I’m Not Yours to Keep

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I wrote this poem for all Mommies. Hope you enjoy and I hope it reaches and touches the right people.

Dreamstime

Dreamstime

I am not yours to keep, Mama.

I’m only yours on loan;

To give your body and your heart,

To give a safe and happy home.

 

 

Hand-picked like flowers from a field,

He placed a halo on your hair,

For you were meant to be my angel,

To be the steward of my care.

 

 

Created with the parts of you,

You love, or try to hide,

He saw the beauty of it all

And mixed it all inside.

 

 

I may have been made out of love;

Or your dignity, he stole;

But the instant I was in your womb,

I had value and a soul.

 

 

Maybe you smiled as I entered the world;

Maybe I never got the chance.

Maybe I was still as you held me

In your tear-stained, trembling hands.

 

 

Maybe I was an easy child,

Or maybe I was not;

Perhaps I was blessed with healthiness,

Or maybe, sick a lot.

 

 

Regardless of my conditions;

If it made you smile or made you weep,

There’s one thing you need to know, Mama;

I was never yours to keep.

 

 

He loved us both with such abundance,

That He chose a place and time,

To introduce us to each other;

To call me yours and call you mine.

 

 

Maybe the purpose of your love

Was to teach me something great;

Your legacy to be left in me,

When you meet Jesus at the gates.

 

 

Or maybe I was but a season,

My life a novel on a shelf;

And with me you learned to love someone

More than you loved yourself.

 

 

No matter what you sacrificed,

No matter what’s at stake;

To let me live, or let me die,

That’s not your choice to make.

 

 

The purpose of it all, Mama,

Lies not with you or me;

Our hearts and lives entwined by grace,

For all eternity.

 

 

I may be called your baby here,

But I belong to Him above;

You’ll hold account for time spent

With He who gave you me to love.

 

 

I hope at the end when at His feet,

Your halo will proclaim,

“Look not just here, but on her heart,

You’ll see the child’s name.”

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Playlists and New Character Bios!

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I wanted to share my playlists for those of you who are enjoying Sophia’s story, as well as introduce some new characters on my Character Bio page! Check them out!

Sophia’s War Playlist

Your Next Favorite Book Characters: Sophia’s War

Why You Should Read Sophia’s War

Fur-baby, New baby and Family.

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The first picture I ever saw of Lucy.

You came to us as a helpless, roly-poly ball of fur.

Someone had left you in a ditch on the side of the road. You weighed just a pound; hadn’t even reached the age of being weaned yet. A kind person spotted you and took you to a lady who rescued strays like you. That nice lady heard through an acquaintance that I was looking for a puppy, and once you were old enough, you were brought from New Jersey to Florida to become mine.

You came to us only months into our marriage, which made us a perfect fit, because you were also getting a new beginning. You were such a fragile, dainty, beautiful little puppy (and still are), and we wondered how anyone could have just abandoned you; how anyone could have set you down, knowing it was a death sentence for a dog as tiny as you.

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One of Lucy’s first pictures with us.

We bonded over you, fawning over how you couldn’t sleep unless you were nuzzled up with one of us. You followed me around wherever I went in our small, one-bedroom apartment, your little toy body tumbling over your clumsy legs. We laughed at the way you growled at your squeaky toys, rolling over and kicking them with your back feet. You hated being alone in your crate at night, and it wasn’t long before we decided it was okay to let you sleep on our bed with us. It calmed you, and though you loved both of us, you became especially attached to me. If I slept in, you stayed by my side under the covers, and if I got up early for work, you’d get up, too, keeping me company on lonely mornings. You were the first to teach us mutual responsibility for a being who was fully dependent on us.

We moved across the country for new opportunities, and even when we had to move in with relatives, you came with us, because you were a part of our family.

You were so loving and intelligent, eager to meet new people (and new dogs). Old ladies at the park wanted a chance to pet you and gush over you and your permanent puppy-like appearance. Little kids would stop their parents and ask for permission to pet you on the sidewalk. We were proud of how sweet and darling you were, telling them your story and how blessed we were to be the owners to such an amiable little dog. You were my baby—my fur-baby—spoiled and treated like the princess of a lapdog that you were.

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Lucy 🙂

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One of my many monthly pregnancy photos, where Lucy was always a guest star 🙂

When I got pregnant, we read all the books and heard all the warnings that everything was about to change; not just for us, but for you, too. With either strong-willed optimism or ignorant naïveté, I didn’t see how things would change all that much for you. You’d been my only baby for years. I couldn’t fathom that anyone, even my own child, could make me love you less. My heart was going to be big enough for the both of you.

But before the baby was even born, you began to act differently. Maybe you sensed the imminent change that lay ahead. You became nervous, yapping at every unusual and familiar sound. You became possessive of me, barking and charging at anyone who came near me. You began to panic when we left you alone, making messes while we were gone. It was frustrating, but we did what we could to bear with you, knowing these kinds of things were to be expected. We read about and implemented all the suggestions, preparing you for the day a new little person would be entering our home. You responded well, and despite the new quirks you were developing, we knew you were still a good-hearted little dog.

You were curious about her when we brought her home, your triangle ears against your head as you eagerly touched her with your cold, wet nose. We waited for any signs of aggression or jealousy, but you just wagged your tail, happily sharing the space in my lap with the new peculiar creature in my arms.

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Lucy meeting our daughter for the first time.

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If only life as new parents with an old dog were that easy.

The first few months of learning to be a mom was hard for me. I was tired—constantly. I spent my days trying to master the natural way to feed my baby, bawling in the floor while she slept because I was failing at it. I spent my nights trying to get her used to sleeping in a bassinet, frustrated that she kept waking up within minutes of me laying her down, debating whether it was worth even trying to sleep when I was just going to have to be up in an hour to feed her. Lack of sleep, lack of confidence in my capabilities, feeling overstretched in all of my roles—new and old—caused my patience to be thin.

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Our sweet Lucy-Goosey.

So it’s not fair to say that you changed. Because the truth is, I changed, too.

The way you used to run to the door, greeting Daddy with joyous barks stopped being cute. We scolded you, afraid it would wake or scare the baby.

The way you used to nestle into my lap was no longer convenient, and I would push you away, getting up to care for the baby or simply because I just needed a moment to myself.

The way you used to follow me around was no longer endearing; you were just in the way, and I was either stepping on you and hurting you, or stumbling over you with an infant in my arms.

Your accidents on the floor were no longer just unfortunate. Spending the day in baby diapers and spit up made cleaning up your messes just one extra, unnecessary step in my soiled day.

I remember the first time the thought entered my mind, but I stifled it, thinking it was merely borne out of frustration. But the further into parenthood we explored, and the more you kept up your new, exasperating habits, I couldn’t deny it any longer. I remember holding you, your soft fur soaking up my tears as I began to wonder if giving you a new home would be best for both of us. Maybe I wasn’t paying you enough attention anymore. Maybe my heart wasn’t big enough after all, because every day, I was realizing my daughter was filling most of it. You still had a place, but it was different.

I felt so ashamed. I cried many times over the following months whenever I acknowledged this thought I never dreamed I’d have. Somedays, after working a full shift and coming home to my other full-time job as a mother, it would have been easier to come home without a mess to clean; it would have been easier not to worry about you jumping on the couch and walking over the baby; with my husband (or as he is called now, ‘Daddy’), and I working varying shifts, it would have been easier not to worry about your high-pitched barking waking one or all of us at any hour of the day; it would have been easier not to worry about people coming over and warning them not to touch you since you usually tinkled from the excitement. Somedays, it was just too much.

And yet, in spite of my perspective sometimes being clouded by feeling overwhelmed, in spite of the way I stopped viewing you as my baby and now just as the dog, in spite of the way I wondered if I should give up on you, giving up on me never crossed your mind.

Every time I pushed you away, you’d watch me from a distance, waiting for a better moment to try again. You’d crawl into my lap or curl up at my side again later, as if I wouldn’t notice. No matter where I went or what I was doing, you were happy to sit and wait as long as it meant you could be in the same room with me.

On the days I feel like I haven’t had a minute to myself—or the five minutes they say I’m supposed to spend with you to keep you from getting jealous of the baby—you approach me with no other expectation other than my company. All you expect from me is a lap to curl up in and a couple strokes on the head. There are days when I fail God, when I fail my husband, when I fail my daughter…

There are even days when I fail you…

But just like them, you still show me unconditional love. You still love me, even on the days I don’t deserve it.

No, you aren’t the perfect dog.

But I’m not perfect, either. In fact, these days, I feel like a hopeless, anxious mess more than anything else.

I guess that’s what makes the two of us a perfect pair. I guess it’s also proof that I need you as much as you need me. There are days I look forward to—no, need—an eager cuddle from my understanding, patient dog. There are days I need to cry but don’t want to talk about why, and you’re okay with that. There are days that I’m glad you bark at everything, because despite your itty-bitty size, it makes me feel safe.

I don’t want to be like the person who left you on the side of the road as a defenseless little puppy. I got to be your second chance. You became a part of our newly formed family, and being a part of a family means having people who don’t give up on you.

So we won’t give up on each other. We will forgive the day’s mistakes and be grateful for moments of quiet companionship that only a master and his or her dog understands.

Thank you for being my sweet Lucy.

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Lucy waiting while surrounded by a bunch of baby toys…as she usually is, these days. 🙂

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A recent picture of Lucy and our little girl.

Letters to My Daughter: On Your Dreams and Never Giving Up

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I have been curious and eager since the day you were born to see what you will become. I can’t wait to see what that one thing is that will make your eyes light up when you talk about it; that one thing that you will spend hours that feel like minutes perfecting and exploring; that one thing that you can’t wait to share with other people. Right now, the things you are enthusiastic about are food, being read to, watching Toy Story, drawing with crayons and waking up from naptime, but someday, you’re going to find fulfillment in something much more; something that will become part of your identity. Maybe you’ll be a songwriter, writing songs with profound lyrics or catchy choruses. Maybe you’ll pick up an instrument, getting lost in the tones you can create with your fingertips, creating a beautiful outlet for all the things that make you happy and all the things that make you sad. Maybe you’ll find a sport you enjoy, constantly carrying a ball or a tool of the sport with you so you can practice in every spare minute you have, dreaming of representing the US in the Olympics someday.

I watch you all the time, waiting, knowing someday you’re going to stumble across something that makes you feel alive, that gives you so much joy that you can’t wait to share it with us—Mommy and Daddy—and when you’re ready, with the rest of the world. I can’t wait to tell you how proud I am of you and how dedicated you are, no matter the initial quality of your attempts, because I know it’s just a matter of time before someone tells you that you aren’t good enough.

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Daddy and I are not going to be the type of parents who won’t give you structure out of fear that it will “inhibit your creativity.” I had Granddad and Granny for parents, both of whom are proud Marines to the core. I had a structured, sometimes strict upbringing and I’m the most creative person in the family. Daddy and I also do not believe in showering only praise and omitting constructive criticism; this would create an elevated sense of accomplishment in you, distort your self-perception and make taking judgment on your abilities nearly impossible. We believe in honesty; granting applause when it’s due as well as making suggestions for improvement, when applicable.

My ventures (individually) as a singer and a writer haven’t been easy. They’ve been exciting, given me focus, given me joy and ways to serve God, but it’s not always been rainbows and unicorns along the way. I’ve had some hard truths spoken to me over the years, from people who are much more knowledgable and wiser than I am. I’ve been given insincere compliments that meant well, but wound up doing more damage than helping in the end. I’ve also had some cruel things said about myself and my abilities from people who didn’t know better at all.

Regardless of what your heart someday chooses to pursue, I want you to know that I’ve been there, too, and here is what I will tell you.

Strive to Be Your Best, But Don’t Expect to Be The Best.

One of the most difficult things for a person to reconcile with is being told by someone who loves you that you are the very best at what you do, then losing a competition—sometimes not even placing. You expect what Mommy and Daddy speaks to be truth, so if we convince you that no one is better at something than you, you may assume you were somehow judged unfairly. It could give you the impression that you are superior to another person (or people) and this can generate resentment and jealousy, neither of which are ever a good thing. It’s not a bad thing for you to know that we think you’re the best; what’s bad is if we make you believe everyone else should think so, too.

Don’t Do It to Be Famous; Do It Because It’s What You Love to Do.

Looking back on my life, one of the most destructive things ever spoken to me was, “Well, you could be famous already if you wanted it bad enough.” Imagine giving something everything you’ve got and hearing this. It should never be about fame; what a superficial, meaningless goal to have. Saying that to someone is the same as saying, “Your best wasn’t good enough, because it’s not making you famous.” It shifts your focus from using your talents to help others and serve God to prestige for yourself; it stops being about the joy derived from doing something you love and becomes about who knows your name and who thinks you’re great. If someone someday wants to pay you to do the thing you love, awesome. That is fantastic! But sometimes, it’s not in God’s plan for you to make money that way. Maybe it’s just something to help you cope with life; something for you and those you love to enjoy.

It’s Not Always Your Talent That Will Make You a Success; It’s Your Level of Dedication.

Some people have an inherent skill that it seems like they don’t even have to work for—they were just born with it. They win talent shows, outshine everyone else on a stage, win championships and competitions just by showing up. They may sometimes be awarded less than first place, but not often, simply because they are just naturally gifted at what they do.

And then there are some people who have a smaller degree of talent—but talent, nonetheless—and a surplus of persistence and commitment. It doesn’t matter to people like this if they’re the best or not; they just love what they do. Placing fourth is like placing first to them, and if they don’t place at all, it’s an experience they learn from that makes them even better next time. They don’t view people who rank higher as a threat and don’t believe they’ve been unfairly judged. These people persevere because they are the best at what they do in a quiet, less celebrated way. They don’t give up, even when it feels like no one notices them.

Whether you have intrinsic talent or insurmountable dedication, (some people are even blessed with both) one is not preferable over another, and one is definitely not better than the other. How incredibly blessed you are if it comes innately, but what an inspiration you are if you never give up.

Be Discerning and Humble; Learn from People Who Offer Valuable Constructive Criticisms, But Don’t Let People Who Have Nothing Kind to Say Devalue You.

Some people have your best interests at heart. They can see your dedication and potential, but they can also see fixable things you can tweak to improve the quality of your work. They don’t make suggestions to hurt your feelings; they aren’t viewing your flaws as irrevocable failures, they see them as areas of growth. That’s a great compliment when someone offers you constructive criticism, because that means they believe in you; they believe in your ability to get even better at what you do. It takes a lot of humility to say, “Yes, I see what you’re saying. I will work on improving that.” Humility is a rare and under-appreciated trait that makes you a lot more approachable and a more likable person. The more humble you are, the more people are going to want to help you and see you succeed.

However, you must be perceptive. Not everyone has your best interests at heart; some people—whether jealous of you as a person or jealous of your skill and dedication—want to see you fail. Yes, it can be infuriating, and words spoken from such people can cause you to doubt yourself. But you also have to realize that the majority of those people aren’t genuinely speaking out of a malicious heart; most are simply misguided. You have to understand that, perhaps they never had anyone believe in them like someone believes in you. Maybe they’ve been torn down more than they’ve been encouraged. Maybe no one has ever told them that they have what it takes. It doesn’t justify their cruel words, but it can help you empathize with them. Maybe this is an opportunity for you to be the first person to ever build that person up and give them hope, in spite of how harsh they were to you.

Either way, know which words to take to heart, which ones to forgive and forget, and know when you are speaking to a troll.

Know the Difference Between Confidence and Arrogance.

Getting on a stage is confidence; thinking everyone else should go home because you’ve already won is arrogance. Taking a chance on kicking the winning goal because you know you can make it is confidence; thinking the team won because of you is arrogance. Be appreciative of the efforts of others, and realize how much work they’ve put into their abilities, as well.

Don’t Disregard People Who Are Not Experts.

It’s easy to hear something you don’t want to hear, then discount it by saying, “Well, they don’t know what they’re talking about.” Sometimes, that is very true. However, depending on what your passion is, it’s not always the “experts” who are going to be watching you. As a writer, sure I read up on advice in the industry and learn from fellow writers and editors, but I also need to be intuitive to the preferences of my readers, because besides myself, my readers are the ones I need to make happy.

Sometimes, Even When You Are the Best, You’re Still Going to Lose.

Honestly, this may be one of the hardest lessons to learn. This could also be the most difficult instance to implement humility, even over being told that there’s something on which you need to improve. Sometimes, people with less talent and/or dedication are going to be the first choice of a judge or a crowd over you. It doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is wrong; perhaps it was the judge or crowd’s perception. It also doesn’t always mean that it was an honest victory. The only consolation I have found in occasions like this is, if you really were the best, you will not be the only one who noticed the undeserved loss. Others will have noticed, too, and most of them will tell you so. Most of the time, though, there’s nothing that can be done to change this. All you can take from it is the lesson in humility and be happy for the person who won.

No Matter What, Mommy and Daddy Will Always Be Your Biggest Cheerleaders.

It won’t matter if you hit a sour note, missed the winning game ball, forgot your lines in a play, fell on your face in the middle of a dance or in a gymnastics competition. We will always be proud of you because you tried; because you put yourself out there to be judged when there are so many people who are too scared to do that. We will be proud of you because you are doing what makes you happy; because you inspire others by doing your best. No mortifying mistake would ever make us embarrassed of you or love you less.

It will only mean you’re human.

Seven Deadlies Anonymous

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I have a horrible habit when it comes to dieting. I am not one of those people who can eat the predetermined villainous foods in moderation. I just can’t. If I have a cheat day, it leads to me making exceptions for one more soda, one more bite of chocolate, one extra slice of pizza until I am so far off course that I don’t even bother to reset my sails:

“How’s the diet going, Steph?”

“Oh, you know. It’s not.”

I have done this and will probably continue to do this for the rest of my life. I am the type of person who can only succeed with dieting if I cut everything bad out without compromising for cravings or holidays. Just being honest.

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I was pondering this the other day and discovered a commonality between my dieting failures and life as a Christian. Though all sin is sin in God’s eyes, we as individuals have different thresholds of strength depending on which variant of the Seven Deadly Sins we experience, whether it be lust, gluttony, greed, slothfulness, wrath, envy, or pride. Most of those words you probably skimmed over, but there was at least one that had you readjusting in your seat, wasn’t there?

Wasn’t there? Come on. We’re friends here.

Though I am certain I—as we all have—have struggled with all of these sins at certain points in life, this post is about what I believe is personally my biggest stumbling block—gluttony. My favorite foods are my favorites for a reason. I love soda. I love pizza. If I could drink and eat those every day for every meal and not gain weight, I would absolutely do it.

What I don’t realize in the moment I’m stuffing my “gob” with multiple slices of cheesy, pepperoni deliciousness (I learned that word from Disney’s Brave, by the way), I’m not only breaking my diet, but I’m actually sinning. I am killing two birds with one stone, here. Not only am I canceling out all the hard work I put into losing weight, but I’m not practicing self-control. I’m like a starving lion encountering an unsuspecting heard of impalas in the savanna. Sometimes, I eat so fast I don’t even taste it…

Seriously, though. I stop counting slices and just eat until I feel sick. Why is this wrong, you may ask? Currently, in our society, we have a battle going on between unattainable bodily perfection and unaccountable eating habits in the name of acceptance. Some people are skinny by nature or as a result of medical issues; some people are heavier by nature or as a result of medical issues…

And then some people, like me, are in complete denial and want to eat whatever they want without a side of guilt. That is what makes it wrong. You know who you are.

The bible says, in 2 Timothy (1:7) “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” To me, this is saying that my gluttonous inner lion is in stark contradiction to who I am in Christ. Put it in perspective this way; when I overindulge myself with those extra slices of pizza because I “just can’t help myself,” I am denying Christ, because He has already given me the ability to say no. This is evident in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

The question is not whether the temptation is there or not—the question is, “Are you going to fall for it? Are you going to imply to Jesus by your actions that He is not enough to make you turn away?”

It’s hard. I know. Even as I write this, I know there are going to be days ahead of me where I still yield to the want for an extra soda or a couple extra slices of pizza. But here’s the crazy, amazing, unfathomable thing about the future…

GOD HAS ALREADY FORGIVEN US FOR IT! Jesus has already paid the price for not only the sin of yesterday, but for tomorrow, too. When you fall off a bike, you do not have to re-learn how to ride a bike. You simply dust yourself off and get back on. Right? Following Jesus is essentially the same way; it’s not about how many times you fall, it’s about how many times you let Him help you up.

God is constant; God is consistent. We humans are not, but letting our ships go off course tomorrow is no excuse to let it continue in the wrong direction in the days that follow. The beauty of God is that He offers unwearied, unfailing love and forgiveness to us on both our bad days and good days. The beauty of humans is visible when we are willing to repent of our shortcomings, admit responsibility for the direction our ships are going and ask God to be the wind in our sails who redirects our route.

“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” – Proverbs 25:2

That is one of my favorite bible verses. It can be painful to let go of sin, especially this day in age, where society lives by a mantra of “If it feels good, do it! If it’s not hurting anyone else, do it!” Often, it feels like we are basically holding our potential for living a God-filled life hostage unless God lays out the blueprints for the moment (or our entire lives) out before us. Proverbs 25:2 shows that it is okay to ask God, “Why?” but we must ask this while on the journey of seeking out His glory, not like a petulant child who won’t budge unless all of our questions are answered first.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t let yesterday’s sin be an excuse for tomorrow’s. Let yesterday’s forgiveness give you hope for tomorrow, and know that when you accepted Christ as your Savior, it was not under the condition that you would be perfect; on the contrary. It was an agreement to remain imperfect, but a promise to find your strength in Him when you can’t find it in yourself.

That, ultimately, is the greatest loss when falling to the temptation of any of the Seven Deadlies. Not so much that our ship has gone astray, but that we did not use the opportunity to bring glory to God.

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Like this blog post? Check out my book series!

Music Is My Muse

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I think I already wrote another blog post similar to this, but at the request of a friend, I felt compelled to write about it again.

If I drew a pie chart of where I draw inspiration from for my writing, at least 50% of that chart would be “Music”. On one of the many “writers” pages I follow on Facebook, one asked, “What is a must-have for you when you’re writing?” You’d think most of us would have responded with:

A pen!

Paper!

My computer!

My journal!

Instead, most responded with “A quiet place by a bay window overlooking a meadow as the sun rises and birds sing in the distance” or “Coffee!” I answered with, “My iPod.” Seriously. I don’t go anywhere without it. Music is with me wherever I go—in a car ride to visit family two hours away, or making a trip to the gas station 2 minutes away. Something to play music on is as necessary to me while showering as soap is. If there is ever a quiet moment, I’m either putting my headphones in or blasting it while I do mom-stuff around the house.

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I mean, haven’t you ever just listened to a song and thought, “Man, this is EPIC!”? It may be a song that is totally unrelatable to you, but there’s just something about it that makes you keep it on repeat. It makes you feel something, even if you don’t know exactly what that “something” is. For me, the moment this occurs, I start asking myself, “Why is this epic? Who is this about? Why do they feel this way?” Snippets of what look like scenes from a movie never made flash through my mind, and suddenly I can see and feel all the things that this unknown character does, all because of a song. And then, I  WRITE about it, because I want to share what I just experienced with other people.

Writing to me is more than just putting characters and their stories on paper (…or my computer screen, I suppose, would be more accurate). Music isn’t just about filling the silence; it’s an experience. The lyrics, the tone of the music, the passion in the singer’s voice or in the instruments sets scenes up in my head. I listened to Joshua Bell play the violin for “o mio babbino caro” and it set up not just a scene in my novel, A Captive Heart, but that song created a connection between my two main characters that endures throughout the entire series. While listening to Sia’s “My Love” when I was in the middle of writing the sequel to A Captive Heart, all of a sudden, I began to see the heroine of my novel in a room full of mirrors where she…well, I won’t ruin it for anyone since that book hasn’t even been released yet, but I knew it was a scene that had to be worked into my book. It ended up becoming one of my favorite moments in the series.

Sometimes, it’s not even a scene that music inspires for me. “Beautiful, Beautiful” by Francesca Battistelli helped me understand and better develop my character, Sophia, in my series, Sophia’s War. Just the same, “Let Me Go” by 3 Doors Down helped me develop Adrian in the same series. (I could go on and on giving examples of where songs have assisted me in character development, but I fear it might give away some facets of my characters I’m not willing to reveal outside the series…I like to surprise you guys, you know!)

And other times, songs blanket an entire book or series with its overall essence. For instance, I can’t listen to “Praise You in This Storm” by Casting Crowns or “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons without seeing the entire Sophia’s War series play out in my head as if I were watching a music video. Same thing for “Love Story” by Taylor Swift—all I see when I hear that song is Cassie and Friedrich’s lives from A Captive Heart playing out in my mind.

I may not be on my computer or jotting down notes on a note pad every second of every day, but I, like most writers, am always writing, especially when I have a playlist going. Also, when a song has enraptured me (one can usually tell this after I’ve had it on repeat for the past five hours), it’s dangerous to interrupt my thought process. I am prone to get angry like a gorilla being taunted by some kid making faces on the other side of the observation glass…amiright?

I think it’s pretty awesome that artists can inspire one another, despite the different way we choose to express ourselves. For instance, go on YouTube and you will find many unknown artists who have written songs inspired by a character or book. Ask any writer what songs influence their writing, and if they are like me, they will most likely begin to gush about what song reminds them of a character or story they wrote. [*WARNING: I will not be held responsible if you approach an author with this question and ultimately find yourself unable to get another word in edgewise.*]

What about you? Whether you are a musician, a writer, a painter, etc., do you find inspiration in music? If not, what do you find inspiration in? I’d be delighted to know! Sound off below! I always respond 🙂

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I Hope I Ruin You…

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This is a difficult thing for me to admit, simply because it is wrong (a sin) and humiliating, but I learned a long time ago that our flaws and mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of when we repent and give them to Jesus. So this is me, telling the story of how I handed one of my sins over to him. This is me, divulging an imperfection in the hope of helping someone else.

I’m a girl. Well, a woman now. But I was a girl once. Even the most compassionate of our kind has at least one moment in her past that she wishes she could go back and redo—taking part in a snooty action that excluded another girl, or contributing to gossip in a way that was more comparable to Regina George from “Mean Girls” than Jesus. It usually occurs anywhere between elementary school and college. Most of us grow out of it, though in some cases, unfortunately, some of us never do. We pick out other people’s flaws because, maybe we have trouble accepting our own. Maybe there’s someone at home, work, or school bullying us, making us feel inferior, and hurting others is the way we make up for it—a malicious scheme that we convince ourselves makes us feel better.

Upset Teenage Girl With Friends Gossiping In Background

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I’d be a liar if I told you that—even as a Christian, even as nice of a person as I am—I never looked at someone and thought, “She’s ugly!” That’s an ugly truth in itself and it makes me cringe even typing it. But I want to share a story with you about why that changed, and what holds me accountable the instant my opinion of another person’s beauty crosses my mind.

I knew a girl once who I thought was immensely unattractive. Every time I thought, “She’s ugly,” I knew it was wrong, but it would enter my mind and I didn’t reign in that thought. It wasn’t like I told it to her face. It wasn’t as if I treated her differently. It wasn’t doing anyone any harm. It was just a thought in my own head that no one else knew about.

Except one day, I was with a friend. Somehow, we got on the subject of being ugly (probably pointing it out on ourselves), and I got a horrible idea. I told her about a girl I knew who was very ugly, and I wanted her to see. So I showed her a picture.

“Look!” I said. And what my friend responded with changed my life:

“But God can still use her,” she said.

It was like a ton of bricks had been dropped on me. I remember just sitting there, staring at her in awe. It was like my eyes had been closed all that time, before being violently ripped open in front of a bright white light.

“But God can still use her.”

I don’t think I understood the impact these words had on me right away. They lingered in my mind over the following days and I pondered on them often. Weeks, probably months passed, when I saw someone else and thought the same thing…but this time, something unexpected happened. My friend’s voice echoed in my head:

“But God can still use them.”

God was using the wisdom of a friend to change my heart. It’s almost like the Pavlov’s Dog experiment. Without any effort on my part, my brain had suddenly been conditioned to respond with, “But God can still use her/him.”

It made me feel very small and very ashamed. Who am I to call someone ugly when they have been made in God’s image? Who am I to call someone ugly when they have been handcrafted by God for a specific purpose? Who am I to call someone ugly when my heart had an even more hideous quality that God had to have been disappointed in me for? Since when did my opinion—or anyone else’s—about someone’s physical beauty determine their worth; what they are capable of in God’s will?

The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve discovered this can apply to many different circumstances. It’s as if that awareness was water and my friend’s insight broke the dam that was holding it back. Now it flows freely inside my head and heart. Every negative thought I have about someone is now followed up by those words:

“But God can still use that person.”

There is a quote that is attributed to Marilyn Monroe (though I don’t think it’s actually hers) that says something along the lines of, “To all the girls who think you’re fat for not being a size 0, you’re not. You’re beautiful; it’s society who’s ugly.” Well, I’m not sure who actually said it, but they had the right idea. We were created to live as innocents in the Garden of Eden. If The Fall had never happened, we women wouldn’t face a daily struggle comparing our physical images with an airbrushed woman on a magazine. The absolute only thing that we would be thinking about on a daily basis is taking walks in the garden with God.

But really, isn’t that the only thing that matters still? Society’s voice is not a voice of truth. It is a distraction.

Nothing more.

God has woven His standard of beauty all throughout the bible. Physical beauty is in the eye of the beholder; it is also something that fades with time. Inner beauty—a beauty that is rooted in Christ—will last forever, lingering in the way your generosity, love and compassion affected the people around you. It will last in the way you brought glory to God with your selflessness and kindness toward others.

I hope I ruined you. I hope I ruined you the way my friend ruined me. I hope from this day forward, any negative thoughts you have about another person—or even yourself—are followed by God’s voice:

“I can still use them. And I can still use you.”

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Are you beautiful in God’s eyes? It’s very easy to tell. His standards of what makes a person beautiful can be found all throughout the bible.

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” – Proverbs 31:10

“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” – 1 Peter 3:3-4

“You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.” – Song of Solomon 4:7

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” – Proverbs 31:30

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

“Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” – Psalm 34:5

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:10

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