Eucatastrophe: More Than A Happy Ending

We’ve been living the thang, friends, and time hasn’t waited for me to pause, even for a quick hello. So, here’s a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and an excerpt from my book Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown Up World. Enjoy, and may 2017 hold many wonders for you and your loved ones!

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On the day after New Year’s Day I strip all the beds in the house. The laundry room floor is covered with sheets and pillowcases and mattress pads and I am thinking about the clean slate. Somehow I can’t stand to think of our dreaming being done in last year’s dirt—little bits of skin and dog hair and lint littering up the sleeping.

I stand in the doorway with bedclothes billowing and I see that the dirt of life—the dirt of my life—is a very robust thing. We do what we can to write our stories well, to live a good dream, but there is always the stuff of life—the unforeseen interruptions, the distractions, the dirt of everyday necessities.

No matter what I dream, the sheets will still need washing.

Yesterday was J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday and in honor of one of our favorite storytellers, I wanted to have a party. But our youngest had percussion practice after school and his brother had to tutor some classmates and it was cold and night came early and my body hurt from the New Year’s resolutions and a fall down some stairs. So my firstborn and I took Lucy Mae for a walk in the dark instead and I dressed her in a leopard print sweater. At least the dog would be dressed for celebration.

The evening walk is a heart exercise and especially in the cover of night it seems our senses are tuned to the eternal. Each step has a way of loosing the strings that knot us up in what we can see. I feel around inside of him with questions and he smiles more readily than usual and we walk slowly—even in the cold. On this night, I am thinking about how we enjoyed The Hobbit recently and I remember how Tolkien coined this term eucatastrophe.

Wikipedia tells me that he “formed the word by affixing the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, the word traditionally used in classically-inspired literary criticism to refer to the “unraveling” or conclusion of a drama’s plot.

To me, eucatastrophe sounds like the happy ending, but to Tolkien, it meant more. It’s the way the hero’s fate is tied up in the entire story—it’s redemption in the end that the telling was building up to. It’s the happy ending only deeper.

Tolkien saw “the Incarnation as the eucatastrophe of human history and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation,” Wikipedia goes on to say.

And I think about the stories he wrote, how they embodied this term eucatastrophe, and I wonder how my life can do the same. How am I living my life that leads this story to the great Eucatastrophe?

I am likely never to face trolls, or orcs, or goblins. I probably won’t be on a quest upon which rests the fate of earth as we know it. But there is always the dirt of life that rears up against me—threatens to waylay this hero from the happy ending.

Am I able to carry this ring?

I smooth down the edges of sheets and fluff pillows into plump resting places. It feels good, this clean slate. But one thing I know—one thing I’ve learned from Bilbo and Frodo and Gandalf and life … the journey is a continuous series of stops and starts. There are joy days and dream days and good storytelling. But there are also interruptions, frustrations, and the dirt of life. I must choose which parts of the story will define me. What makes a good story?

Andrew Stanton, the writer of the three “Toy Story” movies and other animated masterpieces, says it well in his TED talk The Clues to a Great Story:

I walked out of there [the movie Bambi at age five] wide-eyed with wonder. And that’s what I think the magic ingredient is—the secret sauce—can you invoke wonder? Wonder is honest, it’s completely innocent, it can’t be artificially evoked. For me, there’s no greater ability than the gift of another human being giving you that feeling. To hold them still just for a brief moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder. When it’s tapped, the affirmation of being alive, it reaches you almost at a cellular level…the best stories invoke wonder.”

Isn’t the best play the one that tells a good story? The play that evokes wonder? And shouldn’t we be doing this with our lives?

I will keep pressing forward, writing these pages. Because I already know how that eucatastrophe will unfold. I already know the happy ending. And it is steeped in wonder.

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The above is a modified excerpt from Laura’s book, Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown-up World, copyright 2014. Used with permission from Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press. All rights reserved.

I Went to Nest Fest and All I Bought was a Bunch of Books (so I’m giving them away!)

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We drove five hours down I-77, outrunning the rain, driving between mountains, watching the leaves go from patchwork back to green again, then landing where the sun shone bright on a field-full of artisans and musicians and writers and creatives of all types. We went to the big white barn. I knew my friend Shelly would be there, and Lisa, and Emily. That’s why I went—to see some friends. And before I even walked the grounds I ran out of cash because I bought so. many. books. My only regret? I didn’t buy more books. I wish I had bought Tim’s newest book—a beautiful Christmas story that seems to celebrate his love for his three “pixie” daughters, because amazon tells me they are out of stock. And I wanted Edie’s book too—I loved her Lenten devotional this year. And Logan was there and Myquillyn, of course, and so much loveliness!

Sometimes, I need to run away to find my way back home. You? Autumn fills me with the wanderlust and a road trip always cures the ill. Jeff came along with me—my favorite travel companion. He sees a lot, that man. Just sits back and watches. You know what he said to me after watching me hug on Shelly for a time, then sit at Lisa’s feet to catch up, and soak up some wisdom from Tim? “You need to write more,” he said. “It’s clear how happy this makes you.” He knows I’ve been struggling with words lately. We’ve been wrestling with the question of time and I’ve gradually arrived at a place of acceptance. Acceptance that my time needs to be invested in other things for a season. But he knows it makes me sad. Because, writers gotta write, right?

The next best thing to writing is rubbing shoulders with some special writers. So that’s what I did this weekend. And because writers need readers, to celebrate beautiful YOU, my dear reader, I’m giving away some books. I have a signed copy of Lisa Whittle’s newest book I Want God, a signed copy of Emily P. Freeman’s book Simply Tuesday (my favorite go-to book when I’m feeling very small), and a book that Shelly Miller was supposed to sign for you but didn’t. I discovered too late that she forgot to sign it.  But … her sweet hands held this book, I promise. So that’s a copy of Rhythms of Rest, not signed, but touched by the author. One lucky reader will win this awesome stack of books. Just leave a comment for a chance to win. If you share on social media, let me know and you’ll get extra entries for each way you share. Winner will be announced on Friday, 10/28. I’ll leave you with a few random shots from Nest Fest. xo

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The Right to Write: Follow Your Bliss (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

It’s been a pleasure to read with you these past weeks. Originally, these posts appeared at The High Calling. We read through that first time during the summer months. Now, as we journey through Advent, I find some of Julia Cameron’s thoughts all the more poignant. This is the last installment of our book club. 

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This morning I sat out back and read the final chapters of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. My son joined me on the deck with his breakfast. I put the book face down on the table—ran my hand along the well worn spine and sighed deeply. We sat quietly for a while, letting birdsong and breeze speak for us. I picked the book back up, flipped through the last pages … set it down again.

“I need more coffee,” I announced to the air, wrapping fingers around my favorite green polka-dot mug.

I felt his eyes on my back as I went to the door.

“Are you procrastinating?” He asked.

I grinned.

How did he know I had just read that chapter?

It’s time to say goodbye to Julia Cameron.

I’m the kind of girl that when finished with a good read, I can’t move on to another quickly. I have to sit with the characters for a time … miss them some.

I have come to think of Julia Cameron as a friend these past weeks. Through her I met my muse, drew encouragement about my crazy writing schedule, and made my commitment to morning pages. I’ve made some new friends and strolled along with some familiars. Of most value, I think I have grown as a writer—having been courted, stretched, and loved.

The courtship is over, my friends. It’s time to step into the real commitment. Do you dare sign the contract? Do you dare follow your bliss?

If I’m going to marry this Writing Life, it has to be bliss. But, one thing I have learned from Julia Cameron is that the bliss can come after pushing through some pretty tough stuff. Isn’t that what marriage is all about?

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.” –Mythologist Joseph Campbell, who coined the phrase follow your bliss.

I couldn’t say it any better. Go ahead. Say “yes” to the Writing Life. It’s a sweet invitation.

Week 13: Roots
Week 12: I Eat with My Eyes
Week 11: Friendly Reader
Week 10: Feed the Horses
Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: Roots (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

I thought about Mary Ainsworth when I read Julia Cameron’s chapter on Roots in  The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life this week.

Mary Ainsworth is the developmental psychologist who, in the 1960s and 70s, conducted extensive research on Attachment Theory. She identified three different attachment patterns between infants and adults: secure, anxious-avoidant (insecure), and anxious-ambivalent (also insecure).

The most desirous attachment pattern is the secure type (of course), in which the child uses the caregiver as a secure base to which he returns periodically—but otherwise freely explores his environment. The infants who demonstrated insecure attachment styles either were too anxious about separation to explore the environment or showed little relational interest.

Just as the more securely attached infants were found to be more socially successful, Julia Cameron believes that writers who also have a safe base, or roots as she terms it, will be more successful as well.

In order to bloom, all of us need a root system. Just as a regular practice of writing roots us firmly in our lives, a regular life roots us firmly in our writing. Those long sabbaticals everyone lusts after so they can be truly productive seldom yield the promised result. Too often the yawning vistas of time yield self-involved work that yawns on the page…”

Roots—those things that anchor us into life—allow us the freedom to explore. When we have that safe base to return to—whether that is a day job, stable relationships, or some other regular routine—that security gives courage to creativity. It is the foundation on which to build new experiences.

Fine. But I’m not ready to give up my sabbatical fantasy yet. I don’t know about you, but the idea of living on a tropical island and doing nothing but writing (and lazing in the sun…listening to the sound of waves lapping the shore…) still seduces my imagination. But I understand what Cameron is saying. How many times have experiences from my day job inspired writing ideas that would have otherwise gone untapped? And if I didn’t have the security of a regular income, would I have dared invest my free time in writing a book?

Writers need to live in the world, Cameron says.

Give us too much self-involvement and we lose our involvement with the world. Yes, then we are boring…When we center our writing lives on our writing instead of our lives, we leach both our lives and our writing of the nutrients they require.”

Maybe Julia Cameron has a point. Chances are, if I did live on a tropical island with no responsibilities but writing, I would probably do everything but (I’ve always wanted to learn to windsurf …).

But I’m holding out for a happy medium. I think I could spend half the year on island time and the other half as responsible psychologist. Don’t you? Do you think life will wait for me? Perhaps one day I’ll have the opportunity to find out, but until then, I’m keeping my day job.

How about you?

Next week we wrap up the book with the last four chapters. Join us for Stakes, Procrastination, Into the Water, and The Right to Write. See you on the page!

Week 12: I Eat with My Eyes
Week 11: Friendly Reader
Week 10: Feed the Horses
Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: I Eat with My Eyes (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

I drive with the windows down and the air conditioning on. The sun burns through the windshield and though the air is cool, I must let the breeze ripple my hair, feel the wildness of strands licking face. I have the music loud—it fills the air around me, drifts out and spills onto the road I leave behind.

I remember this—this wild abandon. Running away from home. A windblown reckless feeling. Music soothing raw emotions.

But this is different. A happy running away. A running to. I drive into the future.

tendril of gray
ribbon unravels
from the horizon and
meets me here, under
four tires. the trees
know my name and

reach for me with
white arms, shoulders
bared and beautiful, roots
steeped in gems that
take flight—move as
one, a wind-shaken sheet

of color waving and
swaying to the music
of the road. a lonely
cow peers through
doleful eyes, lows
softly in my wake.

I drive into the sky.

When I drive, the places I pass become mythical memories … vibrant colors, quaint villages, loquacious livestock. My imagination soars.
Julia Cameron understands.

I am very aware that the art of writing devours images and that if I am going to write deeply, frequently, and well, I must keep my inner pond of images very well stocked. When I want to restock my images, I get behind the wheel of my car.

My everyday images lose their luster in the ho-hum drudgery of life. Sometimes beauty can be better seen from a few paces back … or through an open window, driving by. Loping hills and grassy meadows stir my appetite for words. Rich sunsets create a poetry all their own.

 …As a writer, I eat with my eyes, and that sumptuous sunset sated my appetite. Today I am hungry to write.

Next week in our book club discussion of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, we explore Roots, ESP, and Cheap Tricks. See you on the page!

Week 11: Friendly Reader
Week 10: Feed the Horses
Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.