How to Help the Hurting (Lessons from Samara’s Peril)

The Hurting Hero

It’s no secret that I’m a complete pushover when it comes to mistreated people (real and fictional). My brother read Resistance before me. When I started it, he told me he already knew who my favorite character would be–Jace. He was right.

Help the Hurting

The sympathy that fictional characters stir in me has played a large role in shaping my passions. As a twelve-year-old who spent the majority of the summer with her nose in a book, my thoughts and pretend games often revolved around how I would help the characters in my latest story–the lonely orphan, the bullied school kid, the frightened immigrant, the ill-treated slave.

Imagination Grows Up

People often think their imaginations dry up as they transition to adulthood, but maybe they just mature with us. Obviously my brain hasn’t stopped fantasizing over helping fictional people (it’s an author thing). However, I can now use abstract thinking to move that inspiration into the real world.

Jace spends much of Samara’s Peril hurting. He sinks into depression. He battles loneliness. His past haunts him. Jace is fictional, but his struggles are not.

Fictional Spark. Real Action.

I love how persistent Kyrin and Rayad are in loving Jace. Even when he pushes them away and causes them pain, they refuse to let him struggle alone. I love them as characters because of the way they care for others.

What can we do when we close the last page, return to our bedroom from a land of fantasy, and think with a happy sigh, “I want to hug Jace. I want to be like Kyrin and Rayad.”? Just ask yourself, “Who do I know who is depressed, anxious, lonely, scared? How can I love that person?

A Few Ideas

Kyrin nodded and wiped her cheeks as she rose. “Come on. I know it’s hard, but you must eat. You need the strength.” She held out her hand.

Jace gazed at it a moment, and then took it, the warmth and connection like a lifeline to his battered heart. She helped him up and did not let go for a long moment before turning and leading the way downstairs.

Loving doesn’t have to be extravagant or difficult. It doesn’t have to achieve want we want it to (more on that in a moment). It’s all about being aware, attentive, and genuine. Love tells people, “You are not invisible. You are not just part of the crowd. I see you as a unique individual–made in the image of God–and it is my joy to invest moments of my life into yours.”

If you’re at a loss for how to reach out, here are some quick ideas.

  • Send a note. Handwritten letters are always special (especially to older people), but if penmanship is not your forte or your schedule barely allows you to breathe, don’t despair. A quick email to say, “I’m thinking of you” or to ask, “How can I pray for you?” is sure to brighten anyone’s day.
  • Listen. At a missionary conference I recently attended, one missionary lady said that missionary kids and their families crave for people to listen to them. She said that the lack of shared commonality makes many people uncomfortable with simply listening, but their quickness to interrupt can make missionary families keenly aware of their own struggle to fit in. The art of listening is a wonderful way to show you care.
  • Spend Time Together. Nothing reinforces loneliness like watching other people rush around with “things to do and people to see,” while not having anyone to rush with or to. Sometimes the best gift is a phone call, an invitation to come over to play board games, or an hour spent hovering over two cups of coffee that would have been cheaper to make at home.
  • Send a Package. This is one of my favorite things (both to send and receive). There’s something about receiving a random package full of goodies that creates a sense of wonder. Several friends and I once figured out how many love languages a letter or packages speaks to. A package obviously touches a person who feels loved through receiving gifts. The time put into into preparing it speaks to a person who is loved through quality time. The servant’s heart behind (and perhaps practical items in) the package can warm the heart of a person who is loved through acts of service. The words in a note and the personalization of the package shows affection to the person loved through words of affirmation. If you want to stretch it to include all five love languages, you could even say that the tangible nature of a letter and package is the closest thing you can get to physical touch without being there in person.

Only God Can

One of Kyrin’s deepest pains is that she can’t get through to Jace. She doesn’t want him to hurt, but her love can’t penetrate his despair. In the same way, we may not be able to help our hurting friends to the extent we want to. One of my friends wrote the following quote into a book she’s working on…

As I mentioned above, love doesn’t have to achieve what we want it to. Results shouldn’t determine our behavior. Our role is to be obedient to God‘s calling–which includes courageously loving those around us. He is the only one with the power to heal souls, and He is mighty to save. Which brings me to a final way to help.

  • Pray.  God is the only one who can give true healing, so bring the lonely, depressed, and anxious to Him in prayer.

Can you think of anyone you know who has needs similar to those of a fictional character you wish you could help? Can you add more practical ways to show love to my list?

P.S. The graphic for this post has subtle relevance for readers very familiar with Jace’s story. Any idea what it is?

3 Lessons from A Little Princess

Once on a dark winter’s day, when the yellow fog hung so think and heavy in the streets of London that the lamps were lighted and the shop windows blazed with gas as they do at night, an odd-looking little girl sat in a cab with her father and was driven rather slowly through the big thoroughfares.

This paragraph snatches readers into the whimsical London of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s imagination. As long-time readers of my blog know, this story world of contrasts is one of my favorite fictional landing places and has captivated me for almost a decade. Since we’ve been exploring the impact of fiction lately, it seemed fitting to do a post on the lessons in A Little Princess.

Lessons from ALP

A Good Name Is Rather To Be Chosen Than Great Riches

“It’s true,” she said. “Sometimes I do pretend I am a princess. I pretend I am a princess so that I can try and behave like one.”

When I first read A Little Princess, the luxury surrounding Sara Crewe fascinated me. When I thought about the fabrics, I could almost feel them. When I read about the shoes that Lavinia claimed were designed to make Sara’s feet look small, I wondered if my shoes made my feet look small. However, when all that was stripped from her, my sense of fascination with Sara didn’t lessen.

Sara’s richness doesn’t revolve around the things she owns. Her toys and dresses are interesting, but her personality and imagination make her surroundings breathtaking regardless of their material worth.

A Little Princess is a Cinderella story. Sara’s desire to behave like a princess could just as easily translate into Cinderella’s mantra, “Have courage and be kind.” Sara shows readers that cultivating an attitude rich in charity is a sort of wealth that can’t be stolen away like physical possessions.

Sara made me want a princess-like heart just as much as princess-worthy belongings.

Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You

“Why,” she said, “we are just the same–I am only a little girl like you.”

Sara does not make a habit of judging people by their social class, intellect, or appearance. When she needs someone in need of friendship, she eagerly seeks an opportunity to show kindness to that person. Her lack of superiority allows her to make genuine friends who love her as much when she is a pauper as when she was an heiress.

“She is hungrier than I am,” she said to herself. ” She’s starving.” But her hand trembled when she put down the fourth bun. “I’m not starving,” she said–and she put down the fifth.

This quote comes from one of the most vivid scenes in A Little Princess. Sara has reached an all time low, and Miss Minchin cold-heartedness is unrelenting. Deprived of meals, Sara happens across an abandoned coin. She uses the coin to get buns from a bakery, then gives away most of her purchase in order to help a girl worse off than herself. Part of being a princess, she tells herself, is feeding the populace.

Sara made me want to have an abundance mentality before I even knew the term.

The Trying of Your Faith Worketh Patience

“Yes,” answered Sara, nodding. “Adversity tries people, and mine has tried you and proved how nice you are.”

This sort of goes along with the first point. If Sara’s kindness had evaporated with her money, A Little Princess would be a very different story. Instead she is transformed from a spoiled child that has managed to remain level-headed to a girl who has proven her mettle and her character. When her riches are restored to her at the end of the story, they seem better than ever before because she has been tried by adversity and proved to be “nice.”

We are children of the King of Kings, heirs to unimaginable riches, yet we are to live in a world that we are not part of (John 17:13-19). Does our behavior evidence who we are in Christ?

Sara made me want to endure hardness while maintaining a good testimony.

Conclusion

Obviously I didn’t have such philosophical thoughts the the first time I read A Little Princess. To be honest, I only recently realized how many lessons stories have tucked into my heart. It’s really neat to look back and put words to the practical inspiration generated by stories like this one.

If you’ve read A Little Princess, do any of these lessons ring true for you? What is one positive, practical inspiration you’ve drawn from a story?

The Legacy of Fiction

A hymn I enjoy begins with the words, “It only takes a spark, to get a fire going, And soon all those around, can warm up in it’s glowing.” The song refers to God’s love, which is obviously more important and more powerful than fictional stories. However, I’ve been reminded recently of the lasting impact a story can have.

Legacy of Fiction

Returning to books I enjoyed as a young reader often shows me how various stories shaped who I am today (stay tuned for a post about ways A Little Princess inspired me). For example, a few months ago I re-read The Hundred Dresses. As I read, I realized it was this story that sparked my determination to introduce myself to each new person at my homeschool group. I never wanted anyone to feel the way the Polish girl in the story did, and I never wanted to regret not being friendly to someone the way the narrator did.

While the phrase “show, don’t tell” can be a writer’s bane, it is the essence of impactful fiction. Stories are amazing because a well crafted tale allows readers to absorb important lessons without anyone telling them what they’re supposed to learn. The Hundred Dresses didn’t tell me, “Don’t let peer pressure cause you to be unkind.” Instead, it made me feel sympathetic. It pulled me into the loneliness of a girl who didn’t fit in, and the struggle of a girl afraid to share her fate. After reading it, no one had to tell me, “Befriend new people, lonely people, people of different cultures, and outcasts.” Instead, I spent hours daydreaming ways I would have made friends with the girl in the story. I imagined what I would say to her and mentally acted out our conversations. I crafted the words I would use to tell the mean girls how wrong they were.

India_45_FToday, there are few things I enjoy more than making friends with people of different cultures. My existing friends laugh at how predictable I am when I meet someone who speaks Spanish as their first language, because it rarely takes long for me to strike the bargain, “I’ll help you with English if you help me improve my Spanish!” I love listening to my Indian friends tell me of love found through arranged marriage. Trying the food and clothing of different cultures is a special excitement. When a new “girl” (or woman) shows up at church, I do my best to introduce myself and make her feel welcome.

Some of these traits are part of my personality and upbringing. However, I know that reading The Hundred Dresses many years ago triggered a lot of these habits that shape who I am as adult. What I didn’t realize was that the affect of the story reached beyond myself.

Last week, my family went to a special annual event done by our old homeschool group. We enjoyed catching up with old friends and seeing how much the “little kids” have grown up. After the performances, one of the moms and I were talking, and she took a moment to introduce me to a newcomer . Her introduction was, “This is Leah. She was the first person to introduce herself to me and the kids when we started coming here.” When the other person left, the mom turned back to me and said, “Your introduction made such an impact on me. Now, when there are new families, I have my children go and introduce themselves.”

You never know how your actions will impact other people, or how long lasting the impact will be.

I think it is incredible to look back and pinpoint the small things that sparked bigger things and follow how those things have grown over the years. As a lover of books, it’s especially neat to see how often stories are responsible for inspiring practical things in real life. Fiction–good fiction–is not a waste of time. It inspires and challenges us.

It started out as a feeling
Which then grew into a hope
Which then turned into a quiet thought
Which then turned into a quiet word
And then that word grew louder and louder…
The Call, from Prince Caspian

What legacy has fiction left in your life? What practical actions have stories inspired you to take? How have books shaped the person you are today?

Don’t Waste Your Time On (Trifling) Fiction

Face it. You can’t live with your head in the clouds forever. Fiction whisks you out of the real world and builds unrealistic expectations. Readers of fiction can become discontent with the lives they are leading. The lesson? Don’t waste your time on fiction–instead, determine to choose books that inspire.

Fiction Waste

 

A Bookworm Reacts to Fiction Bashing

Every time I read a blog post that bashes fiction or hear someone boasting that they only read non-fiction, I cringe. I grew up with my nose in a book. When I read A Little Princess for the first time, I immediately identified with Sara when her father said,

She is always sitting with her little nose burrowing into books. She doesn’t read them, Miss Minchin; she gobbles them up as if she were a little wolf instead of a little girl. She is always starving for new books to gobble.

So, what do I mean when I repeat the naysayers’ mantra of, “Don’t waste time on fiction”? Obviously I’m not telling you to throw out every novel in your house and feed yourself an exclusive diet of non-fiction. You wouldn’t listen to me anyway. On the other hand, I can’t deny that it is entirely possible to waste time on fiction and be negatively impacted by it.

Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. –Philippians 4:5

The Good and the Bad

Dear reader, don’t abuse fiction. Don’t neglect necessary and needful things like reading the Bible, doing school, working diligently, serving others, and spending time with God in order to read “one more chapter.” Don’t choose books that fill your mind with unholy thoughts.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. –Philippians 4:8

When people turn their backs on fiction, they’ve often been exposed predominately to books that don’t turn their thoughts to things that are true, lovely, pure, and of good report. That’s a tragedy.  There are many stories that can help you do exactly what Philippians 4:9 directs. That’s why I love fiction so much.

Fiction and Me

Novels have had a huge impact on my life. I can point to particular books that have shaped and grown me to the person I am today. The Hundred Dresses taught me to care about people who are different, left out, or made fun of. As a very young reader, I remember finishing this book with a determination to befriend anyone who didn’t fit in–a determination that led me to make a point of greeting each newcomer at homeschool group and church. When I was twelve, A Family Apart renewed my interest in orphan care, a passion that is a huge part of who I am today. At sixteen, Safely Home pulled me into the life of a Chinese Christian and suddenly made the persecution I had learned about my whole life real. Without Alcorn’s novel, I might never have written Counted Worthy.

These books are a tiny sampling of the timeline of fiction that positively impacted my life. These are the books that make me want to cry out in protest when people dismiss fiction as being less worthy that non-fiction.

Non-fiction can teach the mind, but fiction inspires the heart. [Tweet This]

Don’t Waste. Spend Wisely.

Don’t waste your time on trifling fiction. Spend it wisely on stories that teach your heart to care about the things God cares about.

Yes, stories have a tendency to change our expectations and cause us to look at the world with different eyes. This can be destructive, but it isn’t always.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. –Romans 12:2

Don’t choose novels that pull your mind away from what matters. Instead, find stories that cause you to–in the words of Do Hard Things–rebel against low expectations. Don’t choose novels that fill you with selfish discontent. Instead, find books that make you want to shed mediocrity and seek God’s best.

Don’t waste your time on books that shrink your world to yourself (and maybe an imaginary, perfect significant other that doesn’t exist). Read fiction–and yes, non-fiction too–that inspires bigger living.

What books have inspired you to care about things that matter? What makes you love fiction?

How To Be More Productive And Make Time To Read!

More Productive (2)Every bookworm has a problem that will never go away. The wonderful worlds tucked into the pages of your to-read list beckons, but the real world holds an even stronger claim to your time. Like it or not, schoolwork takes priority over pleasure reading. A large percent of the readers responding to the Bookish Needs Survey say, “I just don’t have enough time to read!”

Guess what? I totally understand!

After spending some time thinking the problem over, I came to a few conclusions.

My Three Conclusions

  1. The desire to read isn’t going away.
  2. I can’t get rid of or diminish the demands of real life. Besides, who would really want to do that? Real life is where the living happens. We wouldn’t want to get rid of it!
  3. If two things have to co-exist, you might as well make them get along!

How can we make our desire to read happily coexist with the need to be responsible and productive?

The Pomodoro Technique

Several years ago, I sat at a homeschool conference listening to a lecture by Woody Robertson, one of the founders of Lumerit Education (also known as CollegePlus). He was talking about best practices for learning and retaining information. One of the study techniques he talked about was the Pomodoro Technique. I’ll let you in on a secret — I had to use Google to find out the official name of the technique. I mentally labeled the tool as a study rhythm.

In essence, the Pomodoro Technique is designed to increase productivity and reduce mental fatigue by placing short breaks between work periods. You work for 100 minutes and take a break for 20, then start over again.

Schoolwork and Reading Become Friends

Make Schoolwork and Fun Become Friends! (1)Working on a timer can be a great tool in many situations. Writers compete in “word wars” to see who can write the most words in a set amount of time. Parents set timers to tell their children how long they have to practice the piano. Blocking out time to really focus can also improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your studying. Try it. Set the timer for an hour and commit to completing a specific task before it goes off. You can do a lot in an hour! Read a chapter of your history book. Complete your math problems. Draft an essay. Even attend a college class!

When that timer goes off, set it again (for a shorter period of time) and enjoy taking that time to read (or do something else for fun) without feeling guilty. Taking breaks can improve your productivity. The trick is to stay disciplined and dive back into your next study session when the break period is over. Try spend 80% of your time working and 20% breaking … not the other way around!

If you can train yourself to use this schedule, you’ll have time to read without feeling guilty and will get through your work faster too!

Even More Benefits

Using time management techniques is an awesome way to make more time for the books we love, but in case that’s not enough, there are even more benefits!

  1. Time management is a Biblical principle. That’s right! Learning how to make good use of your time is being obedient to God — and that’s way more important that reading the next novel on your list. Ephesians 5:16 tells us to redeem the time because the days are evil. Don’t forget to make time to read your Bible!
  2. Time management is a marketable skill. Earlier this week I had a job interview. As we talked about my unusual path through college, the interview said, “I imagine that you had to learn time management skills to do college that way.” I agreed and elaborated on the subject when she asked me to. Learning to make good use of your time will serve you well throughout your life.

How can you apply time management techniques to more effectively plow through work and make time for reading? What time managements have you found helpful in the past?