Monday, December 24, 2012

Appreciating Christ, Our Christmas Present

Heads up, this has nothing to do with writing, but what I consider to be the real reason for the Christmas Season: Our Lord Jesus Christ. And, yes, I do get preachy. You've been warned.

I've been reflecting on the spirit of Christmas gift giving. I'm horrified as I remember an experience as a teenager many years ago. One Christmas there was something I wanted. I have no recollection what it was, but my parents were not well off and it would have been a huge sacrifice for them. If they could have, they would have, but they were not in a position to make it happen. By Christmas morning I knew I wasn't going to get whatever gift I felt entitled to.

So what did I do? I disrespected my parents every time I opened a present they gave me. I would chafe, scoff, or make a snide remark with every unwrapping I did. "Yeah, gee, thanks," I would comment full of angst before tossing a present to the side like I was just handed their credit card bill. 

I think that year, I ruined Christmas for my entire family with my attitude of ingratitude and self-importance. It is something I look back on in shame. It hurts to even type this. I think the Grinch himself would have been appalled BEFORE his heart grew. I wish I could time travel to that teenager and kick him in the butt!
Now for the opposite side of the spectrum. About eight years ago I bought my son a dog. It was a gift that he had been wanting for a long time and I was finally in a position to get one for him. 

What has he done with this gift? Everything! He baths him. He feeds him. He showers him with attention -- sometimes, too much attention. He pets him. He takes him on walks. He gives him treats, but not too many to make him sick. He taught him to sit. And stay. And not eat food is isn't supposed to. When he has ran off, my son would be the first out looking for him. Without a doubt, he appreciates this gift, and he shows it continually. And it warms my heart when I see him taking care of his dog like he is my son's own child.

Over 2,000 years ago, the world received a gift. In a little town outside Jerusalem called Bethlehem, the Savior of the world was born. This was a gift from God. THE Gift from God. A gift of comfort, peace, love, and hope. The gift of promise that we can overcome spiritual and temporal death and live with God again some day. The gift of forgiveness and grace. The gift that truly keeps on giving. The first Christmas gift ever given.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." - John 3: 16
Which raises the question, how have we received this gift? Have we cast it aside in disgust, or have we treated it like the precious gift it is? Have we wrinkled our nose at it or have we embraced it and showered it with eternal appreciation?
How can we show appreciation for this gift? In a word, love. Show love and compassion toward God, your family, your neighbors, and yourself. Jesus is a perfect personification of love as everything he did showed the love he held for all of mankind. He cared for and healed the poor. He constantly had and showed compassion for everybody around him. He sacrificed himself so the atonement could be active in our lives. He suffered more than any man, but did not shrink from drinking the cup that was given him. While we can never express love as deeply as the Lord, it shouldn't hold us back from showing love as much as we can.
"Jesus said unto them, Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all they heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." - Matthew 22: 37-40
And how do we show love and appreciation for this gift from God?
"If ye love me, keep my commandments." -John 14: 15
I hope everybody has a safe and merry Christmas. If you are travelling, get to and from your destinations in safety. If you see loved ones, embrace them and enjoy the time you have around them. And, above all else, keep love in your heart, for love is the spirit of Christ and Christ is the true reason for the Christmas season.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

End of the World?

Okay, here we go, a mere hour away from the end of the world and what am I doing? I'm blogging. After all, what else am I supposed to do? Save it?  Rewrite/correct the Mayan Calendar? Get a better view?

Actually, by my count, this is roughly the fifth time I'll be surviving the end of the world. I remember all the hubbub that was my first end of the world experience. No, I missed the Beatles breaking up, I'm talking about the Y2K "virus". For those of you who weren't around for that, let me tell you what you missed. NOTHING! And I'm thinking that this is just another Y2K waiting to happen. Why? Several reasons.

1) Nothing cool has happened to me lately. Oh, wait, I've finished my first book that will most likely get published, but I'm not counting that. With my Karma, it would happen the day BEFORE it was to be released. My book is not being released tomorrow, so you can all rest assured that we will live to see another day. Seriously. If you ever want a business to fail just talk me into investing into them. A couple of shares of Apple and, poof, their company will fold within weeks.

2) What did the Mayans know anyway? You are talking about a culture celebrated for predicting the end of the world, yet didn't have the premonition to see the Spaniards coming and nearly wiping them off the face of the planet. Because somebody ran out of room on a tablet doesn't mean it is the end of the world. Chances are they just took a smoke break and then went on to another project. I wonder if somebody thought , "Hey, if I stop here I bet somebody will freak out some day." Personally, I think the whole calendar creation was just a union job. Or government. However, I do need to give the Mayans some credit here. Microsoft, the biggest software company in the world, has trouble making their electronic computers figure out dates within a hundred years of each other. At least the Mayan calendar was Y2K compatible.

3) Or was it? Truth is, it doesn't align with the Gregorian calendar (the one you and I use). The Mayans did not account for leap year, which means every four years (roughly) they lost a day. Are you sitting down? The Mayans Calendar actually ended about eight months ago. So, we're good!

With that said, I think this is a great opportunity for a practical joker to have some fun. I saw a video of some kid talking on his cell phone telling people he just heard that New York just went underwater with a tsunami and they had half an hour before it hit them in Florida. I'm not going to post it because of the language but the link is here. Think along these lines. Only turn New York into Jerusalem and you've got the makings for a riot.

I was thinking of hitting the local thrift store, buying some clothes, and just leave them on park benches around town like the rapture just happened. Who wants to join me on that?

If I owned a power station, I would probably turn the lights on and off just to freak people out. Too bad I don't own one. But, rest assured, if I did I would call it Greyskull.

If the end of the world does happen I'm seriously going to be bummed. Right before the weekend? Come on, Mayans, if you are going to blink us out couldn't you have the decency to schedule it on a Monday?

Truth be told, I have a big fear that the end will not come. Because, this will happen:

Scary, isn't it? More scary than the world getting snuffed out by the zombie apocalypse. So, a few last thoughts on December 21, 2012:

What is your take on the situation? And, for the record, I'm heading to Vegas so if the end of the world comes I intend to go out partying!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Silver Lining of Adversity and The First Draft

A few years ago I tweaked by back and every now and then it likes to remind me of this fact. About two weeks ago, my back felt it was time for a reminder call. Long story short, I hit the ground in my back yard and couldn't get back up.

Thank goodness I had my cell phone this time. The first time this happened, ironically in the exact same place, I was without communication and a real miracle occurred to get me into the house. A story for another day, maybe.

After freezing for twenty minutes I figured I wasn't getting back up anytime soon, so I called my boss and told him I wasn't going to get in to work. After hanging up I posted a plea for help on Facebook. Within five minutes I had two people over helping me into my house, giving me pain killers, and getting me back on the road to recovery.

I took two days off work to get back on my feet, literally. This left me time to read. Yes, the silver linings promised in the title! I got to sit around and read. A lot. Oh, I miss being able to do that. I loved it.

I was challenged to read 100 books in the year 2013 and it got me a little curious as to how many I've read this year. The count as of this morning? 73!! And laying around more than usual over the last two weeks certainly helped boost that number.

One topic I've read plenty on is on writing. I've had something drilled into me from several of these books: the need to get that first draft on paper. Let me back up a little bit.

I have a friend, Jessica Foster, who I've gotten to know better at the last two LDStoryMaker Conferences. At the last one I told her how I struggled with my writing because I would write something and then fix it. When I wanted to write a little more, my mind would say, "No wait. I think you could do better." Then I'd edit some more. Progress was very, very slow.

Jessica is pretty amazing because she really knows how to write. And write fast. So she shared her secret: when she writes she turns off her monitor so she doesn't see her mistakes, which allows her write nonstop. I primarily write on a laptop so turning off the screen is not an option, but throwing a towel over the screen should accomplish the same thing.

Three books I've recently read have hammered that idea home even more for me. Stephen King's writing memoir, On Writing, said he write in two modes. He first writes with the door closed, then he edits with the door open. In other words, he first writes for himself without a care of what others might think when they read it. I imagine that he does this very fast. Then he opens his door and edits, making changes that he thinks his readers -- and primarily his ideal reader -- would like.

Then I read Ken Rand's short book called The 10% Solution. He explained that writing is very right brained and editing is very left brained, and when you try to do both at the same time they often conflict with each other, slowing down the writing process. When he writes, he puts on his "writing hat" and does exactly that. Write. And only that. No editing. Afterwards, he puts on his "editing hat" and fixed it to where he needs it to be.

Now I'm in the middle of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She says that she always writes a -- to paraphrase and keep this PG rated -- crappy first draft. She assures that 1) almost every writer does this and 2) nobody is obligated to share this draft with anybody. Amazingly, both these statements are something I needed to hear. Well, read.

When I wrote my last book I followed the writing without editing philosophy. In less than a week I had written THE END. It was horrendous!!! I wrote 70% of it in present tense when it should have been primarily in past tense. I had misspellings. Some things I couldn't even figure out what I was trying to say. There were several parts where I just wrote something like, "Write about this topic here" because it involved research and I didn't want the research to slow me down.

And, you know what, I don't care.

I've gone through a few more drafts and I think it is very close to my final draft now. I've finished the research I needed to do. As Anne Lamott said, nobody has seen my first draft, thank goodness. The hardest part of writing, for me anyway, is getting that first draft written and that actually got done in a short amount of time. Yes, I spent a long of time editing, but I'm still further along than if I continued trying to make my first draft perfect. I'd still be working on that first draft now.

I'm not perfect with this. I think I'm going to continue to struggle, but I must admit that I'm doing better. So, with that, I challenge you all to get out there and don't be afraid to write those crappy first drafts!