Ten Book Characters You’d Want to Go on a Road Trip with

Volkswagon bus and Schwinn bicycle.When Barnes and Noble shared a post about road trips with favorite book characters, I immediately wondered with whom I’d want to adventure. I then thought about strategy. Some characters, after all, are funny or morbid but relatively useless in the day-in, day-out activities of life. If they were put under the pressure of a road trip — and almost anyone would agree that lengthy trips bring out the best and worst in people — they’d succumb to anger or petulance.

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More to Risk

A girl looks out to sea.When I started freelancing in 2016, I felt as though I were taking a huge risk—a step that felt akin to Abram walking into the desert. I never heard God say, “Freelance,” but it seemed like he wanted me to pursue it. I felt a certainty about the action that could only have come from him.

And yet…

Two years later, I’m discovering that there is yet more to be risked. I thought I trusted God, however haphazardly. Trust, though, seems to be a thing that requires continual growth to remain alive and influential.

Then again, maybe I stopped trusting God a long time ago. I never stopped believing in him, but I hesitated to ask him for anything. Why pray when he’d said no to healing me so many times before? How could I address someone so distant and removed?

However, the more I treated him as distant, unknowable, uncaring, the more out of control and disgusted with myself I felt. I coped with that, not by rebelling or turning to a parent, but by retreating inward. The motion led to self-harm; I skirted the edges of anorexia in high school. By the time I was fifteen, I weighed somewhere between ninety and 100 pounds, and my endocrinologist was threatening me with hospitalization and a feeding tube.

The starvation method stopped, but it has its consequences: It tempts when life gets hard, when someone breaks my heart, when I hate myself for doing the one thing I promised I’d never do. I want control, even if it’s a false one. The desire to punish myself — instead of repenting and moving forward — takes hold for a moment. Fortunately, I know where anorexia leads. It may tempt me, but its lies no longer work on me and are thus never acted upon.

And yet…

My lack of trust, though, remained. In college, it appeared in quiet rebellion: I went to church, occasionally participated in the Baptist Student Ministry, and served in AWANA, but the actions meant little to me. They were rote, rudimentary, removed. They belonged to a girl who followed the rules either to follow the rules or because she was afraid to break them, not because she loved the rules or the Rule-Giver.

Graduate school brought a shift, although, looking back, I didn’t do any of the shifting. God did. He made me tired of rote actions by settling me at a church focused on social justice and moral living. The messages irritated, sort of like the sand that gets into an oyster’s shell.

The pearl: finding Three Rivers Community Church. There, the process of walking back toward God started. The pastor and his wife adopted me into their family, demonstrated that God cared about me, a quietly rebellious rule-follower.

They also showed that God cared about the arts, something I’d yet to see or hear at any church. Three Rivers’ pastor, in a previous life, studied and worked in graphic design. His background affected everything, especially how he communicated biblical truths. He used stories and imagery, sometimes giving the congregation a take-home aid like a seed or stone.

In doing that, I felt more at home than I’d felt in a long time. God seemed close and knowable again. He wasn’t far off but invested deeply in me, one of his daughters.

And yet, there’s more…

I’m still working on the trust issue; it may be something I work on for the rest of my life. Other churches and pastors have helped along the way, included Beth El Bible in El Paso. Today, it occurs at The Austin Stone and through Creative Missions.

It also happens with the books I read. My “baptism” into a church where the arts were present has led me to ponder how faith and art intersect and inform each other. It’s also caused me to think about how art might be a way to build bridges with and transform a culture unfriendly to the gospel.

And yet, there is more to risk.

All of that is healthy, an indicator I’m returning to the unshakeable trust, the unswerving faith, I once held. God, though, seems to be pushing for more lately. That, or he’s placed a desire for more in my heart.

Either way, it’s made the past year somewhat difficult. I’ve felt something akin to growing pains but without knowing what I’m growing toward. Try to describe it, and I fall silent, grasping for words I don’t yet know.

The words, perhaps unsurprisingly, arrived from outside myself. Perhaps somewhat ironically, they appeared on Twitter, the same place I once learned about Creative Missions.

Are you gifted in research, education, and writing with a passion to see others equipped? Join this residency to work alongside our experienced staff to lead and equip others through process, content, and training.

I read those words and responded with a resounding “yes.” However, a residency requires a whole new level of trust because, if accepted, I will have to raise support. I might as well as be going overseas on the mission field or…or fighting the final battle with King Koopa. If I die, I’ll have to start the game all over again.

That place is dangerous and hard. It’s also simultaneously good and exhilarating. Freeing, even. Living in it means I’m risking everything for the sake of the kingdom of God. In doing so, I’m returning, maybe, finally, to the little girl who confidently prayed to be healed, but this time, I’m asking for something much bigger. I’m asking for God to be glorified in and through my life and the work of my hands.

And yet,

there is more to risk,

for to God belongs

all glory and praise.

He is more than enough.

Image: Giuseppe Milo (Creative Commons)

T is for Termagant

Two badgers fighting in a field of grass.Most people likely think of termagant as an adjective describing a person prone to being overbearing or shrewish. I, however, conjure an animal, two, to be exact: the married badgers, Crab Apple and Fussbudget. The couple makes its appearance in Ken Gire’s Adventures in the Big Thicket, a children’s book similar to Aesop’s Fables.

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How to Know Oneself

Man walking on the shore of a lake. Black and white photograph.“God gave us the Bible so that we might know ourselves.”

Creative Missions

Most modern advice to know oneself says to turn inward. By examining one’s feelings and desires, so the thought goes, a person can determine one’s direction and purpose. The problem with the thought is that the person who travels inward rarely leaves the space. Rather, he or she remains there because the self often changes. Purpose and direction become murky, mysterious, unknowable.

The self regularly lies or misplaces facts, too, saying a person is better or worse than he or she is. Either way, the end result is the same: The inner self turns out to be a prison rather than a foundation for right thought, behavior, and action.

The Heart is Deceitful

The Bible offers an alternative, and ultimately helpful, perspective. Knowing oneself never comes from introspection. It’s impossible for, as Jeremiah points out, the heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Only God knows the heart, the self, for he sees past man’s external trappings. God makes this clear when he tells Samuel not to anoint any of David’s kingly looking brothers: “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Jesus echoes the idea when he exposes the religious elite as “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27–8). The men may look pious and respectable on the outside, but they are filled with bones and decay on the inside.

The Bible is Honest

Such knowledge seems scary, and it is. God is holy and just. He doesn’t pretend man is good or dismiss sin; he says man is evil (Genesis 6) and requires payment for sin. However, God also is gracious, loving, kind, and merciful. His Son, instead of sheep or people, pays the price for man’s sin.

The Bible recounts all those aspects of God’s character, as well as many others, to illustrate not only how terrible mankind is but also how loved. The person who accepts that conception of reality finds freedom, not fear or imprisonment. Paul speaks explicitly of the reality in Romans 6, comparing the slave of sin and death to the slave of God and eternal life. The former leaves a person rudderless and in shackles; the latter produces a wellspring of joy, freedom, and life.

The Bible Offers Confidence

A biblical perspective on man and the world provides more than honesty. It offers confidence and comfort, too. Man may be entirely messed up, but they now have a person to run to with their sin and weaknesses: Jesus.

Being a great man or woman of God is about recognizing how broken you are and not skipping past the things that are uncomfortable. It’s about addressing the really difficult things and running to Jesus. He perfectly lived out every one of your flaws, did everything you can’t, didn’t avoid what you ignore or are too lazy to confront. He’s not just your example; he’s your substitute.

Creative Missions

Lecrae, in his memoir Unashamed, expresses the idea slightly differently: “Rather than ridding you of problems or temptations, following Jesus just means that you have a place — no, a person — to run to when they come. And the power to overcome them.”

That is, Jesus’ ability to overcome temptation means man can do the same. The person who believes in Christ receives an opportunity to say, every day, “That’s not who I am anymore.” They set down their burden of sin and shame and run toward God, recognizing that no sin is so deep or final that God’s love cannot cover it (1 John 1:5–10).

In God and his Bible, man acquires something much better than information about how to know oneself or how to live a moral life. They gain the capacity for transformation, for living as conquerors (Romans 8:31–9). How? By admitting the truth: God knows man’s heart, but he loves man anyway and makes a way, in Jesus, for the restoration and reconciliation of all things, including man’s deceitful, evil heart.

Image: Anne Worner (Creative Commons)

Why You Need to Finish Things

A pen and 2018 calendar beside a silver Macbook Pro.Try to finish things. You learn more as an aspiring writer from finishing things.

— Neil Gaiman, Book Reading in Austin, Texas

Neil Gaiman directed his advice on finishing things toward writers, but his words apply to anyone. Artist or scientist, child or adult, everyone learns more from finishing things. For example, the action produces patience and perseverance. It also instills focus.

Finishing Things Teaches Patience

The dictionary defines patience as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” The word’s synonyms include “restraint, forbearance, and tolerance.” Some people claim the capacity naturally.

Most people, however, have to work at it. Fortunately, patience can be taught and often arrives through finishing things. The longer a person sticks with a project, the more patience he or she must practice. It is the only way to see a project through to its end when it proves difficult or takes more time than anticipated.

Finishing Things Cultivates Perseverance

Finishing things also produces perseverance, a quality related to patience. Perseverance means “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” It belongs to the realm of “try, try again.”

It also holds sway with people known for stick-to-it-iveness. Not everyone possesses the ability innately, but they can develop and hone it. By choosing a project and finishing it, despite getting bored or discouraged, perseverance appears, benefiting not only the current project but also future ones.

Finishing Things Instills Faithfulness

Patience and perseverance often result in faithfulness. Wikipedia, however fault-ridden, offers an excellent definition for the word: “Faithfulness is the concept of unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something, and putting that loyalty into consistent practice regardless of extenuating circumstances.”

In other words, a faithful person is a committed person. He or she takes on a project, joins a service team, or initiates a friendship determined to give those things one hundred percent. For this person, faithfulness entails quality and whole-bodied dedication, nothing more and nothing less.

Finishing Things Delivers Focus

A person faithful to finishing things sometimes encounters a problem: He or she commits to everything, leaving the individual scattered and weary. As a result, the person typically goes one of two routes.

He or she either quits things or streamlines commitments. The first sometimes leaves a person guilty and in despair. The second can prompt some of those same emotions, but the individual usually comes to a realization that focusing on fewer “things” leads to greater patience, perseverance, and faithfulness.

Finishing Things Balances Failure and Success

Besides teaching a person perseverance, focus, et cetera, finishing things can help a person to view failure and success accurately. Finishing a project doesn’t always lead to acclaim and fame. In other instances, finishing sometimes means missing the mark. The project gets completed, but it isn’t something to brag about.

Both of those outcomes are fine. A person shouldn’t commit to a thing because of a desire for publicly acknowledged success; he or she should commit to the thing because of the thing itself. It is the thing or person that motivates perseverance, patience, and faithfulness. It prompts focus because the thing demands undivided attention.

The thing also supersedes success and failure rates because, at some point, the desire to work on it takes priority over anything else. That is, the person comes to love the process more than the outcome. He or she has to write, draw, experiment, et cetera, no matter what. When they reach that point, they don’t need to worry about aspirations; they are practicing artists, whether the world knows it or not.

Image: Marco Verch (Creative Commons)

S is for Shawarma

Pork shawarma on a plate.Ah, shawarma. Many people likely think of the scene from Iron Man when they hear the word. I, however, think of the actual food. It belongs in the realm of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods, which I happen to find thoroughly palatable.

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Write Right Greets the New Year

A cartoon girl with a red pen stands in the snow. Five birds are on a tree branch, which intersects with the words "to the new year, W. S. Merwin."

To the New Year

By W. S. Merwin

With what stillness at last

you appear in the valley

your first sunlight reaching down

to touch the tips of a few

high leaves that do not stir

as though they had not noticed

and did not know you at all

then the voice of a dove calls

from far away in itself

to the hush of the morning


so this is the sound of you

here and now whether or not

anyone hears it this is

where we have come with our age

our knowledge such as it is

and our hopes such as they are

invisible before us

untouched and still possible

Book Review: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators

A kawaii (Japanese toy) cheerleader wearing an orange jersey and holding blue pom-poms.I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure what to expect from Kelley Hartnett’s You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators. I occasionally write for church communicators; I even edit some of their work for the Church Marketing Sucks website. However, I don’t work in church communications. Would Kelley’s book hold any relevance to me?

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Let’s Fill This Town with Servants

Two friends give a side hug while hiking in Austin, Texas.| SERVANTS |

A FAMILY, with their eyes lifted UPWARD, and their love pressing OUTWARD, and their ambition pushing DOWNWARD, is UNSTOPPABLE.

Riley Sheehan, The Austin Stone

At the Austin Stone Worship Collective this year, we’ve focused on a single idea: filling our town (and ones nearby) with servants. We want to see Jesus lifted high, and one of the best ways to do that is through serving God, each other, and the communities in which we live. I like how Riley Sheehan frames the concept, explaining why I’m borrowing it.

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You Only Think You Have Writer’s Block

Piece of paper with the words "can't think" written on it.“I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe writers get stuck. One absolves responsibility. Admitting your stuck means you can fix it. […] Writer’s block is a sympathy card. Only writers could be so inventive as to come up with it.”

Neil Gaiman, Book Reading in Austin, Texas

The New Year ushers in the usual resolutions: eat healthier, exercise more, watch television less. For writers, though, the time period typically involves some commitment to a writing project. They aim to finish a novel or other manuscript before 2018 comes to close.

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