Christ's Glory, Not Mine

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

Book Review: Blood Tithe

bloodtitheWhispers from Forbidden Earth: Blood Tithe by Mark Venturini is Urban Fantasy suitable for the middle grades reader in your family and anyone looking for a clean read. It makes use of familiar, well-known creatures of legend without ripping off Tolkien as well as the Seelie/Unseelie fae courts only familiar to me as H. A. Titus uses them in her urban fantasy, too. The pre-release copy I received contained some typographical errors that I’m going to hope have been fixed.

This is a sequel and while it can be read and enjoyed alone, the references to past events from the previous book are more appreciated and the reading experience enriched if you’ve read it. Both books together make it clear Mark has spent some time developing the primary fantasy world in his series and the various ways to make journeys from there to Earth and back again.

A few elements of the good guys’ magic reminded me of paganism uncomfortably; if you are especially sensitive take note, but folks who don’t like stories with Christian influences should be advised it does have faith elements. Melchizedek the High Priest is borrowed from the Bible and turned into a mage from Eversong (the fantasy world). He’s so far only back story. I’m curious if that character will eventually turn up in this series as the Christ-figure his name implies. The magi’s staffs are the most refreshing, unique element—those critters are pieces of wood with eyes and an ability to talk and think and communicate with the characters with a gift for telepathy, like the elf with a dragon friend rightfully annoyed she’s treated like a free taxi. The young heroes are likable, flawed but clearly good, which is nice to see in this day and age.

Note, this is volume one of a serialized novel so it contains only the first seven chapters/episodes. I look forward to the rest.


Hope for Lock Box Hearts

lockbox heart

In my mid-teens, I wrote the following poem:

The Box

I locked my heart in a tin box
And threw away the key.
I ran from all like the fox,
But someday it will return to me.

Though I lost my tin box in my flight,
It returned to me to my surprise.
But alas, where is the key?
Without it, there is no hope for me.

So I must ask: Who has my key?
Would you please return it to me?

Guess who had the key?

When I look through the poetry I wrote in my teens, the ones not dedicated to Jesus, or not overtly about difficulties at school or home, were all about my imaginary boyfriend—or rather my hoped-for future husband–or crying after my imaginary ex-boyfriend had imaginarily beat me or otherwise broken my heart.

Yep, I was *that* kind of teenage girl once. This one was straight up a poetic confession about my defense mechanisms, hyper vigilance, on guard, emotionally withdrawn—in short, I was often too busy protecting myself from pain to let anyone in to love me, either. I had a lot of issues with going numb, shutting down, just going through the motions of life, only remembering what I needed to remember to function and survive at the time. It left most of my childhood a huge blank today with few memories retained. I fled into books and story worlds, both those others wrote and stuff I wrote—and I can remember the paracosms I created fairly well with a little effort.

As implied by the second stanza, to my surprise, God managed to reach me, to connect with a locked-up heart, teach me to trust the Lord and let in my Father God’s spirit, and submit to the long, slow, painful healing process. It began with an awareness of the dangers of my state and a desire for healing and freedom.

As a young, emotionally abused teenager, I imagined what I needed for my heart to heal and for me to come out of my shell was the love of the right boy. I also wanted my first serious boyfriend to be the man I married and to marry the one God meant for me to marry. God only gave me the second. When I met my husband, Adam, in college, I was no longer hoping God would send me a mortal man to rescue me as the Church’s Bridegroom was the great love of my life healing, teaching, and spiritually growing me, and helping me connect with others. I still have issues but I’m far better than I used to be.

you had mineI’d forgotten all about this poem when, for our anniversary one year, Adam got me a cutesy card with a heart on it and an attached key meant to go on a charm bracelet. The words inside read, “you’ve had mine from the start.”

Nonetheless, my heart seized, though consciously I was more thinking “aw” at the intended meaning that I had the key to Adam’s heart in a romantic way.

Yet a young woman with a heart on fire for Jesus tore that key off the card and placed it on the cross necklace I’ve worn regularly ever since I received it as a gift from Adam back when we were engaged. In fact, I pried apart the loop that connects the cross to the chain (shoelace really) and added the key to the cross charm.

The jewelry that I wear around my neck, personally, has powerful symbolic meaning to me; what I wear over my heart is a testimony to—and a personal reminder—of what is supreme in my heart. God’s even convicted me for having added to the chain an angel charm that I’d dedicated to the children I’ve lost before they ever got to be more than a dream in my heart. (Note: my ‘angel babies’ aren’t literally angels.) God let that go for years; only when I was ready to surrender them to God was I asked to put that one away.

God had previously talked to me about idolizing my husband and dealt with that heart issue without the key charm ever being mentioned. When I got on a roll and went to remove everything I’d hung beside the cross, and saw how I’d even chained the key physically to the cross, I actually felt convicted to leave it and God began showing me what it really was meant to represent.

The answer to the prayer of the young girl I’d been. God owns my heart, so the key to my heart was God’s from the start. God thus had the key, and God had returned it to me as I’d so earnestly prayed. The symbolic one coming to me via my husband is gently humorous as when I wrote that I’d still been foolishly imaging a husband could ever do more than hand me powerful symbols that remind me of inward, unseen realities and be a vessel of God’s grace.

I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
–Joel 2:25-27


Balance

Balance

photo:

It’s tough to keep our balance. I have a weakness for losing my balance in the literal physical sense and metaphorically in life. I have a tendency to fall/slump to one side and this leads to pain on the other side, or in compensating I can over correct and ouch again.

So where do I get off priding myself on my balance?

On theology and general controversial issues,that’s where. When I don’t have anything better to do, I carefully study a matter of interest online, here both sides’ arguments, and find as many ways to tick off both as possible with my take. It usually is fairly easy to do in our deeply divided society. An us versus them mentality reigns today. If they take X stance, they are the enemy, so I will take Y stance, which is the exact opposite, because they are the enemy.

That isn’t the way Christians are supposed to decide where we stand. We’re supposed to prayerfully turn to the Bible for moral guidance through dark and troubled waters and seek out where Christ stands and seek strength from Christ to stand with Christ, regardless of where the rest of “our” group or the rest of “their” group happens to be, if God’s shown us from the Word, and we’re not making God our puppet and forcing the Word to okay our own sinful desires.

No doubt I am not nearly as good as that as I like to think. Like I said starting off, balance is a weak area that I struggle with a lot in the flesh in many areas. Most left of center would at a glance pin me down as a far right-wing conservative, a “legalistic nut job” who only wears skirts, would home school if God gave me children, who married my best friend after a one-week courtship that came after months of pretending my boyfriend was still only my best friend and finding dozens of ways to say “I love you” without actually saying “I love you” to get around a self-imposed definitely legalistic rule. Hey, we were young and still learning wisdom.

In this heavily divided “us” or “them” climate, I don’t expect to impress “them” or “us” with my efforts at fairness, listening to all sides and evaluating scientific facts for whether they’re actual science or mere propaganda, at showing I am in fact listening despite stubbornly staying standing on the Bible. I expect “them” to call me one of “us” and say everything they say about “us” about me anyway. I’m also braced for “us” to accuse me of being a traitor, etc.

Sometimes, I hope to be clearly a conservative Christian who isn’t stupid and knows how to think for myself rather than just repeat party lines. To be fair, my ears truthfully hear from all sides party lines being mindlessly repeated without really digging into a matter, including from some who pride themselves on being intellectuals or even free-thinkers. No doubt I have done that kind of thing myself in lazy moments where something was “obvious” at a glance.

Perhaps balance isn’t easy for anyone. Perhaps sometimes we’re stronger in weak areas when we know we’re weak and seek to overcome it. Perhaps some of us have medical conditions that give us difficulty balancing in some areas, but not in others, and the problem won’t just go away if we try hard enough. Perhaps we do all need sometimes to latch onto Christ’s hand and let him lead us. He may leave physical imbalances to remind us to stay close, but he’ll slowly bring us into spiritual balance.


Notice

At Povbootcamp.com, I am resuming my editor website’s series of character interviews. Recently, I had the delight of chatting with Dallas Keegan, the determined detective in Grave Obsessions, a novel released through Helping Hands Press on 3/22/15 by Patti J. Smith.

She also interviewed me at her blog, Gridiorn Granny, Football Fanatic, as part of her “An author speaks” series.

Authors, I’d love to interview your character, too, and you’re also welcome to send me a guest blog post for this website that fits its primary theme of “Christ’s Glory, Not Mine.” It can be a personal testimony. It can tie-in to your book (so long as it edifies my readers) or you can simply include links in your bio.