarily without homes due to damage to residences. Shelters are full. Some must close when school begins.

Please pray for our gov't and aid organizers, who need wisdom and skill and efficiency and compassion in dealing with this massive problem. Pray we will all be kind to one another and patient and mindful of our blessings,the many that remain even in the midst of loss. If your budget can take it, give to the Salvation Army, the SBC-NAMB, or to the Red Cross to help the dispossessed.

Now, to my main point, as I sit in a neighborhood still looking a bit trashed and worn and tired:

It's important to be thankful.

In good times, in bad times: Give thanks.

It's a cliche, yes, but count your blessings, my dears. Count them now before they flee or are taken away from you. Pray to keep them.

I have a roof. I have walls. I have a dry floor. I have power. (We only went without for 2 1/2 days.) I have no life lost in my family. I have no homes totally wrecked in my family. I have water and food in my fridge. I have not depleted my savings (although fixing the damage to my home and the wreck that is my garden is going to deplete that quite a bit, seems like.) My car is multiply-dented from a small tree falling on it. A part of my eaves is gone. A hurricane shutter that was pried loose by the fierce winds smashed some parts of the concrete and damaged the second-story walkway railing. I don't have cable, and that's another sort of blessing, I'm discovering. (Except, boy, do I miss the Sci-Fi channel.)

I have my home standing, safe, protective, and my family is well--unlike many.

I praise God for His manifold mercies. I thank him for all I have, when so many do without. God have mercy on all in this cruel world who are dealing with disasters of one sort or another--on the Gulf coast, in Florida, in Iraq, in Pakistan, in Niger, and on and on and on.

I was reading in Zechariah 14:6, a passage dealing with the yet to be revealed Day of the Lord:

"It shall come to pass in that day
That there shall be no light;
The lights will diminish"


It's a weird thing not to have lights. We're used to living with streetlights, porch lights, home lights, traffic lights. When they go out, the world is a dark, dark place. You can't see your hand in front of your face in your own home. The garden that is so welcoming in the sunlight becomes a place for dread prowlers and scary sounds.

Light is GOOD. God said so, Genesis, chapter one.

It's very, very, very good, says Miz Mir.

As frightening as the total dark was, there was one heart-lifting benefit: I saw the Milky Way for the first time in three decades. The last time was at a Christian teen retreat in the "wilds" of Florida City, which was a low-light-pollution town in the 1970's. Wow. I was dancing and jumping and whooping in my garden. My husband came out to enjoy the sight, too. So many stars. Stars we never see....until the lights go out.

I think for some of us, we don't see our blessings, how much we have that is valuable and good and worth thanking the Lord for, until the lights go out in some way.

*We lose our roof and realize how nice it was having a tight structure that kept out the rain.
*We lose our car, and realize how precious to have our own transportation, a sort of freedom many don't have.
*We lose a beloved tree, and remember how wonderful its shade was.
*We develop a chronic illness that plagues our every hour, and realize how little we thanked God for our health when we had it, and how easy it was to take such a blessing for granted.
*We lose loved ones, and wish we had them back to tell them how much, how very much, we appreciated all they were and did and said, how we miss their smiles.

~If you have a solid, safe roof...thank the Lord for it.
~If you have a car that runs, say, "God, how good you are to me," as you drive it.
~If you have a tree you like to sit under, sing a song of praise to the One who created trees and flowers and shrubs and grass.
~If you have good health, get on your knees and praise the Lord for that indescribable blessing.
~If you have loved ones you can depend on, lift up their names to the Lord every day in thanks for their wisdom and affection and encouragement and support and the pleasures they bring, then go and hug them.

Don't wait for the lights to go out to see the thousands of stars shining in your life.

Be grateful now.

Right now, stop reading for a second or two, and look up and say, "Yes, Father, I understand. These are all gifts, because every good and pleasant thing in my life exists because You created them."

And when you feel the darkness surrounding you, as it always comes, because this world is broken and damaged and fallen, and so are we; remember that the deepest darkness precedes the greatest light, remember Zechariah 14:7, which says this:

"It shall be one day
Which is known to the Lord--
neither day nor night.
But at evening time it shall happen
That it will be light."


Just hold on: It will be light.