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?

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. 

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“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)

Show me your nightstand and I’ll show you mine.

Since I just submitted the manuscript for my third novel, yet another season of binge reading has begun. Books on writing, books out of my genre, books in my genre, books resembling the ideas bumping around in my head for my fourth novel. Books my kids want me to read. Books recommended by others. Books long beside my bed collecting dust.

I’m really enjoying Ann Patchett’s book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. The title is deceiving–it’s really a collection of her essays, many of which involve her thoughts on the craft of writing. Here’s a section that resonated with me:

“Novel writing, I soon discovered, is like channel swimming: a slow and steady stroke over a long distance in a cold, dark sea. It I thought too much about how far I’d come or the distance I still had to cover, I’d sink. As it turns out, I have had this same crisis with every novel I have written since. I am sure my idea is horrible, and that a new idea is my only hope. But what I’ve realized over the years is that every new idea eventually becomes the old idea. I made a pledge with myself that I wouldn’t start the sexy new novel I imagined until I had finished the tired old warhorse I was dragging myself through at present. Keeping that pledge has always served me well. The part of my brain that makes art and the part that judges that art had to be separated…”

Here’s a picture of my stack of reading. Throw in a box of Keebler Coconut Dreams, and it’s quite a binge-fest.

  

And here’s my audio book line-up (for whenever I can tear myself away from Maroon 5): 

  

Oops. 

I don’t know where he came from.

  

What about you? 

What are you reading these days? 

Have you read any of the ones in my stack?