Loftier Motives

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As I’ve written in other posts, I feel like the greatest battle in the human heart is to deny oneself so that one can love others. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how this mindset must be embraced in every relationship and with consistency. When I interact with other people, it is natural for me to think about what I want from them and how I can obtain my wants. Usually, I am seeking admiration, affection, and approval.

I’ll give you an example. I’m with my friends. I am engaging in banter with them so that they admire my cleverness. But perhaps endless banter isn’t what my friends need in that moment, and if it’s at the expense of one of my friends, that’s even worse. Maybe someone in the group needs me to follow up with her about what’s going on in her life, but I’m going on about some joke that may not even be that funny because I crave admiration, so I never do.

What if we viewed every interaction with other people as an opportunity to care for them rather than get something from them? What if we humbled ourselves and put others first? As much as the righteous part of me loves that, part of me finds it repulsive. After all, I have needs, and I want them met. I have things I want to accomplish. I am entitled to love and admiration from everyone in my social circle, aren’t I?

I’m not saying that you should let people walk all over you or be in one-sided relationships. That’s unhealthy. I’m calling for new motives. Loftier motives. How much more exciting and fulfilling would my life be if I awoke every morning with the intention to give more than I get? Even writing it now, it feels painful, but sometimes pain is helpful. The Art of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller is currently on my to-read-list. I will keep you guys posted on what I learn from it. I am hoping it will teach me how to do the work of active humility not just when other people notice but with consistency.

My Throne

I watch a lot of music videos, and so I have authority to say that this is one of the best music videos of all time:

Be prepared to be moved. To feel chills. To be inspired to live an outward-focused life.

I’m not sure if this band is Christian, but this song perfectly illustrates Matthew 20:26-28

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

If only more of us with power and influence could embrace this mindset! How much better a world it would be! Of course, this call to humility does not only apply to people with leadership roles. It applies to everyone. What an extraordinary contrast this offers to the modern frenzy of trying to sell our image to others on social media, podcasts, blogs (yup) etc. etc.

This kind of selflessness requires letting go. We have to let go of compulsively living for our own glory and gratification. And as we better learn how to do that, we will find a new, hidden type of joy.

I have alluded to this before in my blog, but I feel like if I could care less about what happens to me, I would be a lot happier. Lately, I have been thinking about my suffering, and how it helps me to do just that. When you encounter great suffering that leaves you feeling helpless, you learn to care less about yourself. This is because suffering well requires acceptance of loss. When you can accept your loss, you let go of whatever you had hoped to keep or gain and so die to yourself, often in a big way. Suffering, therefore, loosens your grip on your own personal happiness. You learn how not to care so much about what happens to you.

To paraphrase Leslie Ludy, when you are suffering, it is a good idea to find someone whose suffering is worse than yours and serve him/her. Even in your suffering, you ought to serve. But I would go even farther than that and say that because of your suffering, you are well-positioned to serve.

With 2019 upon us, I pray that we would suffer well and serve well.

Also, I LOVE this version of the song:

Unhappiness, Obsession, and Strength

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I feel like I constantly have to relearn the lesson that trying hard to make myself happy makes me extremely unhappy. I have always been an ambitious, goal-oriented type of person—not the type who likes to wait around. Basically, I like to make things happen. I like checking them off my checklist or deleting them from my calendar. There are many things I desire from life, and although I have been trying to do a better job of not being so selfish with my time, I’ve realized that I need to go a step further. I need to transform my mind. I hope to do so by reducing the amount of mental energy I spend obsessing over getting everything I want from life.

I truly believe that I need to wage a war on my mind. While having a thought in itself isn’t necessary sinful, I believe obsessing can be. And while none of my desires in of themselves are bad (i.e. getting my book published), putting too much hope in the happiness I will get from obtaining them is. It makes me self-centered and anxious, both of which make it impossible to pursue God and His righteousness single-mindedly. And that is what I truly desire more than anything; the only problem is that my lesser desires get in the way of this.

I don’t know about you guys, but I really want to be strong. Not physically strong but virtuously strong. I want godly virtues to be so prominent in my mind that whenever I encounter a stressor—i.e. sleep-deprivation, worry, or loneliness—I automatically react to the stressor in a virtuous manner. Virtue won’t have to be yanked out of me but rather will arise naturally from within. I wholeheartedly believe that anchoring too much of one’s happiness to something of this world counteracts this aptitude. You can’t be strong when the thing that’s grounding you is anything other than God because only God is everlasting.

Unless you cultivate a mind focused on the pursuit of virtue, your actions won’t be virtuous. You cannot expect to think one way and act a different way. You can’t focus on ungodly things and expect your actions to be godly. That’s just not how it works. So, my friends, let’s join together in focusing on the good.


Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

 

Quirkiness, Dry Humor, and the Lovable Rogue

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In my last post, I said that I especially enjoy writing romantic chemistry between my characters. I’d like to elaborate on what I think makes good chemistry. Last week, I finished listening to the audiobook version of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. While I loved this book for many reasons, the chemistry between the two main characters, Peter and Lara Jean, really catapulted it towards the top of my list of favorite young adult books. (Side note: When I was a teenager, I used to read books like Wuthering Heights and Far From the Madding Crowd for fun, but now that I’m an adult, I read books for teens. Ironic, no?)

Here is my secret for writing good romantic chemistry:

Make one character regularly say or do ridiculous things and make the other character regularly respond with eye-rolling to these things while secretly enjoying them.

You see this kind of chemistry everywhere. One character is the manic pixie dream girl/guy and the other character is the sour puss with the dry sense of humor. Think Luke and Lorelai from Gilmore Girls. Their chemistry works so well because she is sweet and quirky, and he always responds with dry remarks, but we all know deep down that he adores Lorelai’s quirkiness. There’s something so lovable about that type of chemistry. We want to see the quirky, cute one melt the “heart of stone” of the sarcastic, cynical one. Usually, the male is the dry one and the female is the quirky one, but it can be the other way around. For example, in The Big Bang Theory, Leonard is the lovable nerd while Penny responds to him with sarcasm.

In To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Peter tends to have a flirty, ridiculous sense of humor that Lara Jean pretends to be annoyed by, although the reader knows she secretly enjoys it. Because romances are usually marketed toward women, getting the male lead right is often more important than getting the female lead right. While women want a female lead who is kind, relatable, and funny, we read the book or watch the show for the romance and chemistry generated by the male lead. So, it is important to make him fascinating.

The most popular trope for a fascinating love interest is the lovable rogue. Think Han Solo. Or Mr. Darcy. The lovable rogue defies social conventions, speaks his mind, and thinks more highly of himself than he ought. As much as I hate to say it, it helps to write a bad boy. But the bad boy has to actually be a good guy—we just don’t know that until we get to know him more, usually towards the end of the story. Over time, it must become apparent that he has qualities that cause the reader/watcher to feel empathy towards him. Peter definitely falls in this category. He is an arrogant, popular high school jock; everyone loves him and he milks it. Yet, as the story progresses, we learn that he has a sensitive side—that he is extremely loyal—and that there is more to him than meets the eye. This is a powerful theme in general for a novel because it is so true in real life. We often judge people and overlook them rather than take the time to get to know them and learn who they really are.

As important as it is to create romantic chemistry between characters, it’s also important to create non-romantic chemistry. For example, in Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Lightsong fulfills the lovable rogue trope. While there is romantic chemistry between him and Blushweaver, who perpetually rolls her eyes at him, there is also platonic chemistry between Lightsong and his priest, Larimar. Lightsong speaks his mind and whines a lot while Larimar is perpetually patient towards him. Lightsong tries to provoke Larimar, but he rarely can. Every now and then, Larimar reacts, albeit just a tad, to something Lightsong says or does, and the chemistry between them is beyond precious.

 

Passion, Sacrifice, and Banter

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I’ve been thinking about romance a lot lately. One of my friends and I had a conversation about it a few months ago, and she was telling me that she dislikes a lot of romance in the books she reads. Also, my pastor has recently talked about how problematic the portrayal of romance in our media is. It has really gotten me thinking because I’ve always loved romance stories. I have read articles before about how too many romantic novels can be bad for the soul. I would say I agree with that. Usually, too much of anything is bad. Also, I really think it depends on the type of romance that you read/consume. I like to read romance that is cute, not erotic, that has substance, and isn’t cheesy.

As a matter of fact, the young adult romance book that I wrote five years ago, which I am currently reworking, talks quite a bit about how being obsessed with romance can be destructive. The protagonist’s obsession with romance makes her incredibly self-absorbed and causes her to make poor decisions.

I think the main issue with romance stories is that they can be self-indulgent. They feature a whirlwind of passion but often lack meaningful connection. I liked something that my pastor said recently about romance. To paraphrase, he said that the passionate, early stage of romance isn’t real romance. Real romance is drawing close to one another again and again over many years. I really liked that. The concept of fighting for intimacy in the face of difficulties, despite the costs, year after year—that sounds incredibly romantic to me. It’s the sacrifice that’s involved that really gets my heart racing. And I think that type of romance is good because it reflects God’s sacrifice and persistence in loving us.

As far as writing goes—I really enjoy writing romantic chemistry. I love putting my protagonist and love interest in opposition with each other. But most of all, I love writing the banter. I love making my characters argue with each other, surprise each other, and bond over inside jokes. The sillier, the better. If I had to give up writing action scenes, I’d be fine. But give up banter? No way!

I think romance storylines can be beautiful when done correctly, but it is good to remember that they are just that. Stories. And stories can never compare to real-life love.

Pride and Prejudice, the Enneagram, and Sad Stuff

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Some people would call me a hopeless romantic, but I dislike that term. By definition, a romantic is full of hope and, therefore, I think “hopeless romantic” is an oxymoron.

At any rate, I love romance.

I’ll never forget the time I fell in love with Pride and Prejudice (circa 2005). I think that kicked off my love of romance. I was 14. I remember beginning the 4 hour BBC version with my grandma and sister one night. We watched the first half, and I was enthralled. I loved the costumes, the archaic language, and, of course, the romance. I remember waking up the next day, feeling like I was exploring a new world, excited to finish the movie.

Soon after, we watched the 2005 version. I am not the kind of person who often re-watches movies, but I watched that movie over and over again. I was SO obsessed. I remember regularly checking the movie’s message board on IMDB to see what people were talking about. The world of Jane Austen became an escape for me—a preferable reality. I remember walking the halls of my high school dressed in this white, lacy, shirt with a blue ribbon that looked like it could’ve been the bodice of a Regency-era dress, imagining the people I saw in the hall dressed in Regency attire. I would carry a Jane Austen book (I think I was reading Emma at the time) in my arms—as a source of comfort as well as pride—rather than in my backpack even though there was plenty of room inside. (Side note: The 2005 version of P&P is, in my opinion, one of the funniest movies ever. It makes me laugh SO much.)

I recently took the Enneagram personality quiz and, of course, I tested as a four, which is called “the romantic,” “the intense creative,” or “the individualist.” The four described me very well. Let me list the hallmarks of a four that I felt I could especially relate to:

-being deeply appreciative of beauty, art, and nature

-having a strong imagination, given to daydreaming

-finding purpose in creativity, needing to express myself in an artistic way

-being emotional/feeling things deeply

-wanting to dress in an artistic, idiosyncratic way

-being sensitive

-possessing a strong sense of empathy for others in their pain

-enjoys listening to music as a way to intensify emotions

-wanting to be unique/quirky AKA a special snowflake

-being attracted to sad stories, movies, and songs

-feeling misunderstood

-having envy as a flaw

So, now you can understand why I was obsessed with Pride and Prejudice to the point of daydreaming about it. It’s funny, but I feel like my greatest strengths are also my greatest flaws. I love that I feel things deeply—that I have intense longings for beauty/art/nature—that I am creative. But I feel like that part of me can also become my greatest flaw. I can make decisions based on emotions rather than facts. I can get lost in ideals, daydreams, and romantic fantasies rather than focus on real life. So, I am learning to find a balance. Recently, I have begun learning how to better deal with my emotions and not feel controlled by them. I am working to become a four that is sensitive and empathetic yet strong.

I’d like to touch briefly on being attracted to sad things. One of my favorite books is The Fault In Our Stars, mainly because I balled through the last 100 pages. Several weeks ago, I was trying to explain to a couple of people how I LOVE the feeling of crying through a sad book or movie, but I struggled to explain it. Here is my best explanation:

I think the best art is the art that moves you. That gets you thinking about the big things in life. About life and death. About what really matters. That’s what sad stories do to me. They help me see beyond the superficial and view life as the epic, horrible, yet beautiful adventure that it is.

Also, as a disclaimer, I want to say that I promise I’m not a huge sap haha. I don’t like stories that are sappy or cheesy. I like to think that I use discretion when it comes to the types of things that move me haha. As a matter of fact, I don’t like all romance. In my next blog, I will talk about romance in a more traditional sense and hope to better explain what I like and dislike about the genre and how that has shaped my writing.

On Singleness

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The other day my friend asked me how I deal with being single. Especially when it seems like so many people my age have already found someone. I’m 27, by-the-way, so it’s not like I’m that old but still. It is starting to feel a little harder being single than it did when I was 26. For some reason, 27 seems to me to be the age by which one should be married. When people ask you if you’re single and you respond in the affirmative, they often say, “You still have time.” And, at age 24, 25, or 26, I agreed, but for some reason, when people say that to me now, at 27, it doesn’t feel like I have as much time. I had been feeling a bit down about being single, but I’ve been feeling better about it and much happier overall the last few weeks. (See my previous blog post—The Person I Want to Be).

My friend asked me if I did the whole “why me” thing? Like, why me? Why am I still single? Why am I not good enough? And honestly, I don’t really do that. Sometimes, yeah, but not much. I feel like I have a pretty good view of singleness, so I thought I’d share it on my blog to encourage others.

Side note: In the past, I had considered starting a blog, but I thoughts along these lines—It’s arrogant to start a blog. To think that you have something important to say. That people actually care about what you have to say. But… it’s not arrogant. And, to my surprise, people keep reading my blog haha. Not a lot of people. But some do. And it seems like my serious posts get more reads than my humorous ones, so it seems like people in the world care what other people out there have to say, so that’s cool. I feel like before I would’ve felt weird or embarrassed about sharing my thoughts on the internet, but it feels kind of good, actually. Plus, blogging is really important if you want to be a published novelist, so I’m going to keep at it. 😊

Anyway, on to my thoughts about singleness. As a follow-up to my blog entitled The Person I Want to Be, this is The Kind of Woman I Don’t Want to Be:

  1. The kind of woman who is desperate to be loved.
  2. The kind of woman who puts all her energy and focus into finding a man.
  3. The kind of woman who compromises her principles to be with said man.
  4. The kind of woman who wastes her time and resources on a relationship that isn’t going anywhere because she’s afraid she won’t find anyone else.
  5. The kind of woman who is never able to give, serve, and love others because all she can focus on is how she can be loved by a man.
  6. The kind of woman who feels like she needs to “convince” guys to like her. Rather than let him find her while she’s busy living her life for God.

The Kind of Woman I Want to Be:

  1. The kind of woman who knows she is loved.
  2. The kind of woman who knows it’s better to give than to receive.
  3. The kind of woman who can be content in any circumstance.
  4. The kind of woman who does big things for God. Who doesn’t sit around waiting for her “life” to start when she gets married.
  5. The kind of woman who stays faithful to God even when it’s lonely and hard.

I just feel like marriage isn’t ultimate. God is. I may find someone soon or it may be later (and yes, I’m really hoping it’s sooner rather than later) but in the end, when I die, I’m going to God. This life is so fleeting. And it’s hard to wrap your head around that, but it’s true. And, what if I did marry someone in five years, but then he died or I died? Sorry that’s dark, but again, it’s true. There’s just no guarantees in life apart from the love of God, so why make your number one focus anything other than that?

Anyway, I know not many people are going to see this blog because I’m taking a social media hiatus and thus not posting it on Facebook, so I thought I’d share a little more. I was praying recently and felt like God was telling me that I will get married and have kids. And that it’s important for me to trust in the promise in the meantime. So, that’s what I’m going to do. Rather than question God’s goodness, I’m going to trust in His faithfulness. Someday when I am married and have kids, I will be able to tell them that I wanted them really badly and it was hard to wait for them, but in my waiting, I trusted the One Who Is Good.

I go to the library a lot (because all the cool people do FYI—seriously, though, libraries are my happy place) and they recently installed a playground outside the library. LOL. Like, the librarians got together and were like, we gotta trick all the lil’ rascals into associating fun with the library haha. Anyway, that’s likely not how it went down, but that’s what I like to think.

And so, there have been a lot of parents and kids hanging out by the library recently. And I would walk by them and think to myself—will that ever be me? Will I ever have kids to play with?

And now, I don’t question anymore. I trust.

I really believe that women bear the special responsibility of trusting God. I feel that the duty of trusting falls on both men and women but especially on women. Nothing is more beautiful than a woman at rest, right? When a woman is a peace-bearer? Rather than a controlling, worrying, nagger.

I feel like God is trying to teach me that He is good. I know this in my head, but I need to know it in a way that actually affects how I live my life. So far, I am loving this process of learning to stop questioning and start trusting. If anyone has tips in doing that, let me know. 😊