Saturday, March 3, 2012

Journey of a Novel - Step 2

In many ways, 2010 proved to be a difficult year for me. I was unemployed, downsized out of my job right in the middle of the recession. In fact, this blog began as a plea for all of us to stay in hope – no matter what the circumstances.
My unemployment taught me several things about trusting in God’s provision, about the miracles that still happen in the 21st century, about giving when there’s nothing available to give. But right smack in the middle of that scary time, God interrupted my life with Step 2 of the novel journey.

For 40+ years, I wrote and published in the nonfiction genre. Tell the facts. Teach the reader. And even though God had whispered a different direction in my ear and provided me with a textbook (see the blog post about Step 1), I was not ready to change my entire focus for a mere fiction mindset.

But one morning, still without a job and wondering how in the world to buy groceries that week, I woke up with an idea. Floating in the middle of my forehead was a character, then several ideas about that character, then more ideas and a setting, then some conversation and a story line.

Not quite sure what to do, I sat down and started writing. This action, in itself, was completely out of character for me. As an organized, Type A personality, I never start writing without an outline or research or some idea of the topic I wanted to pursue. But I could not escape from this fascinating character in my head. It was almost as if I needed to move my fingers over the keyboard in order to discover more about her – like reading a book via my hands.

After a few hours, I stood up and stretched. “What am I supposed to do with this, God?”

“Save it,” he said. “Keep going.”

So I did. The next day I woke up with more ideas, more conversation and more of a story line. I kept going, sometimes laughing at my character and what she did – sometimes grabbing a Kleenex because I was so moved by what had just happened on the computer screen. The next day and the next and the next. No outlines. No research. No idea about what was going to happen until I woke up, turned on the laptop and started moving my fingers.

When an interview or a job fair interrupted the writing, I missed my characters. I wondered what they were doing that day and longed to get back to them, to peek into their lives, to hear their conversations. Definitely hooked by the process, writing fiction totally surprised me yet delighted the heck out of me.

I had no idea fiction could be so much fun. Writing fiction just wasn’t me. Yet, it seemed that writing fiction indeed was me. I was so engrossed in the story, I couldn’t imagine going back to the same old nonfiction facts. I wanted to find out more about Reverend G and Chris, about Jacob and Jessie, about life at Cove Creek.

After six months, I read my 53,000 words with no idea what to do next. Was this just something that God gave me to do, to survive the emotional trauma of long-term unemployment? Or did God have a more expansive plan? What did he want me to do with this novel idea?

The answer began to take shape in Step 3.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Journey of a Novel - Step 1

For the past almost 40 years, I have written nonfiction. Four nonfiction books, 11 compilations and hundreds of published articles. With my Type-A personality and my spiritual gift of teaching, nonfiction has always been my comfort zone. And since I have had success with nonfiction, it also seemed to be my life’s genre. Tell the facts. Teach the reader.

Then God started healing me from some of those Type-A strongholds and stretching me away from comfort zones. The first step in the process seemed innocent enough, and truthfully – until I signed my latest publishing contract – I had not realized how important Step 1 actually was.

About four years ago, I was minding my own business as I listened to another writer teach a workshop. Like so often in life, I had no idea that a momentous turn of events was about to happen. During the workshop, I took notes and planned another nonfiction article. At the end of the evening, I won a free Writer’s Digest book – my choice.

For writers, the Writer’s Digest books are like the epistles of the Bible – great information in readable form. Most beginning writers can’t afford these books, so we spend hours in the library soaking in knowledge from best-selling writers who have found success. Since I now had the opportunity to own a free Writer’s Digest book, I jumped at the chance.

On the gift table were scores of books, all with fascinating titles and how-to instructions. I thumbed through the nonfiction books, looking for the one that might teach me how to sell more articles or how to become one of those best-selling authors. From the corner of my eye, a dark purple cover seemed to stand out. I pulled it out of the pack, but quickly put it back. "The Handbook of Novel Writing" certainly wasn’t the book I needed. I was, after all, a nonfiction writer – teller of facts, teacher of readers.

I tried for at least fifteen minutes to ignore that purple cover, but God kept whispering, “That’s the one. Take that one.”

I don’t know why we even bother to argue with God. He’s going to win. Always. “But God, I’m a nonfiction writer and this is a free book. Got it? FREE. I don’t want to waste a free book on fiction. I don’t write fiction. I don’t even read fiction.”

He repeated. “Take the purple one. The one about writing a novel.” When God repeats something, pay attention.

Totally disgusted, I picked up the book and tucked it inside my briefcase. At home, I put it on a far shelf and tried to ignore it for at least two weeks. But every time I walked into my office, that purple cover stared at me. Every time I started to read another book, that novel-writing book seemed to yell, “Pick me. Pick me.”

Finally. “Okay, okay. I’ll read the stupid thing.”

Like most Writer’s Digest books, it was thorough and interesting. I highlighted several sections, certain that I would never use the information but fascinated with the process. Without committing myself to ever write a novel, I began to realize that while nonfiction writers tell the facts, well-written novels tell the truth. And in that process, they also teach the reader.

Hmm – could it possibly be that within the healing of strongholds and the stretching of comfort zones, God might be changing my genre? Was there a story God wanted me to tell? And if so, how should that happen?

Stay tuned for Step 2.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

4 Possibilities

I began 2012 with the possibility of four – count ‘em – four part-time jobs. All the jobs seemed to be valuable places where I could serve God. But two of them were more people-oriented than the others. Those were the ones I was sure God would call me to do.

I began to pray and asked others to pray for me, so that I could make the best choices. One choice was inevitable – the part-time job that brings in the most income – the one that we need right now to survive. I do enjoy this job as it also includes one of my passions – helping women to become all that God created them to be. This job takes up approximately 35 hours/week, so that was the major source of income and the major time-consumer.

But what of the other three?

One of the three was freelance writing and editing – continuing to work with the creative side of my brain to inscribe the words God whispers to me. This was the job that I really wanted to do, wanted to succeed at and wanted to continue. But I was also willing to give it up if I could serve God more fully in the other part-time jobs. In fact, I pretty much convinced myself that God didn’t want me to write anymore because I did want it.

That old pattern of legalism and suffering for the Lord is hard to break. Why would a loving God not allow me to do the thing I am gifted for – the work that I love to do? Because to serve God we must suffer and not enjoy life. Old patterns die hard.

So I continued to pray, dreading the fact that I might have to quit writing bu wanting to serve God. Then simultaneously, those other two part-time jobs just disappeared - sucked into God’s black hole Suddenly, all that was left were the two jobs that include my passions – writing and helping women.

Then God sent a confirmation. A publisher was suddenly, inexplicably interested in my novel. This is the first book of a series that came as a direct divine inspiration. I’ll write more about that journey in a later blog. To learn more, check out my Facebook author page at

What a joy it is to work at the things I enjoy – the desires of my heart that God has gifted me for! Each day, I look forward to meeting women and working with them. Then I go home and write and find new words to describe this incredible God who calls us to do what we deeply love and thereby provides hope.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Stewardship of Pain

We usually think of stewardship in connection with finances – how much we tithe, save or give away – how we manage our money. But in “The Joy of Fearing God,” author Jerry Bridges encourages us to think about the stewardship of pain. Since God sometimes allows us to go through difficult trials and various stages of pain, how do we handle this? Can we be good stewards of the pain?

A friend of mine has learned this lesson well. Several years ago, this young mom began to detect hearing loss. As her ability to hear grew less and less, she learned to read lips and sign. She has moved through this journey with grace and even joy, although it hasn’t been easy. She has grieved the hearing loss, accepted it and now is using her pain to make a difference.

In her church, she initiated captioned services which have allowed the hearing impaired community to understand what the pastor is saying and how the word of God applies to their lives. Currently, she petitions major networks to include more captioning of videos and news reports. She targets movie theaters that do not include captions, and she enlists a cadre of people to help her fight for the hearing impaired.

This incredible woman wrote a novel which told the truth about hearing loss and how people sometimes deal with the trauma of losing their hearing. Now, she is writing a nonfiction book about the confessions of a lip-reading mom – her story and the journey she has traveled. From denial to acceptance to learning how to confront her fears, she has dealt with this loss in a way that touches others and creates joy in her own soul.

My friend, Shanna Groves, is an example of a person who has managed her pain and become an example of effective stewardship. Her life reminds me of a poem by an unknown author:
“Lord, I am willing
To receive what You give
To lack what You withhold
To relinquish what You take
To suffer what You inflict
To be what You require
And to become a good steward of the pain.”

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Different Christmas

The wrappings are thrown away and extra ribbons stored for another celebration. Although pearl lights still reflect off my mantel, Christmas has come and gone for 2011. It was a joyous time with family and a wonderful reminder of the baby in the manger who became the Savior on the cross.

But this Christmas was different than any other. For the first time in my life, my mother did not give me any kind of gift. Usually, each of her children receives some money or a roll of stamps or a desk-top calendar – something practical to use throughout the year and remember who it came from every time we use it.

Not this year. Dementia and Alzheimer’s have stolen the traditions of the past. Oh yes, I know that Christmas isn’t really about gifts, and I am truly thankful for all the blessings God has given. But it was so odd to not receive anything from my mother – for the first time in my life. It’s not that she has lost the capability to give or the joy of the season. She simply forgot to buy something for her children. She even forgot what day it was. We had to remind her over and over and then remind her when it was done.

I so hate this disease. I hate how it steals the recent past and the vitality of the present from an active and intelligent person. The far past is still intact as Mom remembers Christmases long ago and the young faces of departed loved ones. But now she has forgotten how to bake peppernuts and where to put the pans we use for cooking. She does not recognize the plate we filled with deviled eggs, although it was given to her just one flip of the calendar before. She may remember the dolls she once bought for my sister or the basketball she wrapped for her young son, but she doesn’t remember December 25th and has to keep looking at the calendar to find out what day it is.

This Christmas, Mom forgot it all. My sister bought the present for Mom’s grandson and wrote her name on the “From” tag. We showed Mom how to make deviled eggs, drove her to the family gathering and reminded her to take her own presents home. This Christmas was different – blessed and joyous – but sad, because it marked another notch in the fatal gun of dementia and underlined the truth that Mom is disappearing day by day.

I hope and pray that my son will never face a Christmas where I forget him. May the Lord of the manger return before that happens and bring true peace to every heart on earth.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wrapped in Prayer

Ribbons, scotch tape, colorful paper – all these wrappings of the season in my office just waiting for me. One day soon, I’ll pull the Christmas presents out of their hiding places and begin my wrapping routine.

I love to wrap presents and spend time choosing just the right paper for each person, a coordinating ribbon and the proper box. For me, it’s more than just another chore of the Christmas season because I wrap my presents in prayer.

As I choose each box and cut the paper to size, I think about the person who will receive the gift. My niece or her daughter, my son or a friend who lives in Lawrence. Each person has special needs and cares, so I pray as I wrap.

“Thank you, God, for protecting my son through another year and for the clean MRI. No more cancer. Bless him, Lord. Keep him safe and meet all his needs.”

“Be with my great-niece, Lord. Grow her up in you and give her a wonderful Christmas. Help her do well in school and love you at an early age.”

“My friend needs you, Lord. She’s a single mom, too, and life is hard. Give her a wonderful Christmas with her family and meet every need. Thank you, God.”

In no time, the presents are wrapped and under the tree. A Christmas chore has become a special evening of worship. Gifts represent more than ribbons, tape and paper. They are now a pathway to the King of kings – the real reason for Christmas.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Creative Beauty

This morning, I stood at the back door, hoping to see the little finch that sometimes comes to feed. No finch joined the sparrows and jays, but instead – an incredible visual of God’s creative beauty.

Across the back acre stood a hedgeapple tree that suddenly decided to shed its leaves. No wind ruffled the morning stillness, but a bright sunbeam glittered from the tree’s branches.

Then – like a papery rainstorm, the leaves let loose of their tiny limbs and floated in a spontaneous dance to the ground. Silent. Serene.

It was as if God’s alarm had suddenly clicked and the leaves knew they were destined for a move. This was the day, the moment that they dropped and began mulching the autumn ground.

I sighed and thought, so like life. We live from day to day, just breathing, hoping to project God’s beauty in our dark world. Then one day – suddenly it’s time to make our move. To drop from sight, to begin a new ministry, to graduate from earth to heaven.

The timing is unknown yet specific. And we hang on tight until God says, “Now!”