Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series: Faith

Find out what the Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series is all about!

I think it’s safe to say that faith plays a fundamental role in all Christian fiction, even if the virtue is an underlying theme. You have to have faith in some capacity, otherwise the fiction itself would not be Christian.  But what is faith?

Faith is not a virtue easily defined. In one way, faith is our belief in God. In another way, faith is the trust we have in Him.  Faith doesn’t come from what we Catholics have seen as evidence. Instead, faith comes from what we have learned from scripture, the apostles’ evidence, our church teachings, saint stories, and so on.

Faith is also the belief in the goodness of God’s plan. So, we place our life and our worries in His hands with complete trust in the outcome.  Faith is relying on Him, not money, success, or fame. Faith is putting God in the forefront of our lives and allowing Him to lead us.

“…And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:22)

Faith is easy in good times. When we’re happy, and all is well, and life is going exactly as we “planned,” if not better, we’re more than happy to give thanks to God and put our trust in Him, right? But what about when things are not going our way? What about in times when you can’t even see the end of your struggle; when you cannot fathom a way out; when it seems completely impossible that any good, or any light, or any break will come your way? What about when our prayers are not being answered? What then?

Faith is so much more difficult in times of struggle. I mean, how can we easily believe in a loving God when bad things happen? How can we believe that this same God loves us when adversity consumes us? Wouldn’t He make sure that His faithful are protected from suffering? Wouldn’t He at least answer our prayers?

These are the questions that ten-year-old Benedict asks himself in The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch.  It’s very apparent that Benedict struggles with his faith.  He just doesn’t get it, because in his world of abandonment and pain, he never felt the arms of a loving God. He listens to Martha and David speak of God, and having faith that everything will be okay because God loves them, but it’s a language he doesn’t comprehend; especially when things start looking bad for everyone. Then ten-year-old Micah comes into the picture.

Now, Micah has suffered too by losing everyone that he’s loved, and yet he’s devoted to the Lord. He believes that everything works out for the good, and he understands that God always answers our prayers; and sometimes by not giving us what we ask for because His plan is so much better.

Again, Benedict cannot wrap his mind around this. He doesn’t believe it. He refuses to believe it. In one scene, he says to Micah:

“You think that it’s going to be okay because you don’t know what it’s really like. You haven’t been sent from one messed up house to another. You haven’t been hit, or spat at, or punched for taking an extra cracker at lunch. No, you’ve had grandpa who fished with you, and a mother who sang to you every night. You had it good, so no wonder you have so much faith.” (pg. 111 TDSR)

Micah is the epitome of faith. He remains devoted and thankful to God even when his world is dark. He just knows that God has a handle on his life, and he’ll happily take the good with the bad in the world, because he’s been taught that eternal joy is waiting.

 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will. (Mark 11:22-24)

Freeing Tanner Rose also introduces a character who lacks faith. Tanner Rose has been corrupted by Hollywood from a very young age, and although fourteen when she meets Gabriel, she’s lived an adult’s life. She’s lost in her world and blindly happy for it. She’s afraid of her real self and uses her fame and addictions to hide. But Gabriel introduces her to the Lord, and his faith inspires her. When things get too much for her, she seeks to know, love , and serve Him, but doesn’t know how. Gabriel’s mother tells her, “I had to learn how to believe, but faith seemed to come naturally to him.” (pg. 76-77)

Tanner puts her faith in herself and her own actions, and the stress of this leads her to her addictions. She doesn’t know how to let go. Near the end of this story, when Tanner visits Gabriel and his mother, the boy tries to explain the fundamentals of faith in his own unique style:

“Faith is not a drive-through restaurant, Tanner. You don’t say a prayer and pick it up from the window.” He heard a soft laugh and looked at his mother, who shrugged. “Well, it’s true. God knows what you need, Tanner. You have to trust that He’s taking care of it.” He goes on to say, “You know,” he added, “If you truly believe, whatever you pray for will be yours. Just don’t expect it to come packaged the way you want it to. It will come on His time and in His way. That’s where the faith comes in.” (198-199)

Times of struggle are a real test of our faith, for as we all know, we easily fall apart when things go south in our lives. The best way to get through the dark times is to remain focused on God. But in a world that thrives on immediate gratification, our patience wears thin quickly and our will is weak.

Having true faith is not going to be easy. But it’s not supposed to be. However, it does solidify our devotion to God. If we can remain strong in our faith in the midst of our darkness, our eyes always on our God, then He will be able to guide us out of the darkness. Martha in The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch and Gabriel in Freeing Tanner Rose work hard at trying to convince Benedict and Tanner of this truth. They know that without this faith, we can easily lose our way.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.   Selah (Psalm 62:8)

***

The books referenced in this post were The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch and  Freeing Tanner Rose from my Faith & Kung Fu Series. Free discussion questions are available for both:

The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch
Freeing Tanner Rose Discussion Questions
Saving Faith Discussion Questions

For more Catholic fiction reflecting this theme, check out the comments below!

Join the discussion!
Call out to Catholic authors of fiction for teens and young adults. Have you written a Catholic novel that encompasses the subject of faith? Please share in the comments below, listing the titles and including a brief description of how it’s presented in your fiction.

For more on the titles listed in this post and others, as well as their educational themes, visit Catholic Teen Books For Teachers 

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Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series: Forgiveness (Mercy)

Find out what the Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series is all about!

Forgiveness is the virtue of mercy. When we have the ability to forgive others for the hurts that they inflict upon us, we have the strength of assurance, not just in ourselves but also in God. We’re basically saying, “Yes, you hurt me, but I’m not going to let your hurt bring me down and I’m not going to hold it against you. I understand that you’re human like me, and that you’re prone to sin, like me. And so I will forgive you, because my God forgives me, and who am I not to do for you what my God has already done for me.”

Wow! Imagine being so confident in ourselves and who we are in our own eyes and in God’s, that we aren’t easily hurt, and when we are, we recognize that the flaw is in the one that hurts and not in ourselves.

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25)

Forgiveness is unconditional. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. We do it because God asks us to do it. So regardless of what someone does to us, we forgive them, even if they’re not sorry for the pain that they caused us.

In my debut novel, The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch, a lot of forgiveness is necessary for the foster children at the Ranch. They have all been hurt by at least one parent. They’ve been abandoned, and that causes so much hurt and bitterness. This is especially true for the protagonist in this novel, Benedict. In the following snippet, he’s speaking with his foster father, David about their biological parents.

“Don’t do what? Be mad at them?” Benedict asked. He could feel his face reddening.

“No…no, you can be mad at them,” David said. “You can be mad all you want, but at some point, you need to let it go. You need to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter anymore. You need to forgive them for what they did and did not do, and you need to move on.” (DSR p.84)

The children in this story have to forgive their parents for their own sanity, but even beyond that, forgiveness is a huge sacrifice. In essence, forgiveness is a gift.

In addition to forgiving his own mother for deserting him, Benedict has to forgive himself for squandering his younger years. Even as an adult he holds in so much bitterness and anxiety, and he realizes that he simple can’t move on with such angst in his heart. He can’t go on allowing it all to “eat him alive,” as David had described it to them as children.

Forgiveness doesn’t negate the action that caused the pain. And often this is the reason why the majority of people have trouble forgiving others who have hurt them. They feel that in forgiving them, the person who receives forgiveness will be vindicated; their past transgressions will be null and void.

Later in the same book, Sebastian is faced with his estranged father who asks for his forgiveness (DSR p.92). His father can’t take back what he did and both he and Sebastian understand that.

Forgiveness is not meant to be easy, and that’s why it’s a virtue.

It’s easy to forgive someone we love. In Saving Faith, The second book in my Faith & Kung Fu series, Nina has to forgive her best friend, Faith. “In a heartbeat,” Nina said softly (p.108). Faith then has to forgive Christian for what he did to her, and she’s quick to give it because she has feelings for him (p.176). But forgiveness is often not that easy. Adam, Faith’s brother struggles with it, even when the pain comes from his sister being hurt. But he gives it anyway. Christian also struggles to forgive his father (p.161), but that’s only because his understanding of his parents’ divorce was conjured up by his own imagination and not the truth that finally comes to light as the story progresses.

We’re not always going to get forgiveness right. But it can always be fixed. The reality is that if we don’t forgive, how can we ever expect to be forgiven.

Forgiveness doesn’t place us above the person who hurt us. Because ultimately, we are all guilty of hurting someone at some point in time. So, who are we not to offer forgiveness when we expect it from others, and most importantly, when we were given it by Christ Himself for all our transgressions.

***

The books referenced in this post were The Destiny of Sunshine RanchFreeing Tanner Rose and Saving Faith from my Faith & Kung Fu Series. Free discussion questions are available for both:

The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch
Freeing Tanner Rose Discussion Questions
Saving Faith Discussion Questions

For more Catholic fiction reflecting this theme, check out the comments below!

Join the discussion!
Call out to Catholic authors of fiction for teens and young adults. Have you written a Catholic novel that encompasses the subject of forgiveness and mercy? Please share in the comments below, listing the titles and including a brief description of how it’s presented in your fiction.

For more on the titles listed in this post and others, as well as their educational themes, visit Catholic Teen Books For Teachers 

Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series: Chastity

Find out what the Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series is all about!

The Virtue of Chastity is not an easy one to approach with our teens. However, after discussing modesty last week, it seems fitting that chastity be the next virtue to discuss. To be chaste is to aim to be pure. Next to modesty, chastity is likely the most ignored of the virtues, and not just by teens and young adults.

Chastity is considered one of the seven heavenly virtues in the Catholic faith. And it’s not just about being pure. It’s not even about not having sex. That’s abstinence. Chastity is about seeing our sexual selves in the way that God created us. For the sake of this learning series, I’ll be discussing chastity in unmarried teens and young adults. Although it would certainly relate to all unmarried people.

In our overly sexual culture, promiscuity and deviant sexual interactions is considered cool, and it’s promoted in the media and in our society. It’s become extremely difficult to teach our children Christian values when it comes to relationships. In contrast, being chaste is treated as embarrassing. It’s ridiculed, and those who practice it are led to believe that their convictions are archaic and pathetic.

High school crushes, peer pressure, and hormones are a constant battle against our Lord’s design when He created man and woman. Regardless, scripture is clear about being chaste and pure. So why is it so hard for those who love the Lord to follow His commandments?

Well, it’s time to change that damaging mindset about chastity, and fiction can help. In all the fictional novels that I have written so far, purity is both good and cool.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5

CHASTITY IS PURITY OF THE BODY. This seems pretty obvious when we consider the physical manner in which a person is impure. So, one way to remain chaste through the body is to refrain from all physical aspects of intimacy that often leads to the act itself. This begins with something small such as tempting others.

In The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch, Tommy has a crush on Faden, and vice versa. She is aware of his feelings about purity by the ring that he wears. When they reveal their feelings to each other, they’re alone and share a kiss (p.96). However, when David and Martha find out, they are told that they have to wait until they are older to date (p.137). Teens can easily create romantic moments for themselves in which chastity is quickly forgotten, which is why it’s important to avoid them.

Chaperones are a big thing in Freeing Tanner Rose. Tanner is annoyed by them (p.41) and makes fun of them (p.79), but Gabriel is not embarrassed. However, Tanner’s world is the one that we live in today. When we first meet her, she’s flirting and getting close with Jason Allan (p.2).

Tanner flirts with Gabriel too, but he contrasts her behavior in the way that he is very conscious about not being physical or flirting, (p.55). Even when Natasha flirts with him at the post-show party, and he is obviously attracted to her, he still remains chaste in his actions (p.176).

In Saving Faith, there are many suggestions that Christian and his friends are promiscuous (p.) This is evident also for Maria and her friends (p.71) and the conversations that they have.  At one point, Christian offers to “fix” Gabriel’s virgin status with a “sure thing.” But Gabriel’s response is priceless:

“And then what?” Gabriel looked at him and waited.
“What?”
“And then what?” Gabriel’s expression was serious as he stared back at Christian. “After the sure thing? Then what?”
“I don’t know, man.” Christian laughed. “You really that naive about the ways of the world?”
“No,” Gabriel said. “Just more interested in the will of God.” (p.64)

PURITY IN THE MIND AND IN THE HEART is another aspect of chastity that we ignore. But what we allow into our minds and hearts can easily affect our actions. We can conjure up thoughts about intimacy with a crush, or we can read books that offer all kinds of impure scenarios that lead us to lust. Tanner watching Gabriel on the camping trip is an example (p.46). But impure thoughts won’t lead us closer to God and what He desires for us.

Purity in the mind is often dictated by purity in the heart. It’s a desire instilled within our hearts that solidifies our decision to remain pure. If it’s strong and honest, then it cannot be corrupted easily. But if we say all of this to a teen, it sounds old-fashioned and prudish. Which is why fiction is a better method in teaching virtues. Let teens fall in love with a virtuous character.

PURE AND PROUD. This is what Faden boasts about himself to Tommy in The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch. (p.96) To be truly virtuous, you have to be confident in yourself and unashamed of your convictions. We see this so often with Gabriel. When Tanner and Gabriel are in the limo waiting outside Rick Vonn’s house, she asks him about his purity (p.129). He’s cool and confident in his response and this surprises her. This is the lesson we should teach our children.

The fictional stories offered show how the coolest characters are pure and proud. And those who have been taught otherwise need further educating.

Faith sees this when she compares Gabriel and Christian. She has to come to a decision in Saving Faith. She realizes that her actions have led her to a point in her relationship with Christian:

There was no doubt that she liked him, but to like him meant to compromise her convictions more than she already had,  because it was evident now that he would accept nothing less.  (SF p.132)

Faith’s actions have consequences. As did Christian’s. But what she is considering a consequence, for him is the icing on the cake. “It doesn’t take much,” Faith says to her brother about how a person’s life can be destroyed in an instant. Yet, she is neglecting to realize that in the same way, it doesn’t take much to give the gift of virginity away in a moment of unchaste passion. It’s one act, yes. But it’s one that changes everything. And like her first kiss, it’s something she cannot get back.

***

The books referenced in this post were The Destiny of Sunshine RanchFreeing Tanner Rose and Saving Faith from my Faith & Kung Fu Series. Free discussion questions are available for both:

The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch
Freeing Tanner Rose Discussion Questions
Saving Faith Discussion Questions

For more Catholic fiction reflecting this theme, check out the comments below!

Join the discussion!
Call out to Catholic authors of fiction for teens and young adults. Have you written a Catholic novel that encompasses the subject of chastity and purity? Please share in the comments below, listing the titles and including a brief description of how it’s presented in your fiction.

For more on the titles listed in this post and others, as well as their educational themes, visit Catholic Teen Books For Teachers 

Freeing Tanner Rose-Book Study Questions for Homeschooling, Youth Groups, and Book Clubs

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*Note to youth leaders and teachers: You can pick and choose the questions depending on the purpose of your instruction and the age group of your students/readers.

Character development:

Characters-specific: Determine which characters you wish to discuss, either from the list given or others- Gabriel, Tanner, Miss Ruth, Alicia, Nina, Faith, Adam

How did temptation affect each character?

How was temptation dealt with as the character developed?

How important was modesty in this novel?

In how many ways was modesty presented?

Compare and contrast the characters Miss Ruth and Miss Alicia.

Explain the relationship transition between Gabriel and Tanner.

Explain how kung fu helped Gabriel remain focused on his faith.

Why was Gabriel not interested in competing?

In what ways did Gabriel live his faith?

Did Gabriel ever struggle with his faith? Explain.

Why do you believe that Gabriel continued to have a recurring dream about his father?

Why was it so difficult for Tanner to return to Hollywood?

Do you believe that Tanner could continue in her career without compromising her new found faith?

Which character was your favorite and why?

Which character do you feel was the strongest emotionally and why?

Characters-general:

Were you able to relate to any of the characters portrayed and in what way?

Were the characters believable?

Was there any experience in the novel that you feel you can apply to your own life experience?

Do you find this novel valuable? Explain your response.

Which character made the biggest transition, in your opinion?

Which character made the smallest transition, in your opinion?

Spirituality:

In your opinion, how well does the author portray the presence of God in the everyday lives of the characters?

Is the author successful in presenting faith in a relevant and relatable way?

Give an example of each of the following Christian values and explain where they were best presented:
forgiveness, strong faith, honesty, loyalty, perseverance, purity, charity, compassion, tolerance

 

Book Structure:

Discuss some of the narrative devices that the author uses? E.g. Flashbacks, foreshadowing, third person narration, plot twists, dialogue, and imagery. Do they work?

Do these narrative devices help move the story along or are they just distracting to the story?

Style:

What can you say about the author’s writing style?

Discuss the narrative style.

What are some of the noticeable themes in the book? How did the author develop these themes? Were these methods effective?

The Author:

How well did the author take you into the story?

Was the use of description effective?

Could you envision each character?

Could you envision the setting?

Did you find this novel enjoyable?

Would you recommend it to a friend? Explain your response.

Does this book prompt you to want to read more from this author?

 

Quotes:

Which character quote did you find most effective?

Which character quote do you feel is the defining message in the novel?

.PDF VERSION of book study for Freeing Tanner Rose

Image Credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

You may also be interested in:

The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch-Book Study Questions for Homeschooling, Youth Groups, and Book Clubs

Leah Darrow Talks Fashion, Modesty, Chastity, and Mr. Right!

Leah Darrow
I found this interview and wanted to share it with parents and teen girls. It’s an old interview, but still very valuable today. It reminds me so much of Tanner Rose, my character in my second book, Freeing Tanner Rose.

Leah Darrow is a former America’s Next Top Model contestant. She lived a life of fashion and fame until a moment of grace changed everything.

This is a long clip, but so worth the time to watch. She discusses her former life as a model, vanity, fame, the moment that changed her life, her return to God, immodesty, virtue, chastity and so much more. It’s an awesome conversion story that all teen girls need to listen to. Why? Because her sentiments prior to her change is so common today in the minds of our teen girls. It’s how so many young girls feel about themselves and the world around them.

Check out the clip below and share your thoughts in the comments below.

Do you have a conversion story to share?

If you loved this, then you’re sure to like…

Book Review & Giveaway: “Freeing Tanner Rose” – Featured on “Our Village is a Little Different”

“Freeing Tanner Rose” Featured on Catholicmom.com

“Freeing Tanner Rose” Featured on Project Inspired – Check it out!

“Win a Copy of “Freeing Tanner Rose”!

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Hey Friends! I’m in the mood for a giveaway. How about you?

So, “LIKE” my Facebook author page (There’s a handy dandy button there in the right panel if you don’t have time to visit the page right now), and when I hit 100 likes, I’ll enter them into a raffle. The winner will get a copy of my newest novel, “Freeing Tanner Rose”!

Good luck and God bless!

TMG

If you loved this, then you’re sure to like…

Book Review & Giveaway: “Freeing Tanner Rose” – Featured on “Our Village is a Little Different”

“Freeing Tanner Rose” Featured on Catholicmom.com

“Freeing Tanner Rose” Featured on Project Inspired – Check it out!

Book Review & Giveaway: “Freeing Tanner Rose” – Featured on “Our Village is a Little Different”

ourvillageisalittle different
Freeing Tanner Rose is featured on Ourvillageisalittledifferent.com. If you’ve read the book or like my work, please leave a comment and share it with others.

Tanner Rose is a fourteen year old movie and television star. She enjoys her fame and is deep into the Hollywood party scene. When her behavior gets out of control her mother sends her to stay at the country home of her college friend, Miss Ruth. The plan is for Tanner to rest and regroup so that she will be able to focus when filming for her new upcoming show.

Unfortunately for Tanner her problem is not that she is too stressed – the child is addicted to drinking and smoking and when she is out partying there are drugs and boys who have impure intentions. Her self esteem rests in her fame so she does not appreciate being dropped off in the middle of nowhere and especially not at the home of a boy that is not impressed by her status. She doesn’t know what to make of Miss Ruth’s son, Gabriel.

Gabriel is sixteen and he is a very devout Catholic. He and his friends are all clean cut and fairly innocent. Gabriel is also extremely handsome and in good physical condition. Each day he practices martial arts and is quite accomplished.

As most people who are mired in addiction or other bad behaviors do, Tanner tries to corrupt Gabriel and his friends. Every time that they go out Tanner does something infuriating or embarrassing. Gabriel tries not to let her get under his skin but because of his own issues, she does. Amazingly, he is able to tell her in plain language why her behavior is unacceptable and talk in clear language about how God’s love is better than fame or parties or any of the things Tanner holds dear and confuses for happiness.

The story takes some twists and some turns as we learn more about both of the teens and their issues. It comes to a point where either Gabriel’s faith will attract Tanner and allow her to let her true self shine through or Tanner’s life will tempt Gabriel to do things he never even considered. Read more and enter to win a copy of Freeing Tanner Rose