Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spirituality Is Sublime, Take II

So I'm still trying to really flesh out my understanding of how God is asking me to use my gift of writing, and I think I've found another touchpoint that will help me articulate my emerging philosphy.

I'm crazy about music. I'm a music-maniac. Sometimes I think this art form must be inexplicably tied to my own creative expression because I can't seem to write without the inspiration of music. Anyway, one of my favorite Christian musicians is David Crowder. Talk about poetry. That man has a soul for God and the words to express it. One of my favorite David Crowder songs is called "Wholly Yours." No joke, the first fifty times I heard that song I would quite literally choke up. My son finally began to ask, "Mommy, why do you cry when we dance to this song?" I never stopped to assess why it so powerful for me. Until now.

These are the lines that get me every time:

"But a certain sign of grace is this: from the broken earth, flowers come up, pushing through the dirt."

"And the truest sign of grace was this: from wounded hands redemption fell down, liberating man."

And finally, I know. It's the beauty of the paradox. It's the juxtaposition of dark and light, dirt and divinity, holiness and wholeness through the most inconceivable of means: Christ made flesh and beauty from ashes. Amen!

What makes the concept of grace so infinitely sweet to me is the fact that it comes to us in our brokeness, at the moment when we could not possibly be farther from God. And he uses our wounds, he works with the dirt and the ashes of our lives. To me, the majesty of the endless grace of God is only made more real by realizing and then accepting the depth of depraviy that existed before he came in and made us holy.

Sometimes, I think Christians would prefer to focus on the flower, the end result of the grace of God rather than the broken earth from which beauty emerged. That's wonderful if you are one of those people. But I'm not. I want to weep over the ruined earth that God decided to use for his glory. It's a reminder for me, an almost unbearable sweetness--sorrow that blossoms into inexpressible joy. But then I've always loved contradictions: from sweet and sour to God made man.

So I'll write about the brokeness before I get to the part about God doing his awesome God-thing. And, because God will surely touch you differently than he chooses to move me, I think I'll leave room for your knowledge of the Lord, your spiritual imagination to fly free.

Am I making any sense at all? I'm still learning to convey all I think and feel on this subject, but for more of an explanation of where I'm at and how I got here, feel free to check out some old posts. The following link will take you to my
writing journal from a few years back. There are eight entries, titled Writing Journal I-VIII. You can also read Spirituality Is Sublime, the first entry. And if you don't agree with me? Leave a comment! I don't claim to have it figured out and I'd love to dialogue with someone on this issue.

And if none of this is your cup of tea, hop on over to
Sally Bradley's site. This is my second-to-last blog tour stop. Sally's lots of fun and a great resource for all things bookish. Enjoy her site! Best of all, she came up with some really different, interesting questions for me. Want to know which Dr. Seuss book After the Leaves Fall is most like? Better check it out!

Also, Carrie just informed me that she is giving away another free copy of After the Leaves Fall! Want to win a copy? Head on over and sign up!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wild Week

What a wild week it has been! From houseguests to house showings, Aaron and I have been kept so busy (and so separate) I hardly remember the sound of his voice. When he got up to preach yesterday, I was so captivated by how handsome he looked that I completely tuned out his words in favor of simply admiring him. Oops. Guess I'll have to download that sermon.

Anyway, things don't get any better this week. On the top of our priority list is: SELL THIS HOUSE! We have three days to do it. The couple that we bought our new (hope-we-still-get-it) home from called us to tell us that they've sold it to someone else. Sigh. Since we bought it on the contingency that ours would sell, this no-strings-attached offer trumps ours if we can't seal the deal on the house we are currently living in. And fast! Did you follow all that? At any rate, it's enough to give anyone an ulcer. Shoot up a prayer for us if you think of it. We fully trust that God knows what he's doing, but we're still going to knock on the doors of heaven like mad for the next 72 hours and pray God's will is the same as our wishes!

Another thing on my plate right now is an opportunity that cropped up through our weekend houseguests... It looks like I'm on my way to Liberia in January! We had an amazing family stay with us this weekend and we spent hours talking about our role as Christians in a global community. Peter, our guest, has been to Liberia and knows Robert (the pastor of Abide in the Vine) and Immanuel (the caretaker of Christ Is Our Hope), the men who are our contacts in Liberia. As it turns out, Lifewater International is taking a trip to Monrovia in January and they have room for a few people from our own fledgling Liberia team. Long story short, January is not a good time for Aaron to go, but it works great for me. It seems that I'll be heading over in a few months to pave the way for a team to go and work in November of 2008. Crazy, eh? I'm excited, but nervous, too. It didn't help when Peter mentioned something about machete attacks on white people... I'm sure I'm taking that way out of context! Besides, Lifewater knows what they're doing. Right?!

With all this going on, my book life seems to be slowing a bit. I think things are going well with After the Leaves Fall. I don't really know. Now that the official launch has come and gone, I guess it's just a matter of waiting to see what happens from here. And I have no new news to report on Summer Snow. It's in the works! If something fun develops, I'll let you know. Other than that, I'm still writing my third book. Not sure what's going to happen with that either, but I am having fun. It helped to have Peter and his family around this weekend as they are Catholics and Catholicism plays a role in book #3. Truthfully, this book is much slower going for me after writing my first two. It's just so ambitious, so full of gravity, twists and turns, that I'm finding it much more daunting to give it all the attention to detail it deserves. But I do know that I'll finish it, and if I can finish it like I've started it, I'll be pleased with the results. Hopefully I'll continue to grow and improve with each book I write.

Have a blessed week, wherever you may be. And stop back in a few days for info on my second-to-last blog tour stop. Later on this week I'll be popping in at Sally Bradley's site. You don't want to miss her!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Spirituality Is Sublime

I was blessed to participate in a powerful worship service today.

You know how sometimes everything just seems to click, and the result is take-your-breath-away spiritually charged? For some reason, church this morning was an awe-inspiring experience for me. Sadly, corporate worship is not always that way (surely this is my own fault--a matter of the state of my sinful heart), but when it is, it leaves me raw and tingling. Open to the Spirit.

Maybe it was the music. Or the sermon. Maybe it was the spiritual pulse of the room: racing and excited, thrilled and ready to be filled. Whatever it was, there came a point where I realized that I was crying. There was actually a tear making a warm path down my cheek. I can’t describe it, I could never recapture it, but it assured me of something that I have known all along: spirituality is sublime.

As an artist, I have always believed deep in my soul that there is much to this world that will forever elude our grasp. Even as we try to capture the essence of spirituality on paper (or in our sculptures, through our films, amidst the lines of our paintings, etc.) we know that anything we portray is merely a dim shadow of the depth of the reality that we experienced only moments before when we, for a moment, met God. Who can explain what happens when your soul clefts to expose that secret place created specifically for the One who knows your inmost being? Who can encompass the height and breadth of such startling clarity when this world shimmers for a second and we glimpse the eternal? Who can claim to even have the capacity to hold this truth, this significance, in our insignificant minds?

I’m beginning to realize that this is exactly why I avoid an obvious spiritual journey with a predetermined destination in my writing. We can dissect the physical, emotional, intellectual, and psychological aspects of ourselves. We can take these inner workings apart and reconstruct them scientifically. We can--in as much as God has allowed us to know--understand them. But I believe spirituality is something wholly other. Apart. Surreal, even. Transcendent, unknowable, an endless mystery. Sublime.

I can’t pinpoint the moment I was saved. I’m not able to explain in logical terms the path my life has taken from destruction to deliverance. Nor do I want to. It is something so intimate, so otherworldly, that I hold it as a treasure close to my heart and meant for me alone. Because it is meant for me--carefully constructed just for Nicole by the lover of my soul. Your journey looks different; it’s a journey he walks with you. Maybe that’s why I balk at formulaic conversions and easy answers. Maybe that’s why nothing measures up when it tries too hard to recapture the magic that is God.

Though this is something I’m still deconstructing and trying to wrap my mind around, I think my philosophy of spirituality in art is this: art should reveal, not dictate. Too often I think artists who are also Christians think their art must blatantly exhibit God. “Here he is! Dissect him, understand him, watch him move.” And I don’t think we can do that. He is too much for us. And instead of feeling defeated, I hope this makes us feel overwhelmed with wonder. How awesome is this? God is wholly above us, indescribable, and capable of moving in ever-miraculous ways that defy explanation.

Instead of trying to script God and our responses to his work in our lives, I think it makes more sense to allow our work to reflect his majesty without pinning it down. I want to say through my art: “Isn’t this lovely? Isn’t it true? Doesn’t it speak to you? Now, where do you see God in it?” And every response that my art evokes will be a different one. I love that about God. He is powerful enough to touch each one of us in a million, a trillion, an infinite amount of ways. And he doesn’t need me to be carefully walking people through a prescribed set of events or emotions in my writing to accomplish whatever his will may be for that piece.

I fully realize that this philosophy of Christianity and art is not necessarily representative of what most Christians believe. I’m okay with that. Please see my thoughts as a work in progress, an attempt to describe what I think and feel, though certainly not as well articulated or complete as it could be. Nor do I think I have achieved this subtly powerful spirituality in my art of which I speak so passionately. But, hey, I’m going to keep trying. And to that end, I hope the Lord continues to manifest himself in increasingly majestic and inexplicable ways in my life (and yours). Amen and amen.

Blog Tour: All Week

Only three stops left!

This week I'm sticking close to home at the blog of a woman whom I have known for years. Miriam sewed me a gorgeous, little red dress for my senior prom, and we've been friends ever since. Who wouldn't love a woman who could make a dress like that? Anyway, Miriam is a real gem of a woman and I am so blessed to know her! She's fun and talented and, best of all, she makes me laugh.

Miriam is doing something a little different for her stop on the tour. Instead of posting one big interview, she is going to post one question a day. The questions are a little more in-depth so I've spent a bit more time on them. Check back every day for a new question. Click here for Miriam's blog. Happy reading!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Nearing the end...

There are only a few stops left on my blog tour! I can't believe October is half over--what happened to fall?

Anyway, before I get too depressed thinking about the eventual advent of snow (hey, that sounds like a book title to me: The Eventual Advent of Snow), I should let you know that this week I am at Novel Journey. Ane Mulligan reviewed After the Leaves Fall last week at Novel Reviews and now she's posted our interview. There are so many interesting interviews on this site! Have fun browsing around.

Ane and I have a neat connection. She picked up the Advance Reader Copy of ATLF at the International Christian Retail Show in Atlanta this summer. She read it and loved it! Isn't that cool? Then she contacted me via email and we've been in touch ever since. She's a real sweetheart and a writer, too. Ane's encouragement has meant the world to me!

Happy reading! Oh, and I have to slip in a little disclaimer... I did the interview with Ane over three and a half months ago, so when I read it this morning I had to laugh a bit. There are things that I definitely would have said differently today! I think I sound like a bit of a dork. But hey, so it goes. I'm sure I'll look back on all these interview and cringe in the not-so-distant future. Argh. All my stupid thoughts saved for posterity in the bowels of the illustrious World Wide Web. Now that's even scarier than the eventual advent of snow.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Global Warming

This weekend, as I was on my way to a book signing, I came across something that has me a little wound up. Normally, I can let this sort of thing go. But for some reason, this particular affront is still bothering me days later. So, in honor of Blog Action Day (a day late--drat!), and because I want to get this off my chest, I’m going to blog about it.

What has me so bummed? A sign. A sign in front of a church. A sign that read: “Don’t worry about global warming in this life. Worry about it in the afterlife.”

Is anyone else cringing???

I have so many problems with this sentiment that I could write a couple of essays about it, but I'll curb my enthusiasm and stick to the environmental factor since Blogger is trying to promote awareness of environmental issues. Maybe I'll tackle the rest another day.

Whether or not you believe in global warming, I can't imagine that there is a person on this planet that would dare to assert that humans are not exacting a dire toll on our world. From pollution to the extinction of rare and beautiful species of animals, we are abusing our planet in ways that are downright shameful.

The earth is an incredible gift from God, it is his creation, the work of his hands, and we have been given a mandate to care for it and protect it. I get so frustrated when Christians (who should be on the forefront of the environmental revolution) act as if our world is something disposable. God created it and it is good. How can we possibly honor him when we don't treat his masterpiece with respect?

I can't help thinking about the scandal when a rowdy band totals their hotel room after getting drunk or high. We are horrified when we hear such stories. How disrespectful! How wicked and selfish! And yet, how is it any different when we abuse our earth because we believe a new one will be provided for us?

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not an radical environmentalist or even a tree-hugger (though I love the term and wish it could be applied to me). But I do take my responsibility to this earth seriously. I do worry about global warming in this life. And I do what I can. My kids and I walk or bike when the weather is nice, and when it's not we drive a car that gets excellent gas mileage. We recycle. We try to reduce and reuse as much as possible. We compost. We wouldn't dream of littering. I know most of you do exactly the same things--and more. I just think that we should continually be looking for ways to protect and preserve this incredible gift that we have been given.

And I hope that Christians will think twice before they publicly disregard the world that God has blessed us with. I believe such thinking is an insult, a slap in the face, to the Creator of heaven and earth.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Keeping Busy

Well, my house hasn't sold yet and my kids are still being kids (the nerve), but my week has improved considerably since Monday. Sorry about that downer of a post. Anyway, I have lots going on and not much time to blog, so I'll keep it simple and just give you a quick run-down of how I'm keeping busy.

I'm watching:
The Office, season three. A friend got us hooked on it and now Aaron and I are like junkies--we can't wait for our next Office fix. Dwight's my favorite character to watch, but like every other woman who's addicted to the goings-on at Dunder-Mifflin, I have a crush on Jim. Fess up, you do too.

I'm reading:
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. I am in love, love, love with this book. I'm reading it while I re-read Tess of the D'Ubervilles by Hardy. Both books are literary dark chocolate. I adore each little bite I get. So far, here's my favorite line from The Inheritance of Loss: "Romantically, she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself." Wow.

I'm doing:
An absolutely ridiculous amount of cleaning and laundry. Keeping the house spic and span for the realtors is not a whole lot of fun. Never mind the piles of dirt I have to keep cleaning up because my baby insists on eating it from our potted plants. Why, oh why?

I'm writing:
An as-of-yet untitled book that is a real departure from After the Leaves Fall and Summer Snow. I'm crazy about it and having so much fun writing it. I'm doing a lot of research for it and learning lots about bi-polar disorder, mania, depression, and oddly enough, the Catholic Church. Not that those things are related in any way, they are merely the things I have to research to make this novel work. One of my favorite lines so far: "I wanted to imprint her on each scribbled page of my memory so that when they took her away I could remember how her collarbones rose in mirrored harmony and almost met in the shadow of her long neck."

I'm feeling:
Old. Can I still be in my twenties? Please, please, please?

I'm promoting:
After the Leaves Fall, of course. Tonight I have a signing at the Christian bookstore in my hometown. Saturday I'll be at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a brand-new library. Next week Wednesday I have another signing and giveaway in conjunction with a chamber of commerce fall promo. And next Thursday I'm doing my first reading at another public library.

I also want to take this chance to promote an awesome book I just finished reading. My Hands Came Away Red is Lisa McKay's debut novel and I thought it was absolutely amazing. Check it out!

I'm eating:
Fall food! Homemade tomato sauces, ooey-gooey pumpkin bars, crisp apples, and red wine. I'll miss summer, but it's so much fun to haul out cool-weather clothes and shelve my summer bottles of Viognior and Riesling. Have I mentioned I love fall?

Speaking of fall... I'm going to go play in the leaves. Now there's a pick-me-up.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Simple Peace

I'm wound too tight. This isn't a new revelation for me, it's something I've always known. But for some reason there are seasons in my life when I seem to wrap myself in even more complicated knots than normal. These past two weeks would qualify for a lifetime achievement award in the annals of my often nail-biting life. Literally and figuratively--I do actually bite my fingernails. Yuck, I know. I can't help it and usually don't even know I'm doing it. I figure we're all allowed a minor vice or two. Or three...

It's not that I'm uptight; I'm actually quite easy-going. But being the perfectionist that I am, I am very hard on myself when perfection is not acheived. And, to make matters worse, I worry about perfection long before any verdict has been reached, causing myself lots of unnecessary worry and stress.

My women's Bible study is working through "Breaking Free" by Beth Moore. This week we learned the five benefits that God wants to bestow on all of his children. One in particular really struck me: to experience God's peace.

I hate to get all philosophical/theological, but what is God's peace? Is it the ability to remain calm when my boys are jumping all over each other? Is it feeling perfectly at ease and content while a prospective buyer for our home mulls over our counter-offer? Is it ignoring bitter words from a friend because I know her anger isn't really directed at me? If it is any of those things, or all of them, I need a little more peace in my life.

Sometimes I hate living in the tension that is, by definition, the Christian life. We are to be in the world but not of it. We are to be continually made new, transformed, and yet never conform. We are to love the law, but never fall into the trap of legalism. We are to love peace, but to also understand that peacekeeping is not the same as peace-making. Argh. Am I the only one who sometimes finds it just plain hard?

I don't feel very peaceful right now, and I'm only making matters worse by getting angry at myself for not being able to perfectly exist in the balance. I want to surrender my control, and yet I know I can't lose control because God expects a whole, sentient woman to fulfill the call he has placed on my life (and yours).

Sometimes, like today, I just want it to be easy. I want my kids to stop breaking things, my house to sell quickly, my friendships to be hassle-free, and the list goes on and on. Usually, I'm all for adventure. I want my life to be a challenge, my experiences to be complicated and varied. And God's peace in that context is multi-layered and resoundingly deep--satisfying and quenching and sometimes months, if not years, in the making. But just for today, I'd give about anything for one of those great, big EASY buttons. I'd love a little simple, straight-forward peace. I don't want peace like a mighty, churning river. I want peace like a puddle of rain: calm, safe, maybe even shallow.

Deep breath.

Sorry if this was a bummer of a post... For a little pick-me-up (or if you are feeling peaceful and can't relate at all!) I am at Becky's Christian Reviews this week. At the end of the interview there is a link to the review she did of After the Leaves Fall. I believe she posted the review last week. Also, Novel Reviews has released their review of After the Leaves Fall. A few months ago I did an interview with reviewer Ane Mulligan, but I'm not sure when that will be posted. I'll keep you updated...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Halfway through the blog tour...

One of the best things about this new writing gig is all the incredible people that I get to meet. I suppose it started nearly 18 months ago when I got an email from the lovely Becky at Tyndale. She liked the first 50 pages of my book! Can you imagine? Since then I've had the opportunity to fly out to Chicago to meet many more people at Tyndale (they are all so amazing), as well as "meet" online numerous reviewers, critics, agents, and people I totally consider newfound friends. How fun is that?

I guess I'm getting a little carried away reminding you that the next stop on my blog tour is Amanda's website, A Patchwork of Books. Not only is Amanda adorable, but she loves books--loves, loves them. Is crazy about them. Her reading lists astound me! Oh to be able to devour books like this girl can... Anyway, Amanda was sweet enough to make room for After the Leaves Fall in her schedule, and I am honored that she was willing to host me this week. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her through email and her blog. Check it out! She's a sweetheart, you don't want to miss this one.

Also, I have to post a link to Carrie's site again. I had a booksigning in a nearby town this past Friday and Carrie dropped by! It was so much fun to meet her in person after all our internet correspondence. What a wonderful woman. Anyway, someone snapped a photo of the two of us at the signing. I'll have to print that one off and save it forever. It's my first booksigning picture!