Christ's Glory, Not Mine

Devotions, advice, and book reviews from science fiction author Andrea J. Graham

Writer’s Blog Hop Week 2: Sample

Here is a sneak peak at the sci-fi story I’m writing. It’s more in the tradition of Ender’s Game than true Middle Grade. I am making efforts to be kid-friendly, but it’s not a safe world where adults can always protect kids from having to face difficult adult issues and may only be okay for kids whose worlds aren’t that way, either. To see links to other participants samples, check out Ruth Snyder’s blog.

Life After Mars Chapter One

Flashes of a claustrophobic white tube haunted the Martian pioneer girl. Gloria was playing Quarter Liter in her favorite cartoon. Virtual reality was getting so good, the Old West frontier town’s empty street looked almost as real as the videos of Earth. She should be watching one at school with her sister. Instead she was at the hospital clear in the New Plymouth sector of Xanthe Outpost.

It was normal for her head to hurt a little. Why would it hurting a lot get her sent to a tourist trap for Earthers with cancer? They came seeking miracles and got death instead.

Remnants of her headache throbbed despite the strong medicine that had been pumped into her veins. She squinted in Cartoon Earth’s strong sunlight and shook her head. That nightmare made no sense. What would make sense was skipping school to go play with Pa.

Her sister would be mad. This had to be coming out of her sister’s allowance. Federica—pronounced FE-de-RI-ca—somehow made her energy rations last all week. Gloria used up her energy rations in three days. Then she’d have to wait four long days before she could again run down the cartoon streets of nineteenth-century De Smet, North Dakota.

She’d skipped the forth Vast Prairie show, Apricot Pond, as her sector was named after it. Her sector was an oasis in a vast, freezing, deadly desert. An oasis under Plexiglas was a cage.

Pioneer girls weren’t made to be caged.

She and Federica would be dead long before their people won their battle to achieve a Mars with an atmosphere both plants and people could breathe. How could Federica stand the thought of living in a cage for their whole lives? Gloria gulped. The only scarier thought was having been shipped to the hospital in New Plymouth to die like the rich gringos.

If only it were Commander Peyton Fowler. Having two daughters by him got Ma the same energy rations as everyone else in Apricot Pond. The sisters did have bearing Peyton’s surname to thank for their allowances, but maybe energy would be unlimited if he were dead. Then she could be a Cruz like Ma.

She’d gotten way too old to daydream about Pa magically becoming real enough to marry Ma and adopt her and Federica. No, he’d still be only a virtual doll if he ever stopped giving her dumb error messages and moved to her early birthday present, augmented reality glasses. Pa ought to be able to use the military satellites to access Oceancast’s cloud server on Earth and give her a reason to use her present.

And Pa had once again proved he was a virtual doll by putting himself away when she stopped playing with him. She stomped her foot. “Pa!”
The computer loaded as a tall cartoon gringo—a man who wasn’t Hispanic. This one had pale skin, a scruffy black beard, a stripped pink shirt, and dark trousers worn with suspenders. His blue eyes had a permanent, most unnatural twinkle. “Could you please remind me where we are in your version of the show’s script?”

Grr. Stupid machine. She rolled her eyes. “We are at the part where you prove you are an inteligencia artificial rather than a máquina estúpida.”

Pa shifted his feet. “If you must know, this ‘stupid machine’ is a program. I am a self-aware actor being dragged into handling a customer service complaint. I wish you would accept ‘no’ already and let me get back to what I was made to do: entertain you with a VR show.”

Grr. Maquinas estupidas. “Play your role! Just do it from my new augmented reality glasses. They’re supposed to be less energy-consuming.” Plus Ma doesn’t care for the number of hours I spend with my head inside a virtual reality helmet. I shouldn’t mention her, though. She isn’t a part of his world. She glanced at her cartoon body. It had braided pigtails, and her sunbonnet hung down over her calico dress. Can Pa hear my thoughts? If I understand right, the VR works by the computer reading my mind while I’m asleep and influencing my dreams.

Pa nodded. “If you want us to talk telepathically, then play a show not set two hundred years ago. Unless my user insists, I am to refrain in settings where it doesn’t make logical sense.”

Ooh. She grinned. “Rewrite the show’s genre from historical to time travel.”

“Which role is the time traveler?”

“Me and Federica replaced Quarter Liter and her big sister when we were really nine. We’re twelve now.”

“Yes, you are now old enough for Vast Prairie: De Smet Part 1. You can replay it.”

“That’s nice. I want my requested script change to the third part of De Smet, please.”

Pa sighed. “To confirm, in the script, you stole the bodies of my oldest two daughters at the time you deleted my wife and my younger two daughters and made us move here early?”

“Yes, and now I have to move back home to my time, and I am offering to take you with me. With your lust for adventure, how could you possibly resist a new frontier to settle?”

“I wouldn’t without my wife around to insist we stay put in De Smet. However, I am still not sure that request is a legal operation in real life, Quarter Liter. One moment, please, while I try to call my maker. He lives on Earth, so please expect delays.” Pa froze for a long, long time.

She shrugged and ran off into a field beyond Main Street in long leaps. Cartoon wild flowers waved in the wind. She plucked some and began braiding them into a crown. She’d finished one for herself and one for her sister, too, before the computer’s avatar finally reloaded.

Pa beamed at her and puffed out his chest. “The government spybots managing the military satellites did generously permit me to use their bridges. I reached Oceancast’s cloud service and was able to get a software update. My shows are now playable in augmented reality, but the spybots instructed me to remind you that I am for entertainment purposes only.”

“And their point is?” She scrunched her brows.

“It is legal for me to make your virtual dolls move and speak for your amusement, but I can’t assist you with any other computing task. You’d need another kind of AI for that.”

If her system didn’t already have one, likely, it cost more energy than she got for her allowance. She squared her jaw. “Pa, we are pioneers! We make due with what we have.”

To see links to other participants samples, check out Ruth Snyder’s blog.

Writer’s Blog Hop Week 1: Goals

I have kindly accepted an invitation from Ruth L Snyder to join her 2015 Writer’s Blog Hop. This will be going on about eight weeks, with four posts total, one every other week; on Mondays for me. Check out her website at the previous link to see her original post and go visit other participating blogs.

The topics this year are:

Week 1: Writing Goals – share what you’re planning to work on this year (January 10, 2015)
Week 2: Writing sample – share a sample from your current Work in Progress (January 24, 2015)
Week 3: Favourite character – this can be a real person or a character from one of your fiction stories (February 7, 2015)
Week 4: Lifelong learner – Writers need to be continuously learning. What did you learn in 2014 that helped make you a better writer? (February 21, 2015)

This week is “Writing Goals,” so let me state upfront I am a bit too free-spirited for the fine, noble tradition of goal-setting. I have tons of excuses, my favorite being Proverbs 16:9 “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” Why make my plans if we’re just going to end up going the way God wants anyway, right?

I’ve observed other goal-setters for years, at least one rather up close. It seems to me they’re often over-ambitious and don’t get to everything they’d hoped to do in a day or in a year. This leads to frustration and disappointment. To my “flexible,” “free-spirited” heart, the best way to avoid such pain is not commit myself to achieving a long list of specifics by rigid deadlines. When I have set such, they’re in smaller units, on a limited scale, things I knew I could manage without a doubt when I set the system up. Today, I often also set up some sort of agreed course of action with the other parties in advance for canceling our plans if something blocks them.

Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to “in this year ahead” goals, I often do have nebulous “penciled in” ideas. For instance, I’d like to finish what I’m currently writing this year and maybe start a next book, if marketing my work or something else important doesn’t end up needing too much time and creative energy.

In terms of publishing goals, I hope to see Helping Hands Press release more of the Web Surfer Series this year in some format, maybe even print by the end of the year. What I don’t want is to be beating myself up for not reaching bench marks I’d set for myself if the Lord has a character-building major catastrophe in mind for me instead.

If folks like me are honest with ourselves, there’s a bit of a spirit of timidity at play here, too. Are we really trusting God? Certainly, setting goals without consulting God is a good way to take a fall, but let’s be honest with ourselves. The lack of confidence that often goes with my style isn’t associated with success.

The verse that comes to my mind is Psalms 37:5, “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.” Or perhaps Proverbs 16:3, “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.”

See? Planning isn’t a bad thing, but we do need to commit our work and our plans to the Lord and seek God’s guidance on what plans to make, what goals to set, and be willing to let him redirect us. I’ve not known God to work by human time tables, though, so sometimes we do need to be open to interesting answers when we ask God with open hearts what goals God has for us in the New Year.

That Offensive Gospel

“I hope this doesn’t offend you, but . . .” Whenever I hear phrases like this, I can almost guarantee you what will follow will be unkind, hurtful, and rude to the point of offensive.

It’s pretty much an apology in advance meant, we hope, to excuse us for daring to speak our minds. Sharing an honest opinion isn’t wrong in and of itself, but apologizing for it while taking a tone and posture that dares the person to get offended is problematic to say the least. So is speaking without any regard for the other person and how they might be benefited or hurt, but simply out to demand/defend our right to think for ourselves and have our own opinion.

I am sympathetic to those of you who struggle with this, believe me. I’ve done this plenty myself.

In fact, I’ve often left off the apology in advance and just stated my views in an unconscious dare to loved ones to get offended at me for having a mind of my own. See, as a kid, it seemed like a simple difference of opinions could lead to me being punished, ultimately, for not going along with the dominant position/view in the family. If my perception was at all accurate, it seems my kin were all raised to value group think and feel threatened by individual thought.

While I am grateful for everyone in my life today for whom this isn’t true, I see too much of this kind of thing in our society, especially in relation to politics and religion.

Don’t get me wrong. Truth is absolute. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the father but by him. God never changes and neither does the Truth. There is a right and a wrong.

The thing is, we’re not God. He is the holy, unfailing definer of Truth, of what is right and wrong. We are not. We are all imperfect human beings and flawed seekers of Truth if we are following Christ. We can seek to be secure in the revealed truth of God’s word and to be confident in who Christ is. If we grow in these qualities enough, we can stand firm on this solid foundation in how we conduct our own lives and also allow others to be wrong, to allow sinners to be sinners and not be threatened by it.

We can learn to listen respectfully and to compassionately ask, “Why? What’s your story?” If we are secure enough in what we believe to do that, and listen to their testimony respectfully, we will have a stronger case when we politely ask them to respectfully listen to our testimony. I am not sure I know what we can do to change ourselves, but I know who can change us if we ask with a sincere desire to grow. Let’s stop making excuses to offend unnecessarily and ask God to teach us to give the respectful listening we want to receive.

Grief’s Wise Lesson

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” — Psalm 90:12

Grief often causes a “circling the wagons” reaction, automatically drawing together what is left. Sometimes we’d been letting the busyness of this age rob us of time with a loved one we’d always had a good relationship with. When that loved one dies, and we realize our mistake, such regret wells up, we feel compelled to warn everyone around us to stop letting busyness rob us of relationships that are far more important than the trivial things we’d pursued instead–or at least they seem so in the hour of grief.

Let’s take a step back and realize a few things. Firstly, sometimes, we were doing important work and just got out of balance. If we listen to grief, we risk ending up out of balance in the exact opposite direction and suffering for that.

Secondly, not everyone who hears the message, “spend more time with your loved ones. You never know when they’ll be gone” are in your situation. Some of them may have good reason to have separated from an abuser and cut off all contact. Indeed, God may have even told some to stay away from loved ones whose abuse tears down the work God is doing in them.

That may shock some of us. God values his masterpieces far more than we realize when we’ve been abused. I am sure it is never with joy that God tells someone to limit contact with someone else he loves, yet Christ meant it when he said “If your right hand offend you, cut it off. It is better to go Heaven maimed than to Hell whole.” When we are stronger, God may send us back, but it must come from God.

When we urge people to reconcile out of fear their loved one will die like ours did, we mean to protect them from the pain we endured. Instead, this can potentially end up being received as a guilt trip that would send an abuse victim back into a relationship that is spiritually harmful to them at this time. Let’s not do that.

Beyond that, I am concerned the classic appeal of grief may put on our friends a burden beyond their control: keeping their loved ones close to them. Not everyone has loved ones willing to do what it takes to have a real, honest, healthy relationship that is mutual, fair, and balanced. There are several different ways things could be dysfunctional, and we can’t do anything about anyone but us.

So I propose we look to God’s word for a healthier appeal in the face of grief: Praying Psalm 90:12. “Lord, teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

It is healthier to respond to death by remembering our own time on this Earth may be over in an instant. We may not know what words we speak will be the last words we ever get to speak to someone we care about. We should prayerfully consider what actions we can take to leave good memories behind with those willing to take accountability for their own actions and be in a relationship where both forgive. It is better to count our own days than the days of those around us.

Each of us is accountable for only one life: our own. Let’s seek to live to leave the legacy of a child of God who counted our days and sought to give them all to the Lord. Let’s seek to leave the legacy of seeking to live to please God alone, to trust God in all things.

Christmas Isn’t Over

Yesterday marked the first day of the Christmas season. If you’re confused by this, the Christmas season that ended yesterday is technically known as Advent. The traditional Christmas season only begins on December 25 and runs until January 6. Most protestants have gotten away from this due to anti-catholic sentiment.

My point, though, is to deliver good news to anyone upset they didn’t get their gifts in the mail soon enough (or by the right delivery method) for their gifts to get there by December 25. Your presents can arrive at the recipients’ mailing addresses as late as January 6 and still get there in time for Christmas.

Thus you also still have time to finish making or buying presents for people you realized you forgot when they remembered you. Though really we should learn to worry about that less as Christians. After all, God gives generously to people who have nothing to offer the Lord in return but grateful hearts.

Let’s also realize, according to the Five Love Languages, gifts are only one of five ways of communicating love to one another. Not every method speaks to every person. For instance, gifts and acts of service are not my native love languages. I struggle with being a bit wary of those gestures’ motives, being more likely to fear you’re trying to manipulate me than to automatically feel loved. Context makes a huge difference. When someone makes the effort to affirm me, touch me in good ways, and/or spend time interacting with me positively, then it’s much easier for me to recognize when they’re giving me either things or services as simply an expression of love.

Don’t get me wrong, I seek to know and follow the social rules of how to respond to gifts of stuff and/or services. So long as there aren’t strings attached, I do appreciate them. I just won’t feel someone’s love for me unless the person says it in my native “love” tongues.

If you’re a gift-giver frustrated that you give, and give, and give, but still get told you haven’t show enough love, I have a few tips. For starters, stop trying to say “I love you” with stuff to someone who sees it as just stuff and give them what they need to feel loved.

Second, on gift-giving occasions, look for presents that will involve you spending quality time with them, such as season tickets, passes, or gift certificates to activities/places you can do/visit together. Or look for gifts that affirm their positive character traits or which say, “I am rooting for you to succeed at what’s important to you!” If you can, make something personal. Or look for gifts that will create a sensory experience that reminds them of your hugs or other touching that is appropriate to your relationship.

It may take some experimenting this way to find the right kind of gift. If that would be too frustrating for you, try asking them if they’ve read the Five Love Languages and asking them what theirs is. If the answers are, “No, and I don’t know” offer to buy it and work through it with them. If they say they don’t have time, perhaps they will have time for this free quiz.

Or make them a book of “coupons” they can redeem for services, quality time with you, honest compliments, and good touching. The ones they redeem will give you a good indicator of what speaks to them. Since these can get lost and never redeemed, also give them a nice new pen and ask them to check off the coupons they liked best.

However you go about it, just about everyone appreciates efforts to learn how to express love to them in a way where they’ll feel loved.

If you are like me, please don’t use “gifts and/or acts of service aren’t my love language” as an excuse to not respond to them with respectful appreciation. Do consider finding another occasion to tell your loved ones about what you need to feel loved, but try to note what efforts they do make and show gratitude for them. It can be hard when we’re hungry for the expressions of love we need, I know, but as Christians we can trust God to feed us. Let’s ask God to take care of us and help us to recognize human attempts to show us love even if they don’t speak to us. Let’s ask God to help us be truly grateful.

One last thought on gratitude, the lack of it goes hand in hand with selfishness. If we think we are surrounded by selfish people, we are to some extent. If we think we are immune, though, we likely suffer an ungrateful, entitlement mentality as well as selfishness. We all must fight a natural, universal feature of the human sin nature, self-idolatry. So let’s be gracious about the “selfishness” of those around us. We may well be seeing a reflection of our own.

Note to adult survivors of child abuse: I am so sorry for saying that you, since it likely feels like you’ve been called selfish since the day you were born. Child abusers act like their children were put on Earth to meet the parents’ needs and live for the parents. In truth, the call to parenthood is a call to selflessly meet children’s needs, and the goal of parenting is to release adult children to go forth to pay it forward however God calls us to as we live for God.

To bring us back to my initial thought, Merry Christmas!