I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Empty Nests and Second Chances

About a month ago, a blur of brownish green whipped past my front window. A hummingbird! I love watching them, but my joy increased when I realized she’d built a nest—hardly bigger than a mandarin orange—in the tree right outside.

I’d never seen a hummingbird sit still, much less been able to observe its babies. What a gift! I checked in on her several times a day, watching her shape her nest and fluff it with tufts of dandelion. The kids and I did research to determine her species (perhaps Anna), incubation period (14-23 days for two white eggs), and lifespan (3-5 years, but sometimes longer).

Right away, she represented several things to me: the joy of spring after a dark winter, the mastery of God in His astonishing creation, and the cycles of motherhood. All of the clichés about “empty nests” hit me afresh as I realized, around Mother’s Day, that soon her babies would learn to fly and they’d all be gone. The thought was like a little death, just like the end of every school year for me, that (fast-approaching) date when the familiar ends and my children are one grade closer to growing all the way up.

Through the hummingbird, God reminded me to cherish what I have now, be it children or a nesting hummingbird to watch. And to cling to the knowledge that when times are difficult, spring will follow, in some way or another.

So we cherished. We watched closely as she seldom left the nest, staying fixed in her spot despite noisy lawnmowers and intense winds. It reminded of the early weeks of my firstborn’s life, where it seemed I did nothing but sit and lactate.

“I’ve been where you are, Mama,” I said in a moment of female solidarity.

About the time I expected the eggs to hatch, I finally accepted that our hummingbird had abandoned her nest. For three days, she’d stayed away for long periods. Then one morning, she just wasn’t there. The reason is unknowable—a predator, undeveloped embryos, or a click in her brain that just told her to move on—but the “little death” I knew would hit me someday came far earlier than I’d expected.

Of course, that’s the largest lesson God’s taught me through the hummingbird. Change is part of His design, a teacher of sorts which makes me more reliant on Him. And he’s with me throughout my personal times of planting and harvest, sleeping and waking, holding close and letting go. For every dream of mine that dies, truncated in a blow or withering over time, something else grows and blooms, whether it’s a new dream or a deeper maturity in faith.

I’ll cherish the memory of watching a hummingbird sit still, of sitting at the computer with a kid on my lap as we researched species, of remembering to take joy in how blessed I am each moment. And in the dark days of winter, I’ll remember that change is coming. There’s a time for everything.

Even for second chances. Mama Hummie is currently fashioning a new nest in the same tree—not in as visible a spot, but I don’t care. I’m keeping my eye on her, and thinking with gratitude of the second chances and fresh starts God’s given me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Story Engineering

Grab your hard hat, writers! Here's help to build a story from the ground up.

I’m always looking to grow as a writer. So when I had the opportunity to dig into a handbook by respected writing instructor Larry Brooks, I took it. Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing explores the structural elements of a story which, when combined, complement and build on each other to build a publishable novel.

Brooks details the six competencies—Concept, Character, Theme, Story Structure, Scene Execution, and Writing Voice—and breaks them down to manageable portions. Understanding the competencies can help novelists and screenwriters streamline the writing process and cut down on re-writes, an intriguing prospect to any writer, novice and experienced alike.
Brooks’ style is clear, his suggestions practical, and his use of examples from popular movies and books (like Titanic and The Da Vinci Code) illustrate his points well.  I found the book to be at its best when it stops justifying the six competencies and provides concrete instructions, like placing plot points or drafting beat sheets. As I’m the type of learner who prefers workbooks, I kept a pen and paper handy to take notes.

Story Engineering is full of solid advice on the craft of building a story. I recommend it to writers new to fiction and more experienced writers who need a refresher or who wish to grow in a particular competency.

I was provided a copy of this book by Thomas Nelson for purposes of review.