Saturday, April 28, 2012

Do you realize you are an eyewitness to history?

Wednesday I told you I’m writing a vignette about my high school friend, Cindy, and her example of resisting peer pressure with dignity and grace.

Now, this is going to sound nerdy but I’ll just blurt it out: I’m surprised at how much fun I’ve had researching the story’s historical connections.

A few days ago, my hometown newspaper ran a story commemorating the fifty-year anniversary of a plane crash that happened at the end of my story—a tragedy I witnessed and one which also caught the nation’s attention. I was an eyewitness to history.

I’m also having loads of fun researching another part of my story: our neighborhood’s legendary rock ’n’ roll scene and the national attention focused on it. I was an eyewitness to history.

Has it ever occurred to you that you are an eyewitness to history?

In their blog post, Your Memoir is History, Nancy and Biff Barnes say, “Maybe you don’t think of yourself as a part of the sweep of history. Think again.” 

If you’re near my age, you’ve witnessed Sputnik, air raid drills, the Civil Rights Movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK’s death, Rev. Martin Luther King’s assassination, the Vietnam War, mankind’s first walk on the moon, the construction—and destruction—of the Berlin Wall, Mt. St. Helens’ eruption, and 9-ll.

You and I have observed history-in-the-making, sometimes as bystanders and other times as the movers and shakers.

When we include our stories’ historical settings, we anchor them in time and place. Our stories can make history come alive—they can make history personal—for our readers.

All around us, history touches our lives. The history surrounding your parents shaped them, and the history you witnessed shaped you. All of it shaped and shapes your family, your values, choices, finances, attitude, expectations, assumptions, and probably your career.

Here are a few resources for you:

In Ian Kath’s blog post, Five Historical Timelines of Your Lifestory, you’ll find helpful links to several historical timelines: fashion, music, world disasters, World War II, agricultural history, and national histories of Australia, the UK, USA, New Zealand, and South Africa.

In their blog post, Your Memoir is History, Nancy and Biff Barnes include links to The Smithsonian Institution’s American History Timeline and Digital History.  

I Remember JFK’s website also has rich historical resources for Baby Boomers. Browse around the site and you’ll find lots of interesting stuff that will make you smile, including photos.

When we include historical settings, we place ourselves into a bigger story, a story that includes our city, our nation, ethnic culture, gender, an industry, or our religion.

Our stories’ historical contexts add depth, texture, and meaning to stories.

And all of it adds enjoyment for our readers.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Yielding to peer pressure vs. taking a stand

You feel it. I feel it. Whether eight or eight-eight, we feel it: Peer pressure.

Those two words together make me cringe. How about you?

I squirm when I recall times I gave in to others’ negative influence.

When have you yielded to peer pressure?

When did you resist it and, instead, take a stand?

Saturday at our local memoir writers’ group, we noticed a theme in stories people read: giving in to peer pressure vs. taking a stand.

Taking a stand is hard but sometimes it can be the right thing to do, especially if it prevents abuse, injury, or even death.

I’ve never forgotten an important lesson I learned from my best friend in high school. Recently—nearly fifty years later—I reminded Cindy of the event and thanked her for modeling how to resist peer pressure with dignity and grace.

Because Cindy’s example has remained important to me throughout my life, you guessed it: I’m writing a vignette for my memoir. My grandchildren will face peer pressure —in fact, they already are facing it—and their kids and grandkids will, too.

If I tell my story, and Cindy’s story, my readers can glimpse, in a non-threatening way, how to discern what’s right and wrong, what’s good and bad.

I hope and pray my readers will find clues within Cindy’s example—that something will click in their minds when confronted with their own incidents—and that they’ll have the courage to stand firm rather than yield to peer pressure.

I hope to share Cindy’s story with you someday but, for now, let me ask:

How did you handle peer pressure as a teenager? As a young adult? As a parent? As a spouse?

Who played important roles in helping you take a stand despite potential ramifications—ridicule, being labeled, being excluded? How did your life change as a result?

Your family needs to hear your stories.

Stories are among God’s most powerful and effective tools.

Your story could make a big difference in the lives of your readers. To borrow Danny Iny’s wordsyour stories can educate them and “empower them to take the necessary actions.”

Write your stories! 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

You’re the bridge between generations past and generations yet to come

Wednesday we pondered words penned by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner:  Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred stories of the ordinary.

I still marvel at his words: They capture the purpose—the heart—of our memoir vignettes, yours and mine.

The good Rabbi said, “When viewed from a point of high enough vantage, everything is revealed to be in the hands of God.…” (Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary)  

You are part of God’s divine story.

You are the bridge God has placed between your family’s generations past and generations yet to come.

“Write what should not be forgotten.”
Isabel Allende

With that in mind, today I am sharing random quotations and questions to help you remember long-forgotten stories for your memoir.

What memories, personal stories, and lessons come to mind with any or all of these?

“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change …
but it’s that in between place that we fear.
It’s like being between trapezes.
It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer.
There’s nothing to hold onto.”
Marilyn Ferguson

“Lord, please send someone else to do it!”
Exodus 4:13

“The will of God is
never exactly what you expect it to be.
It may seem to be worse,
but in the end
it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.”
Elisabeth Elliot

God is already working on Plan B 
even as Plan A lies in shambles around your feet. 
John Claypool

God has made everything beautiful in its time.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

When you were a child, what frightened you? How did you overcome it? What stories can you write to encourage your children and grandchildren with their own fears?

Jesus said this about himself: “He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted” (Luke 4:18). Think back to a specific person God sent, in His name, to help heal your broken heart. When did God send you to help heal a person's broken heart? Write a vignette.

“The meaning of the stories I wrote down went beyond me. As author Madeleine L’Engle wrote, when artists create, we cocreate, with Spirit and with readers.… Disappointments can’t be avoided; they can only be converted into lessons, gifts, if we allow.… 

“ … People write [me] to say [my] stories have changed their lives, that they’ve found new direction through the words as they seek meaning. They say they’ve found healing, too, inside these stories. I’ve given the stories birth, but I’m not the one who reaches readers. Writers are … the conduit through which God and guidance flow” (Jane Kirkpatrick, Homestead).  

Did you catch that? “Writers are … the conduit through which God and guidance flow.”

You are a writer. By writing your God-and-you stories, you can be the conduit through which God and His guidance flow to your children, grandchildren, and many others.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Your “Sacred Stories of the Ordinary”

Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary.

That’s the title of one of Rabbi Lawrence Kushner’s books.

I like those words. I like them combined that way. I resonate with the images they inspire. I especially applaud their meaning.

From one generation to the next, to the next: “Invisible lines of connection: Sacred stories of the ordinary.”

That’s what your spiritual memoirs and mine are all about!

“Reverence before heaven. Amazing grace.” Rabbi Kushner says, “It is a way of understanding your place within Creation.… When viewed from a point of high enough vantage, everything is revealed to be in the hands of God, as in the Yiddish saying, Alles ist Gott, ‘It’s all God.’” (Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary)

Your sacred invisible lines have been there all along, since long before you were born.

Try to take this in: God includes you in His sacred stories that span the centuries.

“Part of God’s infinite genius appears in how such humanness can play into the divine story.” (Beth Moore, James: Mercy Triumphs)

We humans—you and I—are part of God’s divine story.

You began with a plan God wrote:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT).

“The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more” (Psalm 121:8, NIV).

We discover sacred stories of the ordinary, Kushner says, “Throughout all creation, just beneath the surface.…”

You might think you live an inconspicuous, unremarkable life but, through the generations, God has been writing His sacred stories through you and your family’s ordinary events.

Look for a broader, deeper significance hidden in your everyday moments.

Take time to search for ways God has watched over your coming and going.

Track sacred connections that exist all around you.

Ask God to give you glimpses of His hand-written, just-beneath-the-surface stories.

And when He does, write them!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Go public

Three of My Most Beloveds are suffering a type of “darkness.” Ongoing, severe pain surrounds them.

You and I have struggled in the darkness, too, for various reasons—loneliness, despair, ruin, failure, grieving.…

Yet within that darkness, God has messages for us. Within that darkness He tells you and me many things.

F.B. Meyer believed that in such times, God “tells us His secrets.”

That reminds me of God’s precious words in Isaiah 45:3, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord…”(NIV).

God, in His goodness, fulfills divine purposes through our darkness.

Furthermore, Meyer said,

“We are not meant to always linger in the dark.…” And when the right time comes to step out of the darkness, “we are to speak and proclaim what we have learned.”

That’s one of the things we do at Spiritual Memoirs 101! Here we look back and trace the ways God used our heartaches (and our joys, too, of course) to teach us about Himself and His love and His power to help—and then we put those lessons in writing for our memoirs.

Meyer’s words will sound old fashioned to you, but they are full of inspiration:

God calls “His child to the higher altitudes of fellowship, that he may hear God speaking face to face, and bear the message to his fellows at the mountain foot.”

“Were the forty days wasted that Moses spent on the Mount, or the period spent at Horeb by Elijah, or the years spent in Arabia by Saul?

“There is no short cut to the life of faith.… We must have periods of lonely meditation and fellowship with God.… Thus alone can the sense of God’s presence become the fixed possession of the soul, enabling it to say repeatedly, with the Psalmist, ‘Thou art near, O God’ [Psalm 119:151]” (emphasis mine; F.B. Meyer, quoted by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman, Streams in the Desert).

Take a few days or weeks to look back on your dark daysyour Moses-like time on the Mount, your Elijah-like time in Horeb, your Saul-like time in Arabia—and discover that your hardships were not wasted years!

Find God’s treasures and His purposes in those difficult phases of your life. Discover the blessings that resulted.

What secrets did He whisper that you couldn’t have heard in eras of ease and seasons of sunshine? How did your life and faith change as a result?

"What God told you in the dark, speak (write) in the daylight; what He whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” (Matthew 10:27), or, as Eugene Peterson worded it in The Message, “Go public.”

Think back to people who “went public,” people who shared their stories with you during your dark days.

Now it’s your turn to pass on the good deed because your kids, grandkids, great-grands, and your other readers will experience their own dark days. God can use your stories to help them. What important messages, hope, and wisdom can you share with them? Go public. Write your stories!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

“An unfinished manuscript cannot….”

You’re probably like me: a few choice one-liners have danced around in your mind for years.

Take, for example, Lee Roddy’sAn unfinished manuscript cannot change lives.” Years ago I read it for the first time in Marlene Bagnull’s Write His Answer, and it has always stuck with me.

Here’s Roddy’s entire quote:

“… An unfinished manuscript cannot change lives. Even a finished one cannot minister in a drawer or filing cabinet. Only in published form can a book go where you and I will never go, to people we will never meet. Only in published form can a book make a difference in eternity.”

(Interpret Roddy’s use of the word “published” as “finished and in the hands of your readers.” Today you have dozens of ways to publish your stories, so please don’t assume you have to find an agent and publisher for your memoir. We’ll consider your publishing options on another day.)

Roddy’s words hit close to home since, as you know from Saturday’s post, I’m struggling to write a vignette about Tom Durr. My heart and mind tell me that my kids, grandkids and, in the future, my great-grandkids need to know Tom’s story.

Like Andrew Zahn said, I have this story in me that’s begging to get out.

“Having a story of redemption and deliverance
isn’t enough.
It’s the telling of my story that brings victory.
As I put words to what God has done in my life,
I continue to overcome.
But if I keep it to myself,
God doesn’t get glorified in it
and I don’t move forward.…
We have to put words to our testimony.
You’ve got a story to tell.
Tell it."

by Alece at Grit and Glory blog,

Many thanks to those who left comments and advice for my vignette. I’ve taken every message to heart and you all have encouraged me to continue working on the story.

I’ve also puttered around The Bookshelf Muse blog, especially their Emotional Thesaurus, where I’ve found specific words and phrases to use in my vignette. (You’ll find a link to The Bookshelf Muse toward the bottom right column.)

Since your stories and mine serve as a ministry to our family and other readers, praying for God’s help is a must!

What else is a must for your writing?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

I’m stuck. Can you help?


I’ve known for decades that I need to write about Tom Durr. He attended my school for only a few weeks, and I don’t recall ever talking with him, but I’ve never forgotten what he taught me.

But it's not a pretty story, and there's the rub. 

A year or so ago I forced myself to write “The Tom Durr Story” on a new blank Word document. I saved it on my computer, but couldn’t write more than that. I was stuck.

A week ago I forced myself to start writing and I got 270 words into it when I got stuck again.

For the past several days I’ve tried to write more, but I’m still stuck.

I’m not sure what my problem is (I have a couple of ideas), but it occurred to me that perhaps some of you will offer suggestions.

Here’s what I’ve written so far in this very rough draft:

I thought that teachers were saintly, set-apart beings, more intelligent and honorable than the average person, and that the rest of us would do well to revere and model our lives after them.

For that reason, I had admired Mrs. C., my sixth grade teacher. She ran a tight classroom but I always followed her rules and the two of us got along fine.

I still remember the day, more than half a century ago, when Mrs. C. extended grace and mercy to me at a time when my parents were struggling financially. My shoe’s sole had torn apart from the leather upper and it flapped every time I took a step. Mrs. C. whispered, “Let me slip this rubber band around your shoe to hold it together.” I’ve always remembered her kindness.

And I admired her fingernails—so much that I filed my nails into sharp points just like hers.

But in the latter half of sixth grade, when Tom Durr joined our class, Mrs. C.’s behavior led me to change my perspective on teachers.

And Tom Durr’s behavior led me to recognize what a genuine saintly, set-apart being looks like, for he was more intelligent and honorable than the average person, and the rest of us would do well to revere and model our lives after Tom rather than our teacher.

Tall, slender, and always well groomed, Tom had moved from Texas, or so I remember, and unlike the rest of us suburban Seattleites, he wore dark blue jeans and a jean jacket every day, always perfectly clean.

When Tom joined our class, I witnessed a different side of Mrs. C. 

This is where I got stuck again—but I want to tell this story, I need to tell this story to my kids and grandkids! I need to find words to describe Mrs. C’s ongoing hate-fueled behavior—in front of our class—and Tom’s noble behavior in response.

What do you think is my problem? What would you do if you were stuck here? What has worked for you in the past?

I welcome your advice. (Also I welcome your critique of the paragraphs I’ve written.)

Thanks for helping me get un-stuck.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Your Easter stories

Think about Easters past. What scenes live in your mind? Good Friday church services? Easter Sunday church services?

What people come to mind? What churches? Houses? Smells and flavors? Perhaps you recall the fragrance of Easter lilies filling the church sanctuary, Grandma’s ham dinner, the taste of Easter eggs.

What colors come to mind? I think of Easter egg stain on fingertips, teeth, and tongue.

What sounds belong to Easters past? Maybe an Easter cantata, or Grandpa’s laughter when you arrived at his house.

How have Easter observations changed since you were a child?

What was your most unusual Easter? What was your saddest Easter? What was your happiest Easter?

In what places around the world have you celebrated Easter?

Did you ever have to skip celebrating Easter for some reason? Why?

What do you remember about learning the real meaning of Easter? How has your understanding of Easter changed over the years? How has your life changed as a result?

Write another chapter of your memoir!

Be sure to include relevant Bible passages and explain why they’re relevant. Consider adding sketches of your floor plan, neighborhood or town, photos of people and places, mementos, or part of a road map if you traveled out of town. Try to include addresses and dates of these events.

Reflect on what God was doing back then. What was He teaching you, and how long did it take you to figure it out? How was He changing you?

If you could go back and do it over again, what would you have done differently?

What advice would you give your young readers about Easter?

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