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?

On writing: What I could write and why I don’t.

For as long as I can remember, I could write. And not just write, but write well.

When I decided to write books for publication, I surprised some folks.

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“Do you really want to be known as something eone who writes about sexual abuse?” (A pastor asked me that one.)

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“Why can’t you write stories like ___(insert favorite Christian romance genre writer here)___.” (A relative asked me that.)

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I’ve fielded countless other similar questions since then. Still, my novels (with all gratefulness and glory to Him) sell well enough that I have a fourth one coming out in 2018, and a re-release of the said sexual abuse story in less than two months, September 1 to be exact.

The people who asked those questions above were right. Kind of. To be sure, my novels are meant to entertain. Each has threads of romance, intrigue, and even a little mystery in them. But those things aren’t ultimately what propels the characters, or me to write them.

I’m well aware that I don’t write what I “should” write–at least not in the eyes of others. I write the stories I argue with God about until I’m 100% certain that’s what He wants me to write. I write as a reluctant introvert and as someone who could write genre romance or Hallmark-esque stories, but I’m not called to write those. Some writers are, and that’s spectacular for them. Truly. Readers want and need and buy those books. They sell well. But whenever I’ve tried to write something more like so-and-so or less personally honest or less edgy or whatever descriptives/labels you’d like to use, I just can’t. My mind goes blank. Either that, or what comes out is a linguistically shameful blob of nonsense. (Just ask my beloved editors.)

Nevertheless, if a lifetime of Bible stories have taught me anything, it’s this: Most people won’t understand the work of someone who is listening to or following the Lord.

That doesn’t stop me from struggling with what I feel called to write. It’s downright scary to put stories out there I know are going to ruffle some feathers.

Gratefully, what I write and why made a little more sense to me when my pastor spoke this weekend about Proverbs 24:10-12. Here it is in The Message version:

“If you fall to pieces in a crisis,
there wasn’t much to you in the first place.
Rescue the perishing;
don’t hesitate to step in and help.
If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,”
will that get you off the hook?
Someone is watching you closely, you know—
Someone not impressed with weak excuses.”

 

See, I was perishing once. Still am, if I’m honest. Back when I wrote my first novel, How Sweet the Sound, I was perishing under the weight of having been sexually abused for over 10 years as a child and I had questions…BIG questions…for a God I grew up believing could stop such evil, and yet it had happened to me. I learned there were hundreds of thousands of others who had suffered the same way, so I couldn’t say sexual abuse wasn’t any of my business. Sexual abuse was all about my business. And when I argued with God about why it all happened, well…

How Sweet the Sound was born.

How Sweet the Sound is an unlikely novel about an unlikely family in Southern Alabama torn apart by the same fate I suffered. I wrote and wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote, until not only did I have a book about it, but I had a book of hope. And that’s the key to my stories right there.

I wrote a book of hard and a book of hope.

Whether or not it ever makes a best-seller list makes no difference, especially in light of Proverbs 24:10-12.

What makes a difference are the tens of hundreds of notes and handshakes and nods from others who’ve been sexually abused and say to me, “Me too. Thank you.”

Me too.

Thank you.

What they thank me for is not a book as much as for the hope the characters in that story found in the midst of their perishing circumstances.

Each one of my books is like that. How Sweet the Sound is about not turning my head to and finding hope in the midst of sexual abuse. Then Sings My Soul is about not turning my head to the plight of the aging and elderly. Lead Me Home is about not turning my head to the plight of small churches and small communities and overlooked people in our midst. And my fourth book (title TBD), releasing in 2018, is about not turning my head to the plight of the unborn, the plight of birth mothers, and the plight of those in the midst of the opiod epidemic that’s happening right smack in the middle of each of our back yards.

The sexually abused, the aging, small folks, and the unborn and birth mothers…all of them have two very real things in common:

1) People turn their heads to them.

2) They’re all desperate for hope in the midst of perishing situations.

Because when you’ve got nothing, hope means everything.

(((which just might be a direct quote from my upcoming 2018 novel)))

Could there be any greater reason to write–or to read, for that matter–than that?

Hope.

Hope in the midst of struggle. In the midst of terror. In the midst of grief. In the midst of abuse. In the midst of even death.

If one person picks up one of my books and finds that, well then I’ve done my job.

Recently I finished reading Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. (He was a writer who, in his time was often misunderstood and ridiculed and chastised. I’m smitten!) So many things moved me about that story, in particular the parallels between the hopelessness of the dust bowl era and migrants searching for survival in California, and the hopelessness of America’s current small towns and the poor and marginalized within them. These words in particular brought me to tears (and do again even as I type them):

“Where does courage come from? Where does the terrible faith come from?…The people in flight from the terror behind–strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever.” ~John Steinbeck

I’ve seen a lot of bitter cruelty first hand, whether personally, or in the eyes of friends in Ukraine where abortion is seen as simple birth control, or on the faces of an aging hospital patient who never has visitors, or at the bedside or graveside of someone riddled by the effects of an opiate addiction.

Some may say my faith is terrible, and in many ways I’m sure is. I doubt. I wrestle. I sin. And I sin again. I have often prayed the prayer, “Oh Lord, help me overcome my unbelief.”

But in and because of all of that, my faith is refired forever.

The perishing are my business.

Therefore my writing will never be off the hook.

Someone’s watching, after all.

Someone’s watching.

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Stay tuned for details about my novel, How Sweet the Sound, releasing September 1 with a brand new cover and a chapter from my brand new 2018 novel.

Also, Lead Me Home is on sale for e-readers across all your favorite platforms. Click here for options: http://ebookdeals.net/

 

On faith in the hard.

In my newest release, Then Sings My Soul, the main character, Jakob, has lived through 94 years of tumult and suffering. As a young Jewish boy who escaped Russian pogroms of the early 20th century, he witnessed many loved ones die for or because of their faith.

As with many of that generation, Jakob grows up keeping his faith relatively quiet, stuffed within him, covered and safe by shrouds of doubt and anger, shame and fear. 

I can’t give away too much more, so you’ll have to read the book to see how that does or does not change for Jakob as he nears the end of his life.

The idea of steadfast faith in the midst of trials and persecution influenced the main storyline thread in Then Sings My Soul. The book, Mudhouse Sabbath, by Lauren Winner, influenced it as well. A former Orthodox Jew who converted to Christianity, Winner writes that she, “found that her life was indelibly marked by the rich traditions and spiritual practices of Judaism. [In Mudhouse Sabbath, she] presents eleven Jewish practices that can transform the way Christians view the world and God.”

In one scene of Then Sings My Soul, Jakob’s older brother, Peter, tries to encourage him to keep the faith in his head going, even when he doesn’t feel it in his heart. One way the Jewish people have done that is by reciting a sort of liturgy called the Kaddish during seasons of mourning. Here is what Winner says,

“Even in the pit, even in depresssion and loss and nonsense, still we respond to God with praise. This is not to say that the mourner should not feel what he feels–anger, disbelief, hatred. He can feel those things (and shout them out to God; God can take it). You do not have to feel praise in the intense moments of mourning, but the praise is still true, and insisting upon it over and over, twice a day every day, ensures that eventually you will come to remember the truth of those praises.”

Whether at the beginning, middle or end of our lives, there is always a battle going on for our hearts...a battle for truth, a battle for hope, a battle for our loyalty to God. Often, we struggle to understand what in the world about following Jesus Christ is worth it anymore.

Reciting the truth like Jewish mourners do, choosing or even writing out our own psalm of praise, and saying it whether we feel like it or not can work to bring the head and the heart back together in times of uncertainty and persecution.

Dear friends, so much of what we fight in this world is unseen.

In faithfulness we can find joy once again. 

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