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)

Christmas thoughts on a marine RTO, recon, and writing.

Yesterday, I attended the funeral calling for a great and humble man.

Although I had only met him a couple of times, his family is dear to me and so accounts of his greatness are evident through their words and legacy.

He was a decorated marine veteran of the Korean War, and as with all stories from The Greatest Generation, I was captivated learning he served as a radio operator.

img_0449When we were in Washington D.C. this past spring, nothing except the Holocaust Museum moved me more than the Korean War Memorial. The statues hauntingly depict hollow fear and stony cold.

I don’t know near what I should about the Korean War except that like this man, and like my uncle who was a field surgeon there, they refused to talk about it. Although this is not uncommon among war veterans for obvious reasons, whatever abominable things Korean vets survived seem particularly unbearable. The extreme cold and rivers of red blood staining blinding white snow had to have been two wretched reasons alone.

Imagine, for a moment, the role of the marine radio operator.

753536525Because I live with a husband and three sons who are consummate war buffs, I have watched (and been moved by) Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and nearly every contemporary, big screen war movie in between–and some of the old ones, too. I’ve seen depictions of radio operators in fox holes begging for someone to hear them, begging for more back-ups. I’ve seen how they had to swallow terror while on reconnaissance missions, navigating harrowing edges of enemy lines to send critical, tactical information back to officers.

And while in many ways I have no business comparing the role of the writer with a soldier, I couldn’t help but make a few connections. Maybe that’s because it’s Christmastime and conveying the imperative message of this season feels like battle. Maybe that’s because of the things I’ve learned this past year, in particular, about the politics of being an author.

Maybe that’s because I’ve been knocked down and tempted to hunker down in a proverbial fox hole and quit.

I think there are times–necessary times–in any artist’s life when they question their calling. That’s been me this year. Words didn’t flow. Plots didn’t form. I questioned my ability–maybe midlife has ruined my brain, as well as my waistline? I questioned myself–if only I wrote more like so-and-so. And most of all, I questioned my faith–if only I had more of it and lived a life more worthy of sharing G-d’s grace. If only this and more, writing would be easy.

Right.

But it was the calling of that hero, the marine radio operator, yesterday that helped shift my heart.

Lifting my eyes from the fox hole of self-pity (never a good place to be), I saw with new eyes the bloody and silent pain of people the world overlooks, and of those who have not yet felt the grace and peace of G-d.

Words are my transmitter and my receiver.

Writing is not about using all the proper literary devices, schmoozing at all the right conferences and literary circles, or garnering critiques from academically cloistered, progressive reviewers.

Writing is about listening through the static for the notes of the voiceless, and then playing their song.

These days, anyone trying to make headway with grace and hope is going to face unexpected mortar shells and miles left to go when our legs feel too heavy to carry the message.

You don’t have to be a writer to know that the battle is bigger than we are.

But the One who has called us is bigger still.

Do you hear the notes of the hurting around you?

What will you do with their song today?

Introducing “Dear Reader,” posts just for YOU! 

Have you read my books?

Then this post, and others like it in the future, are just for you!

I’ve been thinking about better ways to communicate with folks who’ve read my books, and although I already have this blog, I’m not the greatest about “talking” specifically to my readers. Sure, I write poems and post photographs and stuff, but I don’t really TALK to you.

Shame on me, right?

YOU, after all, are the reason I do what I do!

So, while the rest of my posts are sporadic (sorry!), on Tuesdays I will try my darndest to write posts just for you.

I hope to write about things like what it’s like to work in the traditional publishing industry, insider information into different pieces of my books, personal writing habits and quirks, background research, and whatever else I can think of that might interest folks who’ve read my books.

Which reminds me…

…what would YOU, as a reader, like to hear about in “Dear Reader” posts?

Today, I’ll just share a little bit about my third novel, tentatively titled, Lead Me Home, and which will be published next summer (2016) with Tyndale House Publishers. I am so excited about this novel. As different as How Sweet the Sound and Then Sings My Soul were from each other, Lead Me Home is different still. The setting is small town Indiana, and the main characters are a pastor with a dying church and a young man, forced to grow up too soon, who runs his family dairy farm. Each of them struggles with their place in the world…where they are, versus where God wants them to be.

Do you ever struggle with that?

I know I do. It’s the great temptation of most Americans, if we’re honest, don’t you think? We’d rather have our neighbor’s home, job, money, looks…life. Wouldn’t it be nice to know for sure that we are right where God wants us to be? And to rest in that assurance?

This next book, as with the others, is an attempt to reconcile the way the world is with hope and assurance from God. At the end of the day, I think this is the task and motivation of all writers, all artists…we throw words and color and images out of our minds in frenzied attempts to rearrange them into some sort of sense, into something that matters, into something that shows that we can overcome tragedy and pain and the craziness of this world and find hope.

So, dear reader, let’s connect!

Tell me what you’d like to hear me write about.

I can’t wait to visit with you again soon!