Faith

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Where Does the Joy Go?

Published October 15, 2017 by Ashley Townsend

As the years pass, where does the joy go? The earth hasn’t changed, the world doesn’t play more unfairly than it did before, and the sun and stars are still constant. So what changed to make the spark disappear?

wander

I was inspired to write this post after I heard someone say, “Life just loses its sparkle as you get older.” I wanted to respond with, Life is wonderful, how can you say that? But later on that night, I realized that, tragically, this can be true. The reality of adulthood takes over—less free time, bills, responsibilities up the wazoo (and using the word wazoo is no longer “age appropriate”), broken hearts, stress, deadlines. If you let them, these things will slowly leech the joy and adventure from life so that you’re just living each day on autopilot, waiting for it to be over so it can inevitably begin again. The day-to-day becomes tedious, and eventually, the dawn turns into something that you dread.

This harsh reality really bothered me, and I wondered why it should be that the joy and excitement of life should end because a new chapter of life begins. But does it really? I began to realize that the magic that exists in the world doesn’t disappear, rather we let the cares of this life distract us to the point that we’re too exhausted to look for it when it seems scarce.

the heavens declare the glory of god

As children, everyday seemed to hold a bit of mystery and excitement, but we’ve become too focused on more money and success, the idea that maybe a different relationship or occupation would complete us, or a million dollars would solve all our problems (or an extra 8 hours in the day to write my work in progress *cough*). That’s not to say a few of these things wouldn’t be nice, but it’s untrue that our lives would be perfect or “complete” because of these fleeting things. Discontentment breeds jealousy and greed and a restlessness that nothing can satisfy. I’m not exempt from the “if-only” idea, but I am a firm believe in the magic of everyday things and the hope that it produces, and the excitement of a new adventure.

incredible carl sagan

I have to admit that I’ve never understood people when they say that the love between them and another “simply died.” Call me naïve, but the only way that can happen is if no one tries to save it. Love is like a flower—you have to care for it so that it continues to grow and flourish, even if it isn’t as young and beautiful as it once was; if you ignore it and forget it exists, it will die. The same goes for the belief in the excitement that occurs in life: we have to choose to look for it, especially when it seems impossible to find because that’s when we need a bit of magic the most.

 

the best view hardest climb

Just this week I was having a difficult time finding that spark of joy after a tough week of stress and feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. I was sitting there in traffic, grumbling about the sun in my eyes, and then as I glared at it for another minute, I suddenly saw how beautiful the sunset was. I had spent the entire drive home complaining about something that, since I would have been caught in traffic anyway, should have been enjoyed. The rising and setting of the sun is some of the most obvious magic you can find, and I had almost let it pass by unnoticed because I was too caught up in the bustle of life, the competition to get one more car ahead so I could race home to—what? Drudge the next day?

Nuh-uh.

awfully big adventure peter pan

God did not put us on this earth to work ourselves to death earning money that disappears all too quickly and to lament each day He’s given us. Every morning our eyes open is a miracle, and my challenge to you this week is to remind yourself to seek out the miracle in today. Easier said than done, right? Trust me, I’ve been there and am still there sometimes, struggling to find the joy in the things that exist around me. But it’s there, even in the small things—the leaves shifting color, the falling rain against a window, meeting a writing deadline, a new dawn brining with it a clean slate. And when you feel you can’t see the magic, be bold and create your own! Climb a mountain, explore the sea, take a long drive with the windows down while the rain is pouring, find a new bookstore (umm , bibliophile!), try something you’ve never done before. This life was intended for us to learn and explore and live it. We just have to choose to keep our eyes and hearts open to the magic of the everyday and to not let our sparkles—our inner light—die out.

So, where does the joy go? It’s been there all along, though it shifts forms like a chameleon and is sometimes tricky to spot. But if you keep on the lookout for it, the world might surprise you.

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Finding the Road. . . Again.

Published December 13, 2013 by Ashley Townsend

don't let past ruin future

It’s been an interesting few weeks. . . . Well, couple of months, if I’m being honest. I have spent most of my free time pouring over list after list of literary agents and publishing companies to get “Chasing Shadows” picked up by a physical publisher. But almost zero publishers, Christian and otherwise, are accepting unsolicited manuscripts. That led me to creating a query letter and setting out in search of an agent who believes in this story as much as I do. But every agent I found was looking for something different, so each query letter sent had to be tweaked and reworded. After that it was a waiting game until I either got rejected or they asked to see the manuscript, and let me tell you, I got rejected a lot; it’s a little painful to admit (ACK! My pride!), but, yeah, about 58 times. The plus side was that they were all very kind and “encouraging,” and nearly every agent said my query letter was perfect, so if you need some direction on writing a query of your own or how to deal with some seriously repetitive rejection, I’m your gal! ^_^ Or we can just eat chocolate together. ashleytownsend.author@yahoo.com

success is not final

Another little hiccup was that almost none of the Christian literary agents are looking for the element of fantasy, and the agents interested in time travel don’t have an interest in promoting Christian fiction. So it put me in a teensy bit of a bind. I was alone at work one day when I got my magillionth rejection, and I basically had a mini meltdown in the bathroom. Though I reference it in my stories, I’ve never actually felt a broken heart until the moment I read the words “Thanks, but.” Yet that is honestly what it felt like. I spent an hour busying myself with insurance billing so I didn’t have to make a choice between believing all the other rejections and moving past it. But no matter how hard I tried to block it out, there would be these brief moments where God’s Voice snuck in and reminded me that it was a choice. Soooo not what I wanted to hear at that moment, but then I realized that the entire Shadows Trilogy is based off of this principle: “Everything is a choice.” I’ve written about it for years but never fully understood until a few days ago when I realized I was choosing to wallow and stop trying. To tell you the truth, that scared the stuffing out of me, so I played a little Russian roulette with my Bible (it’s a highly scientific process), but the verse it flopped open to was completely non-applicable (I have no need to trade in goats OR sandals, dangit!!!). I was going to give up when I kind of begrudgingly flipped to the next page, and a small, random, un-highlighted verse caught my eye:

“He will not fear evil tidings. His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.” Psalm 112:7

Psalm 112

…….. Oh. That was a tad spot-on. And this simple, random thing made me realize that so many times the answer is as simple as us being willing to turn the page or round the corner, to not give up when the answer doesn’t readily present itself. I decided then that I didn’t want to live life as a victim anymore and chose to have a better attitude, to not give in to despair and give up on Hope. Yes, there are still times when my friends are talking about graduating and boyfriends and careers and traveling the world, and I’m just sitting here like, “Oh, yeah, I love rocks, and this part-time community college student is totally going to have a best seller before 2090.” But I’m choosing not to believe the Devil’s lies when he says God made me the way I am with no purpose in mind. Even when I don’t know what that purpose is, God knows exactly where He’s directing me. And you, too.

I so wish I could tell you that I received hundreds of offers and that I have an incredible underdog story to tell, but alas, not as of this moment. So why am I admitting all of this? Because I want you to know how low I fell and how far and gently God was able to pick me up. . . . I didn’t realize until I typed those words just now that “Chasing Shadows” is all about that. Cool beans!

louisaI want to create the type of book that is intriguing and fun, serious and clever, full of incredibly realistic and relatable characters, and also the kind of story that won’t just appeal to those who were raised in a Christian home. Yes, of course I want to reach those who have already heard God’s message, but I so desire for readers who are only interested in secular books to connect to the story and characters—no “in your face” Christianity, but a guilt-free book that they love and learn from and that has God’s heart at the center of the story. THAT is what I want. I always wanted to follow in the footsteps of my mom and grandma, who both love and loved to write, and Jesus was the ultimate storyteller. Why wouldn’t I want to be like Him? So I know He has a plan for my wandering thoughts and inner story-maker, but as of right now, I have absolutely no idea what that is. But I’m trusting that God has a plan, and whatever spiritual journey you’re on, He has a plan for you, too, and it will be one of Victory. Our job is to not lose our enthusiasm for our passions along the way as we enjoy the ride.

success failure to another

If you have an unpublished manuscript of your own that you want to put out there, Deep River Books is having a contest and will give the winner a full-ride publishing contract with Carmichael Publishing. The contest is going on now through January 15th, so take a chance and put it out there! You never know what might come of it. http://www.deepriverbooks.com/contest.html

Revision Derision

Published September 17, 2013 by Ashley Townsend

reclining

Editing and revising can sometimes be my least favorite part of being an author. You write something that, in the moment, you feel is so inspired. That is, until you read back over it and wonder how much sugar and coffee you had at the time to make you type such nonsensical gibberish in so hurried a fashion. Then comes the fantastic task of trying to make sense of what you were working on. And don’t even get me started on summarizing! Yes, I would love to describe 900 pages of my blood, sweat, tears, and emotional turmoil in 200 words or less. YES! You’ve heard me share my agony over writing a synopsis before, and it hasn’t changed.

But, there are also some days where revising feels like reimagining the entire story, seeing it from a new angle where the ideas you originally put down on paper can fit so seamlessly into a new and more complex plot that you’re devising—those are the days that just make you smile and remind you that you don’t want to be doing anything else, the days that give you the courage to keep pressing on.

courage ralphu  

Every spare second I have between work and school (halfway there for one of my classes, so huzzah!) is spent on my laptop, pouring over the “Chasing Shadows” manuscript at the same time that I plot out the series’ conclusion on my note cards. I introduced an entirely new character and renamed another to subtly throw in some Robin Hood elements for my own enjoyment, and then I had a “Holy mackerel!” moment when I realized that it would beautifully complicate time travel for Sarah; it makes everything so much more disastrous because they fear her presence is corrupting the past. My favorite “Rising Shadows” fan and fellow writer, who is actually named Sarah—you are the absolute best, girl!—enjoys tormenting her characters as much as I do. I think it must be an author thing, because the farther our characters fall, the higher we have to lift them up, and watching them rise from the mire is a beautiful thing. Anyway, after I let God take the reins on this story, he completely opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for the final book, and I’m adding some minor and major elements to “Chasing Shadows” that are totally setting the stage for a bunch of disaster and perfection in the next installment, which is coming along rather nicely. Even my fellow writer and blogger-friend, Sarah (who is 100% Team Will Taylor), fell for Damien Lisandro against her will. Honestly, he is one of my favorite characters, and I’ve never written someone into a story who controls what I write as much as Damien—every time he entered a scene or opened his mouth, he owned the scene, and I found myself grinning like a giggly school girl or grimacing because I wanted to fix him. I have never been so happy to change an older, moderately interesting character named Bormeo into a handsome, cheeky Spaniard who is caught up with the wrong people, but you love him nonetheless. I can’t wait for you to get acquainted with him, but he’s mine, so don’t get any ideas. 😉   

love fairytales best of all end

God has been so faithful throughout this process, and I love you guys for sticking by my side! I’d appreciate some prayer, though, because I have to make a few big decisions soon—kind of a huge career jump that I’m looking for the Lord’s guidance on. Wish me faith! (sounds way better than luck!)

And can I get a smattering of applause or a “woot, woot!” for a new record of absence to this blog on my part. Four weeks, baby! But, seriously, sorry about that, and don’t be shy about sending me scathing reminder emails to get me back on here. Haha. Time has flown these past few weeks. In that time, “Deception” by CJ Redwine came out, “Thornhill” by Ms. Peacock was released, I had my teeth cleaned at the dentist, and my baby sister, Katie, turned the big 1-7 yesterday. Can’t believe the little girl I used to finger paint with outback (actually, that was just a few weeks ago, but we’ve matured in that time!) is all grown up with her own blog and the title of official Zondervan Book Reviewer under her belt. So proud of you, Kiddo!

www.booksandwonderfulthings.wordpress.com

Oh! I almost forgot. Friday, October 18th, I will be at the Casa de Oro Library Branch for a few hours to talk about my books and the publishing process, and I’m especially looking forward to getting to know a lot of you at the party that day. A few of the San Diego branches are getting started with teen and college age groups one Friday of the month to get kids back into reading, but there is no age limit. Everyone is welcome! It will just be a fun afternoon of getting to know one another and getting involved. If you know anyone in the area, encourage them to come and bring a friend, or if you want me tell kids about the publishing process at your school or library, just shoot me an email. You have no idea how much I love meeting you guys!  

I’m super jazzed and honored to kick off the first Friday of Teen Week and hope to see some of you there! ^__^

 

 

Oh, Finals, You Evil Temptress

Published November 30, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

finals

Ah, yes—the month of December (please note that I did not lose my calendar and am totally aware that it is still November for one more day). A time of unity among the factions, when freshman, sophomores, juniors, AND seniors come together for a few weeks, seeming to understand each other as they share a common goal: Survive finals at all costs. Those last two weeks where you long for the end, but don’t feel that there is enough time to complete everything, where emotions conflict and tensions heighten, where students can’t manage to drink enough caffeine and begin concocting extra-coffee cakes, coffee eggs (protein AND caffein!), and pour some strong Joe over their Cheerios. Meanwhile, Starbucks is secretly snickering and rejoicing behind the stacks of empty paper cups! For those of you who graduated high school or college quite some time ago, let me refresh your memory.

Yes, sometimes it literally feels that teachers do this.

Yes, sometimes it literally feels that teachers do this.

finals 1If you have been living under a rock or on an island for several months, then go to a college, and if it looks like zombies have taken over the earth—congratulations! It’s either the beginning of December or the end of May. The week before finals brings to mind the last fight scene in the movie Timeline, which, consequently, is my favorite time travel film ever; I watched it a bunch of times when I was writing “Rising Shadows,” as well as read a lot of time travel books for inspiration. . . . And Paul Walker and Gerard Butler are in it, but that’s just a perk. ~__^ Anyway, that scene involves a lot shouting, screaming, some weeping might be involved, things are bursting into flames, people are engaging in swordplay and acting totally insane, flaming balls of fire are being launched through the air, and people are trying to tunnel their way out to freedom. Yeah, this pretty much sums up finals in an eight minute scene, except we don’t get the cool medieval garb.finals 4

I drove onto campus at the start of this week and was like, “What the heck is wrong with everybody?!” after nearly being hit six or seven times as cars careened madly through the exit and students fought over parking spots, even though there were four more further down the row—some food for thought, though I’m sure you already know this: If someone is graciously packing up quicker than usual to give you their spot, try not to run them off the road as you attempt to take said space before they have properly vacated it. Thank you for your consideration. I was also crawling through the lot, not only so I could swerve out of the way if a driver blacked out whilst careening towards me Speed style, but also so I could slam on my brakes if a student juggling a stack of books taller than their head and attempting to scribble notes on the top of the stack jetted across the street without warning. Sheesh! Then I remembered that finals is in two weeks and gave a little chuckle as I steered around a group of arguing students, whom I can only assume were working on a group project together and who also looked like they hadn’t slept in four days.

I actually might have seen this girl the other day....

I actually might have seen this girl the other day….

For some reason, though, finals have never really bothered me. Maybe it’s because I’m burned out by the end of the semester and just don’t care anymore. That’s not to say I don’t study or put in effort, because I take a lot of time to really know the material as best I can. But I just don’t stress it that much, and a lot of times my final tests end up being my best scores for the semester! I still take naps and read books, which is obvious from my Goodreads page, and my sister Katie and I just bought new video games—yes, I am a total gaming nerd—and we cannot wait until the newest Tomb Raider arrives, which will probably happen on finals week. That could be tempting. Hmm. Anyway, by some freak happinstance, my constant procrastination during the rest of the semester ceases for that fourteen-day stretch, and I start time-managing better and get everything done beforehand, without sacrificing my mental health or “fun time.” But when my guitar teacher announced to the class yesterday that we have to play Minuet in G for the final and I saw the panicked looks on my fellow classmates’ faces, I, too, felt a moment’s panic as my eyes took in the packed notes on the page; I have no issue taking written tests or doing essays–in fact they are quite the delight, in my strange and honest opinion. However, I am not a fan of performing in front of people! Sweaty palms, a small, shaky voice, and nausea are generally involved in presentations and performances. That’s kind of why I love being an author so much; I never have to directly present anything!!! finals

Then as I felt my shoulders tensing up and my stomach churning, I remembered the weeks of Peace and Faithfulness that we all worked so hard on and took a deep breath. And the more I thought about it, I just kind of shrugged it off and thought, “Well, I’ll practice and do my best, and that’s really all I can do.” Let me tell you, it felt really good to let it go and know that I could work hard and have Faith that if I had put in the effort and still struggled with something, then God would help me through. Honestly, stressing it is NOT going to make it any easier; actually, it muddles up your mind quite a bit and makes it so much harder to study. And it doesn’t just apply to school, either; whatever you’re stressing, whatever’s making you feel like you’re one of the extras who get blown to bits in Timeline, just take a deep breath and let it go. Yes, easier said than done, but you have to start somewhere. I’ve had to walk away from an unfinished story countless times when I get writer’s block and have to do something else for a while. Sometimes a little “fun time” of your own is just the thing to free up your mind enough that you can come back to the problem with fresh eyes. Do you really want to be one of those anxious zombies I see sitting in the stairwell, staring off at nothing? Didn’t think so.       

Week 7: Faithfulness

Published October 19, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the sky.” Psalm 57:10

Unlike a few of the previous weeks, I knew exactly what Faithfulness was: God is Faithful in his promises to me (like the verse above), and I would be Faithful and come through for those around me. I didn’t have to do any great research, ponder Faith for a time, and I did not expect any great discoveries for these seven days. Then Sunday morning, I literally had an epiphany (hey! Only two days in instead of the usual six. Progress!). I wasn’t even thinking about the challenge when it hit me that I have only really been practicing these Fruits on those around me, not God. Sure, I know I was showing Him Love when I emulated it in my life, but what about the others I’ve been working on? Did I work on being Patient when He told me to wait? Had it even crossed my mind to be Faithful to Him? I know Jesus said that whatever we do for the least of these, we do unto Him, but there is a difference when we focus on others and completely forget to be Faithful to God.

“May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness…” 1 Samuel 26:23

This completely changed my perspective for the entire week, and also the rest of this challenge. I wish I had come to this realization earlier on, but it’s never too late to start. And don’t be intimidated by this concept, either. Just start small—give an addiction up to God, watch what you say, whatever. It doesn’t have to be huge! But He’s Faithful to us all the time, even when we don’t realize it, so why can’t we return the favor?    

“You only live once, but if you live it right, once is enough.” –Adam Marshall

Week 5: Kindness

Published October 5, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“Be Kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

Amazingly, today’s post is just going to be a little blurb about this week in the challenge not because I didn’t learn anything new, but because I really had to take this week to rely on the past Fruits I’ve been working on. Not surprisingly, I had no idea what to do differently for this portion. I mean, I’m not usually a mean-spirited crazy person, or anything like that, so how could I exhibit Kindness more? I’ve already worked on a version of it with Love, Joy, Peace, Patience ….. Ohhhh. And then, once again, I was reminded that they are all reliant on each other. This week more than any of the others has caused me to work all of the previous Fruits (and some not yet introduced in the challenge) into the past seven days to practice Kindness.      

“Love is not a feeling, it is an overmastering passion. To cast ourselves down like a waterfall….”

“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of Kindness is on her tongue.” Proverbs 31:26

I really love this entire chapter and have poured over it so many times. But not until today—yes, we all know I’m a slow learner—did I realize that wisdom is also a large part of this week of Kindness, and even assists this whole challenge! You really need wisdom to know when to listen or give advice, to act or just be a Kind friend. Take the next week and try one—I’m only saying one!—Kind act for family, friends, or a stranger that you don’t normally do or that is out of your comfort zone. And remember to carry your wisdom, Patience, and Love with you. I’m still working on fine-tuning my wisdom skills, but from this point forward, I plan to bring my wits with me. You never know when they’re going to be needed…  

“Life is mostly froth and bubble. Two things stand like stone: Kindness in another’s trouble, and courage in your own.”

–Adam L. Gordon

E=MC+Some Sort of Shape

Published July 25, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

School was never really this toe-curling, torture chamber of stress for me. That’s not to say I didn’t struggle sometimes, or that I was simply without a care for my education; there were some things that I just did not understand no matter how hard I tried, and then my mom would take hours to patiently explain and quiz me until I got it. And I am drawn to discovery and new things like a woman trapped in a vegan health spa is drawn to a Butterfinger, so I always loved learning and studying things that surprised and amazed me—I had to know how the world ticked, and I loved discovering all the intricacies that God had taken the time to dazzle us with on this planet. Studying these things was fun …

But math has never been my thing. Okay, that’s a very mild and vague explanation of the total love-hate­ relationship I have with it. It was the only subject that could dissolve me into tears when a concept refused to make camp in my head. Sometimes it seemed as though I was doomed to fail in the sea of endless numbers and symbols that tried to choke me and make shopping into a form of schoolwork instead of enjoyment. And yet somehow I always managed to jump up in the nick of time and grab hold of the lifeline of comprehension that was dangling in front of my face, though I didn’t fully understand nor see it until the very last second. That was how it went every time, but I always pulled through it and even got good grades in high school math, which restored my confidence in the subject as I went off to college, feeling fully prepared to face whatever my math teacher might throw this freshman’s way.

That confident stride was my companion for the first week, though it became more of a drunken stagger as I walked to class each morning in a daze. I was doing really well in the other four classes I was taking and felt like I was learning so much, but math … well, suffice it to say that it liked to play with my head and remind me of past mathematical failures. While the teacher was fantastic and passionate about helping her students understand the subject (love you for that, Mrs. Wheelock!), the mass of online homework was astounding. Even the students who understood and loved math—naturally, I was not part of this select group—were having a hard time keeping up with the overwhelming number of extremely difficult problems each week, so I didn’t feel too bad. We pretty much looked like this guy on the right. It was nightmare each time I sat down at the computer, and I remember the angry tears resurfacing each time problem seven of 408 said “Wrong Answer” when I was desperately trying to get them done before class the next morning. I think it was a week before the final drop date that I caught a glimpse of my grade, which had been drastically effected by my homework grade. Yeah, not good. I calculated and recalculated six or so times, because obviously my math wasn’t that good, and that couldn’t possibly be right. But, alas, those puny little numbers more befitting a good golf score than my unfortunate class grade were the same every time, and I knew I had a choice to make.

Originally, my goal for that class was a low A or any sort of B, but then it suddenly turned into “Must. Survive!” I was still unsure if I could pull my grade up to even pass the class, but I had never failed a class before, and I was no quitter (just ask my sisters about my penchant for finishing horrid books because I believe they have to get better—I’m usually wrong and just end up wasting my time). So I spent several days wondering what I should do and prayed about it a lot. I told God that if He really wanted me to stay in that class, then He would have to make it clear and help me get a perfect score on the next quiz before the drop deadline. I thought this was a pretty good idea … until circumstances prevented me from studying that week, and the only info I gleaned on that subject was from the few hours spent in class. I was about ready to rescind my previous agreement with God, but I kept feeling like I had to just try this last time before giving up. So, completely unprepared, I stepped into the computer lab, sat down, and got a perfect score on that quiz, something I hadn’t managed to do with any previous quizzes. I was shocked and ridiculously pleased. What’s more, my teacher called out to me in the middle of the lab and gave me a thumbs up and an “Awesome, girl!” I later found out that I was the only one in the entire class to get a perfect score on that quiz.

Now I was feeling like this kid.

Here are the facts: Panicky freshman on the verge of class dropping hysteria + absolutely no study time – any left brain function + a looming deadline = A perfect score. Hmm. Even for those of you more mathematically-inclined people, it doesn’t really seem to add up, does it? I hadn’t thought of this instance for a while, but I figured that maybe someone out there needed a little encouragement that God can perform miracles, even when the odds seem stacked against you. Oh, and I stayed in the class after that, more confident than before with the reminder that God was looking out for me, and even when things got tough, I knew that God wanted me there. So I pushed through and managed to pull a B+ by the end of the class. That might not seem like some incredible achievement for some of you, but I like to call it my little miracle B, and with it came a little more faith. I’m still working on trusting God with my whole life—I’m human, and I stumble constantly—but when I do give it up to Him, the situation always seems to turn around for the better. Don’t believe me? Give it a try yourself.

“Wisdom is better than wit, and in the long run will certainly have the laugh on her side.” –Jane Austen

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