The Greatest Commandment

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NRSV).

What is the nature of love? Love cannot exist without truth, whether it is the expression of care for a neighbor, or the earnest kinship felt between friends, or two souls knitted into one in the marital state, or a soul laid naked and bare before the throne of God…love cannot exist without truth.

How can we love God fully without truth? How can we love our neighbor if we exchange the truth for lies? We are no better than liars, if we Christians won’t stand up and speak out against this pervasive….wrongness…that exists. This modern-day Babylon. This Sodom and Gomorrah. Where are our Daniels and Abrahams? Where are the righteous few who aren’t afraid to risk themselves to speak the truth, to stand against the current of evil, to cling fast to the truth, out of love of God? Are they all gone?

I speak, not counting myself amongst them. I am a hypocrite. I know that full well. If I won’t risk myself…to be the salt, the light, then what’s the point? What value am I bringing? These are some of the unanswered questions that I will be bringing with me to church today. Kyrie eleison.

The Transitory Nature of a Moment

When was the last time that you shared a moment with someone and you knew, this is our goodbye? Did you take a pause to honor that situation or that person, why or why not? Do you have any lingering regrets?

Recently, I’ve begun meditating on the transitory nature of moments – how they pass away so quietly and we often don’t recognize in that brief span of time that it is the final time. We assign no goodbyes to mark the occasion. They just slip away quietly, relegated to the recesses of our memories. As a friend recently mentioned to me, one day was the last day you went outside to play with the neighborhood kids. Or, as I thought, when is the last time that a child requests a hug or a kiss, or a wave goodbye? When is the last time we see a certain place, or a group of friends or colleagues? I suspect that while some of these moments, a job transition, a death, moving away, all have a definitive end, far more fall into that other category, just silently fading away.

One day, without realizing it, there will be a final blog post, and this site here will be shut down, the domain and upgrades not renewed, and the articles and musings will disappear. Today isn’t that day, but, the reality is that it’s coming, someday. Goodbyes are inevitable. I don’t know about you but since I can’t undo those moments, those relationships, that weren’t honored with a proper goodbye, it makes me all the more eager to live in a state of awareness of the present, to cherish each moment, each person that enters my life (however briefly) and to try not to cling too tightly, for who knows when that passing moment will be the last?

If you could go back, would you hold that child just a smidgen tighter, longer? Would you savor that meal that much more? Linger a few more moments with that friend, before rushing off home or to your next engagement? Hold their hand a while longer? Embrace every moment, my anonymous readers, and take care.

In Search of Freedom

Happy belated Fourth of July, or, as I like to say to my friends across the pond, “Happy Insurrection Day!”. If you’re an American and celebrated the holiday this weekend, I hope that you had a great time of fellowship, food, fun, and fireworks.

Fireworks are always something I’m a bit leery of — I worry that the loud BANG! will frighten the pets. My own cat seemed to do just fine, but he was definitely sticking to dark, quiet, cave-like spaces…so perhaps it bothered him more than he let on. There was a community fireworks display, which we weren’t sure if it was going to go on as planned or not (apparently so). For our part, we picked up some not-so-loud, kid-friendly fireworks at a tent in a neighboring county and brought them out to be enjoyed by family we went visiting this weekend.

Fireworks have really evolved. They still have the smoke bombs I grew up with, but now there are also smoke sticks, that accomplish the same thing and burn longer. Snappers are still around, but so are firecrackers, that you light and throw and a loud POP! follows. Sparklers are no longer just wands, but they glow neon or change colors. And I still manage to burn my fingers attempting to keep a lighter lit long enough for the fuse to catch….instead of just using any of the number of provided pumps instead (haha).

Did you have a favorite firecracker growing up? Mine, either are no longer made, or just weren’t available at the highway stop that we tried. I think my personal favorite was one I nicknamed the “Japanese Lantern” — a beautiful disc that spun around, once lit, with sparks, and it exploded into an accordion of paper that you could hang up, and for lack of a better term, they looked like a delicate rice paper lantern, that you could hold suspended in the air, or string up and admire from a distance. Whatever your favorite, if you think back far enough, there’s probably a fond memory too.

Some of the firecrackers brought to this year’s celebration. I’ve no idea what that large bulb-looking one does.

As we drove home, I reflected on the glaring absence of any patriotic hymns, sung either at church earlier that day, or amongst family and friends. When did it become out of fashion to celebrate being an American? I hardly know. In small-towns, or in the heart of Trump country (sometimes, the same thing!), you might still find tiny flags lining driveways and large signs thanking our troops and veterans, or a Main Street parade with hay-strewn floats, tractors, and fire engines. Is it polarizing to be patriotic these days, maybe? Or maybe a better question, should outward signs of celebrating the holiday be a fair judge to begin with? Perhaps not, but that’s where I find my mind drifting.

Missouri skews largely Republican in the majority of the state, and predominantly Democrat in the two major cities, so, these party lines are keenly felt the the more rural you get, as there’s a shift. This may differ in your own area, and I don’t mean to imply that patriotism is strictly Republican, but, small-town America, in the rural parts, seems to be where you’re most likely to encounter these homey holiday touches that feel like they’re quietly vanishing. By the time my nieces and nephews are fully grown, and have children of their own, will their children be celebrating the Fourth of July in the same way I did at their age? Will there even be a free America to celebrate?

John Locke once said that “Liberty is not license”, and he goes on to speak that this license doesn’t permit us to destroy ourselves, but to seek a nobler purpose than just preservation for its own sake.

Jim Caviezel, who notably portrayed Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, cautioned in one of his speeches, “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom exists not to do what you like, but having the right to do what you ought.”

St. Paul, in the book of Galatians, wrote, “For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:13-15).

These are just a few ready quotes that come to mind as I’m mulling over the nature of freedom, in this case, to love and serve our neighbor. It’s not unreasonable to make the observation that you turn on the news and a lot of it seems to be the “biting and devouring” that St. Paul cautions the Galatians against. We are being consumed by one another, and our Nation with us. We have lost the noblest origins of our country’s founding, and it’s questionable whether we’ll ever see it again. These somber reflections leave me this year with a bigger question that I’m not sure how to begin to answer: is our nation’s freedom still worth celebrating?

Review: Dare To Bloom

Zim Flores (nee Ugochukwu) is extremely successful. Ask Oprah Winfrey, or Forbes (she was a “30 Under 30” awardee), or anyone familiar with her startup, Travel Noire, or her latest venture, Italicist. Flores, a Minnesota native, lives in Illinois but travels and works remotely from around the world. But behind her success story is a woman who has dared to bloom despite major setbacks, and learned to trust God to help her start again.

Dare To Bloom: Trusting God Through Painful Endings and New Beginnings was just released in 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Flores’ first book is a delightful, frothy confection that appeals to a feminine audience with gilt titles, botanical illustrations, and photos from the author’s travels to at least eight countries (I lost track counting in the image credits page), and running at 223 pages, it’s a super-short read. Beyond the aesthetics which certainly caught my browsing eye, is Zim’s story of displacement (the daughter of first-generation Nigerian immigrants) and the hard truth of grounding one’s identity in God, rather than in worldly success.

Dare To Bloom opens with an introduction of the concepts of “seasonal purpose” (temporary missions) versus “all-weather purpose” (lifetime missions), and learning as Christians to discern God at work in and around us, regardless of whether we feel like we are currently wandering through a spiritual desert, emerging out of one, or walking back into one again. Flores draws from Biblical stories like the ancient Israelites wandering through the wilderness, to, Jonah and his journey to Ninevah, or Abigail’s act of faith, or many other recognizable figures from the Old Testament, to illustrate how we can better learn to lean on God despite difficulties in our lives — specifically, on the topic of identity.

It’s an overused analogy (and one that Flores thankfully doesn’t revert to) but, when we anchor our identity on things, places, people or statuses, and then that is lost, we find ourselves adrift. We have, in other words, an identity crisis. We feel like we’ve lost a part of ourselves when we’ve lost that thing/place/people/status. Flores’ argument is that only by finding our identity in Christ can we have an immovable foundation, calling to mind the Biblical truths found in Hebrews 6:19 and the parable of the Wise and the Foolish Builders, found in Matthew 7.

Throughout the book, Flores has discussion questions at the end of several chapters, making this an ideal book club read, as well as an eight-page seasonal review, to help you identify what season of your life you are currently in and where you are headed with a series of questions on identifying the roadblocks that are holding you back, the areas of your life that need growth, where you have failed and the status of your relationships as you head into a new season. This in-depth overview of self-analysis is something readers can return to, again and again. My one criticism of this feature is that there is no room in the book itself to record your answers. It would be helpful if Thomas Nelson released a companion journal with the prompts from this book, so readers can really delve into these questions that Flores puts to the reader, ideally with some of the same floral thematic content found in the art design of this title.

Dare to Bloom may be a niche book, but how it appeals! Female readers, especially with a Christian background, may appreciate the book design, Biblical stories, travel photography, and memoir aspects, and anyone struggling with identity will find substantive questions for when you’re feeling uprooted. Recommended.

Learn more about the author on her website at www.zimism.com and @Zimism.

An Important Announcement (I’m No Longer Agenting)

Hey guys and gals, I have kind of a major change in my life to share with you today. This was my last week as a junior literary agent with Metamorphosis Literary Agency. Since I have mentioned on my website previously about this journey, I felt like this was something I needed to share here as well, now that it’s come to an end.

Nineteen months is a short time to dip into the publishing industry, but long enough for me to determine that I underestimated the challenges agents face, and my ability to cope and to adjust to them. It has been a struggle. After prayer and discernment, and looking towards the future, I have come to the conclusion that this is the best decision I can make.

If you have been following me here or on social media and were interested in representation, I can wholeheartedly recommend the nice folks at Metamorphosis to you for your consideration, but I will not be pursuing a solo agenting career or looking for another agency to join for the foreseeable future.

Since I cannot reach out to all of you personally, I wanted to say (here at least) that I am immensely grateful to everyone who supported me in this opportunity, beginning with Meghan Pinson, who I met at a writer’s conference in 2018 and mentioned that Metamorphosis was looking for interns; to Patty, Amy, and all of the other amazing agents at Metamorphosis who embraced me, believed in my potential as an agent, and taught me about the publishing industry; and to Stephanie Hansen, our fearless leader, for giving me the chance in the first place.

I’d also like to express gratitude to every author who ever queried or pitched to me for the honor of getting to know more about you and your projects; to the remarkable editors at countless publishers I’ve queried (I have so much respect for the hard work you do!); to the event organizers who opened up their doors to invite a new agent in; to anyone I may have inadvertently overlooked, and lastly, to all of the clients that I represented on behalf of Metamorphosis. Thank you.

This website and blog is still going to be a space where I talk about faith, writing and publishing (and other areas of interest) and I hope to continue to connect with people who are passionate about these areas. If that sounds like you, I hope you’ll keep in touch.

1/27/21 Correction: Post title edited for clarity.