Cinderella has never been one of my favorite fairy tales. Maybe that’s because its familiarity through the years has turned it a bit drab for me. Maybe it’s because the danger isn’t fierce enough or the stakes aren’t high enough.
Or maybe . . . maybe it’s because I can’t relate to a girl who is nothing more than a victim. A girl with a princess-like beauty whom never does anything wrong except in the eyes of her “evil” step-mother and stepsisters. A girl whose beauty and mere lack of evil are all it take for her to win not only a prince, but a kingdom.
I don’t know about you, but I definitely do things wrong. A lot. I say the wrong things, I’m clumsy, I’m impatient, I’m unkind, I’m none-too-beautiful. Basically, I’m human. How could I possibly write a story about a girl like Cinderella? I’m not qualified. I can’t understand her. I’ve never even been able to care much about her, try as I might.
So when considering retelling this story, I decided I wouldn’t write about Cinderella at all. Simple as that.
Instead, I wrote through the eyes of somebody I could understand: the stepsister (in my story, there’s just one). As a teen who went through some rough times, I often felt like the freak, the ugly, awkward girl, the misunderstood girl, the girl who used sarcasm like a shield, the girl people were uncomfortable having around because of her random bursts of emotion and sometimes rather brutal honesty. The girl . . . well, you get the picture.
Evil. Many times that’s how I felt. That’s what I believed people thought of me. That’s how they seemed to look at me. Therefore that’s what I began to believe I was in truth. Evil. Warped.
Then God stepped in. He had had enough.
“You’re not evil,” He whispered to me. “Your heart is beautiful and kind and loving. It is desirable to Me.”
The things I had never been able to see before because of my own blindness and self-loathing became apparent when God showed them to me through His eyes, through His grace. But then, that’s natural, isn’t it? That’s how it’s supposed to happen, the rescuing of our souls. My heart is beautiful because it’s God’s. My kindness and love are really only an extension of God’s own kindness and love.
When I began to think back on my own love story with God, I knew I must make it a part of this story I was writing. I have never been a Cinderella, ready from birth for Heaven. I needed redemption. I need redemption on a daily basis. But not from an evil stepmother or stepsisters. Not from any outside source of oppression. No, I needed saving from myself, and from the person Satan has plans for me to become. Because I am the evil stepsister. Or at least I was . . .
Those are the times God patiently reminds me that I am now His true daughter – a stepchild no longer.
When He took me in I became a princess in truth, and I share in a Kingdom more beautiful than any prince could have offered Cinderella. Right now I can’t always see that Kingdom, though it’s both in me and all around me. Sometimes I catch glimpses of it clearly, sometimes I only feel its nearness. But someday I plan on living there and claiming my happy-ever-after once and for all.
Tell me, what fairy tale could be better than that?
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I say no to letting my precious gift of a life slip by while I drown in an electronic, anti-social, busy world.
I say no to not making decisions, or letting others make them for me, thus making the worst decision of all.
I say no to ignoring the friends who are near and needing me.
I say no to fearing freedom and clinging to slavery like a coward.
I say no to complaining and bickering about the dirt I tread on, when God has given me gems enough to light the world.
I say no to listening to Satan’s lies, which keep me from spreading God’s love more fully.
I say no to being offended for my own sake, because in the end that’s only selfishness anyway.
I say no to the laziness and indecision that keep me from coming fully alive and awake, as I was meant to be.
I say no to the mentality that big moments are what we live for, when the small ones are the rich fabric my life has been made of thus far.
I say no to seeing only with my eyes, when God has given my heart the ability to see His Kingdom all around me every day.
I say no to waiting for someone to show love and attention to me before I give it in return.
I say no to demanding fairness for myself in relationships and in life.
I say no to walking timidly and with fear, when God has given me the wonderful, beautiful heart of a lion.
And I say yes … yes to God alone, and the joy and the life and the purpose He has for me.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV)
God in allegory. Even though I’m an allegorical writer myself, I often have issues with this one. Well, maybe not issues. Let’s just say I approach it carefully.
God is sovereign. God is almighty and all-knowing. His ways are not our ways. How, then, can any writer really do Him justice in an allegory? We seek to know Him, but we’ll never know Him completely. Not on this side of death, anyway. If we did, He wouldn’t be God, right? But if we don’t understand Him, how can we write about Him in a way that will satisfy readers who want to see Him in all His wonderful, awe-inspiring glory?
I don’t have a cut and dried answer for this, really. I only know what I prefer when I read allegory, and the rules I personally follow when I write God into an allegorical story of my own.
An allegorical representation of God should be as mysterious as the true God. So we don’t understand all the facets of this God-character we write about. So our readers don’t. That’s ok. Use the mystery to good effect. Let the unknown deepen the reader’s experience of this God whose ways are not ours, and thus deepen their awe of Him.
Large or tiny. Roaring or whispering. God is anything but a lukewarm, mediocre Being. C.S. Lewis uses a great lion to represent God in his Chronicles of Narnia. In one scene of my book I represented God as a field mouse, whispering encouraging directions in the ear of the protagonist before a battle. Anne Elisabeth Stengl represents the holy spirit with a wood thrush, which I absolutely love. Whether it be intriguing, awe-inspiring, or even quirky, the character a writer chooses to represent God has to be worthy of the reader’s attention and respect.
God is to be feared. We fear His wrath, His judgment, His anger when we have chosen to disregard His Word. But take away that fear and you’re left with little love and no respect at all. That’s not a the type of ruler I’d want to follow. Whatever creature or person a writer chooses to use as her representation of God within her story, it should be one whose actions and power inspire a healthy fear. God has the power over life and death and time and all the earth. Fiction shouldn’t show Him as anything less.
Yet beyond the fear, a writer must be sure to show the deep and unconditional love God has for His creation. Fear alone can perhaps turn our heads and keep in our minds what will happen if we stray. But it’s love that binds us to Him, heart and soul. It’s God’s mercy and forgiveness and sacrifice that give us the passion to follow Him to the ends of the earth. So why should an allegorical God be any different?
Do you have any preferences when reading Christian allegory? What are the things you like to see in a symbolic fictional God figure?
It’s a term you can’t avoid hearing in our culture: self-esteem. Think better of yourself. You deserve the best. Be confident in your abilities. If you believe you can do it, you can.
For years I bought into it, too. Finding myself. Finding my worth. Loving myself despite my faults and the “ugly” things about me, inside and out.
That’s what the world tells us to do, right?
But then God nudged me awake. And instead of slapping me on the face with the horrible truth as He could have done, He gently and gradually showed me the lie I was holding so dear. You see, the problem with self-esteem, and even self-confidence, is that, well, it’s all about … you guessed it…
As a Christian who was searching genuinely for the heart of God, truly wishing to make His desires my own, I couldn’t help but see it.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10)
What place does self-confidence have if we are to become weaker, so that God is able to become stronger within us? Shouldn’t it rather be called God-confidence?
What place does self-esteem have for someone who delights in weaknesses and insults? Wouldn’t it better be named God-esteem?
The world takes admirable virtues such as esteem and confidence and even love, and turns them inside out, makes them things of selfishness, small and warped, casting shadows into our souls. We let the world feed us these lies because we so ache to believe them.
But then, the best and most believable lies are always laced with a bit of truth, aren’t they? Because, in fact, we are of worth, we do deserve love and esteem. … But not in and of ourselves. Not because of anything we’ve done or ever will do or ever can do.
No, we deserve these things solely because of Jesus’ love. Jesus’ blood. God’s grace and overwhelming mercy.
Some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known have had no great physical beauty. God’s spirit filled them so completely that they shone with it. Their kindness was a glittering mantle. Their humility was a peaceful balm. The love that came from their eyes dazzled those around them with the undeniable awareness of God’s goodness.
When I think of it that way, my physical attributes seem so remote. My self-esteem and my self-worth fade to insignificance.
I won’t deceive you, it’s hard to do. But don’t ever think that it’s impossible, because it’s not. Just like any journey of the feet, a journey of the heart takes time. It’s painful and wearying … but oh so worth it in the end. Because it leads us closer to God, closer to who He intends us to become.
Self-esteem? I have no use for it. Not in the way the world wants me to, anyway. With my eyes firmly on God’s plan for me, with my desire for His will alone, my self slips into the place it was created to be…
Well, I suppose it’s not too late (yet!) to wish you a Merry Christmas! My plan was to write a Christmas post full of depth and meaning … But the truth of it is that I haven’t had a spare moment to sit down and write a post of any kind in a shamefully long time! I have been up to my eyeballs in revisions, which are taking soo much longer than I anticipated *sigh*. But mostly, I am just attempting to find joy in this Christmas season with friends and family.
Caroling with my son’s school, leading my poor family on a merciless quest for the “perfect” Christmas tree, taking my son to his first play (A Christmas Carol, of course!), and lots of hot chocolate, story-reading, game-playing and snuggling have been uppermost on our family agenda of late!
So since I have not had the time to conjure some inspiring words about Christmas myself, I’ll borrow some instead! Hope your Christmas is blessed and bright, friends!
“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” (Dr. Seuss)
“Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won’t make it ‘white’.” (Bing Crosby)
“How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!” (Benjamin Franklin)
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” (Charles Dickens)
“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.” (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ” (Norman Vincent Peale)
“We consider Christmas as the encounter, the great encounter, the historical encounter, the decisive encounter, between God and mankind. He who has faith knows this truly; let him rejoice.” (Pope Paul VI)
“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.” (Roy L. Smith)
“Christmas is the day that holds all time together.” (Alexander Smith)
“Christmas in Bethlehem. The ancient dream: a cold, clear night made brilliant by a glorious star, the smell of incense, shepherds and wise men falling to their knees in adoration of the sweet baby, the incarnation of perfect love.” (Lucinda Franks)
“Christmas is joy, religious joy, an inner joy of light and peace.” (Pope Francis)
“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and moves upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.” (Sigrid Undset)
“And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!'” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
“The soul without imagination is what an observatory would be without a telescope.” (Henry Ward Beecher)
I suppose there are people who believe imagination isn’t essential. People who think the visible realm is the important one, facts are what matter, not theories or dreams.
I’m not among those people.
I believe imagination is important. I’d even go so far as to say imagination is vital to our well-being as humans and as Christians.
Imagination helps us empathize with others.
Romans 12:15 tell us to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” Then of course there’s the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12: “treat people how you want them to treat you.” Have you ever considered how difficult this would be if you had no imagination? How can we weep with the brokenhearted if our hearts don’t break a little with them? How can we truly rejoice with the joyful if we don’t feel some of their happiness as if it were our own?
Imagination is the bridge that takes us from the world we live in, the world that has “me” at center, to the world of others’ hopes and tears and joys. It broadens our feelings, our views and our ideas. It forces us to treat others not as something separate, but as a part of ourselves. Which is exactly as God intended, isn’t it?
Imagination helps us picture the future, and prepare for it.
Pretty straightforward, right? You have to imagine what your future will be like, sometimes tomorrow or next week, sometimes in a year or ten years. It doesn’t matter if you’re grocery shopping for the week, or budgeting for the month, or planning a marriage, or raising a child … you have to picture the future in order to make smart choices now. Say what you will, that takes imagination.
Imagination helps us know God better.
Imagination is at the heart of God, really. As the Creator of the universe, imagination was crucial to Him. His very nature is a creative one. And when we feel His nature speak through us in the form of our imaginations, we know Him better. Yes, our attempts at creating things are pathetic and second-rate compared to His. But they bring us closer to Him, still; they forge a strong link between ours hearts and His. We are like children emulating our Dad, and finding joy in it. When I create things I understand my own inadequacy, but in the light of my Father’s greatness, that doesn’t seem to matter … I just find joy in the act of creating, and in my creations, however flawed. Like He does.
Imagination gives us hope.
Try for a second to stop thinking about what will happen to you in a minute – an hour – a day – a week – a year – a lifetime. The dreams you have always had? Nowhere to be seen. The hope you have for a husband and family of your own? Gone. Becoming a stronger Christian tomorrow than you were yesterday? Don’t even think about it. In fact, you can’t think about it … because you have no imagination … remember?
What a dismal picture.
My efforts for myself and my family and my son and my career would flag and die if I couldn’t conjure an image of a hopeful future. Why discipline or love my son if I can’t picture his future as a man after God’s own heart? Why live a life for God at all if I can’t imagine the hope of heaven, if I can’t picture being there myself?
“And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You.” Psalm 39:7
Imagination makes us stronger Christians.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not certain I’d be a Christian if I didn’t have an imagination. It always seemed to me that you could take every fact in the world to prove something – Christianity included – but in the end it still comes down to a matter of leaping. A matter of faith.
Yes, the facts are lined up for me. Yes, the evidence of God’s works are before me. His Word is written on the pages beneath my fingers. … But perhaps my heart is wary still. What will such a leap mean for me? When I believe, what will be required of me? I imagine looking into the face of God, for that’s what such a leap will mean, surely … I can imagine being in His presence, accepting Him not as a fact, but as all-consuming, beyond facts, Alpha and Omega, Creator of the world and of my soul.
So the leap must be made. And to make it, imagination is vital. And what do I imagine? Arms that hold me, a voice that whispers truths unseen. I see God’s face in my imagination. And not only do I have to believe He is God … I want to believe.
Some of the most important things in life have a basis in imagination. Foresight. Hope. Wisdom. Faith. Even love. Can you picture life without even one of these things? No? Then you are like the rest of us. You are like me. You have an imagination. Personally, I think it’s one of God’s greatest gifts.
Books can be bliss. Books can be a wonderful escape. Books can be deadly dangerous.
I’m not sure about you, but I’m addicted to books. I know of many people who are afflicted by this madness as well. It’s not really curable, and I’ve never been quite clear on whether that’s because it’s impossible, or just the fact that people simply don’t want to be cured of it.
Books have blessed me with countless hours of laughter, happiness, heart-thumping excitement and soul-wrenching sorrow. They have given me what I consider to be some of the richest times of enjoyment in my life.
So why are they so dangerous?
For someone like me who is immersed in books, it is easy to lose your way. The characters within them can become more real than the people in your life. The adventures in them can make your own life dull in comparison. The satisfaction of happy endings can distort your real-life expectations.
Don’t get me wrong. Books offer us much. New worlds, ideas, emotions and thoughts. The epic romance, the love at first sight, the evil that is always punished, the bad guy who is always caught, the ending that is always happy. I don’t blame you for wanting that. I want that. And it’s not something we’ll find very often, if at all, outside the covers of a book.
And this is where the danger lies.
Books teach us to expect these things. Books teach us not to settle, not to give in, until we have found these things. They promise that things like true love and happy endings are always attainable, if we could only find the right person, if we were only in the right circumstance, if we were only …. If only …. If ….
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor 10:3-5)
If I get annoyed with my husband because he doesn’t give me the deep and mysterious affection that Mr. Rochester gave Jane Eyre, or because he doesn’t change for me as Mr. Darcy did for Elizabeth, that’s no one’s fault but my own. It’s wrong for me to have those thoughts, the thoughts that books put into my head, the ones that I allow to control my expectations of real-life people.
Admit it, it’s a little bit funny, isn’t it? To know that a book can change the invisible pathways of my mind? To know that I want my husband to be just a bit more like Mr. Rochester? To admit that my life frustrates me and makes me want to cry like a child who hasn’t got her way when things don’t go right?
I think Satan must think it’s funny, too, watching as I’m separated from God’s plan for me. Watching as I grow bitter with life and friends and the people I’m supposed to be showing God’s love, all because I want someone to sweep me off my feet, or because my life is not the adventure I’d like it to be, or because I must watch as someone I’m close to suffers an ending that is anything but happy.
Books. Are they right or wrong to teach us these things? Right or wrong to make us long for … more?
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
Books. Dangerous or not? Do they lead us to neglect the springs of life from our own hearts, and make us instead focus our eyes on the imaginary, the unattainable?
Books, when all is said and done, don’t control your mind. Media doesn’t control you mind. Your mother, your father, your spouse, your friends—they don’t control it either. Only you, and only God. And even God will not force His way in unless you invite Him. So it’s your choice, then. Just as God intended.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)
Trust in the Lord … that’s the key, isn’t it? Keep your eyes on Him. Read books, enjoy books, love books … but keep your eyes on God and His Kingdom.
This world isn’t likely to offer you the epic romances you read about. It’s certainly not going to solve every crime and punish every criminal. And ask anyone … happily-ever-afters are but a myth.
We live in a world of sin and darkness.
But God is not vanquished by sin, and His light is not to be put out. What we look for in books and fail to find in real life—we may find in Him.
God gives us the fullest, most all-consuming love. He pursues us with relentless passion and gentle steadfastness. Isn’t that just what any true romantic longs for in the end?
God is the ultimate judge. Bad guys go free on earth too many times. But don’t believe for a moment that means their sins will go unpunished.
God is the creator of mystery, and therefore the solver of it. We should revel in His creation, even the mysteries of it, and look forward to one day having Him explain them to us.
Lastly, God is the maker of happy endings. Some of them do happen here on earth—some of them even rival the best books we’ve ever read. But nothing compares to the Final Happy Ending that we as Christians have to look forward to. Not a single book on earth can hold a candle to that.
All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before. (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle)
This world is not our home. It is not where we belong. Books tell us of other worlds—let us not forget the one we are in, nor the one we are going to. Books give us happiness—let us not forget where our eternal happiness lies. Books tell us of adventures and heroes—let us not forget that the life God gave us is the greatest adventure of all, and that the only hero we need is our Savior, the maker of the truest Happy Ending.
“What’s your book about?”
My most common response: “It’s like Hunger Games, only Christian.”
This is rather ironic since half the inspiration behind A Time to Die came from wanting to write a book unlike Hunger Games. Don’t get me wrong — I devoured the Hunger Games series. I’ve watched both movies multiple times, I obsess over every released picture, trailer, or tidbit from the upcoming Mockingjay films, and I even have a mockingjay pin.
But, I threw book three, Mockingjay, against the wall when I finished it. Hey, I know several others who did this same thing. Maybe even you.
Because the story lacked hope. Those books progressed into a darker and darker place, ultimate ending despair with a sprinkle of bittersweet-ever-after.
That wasn’t enough for me. I needed to know that standing up for my beliefs, that striving for more, that fighting for justice was worth it. That humans could make a difference and that goodness could be found in the world.
I know Christ. I know it’s possible. So I wrote about it. Here are some similarities and differences between The Hunger Games and my own dystopian novel, A Time to Die.
- They are both dystopian (duh)
- Both Katniss and Parvin are striving against an unjust society for the purpose of protecting the people they love.
- Both books examine the struggles that minority people groups face against a controlling government.
- The government in both books has a special power that can control the decisions and cooperation of the people. In Hunger Games it’s the Hunger Games, in A Time to Die it’s the Clocks.
- The Hunger Games is about Katniss’s external fight against her government (and her impending doom) to survive and make a change.
- A Time to Die is about Parvin interally seeking the meaning of life, trying to understand the purpose of her existence.
- The Hunger Games – Katniss draws her hope from her sister, Prim, and from her love interests, Gale and Peeta. Her hope is completely tied up in these people and of course, because they’re human, they can’t uphold that weight.
- A Time to Die – Parvin learns to draw her hope from faith in God. And, despite tragedy and the failure of humans, His power withstands the weight of human sorrow.
- In The Hunger Games, Katniss is a survivor. She’s been raised hunting, shooting and making bows and arrows. She never cries, she’s the leader of her family. This is a common trait in female dystopian protagonists, but a not-so-common trait in real teenage girls reading.
- In A Time to Die, Parvin is as human as they get. She has doubts about life, about God, about her purpose. She’s afraid, she’s never even gone camping, and she’s been raised in the comfort of home with a solid family. While she tries to be strong emotionally, she’s human and she breaks when she’s alone.
Not only is this difference in the books, but it’s a difference in our lives – in our thinking – as believers in Christ. Because Christ is my hope, it forms the stories I write. This is the beauty behind Christian fiction. I’m honored to be part of it.
What books have left you hopeful? What books have left you hopeless?
To find out more about Nadine or her book, visit her at one of these places: