First death

This week i had my first opportunity to truly practice resurrection.

My first attempt at writing this post sounded much too heroically tragic. i came face to face with the wretchedness of my own pride on Tuesday, and it unraveled me. i knew i needed to write about it—to be honest. But my first instinct when i began typing was to glorify myself even in failure.

i am smarter than anyone i know. Call it perfectionism; say i am a high achiever and have high standards for myself, but the truth is that i am prideful. Tuesday my mental image of my perfect self was fractured by a grade i did not expect. It felt unfair. It felt surreal. Surely, it was a mistake. It was not. i failed to earn a grade worthy of myself, and in so doing i was forced to face what was in my heart that i should consider certain grades worthy of me, rather than humbling myself to make my work worthy of such grades.

When i began seminary—even as i was applying—i held clutched in my hands the hope of resurrection. i reminded myself that resurrection requires death. The first time i missed a single point on a quiz i told myself this. It is okay to die. Dying is a prerequisite for the remaking you desire. But even while saying this, i was working against myself. i had flung myself down the steep steps of seminary (see how noble that sounds?), but rather than allowing G-d’s grace to tandem jump with me, or to catch me at the bottom, or even to let me crash that i may be resurrected, i was blowing frantically at the ground as if i could keep myself aloft through my own effort.

To be blindsided by this grade was a grace. It sent me to my face, wracked with shame, and it forced me to acknowledge my pride. i wanted to be resurrected? to be remade? My redeemer (baruch atah, Adonai!) is so eager to redeem me that He will not wait even a whole semester before beginning the process.

As i lay on my face in the chapel, weeping into the carpet, i knew i had a choice. i could feel sorry for myself, even paint myself as a victim of unfairness. Or i could own my sin, celebrate this first death, and look forward to resurrection.

On my hands i wrote truth, truth that after repeated washings has not yet faded.

It hurts to die but each time i’m raised again and i’m something new, something i don’t recognize, something i never expected.”

Practice resurrection.”

Go now with me and define my becoming.”

“Love.”

Today i was listening to Sixpence None the Richer—the album which came out as i was beginning my undergraduate, the most beautiful album i’ve ever heard, an album soaked through with despair and grief and pain and, yes, hope of healing—and was met again by grace.

The Harvester is near. His blade is on your skin
To plant a new beginning: Well then, let the cut begin.”

Resurrection requires death. But death, if i trust His good intentions more than my own sufficiency, will always result in resurrection.

Let the cut begin.

The first round of short stories begins

This summer, i set myself a goal of writing a short story for every class i take during my graduate studies career. Now is the time to start making that happen. Midterms are over and November is upon me. The plan is to write both shorts this month, taking advantage of the community and momentum that NaNoWriMo provides, although as long as they’re finished before next semester starts i’ll call it good. It took me awhile to come up with my projects, but here they are.

For Hebrew, i am actually going to write a story in Hebrew. i’m pretty excited about this. ‘Round about week three of class, when all of my vocab words started sounding alike, i realized how much opportunity there is here for wordplay. Asher (the name) sounds exactly like asher (a pronoun meaning who, which, or that), and shares sounds with yashar (upright/straight) and rasha (wicked) and ashir (rich) and rasa (to make or do). That week i had to make sentences just to help me keep all the words straight. Asher yashar; Asher lo rasha. “Asher is upright; Asher is not wicked.” Asher rasa kesef; Asher ashir. “Asher made money; Asher is rich.” (i love saying Asher ashir.) Jonathan said my sentences sounded like a Dr. Seuss book, so that’s exactly what i’m going to do—write a picture book full of wordplay in Hebrew. To make all this even better, one of my tablemates (we’re divided into groups of four) goes by the Hebrew name Asher, and has a two-year-old daughter. So fictional Asher will learn numbers and colours and other words, and have adventures, and render my readers tongue-tied in the process.

For Pentanteuch and Wisdom, i had a much harder time coming up with a story idea. All the ideas that were presenting themselves were based directly on the stories we were reading, but i am not interested in writing Biblical fiction. i wanted to write a story inspired by the class, not simply drawn from the reading. My exegetical paper was on one of the Lady Wisdom passages in Proverbs, though, and she fascinates me—but i didn’t know what to do with that. The solution turned out to be both simple and unexpected, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. We’ve spent a fair amount of time so far this semester talking about how Israel adapted the literary traditions of neighbouring nations in writing their own history, creation myth/account, and even legal codes. Our professor broached the question of how far a Christian can go in engaging and adapting cultural forms in our own setting. And so i’m going to try something i’ve never thought to do before—intentionally adapt a cultural storytelling form towards which i would not naturally gravitate. i’m going to write a superhero story. i’ll seek to conform to the genre’s conventions, while inverting some of the themes and cliches. So far, my protagonist is about half-created. Her name is Hélène Hokma, named for my Hebrew professor (Hélène Dallaire—the name Hélène means “light”) and Lady Wisdom (Hokma, or Hokmot, in Proverbs). i’m still stuck on a nom de guerre and a concrete array of powers, although i do have some ideas and the beginnings of a costume. As for setting and theme, she’s going to live into a dark place like Gotham and do what Batman wishes he could do but can’t: Inspire hope and actual transformation of the city. Oh, i have ideas. You’ll just have to wait.

A poem for the journey

i found this tonight while looking through a file of story ideas. i wrote it before school started, and i meant to come back to it but never did. The peace in it is striking when i remember what turmoil i was feeling when i wrote it.

“i hope it’s good for your soul.” O remind me, Adonai, to keep my eyes ever on You.

At the edge of graduate studies

i begin now a long journey.
And who shall i be when i arrive?
Go now with me
and define my becoming.
You, my soul’s hope,
my beloved,
my joy,
be for me my only goal
as You make and remake me
as You desire.
Build me as a cairn,
year by year,
class by class,
stone by stone,
and make me a sign-post.
When i arrive,
i will look out across the summit
and wonder at Your majesty,
and glory in Your creativity,
and marvel at what You have made me,
and open wide my arms
and laugh
and set my feet upon the path
of our next great journey.

Shielot

i’m two weeks into Hebrew. Last week, vowel markings kicked my butt. This week, i am too busy forgetting plural pronouns to worry about vowels, which mostly work now anyway. (Maybe the key to learning is to just keep moving forward, whether things make sense or not.)

At Denver Seminary, Hebrew is taught as a second language. Classes are partially immersive. A friend told me before i started that the thing about immersive language acquisition is that i’ll feel like i’m failing. Every day, i’ll feel like i’m failing. And every day, i’ll fail a little less.

Practice resurrection.

But it is coming. i can feel it taking root, even if the shoots are slow to appear. The sounds wind their way around my mind, making new places to grow.

Yesh li shielah.

“i have a question.” That phrase is printed on the back of my name plaque, so that i can find answers when i am puzzled in class. But that phrase is insufficient. i had to teach myself some new ones.

Yesh li shielot.

i have questions.

Yesh li shielot ravot.

i have many questions.

Yesh li kol-shielot.

i have every question, all the questions.

But look—i know how to make a sentence, to ask for help, to laugh at my own ignorance.

Practice resurrection.

i’m getting there.

Practice resurrection.

T-minus nineteen hours

Deus vult.
If You can deceive me, You may.

Practice resurrection.
Practice resurrection.
Practice resurrection.

Writing Close to the Earth: A summary of findings

i got my instructor’s feedback on my last essay yesterday, and with that, this summer’s online writing class is complete. It was a great, challenging, growing experience. i’ve never taken a writing class before (or any online class), and i learned a ton. Here are a few highlights:

  • Dangling modifiers are a thing. Don’t use them.
  • No, seriously.
  • Parallelism is also a thing, and i think i love it. Now to figure out how it works.
  • i use more adjectives than i realized.
  • Concrete description is harder than it appears.
  • Some descriptive details contribute to the point i’m trying to make. Some details don’t. It’s a trick to figure out which is which, but it makes a big difference and will get easier with practice.
  • There are good ways and bad ways to be concise and economic in my writing. “Show, don’t tell” applies here as it does everywhere.
  • Intentionality in writing, as in anything, is huge. If i have an idea of what i want to say, and then make my sentences serve that goal, my writing will improve tremendously and have a greater impact on my readers.
  • Criticism is okay, and probably better-intended than my broken brain tends to imagine. And it’s okay to admit that it’s hard.
  • i have great friends.
  • i can edit my own writing.
  • i need to pay better attention to the world outside my head.
  • i have good writerly skills and instincts, and i can totally improve my craft; my issues are “very fixable.”
  • Literary fiction is not beyond my reach (even if it takes effort, practice, and intentional reading habits.)

My instructor said he’s working on putting together a “grammar for writers” class. It’ll cover dangling modifiers and parallelism both, and lots of other great things that probably exist despite my ignorance of them, and i can’t wait to discover it all and put it to work.

The Cistern

(The following is an essay i wrote for Jonathan Rogers’ online writing class. The assignment was to describe a place that shaped me or explains something about me.)


I grew up the daughter of a wandering missionary-hopeful. My parents met at Bible college, and my childhood was shaped by Bible stories and the knowledge that God is real, that His Kingdom is truer than any physical place we could ever see. Because we moved so much, and because we were homeschooled, that reality was much more consistent for me than any town or house.

In our homeschool, my mother used Vacation Bible School curricula alongside math worksheets and penmanship exercises. We learned Bible stories with a homemade flannelgraph. Figures for stories that didn’t occur in the curricula she made with drawings and spray flocking. I suppose most kids didn’t learn the story of Jeremiah in the cistern in Sunday school, but we did at home, sitting on the greenish, worn carpeting of our rented house’s living room, light pouring in the big windows. I was a child with an active imagination who loved stories and lived primarily in her head, and those Biblical figures became real to me. They were my friends, the inhabitants of my inner landscape, just like Princess Irene and Curdie Peterson and the Pevensies and Francis the Badger. I could see their faces in my mind. Jeremiah was straight-backed and bearded, noble and sad, brave in the face of his loneliness.

One evening my parents went out, I suppose to visit our adopted Grandma Strand, the older woman who lived alone next door. My three younger siblings went with them, but my parents decided that at eight years old, I was old enough to stay home by myself. For the first time in my entire life, I was completely alone.

The big house with big windows felt too big, and I was too small. It wasn’t long before being alone unsettled me thoroughly. I knew God was always with me, that Jesus, my playmate, would never leave me. And thinking of that reminded me of Jeremiah. He had also been alone, but he had been able to be brave because he knew he had not been abandoned.

So I went into our bedroom, with the big window facing the street, and held my breath while easing open the closet door. I slipped in and pulled the door shut behind me, and sat on the floor amidst clothes and toys. The closet was small and dark, just like Jeremiah’s cistern. Sunday dresses hung down and brushed my face. I closed my eyes and imagined that I was Jeremiah. And the walls of the closet were like safe arms that held us both until friendly faces appeared at the door.

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