Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Fanning the flames -- 2 Timothy 1:6-7

It feels weird to talk about gifts or talents, to acknowledge that you think you're good at things. At least it does for me. I don't like talking about myself. Not at all. And saying that you think you are gifted in one way or another is definitely talking about yourself.

But just because we don't like to talk about it doesn't meant that we don't all have talents. We do. But reading through the Bible the other morning I came across a verse that challenged me, so thought I'd share it here. Faith is, after all, the third F in the tagline up top.

"6 For this reason I remind you to FAN INTO FLAME THE GIFT GOD, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline."

It's 2 Timothy 1:6-7, and the emphasis there is mine. And I know that how I'm reading it is not necessarily how Paul meant it when he wrote it, but this verse really hit me.

"Fan into flame the gift of God." 

For some reason, fire imagery has come up a lot in my work lately. I'm pretty sure I have some discussion of a fire being whipped into roaring flame in Digi City. And there's definitely similar imagery in the current WIP. So it's certainly something I've been thinking about. So maybe that's why the fanning into flame language struck me as I read.

This is kind of how I see the talents thing. When we are being formed God takes out his Holy Measuring Cup and gives us all an equal measure of everything that makes us human — kindness, love, compassion, etc ...  Then he looks at each of us individually and gives us a little extra in a few places. Those extra portions are our gifts and talents, and He has an expectation that we will take those and do something with them. That we won't waste them in the service of nothing.

Now, I don't think that we have to take those talents and use them specifically for church work or kingdom goals. We can use them in other ways. I do think — and this does feel weird to type — that one of my gifts is written communication. I'm good with the words. Or pretty good. Good enough for someone to pay me for them and for the clients I work with to be happy.

Still, I wonder, am I doing all I can with those gifts? I think about it often. Have I fanned the flames? Or am I letting them smolder, eventually to go out? 

I don't know that I've done all I can. I pray about it. I want to be a success as a writer. I want to use those talents for good things, but am I? I don't know. I'm not sure that anyone will ever feel like they've done everything they could with all they've been given. I guess I'm not alone in these feelings. But I feel like God wants to do more through me. I just don't know how. It's a trust thing in the end. Let Him lead. Follow where you think He's going, knowing that He's not going to take you down a path He hasn't equipped you to walk.

I don't think there's some big conclusion to this post. Not surprisingly, it helps me to write when I'm working through stuff, so thanks for letting me ramble on God for a bit. I'll probably be doing a bit more of this in the future. It's something I've wanted to do for a while. It's why I added Faith to the tagline when I added the header years ago, but I've always been hesitant. But this is my blog, right? And if there's anything I shouldn't be hesitant to talk about ...

Friday, September 2, 2016

FREE FRIDAY FICTION: Welcome to the End: Part 1 — Wailers

I write a lot. Like, a lot. I have a lot of ideas. Again, a lot. It can feel a bit overwhelming sometimes. There are things that I really like that sit on my hard drive or in various other places that never see the light of day. So, to combat that, I wanted to excerpt the first part of something I'm working on. It's the first part of the first chapter. I don't know how long it will be or how many parts it'll have, but I'm going to try publishing it in pieces here so I can get it out. I think I have enough for three excerpts right now. So, for the next three Fridays you can expect pieces of this.

I eventually want to publish it in a completed form. But, until then, it'll be blog fodder. If I do publish it, that's a variation of the cover on the right. The subtitle "Five days later" may or may not be accurate. Still working out that part. For now, enjoy.

Welcome to the End//Part One — WAILERS

I scratch a match on the side of the box, and the red tip sizzles to life. I put the flame to the wide wick inside the lantern, praying that the little bit of liquid sloshing in the bottom is oil and that there is enough to light our way home.

A moment passes then the wick catches, and an orange glow fills the room. This place is full of antiques, just as I’d remembered from a few months previous. Back when everything was normal and I was here to get a lingering sore throat checked out.

Caroline comes around the corner and hits me in the face with the beam from her flashlight. I turn quickly from the brightness and tell her: “Turn that off. Save the battery.”

She does then steps closer to look at the lantern.

“What happens when the oil’s gone?”

“Oil’s easy,” I say. “Look around and make sure there’s nothing else we need here. Put anything you find in your pack. We’ll go in five minutes.”

I place the lantern on top of a stack of out-of-date magazines sitting neatly on the table. Caroline goes behind the receptionist’s desk and rummages through drawers. Small pads of paper and a few pens go in her pack then she heads back to the medicine case behind the nurses’ station. She beats the lock with the butt end of her flashlight. The pills and potions inside still go for a price if she can get them out.

I leave her to her case and move to the doctor’s personal office.  The wall behind his oak desk is covered in shelves. Those shelves covered in brass antiques, mostly more lanterns and other nautical equipment polished to a high shine. The big prize, though, the thing I want more than anything else here, is on the top shelf: a gas mask with leather straps, metal buckles and tinted glass over the eyes. I pull it from the shelf and stare at it, turn it over and over in my hands. I study the fixtures, investigate the glass.

There is no practical reason to keep this thing, but it looks so damn cool. I shove the mask in my pack then fall into the large wingback chair behind the desk. My body sinks deep into the quilted leather cushions, and I rub a hand along the arm, closing my eyes and letting myself settle for a moment. Rest. It’s been rare over the last month, when we’ve counted sleep in minutes, not hours. My eyes close; my breath deepens, and I begin to drift off.

Caroline bangs on the open door and snaps me out of my shallow half-sleep.

“I wake you?” She smiles.

“Not quite sleeping yet.” I stand and pull my pack from the floor. I drop it onto the seat of the chair, put two more lanterns on top then push the chair out to the front of the desk toward the door.

“Really? We’re taking that with us?” Caroline asks.

I don’t answer, just push the chair past her.

“Whatever,” Caroline says. “You’re the one who’s going to have to get it down 15 flights of stairs. Hope it’s worth it.”

“Grab the lantern,” I tell her as we pass it.

Caroline does and steps ahead of me. She stops at a window and points out toward a neighborhood. “See that fire out there? The one in Highland Park.”

I move to the window and ask: “Which one?” Dallas is still new to me and considering all that’s happened in the last month, I haven’t had time to learn neighborhoods. Also there are at least a dozen fires burning out there.

Caroline points again, more precisely indicating a neighborhood not too far past downtown. Or it doesn’t seem too far from this perspective.

“My dad’s place,” Caroline says and walks toward the front door.

The casters on the chair squeak their way down the hall. I stop at the door to the stairs and pause. I hand the two unlit lanterns to Caroline then put the pack on my back. I grab the chair by the arms then lift and turn it upside down. The seat rests on my head and the back falls behind me.

“Let’s go,” I say. Caroline leads the way, the lit lantern painting everything inside the stairwell with its dim glow.

I take the steps slowly, struggling to keep the weight of the chair over me. Caroline swings the lantern back and forth. I pause on the landing for the eighth floor, putting the chair down and leaning a shoulder into the wall. Caroline takes a seat and spins the chair to look at me.

“Heavier than you thought, old man?”

I shake my head. “About as heavy as I expected. But it’ll be worth it. While you all are sitting on milk crates and plastic lawn chairs, I’ll be sitting in that. I’ll be the king.” I smile; Caroline shakes her head. She pushes the chair backward and the casters squeak. A thump follows a few floors down.

We pause, look at each other. Caroline stands. It’s silent again.

“Push the chair,” I tell her.

Casters squeak. Another thump. Then another. They stop. I pull a pistol from inside my jacket. Caroline wraps a fist around the handle of the machete sticking from the top of her pack.

“I thought this part of downtown was safe,” she says.

“Nowhere is safe.” I push the chair again and the casters’ squeaks fill the stairwell.

Pained cries come from below, and Caroline backs against the wall.

“Wailers?” She asks. I nod.

The cries stop, but I can hear nails scratch against the outside of the building. They’re climbing, scaling the outsides to get to the roof.

I push the chair one last time. The cries return, but this time wailing from above answers their street-level cousins.

“We’re trapped.”