I Hate My Blog!

It happens every Tuesday.

I get halfway through the day and I’m like “Great Caesar’s Ghost! I was supposed to post something today.”

I’ve had a blog for something in the neighborhood of 2 years, but only really got serious about it at the end of last year. Had some success with a few posts that people liked and even got to guest write on a few other blogs.

But suddenly the neat ideas I had are coming at a much slower pace.

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Seems I like I keep reading cool posts like “5 Exciting Characters Every Good Suspense Novel Needs!”, meanwhile I’m working on a piece like “What it’s really like being a Christian and a Star Wars Fan.”, recycling ideas from other posts.

I have having to force myself to write something just to get it done. I’ve had to do that with the book I’m working on. Just getting something on the page. It’s just something you need to do. But the only people who see that are my critique partners and a few others. Then I have months to work on it and get it ‘perfect’ before anyone else sees it. But posting on my blog is like sending out a half formed, typo ridden first draft where anyone anywhere can see it.

I have a talent for people’s negative reaction’s to my stuff. Seriously, it should be some kind of marketable skill. Every time I press send, I hear the critical voices saying “Lame! Boring! Your Joss Whedon jokes aren’t funny!”

Or worse, I just imagining people scrolling past my stuff on their news feed as they go to check out a hilarious meme about goats.

I like the comfortable feeling I get when I know I’ve something really good. I hate stepping out, not knowing what kind of feedback I will get, if any.

100_7244And that is the risk that we all take every time we put pen to paper and use words to bare our soul. There’s always the chance of putting out a stinker or that you’ll get the perfect ending to a short story and readers will sit and go “I don’t get it.”

We take that risk because without it there’s no thrill when people leave excited replies in the comment section or when your friends come up to you saying “Hey man, read your story. Great stuff.”

There’s the sense of accomplishment from knowing that your God given gift of writing is not going unused.

So I’ll keep writing and blogging and we’ll see what comes of it. Maybe it’ll get easier the more I do it. We’ll see.

There are no Zombies in the Bible

I don’t know when I first read it, but I got myself in a little bit of trouble in college when I read Psalms 27.

It reads:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; thought war break out against me, even then I will be confident. (Psalms 27:1-3 NIV, emphasis added)

I didn’t get much further than “devour my flesh” and “stumble and fall” before my twisted little brain said “He is totally talking about being surrounded by an army of zombies!” Obviously, I didn’t really believe that was the case, but it was fun to contemplate King David leading his mighty men against a horde of the undead, hacking off the heads of reanimated corpses. (I was also reading the “Zombie Survival Guide” by Max Brooks at the time, which may have had some influence on where my thoughts were at the time.)

It was a great conversation starter. “Hey did you know there are Zombies in the Bible?” I’d flip to the verses and it’d usually get a laugh. Usually.

My friend Emily thought I was being absolutely ridiculous, but this only encouraged me on all the more. I even devised a bogus theory (even less credible than my first) that when Jesus returns, he will in fact do so riding on the back of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The joke went on for months and months.

But alas, this is a story of hubris.

One night a group of us met to pray for the family of one our international students. The man’s wife and young son were trying to flee to the U.S. and were being smuggled out of their home country that night.*

I’d never been in an atmosphere like that, with such a mix of hope, fear, and faith. My prayer life seldom includes literal “life and death” scenarios.

And guess what verses came up during the prayer night.

Go ahead guess.

Yup. Psalm 27. My zombie verses.

My friend Matt started praying for God’s protection over the family. He read the exact verses I’d been using as a punchline for months and there was nothing funny about them that night.

Reading on, he said “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.” (Psalms 27:5 NIV)

The family made it through the treacherous journey safely, reaching the U.S. where the entire family was reunited.

On my end, it became pretty clear that Psalm 27’s best use was not as a punchline for bored fans of George A. Romero movies. I wasn’t fearful of any lightning coming my way, but it was clear that I wasn’t using the Bible the way that I ought. There are definitely some humorous moments in the Bible, but that wasn’t supposed to be one of them.

So I quit telling people there were Zombies in the Bible, although I know a few people who will argue with you over the T-rex thing.

Most of you are probably smart enough not to twist the meaning of scripture for comedic value, but when you quote the Bible to people, do your best to make sure that it’s done in the right context and for the right reasons. There’s grace for our mistakes, but we should still take steps to avoid being flippant about the things that should matter most.

What about you? You ever misquoted or misunderstood something from the Bible in a way that got you in trouble? I mean, I can’t be the only one…right? Right? Leave a comment with your story if you got one or if it’s really embarrassing, you message me on Facebook or Twitter.

*The whole story of that family fleeing to the U.S. is actually an amazing story in and of itself, but unfortunately it’s a story that I don’t have time to tell here. Maybe in a future post.

Like a Champion

So this came out of a guest post I wrote on the Writers Alley yesterday title “What playing football taught me about pitching novel”. If you like football and are interested in ever publishing manuscript, you should really check it out.

One of my points was “Play Like Champions Today” and I ended with a brief caveat saying “keep in my that just because the agent doesn’t fall in love with you on the spot does NOT mean that you didn’t play like a champion.”

I finished that sentence and froze, suddenly seeing the truth of to something that had haunted me for more than 10 years.

Flashback to the year 2002. My sophomore year of high school. Our school had an illustrious football program, with 4 state championships and several appearances in the state title game.

That year we earned another trip to state. As an underclassman I didn’t see much playing time, but it was still my team. Months of practices and our fourteen week season had come down to one game…and what a game it turned out to be.

"Play Like A Champion Today" The message is the same, but I still think it would look better in Blue and White.

“Play Like A Champion Today” The message is the same, but I still think it would look better in Blue and White. Also photo credit goes to Joy E. Swearingen. (Thanks Mom!)

We came up against the Aledo Green Dragons, another perennial state qualifier. After three quarters of hard fought football, we went into the last period up by three touchdowns.

Then things got interesting.

After a bad punt, a botched long snap, a crucial interception, and a whole series of bizarre occurrences our lead vanished and we found ourselves going to overtime.

We got the ball first and scored immediately. Because of the High School football rules, the opposing team was guaranteed a possession in overtime. We tried and failed at a two point conversation, meaning our best chance to win was to keep Aledo out of the end zone.

We stopped their first two scoring attempts, but the Dragons found their way into the end zone on third down. All they had to do was kick an extra point and the state title was theirs.

Our entire sideline joined hands, trying to will the kick to go wide or come up short. The Dragon offense snapped the ball and our faces fell as the extra point soared through the goalposts, crowning Aledo as that year’s state champion.

I really don’t like telling that story. I still haven’t watched any film from that game.

What I like even less is the part where we made it back to state in 2003 and 2004…and we lost both of those games too.

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Me back in the “glory days” of my Senior year.

I started offensive and defensive tackle as a senior and had a heck of a year. I was even named to the All-State team. But after that last loss my senior year, I sulked back to the locker room, defeated. I refused to take my helmet off until the last possible moment, knowing that it was the last time I would wear it.

The weeks that followed each state title loss were brutal. Everybody was just so proud of us. “You had a really good season.” “You still have a lot to be proud of.” “Don’t let that one loss get you down.” All the while we were stuck chewing on the bitter taste of being “2nd Place”.

I haven’t played football in years. A lot of times, people are even surprised when I tell them about it. (They say I’m too nice.)

I’m proud of those days. Proud I got to wear that uniform. But there’s always that moment of hesitation. Almost a decade later, it still stings every time I tell someone that we made it to state three years in a row…and lost all three years.

“…it does NOT mean that you didn’t play like a champion.”

My own words sat there staring me in the face. I wanted to tell people that a one defeat does not make them a failure. Now I was being asked to believe that myself.

It’s easy to throw all our accomplishments and successes in with one big failure and label the whole thing a massive waste of time. But that it a lie that tries to rob us of what we still have.

The real take away from those years is much harder to quantify.

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My team mates and I taking down the ball carrier during the state title game in 2004, our last game.

 

Something in the life lessons learned when a senior, seeing his last chance to play, fights everyday to keep and earn his spot on the starting line up. The camaraderie that happens when 11 young men, who maybe didn’t get along the best during the week, work together and fight towards a single goal on Friday night. That’s what was really important from those days and even a disappointing end to a great season can’t take that away.

This minor revelation is less than a week old and I’m still sorting out what to do with it.

Maybe it’ll help me to think more fondly on the old football days and not get so hung up on those few losses. Maybe I’ll track down a copy of that game against Aledo and finally give it a watch. And hopefully I’ll be able to glean more lessons out of those incredible days and figure out how to go continue to go about about life…like a champion.

Secret Spot

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It’s January which means I have a lot of time off from my landscaping job allowing me more time to write.

It’s been delightful having more time to work on my book and my Flash Fiction (and blog posts).

The temperatures were pretty bitterly cold most of last week, meaning I didn’t leave the house much unless I had to, but Thursday warmed up and I decided that it was time to get out and enjoy a bit of the warm weather.

So I hopped in my truck and snuck over to my secret spot.

There’s a small arboretum I go to pretty frequently. It isn’t as beautiful as a lot of the other scenery in my area, but it’ll do in a pinch. Not many people know about it even though it’s just on the edge of town (don’t go spoiling it if you know where it is). And on the rare occasion when I run into other people there, they’re usually just looking for some peace and quiet just like I am.

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I took this time to pray, snapped off a few pictures of the small lake in the middle of it all, and ultimately just enjoyed the beautiful creation around me, exploring the hidden side trails. I even used the lake as the setting for one of my short stories*.

I’ve experienced several captivating moments with God on those trails. On one occasion I decided to run the trail at night in the middle of a thunder storm and ended up hashing out some sending up talking with God and getting a bunch of frustrations off my chest. The whole experience was quite liberating.

Other times I’ve just gone and enjoyed the silence.

I think we’re all hard wired to enjoy this time away our normal trappings. Some place away from people, or at least the people we know. Away from electronics. Away from dishes.

You don’t need to be “super-out-doorsy” to have your own secret spot. Find a playground and go swinging. Read a good book in the privacy of your basement. I won’t name names, but one of my absolute best friends spends time in cemeteries (cause they’re usually pretty quiet).

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Whatever your thing is, find some time and get away from the junk of your life, even if it’s just for a five minute breather.

Do you have your own “secret Spot”? If not you should. When do you know it’s time to go to your secret spot? Where is it (if you don’t mind sharing, that is)? What do you do there? And most important, how do you feel after you’ve been there?

*I never published that story, but I plan on revisiting it sometime this year. 😉

Last Year’s Word

A lot of my writer friends do a thing at the start of the year where they get their “word” for that year from God.

It’s a bit baffling and I can’t say that I’ve ever fully understood it. Maybe this reveals some of my cynicism towards hearing God’s voice confidently. Maybe I’m just afraid of committing to one thing for that whole year. (“But what happens if I want to change my word in the middle June?”)

Regardless of my feelings on the “one word” idea, looking back I can tell you pretty confidently what my word was for 2014.

“Writer”

Blindingly obvious you might think, but I’ve wrestled with this word for a very long time.

Occasionally I’ve been brave enough to tell people that I write, but it usually with some trepidation. I’ve been writing stuff since I was in 6th grade and telling stories since before then, but I’ve never had a whole heck of a lot to show for it.

I’ve always been afraid of being called out as a fraud or just getting a sarcastic remark like “well what have you written?” Or worse, that polite but disinterested smile that people give you when they just don’t care what you’re saying.

When asked about it, I’d usually add a bunch of qualifiers like “I kinda want to write” or “I dabble in it” just to keep a safe distance between me and the label of “writer”.

I’ve even wrestled with God over it.

My first career plan was to get a degree in film and become a screen writer in L.A. or New York, but God took hold of my plans and “altered” them as He does. He kept me in Southern Illinois at my local church here in Carbondale, telling me that His plan was more important than my career path.

That bit about “the plan” always stuck with me. I’d wanted to be a writer as long as I could remember. It was the only career path that I’d had any kind of passion for. And now all that talk of being a screen writer was kind of lost. (Southern Illinois isn’t really the place to be if you want to make connections in the film world.) If I wasn’t supposed to go to L.A., was I supposed to write at all?

I had never really consulted God on what my career path was supposed to look like. I’d always just assumed the writing thing would pan out. Was this writing thing just an idea leftover from childhood that needed to be discarded, along with my old dreams of being a Zoo keeper or playing center for the Chicago Bulls?

For years I lived in that awkward “who-am-I-really” stage, wondering if writing was something I would have to surrender in exchange for something more practical. Even as I checked out writers conferences and got started on my own book, I still squirmed when people asked if I was writing anything.

"There is a direct correlation between the amount of time I spend writing and the number of  selfies I take of me drinking coffee."

“There is a direct correlation between the amount of time I spend writing and the number of selfies I take of me drinking coffee.” – @WittySwearWords

But then something happened. I don’t know when exactly when. Like so many important things in life, something changed in me when I wasn’t quite paying attention.

Maybe it was when the people in my critique group started asking eagerly when I was going to turn in the next chapter in my book.

Maybe it was after the seventh or eighth successful comedy sketch I wrote for my church’s kids’ program.

But I realized that my staying in Illinois didn’t mean I needed to stop writing. If anything it only improved things by putting my hopes and ambitions in line with everything else God had planned.

My stories weren’t just day dreams, but gifts from God. He is the original Storyteller after all and He was inviting me to join in with the tale that He started telling all those countless centuries back.

So I stopped saying that I wanted to be a writer. Stopped saying that I “dabbled”. I started telling people “I am a writer.”

Now to clarify, God never promised a best selling YA book series. Nor have I gotten any indication that I’ll write that one amazing book that changes peoples’ lives and leads millions to faith. He didn’t even promise publication. My books might end up being bed time stories for my kids.

No matter the result, God has called me a writer. It will never be the most important thing I do with my life, but I’m still supposed to do it.

As for the next part of this “plan”, well that’s my next chapter and the Author hasn’t revealed what happens…not yet.

If you want to read more on God’s invitation toward writers and other creative people, you really should read this post that Allen Arnold of Ransomed Heart wrote on the Writer’s Alley on this same subject about a year ago.

His words have encouraged me many times and he is much more eloquent in doing so than I am. You should really check it out.

Link to “Not a Planet”.

Really excited today to share a link to my first published piece of Flash Fiction.

“Not a Planet” is best described as a Scifi Superhero Epic that spans the galaxies…and all in less than 1,000 words.

I’m very excited to be working with the excellent men and women at the Splickety publishing group on this. I’m glad that my first published piece is with such great people, who clearly have a passion for Speculative Fiction.

Read the story. Post a comment. Have a happy Friday!

I Don’t Dance

It happens at every wedding. It’s a blast getting to hang out with friends, eating food, celebrating the happy couple as the have their first dance…then the dance floor opens up to everyone.

No matter how well the evening has gone, the music hits, the beat drops, and I shell up, usually circling the wagons with a handful of bros at a corner table or trying to subtly slip away while the rest of my friends dance the night away.

Dance!

I have nothing personal against dancing or people who enjoy it, but dancing…confuses me. But I have never understood the compulsion to dance for it’s own sake. Maybe if there’s a strong cultural significance to it or on stage by a talented, graceful performer. (Being a white guy who played Football, neither the ‘culture’ angle nor the ‘graceful’ angle apply to me.)

On the rare occasion when I do dance, it’s usually to celebrate something or when the mood suddenly strikes me. Most times it’s when I’m home alone doing the dishes or cleaning house. Suddenly “Hooked on a Feeling” comes up on my playlist and I start dancing like a mad fool.

Even then it’s always a passing phenomenon and doesn’t last much more than a minute or two.

But at these weddings, people dance for hours on end. Meanwhile I’m in the corner nursing my eighth Dr. Pepper, planning an escape route.

It all confused me until a recent talk with one of my friends. She talked about dancing as something that brought her joy. That was her reason. The act itself makes her happy. It never occurred to me that dancing was something you could do just because it was fun. Not showing off. Not to feed one’s ego. Just…because!

It’s like the excitement I feel when I watch E.T. or the buzz I get in my fingers a story is coming together on paper just the way I see it in my head. I still don’t think dancing will ever be my thing. I’ll probably get a little more comfortable with the it as time goes by, but it will be never be something that brings me joy in and of itself.

Me and my dance partner at the last wedding I attended.

Me and my dance partner at the last wedding I attended.

But if I plan to get married someday (which I do) I have to face the real possibility that my wife might be one of those weird people who likes to dance, I will have to learn how to do it without getting self conscious. As a husband it’ll be my job to show her that she’s loved. And if that means I end up having to dance, then I will man up and dance like a fool for her.

And when the day comes, we’ll have to dance at least once on our wedding day. I intend to make it a good one. I don’t want to be worried about looking clumsy. I want to be focused on her and how beautiful she looks in her wedding dress. Something tells me that won’t be a problem.

And after the wedding, when we’re all settled in and “real life” life takes over, we’ll crank up the music on occasion and dance while we do the dishes.

Who knows? It might even be fun.