Friday, October 30, 2009

The Perfect Lover: How Reading a Vampire Book Brought Me Closer to Jesus - The Fine Print

(click for previous chapter: A Rose is a Vampire is a Rose)

Because I’m the kind who reads directions on the box of a new board game before diving into active play, I must make a few things clear.

In this series, my intentions are not to set up Edward Cullen as an object of worship. In fact, I’m aiming for the opposite effect. Besides idolatry being wrong, the character of Edward is not a perfect analogy for Christ, in fact he doesn’t even come close. Many aspects of Edward and other story components remind me of Biblical principles and the fairy tale presentation helps me see those principles in a fresher, sometimes clearer way.

But this is not the Gospel according to Twilight.

This is more of a look at the social phenomenon of a modern fairy tale. I’ve seen one too many Facebook flair reading “I’m having trouble with the fact that Edward Cullen is a fictional character.” A ridiculous number of people, young and old alike, myself included, are thoroughly hooked on this story, and I needed to find out the reason. Why this story? What’s so attractive about a sparkling vampire loving a clumsy teenager?

Here’s my theory…

We love it because it reminds our spirits of the Truth living in our very DNA.

Bottom line, it’s the way Edward loves Bella that is so attractive because it represents, in many ways, how Jesus loves us, individually and corporately. As humans, we relate to Bella’s imperfections and her surprise at being loved by a god-like, near-perfect being.

Hello! It’s so simple. That right there is the Gospel… imperfect, sinful human race loved amazingly and unconditionally by, not a god, but the God of the universe Who dies to set us free, Who battles evil to protect us, Who conquers everything that threatens us.

Of course the danger exists that we will let ourselves and others (especially impressionable young girls) continue to pine away for the make-believe god, for the fictional character of Edward Cullen.

I want to draw our obsessive minds away from wishing Edward were real and show that Jesus is real. Using Edward as a model, guardedly of course, can help us see Jesus for all of His magnificence.

This is also not meant to be exhaustive. I have over 150 pages of notes and thoughts, ponderings, devotional-type life lesson ideas that I have garnered from reading the Twilight Saga. Yes, in one sense, I am on the bandwagon, I am dazzled with the rest of the Twilighter Nation, but I’m digging deeper into the cultural craze to find the spiritual significance. Reading this tale with Jesus constantly on my mind, with the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear, I think I know what the appeal is… for me at least, and maybe for you too.

Please keep in mind, the following is just how I see it. All respect goes to the author, Stephanie Meyer, for penning this magnetic story, and I am not trying to represent her or put words into her mouth. I have no connection with her whatsoever.

As I watch coverage on the filming and release of the rest of the saga on the silver screen, as I listen to interviews with the actors and the author herself, I realize as many people out there who may think like I do (that Edward is the quintessential fairy tale hero), there are just as many who have different takes on the story.

For example, many swear by the idea that Jacob really loves Bella while Edward is merely the cad who left her and caused all the angst, conflict and strife. For those Team Jacob members, I have a theory about what he represents as well. However, that pertains more to a discussion about New Moon, Twilight’s sequel, and I’m trying to stick with the first book right now because there’s so much, taking all of the books at once would be overwhelming and unmanageable.

In the meantime, however, if you are obsessed with the werewolf like many of us are obsessed with the vampire, I encourage you to look at the way he loves Bella, or even Renesmee, and make your own comparisons. If you are drawn to Jacob, then he bears a quality that you obviously need in your life. Imagine Jesus loving you the same way and come to the conclusion that your longing can be filled by the real deal, not a fictional representation of love.

My intentions are not to argue with points of view. I only want to share how reading this series helped me see Jesus in a new and more intense light.

So as we funnel our obsession into something constructive and rooted in the world of reality, seek the Lord. Read more of your Bible to help form links. Go ahead and enjoy the story of Edward and Bella. But, then…

Take the leap and obsess about Jesus… taste and see that He is good, that He is the Perfect Lover.

Okay! Monday, no more introductions, disclaimers or apologetics. We get down to business! I hope you tune in to find out how reading a vampire book gave me a fresh perspective on unconditional love.

(click for next chapter: Unconditional Love, part 1)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Perfect Lover: How Reading a Vampire Book Brought Me Closer to Jesus - A Rose is a Vampire is a Rose

Statistics show you probably already know what I’m talking about when I refer to the Twilight Saga or Edward Cullen or Bella Swan or Stephanie Meyer.

But I can’t assume anything.

So here are some options that will help as we discuss it on Dry Ground…

**NOTE: After this, I will NOT alert you to SPOILER information. Obviously, I will address specific scenes in the books that will give details away to those who haven’t read them or seen the movie(s). I’m just saying, that’s how it’s going to be. J**

#1 – For a quick summary of the entire plot (if you haven’t, don’t have time to or don’t plan to read Twilight) – click here

#2 – To read the author’s story about writing the book, with a few spoilers but not a lengthy plot description – click here

#3 - Perhaps you know a teeny weeny bit about it, that it’s a teenage vampire love story, and that is quite enough for you to want nothing else to do with it.

I can see where you’re coming from.

If that’s you, might I persuade you to hang in there with me for at least a few more days?

Here’s the reason why…

You’ve heard the saying, “A rose by any other name is still a rose”? It means, if you’re looking at a rose and someone else says, “Hey, look, it’s a violet,” it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a rose.

Well, it’s kind of like that, but in reverse.

(Confused? Don’t give up yet…)

I did some research.

The lore of vampires goes back centuries. And yes, most of it is about humans finding an excuse to do something God told us not to do, drink human blood.

Most of us associate vampires with evil because of classical and modern literature and entertainment. From Stokes’ Dracula to Rice’s Lestat to 80s cult-classic Lost Boys, we understand vampire mythology in a somewhat constant set of standards – can’t survive without drinking human blood, are un-dead, sunlight burns their skin, allergic to garlic, sleep in coffins, must be invited in to enter a home, etc.

But who said all vampire mythologies have to have this set of standards?

And who said vampires are anything more than a myth anyway?

Why can’t there be good vampires along with the bad ones?

My argument is (call it a rationalization, if you must) since vampires are indeed fictional figments of imagination, no one can say for sure what does or does not constitute a vampire.

The reason I argue this point at all is so that we can get beyond the term and definition of the word because if I had not conquered that, I would have missed out on an unlikely gift.

I agree that many vampire tales are bent toward highlighting evil. Going with the cultural standards, they are evil, nasty, scary creatures (fictionally speaking, of course). Most stories about vampires I don’t like because, since they adhere to those made-up standards, they don’t promote redemption, they only pander fear.

I have the same feelings for any story, especially ones involving fantasy characters.

Watching/reading The Wizard of Oz, for example, with its good and bad witches, talking tin man and flying monkeys sets fine with my spirit even though it involves magical elements. The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are also full of magic and make-believe, but are embraced because they point to redemptive pursuits.

I submit that the Twilight Saga also points to these same higher pursuits… even though the main character, the Hero, is dubbed a vampire.

The author of Twilight, Stephanie Meyer, stepped out on a limb to throw out most of modern-day understandings of vampire lore, and I admire her for asking the “what if” questions, creating her own world, and producing a love story that reflects (whether she meant it to or not) the love God has for us.

Besides, it’s entirely significant that we are talking about a world where vampires exist specifically because of the involvement of blood. In the right context, blood is life, not death. It is salvation, not condemnation. Seeing it symbolically instead of literally takes us out of the “God said not to drink human blood” realm and puts us in the “Jesus’ blood atones for my sins” reality.

I’m not saying Twilight is or was meant to be an analogy for the Gospel. I say a little more about that on Friday. But the story as a whole is laden with spiritual concepts that I couldn’t help but garner as I read and fell in love with it. Taking those concepts and pointing in the right direction, I gained so much, even a closer walk with Jesus.

I hope you’ll stay tuned.

(click for next chapter: The Fine Print)

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Perfect Lover: How Reading a Vampire Book Brought Me Closer to Jesus - Fated Attraction

Romeo. Prince Charming. Mr. Darcy. Superman. They are highlights of the history of romantic heroes, our knights in shining armor. Legends that have lived through centuries and tugged at the heartstrings of females, young and old, from every nation, even up to the present day. We women love our fairy tales because they make us believe true love really does exist out there, that some day our prince will come and we’ll actually get to live happily ever after.

Romantic heroes offer us the hope of unconditional love, unyielding commitment, timely rescue from our plight, sacrificial protection from evil, absolute provision of our every need and an intimate relationship with a perfect lover. To love and be loved in return, as Christian from Moulin Rouge so aptly summarized.

The draw, however, reaches farther than our silly, girl-brains wishing for the humanly impossible. After all, males are subject to the power these stories wield as well, even having penned many of them.

The attraction is born out of our DNA. We all crave a perfect love because we were made by the Perfect Love. Humans, created by the Creator, God Almighty, are designed to love, because He is love, and also to be loved perfectly by Him. We read and write fairy tales, consciously or sub-consciously, because of the proverbial God-shaped hole in our souls.

Even Jesus used parables during His earthly ministry. In many cases, that’s what fairy tales are – a way to wrap our brains around His fathomless, flawless love. We gain insight to the real world when we imagine and explore our longings because often times it is that built-in draw to our Creator guiding those thoughts. We can picture Jesus as Aslan the Lion in The Chronicles of Narnia or Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, and it helps us get a grasp on who He is and what He’s done for us.

Romantic heroes are an extension of this imagery. The problem, as I’ve mentioned before, is many of us can’t or won’t see Jesus as a Lover, in the romantic, passionate, Song of Solomon way. That’s… at the least, weird; at the most, blasphemous… right?

No way. Look at our hero attributes, the ones we crave from fairy tales. Unconditional love, unyielding commitment or covenant, timely rescue from our plight or sins, sacrificial protection from evil, absolute provision, an intimate relationship with the Perfect Lover… Jesus is the real deal. Reading the fairy tales, like parables, helps us grasp His reality.

Many romantic heroes in our present age have suffered under our culture’s declining morality.

But just when you thought chivalry had died, we are blessed with yet another hero to sweep us off our feet. Thanks to New York Times best selling author Stephanie Meyer and her best selling Twilight Saga, we now have Edward Cullen.

Wait a minute, you say. Isn’t Edward a vampire? Aren’t vampires evil? How can reading a vampire book bring me closer to Jesus?

Stay tuned. You will be dazzled.

(click here for next chapter: A Rose is a Vampire is a Rose)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Happily Ever After

In this age of soap operas and sequels, we are, as a culture, addicted to what comes next?

I know I am. I want to know the rest of the story, as dear old Paul Harvey put it. No wonder he had such a successful career. Of course people are going to tune in – we must know what happens in the end.

Wait… do you read the last page of a novel first?? Shame on you. I’m not that bad.

However, as my Daniel can testify, I will stay up until the wee, wee hours of the morning, finishing a novel… or (pardon me as I clear my throat) series of novels… just so that I can get to that last page. Once I’m hooked, I’m consumed.

The endings, then, are just as if not more important than the beginnings. Sure, the beginnings suck you in, but if the ending fails, watch out! You mean I just spent all that time reading, obsessed, involved, teetering on the brink of hysteria not knowing what’s gonna happen, and THAT’S IT??? Even donating two hours of my life to a movie with a terrible ending makes me want to spit venom! (Wouldn’t that be a cool super power? Ah… but I digress…)

In some respect, Happily Ever After, then, seems like a cop-out, an easy way to wrap things up and put a stop to a story that obviously continues.

But I don’t believe that. I think it’s a perfect phrase and tells a lot more than it conceals.

Happily Ever After is a statement of faith. Whoever penned these tales may or may not know what happens next, but as the audience we do not get to find out. All we know, and must accept by faith, is that the Hero and His bride live happily (I assume that means without peril) ever after (a.k.a. forever).

We can employ our imaginations and a fair bit of logic to guess that whatever does happen is pretty awesome. I mean, a palace, an enchanted land, a relationship between Lovers undivided by danger or evil…

Hold on… (time to smile…)

That sounds like what the Bible says is my happily ever after!

Are you one of those people who, even though you’d never admit it to anyone, thinks Heaven is going to be boring? Every time Heaven comes up at church, do you sigh and try to suppress the thought that an eternal church service in the sky doesn’t sound all that appealing, but it’s better than a fiery seat in hell, so…

I confess… I was one of those people too.

But a couple of things changed my perspective.

First, I discovered through reading (among other things, Randy Alcorn’s Heaven), that the eternal-church-service-in-the-sky visual is a terrible lie from the devil! It’s been perpetuated through history, cultures, liars and the like to lead us astray from the truth, which is that Heaven will be nothing like our pea-brain imaginations can fathom.

Second, I’ve been on a slow, steady, amazing journey that’s led me to fall more and more in love with Jesus, to the point that however Heaven turns out to be is fine by me. But knowing Him more just perpetuates the excitement because He’s so amazing that His home would be no less than amazing too.

How dare me think of it from my point of view! Haha. It’s almost comical now.

But I think I, and possible some of you too, fall into the what happens next pit to the extent that since the Bible pretty much gives us the happily ever after line, I have to make up the rest of the story. Jesus, my Perfect Lover, is saying, “Trust me. It’s gonna rock your socks off!”

I forget, though, especially on cloudy days, or when the present battle inflicts ghastly and painful wounds, or when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

So I surround myself with reminders. One way I do that, one way that helps me picture in my mind’s eye the villain I’m fighting, the kingdom I’m heading for, the Hero right there beside me, is to read. Stories about unconditional love, unyielding commitment, timely rescue, sacrificial protection and absolute provision inspire me to think on my Perfect Lover, Jesus.

Monday, I’ll start a series here on Dry Ground going into some detail concerning a story in which I found these traits. It’s not the first saga you’d think of for this kind of study, in fact many might refuse to believe anything redemptive could come from such a source. Hopefully, though, you’ll join me in my musings as I share my thoughts on…

The Perfect Lover – How Reading a Vampire Book Brought Me Closer to Jesus.

See you then!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Victory Over the Villain

Picture this...

In an enchanted wood full of fairies and talking bunnies and sunlight, a beautiful maiden kneels among the dancing lilies singing a trite song about kitty-cat whiskers and gumdrops… lalalalalalala… happy as a lark.

Little does this little maiden know – she’s actually a damsel in distress.

Right above her head swings a long, green, nasty string of drool oozing from the nostrils of a beast – an ugly, fire-breathing, sharp-toothed dragon poised to pounce with the intent to destroy.

At this very moment, the damsel fails to see her peril. She doesn’t even know she’s in need of a hero.

Now let’s say the drop of snot falls and smacks Miss Damsel in the cranium, startling and confusing her. Spreading trembling fingers and examining the sticky, stinky goo that now covers her from head to toe impeding her movements and threatening to smother every molecule of air, she has to figure out where it came from.

One option is to assume it’s raining… some really funky rain.

Another option is to look up and discover mortal danger breathing down her neck.

Now what does she do?

Even if she’s spunky, there’s no way she’s fighting the dragon by herself because winning is impossible, especially drenched in all that nastiness.

Death snarls, she cowers.

But then…

The Hero enters and saves the day.

Okay, that part always gives me chills.

But today’s story is about the villain, not the Hero. Well, it is about the Hero, it’s always about the Hero, but let’s consider the Hero in relation to the villain…

First, I’m staggered to find out how many people don’t believe there’s a villain. They’re the ones who think it’s just raining the nasty gunk.

Let me be clear, the villain exists. He’s scary, intent on unleashing evil on you. And yes, it’s personal. Don’t think for a second you’re exempt for any reason. The villain wants to chomp you up. (1 Peter 5:8)

Then there are those who see the villain but think they can battle him in their own power.

Uh… Let’s get real. If something as big as a typhoon or as small as a clogged artery can conquer a man, believe you me, this villain can annihilate him. We are powerless to fight evil. (2 Co. 4:7) (Rom. 5:6)


We team up with the Hero.

On one hand, even though it’s fathomlessly annoying to an I-can-carry-it-myself kind of girl like me, fairy tales showing the constant damsel in distress simulate life because we are indeed powerless against evil and the snot it has blown all over us.

But when we join forces with the Hero, our Perfect Lover, we are transformed from cowering little maiden covered in gunk into stunning warrior princess. First, He applies the only remedy for the yucky slime, freeing us from its incapacitating effects. Second, the Hero gives us indestructible weapons that enable us to share in the victory over the villain. We are empowered to kick some serious villain booty! (Isa. 61:10) (2 Co. 6:7, 10:4) (Eph. 6:10-17)

How fun.

But remember, it’s one of those benefits of being betrothed to the One with the remedy and the weapons. Maintaining an intimate relationship with our Love is essential to #1 – obtaining and utilizing the weapons and #2 – having the Hero to depend on for the fatal blow, which we are unable to deliver in any case.


Believe in the villain. He’s real.

But, oh, what a Hero! He’s victorious!

Let’s stop picking dandelions (figuratively, of course), and join our Love in the fight!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Benefits of the Betrothed

“I love weddings! Drinks all around!”

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, The Curse of the Black Pearl

Engagements are occasions to celebrate.

Once THE question is asked and answered (in the affirmative, of course), a new relationship begins – a betrothal. Love has been admitted, declared, accepted and reciprocated and sealed by a promise (and usually sparkly diamonds, too!) Even the vocabulary changes… he’s not just my boyfriend, he’s my fiancé. A sense of exclusivity leads to benefits claimed only by the betrothed and no one else. He looks at me when I walk into the room, he holds my hand, he sends me endearing notes with reminders of affection, he pays for my dinner, he spends his free time with me, he tells me his secrets… it’s the road to becoming unified. Experiencing all of the benefits of a relationship still waits for after the wedding, but the betrothal certainly kicks it up a notch.

In the same light, there are benefits to a relationship with Jesus during the betrothal, while we still live here on earth, before Heaven and our wedding. Discovering these benefits takes a lifetime of pursuit simply because so many exist! So many, in fact, that I struggled to determine which ones to highlight in such a short amount of space. I mean, the Bible is a love letter from the Lord outlining the benefits of agreeing to the conditions that betroth us to Him.

One of my favorite passages, which must be the favorite of lots of others since I’ve seen it on a few blogs lately (and I promise, I was already thinking about this before I read those), is Psalm 103 (click here to read all of it!).

Verse two states plainly, “forget not all His benefits” (NIV).

The NLV puts it this way, “may I never forget the good things he does for me.”

And just check out this list of good things:

ª forgiving all my sins,

ª healing all my diseases,

ª crowning me with love, tenderness and mercy,

ª filling my life with good things,

ª and renewing my youth.

I’d say that goes beyond good and hits the amazing mark!

Any relationship suffers, however, when one or the other begins taking advantage of the benefits – key word being taking.

One taker and one giver equal an unbalanced and unfair relationship.

Two takers equal a state of misery.

Two givers, though, and we’ve got the makings of a beautiful thing.

When we’re working on human relationships, we can employ such concepts with a fair amount of effort.

But since we don’t often think of Jesus as our Betrothed, we seldom stop and think how much we take advantage of such a giving God.

It’s not that we should try to make up for His unconditional love, His forgiveness, His mercy and grace… We can’t. And He doesn’t want us to. This isn’t an issue of guilt or getting to a place of deserving such benefits.

It’s an issue of gratitude. We cannot make the mistake of defining His benefits as entitlements.

To see Jesus as the Hero in our love story, we should treat Him, at the very least, the way we’d treat our own, personal Prince Charming.

Don’t you think that after the prince slid that glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot, took her out of the ashes, out of an unloving home away from the evil stepmother and sisters, that she’d do anything for him for the rest of her life? Wouldn’t gratitude rule her attitude, not guilt or pride or indifference… or the sense of entitlement?

Compared to Jesus, Prince Charming had it ridiculously easy. Yet his betrothed had reason enough to worship him.

How, then, could we consider Jesus in any lesser or dimmer light?

Maybe that’s why in Psalm 103, in addition to listing the benefits (for our benefit), we’re reminded to “forget not.”

Oh, if we only knew how much He loves us.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Truth about Fairy Tales

Fairy tales reflect more Truth than you might think.

What are the elements of a classic tale? A hero, a distressed damsel, a villain, some sort of peril, a battle, a victory, a romantic reunion, a happily ever after.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds sort of… familiar.

In his book, Epic, John Eldredge explains in depth that, “Life is story.” It’s not too difficult to make the connections – I’m the damsel, Satan is the villain, life is full of perils, and it always feels like a battle. The Bible says there’s a victory and also eternity, but will it be happily ever after? The details get fuzzy, especially when the fight’s still on.

The question I’d like to ask is – who’s the hero?

Don’t be too quick to answer.

The pious among us may be tempted to spout, “Of course, it’s Jesus!”

But do you really see Him that way?

Although the fairy tale hero is brave and strong and adventurous, he’s also tender, selfless and romantic. Jesus as demon/ogre slayer, easy. Jesus as romantic lover, not so much for some reason.

How would you read Cinderella differently if you inserted your name in for hers, and instead of Prince Charming, Jesus served as the hero?

What if Jesus’ face was behind the mask of Dread Pirate Roberts and you found yourself in the role of Princess Buttercup?

Let’s say you’re Lois Lane and the one wearing the tights and cape is Jesus!

Honestly, I’m not trying to be silly, disrespectful or blasphemous.

I’m trying to get you to picture Jesus as a Lover.

The Bible describes Him this way. Hosea and Gomer come to mind. Also, the Song of Solomon. Paul even charges men to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. (Eph. 5:25) Not in the “Do what I tell you, woman!” way, but in the self-sacrificing, romantic way.

The way of a Lover.

We don’t go there often if ever because of our culture’s distortion and perversion of the word lover and perhaps because of our own experience with earthly (non)lovers. Indeed it is an intimate concept. But we miss a huge aspect of the relationship Jesus offers if we ignore it.

It’s so easy to fantasize about Prince Charming and pine away for a human equivalent to ride in on his noble steed and whisk us away to a castle in the clouds. In strictly human terms, that just isn’t going to happen. But we believe it, or at least wish for it, sometimes with much more energy and passion than we use to face the physical, tangible world.

So why is it hard to believe the Reality, which is far more exciting, enchanting and rewarding?

Jesus, the Prince of Heaven, traveled across time, space, and dimension, altering the very fiber of His essence by clothing himself with flesh forever, suffered humiliation, harm and horrors even death, all for…


Yes, to battle the devil and conquer sin and vanquish death. He’s a warrior, absolutely.

But all of the warrior stuff paved the way for His ultimate purpose – to offer me a marriage proposal, one that I have the option of accepting or refusing.


Since I’ve accepted, God gives me the seal of the Holy Spirit (I’ve even heard Him referred to as an engagement ring), betrothing me to Jesus. Preparations for our wedding are in progress as we speak just as I prepare myself to be His bride. (Rev.19:6-8)

Truly, that’s the stuff fairy tales are made of.

In the meantime, when I run away from the dance because I’m afraid He’ll see what I really am, He pursues me until He finds me, until the shoe fits.

He rescues me from the evil prince who pretends to love me but actually wants to use and murder me for his own diabolical purposes.

He swoops in, snatches me from the villain’s clutches, and takes me to His fortress of solitude.

Jesus loves me all the Prince Charmings ever written about rolled into One.

This explains why I love stories so much.

Every time I read something new, I search for an aspect of my Perfect Lover, a new way to see Him and the way He loves me.

Depending on the story, I may or may not find it. Let’s face it, some things are written to peddle lies about our Love. Fairy tales always have bad guys, and ours does too. That villain takes Truth and wraps it in deceitful concoctions cast to lure us from our Love. We must pick out moments in our favorite stories that reflect the character of Jesus as revealed in His love letter to us. The Bible is always our Standard.

Still, I look, everywhere. And so often, I’m pleasantly surprised.

Pretty soon, I’m going to share my thoughts on one of those surprises in a series called The Perfect Lover. (Be sure to tune in Oct. 26th to find out what I’m talking about!)

But first, I want to know, have you seen Jesus in the stories you’ve been reading (or writing, or watching in movies/TV)? Do you realize and have you accepted the amazing kind of love He is offering you? Can you see Him down on one knee asking for your hand?

If this is too outside your box, just try one thing - read John 3:16 with Prince Charming in mind, and then read Cinderella with Jesus in mind.

It may make an impression.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October Valentine

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

The Bible tells me so.

As a child, that was the Gospel Truth. I believed it whole-heartedly, 100 percent, without one reservation or doubt. It stood as the realest reality real could get. Jesus loves me.

But as I got older and interacted with the world, my absolute certainty slipped a little here and there.

Do you remember the first time someone implied (or maybe outright declared) to you that God’s love is conditional? Or questionable? Or based on your performance? Was it that bully in first grade or Frosh year biology teacher or, heaven forbid, a parent?

When did you first start questioning God’s love? Was it from watching the wrong T.V. shows or diving into the wrong kind of music? Or was it a circumstance like getting dumped by the love of your life, not getting into the college you dreamed of or receiving devastating news from a doctor? Did you lose someone early in life through death or divorce or rift? Has the world convinced you your struggles must be the result of an un-loving God, if there is One at all?

Perhaps you know, in the sense that you say you know, Jesus loves you, but not in a way that heals or provides or shows up when He’s needed. So, you know He loves you, but

When did we stop singing “Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so”- really, truly, with all of our hearts, Gospel Truth, 100 percent, without one reservation or doubt?

Maybe you’ve never sung or believed it at all.

In church last Sunday, we sang a song with a chorus of four lines: Oh, how He loves us, Oh, how He loves us, Oh, how He loves us, Oh, how He loves.

At first, though the tune sounded nice and I like to sing about Jesus loving me, I grumbled to myself that it was a mite bit repetitive. *sigh*

But as we kept singing it over and over, repetitive words sung repeatedly, I started listening…

Then… I started feeling…

Then… I started crying…

Much later, while we still sang the same song, I started believing.

Not just… yeah, Jesus loves me… cool.

No… JESUS loves me. Jesus LOVES me. Jesus loves ME.

The realest reality as real can get washed over me in waves. JESUS LOVES ME.

That changes EVERYTHING. How I talk, how I act, how I RE-act, how I love others…

I’ve been a Christian most of my life, making a decision when I was six years old. But, like everyone else on the planet, I’ve walked through my share of valleys. And I can’t say I never doubted God’s love. So many times I felt unloved, mainly because I believed I screwed up beyond acceptance let alone love. Other times, life delivered so many blows I couldn’t think of anything but how much it hurt.

Know what I’m talking about?

The Gospel Truth, though, is that…

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

The Bible tells me so.

Try singing that over ten or twenty or thirty times, and just see if you might start believing it… really, truly, with all of your heart, Gospel Truth, 100 percent, without one reservation or doubt.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sharpening Iron

I'm gonna let someone else do the talking today.


To believe means to realize not just with the head but also with the heart that God loves me in a creative, intimate, unique, reliable and tender way.

Creative: Out of His love I come forth, through His love I am who I am.

Intimate: His love reaches out to the deepest in me.

Unique: His love embraces me as I am, not as I am considered to be in my own self-image.

Reliable: His love will never let me down.

Tender: Tenderness is what happens to you when you know you are deeply and sincerely liked by someone.

Brennan Manning

(click here to learn more about the man who wrote this!)

Thanks for visiting Dry Ground. Have a wonderful week!

Friday, October 9, 2009


“Lookuphere… lookuphere… lookuphere… Hey, you guys!” Steve Martin as Lucky Day in Three Amigos!

My dad is a bird watcher. I’ve accompanied him numerous times on crack-of-dawn outings and found it enjoyable and informative. The details God painted on tiny songbirds, waddling quail or leggy shore birds highlights our Creator in ways so many people miss. A key part of birdwatching, however, is bird hearing. Many species are expert hiders, so finding them to watchoften starts with hearing their song. Once the song is heard and identified, the bird’s location is much easier to determine. You hear it, recognize it, you know it’s there and where to look for it.

When we lived in Northern Louisiana, we hiked a path in a little, wooded park next to L.A. Tech. On one of our first visits, alerted by his perceptible pounding on an exposed telephone pole, we saw a pileated woodpecker, a rarer species nearly two feet long with a crested red head, like a Trojan helmet.

He was magnificent.

I get such a thrill from encounters like that.

From that day forward, I kept watch when we walked, eager to experience the sight again, but more often than not, he stayed hidden. Oh, I heard him plenty, his head knocking a tree trunk nearby or his distinct voice ringing out over the park. I knew he was there… somewhere. So I’d look harder, anticipating, hoping.

One day, when it had been weeks since I’d seen or even heard the bird and honestly, I’d stopped looking as much, there he was. He flew directly in front of us, a flash of red and wave of black and white, landing on a tree trunk, close and in plain sight.

Wow. The thrill rocketed through us.

And it came on a day we really needed it. Life had been rough.

So, I turned my radar back on, re-inspired to seek him out during every walk.

Even though we continued to hear evidence of his presence, the sightings remained rare. When we did see him, it surprised and thrilled us every time. Once, we saw two of them in the same tree.

That pileated woodpecker taught me something about God’s presence that served as a lifeline for us while we trudged through our wilderness.

We don’t always see Him, but He is always there. If we know God’s voice and what He sounds like, we can be assured of His presence even if we’re searching the treetops not spotting Him. Still, we shouldn’t weary in seeking Him because when least expected but needed most, He shows up in all His glory, revealing something about Himself that thrills and encourages as well as confirms His presence.

Recently, My Daniel and I took a walk on a grey, chilly Sunday afternoon, our moods as gloomy as the weather. After battling the temptation to sleep all day on the couch lulled by colliding football helmets, we made the effort. But as soon as we hit the path, the sprinkles started. We frowned at each other – figures. But then we both shrugged and said, “I don’t care if you don’t,” and so we continued in the rain.

We alone, save a quiet rabbit or two, braved the wet pavement shadowed by a soggy-leafed canopy, but the solitude suited us. The rain increased and decreased by degrees as we went, mostly without notice. We talked, vented, postulated, planned, complained… it was therapeutic. Still, a sense of heaviness sat on our shoulders like the accumulation of raindrops. We couldn’t shake the sense of uncertainty.

But then…

The throaty trill of a woodpecker* split the raindrops high in the canopy of branches. We stopped, scanning the treetops for the bird, spotting it at the apex of a naked, bark-covered finger pointing into the clouds. Our hearts thrilled.

I think about Steve Martin at the beginning of Three Amigos! standing atop the studio wall trying to get the attention of his other two amigos while they squatted clueless right below him. Sometimes God is saying “Look up here, look up here,” – not like Senior Martin’s comical birdcall impersonation– but maybe in the form of an actual bird, His creation. And sometimes, with me at least, He has to resort to shouting, “Hey, you guys!” Either way, He will do anything to get our attention, remind us that He’s present and watching over us, no matter what problems or struggles we’re facing.

His proximity astounds and blesses me.

As we resumed our stroll in the rain, we agreed that it was a good thing we didn’t let a few sprinkles keep us from venturing out on that walk.

*For your (mainly my dad’s) information, it wasn’t a pileated … it was another more common kind of woodpecker, but the family as a whole has a similar call. And it doesn’t decrease the significance in our eyes. J

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Trip Around the Old Writer's Block

What happens when you have a brain cloud?

Remember Joe Verses the Volcano with Tom Hanks? Now there’s a character with no inspiration. He hated his gray life of basement cubicle with flickering fluorescent lights. Everything he perceived looked bleak, ho-hum, purposeless. His condition brought him so low, he believed the fake doctor who told him he was dying.

King Solomon had those kinds of days, writing in Ecclesiastes that everything was meaningless.

Do you ever feel like that? Like an open target for the Deceiver to swoop in and convince you that you’re dying, so what’s the point of exercising your talents, loving people, praising God?

Might as well sign up to jump into the volcano.

When I feel like this, it affects my writing the most and I experience that infamous, frustrating, ugly brain cloud called writer’s block.

What we need is a little inspiration. (And we don’t have to volunteer to jump into the volcano to get it!)

Do you know what inspires you?

I know what inspires me, but I forget. When I’m down, all I see are gray walls and flickering fluorescent light bulbs.

Inspiration surrounds us, we just have to employ our senses on purpose.

For example, it’s another cloudy day here in K-ville, a little breezy and chilly (freezing compared to PHX). My natural instincts want to shut down productivity, seal me in the basement, keep me from enjoying the day the Lord has made. Since I am determined not to let that happen (today at least), I… listen.

Songbirds. A charming tune trills from a tree on the other side of the pond. I concentrate on that and start asking myself questions. Is it singing about something specific? What does it look like? Sometimes the biggest songs come from the tiniest bird. Does it live in that tree or is it just visiting – maybe for the sole purpose of singing me a song.

I hear God in those moments, it lifts the brain cloud a little more, and I can rejoice.

Never could have happened if I hadn’t opened my ears.

I started a list of things that inspire me, and it keeps growing and growing, to the point that I’m appalled that I could ever act like Joe, seeing only grays, being convinced that I’m dying, needing some fantastical event to make me feel like I’m living. Don’t get me wrong, those adventures are fun and have a place (except for the jumping into the volcano bit – you can see I’m very much against jumping into volcanoes…), but every day has inspiration of its own if we only look (or listen or smell or taste or feel) for it.

At the beginning of the movie, while the worker drones file slothfully into the dreaded place of employment, there’s a brief shot of a tailored business shoe stepping on and crushing a daisy, a single flower determined to grow between the concrete cracks. Inspiration was right there, but went unnoticed.

Here’s a list of things that inspire me…

Words – God’s word, the English language, masterful use of the English language, puns, poems (sometimes), stories about love or triumph or pain or overcoming an obstacle, lyrics, quotations from the wise or silly or profound, lines in a play or movie or television show…

Art – music, books, movies, paintings, photographs, dancing, clothing, blown glass, carvings, architecture, patterns, textures, colors…

Landscapes – the palate of colors in the Sonoran desert valley, the roar of ocean waves crashing on muscle-covered rocks and sending a spray of salt water into the air, snow-covered peaks begging to be climbed, the little pond outside my back window…

Smells – freshly laundered bed sheets, warm pumpkin pie, grilled steak, rain-soaked pine, brewing coffee, my husband’s cologne…

Those That Have No Category – exercise, singing in the shower, remembering my grandmother and how she used to sing in the shower, sifting through old greeting cards, pretty much anything that sparkles (and I’m not talking about Edward here for once), bell choirs, The Star Spangled Banner, the echo of snare drums from a high school football field, morning glories, finding money in a coat I haven’t worn in a while, Christmas trees and lights, campfires, roller coasters (the upside down kind), happily ever after fairy tales…

The list is – and should be – endless.

The fact that Providence governs all of these amazing motivators overflows my cup of gratitude and faith. Through them all, He speaks to me, encourages me, inspires me – to write, to rejoice in His day, and to live.

What inspires you?

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Lesson from the Zoo

I started Dry Ground because I’m passionate about God and about writing. I love stories in every form, especially ones with redemptive qualities. Not redemptive like using verbs correctly or wielding the English language with masterful flair. No, I mean redemptive in that God makes a difference somewhere, somehow in a character’s life and His Truth is revealed somehow, even if it’s just a little bit.

I enjoy imagining and creating stories like this, but I also love encountering them in real life because that’s really the point of the made-up stories – to make an impact on actual lives.

Here’s one of my favorites – true story – chokes me up every time. I’m glad God allowed me to be there to see it first hand. I hope by relaying it in writing, this cute little boy will make an impact on you too.

A Lesson from the Zoo

When we lived in Nebraska, my husband and I enjoyed a day at the zoo. While taking a break to eat lunch in the cafeteria, we people-watched. (Who doesn’t?) Typical families with 2.2 children dug into their BBQ beef sandwiches and generic fries, some in familial bliss, others with a fair amount of tension. But all seemingly content to spend this particular sunny summer day at one of Omaha’s most revered attractions.

Toward the end of our meal, I observed a father pushing a stroller in our direction, a young boy at his heals. They were obviously searching for an available clean table. The young boy carried his own tray laden with some napkins, utensils and a surprisingly large bowl of greasy macaroni and cheese. I noted how well the boy handled the awkward tray and how bright his eyes shined. He followed his father faithfully, beaming with pride.

The boy stopped, however, at the table next to ours, which had just been vacated by another family. He set his tray down on one of the chairs, confident this would be the table to occupy. The father turned around, though, and told his son in a loving and gentle voice that the table was still dirty and that they should look for another. That didn’t seem to faze the boy as he attempted to pick up his burden. But the macaroni and cheese slid to one corner of the tray, making it top heavy and unmanageable. Still, he struggled with great determination to pick it up. Just in time, the father appeared out of nowhere and lifted the bowl off his son’s tray, offering words of encouragement and help.

I, for one, felt relieved that the father had intervened because I really didn’t want to sit next to a spilled mess of oily noodles and cheese. But what impressed me more than the father’s wise intervention was the boy’s response. He easily picked up his lightened load, followed after his father and said with great relief, “Thanks for making it lighter, Dad.”

My eyes misted, the phrase uttered so innocently and with such gratitude, offering me, a silent by-stander, a much-needed lesson from God.

I struggle through life carrying my tray. Sometimes it is light, other times heavy and awkward. Sometimes I carry it with determination and pride, more often with grief and grumbling. But no matter what weighs down my tray, God knows what I can handle. And just before I drop the whole thing, He comes along and lifts something off, making it more manageable. That reminder in itself is refreshing and comforting. But the question I must ask myself is – do I respond like that little child, with not only relief but also gratitude and thanksgiving? And do I do it in a manner that suggests I knew He would do it because He loves me and it is in His nature to care for me?

I hope I can remember to emulate that little boy, his innocent, unconditional trust in his daddy, and his grateful response:

Thanks for making it lighter, Dad.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Meaning of Life

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire (click here for Eric’s real-life story)

I’ve never heard a better definition of purpose.

The meaning of life – it’s been intellectualized, philosophized, mocked, spliced and diced, ignored, sought by everyone in some fashion from the beginning of time. The question has become so complicated and confused and corrupted. Oh, what a tangled web we weave! Quite right, Sir Walter, quite right.

And yet, God tells us the answer is simple.

His pleasure.

I feel that way when I write. Since I can remember, writing stories has been my passion.

So… why didn’t I major in English or journalism, publish all my thrilling, romantic novels to make me a famous writer while excelling in a world-changing career that wins me a Pulitzer?

Because I allowed the scads of things that hinder God’s purpose to stop me.

Fear (the biggie) got together with Ignorance and Lies, Wounds from the past and fresh Inflictions, Disobedience and Laziness, wrong Perceptions and Excuses, and launched an all-out attack on the gift God wove into my DNA. I gave in to each and every one of them, took a “safe” route, and buried my talent in the ground.

No wonder I’ve always hated that parable. Let's all say together now: con-vic-tion.

(Click here to read the parable… if you really want to.)

But I let it go on for so long that I didn’t know how to dig it up. Sure, I write, all the time in fact, but my deepest desires go unrequited because, honestly, I’m a chicken. And, I’m selfish. Oh yea, and I’ve got this little problem with pride. I was writing strictly for myself…my stories, mine, mine, mine (think – Gollum in Lord of the Rings). I didn’t want criticism. I didn’t want encouragement. I didn’t want development. Oh, I wanted success, but not at the cost of opening up my Alabaster box for all the world to see and laying it at the feet of my Master.

Ah! The problem revealed! I struggled all this time with a sense of purpose, or lack thereof, because I had not surrendered my passion and talent to the God I call Master. I always said I did, but in reality, I never did.


But, oh, the amazing freedom that God offers.

I've just started wading through this, so I’m not testifying to some miraculous explosion of success due to my releasing all the Fears (and his buddies) and obeying God now with every breath I take, every word I write. But grain by grain, He is helping me shovel off the hindrances and unearth the gift He gave me.

When I embrace the simplicity of the real meaning of purpose, the chains that have bound me for so long start to crack and split and fall. No more sin, no more pride, no more excuses, no more blaming others, no more worrying what others will think, no more stubbornness against growth, no more procrastination. As I shift from the mindset that the talent of writing is mine, mine, mine (…my Precious…) to it being the way God made me to worship Him, the links fall away, I can move in freedom, and God gets even more praise and glory.

I hope you take the time to listen to this song, even though it’s probably one you’ve heard before, maybe even one too many times. But listen with fresh ears today. Think of the hindrances keeping you from fulfilling your God-given purpose, that thing that makes you feel like Eric Liddell. Imagine those hindrances as links in a chain, and present them to God, boldly and shamelessly. He’ll unlock them and set you free. He’s the only Who can and He loves you enough that He will. And then do what the song says – dance, lift your hands, praise Him. That is your purpose.

Click here to listen to Mandisa sing “Shackles” It’s the only place on the web I could find to listen for free. You’ll have to click on the song title to get it started. You do not have to sign up for anything on this site to be allowed to listen.

I must end by urging you to read the rest of Joshua (ch. 5-12), about the battles and what happened, especially after the walls of Jericho fell. As I seek purpose and what that looks like here in our new TN home, I’m inspired by what unfolds in those few chapters. God’s plan is specific and His guidance leads to victory. Even the mistakes the Israelites made and the ways in which God responds teach us how He wants to work in our lives and fulfill His purpose in us.

Be blessed, and as always, thanks for visiting Dry Ground!