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Breaking Bud – A Roguish Spring

KATHY JOY, AUTHOR, EDITOR, MESSIAH COLLEGE ALUMNI

You’re likely familiar with “Breaking Bad”, the TV series about a chemistry teacher desperate to secure his family’s financial future, after his devastating cancer diagnosis. Facing the reality of death does funny things to people.

Find a Singing Spring Gift Book here. A Breath of Joy

Even if you’ve never watched Breaking Bad, apparently most of America has. The series quickly became a national sensation and rendered a new buzzword, “breaking bad” for when someone good suddenly changed character.

If “breaking bad” is slang for “defying expectations” then “breaking bud” is a crisp turnofphrase for “just kidding, the weather has a mind of its own”. Out of the brown and crinkled tan shades of left-over winter, buds are due. The milk of flowers is already rising through pale green rose stems.

Fine, with this springtime tease, we’ll don a warm jacket today, a light sweater tomorrow, carry a pair of boots in the car for just–in–case.

Spring waltzes in sideways, full of bluster and drizzle, followed by little sunny intervals of calm. Throw in a late snow squall for good measure, and you have springtime in Northwest Pennsylvania: Unpredictable, moody, playful, and perplexing. But we always tolerate the irregularities of spring because it holds promises: Birds returning, leaves unfurling, windows are thrown open to let in the breeze.

We’re starting to hear the spring peepers, those tiny chorus frogs that give us loud concerts every night for a fortnight. The early flowers are already pushing through soil, declaring forgiveness for winter’s icy grip. Something shifts in the air. There’s a mix of earthy smells, a giddy kick of anticipation.In spite of all the challenges we’ve endured, there is this one thing: Spring is “breaking bud”.

I had the honor of proofreading the book, BEING CREATIVE, by Laura Bartnick this spring. Her thoughts on creativity simply jibe with my feelings about springtime’s empowerment. I’m declaring new explorations this year. Did you know. . .

God calls all of His creation His servants, because He has a purpose for our existence. He is the Re-namer, and Redeemer, and Re-purposer. When we walk with the LORD, the possibilities are endless. We can search for Him—though He is not far from any of us. Coming closer to our Creator, we can accept His call to be cunning and skillful. We can even become His friend.

“Anything can become the next exploration. Even those creatives who want nothing to do with being a child of God often find their best material in Scripture and in the church. God can use the imagination of anyone to teach us.

“Your own skill is a learned thing. Wisdom takes time. You may not yet understand this when you begin to write about a tragedy causing a family to become displaced, all their treasures to be lost. What you are really going to discover and write about is the greater gift of creativity from loss, the value of new relationships, and community—finding other treasures in hidden places. This story may require much prayer, wrestling with God for the blessing, and many edits to test and strengthen the wings.”

Spring is going forward and gathering steam, hurtling headlong into backyard picnics, flip-flops, beach time and road trips.

There are ten little rules of creativity listed at the end of each chapter in BEING CREATIVE. There is also the suggestion to keep a journal nearby.  I have practiced this invitation of capturing the wonder of my days, of God’s creative invitations to life in my own way. This is where the gift book series, BREATH OF JOY, was budded and flounced. SINGING SPRING announces this season of life burgeoning from death. It celebrates wonder with yellow daffodils, with purple lilacs, and with perfuming pink hyacinths.

Crops are going in this spring, and before we know it there will be rows and rows of sweet corn. That’s what I love about seasons. They simply show up. Regular as a heartbeat, as welcome as the friend you haven’t seen in quite a long time. Springtime is roguish, breaking bud and being mischievous in all the best ways.

I found one of my favorite quotes in chapter four of BEING CREATIVE:

Experience allows us to follow the dots into the unknown. We learn from intersecting paths along the way. We learn to improvise.”

I just love this! I want to lift it out, highlight it, then repeat it for emphasis!

Unconcerned about vaccines, politics or March Madness, the season is a joyful riot of mud puddles and sudden bursts of color, chasing away the landscape’s last edges of grays and browns.

Happy Spring, ya’ll !

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A Spouse’s Blessed Persuasion

By G.K. Johnson, author of The Zealots

Suddenly I was out of excuses. I stood at the starting line of a race I’d always wanted to run. When a major life change came our way, my husband and I decided that “now” was the time to give my writing dream a shot. Or at least, my wise husband did. God bless him. I started getting excited.

For years, I knew the story God had put on my heart. I knew who I wanted my main character to be and I knew the general gist of the storyline, random points of climax, the fuzzy details between.

Whenever I was asked about a dream I hoped to achieve in my lifetime, I often said, “I want to write a book!” But for years I never put pen to paper. The thought of doing so wore the luster off the idea of being an author. How would I begin? If I didn’t start the ‘right’ way, all would be lost!

Fear of Being a ‘Said Failure’

Looking back on it now, I know the reason I kept putting off my dream. I was afraid of failure.

Perhaps more than being afraid of failure, I was afraid of the ensuing consequences of being a ‘said failure’. What would it mean about me if I wrote something I thought was good, only to find out nobody else liked it? Telling people I had the intention to write a book one day sounded great and impressive but. . . hollow because I never actually sat down to do it.

My husband has a keen sense of discernment. He knew the real reason I was holding back the writing before I did. He urged me to take this opportunity to fulfill my dream. To treat writing like a job and get serious about it.

Getting Serious

I began to imagine my life as a writer. I pictured myself holding a beautifully covered novel, signing books, speaking at events. With these visions in mind, I sat down at my Mac one morning and hit ‘go’ on my stopwatch, the closest thing I had to ‘clocking in.’

I began to write no matter how I felt. I began treating writing like a job. My intention was to write for eight hours. If I was treating this like a job and giving it my utmost effort, that was the thing to do, right? I had no outline, I literally just started writing.

Two Hours In, Mentally Exhausted

Library Story Hour – The Zealots

I know some people can write in coffee shops or listen to music in the background and be incredibly productive but that’s not me. When I write I need silence. This is a bummer because I love the romantic idea of writing a bestseller in a coffee shop while drinking a mocha. It just doesn’t work for me. Anyway. I had typed for two hours and I felt pretty good about what I had on paper, but my brain was worn out.

I stared out the window and wondered how I was going to fill six more hours with productive writing when I felt creatively wrung out. It felt as though my fear of being a failure was already becoming a reality.

What Happened

Halfway through I realized I really needed an outline and wrote one.

After that day of trying to write for eight hours, I realized that was an impossible goal. For me at least. My sweet spot used to be two to four hours of writing a day. Any more than that, and I noticed that the quality of my writing went downhill.

Ultimately I finished that novel several months later.

This time period included several teary breakdowns in which I insisted ‘I can’t do this’ and my husband reminded me I could.

My writing career got even more complicated when our baby came home. Now, I needed to consult with my editor, make changes, rereads, and begin to blog. I squeezed in writing between my infant son’s nap times.

I’m learning that the practice of writing is a fluid thing-ebbing and flowing with seasons of life. I brew myself a cup of coffee for that romantic ‘close-as-I-can-get to a coffee shop’ feeling, but my brew usually gets cold before I drink it. Why? Because my goal is to write and I’m doing that.

My finished manuscript was accepted by a publisher, edited, and finally, my book was published by Capture Books, complete with the important aspects that make a professionally published book sell (hooray!).

In the first month after its release, I didn’t do any book signing events unless you count the ones I signed at my dining room table and sent out. And no one has asked me to speak at their event. Of course, there is a pandemic needing to be quieted for the population to feel comfy in group settings.

In the Midst of the Process

I sent my book to some friends for their feedback and while most of them said nice things, some didn’t like every part of the book.

Yikes, that must have triggered my fear of failure, right?

Well yes and no. Yes, I would be happy if everyone who picked up my book loved it! And yes, it stings a little when someone tells me they don’t like a certain part. But it’s impossible that every person would connect with my genre and writing style. Concerning the story critique, if I’m being honest, I appreciate their input! It’s cliche, but without constructive criticism, it would be impossible for me to grow as a writer. So I’m doing my best to take all the feedback and sort through it. This is the life of a writer.

This week, I was awarded a stunning editorial review from BookLife, an arm of Publishers Weekly.  You may want to read it here.

Here’s the Thing. . . I-Wrote-A-Book.

God told me to write a story and I wrote it. Perhaps this has been the biggest takeaway for me from this entire process. At the end of the day, regardless of whether everyone likes it, I followed through. So when God puts something on your heart believe that He will give you the resources to do it. The support of my husband was crucial throughout the process of writing The Zealots. He is God’s blessing to me.

That first step is scary, but I promise that you will learn so much in following through and accepting the resources the Lord offers. Let someone special in to your writing life to hold you accountable and to help persuade you when you are not “feeling it.” The Lord will be with you every step of the way. When you’re listening to His voice you can’t fail.

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Come to The Rabbit Room

by Andrew Peterson

Two years ago I walked the streets of Oxford with my wife. We were in London for a few days during the final throes of Spring and took the train to the famously literary town to visit, among other things, the former home of C.S. Lewis.

It’s a two-story brick house called the Kilns, in what used to be the outskirts of Oxford and is now buffeted by subdivisions. Fifty or sixty years ago Lewis sat upstairs at the Kilns and wrote, or he strolled around the pond behind the house smoking his pipe; now college students live in the house and the pond is littered with old tires and oil bottles.

Not far from his house is a picturesque Anglican church building made of hewn stone and tucked in a quiet hollow of Oxford. We walked through the old empty building where Lewis and his brother used to sit through the homily until five minutes before the end of the service, at which time they would sneak out the back door to beat the lunch rush at the pub down the street.

Behind the church is the cemetery where Lewis is buried. My wife and I stood at his grave feeling the peace of the place: the long-haired cows tearing grass from the hill visible through leafy bowers, the sun pushing through gray English skies as soft and easy as a yawn, the green of new grass well-kept. As hokey as it sounds, I felt like we were in the Shire, and I suppose that in a way that’s exactly where we were.

The tour ended at the Eagle and Child, the pub where the Inklings often met for beer, friendship, and the sharing of their latest writings. I dragged my wife inside and promptly ordered fish and chips at the table where Tolkien, Lewis, his brother Warren, Charles Williams, and others once enjoyed one another’s company. I felt bashful and self-conscious about going so far out of my way (with my patient wife in tow) to visit these places. What did I expect to find there? I’m not sure what’s so fascinating to me about these men and their works, their approach to creativity and their understanding of the source of it all. Their brilliance was remarkable; they were Christians, intellectuals, and yet childlike enough to love stories and seek fellowship in their making.

London itself was a wellspring of inspiration for me. We strolled through Kensington Gardens where Peter Pan was born, ate still more fish and chips in pubs that had welcomed travelers for four hundred years, I thought about Robin Hood, George MacDonald, Harry Potter, King Arthur, and Shakespeare. And of course, I thought about the gospel. History breathes in London, seeps through the cobbles and like mist it rises from the Thames. It’s easy to see why so many beloved stories have sprung from England’s imagination.

History swept me up when I walked beneath the portcullis of the Tower of London, when I took communion in Westminster Abbey among the tombs of long-dead kings. The blood and body of Christ, shed for you, peasants and kings, pagans and priests. The feast at the table is good and gives life, and is your only hope for meaning and peace and rest from the baying of the hounds at your heels, because Death and Sin and Hatred pursue you and would swallow you up if not for the strong voice of Jesus saying “Peace. Be still.” And at his word the dogs snap back into the darkness with a yelp as if reaching the limit of their chains. History belittles us. Its story is one of conquest and murder and vast darkness, and the noblest of men ends up as dead as the thief. I realized as I walked through the hall of kings in the Abbey that my time here is brief and my earthly crowns are worthless as chaff; the words of my epitaph will ring hollow lest they point to the fullness of Christ.

Which brings me back to Oxford. Ron, our tour guide, told us that he once asked a hundred people on the streets of Oxford who C.S. Lewis was and none could tell him. None. A few wrinkled their eyebrows and asked if he was “that Alice in Wonderland” guy. He told us that when he started giving the tours of Lewis’s time at Oxford, his tomb was overgrown and covered with mildew, its words barely legible. But for a relative handful of people (most of them Americans) who know about Aslan and the Deep Magic and the High Countries, the world knows little about Lewis and lauds him not. But the marks this man’s stories left on my soul–the gospel in his stories–are deep and lasting and I believe I’ll one day show them to him.

I believe strongly in the value of the artists in this world. I believe that when someone who was made to strive to create beauty in the world is, as Brennan Manning said, “ambushed by Jesus,” the art that results bears a God-given power that draws men to Christ. I have encountered that power in the sub-creations of Christ-followers countless times. (I’ve also encountered it in the works of those who haven’t yet succumbed to the source of their gifting.) Those works of art have helped me to better understand the Bible and its author, they have given me the tools with which to worship, to serve, to revel in the greatness of the Maker.

Those works of art are the fruit of obedience to the artist’s calling. The burden God places on each of us is to become who we are meant to be. We are most fully ourselves when Christ most fully lives in us and through us; the mother shines brightest with her child in her arms, the father when he forgives his wandering son, and the artist when he or she is drawing attention to grace by showing the pinprick of light overcoming the darkness in the painting or the story or the song.

The world knows darkness. Christ came into the world to show us light. I have seen it, have been blinded by it, invaded by it, and I will tell its story. I cannot help but see that story everywhere I look. I see it when I am full of joy and weightless as a cloud, and I see it when grief and self-loathing root me to the cold earth; it is remembering the story, Christ whispering it in my ear, that kills the despair, sets me gently on the donkey, and takes me to an inn to recover from the wounds. How can I keep myself from singing?

The Rabbit Room is a place for stories. For artists who believe in the power of old tales, tales as old as the earth itself, who find hope in them and beauty in the shadows and in the light and in the source of the light.

After my fish and chips in the back room of the Eagle and Child, I noticed a paper sign attached to the gable. On it was written the name of the little room where the Inklings met: the Rabbit Room. I don’t know why it was called that. There was no explanation to be found. But the name struck me, stuck with me, and grew into this website. Here you’ll find writings and reviews by artists and appreciators of art, conversations about creation, storytelling, songwriting, and the long journey of becoming who we’re meant to be.

I also wanted to provide a place where you could support some of these artists and writers by purchasing from the Rabbit Room store (as opposed to some gargantuan bookseller). Sure, you may find the book or CD cheaper elsewhere, but here you’ll help sustain the ministry of some of these artists and writers, and you’ll be supporting this place where I hope you’ll come for support and sustenance of your own. The books and CDs for sale in the store each tell the old, old story in their way, and I believe that they have the potential to be a balm for you in your long journey.

So pull up a chair and join us. The fish and chips are fattening, but so, so good. You can find the Rabbit Room community blog on Facebook here. Join us if you are of like mind and heart.

The Proprietor

The Warren, Nashville

Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.

Welcome to the Rabbit Room