Lessons from “Supernatural”

My sister and I have always enjoyed good television together–whether movies or actual TV shows. Sharing the same room as we grew up meant we spent lots of time together, and many late nights watching something or other on our computers together, often sharing one earbud each from a pair of earbuds.

Since Megan got married and moved to Colorado, our time watching TV and movies together has obviously dwindled significantly, but last year when she got me hooked on Doctor Who, we discovered a new method of long-distance sharing: we would call each other on Skype or FaceTime, sync up our Netflix to the same timestamp, give a countdown, and hit play at the same time so that we could watch and give commentary together. Since then, we have spent many happy hours together sharing our enjoyment of a good TV show.

72844

Most recently, she introduced me to Supernatural, a fantasy drama show that pushes the envelope on horror. Now first of all, I should state that while I enjoy a good thriller or pulse-pounding action flick as much as the next bloke, I will almost never cross the line into the horror genre; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that truly qualifies as a horror movie. I can deal with action quite well, even intense action, but I just don’t do horror with its typical gratuitous content on so many levels. That said, after Megan assured me that “season 1 is the worst!” in terms of the horror-esque content of Supernatural, I gritted my teeth and occasionally dove into my blanket to get through the first several episodes. I kept telling her that I didn’t know if I could keep it up, but after 6-8 episodes, I had to admit it. I was hooked. We are currently making our way through the fifth season, and it just keeps getting better.

I can hardly admit this [that it gets better and better] without cringing, and I still cannot wholeheartedly recommend it to almost anyone because it IS graphic and chill-inducing on a level that I’ve never really experienced in a TV show before. As Megan and I will say after particular episodes, “CREEPY!”

HOWEVER. I have found it to be extremely compelling on many levels, and as we have blown through these opening seasons, I find myself trying to analyze and articulate exactly what makes it so compelling. Why do I keep coming back? What makes me willing to suspend my usual disdain for this type of story? Especially as a writer, I continually see this in terms of the writing: what makes the show work? What makes these characters so engrossing? What makes the storyline so genuine and gripping?

Supernatural_S3_Poster_02

As Megan and I have discussed and analyzed a thousand times by now, we keep coming back to one central element, the true heart of the show: the relationship between Sam (brilliantly portrayed by Jared Padalecki) and Dean (played by the equally brilliant Jensen Ackles) Winchester, two brothers who have found themselves caught up in a life they didn’t necessarily plan or choose for themselves, but from which they cannot seem to escape, even if they try. Yes, they fight monsters and save the world and even occasionally save the girl here and there, too, but the show always comes back to the relationship between two brothers–something I have found truly unique for a TV series. (I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I don’t remember hearing of another show whose primary protagonists are siblings.) It’s such an interesting element in the sense that it’s not a stereotypical romantic relationship that drives the show, or even a friendship, but the notion of FAMILY: yes, Sam and Dean drive each other nuts, but at the end of the day, family is family, and they will do anything for each other. The love they have for one another is not often explicitly stated (sometimes we forget to tell even the people we’re closest to how much we love them), but over and over again, each brother proves himself willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of the other.

To me, this is the heart of the show, and it’s also what keeps me coming back and makes it incredibly emotionally compelling. From a writer’s perspective, these character also come across as completely genuine because they act like “real” people: they screw up and make horrible decisions and hurt the people they love, but in even the most dire circumstances, they always fight for forgiveness and redemption. They learn the difference between justice and revenge, between selfish independence and self-sacrifice, and between hard-nosed “fairness” and true compassion. Sam and Dean grow and mature and change over the course of the show, which certainly helps to maintain the dynamic and progressive feel of the storylines.

In short, although I can’t say that I would recommend it to everyone I see, I do have to admit that it has turned out to be one of the most thought-provoking and compelling shows I have seen in a long time. I love to watch with an eye to glean whatever writing lesson I can learn from the story as a whole–and I certainly have come away with many! Most enjoyable of all, though, is sharing the experience with my sister, even across the miles. Three cheers for technology!

What about you? Have you discovered any great new TV shows recently? Is there another TV drama centered around siblings that I have missed?

Thoughts on Sherlock’s Return

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.

It’s been over two years since Martin Freeman‘s Doctor John Watson broke our hearts, standing over his friend Sherlock‘s grave and begging for “one more miracle – just don’t be dead.”

Of course, we all knew Sherlock wasn’t really dead – he couldn’t be – especially those of us familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, which included one wild tale in which Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes actually faked his own death. So it came as no real shock when the final shot of series 2′s last episode panned around to reveal none other than Sherlock himself, standing at the edge of the cemetery and watching John say goodbye to… well, himself?

Still, a thousand questions have swirled through our minds and the blogosphere for the past two years since “The Reichenbach Fall” originally aired. How did he do it? How long will he wait before he reveals the truth to John? Is Moriarty truly gone? What will Dr. Watson do now?

Sometimes it felt like the longest wait in the history of fandom – and truly, Sherlock fans have had inordinate amounts of wait time between seasons! – but all our questions were finally about to be answered as the first episode of series 3, “The Empty Hearse”, aired in America this past weekend.

I have become a huge fan of writer Steven Moffat, from his work both on Sherlock and also my other favorite modern BBC show, Doctor Who, and I couldn’t wait to see what he would do with the next series of Sherlock episodes. Moffat’s co-creator Mark Gatiss (who, incidentally, also plays the character of Mycroft Holmes on the show) actually wrote “The Empty Hearse”, and he did not disappoint!

For the sake of those who may not yet have seen the episode, I don’t want to give too much away, but I felt extremely satisfied after such a ridiculous wait for this resolution episode. I do hope the next episode delves more deeply into some of the details of Sherlock’s charade, but even if we are left with a certain element of mystery, I suppose that would be appropriate.

In any case, I loved seeing these characters back on screen together. I love the quick wit and the biting sarcasm, and I love the seamless writing that draws each story together so brilliantly. Austin & I laughed aloud several times during the episode, and I’m glad it has maintained its dry sense of humor, which I so appreciated right from the start.

In short… #SherlockLives. Hip hip hurrah!

2013 Reading List

God blessed me with another wonderful year of reading in 2013, and I am excited to share my reading list from the past year on the new “24 in 2013” tab on my navigation bar. I would like to extend a special thanks to my dear friend Sara, who so encouraged me recently by telling me how she keeps checking my blog and also looking for my 2013 book list. Thank you for your kind words, sweet friend!

I hope, by God’s grace, to write more faithfully in this little space on the web, and I pray that 2014 will be a year of improved consistency in my writing as I continue to seek His guidance for how He would have me to use these words that forever spill from my fingertips.

The Courage of Silence

Sometimes biblical stories have become so familiar to me that I tend to neglect the details—but sometimes the details express the true heart of the story. I have written previously of the way that familiarity breeds contempt; when I see something so recognizable, I tend to skim over it, but in so doing, I can overlook the small things that coalesce to create something wonderful.

Recently, my Bible reading took me to Exodus chapter 14—a very familiar passage, but something stood out to me that I had never really noticed before. As the Israelites are fleeing Egypt, they see the Egyptians pursuing them, and they begin to complain to Moses:

“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? … For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (vs. 11, 12b)

Beyond the obvious facts—how God has just accomplished a remarkable deliverance for His people from their Egyptian captors, and yet it only takes them a matter of days before they begin wailing and complaining again—Moses’ response from the Lord is what stood out to me:

“And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. … The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.’” (vs. 13-14, emphasis mine)

What strange and noteworthy words: you have only to be silent.

Stop this ridiculous moaning, Moses seems to say. He must have wanted to smack his countrymen over the head. After all the miracles—the wondrous signs God had performed on their behalf in Egypt—they have already forgotten everything and want nothing more than to return to the “comfort” of their captivity. Have you forgotten?! Is your memory truly so clouded?! Don’t you remember what the Lord has done for you?!

At the same time, though, Moses’ response exudes gentleness and comfort as well. Don’t fear. I know you’re terrified. I know you think you’re facing certain death. But I promise you, the Lord is on our side. You have only to be silent.

Human nature almost never tends toward silence in moments of fear and distress. So often, we assume the worst—about both God and the ultimate outcome of our circumstances—and we will, without fail, naturally respond with grumbling, blame-shifting, and fearful outbursts. But rarely silence. Call it a need to feel in control: if we occupy ourselves with complaining about what has led us to a point of distress, then we might be comforted if we feel a false sense of control. When humans respond to trying circumstances, they want to be in control. But when control spins out of our hands, we are left disoriented and terrified.

Here is the beauty of trust in God’s sovereignty. Instead of that obsessive need to control our circumstances, we need only rest in His providence—we have only to be silent. God has called us as His own; why do we mistrust Him at every bend in the road? Stand down, God says. Hold fast; I am fighting for you. Don’t complain. Don’t tremble. Don’t fear. Be silent, and watch what I will do.

The chapter finishes with a declaration:

“Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” (vs. 30-31, emphasis mine)

Only hours before, the children of Israel stood at the edge of the Red Sea, unable to see any way out. God’s deliverance seemed unlikely, not to mention physically impossible. But after such a clear, visible outpouring of both wrath and mercy, the people also saw God’s deliverance. With their own eyes, they looked in wonder on the mangled bodies of the Egyptians and the wreckage of their mighty chariots.

It’s true that God doesn’t always employ such a visible rescue from the troubling circumstances of our lives. Sometimes we might never “see” our salvation except through the eyes of faith, at least on this side of eternity. But the exhortation and the promise remain the same:

Stand fast. Fear not. The Lord fights for you, and you have only to be silent

Letting Christmas Go

Our very first Christmas tree!

I always have a hard time letting Christmas go. I love the festive display of light and color—and even the tastes and smells of the season. I love Christmas candies and cookies, especially the traditional recipes that my mom and my grandma have been making for as long as I can remember. I keep burning my “Christmas Tree” scented candle long after December 25th, and my cinnamon pinecones continue to fragrance the air well into January. Traditions comfort me, and I look forward to my family’s customary Christmas breakfast of egg casserole, fruit salad, sausage, and cinnamon rolls—and our dinner of prime rib and twice-baked potatoes. I love the dependable routine of breakfast, gift-opening, and a relaxing afternoon on Christmas Day.

Even after the festivities have ended, though, I can hardly bear to let it all go. Our tree has officially died and drops its crisp needles in greater droves every day, but I can’t convince myself to pull off the ornaments, or to put away the rest of my decorations. It all feels so cheerful and beautiful, and I want my house to stay that way all year.

I baked more than 20 dozen of my family’s traditional Christmas cookies this year!

Maybe I cling to Christmas because of all the wonderful, special memories that I have associated with the Christmas season—time spent with my family, most treasured of all. My parents always worked to make it a truly magical time, and I have countless happy memories of hilarious stories told around the dinner table, accompanied by hysterical laughter. Mom and Dad never made it “all about” the presents, but they did take time to give us meaningful, fun presents, and we always felt spoiled. I remember one year, when we were fairly young, Mom and Dad spent who knows how long (after we had gone to bed Christmas Eve) building our new Lincoln Logs into an elaborate “village” on the floor in front of the Christmas tree, and then filling it with all sorts of accessories—wow, did our jaws hit the floor when we came out to see that on Christmas morning! Another year, there were so many DVDs given between my parents and siblings that we laid out a grid of at least 35 movies on the living room floor after we finished opening presents.

I also have many special memories of advent family devotions: lighting the advent candles and reading Scripture passages and wonderful books such as Jotham’s Journey, one of our advent favorites. I loved the beautiful advent wreath and the significance of the five candles. Now in my own home, I still treasure my advent wreath, passed down to me by my mom. I realized this year that I had no advent book to read, so I ordered God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which I truly enjoyed and plan to reread for years to come.

I suppose, on the surface, that I love Christmas because of the nostalgia and all the wonderful memories I treasure. But more deeply, I love the special reminder of God’s incredible grace in the gift of His Son, and I don’t want to let my renewed appreciation for that grace disappear. In this sense, I steadfastly refuse to let Christmas go; I want to hold onto the beauty and joy of the gospel message of Christmas all year long. Even when we finally do take down our tree and the rest of the decorations—even  when the dormant trees outside my window bud and winter’s chill melts away—I want the beautiful songs of Christmas and the sweetness of the Christmas message to remain in my heart.

So maybe, after all, it’s okay for me to not want to let Christmas go. In a sense, we all would do well to keep Christmas and its special reminder of God’s astounding grace in our hearts all year long.

The Power of Setting Tangible Goals

Checklists – productivity gauges!

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver, Creative Commons

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed making checklists. During both high school and college, I would make minutely-detailed lists, breaking down each day’s work and orienting my mind to the necessary tasks. Now that I have exited the academic world, I do the same thing for my various tasks during the work day. Sometimes I manage to check every item off my list; other days, of course, I seem unable to complete even one task. But having a tangible list in front of me has always helped somehow.

As I have reflected on my year of reading during 2012, I have also recognized some clear benefits of having a tangible expression of a goal – a checklist!

First, my daily routine of making a list of priorities helps me to focus on what I need to accomplish and plan my time accordingly. Of course, it goes without saying that even with a list in front of me all day, I still can mismanage my time, procrastinate, and become distracted to varying degrees. But I have found that having the list there, at my fingertips, serves as a constant reminder and helps me to stay on track.

As a side note, I have also discovered that I prefer to sit down and write a list by hand each day, rather than type into my computer or make a note in my phone. Something about that sheet of paper staring at me all day, waiting for the check boxes to be marked off, acts as better motivation than a Word document or an iPhone note!

Second, tangible goals in the form of a list help me to accomplish specific tasks more effectively. For example, listing my tasks down to the minute details of “empty inbox” and “respond to voicemails” helps me make sure I don’t let anything slip through the cracks during my work day. (Along these same lines, I have also learned to make a much better use of Microsoft Outlook’s email “flagging” system, which I use in combination with my to-do list to make sure I follow up on any pending issues that need my continued oversight.)

Third, consistent work toward a long-term goal brings great reward in the end. As I turned the last page of my twenty-third book, I felt a rush of satisfaction in the knowledge that I only have one book left to complete my goal of reading 24 books this year. In some sense, I worried that setting such a specific goal—read 24 books in 2012—would somehow rob me of any pleasure I might otherwise have had in pursuing 24 different titles throughout the year, but I have actually found the reverse to be true. I have enjoyed and profited more by this year of reading than I have in all of my reading of recent memory. True, the goal of 24 books felt unachievable at times and loomed over my head ominously, but by faithfully pursuing that objective throughout the year, I have such satisfaction now that I know I will cross the finish line.

I love the satisfaction of checking tasks off my list. Yes, I’m even one of those people who will write something on my list, even after I have already completed it, simply so I can cross it off afterwards! Checklists might seem unimportant sometimes, but as I crack open my twenty-fourth and final book for this year, I am reminded of the power and value of tangible goal-setting—and I feel inspired to start my reading list for next year’s 24 titles!

Finding Inspiration in “Anne of Green Gables”

Every Tuesday evening, I join a small group of women (my husband’s family) and enjoy a “girl movie”, usually a period piece such as Pride and Prejudice or Downton Abbey. Earlier this year, our group was swept up into the wonderful world that is Anne of Green Gables. I had not seen the movies in years (Anne and the sequel Anne of Avonlea), and I loved the reminder of how delightful they are. Anne is a true classic, in every sense of the word, with her fiery red hair and her feisty but endearing disposition. What a treat to enjoy such a heartwarming story together.

As we watched the beginning of Anne of Avonlea, I suddenly had a revelation: I think watching this movie, years ago as a young girl, is the first time I ever remember feeling a desire to write. Watching Anne standing on the shoreline, the ocean breezes tugging at her hair as she gazes out to the horizon and slowly, dreamily recites lines of dialogue from the story she’s writing, I remember thinking, “I want to be a writer. I want to sit on the beach with a leather portfolio and write. I want to be just like Anne.” Even the next part of the scene thrilled me in its comic drama, as she collapses on the sand, swept away by the magic of her own story, and the wind starts to catch her manuscript pages, spreading them all over the sand dunes around her.

Of course, at that point in my life, I had a naïve and very incomplete perception of writing. I feasted on the idea of the drama and glamour of a writer’s life, with no real concept of the hard, often unrewarded work involved.

But I wanted to be Anne for more reasons than just the fact that she wrote. Her incurable optimism and over-the-top humor, her quiet determination to find a “kindred spirit” no matter what her situation, and above all, her ability to find and appreciate beauty anywhere in the world—all of these things inspired me.

Anne: “Isn’t that ring around the moon enchanting?”
Miss Brooke: “I’ve seen many a moon in my time.”
Anne: “You haven’t seen this one. Sit down, and let’s just let it soak into our souls.”

I wanted to see the world the way Anne did: with a fresh perception that refused to be discouraged by circumstances and people who tried to pull her down, always determined to see the best in both the people around her and the various stages of her life. I felt, somehow, that this perception had to give her the creative genius she constantly sought. In the end, after several failed attempts to publish the fairy stories that wouldn’t leave her imagination, she wrote about what she knew—her home and her hopes and dreams—and discovered her true genius. Watching the movies and reading the books as a young girl, I wanted to somehow capture that inspiration and make it my own. I was never one for flaunting fantastic tales with frills and impressive creative devices. I tried to push the limits of my creativity and write fiction, but my brain has always tended toward nonfiction—more analytical writing such as essays and articles. Not to say that such writing was boring. To me, it has always had its own fascination, and I believed (and still do believe) that literary devices “stolen” from fiction can also bring nonfiction to glorious and meaningful life.

That was what I wanted to write. That is what I still want to write.

I don’t look at a bubbling stream and find inspiration for a dark-haired heroine with the cares of the world swimming in her hazel eyes. I do, however, look at a stream and try to see the wonder of God’s creation, and I want to draw from that beauty to write something that will inspire and encourage. I don’t have the talent for plot. But I appreciate the beauty of good fiction, and I want to make use of the tools and devices found in fiction to bring vibrant life to the sort of writing that spills from my fingers.

Grace in the Wee Morning Hours

Photo © 2010 J. Ronald Lee (Creative Commons)

My mom has always been a morning person. She usually wakes several hours before the rest of the household, makes her morning coffee, and enjoys the quiet hours of the morning before anyone else is awake. Most often, she will read—her Bible, her prayer book, and whatever devotional book she happens to be reading at the time. Growing up, if I had a question in the early morning, I always knew where to find her: either sitting up in bed with her reading light on, a book in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other; or sitting in her favorite chair in the kitchen, sometimes with the window blinds open to enjoy the new-morning light. I don’t think I ever heard her say it in so many words, but I think those morning quiet times just might be her favorite time of the day.

Earlier this year, I woke up early to write, and my body protested a bit at first. I knew waking extra early, especially when I had a hard time getting to sleep the night before, would cause some amount of fatigue and frustration through the rest of the day. But after I grumbled a bit and then sat down at my desk and wrote for the first thirty minutes, I decided to open my window shade and see what the morning looked like. As the shade flew up, I gasped at the beauty of the scene I saw through my window. The sun had fully risen, but the long, morning shadows still lingered on the lawn, outrageously out of proportion. Everything was still and peaceful, a perfect summer morning. But what caught my eye and held it was the alfalfa field across our driveway. When I had heard the now-familiar sound of baling the previous night and looked outside to see the tractors  making their slow, patterned progress through our field, I had crossed my fingers and hoped that we might wake up and be able to enjoy the hay bales for a short while before the wagons came to pick them up from the field. Lo and behold, that picturesque view now spread itself out before me.

Photo Credit: Linda Tanner (Creative Commons)

Understand that I’ve always had “a thing” for hay bales. My mom and I loved seeing them in the fields across the freeway from our house, and we would always comment on how pretty it looked whenever we would happen to drive by when there were bales on the ground. For me, it hearkens back to a simpler time, a quieter life of simplicity and appreciation of God’s creation. I can’t necessarily explain how I made such an explicit association, but I always have, for as long as I can remember.

As I gazed out my window in silence for several minutes that morning, just taking in the beauty of the scene, I thought to myself how this might just be the prettiest field of hay bales I had ever seen. (Then again, I imagine I’ll probably still think that every time I see our field baled in the months and years to come—but it’s still a relatively new experience!) The imperfect rows gave evidence of their imperfect, human creators, with some of the bales sitting horizontally and some vertically, some perfectly straight and neat, and some leaning sloppily to one side. Despite the imperfection of each individual bale, though, the field as a whole gave the impression of absolute perfection. A bird landed on the bale closest to my window and let out a trill into the quiet, morning air, and I reflected on the glory that radiates in the imperfect beauty of God’s creation.

True, the field could have been more perfect in a technical sense. Every bale and row could have been perfectly formed and aligned, exactly symmetrical in layout. But that would have destroyed half the charm. Sometimes the beauty is revealed most clearly in the imperfections—the crooked row halfway across the field, or that solitary bale that tilts so comically to one side. If anything in creation was perfect, it would have no need for change—no need for redemption. And after all, isn’t that one of the most profound things about creation? Despite the overwhelming beauty that can surround us, there is always lingering evidence of a need for redemption. The effects of sin and death work their way even into nature, and we know without anyone telling us that the world is far short of perfect.

But to the discerning eye, the imperfection reveals the true beauty. Recognizing a need for redemption means we recognize the depth of God’s care for what He has created. The world is imperfect to remind us that we need Him. Without the flaws and scars, we might tend to forget Him and our desperate need of His grace. Without the ongoing battle against sin in our daily lives, we might find ourselves tempted to think that we could reach Heaven on our own. It is the flaws, the struggles, and the imperfections that keep us mindful of the fact that this is not our final home. Our longing for pure beauty and true perfection keeps our hearts and minds stepping heavenward.

As I enjoyed the beauty of imperfection on that summer morning, I recognized just one more reason why my mom so appreciates her morning quiet times. Maybe God reveals His grace in a special way in those peaceful hours at the start of the day. And if that is indeed true, then surely the revelation is worth losing a bit of sleep, and the increased grace will enable me to survive the day despite the fatigue. I smiled as I thought about how much Mom will love to hear this story—how it will tickle her to know that I finally understand, in another small way, why she could bear to wake at what we always called “the crack of dawn” and revel in those few quiet hours of peace and grace-filled beauty. Best of all, she will be amazed and thrilled to know that I just might start to take advantage of that time myself.

God, in His infinite kindness, certainly has a sense of humor.

The Thrill of New Books

Photo Credit: Shutterhacks (Creative Commons)

New books have always sent a shiver of delighted anticipation down my spine. The feel of smooth, crisp pages; the creak of stiff spines not yet broken in; the smell of so many different types of paper and ink—it’s a sensory experience that, to this day, produces great excitement as I consider the adventures, lessons, and inspiration that wait within the pages.

I remember Christmas Day as a young girl; my whole family knew that my most coveted presents were books, and I could hardly contain myself and choose which title from my new stack I would read first. Most Christmas afternoons, after our traditional family brunch and gift-opening, I would curl up on the couch or in front of the fire, devouring the new book I had chosen to read first. I remember Opa telling me, “Make it last longer than today!” But I didn’t want to make it last; I couldn’t help myself. I never read quite as fast as my siblings, but I could push through the pages at a respectable pace, and before the afternoon ended and it was time for our prime rib dinner, I had usually immersed myself several hundred pages into a story. Part of me felt wistful when the new books disappeared only a couple of weeks after Christmas. Sometimes I wished I could restrain myself and make the pleasure last longer… but I never could quite do it.

I remember Mom and Dad coming home from homeschool conventions, midway through the summer, with new books for our upcoming school year. Eventually, Mom started to tell us we couldn’t read the new books until school actually started, since we would usually rush through them before summer had even ended. She would shake her head and say, “Those were supposed to be for school next year!” She finally started putting them in a box or on a shelf, strictly off limits until the first day of school. When we were younger, she would read aloud to us every single day after lunch, usually from one of those new books she had found at the convention. She never had to push very hard for us to enjoy reading. All three of us became avid readers at early ages, and for me in particular, nothing about the start of school was more exciting than new books.

Even in college, new books still brought a rush—yes, even textbooks, although the feeling didn’t always last. I always tried to approach textbooks with an eye to their potential, willing to believe that I would find wonderful things between their covers, and while not all of them lived up to that potential, I never lost my appreciation for the possibilities. I did read a select number of wonderful titles in college, although I also struggled with what my sister Megan called “textbook syndrome” and only recovered by forcing myself to start reading purely for enjoyment again.

As I face the daily challenge of balancing work, marriage, and a home with my ever-present desire to read, I have started to realize how important it is to carve out time to continue pursuing the love of books that has embedded itself deep in my soul. Like anything else, I have to practice reading if I want to stay “in shape” and continue to become a better reader. Along with my writing practice, I have also set goals for reading practice this year, and I have had one of the most enriching years of reading that I can remember in recent history.

Earlier in the year, I had some birthday money from my family, and rather than simply dump it in my savings account as I generally tend to do, I decided to buy some books that I’ve been coveting for awhile. I tried to choose titles very deliberately—books that would inspire, would teach, and would grow my mind and my spirit. I felt like that little girl version of myself on Christmas morning when the first package arrived with three books inside. I even squealed to Austin, “It’s like Christmas!!!”

Of all the lessons my parents taught me, one of the lessons that I am most grateful for is this love for books and for reading. While they never tried to force us to read, we naturally gravitated toward books because of our family read-alouds and the overflowing library with which they supplied us. Giving us books as gifts taught us that books were special, and making a daily priority of reading aloud to us taught us that books were important.

After struggling during the last several years to become a “good reader” once again, I am so grateful for this profitable and truly enjoyable year of reading that has challenged and encouraged my heart through some delightful books.

(For a list of the books I’ve read so far this year, visit my “24 in 2012” page.)

The Genius of “Permanent Beta”

Photo Credit: www.stockmonkeys.com (Creative Commons)

I’ve always struggled with strong perfectionist tendencies, as well as a knack for procrastination. Together, the two make a deadly combination. I tend to procrastinate on projects or tasks, and then when I dive in, I wreak havoc on myself by demanding perfection from my performance. As you might imagine, this caused unnecessary stress during my school days—even an emotional breakdown or two around exam time.

Over the years, I have learned to schedule my tasks more effectively to avoid procrastinating, and I continually try to convince myself that no matter how hard I try, my work will not be perfect, so I shouldn’t torture myself trying to make it so. In the often-repeated words of one of my favorite bloggers, The Nester, “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.” This applies to so many aspects of life. So often, I think we have a hard time accepting the fact that nothing in life will ever be perfect. But we would save ourselves so much heartache if we could simply learn to embrace this reality.

At the same time, however, we should never use this fact as an excuse to pass off shoddy work with the dismissal, “Well, it’s never going to be perfect.” Of course we should strive for excellence. Of course we should want our work reflect our best efforts. The Bible does teach that, even as Christians, we will never reach a state of perfect obedience in this life—but that doesn’t mean we don’t try to walk in Christ’s perfect footsteps. God still demands that we seek to walk in obedience and love, by His grace, even though we will never do so perfectly.

As with so many other things in life, it all becomes a matter of balance. On the one hand, I don’t want to expect perfection of myself and therefore never truly accomplish anything. At the same time, however, I also want to avoid making a half-hearted effort that results in sloppy art. Is it possible to find the right balance? I believe it is. Will that balance be easy? Definitely not.

I have keenly felt this struggle with the launch of my website and my new blog. This feels like such a giant endeavor, and I have already procrastinated for several months before finally taking the plunge last week. I could still have done more research, I could have created a larger pool of starting content, I could have spent more time on my custom design, and a million other considerations. But I have embraced what Michael Hyatt calls “permanent beta” and pushed forward with this new beginning. Instead of being paralyzed by considering all the things that I could improve, I have embraced the imperfection and just made a start, with the intention that I will continue to improve and tweak as I go along. I still have big plans for more enhancements to my site, and I fully intend to push forward to make those a reality. But I don’t want to allow the hazy possibility of “perfection someday” to destroy the real possibility of “very good” right now.