Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ode to Coffee Shop Writing {part one}

via Pixabay--not a representation of coffee shops discussed below
If you come to my little corner of the earth, I'll take you on a coffee shop tour and we can write together. These are shops sweet friends have introduced me to, and all of them hold beloved memories, thanks to them.

{the modern place}
Just up the street from a donut shop and an antique store, you'll find a little coffee place tucked in a row of shops. On a sunny day, broad windows let a welcome tide of sunlight pour over wood-topped tables. Your wallet will come out a little lighter price-wise. But in exchange, you'll receive a thick ceramic cup with a beautiful black finish, filled with something creamy and nice. It's one of those mugs you'd cradle in your hands in a classic Instagram coffee snap; a mug full of simple cocoa, with latte hearts drawn in the foam. So full, in fact, that you do one of those slow walks back to the table, trying to keep it from sloshing.

My favorite part about this coffee shop is the little, raised seating area--the couple of tables and a sofa in their own railed corner, where you have to walk up a step to get to them. Every once in a while you can look up for a perfect view of the other customers. Someone else working on their laptop. A son and his elderly mother enjoying a visit at a window table. While the sun shines in, this coffee shop offers a grand place to think and work. A grand place for typing on a laptop. A grand place to plug in the headphones and listen to Hugh Jackman singing "A Million Dreams" on repeat. It's the perfect spot to chase your ambitions in introverted solitude.


{the bookstore beanery}
Another favorite coffee shop is not really a coffee shop at all. It's a cafe tucked into a bookshop. These tables are white-topped with bright orange and green seats. Posters by the gray-walled ordering counter offer suggestions from three authors for various drink and snack combinations. Here you can order a lovely latte: Paris tea by Harney and Sons coupled with raspberry syrup. Or, if you'd rather, you can buy tea for a dollarish and take a steamy warm disposable cup back to your table.

Perhaps it is the air inside the bookshop, or perhaps it is being away from cozy armchairs at home. Whatever the reason, I always seem to find a special ability to concentrate here. This beanery found me in company with The Afters' joyous lyrics while accepting editor changes like crazy on War of Loyalties last fall. An added perk: when you need a break, there's a dangerous break to be had browsing through bookshelves of mark-down, used, or new books. It's an easy place to reward yourself for hitting an editing goal--or even just to grab a quick drink to keep you fueled along the writing way.

{the antique bank}
If you really want atmosphere, my favorite place is a little coffee shop squished between other shops in a rather old part of town. Just past a Little Caesar's pizza, you'll find a made-over bank building. The windows are small; the walls are dark, plastered with artwork ranging from vintage to weird, and if you look up, the copper ceiling tiles offer a delightful aesthetic. If you're lucky, you'll get a table for two along the wall with a green-topped desk light. If you're not, you'll have to content yourself with a table in the middle, watching like a hawk for a wall plug to open up. Sustenance for a precious laptop is always a key concern. Here you'll have slim working space in the busy midst of all sorts of people--lone college students staring into laptop screens. A man and woman on a date. A group of college students discussing faith. Outside, you might even find a game of Monopoly in progress on a summer night at the sidewalk tables.

Here you can get any drink you want at the counter. But beware. Up on the shelf with the syrups, there's a golden urn with a placard bearing the inscription "Ashes of Difficult Customers." As long as you're not difficult, you'll be quite all right. Here you can order brownies or lemon poppyseed scones; French sodas with a multiplicity of flavor options; boba tea (I haven't tried that yet); or something tasty from a long list of lattes. Here you'll find chai lattes hot and sweet, or a quick packet of tea if you're on a budget. And when you've chosen (it can take a long time to choose) you take your disposable coffee cup back to a green-topped table. In company with your drink, you can write by hand in a notebook or hang out with Scrivener and a playlist. Or perhaps, best of all, sit and chat with a friend to fill your creative well.

There are more coffee shop experiences to chronicle in another blog post. But these three places, which have seen editing and dreaming, conversations and happy days, are the places we'll go when we have a writing vacation sometime.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Winter in April {seeking Allah, finding Jesus}

via Pixabay
Last Sunday morning an April storm came through the Great Lakes area, icing over the roads and canceling most of the morning services. There's something all the more relaxing about getting up late on a Sunday morning, and instead of dressing up and scurrying around, seeing everyone just laying around with blankets and cozy talk. The whole day turned into blankets and cozy talk--sis and I cuddled up on the couch while we all watched a live stream sermon. Then there were Sunday nap comas. Then there were three episodes of the Great British Baking show. (Normally two is our high water mark, but we had a library due date and less free evening time that week.)

I woke up that Sunday morning over cereal and yogurt, accompanied by Nabeel Qureshi's Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Our church ladies are having a book discussion night with it, so my mom and sis and I are all reading the copy a friend passed on to us. We received the copy last year sometime last summer before the hurricanes in Houston. During the floods, I still remember hearing about Qureshi leaving for the hospital as the floodwaters rose higher. Then, in mid-September, I heard that Qureshi passed away. While I had never heard him speak and knew none of his story at the time, I added his book to my sooner-than-later TBR.

Nabeel's book is fascinating and easy to read since he describes a lot of his spiritual journey in conversations with his family and his friend, David. He was raised as a Western Muslim and a peaceful man, with a deep love for his parents and their Islamic heritage. Qureshi's book details how his faith in Islam grew as a child in a wonderfully loving home, and how he later came to accept Christianity when he examined his faith and found it lacking in truth and consistency. Qureshi doesn't disguise how hard it was; how much he loved his family; and how much he had to give up to accept Jesus Christ as Lord.

What makes reading it even more interesting is contrasting it with another book my mom and sister and I are reading: In the Land of Blue Burqas, by Kate McCord. While Qureshi's book explores growing up Muslim in the West, McCord's book explores the lives of Muslim women in Afghanistan. The differences between Eastern Islam and Western Islam, according to Qureshi, are that Eastern countries are focused on authority and shame, while Western citizens are more influenced by the independent rationalistic mindset of right/wrong. McCord's account of Afghanistan offers a bleak picture of that, especially for women. In the West, a land filled with independent settlers, it doesn't surprise me that people don't want anyone to tell them what to think or do. Qureshi's picture of his Eastern mindset meeting Western America offers a lot of clarification on how we approach religions from different viewpoints. 

One theme which carries through both books is that of listening. The author of Blue Burquas came to a culture where people sit and talk. They listen and ask questions. There are no fast conversations, and she impacted people in many ways by taking time to converse with them. Qureshi, in his book, says that many Christians would look at him as someone needing to be saved--but the man who looked at him as a friend was the man who ultimately led him to the Lord.

Qureshi's bravery in pressing on to know and test his faith is more than I've done. His comments about being loved as a person versus being seen as a convert offer food for thought. And his life demonstrates his careful attention to truth, and God's patient love as he gives Qureshi confirmation after confirmation of the truth in several miraculous ways.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Love Which Expands {dorcas lane and gabriel cochrane}

via Pixabay
"I believe that love expands our world."

Dorcas Lane says this to Gabriel Cochrane in Lark Rise to Candleford, after he explains to her that he loves his work to the exclusion of all other loves. Dorcas disagrees with his assessment; she thinks that love is a different thing entirely. 

If Dorcas Lane slipped into our Bible Study Fellowship, her gorgeous belts, chic hats, and feminine shirtwaists might be a little out of place. (I'd dress up with her style any day.) But I think she'd find a resonating answer in the pages of Romans. The last few weeks we have been studying how to love the body. And that means loving those different than us; loving those weaker than us (Romans 14); loving our enemies (Romans 12). 

There is no time in the Christian life where we can look at the world around us and say "I have no one to love." 

Set just on the cusp of the upcoming 20th century, Lark Rise embodies all that is beautiful in its small-town stories and wind-tossed harvest fields. It's a BBC adaptation of a book I hope to read someday. There are many beautiful points; many tear-jerking moments. But one of the beautiful plot lines in Season 4 is Gabriel Cochrane's character arc. 

Gabriel Cochrane comes to Candleford after having his father's foundry confiscated for debts that he cannot pay. He is devastated by the loss of his young wife. And as he tries to make a new life in Candleford, he often rubs Dorcas the wrong way because of his loveless-ness. 

Gabriel believes he can only love one thing. When his wife was alive, he loved her so much he betrayed his financial stability and his word to please her. Now that she is gone, he thinks that he is no longer able to love people. So he throws himself into his work and loves that, to the inconvenience of other people's schedules and impatience towards a little boy who looks up to him. 

Dorcas finally confronts him. 
"Love is not a selfish need; not a hunger that must always be fed. Love should not exclude. It should make our lives broader; our hearts wider. What kind of love is it that would lock us away from those around us?" -Season 4, Episode 4
This is truth. Gabriel's love is really warped love. Warped love gathers about it the people and objects of its possession like treasured idols, refusing to expand or allow them to expand. Warped love is willing to allow other people to suffer for the sake of the comfort of one. Or even allowing the one to suffer for the sake of the comfort of the many. Warped love sets up barriers and comfort zones and walls.

But if you dive into Scripture, you see a different picture of love entirely. God inextricably links love for him with love for his people (1 John 4:21). We're called to love the body. To love the unlovable. To love even in a way that sacrifices some of our lesser loves on occasion (Romans 14). Christian love does not shut its heart. Doesn't sees someone approaching the table and say, "I have no room for you." Doesn't say, "My world is complete. I don't need any more people."

"I don't need." Surely a warning sign.

When I love only within my little exclusive circle, like Gabriel Cochrane, then I am actively showing hate to those I refuse to let in. Warped love has borders. As Dorcas says, passion has borders. Love is something else entirely. Love is not collecting people who contribute only to my praise. Not talking only to those who share my exclusive little hobbies and areas of excitement. Not solely fellowshipping with my select gathering. Not using people's goodwill just to forward my own ambitions. Love is extending the love of God to all whom God brings to me....a broader, wider love as described on the lips of a wise postmistress.

So Gabrial Cochrane, just because he cannot love one person, learns to show love to others. A little boy with his tempestulator. An employer who shows kindness to him again and again. His world expands. And an already endearing character is all the better for it. 

Would you add thoughts to this? I'd love to have my perspective expanded. 

Also, 3 reviews left on Amazon releases the first snippets of the War of Loyalties sequel! Have a favorite character? Criticisms? Overall impressions? (Honest reviews are the best!)


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sleeping Beauty and Humble Self

via Pixabay

She was sitting in a rocking chair near the window, I perched on a bed next to her, when her friend handed us warm mugs of creamy hot cocoa.

"Don't fall in there and drown," she teased.

We live half a world apart. That afternoon we had perhaps two hours of a grey November day before the road called our family home to Michigan again.

Two years before, Suzannah stumbled across My Lady Bibliophile through a comment on Jasmine Baucham's pre-marriage blog. (You can now find Jasmine Holmes writing excellent stuff here.) I think it was one of the only comments I've made, which always points me to the beauty and unpredictability of the ways God calls friends together. We exchanged occasional emails; sometime later Suzannah asked me to beta read a novel she was working on: Pendragon's Heir.

Humble self is at your service.

I've been doing it on a Watsonian level ever since. I read Ten Thousand Thorns last summer, spending Saturday mornings with Clouded Sky and Iron Maiden at the breakfast table. (Yes, I was eating alone.) For those of you who don't know, these two smol precious beings are found in a lusciously artistic retelling of Sleeping Beauty set in China with martial arts.

via Goodreads 
what are we waiting for, schuyler? send us to amazon.  

It was splendid when I read it the first time. I wasn't able to open a final draft until early 2018. The first chapter found me swiping pages on my phone while we wound through early morning country roads with cross-streets named "Empire" and "Britain." We were on the way to a radio recording day. The rest of the chapters found me this last Sunday clinging to same said phone. On the way to church, on my bed before my traditional Sunday nap-coma, and tucked into our cushy red recliner while the clock marched on to bedtime.

The sudden palm-strike to seal an acupoint.  Hands cupped in humble obeisance. Silky sleeves rippling in the wind. The tiptoeing sun. The threat of a masked face. Characters wrestling with war and spiritual enlightenment against the tension of fleeing pursuit, along with guarded legends from an unknown location. Ten Thousand Thorns provides so much to be loved. Explored through a high-quality story, it chastises spiritual disengagement from the world's problems, dramatizes Ecclesiastes 4:13, and provides an inspiring look at how women can effectively equip believers in the kingdom of God.

Hard to believe all that can be dealt with in the brevity of one novella. But as Clouded Sky wrestles with saving his country or enlightening his soul, it deals with all of them phenomenally well.

Coupled with Christina Rosetti's poems, I felt like I was enjoying a literary feast on Sunday. It's a feast you'll love to engage with as well.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Of Minky Blankets and Discipline and Joy

via Pixabay
We have a blanket in our home made of Minky which my mother sewed last year. She wanted to experiment with sewing a new type of fabric, and it's been a popular blanket in the home ever since. It's soft, brown on one side, with scattered woodland creatures on the other. I can't remember what they are. I only remember the foxes. 

Minky enshrouds you in a cascade of warmth and softness. It's the great Procrastinator. The Work-Destroyer. The Peace-Inviter and Shield-of-Forgetfulness against the demands of a fast-paced and productive world. A couple of weeks ago, sis brought me Minky and The Silver Chair on a Friday night. I don't know what prompted this act of love, but I spent the next few hours cocooned in comfort, escaping with Jill and Eustace to Narnia. While the rest of the family studied or rested from sheer exhaustion after a long week, I wandered through the land of talking owls and Marsh Wiggles. 

Prince Caspian was my favorite Narnia book growing up, and more recently, I've claimed him as my favorite still. After reading it again this year, I could see even more reasons to love it besides the superficial ones I had as a child: the triumphant victory and rejoicing in the presence of Aslan, the great bonfire feast of victory at the end. It's a tale that points to the victory of God, and the deep, satisfying joy of fellowship with his people. Who can forget David Suchet on the Focus on the Family drama, with his rich voice describing how Aslan and the moon stared at each other with joyful and unblinking eyes? 

So I wasn't expecting to go into The Silver Chair and have it beat Prince Caspian out for first place. In fact, I was putting it off a little bit because I expected to be bored. I have no idea why. Maybe because I knew the story so well that it was all going to be review; another obligatory stop in the series. 

Oh, Schuyler. Your mistakes are amusing sometimes. 

So many joyful, wonderful, deep and stirring things stood out to me as I journeyed through. The end of Dawn Treader hurts when Caspian meets Ramandu's daughter. The glory and joy of falling in love with the daughter of a star--who can help feeling the ache of beauty, along with the terrible stab of knowing that their time together will be so short? There is nothing to heal that tragedy. If I could undo anything in the series, it would be the death of Ramandu's daughter. But at the same time, I cannot say it was ill done when the emotion it describes is so deep. 

Then we have Puddleglum--dear Puddleglum, with his infuriatingly pessimistic predictions and stalwart loyalty. Puddleglum is always seeing the worst, and like Eustace and Jill, it's easy for me to be annoyed and dismissive of pessimism. Things generally work out, and when you travel a long journey with someone who looks at the glass half-empty, over time you start to shut their viewpoint out. But the danger of that is that sometimes, when you're in the neighborhood of giants, the gloomy predictions actually strike the right note, and you're too blind to see it anymore. 

The Silver Chair dramatizes the hard struggle of spiritual growth. Jill starts off as the bullied student of an Enlightened school and doesn't know much worth knowing. Her spiritual muscles are weak, and Aslan assigns memorization and obedience to strengthen them. In The Silver Chair we continue to catch glimpses of the Lion's severity. He's not a Santa Claus, fixing wrongs and dispensing pats on the head with benign smiles. He has a heart of necessary sternness towards his children, and a strong, corrective expectation of what they need to do (or think) better. Like Hebrews 11, he disciplines the children he loves. And it is not an easy journey. But throughout his discipline is tempered mercy and guidance. Even when his children are frail and faulty, he helps them accomplish the purpose he gave them, both for the land of Narnia and for their own souls. God is able to keep us from falling, and more kindly patient with our errors than we often give him credit for. I was blown away by the sweet moment I had utterly forgotten towards the end of the book, one gave me a glimpse of God himself: 
And in less time than it takes to breathe Jill forgot about the dead King of Narnia and remembered only how she had made Eustace fall over the cliff, and how she had helped to muff nearly all the signs, and about all the snappings and quarrelings. And she wanted to say "I'm sorry" but she could not speak. Then the Lion drew them toward him with his eyes, and bent down and touched their pale faces with his tongue, and said: 
"Think of that no more. I will not always be scolding. You have done the work for which I sent you into Narnia." -The Silver Chair, CS Lewis, pg. 236. 
It's beautiful. 

The Silver Chair doesn't only dramatize discipline so wonderfully. It also expresses celebration. C.S. Lewis is so good at giving his readers lavish joy after the hardship. From the Great Snow Dance to a firelit cave and frothy mugs of hot cocoa (including a dig at fake sausages), I love his descriptions. I also love his chapter title: "The Healing of Harms." The simple gifts of food and togetherness, of the generosity of God after he has called us to struggle: so generous that he could even grant Caspian's wish to catch a glimpse of the human world. It's a bonus. An unnecessary. Icing on the cake is necessary, so we will compare it to piped chocolate garnishes: the extra beauty that most people wouldn't care to put on, which a generous God so graciously gives to his beloved children. 

I don't rejoice as much in God's generosity as I should. Caught up in the fear of my own frailty, it is much easier to obsessively contemplate myself than to give thanks. C.S. Lewis reminds me of this. 

Friday nights with Minky are restorative to the soul. The Silver Chair is so beautiful I'm not sure how to end this article, except with thanks. So thank God for C.S. Lewis and Eustace and Jill, for frothy hot cocoa and gentle lions. And thank God, too, for a hole left in a Narnian hillside that contains an underground sea world, where evil has been silenced and the good can "sail to and fro, singing." 
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