Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: C.S. Lewis

Right Stuff Wednesday:New Growth

grape hyacinth“No great wisdom can be reached without sacrifice.” The Magician’s Nephew – C.S. Lewis

I have a flower garden in my front yard. Well, technically it’s true. I have a spot dedicated to growing flowers, but my roses are dead. The trees growing in them saw to that. And I’m pretty sure my hydrangea has decided against life this year. I knew better than getting plants that need constant care and attention. I’ve never been good at remembering to feed, water, and prune my flowers. Due to lack of care-taking most things I plant end up dead.

In fact, the only thing even close to growing in my garden is a sprinkling of grape hyacinth. Even these grow outside the borders of the garden. And they come up each year through no help from me. They are remnants of a garden past.

Before the rose bushes and hydrangea I had the brilliant idea of planting a bulb garden. I love tulips, iris,and daffodils. Not only are these beautiful flowers to look at, they are also flowers you can plant once and not have to replace each year. For a non-gardener it was a definite bonus.

I planted my garden and waited until the next spring, eager for the bright spots of color. Nothing happened. My mother assured me it can take a couple years for bulbs to really take root and grow. The next year brought only a couple flowers. The third year offered no more than the previous two.

It was around year four I decided bulbs were just not meant to grow in my garden. I dug them up with a vengeance. I pulled each bulb from the dirt and tossed it into my yard. Then, I planted my roses and hydrangea. Good riddance to the bulb garden that wouldn’t grow.

Imagine my surprise when the next year, my bulbs began to come up. A few rogue bulbs must have hidden beyond my spade in the garden’s soil. Grape hyacinth and crocus peeked from the dirt in early spring. And outside the garden’s borders? I didn’t think I had planted that many flowers! It baffled me.

In the years the bulbs were planted in the garden, I weeded and watered the spot. I made sure the area had adequate sunshine. I thought it was everything my bulbs needed, but I was wrong. The soil had settled. Left on its own the ground I expected to grow my bulbs became their tomb. Little could get through the packed dirt. My bulbs needed the soil surrounding them shaken up. Only when I loosened the dirt did my bulbs finally begin to grow.

Sacrifice, change, adversity. These are events in our lives that often cause fear and anxiety. The unknown (or the known we perceive as negative) seems far beyond our control and the idea that the end could mean unavoidable disaster is unsettling to say the least. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The circumstances in our lives may very well cause pain. They shake loose the dirt around the carefully constructed garden of our lives. They leave us wondering if it would be better to simply start over. But God is a master gardener. He can use those times in our lives to get to the seed of faith within and get it to grow in ways we never imagined.

God promises to use all situations in our lives to bring good if we will let Him do His work. It may sound cliche because we hear it so often, but this scriptural promise is truth. It’s not saying God will make the rain disappear and allow only rainbows and sunshine. The rain is needed as much as the sun. And God knows how much of each will create the perfect blossom in our lives.

If you wonder how this can be true, take a look at David. Hunted at times by the current king and later his own flesh and blood, there were definite storms in his life. But in those times, God was shaping David into the leader He wanted. David’s heart of worship was poured out in the creation of several psalms during these times. Not only did these words bring peace and hope to his life, but they’ve survived centuries to bring the same to our lives.

Look at Esther. She was plucked from her people and subjected to a beauty contest. The prize was marrying a difficult king she didn’t love. Though she found favor with him, her people were threatened with genocide. She had to go against the required royal protocol and put her own life in jeopardy in order to bring her fears to her husband’s attention. The end result? God used Esther to safeguard the nation of Israel. He used her to unite the people in prayer. He used her to show His chosen people He would be with them wherever they went.

These stories are only a couple of the many from the Bible and our lives that bring to life the truth of the scripture we hear so often. They give us hope when life gets tough. They remind us that this is how our garden of faith grows.

Write Stuff Wednesday 7

roses-2840743_960_720“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” C. S. Lewis

When I type the word smile and search for synonyms, I get six different options. If I do an internet search, one website gives me twelve. Though I have to be honest, I don’t really consider some of their choices exact synonyms.

Our language is full of variations for individual words, and an author has to be careful to choose their words wisely.

He leered at her.

It sounds bad. I wouldn’t want to be the object of his look. Is he a stalker? Is he planning an attack? I don’t really want to find out.

He smirked at her.

It’s a little less bad. He’s probably a little arrogant, and she probably just said something he found less than worthy. If she sees it, the look is likely to do one of two things. It could embarrass her. It could also make her angry if she doesn’t believe he’s everything he thinks he is.

He grinned at her.

Without any other context, this could be good or bad. But for the most part, we see a grin as a good thing. It’s playful, happy, and friendly. Maybe she just said something funny. Or maybe he’s shy and the grin is how he’s trying to show that he likes her.

All three are very different sentences, but all three words are included in the list of synonyms for smile. It’s the author’s job to know which one will best fit their story and avoid giving the reader the wrong ideas.  The word or phrase has to fit the specific action and the intensity of the scene.

Choosing the wrong word can be damaging to the story you want to tell, but choosing an overused word or phrase can be just as harmful. When a word or phrase has been used to the point of becoming cliché it loses its power. At that point, your message is worse than lost. It’s boring.

Have you ever heard a small child trying to learn the art of telling jokes? We laugh politely at first wanting to encourage them. They know they’re on the right track without understanding why. So, they continue telling the exact same joke the exact same way. Even if their experience was more organically arrived at, by making the right face at the right time or inserting an unexpected phrase into the conversation, they only understand that it brought laughter. And they keep doing it. It works for a little while. Then, the laughter stops, and they don’t understand why it isn’t funny anymore.

This is the clichéd word or phrase in our writing. It stops carrying its original weight because we’ve overused it, stripping it of its depth of meaning. As writers, we’re warned away from these powerless words.  Meaning can be restored over time, but only if the words are used correctly and sparingly.

The results of overuse reach far beyond the world of writers. Consider the word love. We have several types of love. There’s brotherly love, unconditional love, and passionate love. These three are used in scripture. In the original language they were distinct words. Yet when we translated them we had no better synonyms than love for each one. Only in looking at the context and at times a concordance can we find the intended meaning.

But it gets worse. We throw love around for everything from our latest crush to the new cupcake flavor at our local bakery. As it’s lost some of its depth, the word has come to symbolize nothing more than a feeling of want and liking. Maybe that’s why we’ve forgotten love isn’t always about making someone feel good. Sometimes, love has to take the tough path because real love, scriptural love is choosing to act in the best interests of someone else even if it isn’t easy for the one loving or the one being loved.

When Jesus pushed the rich young ruler to take a look at his allegiance to his fortune, he went away sad. He couldn’t accept Jesus’ requirement. Does that mean Jesus wasn’t loving him? Not at all. He was doing the most loving thing in pointing out what kept the man from truly following God. Even though it was hard to see, it was love that kept God from removing Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Through his struggle, Paul was able to learn to keep his focus on God and to trust in Him instead of relying on his own abilities. It was more loving for God to allow the suffering and work to grow Paul through it than for it to be removed. If removed Paul would face the temptation to put himself in God’s place as he saw his accomplishments as his own instead of God’s. God doesn’t take joy in our suffering, but He takes great joy when we allow Him to work in our suffering to make us more like Him.

Churches speak of love regularly, but the word has been watered down even in the pews. It’s time for believers to reclaim the meaning. It’s time for the church to live love like Jesus did. It’s time those who claim God in their lives begin loving not only in theory but in truth. Love should drive our actions and attitudes. When we do the hard things it should be for the best of others and in ways that leave those who are struggling to accept the truth feeling God’s love instead of feeling alone. When we do the easy things of love, it should be for God and those He loves instead of to make a name for ourselves.

By the Book: What does love mean to you? How can you help give love back its power?roses-2840743_960_720

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