Wish I could take credit for this, but it came in my inbox courtesy of the American Association of Christian Counselors on December 14th, written by Dr. Tim Clinton, and edited by yours truly.
A manger. The baby Jesus. Mary. Joseph. A star.
No Christmas play would be complete without the three wise men.
Matthew records the amazing story of the “Magi” who went to see the King of the Jews after his birth. Bible scholars agree that these wise men may have traveled upwards of 800 miles – a journey that could have taken anywhere from several months, to 2 years.
What’s interesting is that after the wise men’s interaction with Herod, Matthew makes a point to tell us that the “star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was.” (Matthew 2:9 NASV)
The phrase “went before them” in the original Greek actually means to “lead by going ahead of”. There was no “trying to find” the Christ child. No going house to house making inquiry. The star simply led them to where they saw Jesus.
Throughout the Bible we are admonished to seek the Lord:
But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:29 ESV)
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 ESV)
If only we had a “star” to go before us and lead the way.
Good news! We do. Jesus promised in John 16 that He would send us a Helper. He called this person the “Spirit of truth” who “guides us into ALL the truth“ and will “declare to you the things that are to come.” (vs. 13 ESV)
Seek the Lord. Not blindly, or haphazardly, but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – thinking…praying…meditating on His word.
This Christmas remember – wise men still seek Him…every day. Encounter Him. Fall down. Worship Him.
Holidays can be a really tough time for people who don't have mental health challenges, much less those who do. In fact, the holidays themselves often bring about trauma for many people.
Christmas in particular is one of the toughest holidays for some to soldier through (pun sort of intended). Perhaps because it's a holiday where expected family interaction is coupled with presents, unlike Thanksgiving. Whatever the reason, Christmas can actually usher in a reexperience of pain for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
These individuals might feel like Ebeneezer Scrooge instead of Santa's Little Helper. Holidays can reinforce the feeling of being "outside and looking in," like you're watching a movie filled with happy, smiling people while you're stomach is twisted into knots as past events swirl around in your head instead of visions of sugar plums.
Of course, this further isolates the trauma survivor. A typical reaction of family or friends who don't "get" trauma might be, "What's wrong with you?" Even worse, trauma survivors might not even be able to verbalize what's wrong with them. Instead, they feel humiliated and wish they hadn't shown up at the holiday event or party.
For those of you who have family members in your life (or characters!) who have PTSD, be cognizant of how you offer to include them, as well as sensitive to even subtle cues from the person that they aren't comfortable. Survivors may need to create new rituals to help in their healing, and it's important for people in their life to support this by being open to change as needed.
Let's analyze: What have been your traumatic experiences over the holidays, either your own or someone you know? What helped to overcome those feelings?
Since December is the last month of the year, I thought it might be appropraite to talk about the last lines of your books. Here are some memorable ones:
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
“Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (1936)
“And they all lived happily ever after.” fairy tales the world over
When a last line resonates with the readers, it becomes somehow etched in their minds as a beacon illuminating the entire book. Some of the above examples are no doubt familiar to many of you. They have become immortalized in time. The perfect ending to inspire wonder, instill hope, allay fears, and clear up questions.
I've been waiting to break out my holiday funnies...and this one is one of my favorites, because I love the pop cultural reference. The first person who comments below with the reference will win a Writer's Guide of their choice from my Therapy Store. I'll pool all other commenters in another drawing for anotherWriter's Guide of their choice...so keep the comments coming!
You might be thinking why on earth is she writing about Jonah and the Whale, but it's a great example of how we lose sight of God's provision. The whale gets a lot of face time, but Jonah had a run-in with two animals in the story...both seeming polar opposites of each other, and therein lies the heart of my lesson.
Animal #1 is the whale GREAT FISH. No duh, right? If Jonah is the "hero" of our story, then the Fish is certainly the secondary character. It swallowed Jonah whole, and clearly represented God's usage of the supernatural to rescue his creation in times of trouble. Jonah has his ah-ha moment when he says "Salvation comes from the Lord" while in the belly of the fish. He recognized the providence given to him by God in sustaining his life through being swallowed by a fish.
Animal #2 is the WORM. What? A worm? What worm? Yep. Read it. At the end of the book, Jonah is sitting and waiting to see what would happen to the city of Nineveh. He's done his duty, called for repentance from the people of Nineveh, and now he's really waiting for God to turn them in to crispy critters. God provided a plant that grew up over Jonah and sheltered his head. "But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered" (Jonah 4:7). In our story, the Worm is the villain.
Does anyone else see the irony here? Jonah is saved by something larger than life--a freakishly huge fish--and yet he is undone by a something as insignificant as a tiny worm. Granted, a worm with teeth that chewed through his vine and made him uncomfortable with the heat of the sun beating down on him.
Don't we do this? Have an amazing God-ordained experience that sustains us and gives us motivation to keep writing, and in the blink of an eye, we're undone--made angry, made sarcastic, made bitter--by something so small on the scale of life. God chastises Jonah, asking him what right does he have to be angry and throw his little tantrum because the plant died (due to the villainous worm).
Writers have whale moments, such as getting an agent, winning a contest, snagging a contract, getting a great review/endorsement, being in the coveted top 10 slot on Amazon. Then in the span of minutes, we can come crashing down in a storm of jealousy or bitterness due to a worm moment. A friend got a better review or is higher in their Amazon ranking, or we got a bad set of edits or critiques, or some contest judge thought our story was awful.
The lesson is to take these experiences more in stride. They are the little worms with great big teeth in our life, sent to destroy our happiness. But they have a lot in common with the great fish. Both animals were provided by God, and both were used to get Jonah's attention.
Let's analyze: What do you do when you face a situation where a worm has eaten your "vine," causing it to die?
Today, I've got Sharon's character on the couch. He's 15, of some Oriental or Asian descent, living in America. His sister brought them to America when their parents died, but then she died, and Jun ended up in the foster care system. He's an extremely angry, intelligent young man, and Sharon is wanting some general commentary on the intake form she filled out.
My initial thoughts on Jun is that it's going to be difficult--not impossible--to sustain a novel with him as the main character. He's angry, yes, and with how you wrote his voice, it comes across to the reader in an overt manner that this is one ticked off guy. It might become annoying to a reader to be bombarded with his anger over and over (at least, it was this way in the intake form).
My question is why? Yes, he's had a hard life, and suffered a lot of loss. This would make anyone mad at the world, mad at God, mad at themselves. But you want to be careful that your 15-year-old character doesn't come across sounding like a sulking 8-year-old. He's 15, and his coping mechanisms will be different, and a little more covert. On paper, he sounded like he was on the brink of a tantrum.
You wanted to know if he sounded authentic, and I think there is still some work to be done to make him realistic. Good news is that there are lots of resources out there! I'd encourage you to read this post I did several years ago about anger as a secondary emotion. It might help with solidifying the real emotion behind his front of anger, and that will aid in making him multidimensional. And then you can check out The Bookshelf Muse for some additional ways to exhibit his anger, such as working his jaw and flaring his nostrils.
Anger management therapeutic techniques are fairly easy to come by on the internet, as well. There is a free downloadable .pdf workbook and manual from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association. This is an awesome site with tons of free materials that are really helpful. So check that link out for additional insight into anger.
I have had a hard week. I had started this blog post yesterday, but fell asleep too exhausted to finish it. I have a client who is the epitome of self-destructing. It's one thing to read about them, but it's quite a different thing to be their therapist.
As a result of my interactions and observations while in session with this client, I'm bringing you--straight from the trenches--a glimpse into the mindset of someone like this. I've noticed some general characteristics that will definitely help make your self-destructing characters more realistic.
1) They will have an obsession, and it will be their Achilles's heel. The character will live and breathe for a particular person, achievement, desire. It usually consumes them, and reality fades as to how unbalanced they are becoming in their quest for this obsession.
2) They will put their welfare below their desire for the obsession, even if it means their death. Whether they are addicted to drugs or a person (think Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction), the means to their end are always justified. They can't see beyond the next tree to see the forest, so consequences are minimized or they are completely blind to them.
3) They likely will have a personality disorder or serious mental disorder. This one is on my list by default. Anyone who exhibits the first two will probably qualify for something like borderline personality disorder, bipolar, schizophrenia....something pretty major.
4) Attempts to reason with this person will fall on deaf ears. As mentioned before, reality takes a back seat. As a therapist, I am obligated to do what I can to help my client see a different, better way. A more healthy way. I usually receive a blank stare or feel like I'm talking to a wall. But writers should give one to two scenes over to someone trying to talk sense into this character.
5) Their demise probably will not be satisfactory to any involved, as it's more tragic. Don't get me wrong. Sometimes the bad guy has to die, and I know this. But if you've done your homework and included the above, their end will resonate with the reader more in a reflective way, not necessarily a "awesome, he/she is dead" way.
If any of this gives you a clue to what my week has been like, then I'll ask for prayers! Dealing with someone like this exhausts you emotionally and physically. In the end, I go home and go to sleep with their name on my lips in a prayer to God to keep them safe and watch over them, because there is only so much I can do and there is only so much the person will let me do.
Let's analyze: Ever had interactions with someone who was going one-way down a dead-end road? What other characteristics of someone like this might you see fit to add?
I'm still giving away a copy of my Writer's Guide to Creating Rich Back Stories...all you have to do is comment on this post about my tentative foray into vlogging.
And click over to read my therapeutic review of Ashes to Beauty: The Real Cinderella Story. Leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of the book for a special girl on your Christmas list!
I'm gearing up to join the vlogging world, and I'm seeking your opinion and/or advice. Keeping in mind that I want these vlogs to be short and sweet, around 2-3 minutes, I believe I have a couple of options.
I could field psychological questions from my readers, but I'm not sure that people would know what kind of questions they could ask.
I could post little statistics and things I find interesting, and search frantically for things that are short enough to talk about but fascinating enough to keep you riveted. (Not exactly thrilled with this option....)
I could focus on two or three topics and always vlog on something related to these. Trouble I see here is in selecting topics of interest to writers that I can shed weekly light on without becoming repetitive.
What do you think? Anyone who leaves a comment with their opinion will be entered to win my Writer's Guide to Creating Rich Back Stories, so don't be shy!!
And click over to read my therapeutic review of Ashes to Beauty: The Real Cinderella Story. Leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of the book for a special girl on your Christmas list!
I wasn't sure what my expectations were when I received Ashes to Beauty: The Real Cinderella Story in the mail, but it exceeded them! This beautiful story really speaks to the heart of girls of all ages, and indeed lives up to it's subtitle of, "A Fairytale for Girls of All Ages."
Here's a blurb about the book:
A touching allegory based on the Cinderella story and Isaiah 63:1-3, Ashes to Beauty, The Real Cinderella Story is “A Fairytale for Girls of All Ages.” Written like a children’s story book and beautifully illustrated, Ashes to Beauty is filled with eternal truths about our real life Prince of Peace and our dreams come true. “Was Ella born only for dusting and dishes or was there something more? Life is ordinary in the Land of Near, but Ella dreams of the Kingdom of Far Away in this tale that speaks to the deepest heart’s desire of girls of all ages. Fairytales do come true!”
I became engrossed in this allegory upon my first read, and even more so when I sat down with my daughter to read it. She's almost 4, so a lot of the allegory and symbolism were lost on her, but she understood the gist, and I was so proud to be reading her this version of Cinderella instead of Disney's.
Girls the world over just want to be loved and thought beautiful. When my little one gets her nails painted or gets dressed up in a new dress, the first thing she wants to do is run to her Daddy and hear him say, "You're so pretty!" I loved how Kim and her husband Kary (the illustrator) depicted this internal--and often external--struggle women have. Our outward beauty is made even more so by an inner beauty, and even my little girl was able to understand that Ella's cheeks had ashes that couldn't be scrubbed off because she had harbored anger in her heart.
The Prince in the story sees beyond the outer image, and his love and her acceptance of Ella makes her pristine and beautiful, both inside and out. Come on, you know there wasn't much substance in the way Cinderella's prince singled her out at the ball. I don't want to read my daughter that story anymore, because of the emphasis put on being beautiful.
It was beautiful to see how Kim wove scriptures into the book, in particular the "The Sheep and the Goats" passage from Matthew. Our actions take on eternal significance, especially when we show kindness to the "least of these." We never know when we will reap a reward! My little girl was getting the life message that God has good things in store for her when she, in turn, gives of herself selflessly and puts things like her appearance on the back burner.
I can't wait to continue reading this to her as she grows older. It's going on my kiddo keeper shelf, along with some other great books like I Love You Forever and Someday. This is the story I want her to have on her heart, not Disney's version.
Ladies--do yourself a favor and get this book. Read it and then do someone else a favor and give it to them for Christmas. And to anyone who has a little girl, especially you, get this book.
Kim has generously agreed to give away a copy of this book. I'll enter everyone who left a comment already, but if you didn't, please do so to be entered. This would make a great gift for a young or young-at-heart girl on your Christmas list!
I read to my little girl before she goes to sleep most every night. Most of the time we read the Bible, but sometimes she wants fairy tales or nursery tales. We recently read The Three Little Pigs, and I was struck at how each of the pigs spent a varying amount of time and energy on building their houses, and of course the last pig, who spent the most time on a brick house, built a house that withstood the Big Bad Wolf's puffs.
Yesterday, my friend and crit partner, Katie Ganshert, a debuting author with Waterbrook Multonomah, wrote a post on accomplishing the impossible, with God's help. I needed her reminder that when the waves (or the huffs and puffs of the Bid Bag Wolf) try to knock you down, you have to stand firm in your faith. Jesus will see you through, and there will be no rivers that will sweep over you (Isaiah 43:2).
Recently, there was another tragedy at my place of employment. A family has one less member present than they had with them on Sunday morning. Being the clinician for the agency, I was called in to be there with the family when they were told, and this was the absolute hardest thing I've ever faced in my career. I'll never forget the screams, the denial, the anger, the defeat, the pain. I'll never forget the look on the mother's face as it crumpled under the weight of the news that her child would never be with her again, laughing, playing, texting her.
Life changed in the span of time it took to say, "I'm sorry, but your child has been killed in an automobile accident." If ever there was a time when the waves would threaten to crash over a person, that would it.
I absolutely dreaded going back to work the next day. I knew there would be hours upon hours of comforting, checking in, being present and being on. I knew I'd have to do critical incident stress debriefing, over and over and over. After the night before, I honestly didn't know how I'd do it. I'd released my own pain and sadness at home, and felt raw.
Monday morning I managed to take a shower, get dressed. I felt like a shell of myself. No motivation, exhausted, spent. I believed my house to be made of straw and sticks, easily blown away. I was depleted.
But on my way in to the office, this is what I saw:
Rainbow over Humboldt County, CA
All it took was this one visual reminder (which yes, I took this photo while driving...huge no-no in CA, but I didn't think anyone would believe me at work) to evoke God's promise to the earth to never again let it be overtaken by a flood.
I was rejuvenated, renewed. I actually smiled when I arrived, and was able to do all the things I had known I had to do...but with a song in my heart, despite the pain and exhaustion keeping residence there. It was exactly what I needed, and I realized that my house was built of brick and not just straw or sticks. My Landlord painted me a little note in the sky to remind me, too.
Let's analyze: Are you building a house of straw and sticks, or are you taking the time and energy to use brick? What huffs and puffs of the Big Bad Wolf are being sent your way this week?
A great question to ask your character to determine how much influence a character's ancestors had on him or her is this: "What kind of lives did your grandparents live?" There are four general reports given for this question, and the answer can sway the outcome of the character's internal script (either winner or loser, for the purposes of this post).
Which does your character (or you) have?
1) Ancestral Pride: "My grandfather was a pioneer in the .com industry." "My grandmother was Irish nobility." In this answer, the grandparent becomes an "euhemerus" (heroic model) from the past who can be imitated but never surpassed.
Depending on how the character would voice these type of reports about their grandparents, the character could fall into one of two categories: spoken jovially, it would be from a character with a winning script who believes him or herself to have permission to follow in the footsteps of their grandparents and become outstanding personalities themselves. Spoken solemnly, then the character could be talking from a loser script, believing that their ancestor justifies their existence, even though they themselves do not have the permission to excel.
2) Idealization: "My grandfather lived to be 98 and had no gray hair and all his teeth." "My grandmother was a wonderful housekeeper." These would be examples of romantic idealizations. The speaker clearly wants to follow in the footsteps of their grandparent and bases their script on that.
"My grandmother was tough as nails and down to earth, but she became senile in her later years." "My grandfather was a good provider, but he embezzled money from his company and ended up in jail." This is an example of a paradoxical idealization. The speaker recognizes the bad trajectory their grandparent took (senility, embezzlement) but clearly doesn't claim that for their own script.
3) Rivalry: "My grandfather dominated my grandmother." "My grandfather was a weakling who let everyone push him around." Therapists often interpret these kinds of responses as the internal Child's desire to be more powerful then his or her parents. (It's seen as a little neurotic.) If a child knows that his grandfather is the only person who can talk back to his dad, then he might want to be like the grandfather for that very reason. Children might idolize their grandparents simply for the fact that their grandparents birthed the child's parents, and therefore must be more powerful than their parents.
4) Personal Experiences: These concern actual interactions between the character and his/her grandparent(s), which are strong influences in molding a script. "My grandmother took us in when my mother was sent to jail." "My grandfather sexually abused me."
If you were in my office, I wouldn't give you this information up front. I'd have you talk about your grandparents in a stream of conscious manner, and then I'd look at your answers from this viewpoint (of transactional analysis, FYI).
Let's analyze: What type of grandparents do you have? Do you see where your answers might fit into one of these four categories?
Today I've got Alice's 7-year-old on the couch. She's an only child who grew up with her single mother and widowed grandmother, the latter of whom died 6 months ago. She wants to know what it's like to have a father and a family.
Alice wants to know: What would be going on psychologically with this little girl to bring a recent stubborn interest in meeting her father? I feel it's a result of the grandmother's death but not quite sure exactly why that event would prompt this need. I'd love some help in clarifying what's going on in her mind.
I think you can use the event of the grandmother's death as an impetus for Leanna's sudden interest in learning more about her father, but the death in and of itself might be harder to connect. I'd suggest having little Leanna witness something at the funeral, perhaps, that makes her identify strongly with the desire to have a father.
Maybe one of her mother's best friends is married and has a friend Leanna plays with, and these people come to the funeral. Leanna could witness her mother being comforted by the husband of the friend (nothing untoward here, just friendship), and her mother seems better able to deal with things afterward. In Leanna's mind, she absolutely believes that the only way for her mother to get through the death is to have a guy there to support her. What better guy than her own father, who has been rather mysterious for her up until this point?
The death of the grandmother could also prompt the mother to start looking through photo albums or something like that, and her nostalgia could be motivating force for the girl to look deeper into her father. But I think the previous scenario of her witnessing something at the funeral would work better as far as reader sympathy, poignancy, etc.
Good luck on this story, Alice! I personally love to include children in my manuscripts. There's just so much depth to mine with them.
Let's analyze: Anything else my readers can think of that would prompt Leanna's sudden intense interest in her father?
2) Crossed (the ego state of one character is thwarted by a different ego state of another character)
3) Covert (SUBTEXT)
A covert transaction is when a person says one thing and means another. The transaction has a social (overt) and a psychological (covert) level. Here's an example of each:
Boss: "Let's work late, Ms. Parker, and I'll buy you dinner."
Secretary: "That's a good idea. We have a lot of work to do."
David: "I love your smile, Denise. Let's have dinner and drinks, and really get to know each other."
Denise: "I thought you'd never ask, David. I've wanted to go out with you for a long time."
Basically, the social level is useless in determining what people are really going to do. David's mom would expect to reach him at the office in the evenings based on the social level of their conversation. But if she knew the psychological level of the relationship, she would know to call the local hotel if she wanted to reach her son.
The reason we say one thing and mean another is because we are generally ashamed of our Child's wishes and desires. These are our immature impulses (in Freud's language, our Id). Nevertheless, we act on these desires while we pretend to be doing otherwise. David's transaction with Denise on the social level was very appropriate-sounding to others who might be listening in. But he was using his social conversation to mask his true Child's desire of wanting to date his secretary, who should be off-limits.
Other ways of socially trying to throw people off our true psychological desires are to use smiling sarcasm instead of directly expressing anger. Or to attack others instead of admitting our fears. These are all examples of covert transactions.
In therapy, transactional analysts encourage people to be "straight" with one another and themselves about their wants and feelings, rather than covert. But then, if this happened in fiction, it would be most boring. :)
Let's analyze: Any other common examples of covert transactions you want to throw out there?
A great question to ask your character to determine how much influence a character's ancestors had on him or her is this: "What kind of lives did your grandparents live?" There are four general answers (according to my transactional analysis research)
Clearly, I goofed! I will be posting about this next week, so please come back then!
When I started my new website in June, I was told that I needed to offer something free to get people to sign up for my newsletter. (I haven't actually sent out my supposed quarterly newsletters yet, but I WILL! I'm thinking starting off with holiday-themed one...)
So I did! If you didn't already know (and already possess one) I wrote the Writer's Guide to Character Motivation, which you can receive just for signing up for my newsletter in the little box to the left. Happy Thanksgiving from me!
But I recently stocked up on two other FREE EBOOKS from different places, and I wanted to let you writers out there know about them.
The first is The (nearly) Ultimate Guide to Better Writing, put out by the lovely folk at Write to Done. Click on that link and you'll see the little boxes to the right that will call to you, promising a few hours of procrastination from your work in progress over the holidays.
The second was told to me by Dr. Stan Williams, of The Moral Premise fame. His publisher, Michael Wiese, put together The Top 10 Reasons Why It's Great to be a Film Maker, Volume 1. You might not be a filmmaker, but the articles in this ebook are written by industry greats, including Dr. Williams, and I'm looking forward to reading it.
With a four-day weekend, a little reading and writing sounds divine to me! See you back on the blog for Free Association Friday! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!
Today, Brianna's character is on the couch. Charlotte is a 29-year-old in a fictional memoir. She's about the move to New York City to be a travel writer for a magazine, her first job after being unemployed for nearly 3 years. (She had moved back home after college and wishes she hadn't, because she had more job opportunities in her college town.) She's looking forward to the fresh start and traveling.
Since Brianna didn't give me any questions to really focus my attention on, I'll draw from something Charlotte herself said. Charlotte said Brianna is hoping to get some helping "fleshing out Charlotte's character traits and flaws."
If Charlotte were sitting in my office, I'd want to talk to her about motivation, plain and simple. What motivated her to leave her college town with her good job and head back home to a life of unemployment and few opportunities? That would have to be some serious motivation behind her not to head back to her college town after, say, 6 months. But three years?
This might be a good place to start for a "flaw," or possibly calling it her Achilles' heel might sit better with you. In the intake, Charlotte wrote that she missed the closeness of her family and the multiple vacations they took a year. Sometimes it's difficult reading between the lines, of course, but could this be the germinating influence of possible family enmeshment? Is that why Charlotte returned home? And then stayed for so long, even though jobless? An unhealthy dependence on a family member might be powerful enough to drive that kind of action. Or it could be her need to be needed, coupled with her inability to say no. (The truth is, people say "yes" because to say "no" would be a worse feeling for them. It's still about Charlotte...why can't she say no?)
The picture I got of her is of a 29-year-old who's more like a 22-year-old, fresh out of college and ready to start a new life. So developmentally (and probably emotionally) she's a bit stunted. Probably would qualify for a diagnosis of "Identity Problem" or "Phase of Life Problem." (These aren't even diagnoses in the true sense of the word, btw.) Her greatest fear of not being a wife and mother might could be tweaked for more originality. Maybe she wants to be a mother before her own mother dies because she wants to feel needed or important in the life of someone.
When all else fails, go back to the family of origin. *sigh* I spend most of my professional time there with clients for a reason. Best of luck to you! Hopefully you got some food for thought anyway. :)