Monthly Archives: September 2013

Truth From My Children

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
~1 Corinthians 1:27

“Out of the mouths of babes…” We’ve all heard this phrase and in fact it’s become a part of the common English tongue so much that it could be considered tired and overused.  Yet the truth of it remains firm: from the humblest of us can spring forth the greatest wisdom.  As for me, I’ve known for a long time that my children are the greatest reflections of myself.  Both for the better and the worse.

For any of you who have been reading this blog regularly, you will know what a challenging season my family and I are in (however if you’re new, please feel free to read any of the posts categorized under On Faith or On Life).

This weekend was filled to the rim with God speaking to Caity and me through our children. On Saturday during the torrential downpour, we served the kids’ lunches at the table and we decided to go jog the lane right outside our house…in the rain!  We threw on our running gear, checked on the kids and then hit the pavement.

By lap two, our son Sam had put on his coat and stood by the front door, yelling for us to come inside because he was afraid it might thunder.  We assured him that there would be no thunder and it was just rain.  By lap four, the rain fell even heavier and the wind picked up; both Sam and Sophia were at the front door yelling for us to come in because they were worried that it was turning into a hurricane.  We assured them that Seattle doesn’t get hurricanes and it was just really heavy rain.

By our final lap, we came in the house soaking wet and filled with joy to have been out in the serious squall, but our children were less than amused and so we used the moment to teach them that even though it was raining really hard, they were safe; we had our eyes on them the whole time and it only looked scary because they don’t fully understand the weather.

Then later on Saturday, I took Sam to be my buddy and go to Les Schwab for some new tires for the Kia.  That place is like Candyland for my son, in fact I’m quite certain that if Sam had a choice between the actual Candyland or Les Schwab, there would be no competition.

As soon as we got there, he examined the new tires on the racks, on display, and on the cars through the observation window.  He played with the brake disks on display and with the computer console that allows users to test out different rims on different car models.  This kept him busy while I read my book…for two hours.

Yet it was when I would stand up and look out the window to see if the mechanics had started on my car that Sam would stop whatever he was doing, look at me and ask: “What are you doing Dad?”  And I would tell him.  Then he would hold up his hand and say: “You’re not going to leave me?”  And I would take that moment to reassure him that I am his father; that he is more precious to me than anything else and I would never, ever leave him.  We had this interchange three times.

Finally on Sunday as we packed into the car as a family to run errands, the kids recognized that lunch time was approaching, but not yet there.  Thus began the usual rigamarole that goes something like this:

Sophia: “Is it lunch time yet?”

Parent: “Not yet.”

Viola: “Are we going out for lunch?”

Parent: “We are in the car. So yes.”

Sophia: “What are we doing for lunch?”

Parent: “Don’t know yet.”

Viola: “I don’t want hamburgers.”

Parent: “Fine.”

Sophia: “Will it be delicious?”

Parent: “Obviously.”

Samuel: “LET’S GET HUNGRY!!

Many conversations surrounding food at the Patten household resemble this interchange, usually ending with Sam getting straight to the point.  *sigh*

It wasn’t until Sunday evening when Caity and I had some downtime to engage each other that we were able to reflect and recognize the significance.  God had been speaking to us through our children the entire weekend, giving us a glimpse of His perspective…and what He has to put up with.

Our kids’ concerns reflect our own when it comes to presenting our anxieties at the feet of God: This is scary and I’m afraid…please don’t leave me…will you provide for me?  The beauty of this all is very obvious; God gave Caity and I a chance to respond to our kids’ fears in the exact way that He is responding to ours: Don’t be scared, I know what’s happening…I’m your Father and I will never leave you…when have I ever failed to provide for your needs?

Being a child of God means having to live in trust as children do.  I’ve learned how to express my concerns to my Father, but I also want to learn how to trust him quietly when He speaks and says “all will be well.”  Just as it is a challenge to have children sit still and wait upon their parents, it too is a challenge for me to learn how to “be still” and know that He is God.

How do you respond to God with your anxieties?

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

Categories: On Faith, On Life | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Writing Tip: Tortoise vs. Hare

When it comes to writing anything of length, it’s good to set a consistent pace as a guide for momentum.  Perhaps you’re an athlete at the keyboard and your fingers can pound out 200wpm; or more likely, if you’re like me, it’s a fraction of that speed (a small fraction).  I have to remind myself that speed doesn’t matter…quality does.

If I don’t have much time to write, but can find any brief moment in my day, I tend to set a one-page goal to accomplish.  It’s not much and can feel like being a tortoise instead of a hare, but it’s momentum nonetheless and can prevent stagnation.  Yet I do find that once I’ve accomplished a single page, the momentum can reinforce motivation and I tend to keep going for a few to several more pages.  But it all starts with a simple goal: just one page today.

Of course the flip-side is simply if I can only get one darn page in, then I’ve accomplished my goal and continued the pace.  It’s good.  I can move on and let the rest of my day take it’s course.  Sound crazy?  It works.

In the past I’ve also tried the speed route: trying to get in as much as humanly possible; to write that book and get it done–posthaste!  Truth be told, I encourage other writers not to race.  It may work for a lucky few who have the skills of courtroom transcribers, but for the most part it will burn out even the heartiest writer and cause a white-hot idea to fizzle.  Whenever I’ve done this, everything crumbles for me and the project ends up being scrapped because I end up tired, unmotivated, and the quality is less than acceptable.

So for all of you writers out there: don’t be afraid to be the tortoise.  Writing’s not a race; the only way any writer wins is not by finishing quickly, but finishing well.

Categories: On Writing | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Engineered For Eternity

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An Excerpt from Olde Mysterium:

Saba closed his eyes and breathed deep. “My time here on this earth is coming quickly to a close. Oh how fast it has fled me. Have you ever wondered at how people are engineered for eternity?…I have never met an old man that didn’t wish he could live longer. Eighty years. Ninety years. Even a century old. It doesn’t matter. We might want to go to end the pain but never because we are finished with life. The human spirit is engineered to want to live. To live forever. We don’t understand it. I don’t understand it because our experience on this earth is designed to be finite. Everything here has an expiration date except the human spirit.”

Saba’s face pulled taut into a mass of wrinkles for a moment but then subsided. Daniel offered to go find a nurse but the old man protested, keeping his grip firm on his son’s hand. “Will you do something for me?”

Daniel nodded. “Absolutely. Anything you want.”

“Kneel by my bedside.”

—————————————————————

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;’” ~John 11:24-26

The sun sets only to rise again. Plants die off in Winter only to reemerge in Spring. Among the many things in our existence that point to life beyond the grave, I would have to admit that one of the strongest arguments for me personally is the human will to live. Nobody wants to grow old. Nobody wants to grow infirm. And nobody wants to die. For the soldier surrounded by the enemy and the guilty man on death row each must face their fate, but neither of them wish for it. We inhabit finite bodies and exist in a broken world. Death comes to us all in this life but we don’t want it. The human desire for life is infinite and we are each engineered for eternity. And eternity is a gift given to each of us…should we so choose to accept it.

I often ponder upon the idea that this life is very much like being in utero and upon death we are reborn into the reality we were originally designed to inhabit…if only we would follow the One who breathed life into us. Are you engineered for eternity?

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

Categories: On Faith, On Life, On Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Conversation Between Authors

Last night a very challenging question was posed to me by my good friend and fellow author, Tina Bustamante.  What follows below is the chain of conversation we shared beginning with the original challenge and followed by our responses to each other.  Tina’s first book AS WATERS GONE BY is due to come out in November, and trust me, it’s an excellent read.  Please feel free to visit her and read about her adventures living in Chile: tinabustamante.com.  I received her permission to share this conversation and so I hope it will be encouraging to all of you who read it.

_________________________________________________________

 My dear friend Doug,

Okay … here’s a very direct question and one you need to be very honest about with me. What is your hope with your writing career? Are you hoping to write more books? Make a living at it eventually? Or are you loving the idea of writing a novel every few years and keeping it containable? Please tell.

I ask because if you want to build up a readership and grow your platform … you need twitter and all those other media things to give you a platform. But you seem reluctant, so I’m trying to understand.

Talk to you soon.

Tina

***

Tina,

You are a very good friend and I appreciate your direct and pointed questions. To drive the point directly home, it would be best to simply state that I’ve chosen a God-driven path, not a career-driven path. Other books I’ve written were meant to drive toward a writing career, and by all accounts they should have been picked up as I observed the reading market and recognized gaping holes that needed to be filled; I had meticulously plotted, written, and edited the books; I studiously hand selected appropriate agents, categorized them into spread-sheets, queried them and ultimately received well over a hundred rejections in the process. It became obvious that my efforts were being deliberately–and divinely blocked…and trust me, I got angry about this. Angry at God.

It was in the Fall of 2010 that He confronted me directly with His response in the Genesis story about Jacob wrestling the Angel; it was no different with me. I was pleading with God to bless me, fervently, but in the end He “broke my hip” and I was convicted about the way I was trying to drive toward success. It was time I tried something different and OLDE MYSTERIUM is the product of obedience, not of market research, not of meticulous plotting. It was a process of freely letting God breakdown my strongholds and ideals regarding career paths and success, and in the end He began changing me into a greater likeness of Jesus.

The process of giving things up to Him hasn’t ended, in fact it’s continued. I searched for agents for OM, but He asked me to make Jesus my agent; so I did. I searched for publishers for OM, but He convicted me and asked me to give that path up and do it a different way; so I did. I started a FB page for OM and began attracting some followers, but He asked me to step away from it; so I have. He’s asked me to refrain from marketing and promotion so I can learn how to rest in Him, to take time to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) . And it even goes deeper into my personal life as God has used this summer to reclaim and restore my marriage and my family life…something I could not have expected in my wildest dreams (although I remember pleading in prayer to be closer to Caity and have more time with the kids); yet it was a full trust fall into His arms to do these things, both frightening and full of promise.

It looks backward, but remember: this is the God-driven path, not the career-driven path. He has a tendency to reveal the world’s wisdom as foolish…and God’s foolishness is wiser than the world’s greatest wisdom.

And now here I am, a better husband, a better father, a better person…and it’s all because of giving over these obstinate areas of my life to Jesus the Messiah. Instead of being filled with anger and resentment over rejection, I’ve been able to grow closer to the ultimate source of joy, be filled with an unending abundance of peace and learn how to pour out my love in every direction upon the broken people all around me. That’s really all the platform I could ever want or need…and I’m more than happy to let Jesus do all the promoting. Yet I do see a growing audience, but any and all success belongs solely to Him and is fully dependent on His timing; I can’t force it, and I’ve stopped trying to speed it up.

It’s a far cry from where I was, but when I look at all of the things I was asked to give up, they’re miniscule compared to what I’ve received in return. This is all why I often sign off my emails with SOLI DEO GLORIA (Latin: Glory to God Alone) and I’ve also been signing copies of OM the same way. It all belongs to Him anyway…and all I want to do is be in His presence and perhaps even have a chance to “touch his garment” (Luke 8:43-48).

I apologize for the lengthy explanation and I hope this helps to resolve any confusion. You are truly a wonderful and supportive friend and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this with you. I look forward to seeing you in November on your book tour!

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

Douglas

***

Doug what a great email.

I appreciate your life and love for God so much. I’ll respond or in length later, but just want to say thanks.

Thanks for sharing, being honest, and for being a great example.

More soon,

Tina

***

You bet Tina. I also forgot to add that “yes” I’m very serious about writing. I know it’s taken root in my heart, as well as it has yours. I will be a writer for the rest of my days, and I hope that means many, many books to come.

Douglas

***

And to add – I think God himself will establish you and as you trust him, listen to his voice … He’ll lead you to green pastures.

Tina

***

Thank you Tina. It’s refreshing to receive encouragement from a good friend.

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

Categories: On Faith, On Life, On Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Just Be: The Art Of Stillness

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He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” ~Psalm 46:10

How often do we take the time to “be still”–physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually?  This idea today is as foreign to the average man or woman as would be the idea of living on Mars.

We live in a culture with the just do it mentality.  Keep busy.  Perform well.  Look good.  Make sales.  Be professional.  Attain success.  And ultimately when we become overwhelmed by all of these things, to where do we escape?  Television.  Video games.  Shopping.  Disconnecting in our relationships.  Yet there never seems to be enough time in the day to take one minute and just be: just breathe and remain still.

Caity and I have been learning (over this last summer) how to exercise the art of stillness and the act of resting.  In other words, we’ve been learning how to just be.  Just be silent.  Just be calm.  Just be alive.  We fill these moments with prayer and connection with each other and with God.  We learn how to be in each others’ presence without needing to fill the silence with words.  It’s a form of meditation where instead of trying to disconnect from ourselves, we instead submit our individuality before the feet of the Creator in silence.

I knew that taking time to be still would help to relieve stress and usher in calm, but I was unprepared for what would happen next: hearing God’s voice.  It seemed like all of a sudden I would hear a clear message in my head, or gather something profound from a passage of scripture I’d read several times before, or hear a message on the radio or snippet of passing conversation that would change everything and lend a fresh perspective.  Every time I turned around, God was saying something new to reassure me of His presence and that He was gathering Caity and I under His will; enacting a divine plan.

And before I knew it, I had stopped the wild flailing and ceased fighting against the current, trying to just do it on my own.  I am learning how to just be still, listen to His voice, and be ready to participate when the divine opportunity arises.  I am no longer on my own.  I am in a partnership with the Creator of the universe.

What do you think would happen if you took 15 minutes out from your day to simply be still and sit in silence with no obstacles between you and God?  I encourage you to give it a try…and see what happens.

SED EGO DIGREDIENDUM

Categories: On Faith, On Life | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Writing Tip: Collecting Characters

When I first started writing in college, I began doing something interesting that would change the way I viewed characters forever: I kept a notebook whenever I rode the city bus. It’s an interesting mix of people who ride the bus for regular transit, and most of them are doing typical things that would otherwise appear uninteresting…unless you’re collecting characters.  Take note of the details.  Are they alone or with a buddy?  To whom are they talking, or are they just staring out the window? Perhaps they’re having a scintillating conversation…with themselves (yes, I’ve seen this happen many times).

Bring your notebook with you and write everything down. Then try to give motive for why they are doing what they do, or why they wear what they wear. Extrapolate where they are going. Home? Work? School? Nowhere? Give them names if you can.  Then try and create a brief dossier on things like their background, lifestyle, employment, education, hobbies, relationships…and you get the idea.

These types of exercises can be crucial for overcoming difficulties later on when trying to write fully rounded characters.  And at the end of the day you’ll have a menagerie to choose from should you need to reach into the cage and select one.  However, I’ve found because of the practice of collecting characters, I am fully prepared for the process when the need arises to create one from scratch.

One final, very important caveat for this exercise–do not, I repeat, do not take notes on people who are close to you. There is a twofold reason for this: (1) if you create a character based on someone you know well, they may not be as impressed as you with your creation; and (2) it can be like cheating to skip the hard work of learning how to extrapolate details by observing a complete stranger as opposed to simply writing down the intimate details of family or friends.  It may be tempting, but don’t do it. Ever.

The only exception to this rule might be basing a created character on someone you know who has died, perhaps as a way to memorialize them.  I have done this and it turned out beautifully.  The character of Billy Pints in my book OLDE MYSTERIUM was loosely based on the cook at my fraternity in college.  He was a salty individual with rough language that would curl your hair and had a heart of gold; a recovering alcoholic who, through chance and circumstance ended up cooking at a fraternity.  A beautiful juxtaposition. And it was an honor to include him the story. He died my senior year from a heart attack…and I think about him all the time.

So go where you can to observe an interesting cross-section of people–the mall, the post office, the grocery store, a coffee shop or a dive bar.  Or you could ride the bus like I did.  And keep your wits about you as you never know when you’ll chance upon the perfect character.

Categories: On Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Wish To Know

I wish to know the wisdom whispered in the trees;
What divine words make trunks grow strong,
And roots go deep—their tendrils throng,
And leaves grow green, and branches long,
To dance upon the breeze?

I seek to know the secrets storied in the sky;
What hangs the cielo ceiling low,
Where the clouds heaven’s breath does blow,
And who draws strong Orion’s bow,
When nighttime rises nigh?

I long to know the language of the languid sea;
Where on the waters’ surface calm,
Which smells of amniotic balm,
And each fish swim, and bird a psalm,
Proclaiming mystery?

Categories: Poetry | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sweet Surrender: Learning How To Rest

“He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.” ~Benjamin Franklin

Last Wednesday marked a significant shift in the life of my family as it was my wife’s last day of work at her store.  We’ve been looking forward to this for the last month and a half since we learned that her store was going to close and it had become clear from many angles that God was wanting her to finish out at the closing store instead of jumping ship and going elsewhere.  It was also clear that we were meant to surrender all to Him in this process: our future, our finances, our security, our worries and our woes.  We have done all of this and yet gained a greater sense of freedom for it.  It’s unexplainable and mysterious; I feel relieved and confident simultaneously.

So then it was no wonder when we both witnessed some significant encouragement this weekend, spoken to us in a way that was personal and deep.

Caity and I have been reading through the book of Mark, one chapter each morning, and it’s amazing how the message refreshes us every day.  Well, Thursday and Friday ended upon the crucifixion and the resurrection, respectively.  This was significant because we realized that we’ve been experiencing Caity’s job loss like a long and drawn out death; and for these two chapters to reach us right after her last day spoke volumes and the message was clear: “it is finished and the resurrection is coming.”   We both tapped into it and were amazed at what God was saying.  As if that weren’t enough, I discovered that this last Friday night/Saturday day was Yom Kippur–the holiest day on the Hebrew calendar.  Now we don’t practice Judaism, but I do recognized the significance of this day as a day of Atonement and Restoration; and that too showed us God’s holy timing for our personal circumstances.

What could have ended up a stress filled weekend turned out to be full of joy and rest.  We’ve been a seven day work week family for just over seven years, and being able to celebrate the change was greater than any fear or stress that we intentionally surrendered to Jesus anyway.  We ventured out as a little family to IKEA; we had a family movie night thanks to RedBox; we had a fun Sunday bumming around Woodinville and we went to church that night and were renewed in our spirits by the message (which centered upon the divine importance of relationships…particularly marriage) and the worship overflowed our cups.  Then even Sunday night came the rain and thunder–for which Caity and I gave thanksgiving to God (and anyone who knows us will understand how we love the rain, and the thunder has answered us many times this summer while we’ve been in prayer).

We’ve surrendered and we are learning how to rest.  It’s not easy as rest needs to be intentional, but it’s amazing to be able to do so without worry and without the need to plan for everything.  Practicing rest is about being in the present, enjoying our present blessings, and letting go of tomorrow for it can worry about itself.  I recognize the health benefits for myself and my family when we find time to rest together.

How do you find time to rest?  What does the act of resting mean to you?

SED EGO DIGREDIENDUM

Categories: On Faith, On Life | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Writing Tip: Read Well, Write Well

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Looking for ways to enhance your writing?  Ways to grow your storytelling abilities?  Or maybe even seeking a remedy to boost your stale prose?  Look no further than your local library.  I’ve discovered over the years that my writing improves drastically when I’m reading something that captures my imagination and challenges my personal status quo.  Many books throughout my life have done this for me and I’ll mention a few here as examples.

1. Enhancing Writing:  Truth be told for me personally, the books that enhance my writing are those that expand the boundaries of my imagination in any way unexpected.  Many literary luminaries like CRIME AND PUNISHMENT or THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE (you know, the stuff you dreaded reading in school?) will certainly do the trick, but be sure to grab something to your own interest that you know will challenge you.  If you want something more current to challenge your boundaries, then give JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL by Susanna Clarke a try (a monster tome in some regards, but a gem nonetheless).  I just had a friend recommend Neil Gaiman, who I plan on giving a read very soon.

2. Growing Storytelling Abilities:  There are a few ways to do this effectively by reading some really great works.  THE HERO’S JOURNEY by Joseph Campbell is a well lauded example because he dives into the history and connective threads of storytelling across many cultures to find the similarities that make great stories last.  However I found Campbell difficult to read at times and so I would also recommend THE WRITER’S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogel, containing much of the same material but reworked to be more palatable for the lay reader.  I’ve also read Stephen King’s ON WRITING several times, each time yielding different fruit that is helpful and tasty.

3. Boosting Prose:  Read good poetry or anything where the prose is lyrical.  Shakespeare is an obvious example as are Emily Dickens or Robert Frost, but don’t be afraid to seek out new or emerging, or even unknown poets online to be inspired by their work.  So many people are sharing online these days, and a lot of it is pretty good stuff too.  I find poetry (both reading it and writing it) helps to boost my natural prose.  Also, reading fiction that is lyrical in the writing does wonders beyond belief; my favorites are Charles Dickens and Angela Carter.

Immersing yourself in any and all of these things will indeed help you naturally boost and grow your abilities to communicate effectively through writing.  Think of it this way–the company you keep will define you as a person, either for the good or the bad.  The same can be said of what you read affecting how you write.  If you are aspiring to be a romance writer but everything on your bookshelf is a dime-store boddice-ripper, then it’s going to be very difficult to inspire your story to rise above the crowd.  Try reading another kind of love story to get your juices flowing–THE LIFE OF PI or THE SHACK might be good as they are indeed love stories in their own right but romance is not prominently featured…however, intimacy does indeed thrive in both of these books.

As a final note, be encouraged to know that all successful writers are also successful readers.  So read well and write on!

Categories: On Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let Each Day Rise

To awake in the morning with fresh eyes,
I look out upon our shared world anew;
Renewed, refreshed with the fog in the sky,
A reminder with morning’s loving dew.
To know it will burn off by the mid-day,
Makes me seek to enjoy the here and now,
And to the heat of the sun giving way,
Beating upon me in my field to plow.
Yet comes soon evening where my rest is nigh,
Reveling in the joy where my heart lives,
Beside my love, cheek to cheek and thigh to thigh,
Gratitude rests upon our God who gives.

Let each day rise and fall with its merit,
And in each moment be glad to share it.

Categories: Poetry | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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