The story behind the theme of my 2019 release: Then Sings My Soul

I think one of God’s favorite things to do is to make and shape people. Of course I can’t speak for Him, but the works of God’s hands are mentioned not infrequently throughout the Bible, how God sculpts the land and the heart, and how He creates artists, too.

Moses talks about an artisan named Bezalel who may have been one of the earliest lapidarists.  Exodus 31:5 (NLT) reads, “[Bezalel] is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft!”

And in Isaiah 64:8 (NLT) we read, “And yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.”

Jakob, the main protagonist in Then Sings My Soul, is a lapidarist–one who works with and fashions stones and gems. Jakob’s father (Josef) was a lapidarist, too.

This is a piece of raw aquamarine, the sort of stone Josef  would have worked with and passed on to Jakob in the story.

I used the trade and theme of lapidary in this novel because my grandfather was a lapidarist, too. In fact, he actually made the stone on the cover of the novel, and you can read more about that providential story in the afterwords in the back of the novel.

As a special treat for you today, here are the actual diagrams and notes my grandfather used to make this stone:

When you read Then Sings My Soul, I think you’ll discover why the theme of lapidary lends itself so well to Jakob and his daughter, Nel. They both start out pretty rough, living in ways not everyone would approve of. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t see the beauty He knows they can become.

The same story can be yours, friend. If you feel dirty and rough, unnoticed, worthless…God sees the new and clean, the priceless and sparkling person He is making you to be.

The work a lapidarist does on a stone is harsh at times. There are cuts and chisels, chunks hacked off and angles shorn. But in the eye of the Lapidarist, all these steps are necessary.

More than that, as He works, the Lapidarist holds you in His hand and never lets go.

What about you? 

Do you have places in your life that need polished? 

Do you wonder where God is in the midst of your journey?

All creatures great and small

The Lord God made them all.

Those two lines were penned by James Herriot, beloved English veterinarian and author of so many books I loved especially in childhood.

Today is Earth Day.

Nature deeply inspires the novels and poetry I write, and with good reason. Creation is full of the inexpressible wonder of the Lord.

Some of my favorite authors are fellow nature lovers…Barbara Kingsolver (a fellow alumni!), Annie Dillard, Wallace Stegner, Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Gene Stratton Porter (a fellow Hoosier author!), Beatrix Potter, Sigurd F. Olson, Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson, and the list goes on and on. 

The current novel I’m working to finish is no different, and it may pull in the most nature to date. Set in southern Indiana, I’ve drawn upon waterfalls and spring time, red tail hawks and box turtles, orphaned rabbits and so much more.

When all the world is chaos, we need only to look at the miracle of spring, the joy of a fawn grazing alongside its mother in a hazy field at dawn, the call of a mourning dove perched on a weathered fence.

Ponder the wonder of the earth today, friends. Take care of it. Not for politics. But for the simple fact that it is a gift from our Creator.

We have two choices. Which will you make today?

Years ago when I was trying to get my first novel published, I met with an editor who pushed my synopsis back across the table towards me and said with a harumph, “It’s way too dark. Our readers don’t want dark. They’ve got enough of that. They want to escape.”

Eventually I did publish that novel, and it’s called How Sweet the Sound.

In fact, Tyndale House is re-releasing it this fall and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Still, that editor had a valid point.

There’s a lot of dark in the world. I’m frankly overwhelmed with how vitriolic our culture is, and I don’t remember a time since I’ve been on the planet where things have been quite this stirred up. Why read a story or see a movie or listen to music that’s dark, when we’re staggering around in pitch blackness all day long?

One reader of How Sweet the Sound commented that the title belies the dark themes of the story, and if you only read the first few chapters, she’s absolutely right. There’s nothing good or light or cheery about a family ravaged by generational sexual abuse. There wasn’t anything good or light or cheery about it either when Tamar, in 2 Samuel 13, suffered the same fate.

But by the end of the story, there is hope.

Loads of it. 

Three novels later, and I admit my writing tends toward some deep and painful themes. That’s because each of my stories begins with something–a news story, an historical event, an injustice–that breaks my heart. (Believe me, there are days when I wonder what it would be like to write cozy mysteries or Hallmark-style romances.)

And each of my stories ends with hope.

Not the sort of hope where everything is tied up with a big, red bow and all the characters ride off in the sunset. But the sort of hope that comes when you learn you’re not alone, and that it’s possible to find joy in the midst of pain and suffering.

Still, I learned something from that editor, and from several editors since.

Darkness and pain must be balanced with light.

In story.

In art.

In life.

The world is dying a little more every day because it is starving for the light and color God has given to us.

As a follower of Jesus, I write stories from a Christian worldview. And while I am often passionate about the need for stories which don’t sugarcoat pain and tragedy, I’m even more passionate about the call to bring hope to a hurting world. 

Even without a Christian worldview, the world needs goodness. The world needs kindness. The world needs hope. The world needs love.

And the world needs that from us, now more than ever.

As confusing as headlines and media can be, at the end of the day we are left with two basic choices:

We can spread darkness.

Or we can spread light.

We can be angry.

Or we can give grace.

We can hate.

Or we can love.

We were made to be light, dear ones.

We were made to be on this earth, here and now, for such a time as this, for a purpose:

To show the world the colors of life and hope.

We have to acknowledge the darkness, yes.

But we have to know that truth and love can obliterate it

if we choose

wisely.

Dear Lord, begin with me. 

***

img_2529

***

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 (TMV)