it all started six and a half years ago.  and when I say, “it all”, please know that I literally mean, “my life trajectory”.  I’m not actually exaggerating.  there are no words to describe the significance in my life of a little website called Figment.com. yikes, okay, I’m crying now and I’ve barely started.  this will be fun.

eighteen-year-old me struggled to make friends (so did seven-year-old me, and eleven-year-old me, and fourteen-year-old me, and all the other mes in between).  I was lonely and awkward and preferred reading to braving social situations where I knew I’d say dumb things that I’d have to relive for weeks in my head.  books held magic, wonder, true love, daring action…escape.  during my teens, a significant portion of what social life I had consisted of online forums about books and the nerdy worlds that surrounded them, but Figment – where you could create a profile and share stories and watch people comment and review and react to them – changed everything for me.

I don’t know how it happened.  I don’t know how I went from posting amateur scraps of fairy-tale retellings and feverishly commenting on stories I especially liked to amassing a relatively substantial following and calling so many amazing writers my friends.  the most obvious thing I can blame is the day I posted a prologue of a story about an imprisoned princess who talks to a

boy through a stone wall and then escapes and has to fight to hold her own.  ‘Esmeralda’, as many of you know, gained hundreds of followers and somehow – I don’t say this to brag, but to gush with gratitude – gained me some of my closest friends.  after that came a story about a quiet girl whose sweetheart goes to war, and you know what happens next.

in the three or four years I was really active on Figment, I went from being a shy, awkward (okay, I’m still awkward), insecure, and self-doubting writer who was sometimes brave enough to share her words with others, to an enthusiastic amateur who eagerly posted each chapter of every WIP and watched the comments come in with pride and some degree of confidence.  during those years, my work was featured on the homepage numerous times, I was interviewed, picked by site-wide readers for “best of Figment” lists, and a friend/reader, Tiffany, made me a fan club.  a fan club, guys.  what the heck.  my followers list lengthened, my skin got a bit thicker with every constructive review.  my confidence grew, and I started telling people in real life about my writing.*

but there are two things I want to dwell on for just a moment before I leave you with a few amusing screenshots so I can cry for a bit.

the first is how Figment made me the writer I am today.  so many of you have heard stories about the creative process that went into my book, Finding You, so I won’t bore you.  but to summarize, I had no idea what was going to happen to Isla, chapter by chapter.  I was only ever a few chapters ahead in my writing than I was in posting updates, and it was the encouragement and support from the hundreds of ‘Figgies’ that very literally kept me writing some days.  the same can be said for ‘Esmeralda’.

that brings me to my second and final point, and that is the friendships I made on Figment.  (crying again.  wow, okay.)

even as feedback and the pressure of posting on Figment pushed my writing ability and skill, I can say for a fact that the friendship of my readers and fellow writers did the same for my character and confidence as a human being.  what started with fangirling for some of my favorite stories on the site became follow-backs and comments returned on my own stories, and then somehow being taken under the wing of some of the most kind, brilliant, bright, magical, and incredibly talented people I have ever had the chance to meet (that’s one of the crazy parts- I’ve never actually met most of them).  they have encouraged me, critiqued me, beta-read for me, and generally bettered me over the past six and a half years and I cannot imagine having walked this journey without them.  to those of you I joke with on twitter, message on facebook, text when I’m struggling to find light in darkness- I love you.  I loved every comment begging for more chapters, I loved every angry explosion when my protagonist was wronged, I loved every thought-out review that you took such time and care to send me.

it’s incredibly difficult for me to believe, most days, that I have a real live book in stores across the country and I want you to know that I mean with total sincerity that it exists because of you.  I would have given up, if I was the only one who cared what happened to Isla.  I would have given up, if I’d listened to the voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t smart enough to write about hard topics for teens.  thanks to you all, I was not allowed to give up.  when I think that I will never be able to reconnect with most of you, it pains me.  you all laid bricks that built the person and writer that I am**.

I know that Figment is merging with Underlined, and I’m excited to look into what that will look like.  at the moment, it’s hard enough to juggle a full-time job with any writing time at all (plus a social life!!  I got one!  most days I miss my books to be honest…), so I don’t know what level of involvement I’d even be able to have.  but Figment was there when I needed it.  Figment shaped me, my writing, my characters.  I am deeply grateful for its existence in a way that may sound terribly silly to many people, but cannot be fully put into words.  it was a safe haven, a place of inspiration, and the birthplace of some of the best friendships I’ve yet to find.

so, to the page-refreshers, the long-winded reviewers, the ecstatic commenters, the fan-club-makers, the “Desla” shippers, the mis-pronouncers of all the weird names I love to use, and – maybe most importantly – the people who called Leopold, “Leo”, I love you.

to close, I’m including a few screen-shots of some favorite comments- not the super long, super lovely ones that actually contributed intellectually, but let’s be honest, we all loved getting these ones the most***:

 

 

 

 

 

farewell, my lovely Figment.

 

*if in any way this comes off as braggy, I apologize because that was not my intention.  I merely meant to point out that my writing found a home and found recognition on Figment, in ways that I never dared to wish for, and in ways that built my confidence exponentially.  I don’t believe I would have had the nerve to pursue publication for Finding You had it not been for Figment.

**if any of you find this and would like to keep in touch, please find me on twitter or instagram and message me! @lydalbano on both. 🙂

***these comments are all clearly out of context and not lined up by date, which I apologize for. I also screenshotted the home page for both Finding You and Esmeralda even though I’d already deleted all the words, so they no longer showed an accurate word count. both were well over 100k words.

 

 

 

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sometimes the hardest part about getting depressed is that it isn’t so much, “everything is going badly today, so now I’m feeling down”.  it’s more like, “for some reason, I can’t process any of what’s happening in a positive light, no matter if it’s good or bad.”  I’ve had some of the best weeks of my life interrupted by onslaughts of just crippling self-loathing, doubt, and depression, and the notion that there’s nothing I can do to combat any of it.  typically I just form myself into something that vaguely resembles a ball and cry for a while in a really pitiful, crumpled sort of way in the darkest corner I can find.

I think it’s important to talk about our struggles.  this generation is more encouraged to open up than any before it, as far as I can tell, and I’m glad for it.  (I do think it’s important to check ourselves for motivation, so that we’re not bearing our souls just for attention; unfortunately, social media can be an easy platform for self-pity-parties.  to my chagrin, I’ve hosted a handful of my own.  that’s not what this is.)  I’m glad that I live in a time where people are talking about hard things.

in that vein, I’ve shared a lot with y’all over this blog, facebook, and twitter.  writing helps me to process.  when I try to talk about my feelings, they come out in a jumbled, ugly mess with tears and fumbling words.  when I write them down, they make a little more sense.  in past posts, I’ve talked a lot about not having an answer to the things with which I’m dealing.  and that I think that’s okay.  I need to talk about them with or without a solution.

but to close out 2015, I want to share with you a story that falls into the hope-filled category.

I don’t have the answer to depression.  I don’t have the quick fix for self-loathing or the moments of hatred I have for this person God made.  but I do have a victory story.  a single, high-flying, epic victory that reminded me there *is* hope.

back in May (as I drew close to the end of those horrendous first six months of the year), I attended the 2015 TeenPact Massachusetts State Class as the State Coordinator.  it was my first year in the position, and after a really emotionally damaging week at staff training prior to the event, I went into the week feeling stressed, small, and inadequate in every possible way.  what I got for all of my anxiety was what was arguably one of the best weeks of my life.  the staff team made me feel reassured, encouraged, and valuable, and I was shown a lot of grace by a lot of people while I did a job that I’m still not good at, six months later.

half way into this amazing week, as we were driving from the capitol to our host home, something hit me.  the biggest freaking wall I can remember being hit with since maybe 2012, or 2013.  I wanted to hide from everyone I knew, cry myself to sleep and not wake up, crumple up and die.  I hated myself, my personality, my looks.  and the voice in my head, the voice that sounds exactly like my own, that pretends to be me, told me that everything I was feeling was logical and spot on.

I managed to make it inside the house (after an hour’s drive) without crying (something I’m proud of) and upstairs to “use the bathroom”.  I stayed away long enough that I knew the others would start dinner without me, and then I slipped into my assigned bedroom and shut the door.

what followed wasn’t pretty.  I quite literally crumpled to the ground, sobbed my heard out, and lay in a trembling ball for the next several minutes, wishing I could disappear.

it’s hard to realize you’re being attacked when the beating is coming from a voice that sounds like you.

when it’s your own voice telling you you’re worthless, it’s easy to think it’s a kind of humility to put yourself down.

when it’s your own voice telling you that everyone is just pretending to like you, how can you help but doubt every relationship?

when it’s your own voice, why wouldn’t you listen?

but then.  then.

“I know that my redeemer lives.”

a voice that wasn’t my own.  a voice in my head from no where (by which I mean, from Jesus), a piece of a verse from the book of Job, words I couldn’t shake.

“I know that my redeemer lives.”

again and again, I kept thinking it, seeing it, hearing it.

moment of bluntness.  I’ve had some really well-meaning friends send me scriptures when they know I’m depressed, without context, without saying, “I’ve been praying this for you”, or “this applies because…” and it feels like the cheap band-aid fix that Christians are allowed to get away with.  the word of God is mind-blowingly awesome, and has application for every situation.  but you can’t just slap it onto a friend’s hurt and smile and think you’ve done your duty.  (pro tip to my Jesus-following friends: relationships are important.  don’t just cite chapter and verse with a pat on the back.  it usually feels insincere.)

this wasn’t just a random scripture thrown at me.  this was the grace of God showing up to remind me that my. redeemer. lives.  redeemer.  saver of my soul.  lives.  present tense.

suddenly I felt like the Holy Spirit was there with me.  I didn’t feel all right, but I felt hopeful.

I got up, to my knees.

there’s a song you may or may not know called “break every chain”.  the verse states very simply, “there is power in the name of Jesus/there is power in the name of Jesus/there is power in the name of Jesus/to break every chain/break every chain/break every chain”.  it’s repetitive, which isn’t usually my thing, but it’s an incredible song, and you should look it up if you don’t know it.

I started saying it to myself, in my head, then in a whisper, then a little louder.  “there is power in the name of Jesus,” over and over.  and then I got this image of one of my old favorite Bible stories, from the book of 2 Kings, in chapter 6, where the prophet Elisha and his servant have been surrounded by an army of their enemies with orders to seize Elisha and bring him to their king.  verses 15-17 say, “15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

can you imagine that?  a heavenly host, surrounding the army that’s surrounding you?

I sat there on my knees with that image in my head, crying and calling on the name of Jesus out loud (side note: speaking the name of Jesus out loud makes all the difference, at least for me.  so does being on my knees), and my friends: it worked.

it was as if I could feel the devil being repelled.  as if reminding Satan that he’s already been beaten, that my soul belongs to one stronger than he, was a battle.  it was like a fight for my life, where the name of Jesus and the reassurance of his word were my weapons.  and I was winning.

real talk: I didn’t leave that room (when I’d fixed my mascara and came down to dinner pretending nothing was wrong) with any certainty that I’d never get depressed again.  I was shaky and may or may not have covered up a good many more tears that evening.  I felt pretty battered.

but I had – and still have – this hope that no one can take away from me.

for me, that hope only came from experiencing the tangible power of God.  from getting to actually see that he is stronger than the enemy of my soul.  it only came when he opened my eyes to the heavenly host encamped on the mountains around me, ready to fight.  for me.

I know that my REDEEMER lives.

I was a hot mess the following Sunday when our worship set at church opened with “break every chain” and I happened to be sitting in the front row, so everyone could watch me crying.  I also cried my way through Pastor Donny’s perfectly-timed sermon on the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the bit when he casually mentioned the fact that God looks at us and sees his son’s righteousness, and not our brokenness.

over the rest of this past year, I learned a lot about my feelings.  for years, holed up in my bed or hiding in a closet, I’ve begged God to let me feel less.  less pain, less anxiety, less panic, less defeat.  it seemed like too much to bear up under.  it’s only been over the course of this fall that I’ve realized what a blessing my feelings are.  I don’t want to feel less love- I love strangers and friends fiercely and I wouldn’t want that to stop.  I don’t want to feel less of the empathy that brings me to tears when I read about terrorist attacks across the ocean or one-human-to-another brutality here on my own shores.  I don’t want to give up the excitement that I’m so quick to grab a hold of, about a piece of art or a snatch of music, or a book I can’t put down.  I don’t want to give up compassion for a broken world, which pulls at my heart with an often painful thrum, keeping me up some nights in tearful prayer.

I’m thankful, finally, for the feelings.  even when I think they’ll crush me.

the truth is, 2015 carried more darkness with it than any year I’ve known.  in sharp contrast, it brought more light than ever as well.  more people I love, more gratitude, more prayer.  more news and celebration, more frustration with the place I find myself.  I don’t know where I’m going or what I’ll be doing a year from now, but I’m learning who I was made to be.  I’m also learning that I’ve missed out on a lot of blessings by insisting that my own low view of myself was more accurate than what God thought of me, and I’ve missed so many chances to bless others and be used by God because I was stuck in my own rut of insecurity.  I’m tempted to be haunted by all the “what would have beens”, but I’m also learning valuable, difficult, huge lessons about the magnitude of God’s free grace.  free things are oh-so-hard for me.  accepting the unmerited gift that his mercy is has yet to become easy, but I’m learning.  learning to shut up and stop trying to pay God back for things.  learning that the obedience that comes from gratitude is the sweetest and most rewarding obedience.

this has been my year.  learning, learning, learning.  victories and humiliations, all for the glory of God.

so to close it, I wanted to share this victory of mine with you.  not because I’ve found the cure, or because I’ve gotten over self-loathing and depression.  I share it because it’s important to talk about the bad things, and it’s important to talk about the good things.  that’s where redemption comes into play.  by sharing with friends the things I struggle with, I’ve gotten to a place of knowing I’m not the only one, knowing I’m not unlovable, knowing I’ll survive this.  by calling on God’s name I realized I’ll beat this, because he already has.

please don’t despair if you’ve tried this whole God thing and you’re still depressed.  depression is complex, but it’s not hopeless.  I’ve called on God in darkness before, and occasionally it’s “worked”, but more often the crushing alone-ness didn’t let up.  you may not be at a place where you can even think about fighting.  maybe your first step is some help from science, and recognizing that you need outside help may be what you need; I don’t believe depression is a purely emotional condition.  for me, the necessary shift was calling up the already-not-yet of God’s victory over darkness.  I needed to say it out loud and I needed to know I had hope, for the next time.  because there were next times since then.  and there will be more.  all I want to convey is that there can be victories.  that this fight isn’t a futile one, just because it feels that way.  that the story doesn’t have to end badly.

so here’s the deal: if you want to talk, message me*, call me, text me, email me.  I may know what you’re going through, I may not.  let’s be vulnerable and live real life together and not pretend to be okay.  but let’s talk about the days when we are, as well.  that hope might be what someone needs.

thanks, 2015.  I liked you a lot.

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~Lydia

 

*(I’m notoriously bad a facebook messages (okay, all communication really) but I’ll do my best.)

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because it signifies their last night of freedom for an entire month.  for the 30 days following Halloween, we’re all doomed.

our fate can be summed up in one set-of-abbreviations-that-pretends-to-be-a-word: NaNoWriMo.  sound it out.  it works.

NaNoWriMo, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is short for National Novel Writing Month.  it’s a thing where writers all across the world (amateur, professional, delusional) band together and commit to writing for the month of November with a goal of 50,000 words by the end.  that’s a small novel (for most people- I’m cursed with a “knack” for writing 120,000 word novels.  I do not say that to brag, as I have much smaller chances of getting published with such a word count).  that’s an average of 1667 words per day, I think.

last year I participated (you, too, can make an account on the website here!) and used my 50K to finish out my first draft of Finding You and, when that was finished, work on Across the Lake.  I was up until about 11:30pm the last night.  it was awesome.treachery cover

but this year I think signing up might have been really stupid; 2014 has been the craziest year of my life, as many of you know because I’ve waited weeks to return your text messages.  I have my first grown-up job of my life, volunteer and church commitments, and – wait for it – a social life!  (disclaimer: what I call a crazy social life is seeing friends maybe two or three times in a week and it’s EXHAUSTING.  is this normal?  I just want to curl up in my bunk bed with my glow-in-the-dark stars above me and watch musicals and eat fruit gummies and avoid all human contact.)

I’ve decided to work on my complete rewrite of the first novel I ever finished, previously called Betrayal.  this time it’s Treachery (that just blew your mind, admit it), and you can read a bit of it on Figment, here.  my description “blurb”, if you’re interested, is as follows:

” a young woman is caught up in the dangerous world of espionage when she joins the plot to reinstate her exiled queen, all the while struggling with love and trust in the face of deception and betrayal. ”  (<– I’m terrible at blurbs.)

anyways, wish me luck.  I’ve set a calendar for myself, and I’m going to try and stay ahead of schedule.  we’ll see how that goes.

if you want to follow along, there’s a chance I’ll be adding some as I go.

thanks, lovelies!  comment and let me know if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, and if so, what your project is!  also, feel free to add me as a buddy on the site!  happy writing!  don’t die!!  (I already bought chocolate supplies…muahaha.)

(p.s. I actually never did celebrate Halloween as a kid; my parents were super careful about dark stuff and magic and ghosts and all that. then we moved to the boonies and nobody came anyway.  as a grown-up,

moral stuff aside, I totally see the need for a holiday where I get to watch Tim Burton movies (today was Beetlejuice – w00t w00t! totally dressing as Lydia Deetz next year) and eat pumpkin desserts and talk about fall leaves and paint my nails epically.  so yay!)

p.s.s. I totally did my nails.  I wasn’t joking.  10748609_10205056274468732_684370979_n

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happy new year to you all!

if you’re reading this, you’re probably a better person than I am, because I am the worst at keeping up with blogs.

I don’t mean to bore y’all, but I want to talk about 2013.

folks, it was a great year. it was the most exciting, maturing, stressful, crazy, spontaneous, expensive year of my life and I’m so grateful for it.

what happened? so, so much. here are my highlights:

my church. oh man, my church. I have a family of 300+ people that I couldn’t love more. they’ve welcomed me, taught me, comforted me, encouraged me, loved me. I’m so in love.

NaNoWriMo Finding You stats-Finding You = complete. until I start editing, of course. it took me a year and a half, but it’s my favorite thing I’ve written; I’m proud of it, despite its flaws. this is unusual for me. it took me a year and a half, and I’m relieved and sad and excited to be done. it has definitely been my most emotional book to write so far.

-crazy friendships I didn’t expect: you may be reading this, and you may know who you are- people I knew a little, who have come to mean a lot to me over the past year, people I didn’t know at all yet, people I have never met face-to-face but who have made this year worth it.  I love you all.

-travel: to be honest, travel always makes my year. when people ask me what my hopes and dreams for the future are, I have my answer ready these days: all I is want to travel the world, write books, glorify God and love strangers, with a true love and a family in there as well. literally, that’s what I want from life, and the time I spent roaming the country (and visiting Canada on my own) this year has been some of the best- visiting friends, visiting places, visiting events. it’s been phenomenal.

-CULTURE! seeing Les Mis twice (American tour, Canadian cast), a Ramin Karimloo concert in Boston, Red Sox game, Newsies and Cinderella on Broadway, surprise Afie Boe concert in D.C., a 1960s party, Shakespeare in the Boston Commons, a Matt Nathanson/Joshua Radin concert at the House of Blues…I feel so enriched and in love with life. just give me a seat in front of a stage and I’m happy.

-Matt Smith is gone. this is not a positive aspect of 2013, but it is monumental. I won’t burden you with my frustrations with his last episode, or my other issues/heartbreak. I do very much miss Amy & Rory. (we *did* have the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, and while I wasn’t 100% impressed, it was terribly exciting.) to sum up, this is what I felt/am feeling:tumblr_inline_mw359v1Mm61rhvd1v

-2013 was my first year not a part of TeenPact. to be honest, that’s hard. I wish there was a way I could have always been involved. but God has been so gracious to me in helping me handle “growing up”. I’m excited to be taking new steps in my life.

-I’ve had some really rough, stressful, depressing, and upsetting patches in the year, and I’ve been incredibly touched by the people who reached out to me. I am so grateful to all of you for caring about me, and not accepting “I’m fine” when I told you that.  thank you with all my heart for Jon McLaughlin - Holding My Breath signedseeing through me, sitting me down, and making me cry to you. I’m not good at the whole “being-vulnerable” thing. I like to think I can save the day or do a darn good job at faking it by myself.

-a few last things that made the year great: CATCHING FIRE CAME OUT. I started watching Supernatural. I went to Ikea for the first time. I registered for my first class with Harvard Extension, which is as close to all my dreams coming true (#nerdwholovesschool) as I’ve ever come. thanks to Jesus, I was able to restore a friendship that was was physically paining my heart and is now beautiful again. Jon McLaughin’s new album came out. I finally bought combat boots. I met a few of my real-life heroes.  I went Enjolrasing for the first time. and I found the love of my life aka Michael Vaughn on Alias.

 

and I finished out the year with my sister and a dear friend watching the fireworks at the Boston Harbor. it was magical. and freezing.

 

I promise I’m just about finished, but I want to list, online, publicly, what I have resolved for the new year.

-I will seek God’s voice and *actually listen*.

-I will practice self-control, in all areas.

-I will stop apologizing so much. it’s my worst habit.

-I will at least attempt to be published- something, somehow, somewhere.

-I will read good books; I have a tendency to stop reading when I write, and vice versa. I want to conquer that.

-possibly get a tattoo – nobody kill me, please. I’ve wanted one for a while. I’m just not certain yet, though I know what I want.

-finish another novel (either ‘Check’ or ‘Across the Lake’, I think).

-do a cartwheel. I’ve never done one; this year I’m going to learn.

 

what are your resolutions, victories, regrets? tell me while you listen to this song, about the last night of the year. it’s my favorite.

~Lydia

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I do it continually.  Every day, all day.

And because my problem could be mistaken for humility, it’s easy for me to ignore it or forget that it’s a problem at all.

I need to talk about self-loathing.

I couldn’t tell you at what point in my life I started hating myself.  My family and friends love me, sure, and I’ve been raised all of my life being told that the Creator of the universe does as well- enough to die to save me.

I don’t know why that won’t sink in.

Most of you know that for the past five+ years I’ve struggled with depression, off and on.  During those bouts of despair, it’s difficult – it feels impossible – to remember that life is precious, and to call to mind the great things my God has done for me.  I don’t want to talk about the details of all that.  I don’t want to defend the reality of my depression to you or belittle it so I feel superior either: I know that it was not as bad as it could have been, but I also know that for me it was very real.*  I felt like I was distant from God on those days, and I felt like it was my fault- and that made me hate myself, and feel like there was a wall separating me from my Savior – a wall that I had to tear down before He could help me.  I’m making progress- or rather, Jesus is, in me.  We’ll see what happens.  I haven’t been seriously depressed for a couple of months, hallelujah.

But this post is about something different.

I’m not writing this because I’ve finally come to terms with God’s love for me and I’m “all better”, or because I’ve discovered how to get over this self-loathing that punctuates every aspect of my life.

I’m writing this because every day of my life it seems like it’s getting worse.

And I need to talk about it.

My church, ‘Aletheia Boston’, blesses me beyond belief.  I started going there in January and have since been challenged in my relationship with God, drawn closer to Him, and convicted about the sins in my daily life.  I’ve also made some amazing friends.  The people who surround me on Sunday mornings (and any other time I spend time with them) pursue God, and encourage me to pursue God.  My pastors don’t water down the truth (that’s what the church is named for, after all), and I love it.  I’ve never felt so keenly that I’m in the right place, even if I am among the quieter members of my family and slower to get to know people.

All that to lead into a sermon that Pastor Adam Mabry preached a few weeks back (you can listen to the podcast of it here)- a message about the value of human life.

Honestly, I couldn’t summarize the sermon for you perfectly, but I did take some notes that, for me, were mind-blowing.

Pastor Adam read from Genesis 1, and said this: “You and I are made in the image of God- we are intentional and we are blessed.”  The scriptures don’t give us permission to put people into boxes because they come from a certain hemisphere or have a particular color skin.

Galatians 3:26-29 says, “26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

We are equal children of God; Pastor Adam made the point that when we hold onto our prejudices, we do so at the expense of the Gospel in the eyes of those around us.  We don’t get to see the world through “white eyes” or “black eyes” or through any other prejudice or point of view.  We get to have “Jesus eyes”, and that’s it.

We don’t get to assign our own value to any human life- we don’t get to say that one person is less important because they’re old or because they’re not yet born or because their skin is darker or lighter than ours.  We don’t get to view any person as a mistake, as worthless, as unimportant.  In God’s eyes, we are each beautiful and purposeful and have been fearfully and wonderfully made- and let’s not forget, in His image.

My favorite thing that Pastor Adam said in his message was this: “There is no version of Christianity where we get to decide who lives and who dies- because every human life is intentional.”  (He sort of shouted it too, which I loved. I was tempted to jump up and cheer.)

But guys.

In all humility, I don’t think I have a problem with putting people in boxes, with de-valuing them or having a racist/sexist/ageist/’you-name-it’-ist viewpoint on the lives of those around me.  In all humility, I adore people.  The more unique, the better.  I love watching strangers, finding a random act of kindness with which I can make someone’s day, observing my incredibly diverse church interact…  I love worshiping with a body of believers that represents more nations than I can count on both hands.  (*shameless plug for my wonderful Every Nation church*)

So when Pastor Adam finished preaching (and as I was volunteering that week, I got to sit in on both services), I was pumped because it was a great message, but I wasn’t initially challenged to go out and change something about myself.  I thought that, as this topic went, I was all set.  No conviction, just encouragement.

It wasn’t until later that day that I realized there was a message in between the lines for me- something Pastor Adam didn’t mention, but that he had spoken to, whether he realized it or not: how does walking around loving the world but hating myself glorify God?

All it does is tell God that He made a mistake when He called me to be His servant.  It says that His glorious plan for me would be great- but really I’m not what He thinks, and that He ought to go find someone else who is “better equipped”.  It’s me saying, “God, thanks for thinking of me, but I know myself better, and I’m not worth the trouble.

I don’t look at myself and think that I am one of God’s incredible creations.  I look at myself and wonder why He would even want me.  I wonder what He could possibly have been thinking when He made me.  I wonder why I had to be the boring person in my family.  I wonder why I don’t have any of the personality or beauty that I see and wish for in my family and friends.  I wonder why, why, why?

I don’t look at my person or my life and see value.  I don’t see the image of God stamped onto me.  I don’t see anything beautiful; I see the opposite. I don’t see the fact that He has called me for a reason.

And I don’t want to be crippled by hating myself any longer.  I’m tired of it.  My self-loathing and insecurity affect every conversation I have and every relationship I build.  I don’t want that any longer.  I’m writing this so that I’ll be accountable to start valuing God’s plan for my life.  So that I’ll remember that I have a purpose.  That I am special (not to go all Sesame St on you).

And I know that as long as I’m crippled by focusing on my negative view of myself instead of God’s love and grace and purpose for me, I will not be prepared or equipped or confident to do His will, and I will live a hampered, messed-up life.

I’d love if you could pray for me when you think of it.  It’s going to be a struggle.

Thanks for reading, my friends.

~Lydia

[job 42:2 – I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.]

(Aside: I’d really encourage you to check out the podcast from that sermon- the series our church is currently working on is called “Sex, Money, & Politics [and a few other things you’re not supposed to talk about in church]”.  The entire series is really phenomenal.  And if you’re anywhere near Boston, stop by- we meet at the YMCA in Cambridge at 9:25 & 11 on sunday mornings; there’s more information on the website.)

Web_Splahs

 

 

*Note: I also fully understand that teenagers go through crazy hormonal imbalances, and am willing to concede that health played a part in my depression.  But I’d like to state for the record that that does not mean I was any better for knowing what was to blame.

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It’s MAJOR confession time, dears.

The verse in Luke 10 that says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind…” is terribly convicting to me.

I’ve heard so many times that whatever a person devotes their life to is what they worship.  It’s their god.  And as I examined my life this morning, following a really incredible church service, I realized that as much as I love Jesus, He is not the focus of my life.

Jesus is not first in my heart.

I am the first to admit that I’m a sinful wretch who deserves nothing but hell and damnation, but this confession isn’t necessarily easy.  I don’t really like being vulnerable, which is probably because I’m so insecure about myself.  But here’s the naked truth, dear readers: I made writing my god when I started thinking of it first thing in the morning, the last thing as I fall asleep, and at just about every free moment thought out the day.  Plotting my stories, planning my characters- writing occupies more of my thoughts than anything else.  I’ll always choose writing over  any alternative.  I’d like to think I could be better than I am one day, but in the meantime I just love creating and imagining.  I also think my love for it is probably a gift from God.

But God’s gifts aren’t not supposed to take the place of Him in my heart.  And that’s what has happened.

So I’m ashamed, dear readers.  I’m ashamed that something that was a gift from above could make me forget so much- like the fact that I should use my passion to glorify God in some way.  And the fact that nothing I could ever accomplish or create will a) last into eternity, and b) come close to meaning as much as the truth that Jesus Christ died for my sin and I owe Him my whole being.

So I’ve made a hard decision: for the month of January (at least), I’m fasting from writing.  I’ll jot down whatever ideas I get, but nothing more.  I’m giving up my stories. Because as much as I want to be a writer, I want to be a child of God more, and I cannot “serve two masters”.  So here’s to what might be a really rough month for me.

“Oh, to grace, how great a debtor, daily ‘m constrained to be-

Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wand’ring heart to thee.

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.

Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it- seal it for thy courts above.”

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Emphasis on “may”…the first one.

I’m just going to get right to the point: I’ve got writing issues.  I can’t go three months without something new on my plate, or I get stir-crazy and frantic, like my world is closing in.  It’s sad, people.  Pity me.

Thanksgiving night (after eating far too much food, playing thanksgiving-themed games, singing in a talent show, tying for first place in said talent show, and then eating far too much dessert)I had a dream.  It was so epic I think it might have tied with Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.  I’m not even joking.

It was set in the 1890s, in the alleys of London, carrying the feel of Newsies and themes from The Thief Lord, and woven with romance, jealousy, oppressive family ties, secret background-stories, betrayal, and adventure.  My favorite “character” in the dream was a carbon-copy of Alistair Brammer as he appears in the new Les Misérables film, and was consequently named Alistair.  (I’m more than happy to have him feature in my book since he’s rather a favorite of mine in the musical theater world.  If you don’t know his work, look him up!)

I definitely overslept, though it didn’t matter since I always do at Gramma’s house.  People kept trying to wake me up and I’d shove them away, because even mid-dream I could tell this would make a fantastic novel.  My consequence was that most of the Thanksgiving dinner left-overs had been eaten by the time I finally got up at almost noon.

But I think it was worth it.

I’d love to promise that I’ll be unveiling this new book soon (since the dream covered all the major plot points, and since I wrote it all down the second I woke up, I only have to write it now! cha-ching.) but I’m afraid I have to finish at least Esmeralda before I can conscience that.  If it sounds at all interesting to you, though, never fear! It will appear soon enough.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with a temporary cover image, since even before I post it I must have a cover (oh yes, I’m calling it simply “Dream” for now, since that’s what it was, even though that has nothing to do with the story).

(And I think that “Ava” looks something along the lines of the girl in this picture, though I’m not positive yet.)

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This past weekend I had the best night of my life: I saw Ramin Karimloo live in Albany.

It was honestly as simple as that- I was practically jumping out of my seat waiting for him to come on stage, and when he did I came seriously close to that embarrassing fangirling that I always find so repulsive in footage of Justin Bieber concerts.

When he sang “Bring Him Home” from Les Mis early on in the performance, I nearly cried.  His voice was so beautiful and powerful, and had all the emotion that the song should bear.  I think God has blessed him with one of the most amazing voices in the world.

After the show (which had a wonderfully long encore), which included music from Doc Watson, Johnny Cash, great musicals, and several of his own pieces (some of which were folk songs, and many of you must know my love of folk music), we went out into the lobby-ish area and waited to meet the man himself.

We actually talked for a bit, and I can honestly say that Ramin Karimloo was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.  He’s encouraging and real and super humble, despite being mind-blowingly talented.  His openness in giving God the glory in subtle ways was really wonderful as well.  Overall, it was seriously the best night I can remember of my life.  I’m torn between hoping his music takes off like crazy for his sake and hoping it doesn’t so I can always get tickets when he’s in the country.

I would seriously encourage y’all to check him out if you don’t know his music- the 25th Anniversary of the Phantom of the Opera, the Original Cast Recording of Love Never Dies, the 25th Anniversary Concert dvd for Les Misérables, and his own solo album, “Any Human Heart”, are just a few examples of the music you can look into to hear his incredible talent.

I dare you to watch the video linked below and not become a fan:

‘Til I Hear You Sing

*ahem*

I’ve been interviewed! A fellow author-in-progress, Reagan, who I had the pleasure of meeting on Figment and discovering many similarities with, featured an “interview” with me about “Finding You” on her blog! Check it out- and her blog / figment page! It’s great!

Read the interview HERE.

And check her out on Figment here– her progressing steampunk novel “Flyboys” is my favorite thing of hers so far *hint, hint*.

And as always, I’d love comments / criticism (/ praise?) on either Esmeralda or Finding You!

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My greatest earthly love is musical theater.  If I’d been blessed with an especial talent for singing, I’d do anything to have become the next Lea Salonga, the next Sierra Boggess, the next Stephanie Block or Heather Headley.  They’re my heroes. Oh gosh. Wow.  Just thinking about them makes me kind of breathless and ashamed that I’d ever even think I could be like them.  I have no such illusions. But I am planning on moving to NYC or (preferably) London to get into that scene somehow.  Anything.  I’ll be a stage hand, or a “water-girl”- I really, really don’t care. It’s the atmosphere, and the music, that I want. That I crave.  That I live for.

Les Mis is my favorite. The only thing that even nearly compares is The Phantom, and then Aida and My Fair Lady and West Side Story and Evita and Wicked and Miss Saigon are all wonderful.

And so, of all the characters in literature, music, and theater, I relate the most to Eponine. I’ve resigned myself to the background-character role in life (that’s not a pity-party, that’s my realization, and I hold to it). I don’t completely mind it- at least I can find a twin in literature, right? So Eponine’s mine. As a matter of fact, in a lot of ways, she’s not my twin, she’s me.

In the 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Mis, filmed and (thank God!) put on dvd for my constant viewing, Eponine was played by Samantha Barks. Who was brilliant.  A little too pretty for the role, but wonderful.  In the 2010 cast, it was Rosalind James.  A bit angry, and her voice isn’t my favorite, but gosh can she sing and does she ever have the look down.  10th Anniversary was Lea Solona.  Don’t get my started on the epic-ness of that woman.  And lastly in my list of notable Eponines, Francis Ruffelle, the original- but she isn’t really my deal.  Kinda sounds like she’s been drugged. Anyway.

Imagine my sheer delight to find that Tom Hooper – TOM HOOPER – was making a film adaptaion of the musical!!!! I was ecstatic. Hugh Jackman as Valjean? Heck yes.  I was hoping for Ramin Karimloo, (my own true love) but it’s the best second.  And Russell Crowe as Javert will probably be amazing.  Anne Hathaway as Fantine might be good, Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried as Marius and Cosette will be fantastic, I think.  Aaron Tveit being Enjolras MADE MY DAY.

So, the next character to cast is obviously Eponine- Lea Michelle, Scarlet Johanson, and Evan Rachel Wood all auditioned and were considered.  I was thinking Rosario Dawson would be cool.  Or any number of the amazing talents in London and New York and Sydney and Las Vegas.  But no.  None of those.  Instead we’re going the typical Hollywood style and choosing good publicity over talent.  It’s time for the really really bad news.  I’ll be quick so I don’t start balling again.  *takes breath*

TAYLOR SWIFT IS PLAYING EPONINE.

I don’t care how much you happy-dance-squeal-jump-for-joy over Taylor’s music, her cool hair, or her numerous boyfriends and the pointed songs she writes about them after the inevitable break-up two months into the relationship.   Maybe you think she’s the best thing that ever tried to pair pop music with country and for that she should be worshiped.  Maybe you’re really in love with her and can’t see past her shallow lifestyle.  Maybe she’s actually a wonderful person and I’m wrong. (I mean that- I could be way off.)  I. DON’T. CARE.

Because she can’t be Eponine.  Where’s the depth?  The rugged “I’ve-lived-all-my-life-on-the-street” feel?  The girl who helps her parents rob people blind, run a crack house, and outsmart the police?  The one who’s hopelessly in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and unable to get his attention as anything more than a boy-like friend?  How is she going to be “just one of the guys” to him and be awkward and boyish and blunt but silent about her own feelings because she doesn’t know how to function in the romantic world? (And for the record, I don’t think she’s even pretty.  But she is glamorous, and that is the opposite of Eponine.)

Lastly, and most importantly, where are the chops!?  She can sing a fine (somewhat weak) country song, but really? Boubil and Schönberg?  Never.  That’s not ever.  NEV-ER.  If you can’t tell, I’m really upset about this.  Call me a baby, but I cried.  I feel like I, personally, am being violated.  Anyway. That’s my rant.  I refuse to apologzie for it, because frankly, you didn’t have to read it. :/  (It doesn’t help that the google search “Les Miserables” is now filled with images of Taylor Swift.  Yeah. I’m piping mad.)

Au revoir.