Advice followed

I mentioned a few days ago that the characters in the story I’m writing were trying to change their names. I can now report that Frank has indeed become Larry, although Charlie has remained Charlie. Laura has been the most active in shaping the story. Although she toyed with Carol for a while, she eventually settled upon Crystal. That itself created a new element in the plot that I had not expected. I think the three of them are going to keep the names they now have.

Once she clarified her name, Crystal did what I thought Carol would do: she told me that her hair is long, straight, and dark brown, not short and auburn as I had first envisioned. She also changed her eye color from bluish gray to dark brown—sometimes melancholy, sometimes gentle, and sometimes twinkling with humor.

Crystal also made me borrow a conversation from a novel I had imagined and outlined but never got around to writing. By bringing this conversation into the story, Crystal has forced a certain ending upon me. I had no idea when I started writing how the story would end, but now I know.

The story of Crystal, Charlie, and Larry has grown beyond a short story. The first draft has surpassed 12,000 words and will probably reach about 15,000 words. I thought this might make it a novella, but it is still too short to be a novella. (Two of the most famous novellas in the English language are Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Both are more than 25,000 words but fewer than 30,000 words.) Instead, my work is going to fall into the category of novelette. Many novelettes have been written—awards are even given for “best novelette of the year”—but none of them is as famous as many short stories or many novellas.

Of course my still-untitled novelette will require several stages of rewriting, including one after having been set aside for a few weeks. When and where and how I publish it is undetermined. Since the story has a Christian theme, perhaps I should see if anyone offers a prize for Best Christian Novelette. WE shall wait and see what happens. J.

Dream a little dream…

I

Tom’s arm stretched across Jessica’s back, her shoulder cradled in his right hand. Her head nestled into his chest. They had been watching a movie together, but now that the movie was over, neither of them wanted to move. It was late, and the two of them should have been heading toward their respective beds, but inertia, stronger than their will-power, had claimed them both.

“I thought about you last weekend,” Tom murmured into her ear, “though that’s not at all unusual.” Tom had been visiting his hometown, Victoria, over the weekend. “I went for a walk, and I remembered a dream that I had years ago—long before, well, you know, before we were together like this. In the dream, you and I and some other people from the office were taking that same walk. Guy was out in front, as usual, and you and I were behind him, and then some others followed us. We were walking past the school….”

“Wait,” Jessica interrupted. “This is a dream you had?”

“A dream, yes, a long time ago,” Tom said.

“I had the same dream. It’s been three or four years, I think. But I was walking with you in a town I didn’t know, and Guy was in front of us. This school—is it a one-story brick building, with several wings in different directions?”

“Yes, and there’s a playground between the school and the street.”

“I remember this dream. We were talking to each other—I’m not sure what we were talking about—and then we went around the corner.”

“To the right or to the left?”

“To the left, and we went up a little hill.”

“”That’s my dream exactly! And that’s Victoria. What was at the top of the hill?”

“There was a train going past—I think it was a circus train.”

“Exactly! We had the same dream, but it was my hometown. I wonder what that means, that we dreamed the same dream.”

She cuddled closer to him. “It means that we were always meant to be together,” she told him.

Tom smiled in his sleep and rolled onto his right side. Jessica was not with him, and they were not “together” yet. He had dreamed, years ago, of walking with her in Victoria, but she had never dreamed the same dream. In the morning, Tom would have a vague recollection of dreaming about Jessica, but the conversation about dreams would be forgotten with the chiming of his alarm.

II

Before he fell asleep, Kirby told himself about twenty times, “I’m going to dream about Michelle tonight. I’m going to dream about Michelle tonight.” He had read that a person could control one’s dreams, and he wanted to make it happen. He had not seen Michelle for weeks, not since she went off to college. From time to time he dreamed about her, but it had not happened recently. He missed her, and if she would not answer his emails, the best he could do was visit her in his dreams.

The dream began with a tiger that had escaped from the zoo. Someone had left a door open, and the tiger had gotten loose. The tiger was still in the building, but if it got past Kirby, it would get outside, and many people would be in danger. Kirby saw the tiger walking toward him, and he shouted at it, telling it to go back. Snarling, the tiger turned away; but then it changed its mind and began stalking toward him again. Looking over his shoulder, Kirby saw that two other people had joined him to block the hallway. The three of them shouted at the tiger, and this time it stopped, turned around, and headed in the other direction.

Then Kirby was standing with a group of people at the entry gate to a pavilion. A live program was going to be performed, and the entry fee was only thirty-five cents, but they demanded that they be paid in exact change. Kirby had a quarter and some one-dollar bills. As other people were paying and entering the pavilion, Kirby searched the ground, hoping that someone had dropped a dime. Luck was not with him, though. Looking into the pavilion, Kirby saw that Michelle was in the audience. She was taking care of a little girl, a blonde-haired girl, who appeared to be two or three years old. Kirby desperately wanted to enter the pavilion, but he didn’t have what was required.

When the others had paid and entered, the young woman selling tickets took pity on Kirby. She accepted a dollar bill from him, handing him his ticket and his change—a fifty-cent piece, a nickel, and some pennies. Kirby held the change in his hand, not stopping to count the pennies, as he walked to the pavilion. Michelle was not seated where he had seen her a moment earlier. Scanning the audience, he saw her walking to the other side of the group. She did not appear to have seen him yet. Kirby walked up to her and said her name. She glanced his direction, frowned, and began walking away. “No. Wait. Stop. Please,” Kirby blurted. Then, as she hesitated, he stammered, “I just want to tell you something.” What he was going to say was unclear in his mind. Still grasping his change, he tried to form an interesting anecdote about his struggle to enter the pavilion. Michelle turned and looked at him. A smile appeared on her face, an ambiguous smile that reminded Kirby of da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa.

At that instant, Kirby awoke. He lay in bed for a few minutes, wondering what he would say to Michelle if he had the chance. Even in his dream, she didn’t seem to be interested in being his friend. Yet she had been willing to give him a chance, if only he knew what to say to her. Kirby had no illusions that, in real life, he would be able to capture Michelle’s interest. He wished that he had stayed asleep just a little longer. He was curious what he would have said to Michelle, and whether her smile meant that she was willing to listen to him. Kirby figured that, since it was just a dream, he would never know the answer to his question.

Ascension Day

Salvageable

Most Americans are aware of the major Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter, whether they observe them or not. Many Americans, though, even if they are Christian, are not familiar with some of the minor holidays of the Christian calendar. For example, today is Ascension Day. Do you know what this day means and why some Christians observe it?

In the first chapter of the book of Acts, Luke reports that Jesus spent forty days with his apostles after the resurrection, explaining to them what he had accomplished and preparing them to share that news with the rest of the world. On the fortieth day, he met them on a hill near the town of Bethany, overlooking the city of Jerusalem. After a brief conversation, Jesus blessed the apostles, and then rose up into the sky until a cloud hid him from their sight. Two angels joined the apostles on…

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On light, windows, and living backward

Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12). He also says to his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). I consider Christians to be windows through which the true Light shines. The Bible also is called “a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105); but—as I heard in several sermons when I was a child—“Today you may be the only Bible that some people read.”

Some windows exist only as decorations, but most windows exist to allow light to shine into a room. For this reason, people try to keep windows clean. A window coated with dirt and grime cannot do its job. The dirt must be removed so light can shine through the window.

The brighter the light shines, though, the more visible the dirt on the windows becomes. Clean the windows on a cloudy day and they may seem completely clean. Look at the same windows on a bright sunny day and you will see every streak and every spot that you missed. Literal windows do not care if they have spots and streaks, but figurative windows like us are embarrassed by every mark that shows that we are not perfectly clean.

One response to that embarrassment is to hide from the light. If the light does not shine so brightly, the streaks and spots will not be visible. The problem with that approach, though, is that a window cannot do its job apart from the light. The only other response is to let the light shine through the window, but to pay attention to the light and not to the spots and streaks and stains. Jesus, the Light of the world, is a light that actually cleanses windows by shining on them and through them. Those who look at themselves or at each other can still find the spots and streaks; but those who bask in the Light know that he is cleansing and purifying his windows.

For this reason, I often say that Christians are people who live backward. In T.H. White’s novel The Once and Future King, and in the musical Camelot which is based on that novel, Merlin is said to live backward. In the musical, Arthur says that Merlin “remembered things that hadn’t happened better than things that have.” People who live life forward are convinced that the past shapes the present, but in the present we can shape the future. We cannot correct the mistakes we already made, but we can create a better or worse future for ourselves by the choices we make today.

Not so for Christians! Our past sins are erased by the purifying work of Jesus, the Light of the world. Those sins no longer trouble us in the present or in the future, because Jesus has removed them from our lives. At the same time, our future is guaranteed. When Christ appears in glory to raise the dead, to announce his judgment, and to make everything new, he will welcome us into his Kingdom, the inheritance he earned to give to us. We do not need to doubt our place in the new creation: it is guaranteed to us, not because of anything we do for Jesus, but because of what Jesus has done for us.

For this reason, we live lives of confidence today. With past sins erased and future glory guaranteed, we do not need to fear the present. This good news is not license to sin. This good news is power to resist temptation and evil. The Light of the world shines on us and through us. Rather than adding streaks and stains, we use his energy to be windows, so his light can be seen wherever we are. To Jesus, not to us, be the glory. J.