Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m very pleased to announce that my friend and fellow novelist Teryn O’Brien has just launched a new website. Follow the link and you’ll find all the posts from her old blog, Identity Renewed, along with some of her photography, artwork, and exclusive info on her forthcoming fantasy trilogy.
Of course we’ve all read the post, “15 Things I Wish I’d Known About Grief,” but there’s a lot more to Teryn’s oeuvre than just meditations on grieving. She’s a very versatile blogger. In the two and a half years since she launched her blog, she’s written on topics ranging from church-oriented issues like the Bible, feminism, and spiritual abuse, to more personal reflections on fantasy, boys, and the rich legacy of the Irish.
So in honor of the launch of her new site, today I’m counting down a few of my personal favorite essays (and poems) she’s written.
10. “Do Not Be Overcome”
The winter of 2012 was a dark and tragic time, as our mutual best friend *Rebecca was allegedly murdered by the man she had just married. Yet through the trauma of that event we continued to grow and write and process our grief. In this post from December of that year Teryn shares a powerful moment of insight she experienced while seeing a performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.
“And I wonder.
How can some people be so cruel, and yet some can be so creative?
And I ponder.
The world is dark, yes. But there is so much beauty in it, too.”
Some of the most poignant and personal posts on Identity Renewed over the years have been poems. This one from February is possibly my favorite. It’s whimsical and sincere and very touching. You should also read Alive! (A Poem About Colorado) and When We Were Young (A Poem About Grief).
Speaking of which, I’m really fond of this one. When Teryn posted it in November of last year none of us expected the reception it would get. Within the space of a few weeks it was viewed by over a million people and shared over 2,000 times on Facebook. For a while it seemed like every single person who read it was reposting it. Every now and then it still shows up in my news feed. Something about this list really affected people in a deep way. The demand for reprints was so great that someone eventually made a PDF so that people could share it more easily.
Really this whole series could go on this list, but, I’m not going to lie, I cried a little when I read the last one. When we’ve been horribly wounded by the opposite sex, it can be so easy to retreat into seclusion and avoid them and pray that we never have to suffer the pain of love and relationships. But the really hard thing to do, the really courageous thing, is to keep loving.
“Let me tell you, my life has been a dark adventure where I have often wondered whether I could overcome the foes surrounding me. Often, I have remembered that I am fighting a battle here on earth–a battle just like the ones characters face in fantasy stories.”
In this harrowing trilogy of posts on the beauty and importance of fantasy writing, Teryn calls us to remember the wonders of the world we lived in when we were young, the call of imagination, the summons to some great adventure bigger than ourselves. The reason fantasy speaks to us so deeply is because life itself is an epic story. She caps it all off with a sneak peek at the world she’s spent the last ten years creating.
Some of the most consistently great essays on Identity Renewed have been about breaking free of the pressures society, and our church culture especially, tries to impose on us. It can be challenging to recognize that the “safe,” “spiritual” environment you grew up in is neither spiritual nor safe, but there’s so much freedom in knowing that God is bigger than the pain you’ve suffered, that he cherishes you and your journey to find and renew your identity.
“Love is not about control.
It’s not about making someone look, act, think, or feel exactly like you do.
It’s not about making someone cater to your every whim or fancy.
It’s not about manipulation or force – even when it’s masked as something “spiritual.”
Love is about seeing the person as a person, about encouraging them to be all they can be, and about helping them face their brokenness with courage.”
(Also read: A Celebration of Heroic Love)
For a long time this was the second most popular post on Identity Renewed. It’s still one of the best. For as Teryn shares her frustrations with the guys in her life who have complained that she’s “hard to control,” you start to wonder why so many guys want to date a girl they can control, and you realize that what we ultimately want, deep down, is to be passionate and alive and creative and wild and free. Regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, I think everyone can relate to the feelings expressed in this post.
(Also read: General Thoughts on Not Being Normal).
Written in the swirl of confusion and heartache that accompanied our best friend’s death, this is a noble and eloquent eulogy for a truly beautiful woman. “She was made of different stuff than many. A unique and lovely creature. She was true to herself and to God. And it shone in everything she did.”
Maybe it’s because I’m part Irish, or maybe it’s just refreshing to read such an impassioned plea for a renewal of beauty, mysticism, adventure, and scholarship in the American church, but I really love this guest post on Churchleaders.com. It seems like the Evangelical movement is being attacked from all sides these days, but even so, this is a prophetic invitation you don’t hear every day:
“A lot of Christianity in America tends to reject art, nature and knowledge as inherently evil. We don’t trust art, science or anything “of this world.” Yet the more we reject society, the more society rejects us. The Celtic Christians embraced their Celtic heritage and redeemed many aspects of it as pointing to God. They also embraced the created world, knowing that God called it good. Exploring Celtic Christianity might help draw back artists, creators and intellectuals that have left the church because they don’t feel welcome. Don’t just distrust the world God created. Embrace it and redeem it for God’s glory.”
This post will always hold a special place in my heart because The Lord of the Rings was a story I turned to for comfort and wisdom in the weeks after my friend’s death. Teryn helped me to process that experience and showed me how there was a greater story at work beyond the will of evil. That somehow even in the horror and torment of a friend’s loss, a redemptive plan was unfolding, a true story of good and evil in which Rebecca had played a heroic role in resisting great injustice.
See also: Forgiving the Dead (and How the Movie Frozen Helped). And be sure to follow all of Teryn’s new posts on TerynOBrien.com!!