Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cain and Abel

For the past five years I've been on a literary journey of my own choosing. I'm reading all of Madeleine L'Engle's books in the order they were published. I don't read her books exclusively, and she was very prolific, so it's taken me awhile. Right now I'm reading her 29th book out of 63. Some books are young adult novels, some are novels for adults, some poetry, some memoir, some books of prayers, and some theology.

There are certain books that I eagerly look forward to and others that I pick up only because they are on the list and I've committed to reading them all. At least once I've made a comment like, "I'm not really looking forward to reading this one" to a friend. That friend has responded with, "Then why don't you skip it?" But reading the books that I'm not naturally drawn to is what makes this journey rewarding. It teaches me things about faith and about Madeleine L'Engle that I wouldn't know if I only stuck to the books I'm most drawn to. And each time I read one of the books I am less than excited about I find a treasure.

The book I'm reading right now is called Ladder of Angels. In it Madeleine retells familiar Bible stories, and next to each story is an illustration by a child from somewhere throughout the world. Let's just stay this was not one of the books I was desperate to read. I mean, I know these stories. I grew up in Sunday School and have read them over and over in the Bible. And really, do I want to see a bunch of pictures by kids I don't know personally? But I started reading it and was, of course, pleasantly surprised. Some of the pictures are astounding! I am so impressed by the kids' artistry. And the oh-so-familiar Bible stories are fresh with Madeleine's words. One of my favorites so far has been the story of Cain and Abel, so I thought I would share it with you here.

There had never been children before.
Eve did not know what was happening to her, with her belly swelling and movement within it and then a great ripping and tearing. There was terror and there was pain.
And then, Cain, squalling, red-faced and angry at the indignity of birth. The first child. He would have preferred simply to have been formed of dust.
When Abel was conceived Eve understood what was happening, so perhaps it was easier to hold Abel, to gentle him against her breast, knowing that the hungry lips were searching only for milk, not trying to bite and hurt and destroy.
The two children romped like lion cubs. They vied for love. They loved and hated and were jealous. But it was all easier for Abel.
So Cain hit him. There had never before been death. He did not know why Abel did not get up and hit him back.
He did not know that he had brought death into the world, and that, as he would bear its mark, so would we.
Cain resented Abel, and bequeathed us his death.

I suppose it's a little dark for me to say this has been one of my favorite stories in the book thus far. It's not that I love reading about the first murder. It's just I found this story so interesting. I've read the account in Genesis 4 so many times, but I'd never thought about how scared Eve must have been when she was pregnant with the first child ever. Or that Cain might not have realized that when he attacked his brother it would end his life. They had experienced animals' deaths, but I wonder if the first family realized the same thing could happen to them.

I've got quite a few mores stories to go in Ladder of Angles, and then I get to move on to a young adult novel! It's a fun journey. What are you reading these days?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Tropical Paradise?

I wrote a devotional for a prayer guide that a group in my church is putting together this summer. I thought I would share part of it here on the blog.

When I was in college my roommate and I had a picture of one of the tropical islands in the Maldives on our dorm room door. It had gorgeous white sand that stretched out to meet beautiful turquoise water. There was something about the picture that soothed me. Yet at the same time it gave me a deep longing.

When I am tired and stressed out and I just want to get away from my life I think about going to a place like Maldives. Something in me aches for more than what I find in my daily life. I think that getting to a place like Maldives will make it go away. Yet I’ve been to beautiful places before and it doesn’t make the ache going away. It makes it even worse.

C.S. Lewis knew about this ache too. In Mere Christianity he writes, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

We call tropical islands "paradise", another word for heaven. When I’m honest with myself I realize that’s what I’m looking for—a little piece of heaven on earth. But to expect heaven before our time on earth is over is setting ourselves up for disappointment. You’re not going to get the fulfillment you’re looking for in this life. Not completely. That sounds a little depressing. And if this life is all there is, it would be depressing. Thankfully we have HOPE. We have a promise that this is not all there is. Read what Paul writes in Romans 8:20-25.

"Against its will, all creation was subjected to God's curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don't need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don't yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)”

It doesn’t matter where we are, whether it is in the suburbs of LA or a gorgeous tropical island. There are certain longings in our life that will never be fulfilled on this side of eternity. That ache will always be there until we are united with Christ in heaven. One day, as followers of Christ, we will have all our longings fulfilled. We will finally be complete.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

They Never Came Back

So there I was, on the elliptical machine at my gym, wondering if the woman two spots down could hear my quick breaths, indicating that tears could be forthcoming at any moment. I had just finished reading Caroline B. Cooney's novel They Never Came Back and I was thinking, "This is exactly the type of novel I want to write."

I found the book while I was strolling through the library's section of new novels for children and teens, and the sparse words on the back of the book caught my attention.

Cathy decided on facts. "I don't live here in Greenwich," she told him. "I live in Norwalk."

"You look like Murielle," he insisted.

She asked the logical question. "And who is Murielle?"

This caught my attention because I thought it might be similar to the novel that I'm writing. In case you don't know, my novel is about a girl who shows up at her new school and to everyone else she looks like another girl who already goes to that school. She has, in fact, replaced the girl and continues to trade places with this girl, pretending to be her, until she can figure out how to make it stop. I thought They Never Came Back might have a similar situation in it, so I checked it out. Anything that sounds like it could be remotely similar to my book gets my attention because 1) I want to see how the author handles the situations we share in our novels and 2) I find the topics interesting (that's why I'm writing my own novel about it).

As it turns out, the book's plot was nothing like mine. It's about a teenager who looks like a girl who was lost to her family when she was put into foster care years before. The question throughout the novel is whether the high school girl is really the little girl who was lost five years ago or just someone who looks like her.

I'm so glad that the book gave so little information on the back because I probably would not have read it if I knew what it was really about. I have my list of what I tend to look for in books. I like them to include one or more of the following criteria:

-Novels that mess with time and space

-Books written by Madeleine L'Engle

-Memoirs about random events in life like not buying anything unnecessary for a year

-Books written by Donald Miller

-Novels that take place in pre-modern England

-Novels that have modern day characters who turn out to be wizards or demi-gods

-Books (both fiction and non-fiction) that incorporate faith in a creative non-cheesy, non-preachy way

-Books about Amish people

-Novels with other worlds or magic

-Young Adult novels that take place in the future after most of civilization has died off and now humanity is making a new start

-Historical Fiction*

You may notice that foster care is not a part of the list. It's not something that I usually read about. Yet I'm so glad I read this novel. Along with foster care there were other fantastic themes in the book-identity, family, God, how our personal choices affect those around us, etc. The reason why I say it is the type of novel that I want to write is because it has such a wonderful mixture of entertainment, faith-filled themes (it is not a "Christian" book), lighthearted relationships (ie high school crushes) and thought provoking concepts. I think I may have found a new favorite author. I can't wait to check out Cooney's other novels.

*If any of these genres interest you and you would like some recommendations let me know. I would love to share my favorites with you.