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Of Scars and Blankets

I followed the trail of blood from our library across our living room floor. Drops of it had congealed on the carpet in our bedroom leading like bread crumbs to the bathroom. My wife, Sherry, was hunched over her bathroom sink running cold water over her hand. She had cut herself. Again.

Let me pause here and assure you that this was not a deliberate act. Sherry likes sharp scissors. Very sharp. She sharpens them regularly. Why does she like sharp scissors? The better to cut her blankets with. A few years ago, Sherry learned how to make blankets from simple material. Not the intricate quilting most people know about. These blankets were made from two pieces of material with ties around the edge. What made these blankets different from any other involved the process of constructing the blanket. Each tie around the edge is made while saying a prayer for the person for whom the blanket is given.

In time, our library, once the province of my books, was transformed into Sherry’s blanket production center. Over the past few years she has produced dozens and dozens of intricately designed, colorful blankets. Each blanket has a singular colored back piece and a very colorful front piece. And the designs on the front she has chosen to match the intended person’s personality.

When she found there were lots of scrap pieces left over, she developed a way to make smaller blankets as baby burp pads or tiny blankets of dolls. Nothing was wasted.

But, the heart of her endeavors are the prayers and the Bible verses. Sherry developed a laminated card containing the favorite prayers of those who knew the person for whom the blanket was intended. Sherry would ask various friends and relatives for their favorite Bible verses and then place them on a large laminated card attached to the blanket. You see, the blanket was more than just a piece of material. It was a creative act of worship, prayer, Bible reading, and very intentional in every part of its creation.

Today, I am sitting on the balcony of our condominium on the beach at Perdido Key, Florida. Sherry and I are talking about the Bible verses we have just read in our morning Bible readings. What you must understand is how creative is our daughter, Casey. She draws. She paints. She creates constantly. It is her way of working through her epilepsy and its emotional toll on her life.

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Return to the Ink*Well

That night in Nashville I desperately needed a hug from my wife but she was a three hour drive away visiting her friends in Chattanooga. I leaned against a tree in the darkened parking lot of Redeemer Church and watched people move inside the bright, clean interior of the church’s attached house. Most of them smiled and laughed as they exchanged brief touches and hugs. Somewhere in that brightness my son spoke with peers his own age. I, an aging gray haired fossil, made up only a small minority at the 2012 Hutchmoot.

I called my wife and listened to her joyful voice as she answered her cell phone. She was having the time of her life playing bridge with her friend Barbara. I was more depressed than I had been in months thanks to an email I had received that afternoon from my publisher “releasing” me from a five book contract after the second book would be released in less than a month. She tried to console me and offered her practical and sensible advice. Always practical and sensible. I, on the other hand, found myself living half the time in a dream world of hopes and aspirations that could never be totally realized. She reminded me that by October, I would have two fiction books in the marketplace released by a major publisher. And, I had just landed a contract for an update to a depression book my co-author and I wrote in 2001. I should have been able to throw all of that on the scales and realistically see that in spite of the release from one contract, another had taken its place and, in the balance of things, I was actually ahead of the game. With the offer to update our depression book had come the offer of writing an entire book series.

But, as much as I loved the idea of updating our depression book, I did not want to say goodbye to Jonathan Steel and his spiritual warfare against the forces of evil. I told my wife I loved her and wiped the tears from my face and tried to man up. I had to go back into the church and face that crowd of giddy millennials. I did and here is the beauty of this thing called Hutchmoot.hutch

The people surrounding me totally understood my situation. Many of them had been in similar circumstances, their art rejected or their idea laughed at. Attendees at Hutchmoot are much, much more than artistic wannabes. I’ve met artistic wannabes.

kitty3Once, I attended a local “writer’s club” and was met at the door by an aging 1950’s glamour girl. She was obviously in her 70s but dressed like Kitty Carlisle (whose grandfather was once mayor of Shreveport!) with a flowing gauzy dress and matching long, wavy hair dyed a hideous blue black. Her face was caked in powder and her eyes were limpid. She greeted me with a dried lipstick smile and a cold, narrow handshake.

“Are you a published writer?” her first words.

I shook my head. “Trying to be.”

“I’ve been published.” She smiled again and I watched bits of lipstick fall to the ground like dying flower petals. She held out to me a fading copy of LIFE magazine tucked into a cellophane wrapping — November, 1957 I think. Impressive. Most impressive. She tapped the magazine.

“Right here in this magazine I was published, my dear.”

I took the magazine and nodded looking beyond her willowy figure to the open door. I had to get passed her. Or did I really want to? Were all of the club members like her? “You wrote an article?” I smiled back at her.

“Letter to the Editor!” She clasped her hands and beamed at me.

I never met anyone like her at Hutchmoot. Everyone in attendance either created art or loved Christian art. No pretenses. Just a simple concept — community. Here at this gathering of like minded Christian artists spanning the range from music to writing to painting to catering, yes catering! Even the “celebrities” hosting this event exhibited humility and frank honesty and friendliness. Andrew Peterson, author of four fantasy books and countless wondrous albums would sit at the table with me and my son and just talk. No pretense. No celebrity snobbiness. No LIFE magazines!

ericOutside, beneath a tent, Eric Peters tried his best to hold an acoustic concert for about a dozen of us. However, his battle with depression, still being waged, would get the best of him and his face would darken with the shadows of that beast and he would halt — pause — emotion in his voice as he tried to explain that THIS song came out of his pain and agony.

You see, nowhere on the face of the planet would a total stranger get up from his seat, walk across the grass to a celebrity and reach out and hug him. Nowhere but Hutchmoot. I told Eric I understood. I have battled depression and most times won; I battle it still. So does he. But, there are times when the VOICES speak loud enough to command our attention and we turn away from the smiling, loving face of our Savior and gaze into the abyss. What keeps us from falling into that crafty chasm of the enemy are many but one saving grace is our community of family and friends who love Christ and each other no matter how many “releases” from contracts fill our lives.

Recently, God began working again around me. In spite of my many weaknesses and faults, God placed certain people in the line of my movement. And now, I may see the birth of something like Hutchmoot. I tried to get the Inkwell going in 2011 and only had one meeting with one person before it faded away. But, there is a growing community of Christian artists here in our area and perhaps it is time for us to meet. It is time for a community to form to encourage, to lift up, to hold accountable our creative acts inspired by Christ, to be there when we are reflected by tradition and to offer a simple hug.

If you are interested, let me know. Here is how you can get involved. First, there is a “meetup” called InkwellSBC (Inkwell Shreveport/Bossier City). You can go to that page and sign up and get involved. Or, you can check out my Facebook page here. Or, you can drop me an email through the contact tab on this website, but if you are interested, we need to KNOW soon. I have to schedule a night in the Well, the coffee shop, at Brookwood Baptist Church.

wolfkingpic2And, to entice you, I will offer something very special. At our first meeting, soon to be determined, I will review Andrew Peterson’s latest book, “The Warden and The Wolf King” and we will have a drawing to give away four copies of the book SIGNED by Andrew Peterson! Interested? Then, I gotta know. And, soon.

So, if you would like to be a part of a local Christian artistic community that meets on a regular basis, contact me. If we get enough interest, we’ll meet and four of you will walk away with signed copies of Andrew Peterson’s book!

An old god . . .

My son, Sean, recently shared with me some thoughts on content and media in the wake of the introduction of a new game console. His insight into story and creating content are very interesting from the point of view of the twenty something generation. Here it is:

 “every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great” Michael Hyatt

The biggest problem we’re facing in the modern world is not hunger or disease, government overreach or corporate ownership, shifting global industries or climate change (though believe me, all those issues are important and vital to address in one way or another.) No, the biggest problem facing our generation is this: what do we do with the time we’re given?

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We live in an unprecedented season of human history where technology, social development and worldwide prosperity gives an increasingly large portion of the world more free time than they know what to do with. Access to tools for information technologies and public information create a world where secrets can’t hide, and if they can, they can’t hide for long. Information access is the great socially destabilizing force of our time. When combined with the reshaping of world socio-economic systems, a larger population of the world’s population has access to a larger pool of comfortable free time than at any other point in human history.

 

Like Clay Shirkey points out in Cognitive Surplus, we’ve spent the last 50 years trying to reckon with this enormous shift in social and cultural life around the globe. Shirkey asserts that like the gin craze of industrialized London, society has coped with our influx of free time by investing in something easy and palatable (though by no means healthy): the television. We befriend characters (fictional and “real”) and we live vicariously through them, letting producers and writers take our nigh-genetically-encoded hunger for story and shared experience and transform it into a multimedia, multi-national conglomerate entertainment complex. For many years, television viewership was like a national religion – the shared set of stories and cultural understandings that grounded us in modern life.

 

But (and this is a really, truly crucial but): the world is changed. Ironically, the information access that created this coping mechanism’s key systems is also slowly dismantling it. With the advent of personal computing, interactive entertainment and affordable mobile electronic devices, people have more opportunity than ever to actively participate in and sometimes even co-create the media they consume. Smartphones enable users to photograph or record any event they choose; games like Minecraft and even Mass Effect allow users the opportunity to custom-tailor their story experience and tell stories of their own; and digital hosting like Youtube or Instagram allow for easy and free distribution of created material. We have participated in stories because we must be involved in shaping our understanding of our world; we have consumed them passively through commercial media production because previously we have had no choice.

 We have participated in stories because we must be involved in shaping our understanding of our world

That has changed. Reality has shifted, and media creation (and participatory media consumption) is now within reach of (if not already a reality for) a vast majority of people in the developed  world (and a good portion of the developing world too.) Humans have always had a nigh-infinite capacity for creation and self-realization; technology now allows our created works to finally catch up with our imaginations.

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Most people realize that this change has come about on an instinctive level. They share photos and videos of their lives on Facebook; they post pictures to Instagram and keep up with far-flung acquaintances through digital audio and text. The capacity for deliberation and deep, honest engagement with people of like mind has never been greater. Therefore, for most people the television has become the new household god, a marker of cultural identity maybe, and a presence to which people feel great affection or deference, but not the overwhelming, monolithic driver of human existence and identity that it once was.

It’s an old god in a new world, having the appearance of power but slowly losing any of that power’s realities, not by outright defeat, but by a slow fade into irrelevance.

 

There’s a secret to that god, one that its fondest worshippers diligently spend millions of dollars a day to obfuscate and disguise. The secret is this: the god was never real, and was of our own making from the beginning. Before television, before commercial radio, we created: we told stories, we laughed at bars, we wrote songs on our porches. Sure, there were always consumptive media (and interactive experiences like games, incidentally), but we have always actively engaged them: we have gone to the theater, we have cheered at games, we have sung together in church. One of our human prerogatives is to create, and no amount of media consumption has ever fully suppressed that compulsion. We’ve consumed because we’ve been trained to; we create because we have no other choice.

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So that’s my invitation to you: create. Make something. Do something; do anything. There is no amount of cultural gatekeeping that can keep you from creating. The tools are there; the desire is there. You need only to act. Michael Hyatt says every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great. You have no idea how important your stories are: to you, to your loved ones, to me, to the world. You just have to tell them. If you do, if we create and share, then the world will never look the same again.

 

Zebra Stripes, Creativity, and God!

I have been in Orlando, Florida for a week now working on a slew of writing projects. My co-author and friend, Mark Sutton lives in Orlando. I came here for a “writing week” to work on my fiction projects and to meet with Mark and work on our upcoming depression book. Most of the week I spent working on our “platform” to promote not only the depression book, “Conquering Depression” but also for my own fiction work.

My wife had to stay home with her home bound mother (who lives with us) so there were many days I was totally alone and very “lonely”. It is in those moments that I tend to get depressed. For me, depression is a constant companion; a buried and mostly subdued beast that, like Jekyll and Hyde, tends to dominate my mood when my defenses are at their weakest. Fortunately, writing and creative endeavors tend to help push the beast back into its cage.

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I am currently sitting on the terrace overlooking a savannah. At “Kidani Village”, the Disney Vacation Club villas that are part of Animal Kingdom Lodge, there is a huge open savannah surrounded by the villas. It is populated by zebras, ostriches, Thompson’s gazelles, Bongo cattle, and wildebeest (no stampedes, please!). I am sitting in a rocking chair looking down upon three zebras engaged rather lazily in the process of eating what must be for them a scrumptious feast of grasses and grains. In the distance, the gazelles are doing what gazelles do best; leaping and frolicking. The sky is partly cloudy with an occasional cloud and drops of cold rain. The wind brings a balmy breeze in the upper 70s and it is truly relaxing. And, inspiring.

I read an article a few months ago about the stripes on the zebra. The traditional thinking has always been that zebras have stripes to help them blend in with the savannah. But, as I watch them move in and out of brown and green grasses, I can’t imagine how the black stripes can blend in. I suppose to color blind animals, the black stripes against a pale brown grass wouldn’t make any difference. But, to me, the stripes just make them stand out. Here I am! Come and get it! Dinner is ready!

But, an amazing scientific experiment has shown the true reason for the stripes. A group of biologists placed white placards with differing types of black and white patterns on them near a watering hole in Africa. The placards contained an odorless, tasteless adhesive. The goal was to determine what kind of insects and just how many insects were either attracted or repelled by the pattern. The discovery was amazing.

The stripes of the zebra (and by inference, the tiger and other such striped creatures) tend to disrupt the normal visual pattern of the multi-faceted eyes of certain types of biting flies. In other words, the stripes are not there for camouflage. They exist to repel these flies. What an amazing development! Or, was it?

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You see, I believe that far from a mere development, the stripes are an element of design. I believe in a hands on God who designed these patterns for the protection of the zebra. I see the stripes as far more than just an evolutionary development. I see them as evidence for a caring, creative God of the universe. But, that is just me, I suppose. So, I will sit here a bit longer, reveling in the cool breeze, the occasional rain drops and the pleasing, relaxing movement of the zebras. And, in that process, I am closer to God than I was an hour ago!

 

To show you how stripes can reflect the creative power of God, check out this amazing video:

http://vimeo.com/62116940

 

Five Ways to Put Away Digital “Idols”

In my recent interviews, I talked about five things that we can do to avoid being sucked in to the digital world. For parents, number one applies. For EVERYONE, all five apply.

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1 — Parents get involved in your kids’ lives. We are afraid of technology and, frankly, we don’t understand our kids’ fascination with all kinds of social media. So, we tend to pull back and nag. Instead, parents need to realize this digital world is NECESSARY for our kids in today’s world. They cannot separate from it completely. Once we get that, then we understand that we must help our kids learn how to control the digital world without letting the digital world control them. More on this later. Parents need to sit down and talk face to face with kids about WHY they want to play video games; WHAT is in the video games; WHEN it is inappropriate to play games hours on end; and HOW to walk away from it. Don’t use technology as a babysitter!!!! Remember, garbage in, garbage out. What kids put into their minds STAYS there and IDEAS have consequences! This is where the other four points come in!

 

 

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2 — TURN IT OFF! Tech rules the world. Digital devices scream from all around us for our attention. We know they’re there, waiting with a very important message for us. So, take a technology fast. Start slowly. Break away for a few minutes a day and try to work up to an hour or so. Turn off the cell phone once you get home and be AT HOME! Leave the work at work! I love music, but take time to just think, meditate, and pray without music. For instance try driving to work with NOTHING turned on. Take your run, walk, or workout with no IPOD! You might hear something; see something; experience something brand new and life changing! I know! It make us nervous just thinking about it! And, that nervousness tells us something very important. We are controlled by our tech! Anything that controls our lives is our idol; our god. Become a tech atheist! Control the tech or it will control you! Check out this link: http://www.qideas.org/blog/do-you-need-a-technology-fast.aspx

 

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3 — Be creative. Find a creative outlet. Do something creative. Art. Music. Photography. Write. Poetry. Crayons. Paint. Draw. Blog. Rearrange your office. Redecorate. Being creative utilizes different parts of your brain other than the parts utilizing tech. Immersion in our technical world burns out part of our brains and, let’s face it, in today’s culture the one thing that replenishes these chemicals, sleep is sadly lacking!

 

 

2011-10-07 18.43.114 — Trade virtual community for REAL community. Imagine you are broken down on the side of the road in the middle of a raging storm. Who are you going to call to come help? Can your “friends” on Facebook living three states away be there within 30 minutes to give you a lift? I don’t think so. I don’t want to diminish virtual friends. My wife plays bridge online and she has made dozens of friends. But, there is no substitute for face time. And, I don’t mean the Apple program. The power of human interaction face to face is so important. We are seeing an entire generation of people who no longer have the important interpersonal social skills to communicate in person. They cannot handle contact. They lack the skills needed to build intimate, loving relationships. Men are waiting into their 30’s to get married because they can’t handle a relationship that demands more than a bright screen with pornography playing on it.

 

So, find real people in a real location. Go to a coffee shop. Go to the, yes I will say it, mall! Go to church. My wife made certain that the people she cared about online became part of our lives. There are a dozen women my wife met playing bridge and now they get together once a year for a week and play bridge. Two of those friends have become my wife’s best friends. We have visited one of her friends here in the states more than once and we have gotten to know her family and friends. Our REAL world is much larger and richer now. Another friend living in New Zealand came to the states this past spring to meet with some of the bridge ladies and she and my wife have become fast friends. We are visiting her and her family in New Zealand in the fall. Imagine this. I have always wanted to visit New Zealand. Now that my wife has made friends with someone in New Zealand, we not only get to visit, we get to see our friend’s world from her perspective and I cannot wait!!!! See the benefits of transferring your virtual world to your real world?

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5 — Invest your time and energy in something that will last beyond your lifetime. In other words, take an eternal perspective. You don’t have to belong to a particular religion to use this tool. All it takes is for us to turn our attention away from ourselves for a season and on those around us in need. Charities. Homeless. Missions. Children. Mentoring. Take that creative process I mentioned earlier and use it for someone or something else. Years ago, a friend of mine was down and depressed. We wandered around that morning as I just simply spent some time with him. We ended up at a local art fair and a group of people were involved in completing an outside mosaic with broken tiles. We joined in. Now, my friend’s life is back on track and he is actively involved in his church, his community, and in local theater touching hundreds of lives every week. And, that mural? It’s still there for anyone to see, cheering people up every time they see it. And, our story? We’re making a book and a movie about that mural!

 

Take a cue from Walt Disney. When he built Disneyland he had one purpose: to create a “magical” world where families could spend time together. And Disney had a simple philosophy: “it will never be complete”. It will keep growing and changing and improving to touch families for generations to come. He looked far beyond his lifetime and that vision touches millions of families around the world every day!

 

The Shadows of Depression Falling, Falling, . . .

The days are growing shorter and night flies across the world in record time. These are the dark days; the cold days as winter and its death grip tightens across the land. As wonderful as the holiday season can be, for some of us, the lengthening shadows bring the cold, hard press of depression to our souls. In a time when we should be thankful and happy, sadness tinges our every thought.

I understand. I have been there and I battle the teasing touch of depression every day. But, I have developed a plan that helps me battle depression on a daily basis. This plan was born out of my two years of counseling and with the help of my Lord. Today, I spoke at length with Armstong Williams on the coming epidemic of depression that is sweeping our land, particularly our young adults. How do you combat this depression?

Let me share some thoughts.

First, invest some time and effort into a creative endeavor. Write a song. Sing a song even if the only person in the audience is the shower nozzle. Write a poem, a letter, a blog post. Pick up some crayons and a coloring book. Find a way to give a special gift of your own making to that loved one this Christmas. Creativity utilizes a totally different part of our brain than that part which is more cognitive and intuitive. Exercising creativity brings a balance to brain chemistry. And, its fun. When you are depressed, you seldom do anything that is fun. Now is the time to indulge yourself. Even if it is to make a cool, colorful ice cream sundae with lots of colorful sprinkles!

Second, take a technology fast. Turn off the cell phone and tuck away the ipad. Don’t message any one for an hour. Go outside and take a walk in the cold sunshine or read a real book. Better yet, try a REAL interaction with someone instead of a virtual interaction. We are becoming increasingly isolated from real contact due to Facebook and Twitter and texting. But, we need to touch and talk to and listen to real people in real time in person. Scary, but I suggest you try it before you forget what it is like to sit at a table with your best buddy and talk over coffee.

Third, invest your time and energy in something that transcends your life. Find a cause that helps others. Serving others can be the best diversion from depression. And, when you invest in a cause that is greater than yourself; that will have lasting impact beyond your life; it gives you perspective. You will find others that may be worse off than you and a smile and a helping hand is what you are looking for so give that to them. Find someone who is suffering from depression and help them out by sharing and talking to them. They might have good advice that will help you. And, vice versa. Turn your “tragedy” into “triumph”. Redeem your depression!

Finally, turn loose of that grudge or that unforgiving attitude. In my book, “The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon” the character of Raven is an assassin who started out as a little girl in love with God. Because of some tragedy in her life, she moved into a life of crime, killing for a living. In the process, because she could not forgive, she died inside. Like the vampires in my book, she is the walking dead; dead inside; dead spiritually; dead emotionally. Until she meets up with Jonathan Steel, a man from her past who reminds her that there is a Love that transcends hurt and death and evil. Being unforgiven has left her numb and depressed. Can she ever find forgiveness? Is there some deed so horrific; so heinous that God cannot forgive? Can you ever find peace?

Like Raven, this question is true for all of us. There are always those in our life we should forgive. And, there are always those in our life who should forgive us. Think about that and if you can find it in your heart, forgive. If you can find the strength, ask for forgiveness. You will find the sudden rush of holy wind that floods your soul will rejuvenate your dying spirit; it will fill you with new life; it will blow away the dregs of depression and leave you healed and restored.

Don’t spend another day as the walking dead. Start conquering depression right now!

 

This holiday season, check out “Conquering Depression: A 30 Day Plan for Finding Happiness” available in all bookstores and through all ereaders. If you’re looking for a good fiction book for someone, check out my first book, “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye” and the newest book, “The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon”.

 

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