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/

 

What if all is not well at Christmas?

Can I give you permission today, dear reader?

Sometimes permission is what we’re looking for.

Permission to stop.

Permission to do less.

Permission to not have a perfect Christmas.

After all, the first Christmas was far from perfect.

Things were far from well in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. There were no epidurals. No postpartum care. No layettes or pacifiers or lactation consultants or swings that would rock a crying baby when arms are plum wore out.

There was fear of a baby-killing king, life on the run, ostracization from people who didn’t understand that you really were a virgin when you conceived, and that Joseph really was a decent man.

More than that, the infant you carry in a sling next to your heart was not the sort of Messiah people were looking for. Sure, the angel appeared and told you not to fear, but what’s not to fear about a fragile newborn who has nothing to give but cries?

Maybe you have nothing to give but tears this year, either, dear reader.

Or maybe your arms are plum wore out from holding everyone else up but yourself.

And maybe, that’s right where you’re supposed to be.

Worn out, wrung out, and in need of the only One who can help you up.

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We know how the story turned out. The infant grew in wisdom and stature and was nailed to a tree and bled and died and rose again. The Emmanuel who reduced Himself to  human form came then, and He has never left us since.

He didn’t fix the mess, but He made a way to fix our hearts.

The world is still broken in pieces, but He made a way to put us back together.

Life still hurts, but He hurts with us.

All is well, not because life is tied up neat and pretty with a big red, velvet bow, but because we have a Savior who makes a way for us to find joy in the midst and who never leaves us alone.

I think that’s why Emmanuel is my favorite word at Christmastime, and all year round.

He is here.

That’s why you can let go of the pressure to buy more gifts or send more cards or spend more money. That’s why it’s okay to feel weary and raw and avoid the malls and the parties and the loud and the noise. (It’s okay to do all that, too, of course, if you enjoy it. But for a lot of folks, a season of fullness is a reminder of all that’s been lost.)

You can stop.

You can do less.

You don’t have to have a perfect Christmas.

Find a place where you can click on and listen to the song below, All is Well.

And know that you are well because of Emmanuel, in spite of the chaos all around you.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~2 Corinthians 12:9

Silence doesn’t help, even if I have little to offer.

It’s too much.

The noise.

The arguing.

The hate.

For the last several months, being an American alone has been heart-rending.

Being an American and online has just about wrecked me.

I absorb too much. I feel too much. I care too much. Besides that, if you’ve followed me for long you know that the holidays are notorious for making me feel raw and skittish. Add to all of this that the fact that we launched our firstborn to college in August, we’re getting our second son ready to launch this spring, and I am working on two very important book projects, and all I want to do is hide. 

I want to curl up until January first–or maybe the year 2020–and let the world and all its noise and hate pass by. I don’t have anything to offer anyone, after all. I feel empty and unworthy. One writing project in particular, one that I’ve poured my heart and prayers over for many months, has me feeling just. like. this. no matter what I do:

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Dear readers, I wanted to give you a series of hopeful posts leading up to Christmas, but I felt paralyzed, numb to hope myself in many ways. So I decided to go offline until January first.

That intention lasted less than a week.

Because even at my worst, I remembered that it’s my heart’s desire to bring hope to the hopeless through my words. That’s always been my mission. My vision. Through my novels, my poems, my newspaper columns, whatever words I can offer.

Slowly I began to remember that over a decade ago I was voiceless and alone, struggling to understand how to cope with recovering from the abuse I’d endured as a child, trembling with the fear that I was broken and filthy beyond repair. I remembered that back then I took a chance and searched the internet–where I could be anonymous–for other survivors and I found tens of hundreds of others just. like. me.

Hurt.

Broken.

Hopeless.

But they were speaking. They were healing. They had hope. And their hope gave me hope in return.

So who am I to stay silent during this time of the year when so many people are hurting, and all the lights and glitter and jam-packed stores and Hallmark movies make it hurt all the more? Who am I to hide, when there are people just like me who need to know they’re not alone and that there really is hope out there, and hope for them?

Lately I’ve been so weary and burned out I’ve forgotten to even pray. But today, on an unexpected two-hour drive, I prayed.

I took a chance that the Christmas music I’d been avoiding might actually bring hope and not just empty nostalgia.

And sure enough, God met me through a song…

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Everything inside me cries for order
Everything inside me wants to hide…

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The sun hung low as I drove down the two-lane, Indiana highway. The melody filled the car even as brown, shorn fields blurred by, and my tied up, pent up heart fell to pieces.

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If God is pleased with me, why am I so terrified?

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I am terrified, after all. Oh, I have a real good game face. You learn to have a good game face when you’ve been through the things I’ve been through. But inside where no one can see, I’m terrified that all I’ve done to raise my precious boys won’t be enough for them now that they’re leaving home. I’m terrified that a lifetime of writing won’t be enough to finish the project I was so sure of when I started it. I’m terrified that I haven’t been able to hear God for a good, long while.

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Someone tell me I am only dreaming
Somehow help me see with Heaven’s eyes
And before my head agrees, my heart is on its knees
Holy is He; blessed am I.

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Before my head agrees, my heart is on its knees, indeed. Tears fell. All I could think about were the tiny, premature babies I’d cared for at work (I’m an RN) in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and how the Lord of all creation chose to come to us like one of them…God could have come with fire and earthquakes and lightning and thunder, but He chose to come as a helpless infant, cold and naked, completely dependent on infinitely inadequate humans to survive.

Holy is He.

Holy.

Is.

He.

Maybe He knew we’d be so exhausted from the noise that more noise wouldn’t–couldn’t–rescue us. Maybe He knew we wouldn’t be able to find Him–truly find HIM–without bending our knees. Maybe He knew we wouldn’t be able to see Him until we saw ourselves in the face of the helpless.

My heart cry crescendoed with the song that played through my car speakers:

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Be born in me, be born in me
Trembling heart, somehow I believe that You chose me
I’ll hold You in the beginning, You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle, make my heart Your Bethlehem
Be born in me

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Be born in me, Lord. Be born in whoever might be reading this today. Not just the way You were born over 2000 years ago, but be born in each of us this day, this hour, this minute…

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All this time we’ve waited for the promise
All this time You’ve waited for my arms
Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected
So we might know that Love would go that far?

I am not brave
I’ll never be
The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy
I’m just a girl
Nothing more
But I am willing, I am Yours

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I’m far from brave.

I’m still fullsizerender-2broken.

Lord knows there are still vacancies in my heart groping for earthly substitutes to fill what only He can fill–if I let Him. I’m just a girl and nothing more. But I can offer hope. Though my instinct is to run and hide, I can give to those who are hurting the same hope I needed years ago. The world shows no sign of slowing down or toning down, after all. Nor did it over 2000 years ago when Herod slaughtered toddlers and infants and women screamed in the streets and men tore their robes begging for a savior.

But the Savior did come.

The Promise was born small and helpless, to an aching, trembling, hopeless Israel then, and the same Promise to redeem us, to free us, to break the silence and the violence in our lives, that same Promise is here now. 

Emmanuel.

God is with us.

God is with you. 

He transcends the men, the women, the brothers, the sisters, the religion, the ideologies, the cold shimmering lights and empty silver bells that have let us down.

And because of that, I can’t stay silent.

Even if it hurts to write, even if believing feels too far-fetched, still I will praise Him.

Still, I will choose to believe. 

Here’s the video of the song (below) I listened to in my car yesterday, Be Born In Me, by Francesca Battistelli. Maybe it will bless you, too.

Look for a new Facebook Live video from me on Friday (much obliged if you’d follow my author page there), and a few more posts and live videos throughout the month. And know that even if you’re feeling raw and alone and worn out–especially if you feel that way this time of year–Emmanuel is here for you today and always.