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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

POV Wednesday – Hope

You’ve heard the phrase, ‘Keep hope alive’?

I’d forgotten where that came from until I looked it up. Though I disagree with the source on most things, he’s not the reason I’m disagreeing with this phrase.

I’ve been thinking about it lately. And on my walk this morning, it occurred to me…

We don’t keep hope, hope keeps us.

In fact, hope literally keeps us alive.

Circumstances can be so heavy, difficult, and stressful that we can’t muster the courage or energy to lift a finger, let alone keep something so powerful as ‘hope’ alive. In those moments, I depend on hope to keep me alive.

Christmas is about hope. Hope in the form of a baby, who had just moments before been sitting on the throne of the universe surrounded by unbelievable glory and honor because He is God. But He chose to confine Himself in a human body, become one of us – that which He created – because He loved us so much He couldn’t let us live hopeless lives that only could end in death. This was the only way for hope to endure.

We hope for lots of things in this life – love and friendship, jobs and prosperity, health and amusement. But storms roll in and deprive us of those hopes. Sitting in the rain, we often find ourselves disappointed in hope.

But it’s not hope’s fault that we were disappointed! No, it was what we put our hope in that failed.

Hoping in that which is certain, although we have not yet seen it, that hope will never disappoint. It’s the hope of heaven – the path paved by Jesus, beginning with His birth that we celebrate at Christmas, and continuing in His death and resurrection we celebrate at Easter.

Without that hope, we will be disappointed, tempted to give up, depressed and shackled with life’s problems.

With that hope, we have everything – a future, a basis on which to praise God continually, promises with the backing of God for whom it is impossible to lie, a home and a family.

I pray that your Christmas is saturated with hope as you celebrate the birth of Hope.

Merry Christmas, Dry Ground friends! Thanks for sticking with me through this wintry season of life.

(photo by photobucket.com)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Movies You Might Have Missed Monday

Sometimes when us movie geeks say 'Christmas movie' we don't mean movies about Christmas. We mean blockbusters that open in theatres Christmas week, one of the few coveted release times on the Hollywood calendar. Every year, an anticipated film or two opens on or around Christmas pretty much guaranteeing that they are worth seeing.

This year, I was looking forward to two 'Christmas' films: Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows.
So far, I haven't been disappointed. I've only seen MI4 (Sherlock is next on the list), but it delivered everything a 'Christmas' movie should. CLICK HERE for my review of it, posted on Billings365.com.
I hope your holidays have been full of fun and family while also remembering the Reason for the Season. This week before Christmas Day, be blessed, hug some necks, and appreciate your friends and family with a little more effort than usual. Maybe you all can pack up the cars and treat yourself to one of the many new releases in theatres now.
6 days until Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

POV Wednesday – True Gift of Christmas

I’ve been dealing with some tough stuff lately. Maybe you have too. Well, it’s been driving me to God’s Word looking for answers! I have no idea if this will make sense or help, but I do know that it helped me.

James 1:2-4 says: Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

The desire for perfection has all but disappeared in this age, I admit even in my heart. ‘Enough’ to get by with as little pain and suffering possible, we accept a level of mediocrity and are done with it.

But we’re meant for so much more. We’re meant for perfection – to be perfect ourselves and to be perfect for our Perfect Lover, Jesus Christ.

Problem is, our fallen world has twisted this to make us believe that we are to obtain this perfection on our own, which is futile. When we believe that, though, it is impossible to see ‘troubles’ as James calls them as ‘opportunities for great joy.’ We can only see them as setbacks and obstacles.

But the writer of Hebrews says in 10:14: For by one sacrifice [Jesus’ death] He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

This tells me that I have nothing to do with my perfection. It’s only through His suffering that He is making me perfect and holy. I am only the clay, He is the potter forming and shaping me on His wheel (Isaiah 64:8).

This process, sanctification, being made perfect, is not a painless one. To be made perfect, which is to share in His glory, we must also share in His suffering. (Rom. 8:17, 2 Cor. 1:5, 2 Cor. 1:7, 1 Peter 5:1).

Here’s a reason to rejoice - Jesus bore the hard part – death. The sufferings we experience now are nothing compared to that, or to the glory of the perfection meant for us.

How is this a Christmas post? Pain and suffering hardly puts us in a cheery, holiday mood, does it?

Well, I’m talking about THE reason Jesus was born. He came to earth to suffer and experience our pain because He knows the requirement for our perfection is suffering. And we cannot face that on our own. So He came to take the brunt. He is the comfort and He also provides comfort.

More reasons to rejoice.

1 Peter 5:12 says: My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand firm in that grace.

So don’t be discouraged if you are suffering. It could be evidence that you’re being made perfect. Like God’s grace being sufficient for Paul’s thorn in 2 Corinthians, we should accept it as a gift.

Gifts are always a good opportunity for great joy, right?

Wo! 11 days until Christmas!

(photo by photobucket.com)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Movies You Might Have Missed Monday – Christmas Edition

Ever feel like even though you’re doing everything right, everything just keeps going wrong?

That’s how Queen Latifah’s character. Georgia Byrd, feels in today’s pick, Last Holiday.

Georgia sings in her church choir, watches what she eats, encourages the neighbor kid to watch his language, and works cookware in a New Orleans department store. It’s at the store where she shyly admires fellow co-worker, Sean Matthews, played by hunky LL Cool J. But before the two can admit their feelings for each other, there’s an accident. Georgia bumps her head on a cupboard door in her cooking cubicle at work. Sean carries her to the in-house medical clinic. The doctor does a brain scan with his ‘new to him’ machine and discovers that she has lesions on her brain. Finding out that she only has three weeks to live, Georgia comes out of her shell. She quits her job, liquidates her bank account and goes on one of the adventures she has always dreamed about – spends the holidays at Prague’s Hotel Pupp living like a princess.

Her perspective on life enhanced by the proximity of death, she enjoys every detail of her dream world and in the process makes a number of friends. Meanwhile, Sean notices her mysterious absence at work and investigates. When he finds out where she went, Sean comes out of his shell too and pursues. Question is, does he reach her in time?

This is not a drama. This is a romantic comedy. The imminent death issue is a catalyst for misunderstandings and coincidental comedy of errors, and of course everything turns out alright in the end.

I like this movie because it is funny, clean, fun-loving, romantic, and it has great reverence for abundant life. Georgia’s shedding of her inhibited lifestyle did not count losing her morals or principles or suddenly becoming irresponsible. She just stopped being scared and stepped out of her box.

Hope you are having a fun holiday season and are watching all the best Christmas movies out there!

13 days until Christmas!

(photo by photobucket.com)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

POV Wednesday – The “C” Word

Have you seen this cartoon?

The war on ‘Christ’mas has been heating up for years, played out every day in speech, advertising, decorations, traditions… pretty much everywhere you look, at least subtly.

The anti-‘Christ’mas bullies pick fights with those simple little words ‘Happy Holidays’ and lure us ‘Christ’ians into confrontations that dare us to defend our Faith during this time of year.

I don’t deny that it is a battle, or that we should stand up for Truth. I’m all for that.

But the Bible warns us that we are not fighting a battle of flesh and blood, but against principalities in the spiritual world. (Eph. 6:12) That means, we are not armed with physical weapons such as guns or a sharp tongue, but with God’s armor (Eph. 6:10-17).

It also tells us that a gentle word turns away wrath. (Prov. 15:1)

Saying ‘Merry Christmas’ deliberately instead of ‘Happy Holidays’ is a statement, yes. But ‘how’ we say it says even more.

We should think of what we’re saying and why we’re saying it. To stand up for a belief system? Well, partly. But that’s the gravy. The meat should be for compassion’s sake. The person to whom we say it may not understand why we insist on saying Merry ‘Christ’mas. They may never have heard the amazing story of Jesus’ birth, or at least not believed it as real and pertinent to their lives. They may be fully aware and just not as aware of their words. They may be having a bad or sad day. The ‘love’ behind the words, in that case, would mean much more than words themselves.

I think of it this way - it should feel more like a ‘hug’ than a ‘slap.’ If it isn’t delivered with the full backing of Christ’s love, the ‘reason’ for the Season as it were, then we might as well be saying ‘Happy Holidays.’

Wo! 18 days until the day! Happy Wednesday!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Movies You Might Have Missed Monday - Christmas Edition

As life rolls along and the scenery changes, my mode of movie consumption changes too. For years, during what I like to call the ‘glory’ days, we got free first-run movies. Then I got free rentals when I worked at Movie Gallery. My first DVR opened up any and every movie that sounded interesting to me on Turner Classic Movies.

For the time being, Netflix has been the available venue. A brand new user, I was excited at first, but it turned out not to be as wonderful as I expected. Still, I manage to put it to good use some of the time. They redeemed themselves a little, however, when what should appear on the ‘recently added’ section but a blast from my past that immediately congers the warm, fuzzy nostalgia feeling. And since I just saw the new Muppet Movie in theatres now (CLICK HERE for my review on Billings365.com), I’d already been primed to experience those remembrance goose bumps to the fullest.

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (A Muppet TV special from… eh hem… 1977) takes us back to pre-computer graphics entertainment. Sure, it’s possible your kids may run screaming from the room with boredom. But this kind of kid show was cutting edge back then. And it always taught us something.

Emmet Otter and his Ma manage a meager existence operating a laundry service. Christmas Eve is days away, but they don’t feel much like celebrating because Pa’s gone ‘where the river meets the ocean’ and they don’t have much money for gifts or decorations. They hear about a talent contest offering $50 of reward money. Each sign up without the other knowing, and each sacrifice something important to be able to enter.

They just don’t make ‘em like this any more.

Do kids these days even appreciate a masterful puppetry display or quirky songs in a variety of genres that aren’t pop or rap? I wouldn’t know, because I don’t have kids, but judging from what’s popular these days, I’d imagine not.

Maybe it’s because I love music, or maybe it’s because I love the Muppets. Whatever it is, watching Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas made me laugh (in a funny-haha way, not an evil or sarcastic way). It’s a good one to blow off the dust and stick in the queue and travel back in time for a sweet 48 minutes.

20 days until Christmas! Where is time flying off to? (I’d go somewhere warm… Fiji?)

Happy Movie Watching, Dry Ground friends!

(photo by photobucket.com)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Weekend Tune Up - Christmas Edition

I have reached the point in my life that I need a little assistance from the ‘younger’ generation to keep current on the music scene.

My source for the best, hippest, Christian music is my niece, Katelyn. I thought I was a TobyMac fan, having been introduced to DC Talk in college by my Daniel. But my niece is a sic (that’s a good thing, fyi) fan! I wouldn’t have even known TobyMac released a Christmas album this year if it wasn’t for her.

Therefore, adjust your attitudes, improve your moods, wear a smile as you listen to one of her favorites from TobyMac: Christmas in Diverse City.

23 days until Christmas 2011!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

POV Wednesday – Pay It Forward

The Christmas Season has started, even for those of us waiting until it’s actually the next holiday.

Christmas is important because it is one of two events in the history of the universe that make salvation possible – the human birth of the one and only God. It puts in motion the ultimate example of grace anyone’s ever seen or imagined. We accept that grace without one single thing to give in return. We don’t earn or pay or barter for it. When we come face to face with wrongs we’ve done, the term ‘amazing grace’ comes alive. We depend on it when we mess up. We’re relieved to hear ‘there is therefore now no condemnation.’ More often than we’d like to admit, we expect it… maybe even before we follow through on an action or attitude that we know isn’t quite right.

Grace is a beautiful thing when we’ve learned to accept it.

But living like Christ is not just about accepting His grace.

It’s also about imparting it to others. Forgiving when we don’t feel like it, even those who, like us in comparison to God’s holiness, don’t deserve it.

If you’ve ever been hurt, you know this is a difficult task.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), God’s Word makes some pretty strong statements concerning the necessity of doing just that.

Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Romans 5:6-8 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

He’s adamant about it because He loves us. He wants us to understand what He did for us to such an extent that we would do the same to others, and in doing so learn to love Him more as well as to know how high, long, wide and deep His love is (Eph. 3:17-18). The parable Jesus told, recorded in Matt. 18:21-35, illustrates this.

So I was thinking that this Christmas season, while we celebrate Emmanuel, God with Us, the epitome of Grace, that we will not only learn to accept His grace, but to impart it to everyone else as well.

It takes practice, as well as the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and encouragement from God’s Word.

But with this mindset, won’t shopping and family gatherings be less stressful? Won’t ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Deck the Halls’ sound better? Won’t celebrating Christmas take on a deeper meaning?

Remember, it’s not easy. It doesn’t come naturally. But then, like my Daniel says, if it was easy, everyone would do it.

25 days until Christmas!

(photo by photobucket.com)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Movies You Might Have Missed Monday - Christmas with a Capital C

I realize it isn’t quite December yet, but it is after Thanksgiving, which in my book means all things Christmas are fair game.

So this week’s pick is a Christmas movie, one I watched on Netflix at the suggestion of my Daniel who went to high school and college with the film’s writer! So cool seeing her name in the credits. The best part is, though, that this movie’s worth watching!

It’s called Christmas with a Capital C, which according to the credits is based on a song with the same title by Go Fish (see sidebar!).

A small town in Alaska, Trapper Falls, is looking forward to the Christmas season including the church pageant, the annual Christmas Cup ski race, and displaying its nativity scene on the courthouse lawn. Just as they’re getting started, a blast from the past shows up, Mitch Bright. He also just happens to be the mayor’s old high school rival in sports, student council, academics, even the same girl (who ended up marrying the mayor).

Anyway, Mitch has come back to stir the pot. He files an injunction to prohibit the nativity from being displayed on government property. This starts a fight with those for and against his argument that church and state should remain separate. Once again, the mayor and Mitch are butting heads.

But an all-out war is circumvented when some people in the town, like the mayor’s wife and daughter, peek under the surface of Mitch’s tough exterior, which leads to the discovery of Mitch’s true reasons for coming home.

Christmas with a Capital C is a great discussion piece for those political talking heads that like to debate the Christian origins of the Constitution and the freedom of religion and speech. It also encourages a compassionate, humble response to those claiming to be against religion of any type. It shows a loving way to stand for a belief system without alienating a contender. It reminds us that Love is the Reason for the Season, not ideology or a set traditions.

But this story isn’t all business either. It’s fun, and funny. Brad Stine, Christian comedian, plays the mayor’s brother, and adds a great deal of relief from the seriousness of the subject. The setting is beautiful, as it was filmed in Seward, Alaska. And the outcome is right in line with Christmas cheer and spirit.

If you like getting to the end of a movie, smiling and exclaiming, ‘That was so good!’ then Christmas with a Capital C is for you!

Happy movie watching, Dry Ground friends!

27 days until Christmas! Yeah!

(photo by photobucket.com)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Weekend Tune Up

My Thanksgiving was great. How was yours? Continuing the attitude of gratitude with this Weekend Tune Up. Have fun shopping - but shop with grace. :-) Haha. Love you, Dry Ground friends!



Wednesday, November 23, 2011

POV Wednesday – Thanksgiving

A recent devotion I read said this: Thanksgiving is the language of Love.

It’s true, right?

How great would our relationships be if we’d just say ‘thank you’ on a regular basis?

We can get so bogged down with irritations, hurts, pettiness, self-centeredness, doubts, disagreements, disappointments, weariness, busyness, responsibilities, tragedies, misunderstandings, blindsides, distractions, detours, mountains, valleys, highs, lows, wins, losses… uttering a simple ‘thank you’ ends up being more painful than a root canal.

That’s why the Bible tells us to give thanks in all things, and to think of things that are lovely, noble, pure and of good report. If we don’t, it’s like sledding down Mt. Everest on a tiny square of cardboard – a.k.a. a slippery slope.

This year, though ‘things’ aren’t exactly ideal as far as living the dream, I have learned something about what it really means to be grateful and to give thanks to the Lord in everything.

It’s a matter of perspective.

I can either start at the bottom or the top. Let’s go bottom up, shall we?

My heart currently beats.

I haven’t missed a breath for 37+ years.

Though I was born with one hip out of joint, I’m capable of jogging several miles at a time if I’m so inclined thanks to the doctor who noticed a slight abnormality before I left the hospital for the first time.

I can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.

I can speak, think, communicate and comprehend.

I grew up knowing my dad, mom, and relatives loved me.

When I was young, God introduced me to the love of my life, my Daniel, and I got to marry him. He’s been more than a blessing, a complete joy, ever since.

We’ve experienced together the varied sub-cultures of this great United States of America, met scads of beautiful and special people we cherish, and had the opportunity to see amazing wonders and treasures God’s put in this world.

We’ve got friends and family who’ve loved and supported us unconditionally despite our mistakes, failures and misfortunes.

I’m warm in the cold weather, cool in the hot weather, fed (maybe a little too well), enjoy a comfortable bed, and have a packed closet.

Look, I could go on and on – and I haven’t mentioned one thing that is not of good report. Listing that which I am thankful for doesn’t make me forget those things, because they definitely exist, but it sure does shine a brighter light on the whole picture.

But the most important, most amazing, most indisputable reason I have for being thankful despite anything I see or experience is that my Creator, the Perfect Lover Jesus Christ, loved me so much, He rescued me from my demise – a death that I deserved – and invited me to spend eternity with Him in paradise.

One of my favorite lyrics in all of music is from David Crowder's "How He Loves" - "I don't have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way He loves." (See sidebar for link to listen to the entire song!)

No matter what is happening in your life, even if there’s not one thing going right, even if you are on your deathbed, you can be thankful that Jesus loves you. Accepting that gift is the first step toward living the language of love and discovering a new existence.

I’m thankful for each one of you, too, Dry Ground friends. I pray your Thanksgiving celebration is saturated with Love. Remember to say ‘thank you’ as often as possible!

(photo by photobucket.com)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Movies You Might Have Missed Monday -Temple Grandin

Sadly, for some, another season of the Twilight Saga has passed. Next year will be the last of the movies, and also the last of the Twiblog when I’ll highlight the inspirational messages and symbolism I picked up on in the fourth part of the story, Breaking Dawn. But that will have to wait.

For now, we’re back on schedule, which might be a relief to the Twi-haters out there. That means, Movies You Might Have Missed Monday is back!! And of course, I’m excited to tell you about today’s pick.

Temple Grandin is the name of the movie, but it’s also the name of the extraordinary, real-life person the movie’s about. Temple currently teaches at CO State University, holds a Masters and Ph.D. has written six books (and counting) and is an inventor as well. What’s so special about that? Well, she’s been able to accomplish all of this and more while having what they call high-functioning autism.

The movie highlights the struggles she experienced growing up with this condition. From not speaking until she turned four years old to the social conflicts encountered throughout childhood and on into adulthood, Temple Grandin’s story tells of heartbreaking challenges as well as remarkable courage.

It shows the tireless persistence of her mother to help her achieve her potential despite the hurdles autism presented. It shows the dismal prejudice and unkindness Temple met as she grew up in a time that neither understood nor empathized with ‘different’ people. It also shows those few individuals who looked past the social flubs and phobias to see an incredible mind as well as a tender heart.

Though it happens more often as I get older, I’m not generally a ‘crier’ when I watch movies. Stories deeply affect me, but the tears are rarely the outward expression. Therefore, I’m so glad I watched Temple Grandin alone because I cried almost through the entire movie. Before that deters you from watching, they weren’t all sad tears. Some of them were, but I was so impressed with the guts this woman showed I couldn’t help it. Not only was I impressed, but I was also a little ashamed of myself for what I complain about, what I think I can’t accomplish, for what I haven’t done.

Temple had, and still has, an amazing amount of value to contribute to the world. What a shining example of the success and importance of a person the world would have institutionalized! What a testament to the value of every life. She tirelessly works to fix the problems her picture-thinking mind shows her. She has great compassion for her co-autistic peers as well as their families. In the movie, she emphatically states that she wants to matter. How beautiful of her, especially since she encountered so many people who told her she didn’t (or at least treated her that way).

The film itself is well done. Claire Danes won a Golden Globe for her performance as Temple. Julia Ormond, David Strathairn and Catherine O’Hara also contribute their talents and lend their professional credibility. And like I said, it’s presented in a way that touches the core of even the thickest (emotionally) personality.

I had known about this movie for some time before I watched it. Believe me when I suggest that you not waste another second before watching it yourself. You won’t be sorry. I hope you’ll be inspired and challenged.

Happy Movie Watching, Dry Ground friends! And happy Thanksgiving Week!

(photo by photobucket.com)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fans Will Love Breaking Dawn Part 1 – Movie Review


(CLICK HERE for previous chapter.)

Of the entire Twilight Saga, I love the first part of the story in Breaking Dawn the most. So my hopes were cautiously high, wanting so much for the movie version to ‘get it right’ as far as my imagination prescribed.
I am happy and relieved to report that it did not disappoint!
As the Saga progressed, the novels increased in page number. Already a difficult task to translate novel to screenplay in a tidy yet thorough manner, Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final book, will hit the silver screen in two installments. I realize this means the franchise will automatically make more money, but honestly I don’t think the fans mind. Especially if the films can do a good job on the parts that matter, which in the case of Part 1, they did.
This film starts out with the wedding of Edward Cullen, Vampire and Bella Swan, Human. The long-awaited event turns out beautifully, aside from a bittersweet visit from Jacob Black, Werewolf, who happens to be in love with the bride. No one who is in-the-know expects Bella to return from her honeymoon ‘alive.’ The shocker comes when she does come home a living human, but pregnant. Not only pregnant, but appearing several months pregnant after only being gone several weeks. And the half-human/half-vamp growing so rapidly in Bella’s womb is inadvertently killing her.
Fear of the unknown ‘creature’ Bella carries spurs a violent conflict with the werewolves. Jacob still can’t endure the thought of hurting Bella, so he defects from his pack, joining the Cullens in doing all they can to protect and save Bella’s life.
For those not having read the books and therefore unaware of what’s coming, Breaking Dawn Part 1 might startle with its stark messiness. In a word, its themes are serious. Gone are the adolescent dramas of who’s dating, who’s going to prom, who’s failing chem lab. We’ve moved on to marriage, sex, pregnancy, life, death, and destiny.
But for those who’ve read the books and know and love the beautiful intensity of this story, the film succeeds. Without being gross or gory, the ‘messy’ parts, essential in every way, make a forceful impact. While I wouldn’t recommend it for pre-teen eyes due to the adult nature of the subjects at hand, the sensitive scenes are dealt with tastefully without losing credit or watering down the story.
Besides a few minor details that change from book to film, Breaking Dawn stays truest to the series of all the films so far. I only felt that cringe of cheesiness once or twice, far less than when watching the others. Most of the time, I sat riveted, exalting in the parts they got ‘right’ and looking forward to when I can see it again.
Breaking Dawn may not be what you expected, but you might enjoy the surprise.
Thank you, Dry Ground friends, for sticking with me through this series! I can't wait to share with you the inspirational thoughts I have about the Breaking Dawn story. That will appear here sometime in the near future - How Reading a Vampire Book Showed Me a Picture of the Holy Spirit. In the meantime, Movies You Might Have Missed Mondays returns next week!
Be blessed!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How Reading a Vampire Book Revealed to Me the Gift of Free Will – The Perfect Lover


(CLICK HERE for previous chapter.)

Edward wields the greatest power in influencing his Beloved because he grants Bella the power of choice. The beautiful irony in this –that he has the most effect by letting go.
Edward steps back and leaves Bella’s free will alone. Yes, he prevents her from seeing Jacob on several occasions, but only because he really believed the werewolves were a threat. Once that issue resolves, he steps back and lets her choose every course of action even though many of her decisions cause him great pain. In so giving Bella the gift of free will, he risks losing her because he knows it is possible she’ll choose Jacob. Even though he knows the depth of his love, his ability to protect her, the possibility and implications of Jacob imprinting on someone else in the future… all the risks to Bella… he still leaves the choice to her.
Gentlemen are like that. He knew that in any love relationship, the proof is in the choice.
This is made most evident in Eclipse during the tent scene before the battle between the newborn vampire army and the combined Cullen/Wolf Pack defense. Edward has taken Bella far from the proposed battle site to keep her safe. Jacob is with them up until the battle begins, providing his watchdog services over night. An unseasonable winter storm with freezing temps pops up, not a big deal for Edward and Jacob but life-threatening for Bella as she shivers away in her sleeping bag. Edward can’t get anywhere near her to keep her from dying of frost bite as he would make matters worse since his skin feels cold to Bella. Jacob, with his higher-than-average, 100+ degree body temperature, thanks to his werewolf genes, is Bella’s only hope to keep warm. Therefore, Edward, Jacob and Bella end up in a tent together to ride out the storm.
The storm rages both outside and inside. While Bella tries to sleep, warming up against Jacob’s hot skin, Edward and Jacob talk, in essence, about Bella’s Free Will.
Jacob is in full special ops tactics as he shares the sleeping bag with Bella. He’s taking advantage of the awkward (for everyone else) situation. He’s actually gloating. To needle Edward more, he baits him with, “The jealousy… it has to be eating at you. You can’t be as sure of yourself as you seem. Unless you have no emotions at all.”
In this, Jacob hurls two accusations. First, that Edward should be enraged with jealousy, perhaps to the point of starting a fight (because Jacob would love that). Second, that Edward is as heartless figuratively as he is physically/literally.
I love Edward’s response. “Of course, it is,” Edward agreed, no longer amused. “Right now it’s so bad that I can barely control my voice.”
As I read this part, a vivid picture and interpretation of God’s jealousy came to mind. Yes, God gets jealous. He says so repeatedly in the Old Testament, which is why He wants no other gods replacing Him. In the New Testament, Paul writes, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Him.” (2 Cor. 11:2)
So often, people turn up their noses at verses like this and accuse God of being petty or bitter or unreasonable. But jealousy is not always a bad thing!
If in this scene Edward had said he wasn’t jealous, we’d think something was wrong with him, right? Why? Because of how much he loves Bella! There’d be something amiss in the Gospel if God did not admit to being jealous. It is a sign of PERFECT LOVE!
But Edward’s jealousy does not lead to his taking away Bella’s Free Will. Instead of selfishly demanding her affections, he waits in agonizing silence while she’s in her Choosing Fields. Even in the tent, when his jealousy blazes under the circumstances, he expresses his respect for Bella’s Free Will.
“And if she were to decide that she wanted me?” Jacob challenged. “Okay, it’s a long shot, I’ll give you that.”
“I would let her go.”
“Just like that?”
“In the sense that I’d never show her how hard it was for me, yes. But I would keep watch. You see, Jacob, you might leave her someday. Like Sam and Emily, you wouldn’t have a choice. I would always be waiting in the wings, hoping for that to happen.”
Honoring Bella’s Free Will does not mean Edward stops loving her if she would choose Jacob. He’d always be waiting, unconditional love in tact, to welcome her back should she change her mind or if Jacob imprinted (a supernatural werewolf phenomenon) on someone else, meaning he’d have no choice but to leave Bella. Edward’s love doesn’t change for her no matter what her choice is for him. That is true, perfect, selfless love.
That is the picture of Jesus.

He has been clear – He loves us with an everlasting love, more perfectly than any other love that could ever vie for our attentions. He’s proposed an eternal relationship covenant. He knows the risks of losing us, both to Himself and to us. He has endured the pain of our rejection time after time. Yet, he still leaves the answer up to us. We get to choose.
Because Jesus is the ultimate gentleman. He never forces our hand.
He knows that the proof of love lies in choice. If we don’t choose Him, the love isn’t real.
His love never changes, though. Whether we accept Him or not, His love endures. He’s waiting with open arms, hoping for us to change our minds, ready to respond when the Other Choice leaves us or lets us down, waiting for us to allow Him to comfort, protect, redeem and reward us with His perfect presence.
For benefits beyond our imagination await the Bride of Christ that cannot be bestowed on an unwilling Beloved.
Our Perfect Lover is so good to allow us time in the Choosing Fields as we examine satellite influences that reflect Him. Testimonies, Experiences, Fears, Contenders, Fear, Pride and a whole host of other things vie for focus and importance as we are in the process of choosing. Some of those things recommend the Perfect Lover, some deter, and others attack the very thought of Him.
But after all is said and done, the most powerful influence should be the Perfect Lover Himself.
Everything the Perfect Lover says and does proves His complete, unconditional, self-sacrificing, perfect love. From the time He knit you together in your mother’s womb throughout each second of your life, He’s desired, chosen, waited for, pursued you. He sacrificed the glory of Heaven for human flesh. He bled and died for you, making atonement (or payment) for your sin debts. He fought and conquered Death for you so that living with Him for eternity is possible. And He did all this before you uttered one word of affection or thanks back to Him.
It’s His proposal, His declaration of perfect love, His hand outstretched in invitation to life abundant, eternal life, and all the benefits that only a willing Beloved can receive.
All we have to do is… take that Hand. Choose to be His Bride.
Bella eventually makes her choice, Edward. Breaking Dawn opens with their wedding. I’m looking forward to seeing how they portray it in the movie opening this weekend! I’ll let you know what I think on Friday! Be blessed, Dry Ground friends!
CLICK HERE for my review of the movie!

Monday, November 14, 2011

How Reading a Vampire Book Revealed to Me the Gift of Free Will – The Other Choice


(CLICK HERE for previous chapter.)

Every choice has a contender. Otherwise, there’d be no choice involved.
The more valuable or important the choice, the more pressure the contender applies.
When it comes to our hearts, arguably the most important and valuable treasure we own, we have the power to choose what we do with it. What we choose reflects our beliefs on life, eternity, and God.
Our heart’s value is so great that we are not the only ones to treasure it. Cosmic forces pursue it like Indiana Jones goes after an ancient relic.
While it seems like our heart is tugged in thousands of directions, really only two camps war for the privilege of our heart’s loyalties and affections. Let’s call those camps Light and Dark.
Bella experiences this war in the battle between Edward and Jacob to win her heart. From the beginning of the series, Edward has represented Light and Jacob Darkness. They both claim being in love with Bella, and we believe them both. But she can’t have them both in the same capacity. She avoids choosing by categorizing them. She loves Jacob, but not that way, even though she believes she can’t live without him. Problem is, he wants more than friendship.

In the first two books, Jacob is the sweetheart, the best friend who helps hold Bella together when her Love seemingly abandons her. Opposite of Edward, he presents an attractive alternative as guardian of her heart. The problem arises when Bella’s Free Will swings from almost choosing him to going back to choosing Edward.
Just like Jacob’s inner werewolf is revealed physically, his true colors are revealed in response to his disappointment – he lashes out, for starters tattling on her to Charlie about their motorcycle riding, which gets her in trouble. It’s a small, somewhat insignificant action with titanic implications.
Those implications? The true nature of Jacob’s ‘love.’ While in her Choosing Fields, Bella can’t see that what Jacob wants is selfish, openly hostile to her true Love, and in conflict with the choices she’s already made via Free Will.

At the beginning of Eclipse, Jacob is done playing nice. He’s determined to fight for Bella’s heart. On the surface, a noble intention drawing many votes his way when we’re picking Teams. But it’s the way he goes about fighting that proves his feelings suspect.
Jacob demonstrates a selfish attitude in his pursuit of Bella. In chapter four, Jacob riles her with questions about why and how she could love a ‘monster.’ Bella defends her choice, but a seed of doubt and discontent is sown. Conversations between Jacob and Bella turn argumentative because in order to elevate himself, he reminds her of the pain Edward caused by his absence. In fact, in chapter fifteen, Jacob claims he has a right to contend for her heart because of the place she allowed him to have while Edward was gone. This absolutely strikes a guilty chord with Bella because she feels like she owes Jacob. His capitalizing on that point is the definition of selfishness.
Several instances of Jacob acting hostile, disrespectful and aggressive toward Edward keep the edgy conflict going throughout the story. When Edward agrees to Bella visiting Jacob for the day (he’s worried because of his belief werewolves are uncontrollably dangerous and therefore a threat to his beloved), he gives her an affectionate yet appropriate kiss before she walks across the invisible boundary to Jacob’s reservation. When Jacob greets her, he sweeps her up into a monstrous and inappropriate bear hug with the expressed intent of ticking Edward off. Bella doesn’t even like it. But he’s gloating because he perceives it as winning a battle in the overall war.
Perhaps the most unloving thing Jacob does, however, even as he tries to prove that he loves Bella, is overstep the boundaries of Free Will.
It’s pretty bad when your supposed best friend wishes you were dead as an alternative to you following through on a decision you made. Jacob does this to Bella in chapter eight. Implying she should feel guilty over a choice she’s made impedes Free Will.
After Jacob admits to loving Bella and wanting her to pick him instead of Edward, he kisses her… against her will. His delusional display of grandeur shows his desperation to force Bella to see things from his perspective, to agree with him, to change her choice to reward him with the rights to her heart.

The beautiful part about that scene to me is that when Edward dropped Bella off to see Jacob before this conversation, he knew what Jacob was going to say/do because he read his mind. His loving act to let her go face that scene with her Free Will in tact speaks volumes of how unselfish he is and how much he values her. His reaction when she comes home with a broken hand (because she punches Jacob for kissing her, but since he’s supernaturally ripped her bones had no chance of winning) is equally beautiful. He insists that if Jacob ever has the notion to kiss her again, he’d better ask first. He didn’t throw some testosterone-driven hissy-fit about Jacob infiltrating his territory or messing with his girl. No, his first and major concern was that Bella’s Free Will right to choose remained supreme. Jacob’s taking it away caused pain and injury too, which Edward could not tolerate.
But we’re not talking about Edward yet. I could go on and on, though I won’t. The time has come to get to the point!
The Bible warns us that Satan desires your heart so much that he is like a prowling lion. Prowling gives the idea that the lion is hunting, stalking something with the intent to claim it by force as its own. Like a lion camouflaged in the wild, we don’t see this threat right away. Danger can come in some pretty attractive forms, luring us into a friendship and mounting debts we can’t pay. The nice guy façade soon morphs into a dangerous beast without warning, especially if we contemplate choosing the Light, our Perfect Lover Jesus Christ. Suddenly, our ‘friend’ is easily angered, unrepentant, selfish and manipulative. He employs guilt trips, distractions, and ultimatums – all attempts to arrest our Free Will to keep our hearts from choosing the Perfect Lover. He even wishes we were dead rather than choose anyone else but him, especially if we want the Perfect Lover instead.
The Bible also describes Jesus as a lion, the Lion of Judah. This is a different kind of lion, though. Instead of hunting our hearts, he extends an invitation to us (we’re described as lambs) to lay down with him. For a lamb to accept such a thing from a lion requires trust, faith, and an active choice – all exercises of Free Will.
Which lion would you rather?
The ultimate basis for a choice such as this does not depend on our own capacity for choosing, however. It depends on the trustworthiness of the Lion. When it comes right down to it, the Lion’s all we need to know.
We’ll talk about that Wednesday, the last post before the movie review!!!! Breaking Dawn opens this Friday! Wahoo! Got your tix?
Have a great Monday! Be blessed, Dry Ground friends!
For the next chapter, The Perfect Lover, CLICK HERE.
(photos by photobucket.com)

Friday, November 11, 2011

How Reading a Vampire Book Revealed to Me the Gift of Free Will – The Self-Obstacle


To begin, I'd like to salute all the veterans out there and extend my deep thanks and appreciation for your service that results in my freedom here in the United States. Freedom that makes this blog possible, among many other much more important things. We can't thank you enough! At the very least, I picture a stadium full of us citizens giving a roaring standing ovation.



Okay. now today's Twi-blog. (CLICK HERE for previous chapter.)
Surrender.
The first image that comes to my mind when I hear that word is arms reaching for the sky at gunpoint – being taken hostage unwillingly - but only to avoid a worse fate, death.
A bad thing.
With popular quotes such as, “Never give up! Never surrender!” we equate surrender with quitting, which just adds to its negative connotation.
Surrender, however isn’t quitting. Both are acts of Free Will, choices that result in actions. But quitting has to do with how you feel about yourself (i.e. I can’t do this…), while surrender has to do with how you feel about the one asking you to lay down your weapons.
In other words, do you trust the one asking you to surrender?
Emotional surrender compares to physical surrender except it’s much harder because the trust issue is of greatest importance while being the most delicate. Emotional hurts impede trust. Without trust, you can’t surrender. Without surrender, you grasp for control and keep up your guard just in case pain fires a shot.

This is where Bella is in Eclipse.
Somewhere between following Edward with blind trust to their sanctuary in Twilight and surviving her wilderness experience during his absence in New Moon, Bella has taken the reins. By the time Eclipse starts, she intends to control what happens from there on out.
She filters information to protect her parents, deciding what they can know about her future and what they can’t.
She acts as ambassador between Edward and Jacob, determined that they will get along and fit into her life in a way that appeases herself but ignores their view on the matter.
She lobbies for a vampire conversion experience on her terms despite the wise counsel from Dr. Cullen and Edward, and even Alice.
She argues with and ultimately convinces Edward not to fight in the battle with the newborns based on her fears as well as her logic jockeying that gets Edward to admit he is not needed to win.
Funny thing is, in all of her attempts, she doesn’t end up controlling anything at all. Part of the reason is that she is attempting to control others’ Free Will with her own choices, and that never works. The other reason is that she trusts the wrong person for the facts to base her choices - herself.
In almost all of the situations listed, plus dozens more, Edward asks Bella to trust him with the results. In other words, to surrender to his wisdom and knowledge of each matter. Not to stop thinking or deciding for herself, but to listen to all the perspectives first, base her decisions on Truth, not her own understanding.
This is most difficult for Bella to do when it comes to his proposal of marriage. The bottom line is that she thinks it’s stupid. Based on her own worldview, her own experiences, and her own code of right and wrong, Edward is the stupid one when it comes to the subject of marriage. For all of her eighteen years, she really believes that she knows better, that somehow all of his education and experience and insight over the past century make him less reasonable, out of date, irrelevant to the present.

What’s causing Bella to see herself in such an elevated manner on this issue?

Pride. Plain and simple.
When we’re wielding our Free Will all over the place, it’s difficult sometimes to step back and admit that we don’t know everything. If wielded irresponsibly, the right to choose gives us the impression that we are the source of knowledge, the pool of right and wrong, the spring of Truth.
And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Surrender itself is a choice, an exercise of Free Will. We don’t choose surrender often because it is a confession that we don’t know everything and a release of control. Our pride keeps us from wanting to do that. SELF gets in the way of Free Will.
At this point in the story, Bella has plenty of evidence that Edward is trustworthy. She has proof of his unconditional love. It’s only SELF that keeps her from surrendering to his proposal.
It’s true that when our Perfect Lover Jesus asks for our hand in marriage, He is asking for us to surrender to His way, many times asking us to trust Him when we don’t understand what’s happening. In doing so, Our Perfect Lover does not remove our Free Will, rather He invites us to see more of the Truth, a purer basis on which to make decisions, which leads to a deeper, more intimate relationship. He’s proved Himself trustworthy time and time again. There’s no need to keep Him at a distance. We balk because SELF gets in the way. We believe that in all our years with all our experience, we’ve seen and heard it all. And, quite frankly, we think His way is stupid.
Really, that’s just another way of protecting ourselves, though, isn’t it?
Remember, in the most important circumstances if you don’t surrender, you face the worse option – death.
This is one of those circumstances. And our Perfect Lover has the right to request surrender because He surrendered Himself in our place so we wouldn’t have to face death. He surrendered and faced AND conquered death because He loves us that much.
The great thing about surrendering to our Perfect Lover is that it is rewarded with benefits, blessings far beyond our imagination we never could have comprehended if we hadn’t made a choice to accept Him.
We find out what belonging to Him means, like Bella does in Breaking Dawn when she finally walks down the aisle to marry Edward. She perceives the wedding in a new way, even thinking to herself in the middle of it, “I saw just how silly I’d been for fearing this…”.
Surrendering is a precious gift Free Will gets to give. The object of surrender is the most important factor. While the Perfect Lover asks for this gift, others less deserving also seek to demand or take it. The world can put a lot of pressure on us while we’re in the Choosing Fields, especially when it’s impossible to choose both. We’ll explore that next. Hope you’ll tune in!
To go to the next chapter, The Other Choice, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How Reading a Vampire Book Revealed to Me the Gift of Free Will – Leave and Cleave


(CLICK HERE for previous chapter.)
Have you ever been back to a place from your childhood that you haven’t seen since then and wonder at the differences between your memory and current reality? For example, childhood memories of my elementary school gymnasium are vivid pictures of a giant room where we held PE, school plays and movies during rained-out recesses. I mean, we got hundreds of people in there at a time, at least. But when I went back to that gym once a few years later, I marveled at how small it was. Same with the cafeteria.
Now in this case, size is insignificant. I mean, who cares about my perception of a couple of rooms at George Washington elementary school? But the same concept applies to our childhood memories of people, especially relatives. I mean, I remember my grandfather a certain way, but he died when I was 13. I don’t have adult memories of him. But my mom does of course. And I have to check myself sometimes when I’m talking about him because I can’t just say ‘grandpa was so-and-so’ when I should be asking my mom if how I remember him is accurate.
Perceptions from childhood stick with us whether they are accurate or not. They shape our morals, beliefs, behaviors, and ideas and often lead our feelings, actions and reactions of our present.
While Bella is in her Choosing Fields, what she believes her parents, Charlie and Renee, would think deters her from accepting Edward’s marriage proposal at such a young age.
She’s using a perception of a perception as an excuse to drag her feet.
A perception of a perception is a dangerous thing. One perception alone can lead to gross misunderstandings. Making an assumption about someone else’s perspective can be a communication catastrophe.

Charlie and Renee married early, had Bella early, divorced early. From Bella’s perception, marriage in general didn’t work so well. Bounced back and forth between parents, Bella grew up quick and relied heavily on her smarts for a worldview. Her experience gave her an idea about marriage that was true in her case, but not necessarily true in all cases.
This idea automatically turned into Bella’s perception of her parents’ view on the same subject. She remembers Renee making remarks born from her own experience with Charlie that she took, without asking for clarification, as a strike against the institution in general. The fact that Renee remarried translates to Bella that wisdom and a more adult view of the situation made the difference the second time around. As far as still-single Charlie, Bella never asks (in the book).
Bella’s marriage perception, then, is prime to conflict with Edward’s. And he’s wise enough to explain his side to her.
“You see, Bella, I was always that boy. In my world, I was already a man. I wasn’t looking for love – no, I was far too eager to be a soldier for that; I thought of nothing but the idealized glory of the war that they were selling prospective draftees then – but if I had found… I was going to say if I had found someone, but that won’t do. If I had found you, there isn’t a doubt in my mind how I would have proceeded. I was that boy, who would have as soon as I discovered that you were what I was looking for – gotten down on one knee and endeavored to secure your hand. I would have wanted you for eternity, even when the word didn’t have quite the same connotations.”
Even after this beautiful speech, Bella rolls her eyes. If any of it sounded good to her, swayed her in the slightest, the pull of her upbringing and experience quickly snuffed the desire to accept it.
The kicker comes later when she discovers that her perceptions of her parents’ perceptions were inaccurate! If she had only remembered to trust Edward, as she’d learned over and over that he was trustworthy, much of their strife in her Choosing Fields could have been avoided.
My point is not that parents and their perceptions are full of crap. Quite the opposite, really. I love that Bella loves and respects her parents so much throughout this story, and that she takes into account their feelings. But many times our perceptions of our parents’ perceptions are full of crap. And if we’d muster courage and take time to communicate, not fearing the response, we’d find out the truth instead of basing monumental decisions on assumptions.
When it comes to accepting our Perfect Lover, the past can be a heavy factor influencing our freedom to choose Him. Like testimonies, the past can have negative, positive or both impacts, but rest assured it always has an impact. If we, as children, witnessed our parents or some other adult have a bad experience, that bad experience plants a seed in our young, vulnerable brains and sprouts into a belief that defies all other facts. That belief results in actions. If someone in the Church harmed (intentionally or not) someone in our family or close to us, we gain a perspective on religion/the Church/God. No matter what happens later in life, questions from that experience need answered before we even think of believing the Truth our Perfect Lover represents. Scars from the past will hinder our ability to step into an eternal Free Will commitment with our Perfect Lover.
Communication and investigation become necessary. We ask questions, make sure our perception of the past is accurate. If it is, we find a way to heal. But so often it isn’t. So often what we thought all along wasn’t true!
Where fear and guilt hinder Free Will, pain gives us an opportunity to exercise it because healing takes a massive effort to choose. Every step in the healing process starts with a choice – to identify its source, to stop wallowing, to stop picking at the scab, to move beyond it, to release bitterness, to forgive, to allow the Perfect Lover to comfort and apply His restoring balm.
Bella has the opportunity to choose Edward and allow him to show her how fulfilling and beneficial marriage can be. That step, however, requires surrender to his way of thinking, and that can’t happen until she hurdles the obstacle of SELF.
That’s next on How Reading a Vampire Book Revealed to Me the Gift of Free Will. Hope I see you then!
For the next chapter, The Self-Obstacle, CLICK HERE.
(photo by photobucket.com)

Monday, November 7, 2011

How Reading a Vampire Book Revealed to Me the Gift of Free Will – The Influence of Testimonies


(CLICK HERE for previous chapter.)
The testimonies of Bella’s would-be in-laws, Alice, Rosalie and Jasper, all give Bella perspectives to consider with looks at their pasts, their conversion experience, and their lives since becoming vampires and living the Better Way as a Cullen.
Rosalie offers her story first. She’s not been subtle in her dislike of Bella, so Bella is sufficiently frightened when Rosalie takes the opportunity on a night when Edward is out hunting to speak her mind. But from Rosalie’s perspective, her intentions are one hundred percent honorable.

Rosalie Hale grew up the princess of her little southern household, set to marry town catch Royce King. However, one night close to the wedding, an intoxicated Royce and his friends attacked, assaulted and beat Rosalie leaving her in the street to bleed to death. Carlisle found her, and after assessing her vitals, determined she would die if he did not change her into a vampire. He did and brought her home to his then only companion Edward. Rosalie unwillingly endured the pain of transformation, accepted what Carlisle had made her, then accepted his Better Way… but only after she went on a revenge binge, killing everyone who had hurt her that night. Though beautiful and not dead, Rosalie mourned the loss of her humanity and held on to the bitterness stemming from the events that led to her vampire existence. Even with a strong and loving relationship with Emmett, she still yearns for the past. She believes, based on her experience, that Bella is making the wrong choice in wanting to become a vampire just for the sake of being with Edward.
The next testimony Bella hears is Jasper’s after a training session the Cullens and the werewolves have learning to fight newborn vampires. Bella asks how Jasper knows so much about it. He tells her how he came to be a Cullen.
Jasper Whitlock was in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Young and responsible, he demonstrated admirable leadership skills. A trio of lady-vamps found him one night along a deserted road and purposely attacked and changed him so that he could train the newborn vamps they were making into an army as in that time there were vicious territorial wars among vampire covens. So Jasper sparred with a lot of newborns, received hundreds of scars, and hunted humans all as a part of his job. Doing his job well was the only thing that kept him from being destroyed as well. What made it worse was Jasper’s special power, that he can control the moods of people as well as feel other people’s moods as if they were his own. This added stress to his brutal employment since he took on all the fear of his victims. Many of his victims were newborns who had no more use to Jasper’s boss. Without meaning to, Jasper had befriended one of them, Peter. When he was told to destroy his friend, Jasper couldn’t do it and let him go. Years later, Peter came back for Jasper and helped him escape. But Peter was not a veggie-vamp, and Jasper’s continued human hunting got him more and more depressed. He began wandering alone, lost and unsure of his options. But that’s when he found Alice, waiting for him in a Philadelphia diner. Since Alice sees future events, she saw Jasper coming, like she’d seen the Cullens and their Better Way. So they went and joined the Cullen family at once.

Alice’s testimony is as short as her future-sight is long. She couldn’t remember anything from her human life. As far as she was concerned, she’d only always been a vamp. Seeing the future helped her find the Cullens and the Better Way, so she did not suffer long as a lone vamp and she never had to taste human blood.
Bella had lots of information to process as she absorbed these histories from three different perspectives. They each had a different motivation in telling their stories – Rosalie aimed to deter, Jasper to inform, and Alice always aimed to invite. The only two things these testimonies had in common were first that the transformation itself was the most painful thing imaginable, and second that the Cullens were safe, kind, noble.
Every Christian has a story of how they came to an eternal, committed relationship with Jesus the Perfect Lover. The way we live those stories and speak about those stories impact people still in the Choosing Fields. Testimonies can deter, inform and invite depending on what part of that Better Way path we’re standing on.
Believers like Rosalie may not intend to deter others from choosing our Perfect Lover, but baggage from their past can weigh them down with bitterness and regret to extent that their testimony paints a sad picture.
Others more like Jasper have a horrible story of pain and immorality and sin. Finding the Better Way saved his existence. Though committed, he still falters because of the potency of his past. But surrounded by a loving family keeping him accountable, he can walk in the Better Way forgiven, growing, improving and free.
Some people are like Alice. They don’t remember anything different and are glad for it.
I’m sure we’ve all encountered Rosalies, Jaspers and Alices along our own journeys. Question is, which one are you?
While our fictional friends did not choose to become vampires, they did have the choice to follow Dr. Cullen’s Better Way. In Bella’s case, she has the opportunity to exercise her Free Will from the very beginning and choose a lifestyle based on her relationship with the Perfect Lover. The testimonies from the Cullen siblings paint a picture of her future and affect her thought process as she lingers in the Choosing Fields. But the tug of the past seems to hold her back more because she’s worried sick about what her parents will think.
That’s next on Dry Ground! Hope you join me!
To go to the next chapter, Leave and Cleave, CLICK HERE.

Friday, November 4, 2011

How Reading a Vampire Book Revealed to Me the Gift of Free Will - The Better Way – A Living Example


(CLICK HERE for previous chapter.)
Part of choosing Edward is choosing his way of life.
In the Twilight Saga world, not only is Edward a vampire, but he is a ‘vegetarian’ vampire, meaning he does not kill humans to slate his vampire bloodlust. He and his family only kill animals for sustenance.
This is not an easy lifestyle for a vampire for many reasons.
The smell of human blood can overwhelm the strongest control and send a vampire into an instinctual frenzy – like Jasper at Bella’s birthday party at the beginning of New Moon. Also, animal blood does not satisfy like human blood would. It’s fine, but not delectable. Animal blood does not strengthen like human blood either, so when preparing for a fight against non-veggie vamps they are at a disadvantage.
However, the Cullens and the few others like them adhere to this Better Way because they value life far above satisfying their own lusts. And not just the lives of their would-be victims, but of each other’s as well. Their choice in following this lifestyle makes building relationships with each other much easier and the relationships end up being stronger, actually based on love and affection instead of relationship-busting power struggles and violence.
Each Cullen is on a different place along the path as far as following this Better Way, and they hold each other accountable with encouragement, fellowship and forgiveness when needs-be.

The founder of this Better Way is Dr. Carlisle Cullen who despised what he had become so much that he was desperate to find redemption. It had not occurred to him that vampires could even survive on the blood of animals. Determined as he was to maintain the integrity of human life, he trained himself for centuries to deny his thirst for human blood. His journey was a lonely one as he fought to conceal from other humans his identity, and he even faced ridicule from other vampires who felt his pro-life efforts would be in vain. Eventually, though, he succeeded, becoming so immune to the alluring aroma of human blood that he was able to become a doctor and apply his skills to save lives instead of giving into his basic nature to take them.

Dr. Cullen perfected living the Better Way to such an extent that he could disciple others. Edward was his first convert, and immediately Dr. Cullen considered him his son. Over the nearly hundred years of their relationship, Edward chose the Better Way for himself (after running away from it for a time) and began deferring to Dr. Cullen, his father, in all his decisions. Dr. Cullen became Edward’s main influencing source.

Dr. Cullen is not only father and mentor, but an evangelist as well. While living the Better Way flawlessly, he also offers it as an alternative to any vampire willing to explore its merits. In Twilight, Dr. Cullen gets to talk to Laurent about the Better Way, convincing him to visit the other veggie-vamps in Alaska to learn more. Unfortunately, Laurent does not commit to the Better Way and meets a grizzly end in New Moon when he threatens Bella’s life. In Eclipse, though, Dr. Cullen offers the Better Way to a willing seeker, Bree, a newborn vampire roped into fighting for Victoria’s army. Carlisle offers her mercy and the promise of a Better Way if she would stop fighting against them, and she accepts. The sad part is the Volturi sweep in with their whitewashed righteousness of their Law and destroy her. How devastated Dr. Cullen must have felt.
Dr. Cullen is an ambassador of mercy. He was the one who negotiated the treaty with Jacob’s werewolf ancestors and continued reaching out to them when Victoria’s presence reignited the werewolf gene in the next generation. Dr. Cullen was the one who invited the werewolves to fight with him against the newborn vampire army, laying the foundation for more cooperation between vampires and werewolves. Dr. Cullen showed great mercy to Jacob as he put him back together and aided in his healing process after the battle. Far into the final novel, Dr. Cullen demonstrates unwavering faithfulness, love, grace, service, and mercy.
On one hand, I see him as God the Father, at least as far as his relationship with Edward goes. But he’s also a prime example, a saint of sorts or more accurately an apostle, of living the Better Way. And in that context he is a strong influence in Bella’s decision-making process. Besides being a good example, he makes himself available to answer Bella’s questions pertaining to Edward, her impending conversion, and the nature of vampires in general. He answers honestly, passionately, but always leaving the way for Bella to draw her own conclusion – to exercise Free Will.
Many of us believe in our Perfect Lover today because we had a Dr. Cullen influence in our lives – someone to observe, question, learn from and respect because of their integrity in living out the Better Way. That Better Way values all life, has compassion for the struggling, sick, lost and weak, and extends mercy where the Law demands payment.
In the case of our Perfect Lover, He paid the price the Law demands for us – death. That’s why choosing Him is choosing the Better Way. Because not only did He die, but He kicked death’s butt so that it no longer has power over Him or anyone choosing Him. He’s made us immortal through His life-giving blood.
But only if we exercise our Free Will and choose Him.
Thank God for the Dr. Cullens in our lives pointing to the Better Way through our Perfect Lover.
Dr. Cullens, however, are not perfect no matter how much it seems so. No, they’re just older, wiser, have seen more, had more time to practice and change. Though a wealth of knowledge, they may be a bit difficult to relate to. And when you’re in your Choosing Fields, aspiring to be a Dr. Cullen seems out of reach.
That’s where testimonies of your peers come in. People closer to your age and attitude following the Better Way sharing their stories.
Bella had the privilege of hearing some testimonies from Edward’s siblings. We’ll explore those next! Hope you stay tuned!

For the next chapter, The Influence of Testimonies, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How Reading a Vampire Book Revealed to Me the Gift of Free Will - Influence of Fear


(CLICK HERE for previous chapter - Intro.)
Ironically, exercising Free Will requires taking into account many influences outside our own power. Whether we realize it or not, many things affect our decision-making process that results in the ultimate choice we claim as our own.
Eclipse is full of people and circumstances pulling Bella to consider a certain point of view. Her actions show she is listening, perhaps trying to listen to them all. In the next couple of days, we’ll look at these influences Bella encountered in her Choosing Fields. You might recognize some of them. Not only do they pop up when we are making a decision for our Perfect Lover to begin with, but also every time the world attempts to draw us away from Him.
One large and looming influence everyone battles is FEAR.
While it is key to dramatic storytelling, it is also something most people contend with at some point in life. It’s something that easily snowballs into a larger-than-life force that drives people to do illogical, nonsensical, unusual things. Bella’s plate is full of things to fear.
For starters, the Volturi, the ruling class of vampires, will be checking in at some point to make sure that the Cullens have made good on their promise to change Bella into a vampire. If Bella isn’t a vampire ‘soon’ then the Volturi will carry out their authoritative ‘responsibility’ and kill her since it is illegal in their world for humans to know of their existence. And the Volturi are not keen on offering second chances.
Then, a certain vampire named Victoria has returned to the Forks area, looking for Bella to make good on her vendetta to kill her. At the end of book one, Twilight, Edward killed Victoria’s mate James because James was about to kill Bella. Victoria operates on an eye-for-an-eye mentality and has been after Bella, Edward’s mate, ever since. Though Edward and his family as well as Jacob and his wolf pack have assured Bella that Victoria has no chance to get to her, Bella is terrified of her.

One other fear has everyone concerned – escalating unsolved murders in nearby Seattle, which to the trained eye implies an army of newborn vampires running amuck. This poses danger on many fronts. One rogue, discreet non-vegetarian vampire sniffing around is one thing. A group of unruly, sloppy, conspicuous newborns with insatiable bloodlust is another. Besides the toll it is taking on the human population, this type of activity draws the eyes of the Volturi intent on policing such behavior. Their attention focused so close to Forks would warrant a visit to see if Bella had been changed yet, which she hadn’t.
So fear comes full circle.
But those are only the external factors.
The internal struggle she’s having with her choices is greatly affected by the fear of loss.
This stems from several perceptions and experiences.
First, she did lose Edward for a time (in a manner of speaking). That experience ranks as worst ever, the worst pain she could possibly imagine or endure. Her fear of his leaving out-terrifies her fear of the vindictive, bloodthirsty Volturi. Though he’s promised not to leave her again, other things threaten their relationship. Mainly, Victoria coming for revenge. Bella holds an irrational fear that Edward will be harmed in a battle with Victoria, or that the other Cullens (even all of them put together) would be harmed, or that Victoria will succeed in killing her and then Edward would kill himself, either way severing their bond. Although Edward reassures her ump-teen times that Victoria alone is no match for him and his family, she frets.
She believes becoming a vampire as soon as possible the best course of action so that she could be more durable and useful in a battle with Victoria as well as eliminate the need for the Volturi to come snooping around, but the fear of losing her humanity also haunts her. Both Edward and Jacob agree on this point and urge her to wait, but their motives are different. Bella is so obsessed, especially with all the talk of newborn vampire armies, with how outrageous with bloodlust she’ll be after her conversion that she rethinks human experiences she’s yet to have that she thinks she must have or forever be without.

Concern with things of the flesh keeps her yearning for Jacob. She’s certain she will lose his friendship as soon as she makes the transformation. Because of the natural feud between vampires and werewolves, she’s already in danger of losing him. Her fear drives her to make decisions in attempts to keep both Jacob and Edward, which ends up hurting everyone.
Fear always skewers perception which messes with beliefs, even deep-seated ones. Fear of loss makes an even bigger impact, like a nuclear explosion instead of a stink bomb.
Fear is a difficult thing to conquer. It strikes when we’re at our most vulnerable. It knows our weak spots. It convinces a threat so real that worry suffocates its victim until hopelessness takes up permanent residence. Even when we think we’ve beaten it, it comes back with a terrible and debilitating force.
Bella has all she needs to face, fight and overcome the fears she’s facing because she’s already won the most important battle. The events concluding New Moon showed her that Edward won’t leave again on his own accord. He loves her unconditionally and forever. She believes him, even. So why isn’t it enough for Bella to fear not?

Love requires more than belief, it requires action. Because she has not made the ultimate choice quite yet, to tie herself to Edward with a Free Will Choice of eternal commitment, that love has not yet won the war on fear.
Similarly, loving our Perfect Lover Jesus requires more than belief that He loves us unconditionally and forever. It requires action on our part in the form of a commitment to be bound to Him in every way. Love and trust go hand in hand. To believe you love and trust someone is far different that acting on that belief. Worry and fear are symptoms of an uncommitted or partially-committed heart. Worrying when God’s Word tells us it is unnecessary and a waste of time shows we don’t really trust Him. (Matt. 6:30-32) Fearing when God’s Word tells us to walk by Faith and not sight proves our love is not complete. (2 Cor. 5:7)

Like Bella, we have the freedom to choose trusting our Perfect Lover with our whole hearts. (Lk. 10:27) Though situations seem dangerous, though people threaten to hurt us, though past experiences leave a residue of fear infecting our thoughts and feelings, we can choose every time to trust our Perfect Lover. It’s called taking our thoughts captive and placing them under the authority of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5) Our thoughts can lead us astray because they are vulnerable to fear. But if we crack the whip, take authority over them in Jesus’ Name, we can lock those little buggers away for good! While we ourselves can be free to live in the secure light of our Perfect Lover’s love because perfect love casts out all fear (1 Jn 4:18).
What fears are keeping you from choosing your Perfect Lover wholeheartedly? Are you afraid that He’ll abandon you? Are you worried you won’t be able to keep your friendship with the world, the Other Choice, the competition to your Perfect Lover’s affections? Are you afraid that if you dive into this all-or-nothing relationship, that parts of who you are will die? Afraid of what others will think? Afraid that what your Perfect Lover is telling you isn’t true because it isn’t quite the same as the religious upbringing you remember?
Fear is an untrustworthy source on which to base decisions. While it is an inevitable force influencing the process of choice, it is rarely based on fact. (Guilt is another one of those unreliable forces!) Don’t allow fear to have the last word on your choices. If you do, your Free Will is compromised. Fear enslaves. If for nothing but the sacred preservation of your power of choice, check out a different point of view and allow other influences to put fear on the back burner.
Take the time to observe, for example, someone already living The Better Way.
That’s up next on Dry Ground.
To go to the next chapter, A Living Example, CLICK HERE.