Wednesday, October 1, 2014

500 Words- day 2 (My Writing Goal)

     As part of my participation in My 500 words, I am posting what I write each day.

    It was probably about 10 years ago. As I sat at my computer one afternoon, trying to write, I shooed my kids away, telling them that if they ever wanted something better, they would leave me alone and let me write. I don’t know which job I was working at the time, it may have been the construction job which paid higher than anything I’ve ever had. But whatever it was, I had notions in my head that it was not paying enough, it was dead-end and I hated it to the point that the only way out was to try to make a living at writing something.
     I have since repented from those absurd notions. I have learned that even successful, published authors don’t usually earn enough from their writing to get by, especially if they have a family. I have also learned that good writing takes years of practice. I may have had a decent story idea back then, but my writing skills were unrefined. In the past decade I’ve studied the craft and practiced my writing, but I’m still just an amateur.
     Another notion I needed to repent from was that if I wanted to write, I could do it on a weekday afternoon. I had young children in the house. How realistic is it to expect them to leave daddy alone so he can try to do not just a little writing, but make a living at it? No, when I became serious about writing, I needed a few lifestyle changes. I had to recover from my unhealthy habits regarding the internet and be able to open a word document and just write. For this, I bought a cheap, used laptop that had no internet. It was a good start. But then I had to set aside time to write. I took my laptop to coffee shops a lot and wrote at home some evenings. It took a few years, but I completed a first draft of a novel.
     But as I grew to love writing more, I needed to make it more a part of my life. So I started getting up early. This morning I got up at 6 to complete today’s 500 word challenge. The prompt was to set a goal for this 31 day challenge. But to do that, I felt I needed to go back and consider what the goal of my writing is.
     I write because I love to write. But do I really hope to make a living at it, or even earn a little money? Why am I getting out of bed at 6 if it’s not to better my life? I’m not at all sure of the answer. Sure, it would be cool to be a published author and I can set a goal on doing the best I can to achieve that. But doing my best is as far as I can go. So what is my goal?
     My goal is to become a better writer. I will never be so good that there won’t be room for great improvement. And as long as I love writing, I will continue to pursue this goal.
     For now, my short term goals are 500 words a day. Next month, it will be 50,000 words in a month, which is just under 1700 words a day. And the month following that, it’s to finish the next draft of Sidewinder by the end of February. More on Sidewinder later this month. But there is an observable and measurable goal, and I just told the world. There’s no turning back now.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

500 Words- day 1 (Sidewinder Finale)

As part of my participation in My 500 words, I am posting what I write each day. Today is part of a draft of one of the last scenes in my novel, Sidewinder. Spoilers to follow.
     The bunker was cool and dark on the inside. Men stood at the windows with weapons ready, most looked like locals. Mundy sat tied to a chair while there was quiet conversation around him. He tried to pick up on what Ash was saying to Nottage. Yeah, these two would get along just fine. They weren’t using names, but Mundy thought he knew what the general gist of things was. Dean had picked up and left Channel to come out to this tiny little planet out in the sticks for little more reason than to exact revenge on a kid who had turned traitor on him a little bit ago. Nottage seemed incredulous, but Ash was cool about it.
     “… already known as the biggest boss on a core world,” Mundy heard Ash say. “He’s going to expand his empire. A little world like this is a good start. The local gangs may not have heard of him, but he can offer them a cut of the big deals off world. Eventually, they’ll be working for him, another world under his control. And it starts with him coming after someone who did him dirty.”
     It got quiet and Mundy dared to look in their direction. Nottage was looking straight at Mundy with a blank look, as if he was reading a menu card but not hungry. Then he turned away and walked toward Reetow. Maybe these two were new lieutenants. Maybe they would run the operations on Indus IV.
     Mundy tried to remember the other time he saw this building here at the old spaceport. Roy had pointed it out as a relic of the war, the only one left around here, just a fortified bunker. Had he really been that happy then? Why? What had been so good? He was out for a ride, what was so splendid about that? It didn’t take much thought to know why it had been such a good day. Mundy knew. It wasn’t just that he was spending the day riding and exploring. It was everything, especially what was waiting for him back at Sidewinder. He had friends, real friends who were looking out for him. It was almost like a family. In his mind, the image of Jerusha smiled. Mundy’s stomach knotted and the urge to cry shuddered up his windpipe. Mundy took a deep breath and got it under control.  
     They wouldn’t come for him. He had turned them in. He was a sidewinder just like Jarlath Ivanpah, a traitor, worth nothing more than a bargaining tool. And what if they did come for him? What if? Things would never be the same after this, not after what he did. But no, they wouldn’t come. And when they didn’t come, Mundy knew what would happen.
     He counted 19 men around the room, most at the alert.
     “Time,” Dean called out.
     Ash nodded. “Time’s up.”
     Spelunk walked over to Mundy’s chair and pulled a huge sidearm. Mundy felt his every muscle tense up. The big man paused, probably enjoying the sight of him cringing.
     “No sign of anything?” Deal asked.
     Ash walked to the window and raised his power binoculars.
     “I don’t see anything out there,” he said.
     Spelunk’s stepped closer and Mundy closed his eyes, not before he saw the man’s arm move in a fast arc. The next thing Mundy knew, he felt like his left knee was ripped off. The world turned purple with pain. He fell forward, bringing his chair down with him and landed face down on the dirty floor. He couldn’t hear himself, but he knew he was crying in pain. Spelunk hadn’t shot him. He had brought his pistol down across Mundy’s knee. But this must hurt worse than a bullet. His leg wouldn’t move and he blinked through tears and dirt to see blood soaking through his trousers.
     “Take it easy on him still,” Dean said calmly.
     “Can I do the other one?” Spelunk asked.
     “Just wait. I don’t want him passing out from the pain just yet.”
     Spelunk pushed the chair back upright. Mundy gasped and tried to get his breathing under control. If his knee wasn’t broken, he didn’t want to know what a real break felt like.
     Mundy couldn’t tell how much time passed after that. The throbbing seemed to keep the time, but he kept losing count.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sharing What's Good

     Even Hawaii had a few unpleasantly hot days out of the year and I was walking through one. Turning off the crowded main strip of the tourist town I lived in, I walked down a short alleyway to the little kiosk I knew would provide relief, the shave-ice stand. Call them sno-cones if you want, in Hawaii, it’s shave-ice. And this little stand, part of a local chain, made the best I knew. The girl behind the counter complained how bored she was as she fixed my treat and put on the three syrups I asked for, cherry, watermelon and bubblegum. I understood how she felt. The kiosk was in a little commercial mall, set back from the main strip of the town. Despite the crowds of the heavy tourist season, I was the only customer.
     I got my shave ice and walked back toward the street. Out in the sun the sweet red syrup began running down my hand, so I stopped right where I was and sat on a stoop. Right there, ignoring the crowds walking past me, I ate my cold shave ice with the joy one would expect, vaguely aware of people stopping to look at me.
     When I was done I stood up, entertaining the thought of perhaps going and just chatting with the girl at the kiosk. But to my surprise, there was a line reaching almost to the street. What had happened? Me. The only thing that had happened to bring business in was me sitting and eating the shave ice where everyone could see me.
     I walked home, cooled by the cold delight, but pondering what I knew about my faith. That shave ice was like The Kingdom of God. Yes, it was tasty, but not for that reason. I didn’t go out on the street and wave signs about the shave ice stand, I didn’t drive around the town with a bumper sticker and I didn’t go to the nearest ice cream parlor and yell people away from it. All I did was be among people walking down the hot sidewalk, enjoying what I had.
     Psalm 34:8 tells us  Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Sometimes all we need to do is show others the truth of that.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Witness to a Fall

     In the tavern’s back room, a group of men gather in a small circle with one of them extending his arm, several straws sticking up from his closed fist. In turn, men pull a straw, look, then shrug in disappointment. But finally an older man pulls the short straw, and his face eases into a satisfied grin. The other men pat his back as he walks into the dining room that is roaring with guests. He looks for the young man who hosted this gathering, the foreigner with the fondness for parties and women. He passes the loud guests with their fondness for breaking things and consuming the food and wine, this young man pays for it all. He’s paid for all the parties, food, musicians, and yes, even the women. It’s no wonder they keep company with him.
     But we will see what happens tonight, thinks the man as he weaves through the jostling crowd. Now that the young foreigner’s money has run out, we will see.
     The older man finds the foreigner with one arm around a woman and the other holding onto a support column. They make eye contact and the young man smiles.
     “Sir,” the older man says. “We’re closed now. You must leave now.”
     The young man frowns, confused. But the old man sees the woman leave his side right away. She knew this was coming.
     “Your assets have run out,” the old man explains. The room begins to hush.
     The young man straightens up and the music stops. “What’s this all about?” he asks. “I’ve got plenty of money still.”
     “No sir,” the older man says. “You don’t. In fact, it’s all gone. We request that you and your guests leave immediately please.”
     The old man is aware of the movement all around him. People are leaving like waves receding into the sea. He looks up to the young man who is shaking his head.
     “No,” he finally says, and smiles. “My friends here can…”
     His words stop. The room has emptied. At first the young man looks shocked, but then a look of utter sadness darkens his face.
     No, boy, the old man thinks. They never were your friends. They were only after what you could give them. And now that you have nothing left, you are nothing now.
     The young man hurries out the door and the old man nods in satisfaction. That had been as pleasant as he had hoped.
     “What will become of him now?” asks the cook from the doorway to the kitchen.
     The old man shrugs. “He’s not our concern,” he says. “If he had a place to go, he could run there. But pity for him, he belongs to no-one.”
     The cook, a softhearted man, shakes his head and asks, “Where can he go, then?”
     But the older man slams the tavern door shut.
     And outside, the young man looks at the empty streets. The fall has begun, while at home someone waits for him to come to his senses.

You are there on the street with the young man, but you see the big picture; you know the whole story.
What do you tell him?


Monday, July 28, 2014

Sarah's Water Year

          Christ In Youth, known as CIY has been described as life-changing. For non-believers, it may be a first real step into a new life. For committed Christians, however, CIY can awaken one’s existing faith to where prayer and Bible reading may no longer be enough to serve God. So at the end of the week of CIY, the youth can choose to take a Kingdom Worker card.
     Kingdom Worker cards present the person with a spiritual challenge, to live life more for God and less for oneself. When the cards are drawn, the bearer is committed to follow through. A card might say to read The Bible in a year, arrange weekly prayer time with parents, start a Bible club at school or many other tasks, tasks that allow the youths to exercise this new faith in a productive service to God.
     When my daughter, Sarah, went to CIY in the summer of 2013, the promotions throughout the week for kingdom worker cards gave her the desire for a serious challenge. She already felt close to God, but knew it was time to take a radical step in service and commitment. At the end of the week, she drew a card.
Sarah had heard of this card, and deep down, she wanted it. She wanted a significant challenge, and here is what she got:
Drink nothing but tap water for a year. Raise and donate $20 a month to Active Water.
     For a whole year, only tap water. No soda, milk, not even bottled water. Sarah came back from CIY trembling with excitement when she told me about it. I was astounded. My first thought was how much I wouldn’t want to do that. No coffee in the morning? Wait, no coffee for a year?
     But Sarah knew she could do this. She wanted to serve God more than she had done in the past. She wanted this.
     I asked Sarah what some of the toughest things were. She told me about having nightmares in which she would accidently drink soda. She remembers staying at a place famous for its milkshakes, overcoming cravings for smoothies on hot days, and skipping Grandmother’s Christmas cider that year. I saw her pour water on her cereal and skip the juice at communion.
     Still, Sarah said one of the hardest parts was when people tried to pity her. “Oh you poor thing, you can’t get a soda?” People had no reason to feel sorry for her because of the choice she made. This was not an experience to be pitied.
     Sarah did odd jobs and raised money for Active Water and this made her feel blessed too.
“Working to raise 20 dollars a month was small compared to what other people have to do to stay alive,” she told me.
This project became her passion over that year. Researching Active water, she wrote on her blog:
Many people don’t realize the importance of clean, accessible water. They often take for granted the multiple sinks and faucets in their houses. We don’t think twice about the drinking fountains that are in most public places in our towns and cities. So many people are unaware that small children have to walk for miles every day, unaccompanied, to bring home a bucket of dirty water for their families. The water is often so filthy that it makes the people who drink it very sick. But they don’t have anything else.

            Being nonprofit, Active Water has to get money from somewhere. They do this with the help of fundraising: athletic challenges, benefit concerts, and generous donators. People use their different talents to support Active Water, from bake sales to debates. Anyone can help.
            Sarah had one incident early on where she accidentally drank ice tea. But she was coached to continue the challenge. So she added an extra day on for her slip and made it the whole rest of the year. In July of 2014, she broke her fast with chocolate milk. Later, she reported that bottled water “tasted thin”.
     I asked Sarah how she had changed. What did drawing that Kingdom Worker card do in her life?
     “I can do big stuff,” she replied.
     Indeed, the Kingdom Worker cards offer youths not only a chance to serve God in a radical, sacrificial way, but they can prove to themselves what they are capable of when they commit to God.
     “This has given me peace,” Sarah also said. I thought that she meant peace in herself or thankfulness in the clean water she has. But no, that isn’t what she meant.
     The peace Sarah meant was a sense of purpose. She wants to live for God and be a missionary, assisting in bringing clean water to those who don’t have it.
     It’s amazing what can happen when someone rises up to a significant challenge with the simple attitude of “I want to do this because I love God.” Sarah’s faith has inspired me, and I see that love for God being brought to the world.