By the Book

where a love of God and good books meet

What I’m Reading: An Aria for Nick

At the risk of sounding like I’ve become the president of the Hallee Bridgeman fan club, today’s review is for An Aria for Nick. (I’m not sure that’s a thing but wouldn’t it be great if your favorite Christian authors had fan clubs? Someone should look into that.) Other than Kristen Heitzmann, I don’t think I’ve reviewed any other author’s books as frequently, but I’m always looking for a good deal and a great story. Hallee’s books often fit both categories. Besides, I’ve reviewed books one and three in the series. It only makes sense that I should go back and take care of book two! Let’s take a look at An Aria for Nick.

Sometimes life doesn’t go like we planned. Events beyond our control seem to conspire against us, or our own choices land us in the middle of consequences we never imagined. Aria and Nick understand this better than most.

Aria’s love for Nick never got a chance thanks to Nick’s stubborn refusal to entertain the idea that a girl like Aria could be interested in a boy like him. He makes sure of it when he enlists in the military.

Aria is just as headstrong. She pursues friendship with Nick throughout their school years and through letters during his time in the military. Maybe one day, Nick will see how much she cares for him. Only that day doesn’t come. Instead, Aria is met with the news that the man she loves has been killed in the line of duty.

She’s lost her hope of love with Nick, but her losses keep coming. Aria’s dream of playing piano professionally are lost when her wrist is injured. The situation leaves her no choice. Aria must find and live a new dream. This new direction puts her in contact with brilliant scientists as she works to develop nuclear technology. It also puts her in the crosshairs of the enemy when she discovers a plot to use her technology in a terrorist attack on the United States.

Aria doesn’t know who to trust. When the man she loved comes back from the dead as the one entrusted to protect her and stop the attack, Aria’s world is turned upside down. Aria and Nick must work together and trust each other in order to prevent nuclear destruction. This is made more difficult as their insecurities and the hurts of the past wreak havoc in each personal interaction. Though the feelings they shared in the past are reawakened, Aria and Nick have to choose whether to embrace those feelings or ignore them without the assurance of what each choice will bring to their futures.

Nick and Aria aren’t that different from me and you. Sure, our one true love probably didn’t come back from the dead. And most of us are probably not brilliant nuclear scientists. But when you remove all the physical trappings of the story, you find a reality that speaks to each of us. We love to plan what our futures will look like. We’re encouraged to do it from the time we are young. Don’t believe me? Did you ever have to write a “what I want to be when I grow up” essay? Our childhood is all about preparing us for the future, and we are pushed earlier and earlier to decide how we want that future to look.

Sometimes that life doesn’t go like we think it should. Events beyond our control throw us off our path and onto other foreign ones. Choices we’ve made have consequences with far more impact than we imagined possible. Even in the times when we end up at our originally planned destination, a look at the path that brought us there shows a drastically different road to success than we dreamed we would take.

When we realize this, the temptation is strong to give in to fear, doubt, hurt, and anger. As believers, we have a different option. Trust. We can’t trust things will work out the way we want them to. We can’t trust that the hurt is finished. But we can trust that God is in control. He knew the path our life would take, the good and bad choices we would make, and the ending destination before we were even born. The Psalms tell us He had every one of our days written in His book before we’d even lived one of them.

He doesn’t promise to end all the bad or surprising things in our lives. We live in a decaying, sin-marred world. Horrible things happen. The unexpected happens. But God does promise that He will be beside us in each thing we face. He will give us strength and peace and hope. The hope is that whatever happens, He will make us more into His image as we go through it with Him leading the way.

Fear and doubt no longer color our decisions. Instead, we move forward in confidence knowing God is by our side no matter what the future holds.

Different Voices

“The baby owls thought (all owls think a lot) – ‘I think she’s gone hunting,’ said Sarah. ‘To get us our food!’ said Percy. ‘I want my mommy!’ said Bill.” – Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

Mother Owl and Babies

 All parents of small children know there are some nights you dread story time. When your little angel asks you to read Elmo Blows His Nose (I made that title up, but you know they publish things like this all the time) or some other equally unimpressive and unimaginative story for the thousandth time, all you can do is suffer through. You remind yourself that you’re spending time with your child and instilling a life-long love of reading (at least that’s what the research says).

But there are those nights when the book really is a wonderful story and a joy to read. I always felt that way about Owl Babies. The premise is simple and taps into every young child’s need for family and security. The illustrations are dark and earthy, perfect for a story about owls in the woods. But what I really loved about reading Owl Babies to my children was the fun I got to have playing with voices.

Sarah, Percy, and Bill are siblings as unique as my own children. Each has a different personality and way of relating to the news of their missing mother. Sarah always sounds so grown up in my head. I give her a steady, logical tone. Percy jumps on whatever bandwagon of thought Sarah voices, only he is a little younger and more excitable. That always factors into the way I read his lines. Then there’s Bill. Poor little, nearly hysterical Bill. The baby of the owl family. Each consecutive “I want my mommy!” gets a little more desperate when I read his lines. And their differences each spoke to my children in different ways. Each child had an owl sibling they related to most because the author took time to make them unique.

They may be owls in a children’s book, but what made it a joy to read Owl Babies to my children is something we need to remember in our own writing. Each character has their own personality, their own sound. The rhythm and speed with which they speak is unique. Even the area they came from plays a part in how they sound. (I can’t help but think of the line from Sweet Home Alabama. You know the one. “Honey, just cause I talk slow doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”) And a character’s actions before, during, and after they speak can highlight their differences even more.

It’s important to consider all of these things when writing dialog for a character. If something they say is out of their norm, it’s important to note the difference and give clues as to why it happened. Is the uneducated, poor serving girl trying to impress the rich, handsome duke? Her speech will be different when addressing him than when she is in the privacy of her own hovel.  Is the bear of a lawman dealing with a small, frightened child? He may lower himself to the child’s level and speak in softer, easier tones to coax the child into doing what is needed. But when he’s interrogating the culprit, he’s back to barking orders, red face and all.

When authors take the time to understand their character’s way of speaking and interacting with the world around them, the reader gets a more well-rounded, relatable character. It works whether that character is a person or a baby owl. By leaving the cookie cutters behind and letting each character be their own person, we give our readers more to relate to in our story. The more they relate, the more the pages will turn, and the more the messages of our stories will be heard.

By the Book: It’s important to remember God gifted each of us with unique personalities, interests, and experiences. Sometimes it’s hard, but try to take time to appreciate these differences I the people you interact with each day. When it’s especially hard, make it a practice to think about the difference you are having trouble with and turn it around. When could that trait come in handy? What situation might benefit from having that personality type? Thank God for His foresight to make us each uniquely suited for the purpose He has for us.  

What I’m Reading: Just the Way You Are

I’m from small town southern Illinois. Though Carbondale has Southern Illinois University to make it more recognizable, the small village of Makanda can only boast of being one of the places where the 2017 eclipse could be seen for the longest amount of time and for Vulture Fest. Yes, Vulture Fest. No, I’ve never been. Though that’s really not surprising. Makanda is actually very large in area, and as most residents do, I end up in Carbondale more often than the tiny strip of eclectic stores making up Makanda’s business district.

Being from a small, rural town surrounded by other small, rural towns has its advantages. It also has drawbacks. One of these is the country drawl prevalent in the area. It’s not a pretty southern drawl or the twang of the southwest. It’s less refined. Hick is the term most often used.

As a kid I fought that way of speaking. I worked hard to make sure my pronunciation and vocabulary were not filled with the southern Illinois vernacular. I thought I was doing a great job, until I went to summer camp in Peoria, Illinois. Peoria is about 4 hours north of where I live. Kids came from all over Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, and other states for camp.

Imagine my surprise when all the work I’d done to distance myself from the southern Illinois sound was repeatedly met with, “Are you from the south?” Every northerner I met decided I was not just from the south, but from the deep south. Over and over I explained I was not from Mississippi or Alabama or any other southern state. I was from Illinois just like most of them. So much for my efforts to conceal my vocal heritage.

Adulthood has brought perspective. I’m more appreciative of the benefits of small town life, and the downsides don’t bother me as much. (I admit I still cringe when I hear myself say “fer” instead of for, but I’m working on it!) I love where I grew up, bad grammar and all. I try to bring that to my writing (the love, not the bad grammar!). That same attitude is part of the reason I enjoyed Pepper Basham’s Just the Way You Are.

Eisley Barrett grew up in the Appalachian region, but the story starts with a trip to England to find answers to a family mystery. In addition to meeting wonderful new friends,Eisley has a real life adventure on her quest to find answers her dying uncle needs to finish the book he’s writing.

Though initially drawn to her due to a cynical nature that insists Eisley is a gold digger out to take his family fortune or ruin their good name, Wes Harrison finds he’s drawn to her for other reasons as well. As their friendship progresses, Wes enjoys the opportunity to solve the mystery with Eisley.

As their relationship progresses, it’s time for Eisley to return home. She and Wes have enough emotional baggage from the past to make the distance between England and Virginia seem like child’s play. This baggage comes back to wreak havoc on their relationship and threatens to tear them apart.

This is the first book by Pepper Basham I’ve read. She does a wonderful job of telling an entertaining story. The differences in how Eisley and Wes were raised and currently live are explored and alternately provide helpings of drama and comedy for the reader.

Respect for both ways of life are easily seen. Pros and cons of each are laid out for the reader to enjoy. In the end, it’s a great reminder that our differences can bring us together or tear us apart. It’s all in how we want to look at them.

By the Book: We’re all different. Think of someone you’ve had trouble working or ministering with and pray for God to show you how to celebrate your differences to make the job/ministry stronger.

Praying for You

Prayer has always been an important part of my life as a believer. I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as a prayer warrior. And I’m probably not going to be the one who stops to pray with you in the middle of Wal-mart when we run into each other, unless you ask. Then I will. Otherwise, I’ll take your concern home with me and include it in my daily times of prayer. But despite these shortcomings in my praying, I know how vital prayer can be in our lives.

I’ve seen God work through prayer time and again in my own life and the lives of those around me. I’ve seen God change circumstances. I’ve seen God heal. I’ve seen God provide, lead, and strengthen through prayer. More often than not, I’ve experienced God changing my heart and mind about things through prayer. I’ve drawn close to Him through worshipful prayer. I’ve cried to Him in my darkest times. I’ve surrendered my dreams, my desires for my family, and my will to His many times through prayer. Prayer is powerful.

Prayer is also a gift. It’s our way to come to our heavenly Father with the good, the bad, and the ugly and watch what He does with it. And it’s a gift we’re meant to share with others. Scripture tells us to bear one another’s burdens and to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. One of the best ways we can do this is by taking one another to God in prayer. Consider how often Paul spoke of keeping fellow believers in prayer. It was important then, and it is important now.

Prayer isn’t like wishing on a star or rubbing the genie’s lamp. We don’t throw out everything we want and sit back and watch it fall from the sky. God’s hears and answers the prayers of those who follow Him. Scripture promises that. What it doesn’t promise is that our prayers will be answered exactly how we think it should be done. It says if we ask anything according to His will God hears us. That’s probably the hardest part of prayer. Telling God what our very human selves want out of a situation but accepting the attitude of “not my will but Yours be done” in our hearts. Those are some of the times when God’s answer might be a change of heart instead of a change of circumstance.

Another time we might require an attitude check is when God’s plan takes time. My mother and I have met daily for almost a year for prayer together. There was a family situation that came up that drove us to our knees. There was nothing we could do to change it, and the throne of God was the best place for it anyway. Like I said, it’s been almost a year. We’ve seen God moving in the situation through that time, but we’ve only recently seen more substantial change in what’s happening. We continue to pray trusting it to work out God’s will, God’s way. We’ve grown a lot through the year. So has our list of people and situations to pray for. Even when this situation is fully resolved, we will continue praying for the needs of our friends and family and praising God for what He has done, is doing, and will do in the future.

As a writer of faith, I covet your prayers for my writing ministry. I desire to do only what God would have me do in the way He would have me do it. But I also want to encourage and lift up my readers, both of my blog and my books. To do so, I’m going to ask for prayer requests during the last week of each month. I will use whatever prayer requests and praises you pass on in my prayer times during the next month. I will start with the month of August. You can put your requests and praises in the comments, or you can message me with them anytime. I look forward to praying for you!

Full of Character Author Interview with Misty Phillip

I had the pleasure of meeting today’s guest at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in May. I got to know her through some shared workshops, and I enjoy following her posts on social media. I hope we have the opportunity to get together again at next year’s conference.

This being my first non-fiction author interview, I tweaked my questions a bit. I hope this interview gives you a little peek into Misty’s heart for God and the ministry He’s blessed her with.

1. As a non-fiction writer, you are the character readers want to know. Tell us a little about yourself.
First and foremost, I am passionately in love with Jesus! I have an amazing husband Peter, who is my best friend. We have three sons who have grown up way too fast! I am so thankful I left my corporate career from a Fortune 2 company to raise and homeschool my boys. Next year is our final year to homeschool after twenty years! 
When my eldest son started college, I began praying about what I would do once we finished homeschooling. After the painful loss of a child and a bicycle accident that  broke both of my arms I felt God calling me to write and speak. I surrendered to that call in 2016 and started a blog, and began writing and speaking. Which led to a podcast called BY HIS GRACE that launched on January 1, 2019, and a Bible Study entitled The Struggle is Real: But So is God launched in May 2019.
2. Everyone writes for someone. Can you describe the person you write for and why it’s important to you to write for them?
Knowing your audience is so important, and it took me a little bit of time to hone in on this. What I have discovered is I write for the person who has experienced difficult trials and is weary. Women that need encouragement and to be reminded that God has good for them and that He is with them in the battle. After many difficult years of back to back traumatic events, I began to feel discouraged, but I knew Jesus came that I would have abundant life. I started pouring over the scriptures, and the WORD OF GOD became my lifeline for hope. I don’t want anyone to feel discouraged and alone. I want them to know that through Jesus, anything is possible and that He is trustworthy.  
3. Can you think of a fictional character from books you’ve read that has impacted you more than any others?
Christianna deeply impacted me from Kay Arthur’s book, With an Everlasting Love. Christianna has to choose between living for today and trusting in the promise of enduring love. As a young person, I lived for myself and looked for anything but God to satisfy the longings in my heart that only He could fill, but God so rich in mercy in grace loves us with an everlasting love. 
4.Scripture is full of real people who had character to spare. Which one do you most relate to or enjoy reading about?
The Samaritan women at the well was a mess, but once she receives the living water from Jesus, her life is radically transformed. She immediately goes to everyone about her encounter. Jesus knew her sin, and he knows our sins too. Yet, He chooses to use flawed, sinful individuals to share his love with the world. No one is beyond His saving, and He will use us despite our past mistakes, and that gives me hope.
5.If someone wrote a movie about you, who would you like to play your character? Why?
I love this question, and I would like to answer by saying something like a beautiful brunette like Julia Roberts, but the truth is our outward beauty is fading. Only the things that are done for Christ will last, so I would want someone to play me that was passionately in love with Jesus! Because when people see me, I want them to know a woman who has been radically changed by the love of Jesus. 

I’d like to thank Misty for showing us a little bit of her world today. My interviews are conducted through email and reading Misty’s answers made me wish I was interviewing by phone! There were so many times I wanted to make comments or ask for further information. Her Bible study is definitely being added to my TBR list.

If you enjoyed this interview and would like to know more about Misty, head over to her website at MistyPhillip.com. You’ll find links to her podcast, blog, and Instagram. Plus, you can learn more about her Bible study, The Struggle is Real but So is God.

Win Doughnuts, Coffee, and a Good Book

I’m hosting a contest, open to those in the United States, on my Facebook page. You can find me by searching Author Heather Greer. Follow the directions in the contest post and you’ll be entered to win one of six e-book and gift card prizes!

What I'm Reading: Courting Calla

The sun is shining and the blue sky is dotted with fluffy white clouds. After what seems like endless rain in southern Illinois, it is finally a beautiful summer day. Of course the sun brings heat, which I’ve never dealt well with. Maybe that’s why I favor autumn. There is one thing I enjoy about summer. It’s not the beach. I don’t go swimming very often. It’s not hiking. I’ll wait until cooler weather when stepping on a copperhead is less of a possibility. It’s not even grilling out. We don’t save that for summer in my house. We grill all year long.
In summer, the one perk that comes with the heat is that it’s the perfect weather to enjoy a tall glass of ice cold lemonade. There is nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day than the sweet, tanginess of lemonade. It doesn’t have to be fresh, but it does have to be good. No canned lemonade. If I’m not making it myself, I’ll spring for the good stuff. My absolute favorite is Simply Lemonade’s Raspberry Lemonade. One glass has the perfect balance of flavor for cooling off during the hot summer days.
There are days I need a lemonade type book to read. Long, tiring, stressful weeks cry out for a quick, refreshing dose of fiction with just the right amount of sweet and strife. As I’ve been trying to adjust to a new schedule and job, it’s definitely been one of those weeks. I wanted a refreshing story to help calm my mind and entertain me. God blessed me by bringing Courting Calla by Hallee Bridgeman to my attention.
Calla’s crush on Ian has gone unnoticed in the years they’ve worked for the same company. Though in the same business, one is high up the ladder of executive success while the other struggles to make ends meet with her clerical job.  It’s not hard to understand how she’s seen him but until her broken down car forces the issue, he’s not seen her.
Misunderstanding and embarrassment bring Ian and Calla together. Shared interests and easy conversation keep them coming back to each other. The dark clouds on the horizon of their summer sky are those that come from two ends of the social spectrum coming together and a secret shame Calla has shared only with her closest friend.
Calla’s own step-mother has been using her identity for years, piling up debt in Calla’s name. Grief and embarrassment have kept Calla from having the funds to pursue her culinary education while enslaved to bills she should never have been responsible for. Just as she’s ready to handle the situation, the truth comes out in a devastating way.  Her predicament is hard enough to face, but when it leaves Ian wondering if she thought he was her ticket out of trouble instead of the love of her life, things go from bad to worse.
You’ll have to read Courting Calla for yourself to find out if blue skies return for Ian and Calla. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, I think you should enjoy it this summer with a tall glass of ice-cold lemonade for a refreshing afternoon all around.
By the Book: Great stories and cool drinks are wonderful for refreshing yourself after a long week. But don’t forget you need times of spiritual refreshing too. While you may enjoy the ministries God has brought into your life, they still demand time, energy, and focus. Giving without taking time to recharge isn’t good for you or for those you’re ministering to. Find a quiet place to meditate on a favorite Psalm. Follow it up with your favorite praise music and a time of thankful prayer.
Check out Courting Calla for yourself:

What I’m Reading: Courting Calla

The sun is shining and the blue sky is dotted with fluffy white clouds. After what seems like endless rain in southern Illinois, it is finally a beautiful summer day. Of course the sun brings heat, which I’ve never dealt well with. Maybe that’s why I favor autumn. There is one thing I enjoy about summer. It’s not the beach. I don’t go swimming very often. It’s not hiking. I’ll wait until cooler weather when stepping on a copperhead is less of a possibility. It’s not even grilling out. We don’t save that for summer in my house. We grill all year long.

In summer, the one perk that comes with the heat is that it’s the perfect weather to enjoy a tall glass of ice cold lemonade. There is nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day than the sweet, tanginess of lemonade. It doesn’t have to be fresh, but it does have to be good. No canned lemonade. If I’m not making it myself, I’ll spring for the good stuff. My absolute favorite is Simply Lemonade’s Raspberry Lemonade. One glass has the perfect balance of flavor for cooling off during the hot summer days.

There are days I need a lemonade type book to read. Long, tiring, stressful weeks cry out for a quick, refreshing dose of fiction with just the right amount of sweet and strife. As I’ve been trying to adjust to a new schedule and job, it’s definitely been one of those weeks. I wanted a refreshing story to help calm my mind and entertain me. God blessed me by bringing Courting Calla by Hallee Bridgeman to my attention.

Calla’s crush on Ian has gone unnoticed in the years they’ve worked for the same company. Though in the same business, one is high up the ladder of executive success while the other struggles to make ends meet with her clerical job.  It’s not hard to understand how she’s seen him but until her broken down car forces the issue, he’s not seen her.

Misunderstanding and embarrassment bring Ian and Calla together. Shared interests and easy conversation keep them coming back to each other. The dark clouds on the horizon of their summer sky are those that come from two ends of the social spectrum coming together and a secret shame Calla has shared only with her closest friend.

Calla’s own step-mother has been using her identity for years, piling up debt in Calla’s name. Grief and embarrassment have kept Calla from having the funds to pursue her culinary education while enslaved to bills she should never have been responsible for. Just as she’s ready to handle the situation, the truth comes out in a devastating way.  Her predicament is hard enough to face, but when it leaves Ian wondering if she thought he was her ticket out of trouble instead of the love of her life, things go from bad to worse.

You’ll have to read Courting Calla for yourself to find out if blue skies return for Ian and Calla. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, I think you should enjoy it this summer with a tall glass of ice-cold lemonade for a refreshing afternoon all around.

By the Book: Great stories and cool drinks are wonderful for refreshing yourself after a long week. But don’t forget you need times of spiritual refreshing too. While you may enjoy the ministries God has brought into your life, they still demand time, energy, and focus. Giving without taking time to recharge isn’t good for you or for those you’re ministering to. Find a quiet place to meditate on a favorite Psalm. Follow it up with your favorite praise music and a time of thankful prayer.

Check out Courting Calla for yourself:

Write Stuff Wednesday: Love You Forever

child“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” – Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

I doubt any children’s book garners reactions as strong as those elicited by Love You Forever. Those reacting in the negative find it kind of creepy. The elderly mother pretty much drives across town, breaks into her son’s home, and holds him like a small child to sing him her song of love. I get the creepy vibe, but it is only a story meant to bring home a point. I can overlook that particular part of it.

For others, the book is a wonderful story of a parent’s unending, never changing love for her child. At each stage of his life, the mother never fails to remind her child that her love won’t fade away. When she is too weak to sing her song to him, the son responds to that constant love by singing the song back to her and then continuing the song by singing it to his newborn daughter.

Anyone who has spent time with children know there are less than lovable times. Whether it’s fits in the toddler years, questioning authority in the junior high years, out and out rebelling in the teen years, or knowing everything there is to know about life in early adulthood, a parent’s patience and child-rearing know-how is tested at various times throughout the process of raising their children.

Even if we remember to cherish each stage of development, we pray for strength to survive it and bring our child through it successfully. We hurt with them when they fail, even as we encourage them to get back up again knowing they’ve not learned yet and will fall again. We repeatedly face disappointment and frustration as we watch our children act against what we’ve taught them. At their worst times of disrespect and disregard, our patience wears thin.

But even when we’re pushed to our limits, our love remains strong. No matter what our children do, we love them. We may not agree with their choices. As they choose paths better left untraveled, we hurt for them. We pray for them and try to guide them as we see them head toward sin. The pain and frustration we feel runs deep as we watch our children choose lives that take them further from God instead of to Him. But even then, we love them.

It’s a stunning picture of God’s love for us. We have hurt, disappointed, and betrayed Him time and again. We’ve chosen to ignore Him to go our own way until the results of our choices send us crying to Him to fix the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. When He doesn’t fix it, we treat Him like He’s the one responsible for our pain.

We act this way even though He’s given us everything. In our sin, God is the one who provided the way for us to be reconciled to Him. He is the One who sent His Son to die on the cross in our place to take the punishment for sin that only we deserve. He is the One who promises to make us His children and heirs with Christ when we accept Him as our Lord and Savior. He gave us His Holy Spirit to live in our hearts so we can know and follow Him better in our earthly lives. He allows us to be part of reaching others with the gospel. And He promises one day we will spend eternity in His presence.

God hasn’t blessed us with these things because we deserve it. Our continued failure to turn to Him, seek Him out, learn from Him, and live the way He wants us to live is proof enough that we aren’t deserving. But God gives anyway. Though our continued sin and reluctance to follow after Him in everything we say and do has to sadden our Heavenly Father, He always forgives. Though He doesn’t always remove our consequences, He is always willing to bring something eternally beautiful from the chaos we find ourselves in. God does all this for one reason. Love.

Jeremiah 31:3 is God’s own Love You Forever to us. He tells us, “‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.'” Everlasting is forever. It isn’t contingent on us. It relies solely on God’s love, on God being love. 1 John 3:1 reminds us that it is God’s love lavished on us that allows us to be called children of God. His love isn’t dribbled down over us. It is poured in abundance over us.

God’s love is freely given to everyone. We don’t earn it through being good. God acted in love toward us while sin still made us His enemy. We can see what love is not because “we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins”.

Unlike our fallible love, limited by our weaknesses, God’s love for us will never fail to do what’s best for us. It will never let us down, no matter what our circumstances may try to tell us. It is forever, unchanging, and perfectly given. God will love us forever and for eternity His children we will be.

The Sympathetic Antagonist

phantomI posted an informal poll on Facebook asking readers whether they rooted for the Phantom or Raoul to end up with Christine at the end of The Phantom of the Opera movie.

One commenter asked, “Why would you choose the controlling, reclusive psychopath?” In the real world, I most definitely wouldn’t. The character of the phantom was a controlling murderer. I would never encourage anyone to be in a relationship like this. His control over her and his surroundings and disregard for life were apparent. He is blatant in his tactics and you can easily avoid them, unless, apparently, you are Christine.

Raoul is also manipulative and controlling. He’s simply more understated with it. He tells Christine her fears are unfounded. He encourages her that all she needs is him in her life to be protected. If she will walk away from the bad, the life he gives her will be practically perfect. He downplays her feelings for the phantom as not real. She could never actually have any positive feelings for such a monster unless brainwashed.  That being the case, what she feels for him is unimportant and should be dismissed.

Christine is better off on her own. She needs to figure herself out before committing to a man. Her trauma started with losing her father, continued as she mistakenly associated the phantom with a promised otherworldly guide sent by her father, and then was rounded out with the fear inducing events of the movie. She’s been through a lot emotionally, and it would be best for her mental and emotional health to process these things before pursuing a committed relationship.

But that’s not the point. Focusing on character, I want to look at the phantom again. He is clearly the antagonist. He is an obsessive, controlling murderer. Yet there are people that struggle with his loss at the end of the movie. Why? Why would intelligent, emotionally balanced individuals who would NEVER condone such relationships in real life be left feeling less than satisfied at the end of the movie?

The answer is a key to making our own antagonists better. Without background information, the phantom is only evil bent on the destruction of everything to get what he wants.  In this one sided world he is completely selfish and there is nothing about him to garner anyone’s sympathy. We would actively cheer for his demise as good triumphs over what is so clearly evil.

But we are given the phantom’s history. Tortured and unloved, his first memories of life are horrific. His own mother didn’t want him and thought him a monster. She’s probably the one who sent him to his childhood tormentor. To escape abuse and constant public humiliation, he has to kill the man who has caged him for financial gain. To stay safe, he lives apart from everyone in the network of tunnels running under the theater. He’s learned there is little to no compassion for one like himself. Though he’s around people, he is on the outside, a feral child looking in at what he cannot be part of.

Through Christine he finds a way to interact with the world. He helps her improve her singing. Her voice becomes his voice to the public. He is obsessed but believes it’s love. All he knows of love is the messed up version he’s seen lived out on stage. When his “love” is threatened, the phantom reacts, escalating in his protection of that relationship. As she chooses Raoul, he lashes out in retaliation against those who would take not only his voice but also his love from him.

When Christine reaches out to him in the end, the truth begins shine through. Love doesn’t despise based on the flesh. Even he can be treated with compassion. To make sure the one they love has what is best for them, a person will give up their own wants. For the first time, the phantom begins to understand love and responds with his first action of real love in allowing Raoul and Christine to go free. It breaks his heart and he hopes she will choose him, but he lets her leave. Then, he leaves the only life he’s known taking nothing with him except her ring. He loves her throughout her life, letting her live in peace with Raoul. We see it in the rose and ring left on her grave. He loved her by letting her choose and going on without her.

Because the one who created the phantom’s character gave us insight into his past, we get to see him as more than evil. He is broken. The tormented became tormentor to protect the life he knows. And because he is not evil for evil’s sake, because he shows signs of growth in the end, we are left with the hope that he does become more than what he’s been. His pain brings our compassion, and that compassion coupled with the promise of change leaves some wishing it could be different for him.

As a writer I want to remember this when writing antagonists. Unless I’m writing a purely evil character, I need to give them motivation. I need to give them hurts and triumphs and losses. The only thing that separates the antagonists from the protagonists is what they do with those events.

It’s been said that an antagonist is the protagonist in his own mind.  As a writer I must remember to show this to the reader. I must leave my antagonists vulnerable and redeemable. In doing so, I create a character who is more relatable and realistic. I give permission to the reader to feel compassion for the way the antagonist’s hurts have shaped his life while still holding him accountable and avoid writing into my story a cartoon villain whose sole purpose is causing trouble or inflicting pain.

 

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