Wednesday, May 30, 2012

No one else can write your stories the way you can

You and I have different stories to tell.

You and I have our own unique writing styles.

We have different audiences. Different timelines for finishing our manuscripts. Different publishing goals.

And that’s good!

“It is not the Lord’s intention that we be carbon copies of one another,” says Marlene Bagnull in Write His Answer: A Bible Study for Christian Writers

She cites Ephesians 4:7, “Christ has given each of us special abilities—whatever he wants us to have out of his rich storehouse of gifts.”

Marlene points out “Although … few of us will ever write a best-seller, we do have the responsibility to use our own special gift to its fullest potential.”

I want to paraphrase that for memoirists: You and I have the responsibility to write our families’ unique stories so God can use them to their fullest potential.

Marlene says that when she meets Christ fact to face, “It is my prayer that I’ll be able to show him that I have used [my writing talents]—that I have not allowed my tendency to compare myself with others … to limit what he wanted to do through me. I want ‘the words of my mouth [and my pen] and the meditations of my heart [to] be pleasing in [his] sight’ (Psalm 19:14, NIV).”

What an honorable goal! She prays that her words and meditations might be pleasing in the Lord’s sight. That’s a worthy goal for each of us in writing our memoirs.

Keep in mind why you are writing your memoir:

Your stories can help shape the lives of your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and anyone else you choose. Not everyone has children, but all of us have “spiritual children” who look up to us.

Telling our children, grandchildren, and “spiritual children” what God has done in our lives (Deuteronomy 4:9) is one of God’s one-of-a-kind purposes for each of us.

God can and will use what you write to bless those who come after you.

You probably have no idea just how your stories will impact your future generations.

No one else can write your stories the way you can.

Remember Richard Stearns’ challenge:

The same God behind the power of Moses’ staff,
David’s sling,
and Paul’s pen
is alive and active inside you.
Are you allowing him to work?

Write your stories!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Modules add zing to your memoir

What comes to mind when you hear the word module?

When my husband and I worked on the mission field, we collected modules to use in speaking engagements when we returned home.

On the field, we kept our ears alert for coworkers’ stories that would serve as a cultural module, an IIWIA (Is it worth it all?) module, a spiritual need module, or an end result module.

Modules are short accounts (in contrast to stand-alone stories that have a beginning, a plot, and a conclusion) that, combined with other information, comprise a complete story.

In other words, a module is part of a story.

I hadn’t thought about using modules in memoirs until last year when I taught the memoir class at New Tribes Mission’s training center in southern Missouri.

I had been stressing the importance of intriguing beginnings and strong, satisfying conclusions when a missionary asked if her memoir could include a paper on name-giving traditions practiced by the African group she worked with.

She was puzzled because she recognized her naming paper was not a story—it had no beginning, plot, or conclusion.

At the same moment, I recognized she was talking about a module. It was a Eureka! moment for me.

“Yes!” I told her. “Yes, you’re talking about a module—a rich cultural module. Use it!”

Yes, modules work in memoir. Include them in your vignettes, especially if you have written several about the same incident or timeframe or locale.

Here’s an excerpt from a cultural module about a trip my husband, Dave, took with a fellow missionary, Peter, to a remote indigenous tribe in South America. (I changed names for security reasons.)

The ABC people’s culture is laced with taboos to separate them from the outside world. They dwell in scattered mountain villages and only rarely venture outside to buy salt, machetes, or cloth. 

When an ABC man returns from the outside, he and the articles he brings are considered contaminated and must go through the witch doctor’s purification ceremony, lasting four days or longer. 

Especially taboo is paper, so much so that the ABCs believe it cannot be purified, so paper is banned completely.… 

An ABC can be purified, but an outsider is always an outsider—and always impure—so when Dave and Peter called on ABC families, they spread a banana leaf over the bench to preserve its purity. When the visit ended, they took with them their contaminated banana leaf. 

Similarly, the ABCs scurried for trusted banana leaves to cup candies Dave offered them in payment for photos he snapped. The leaves protected the people from contamination until the witchdoctor worked his cleansing magic.…

Note that this account has no plot; it isn’t a story. It is a module that enriches the story of Dave’s visit to the ABC village.

The module helps readers understand the setting and the conditions.

It helps them feel the vibes.

It helps readers experience Dave’s trip with him.

There are many kinds of cultural modules.

Think about family cultures. Each family has its own traditions, manner of speaking, table manners, assumptions, and expectations—and taboo topics for discussion.

Think about city or neighborhood cultures. If you are from Seattle, you instinctively know the difference between living in Medina (where Bill Gates lives)  and Forks (the setting for the Twilight series), but your readers—grandkids, great-grandkids—might not understand the nuances the way you do. A cultural module could make all the difference in helping your readers live your story with you and grasp your deeper message.

A dizzy American is a workplace cultural module about my years in Africa. 

Here’s a historical module:

Land sold for thirteen dollars per acre in his hometown. You could buy a dozen eggs for twenty-seven cents, a loaf of bread went for nine cents, milk was twenty-two cents a quart, delivered to your door. And you could buy a ready-to-wear man’s tailored suit for fifteen dollars.… 

Woodrow Wilson had just completed his first term as the twenty-eighth president of the United States.… The year was 1917, and William Cameron Townsend was twenty-one. 

Had he been interested … Cameron Townsend could have heard for the first time in history, jazz music on phonographs. (from A Thousand Trails: Personal Journal of William Cameron Townsend, Founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators, compiled and edited by Hugh Steven.)

Look for ways to include brief modules in your memoir’s vignettes.

Take a few days to think about the possibilities. Look for a cultural module, an IIWIA (Is it worth it all?) module, a spiritual need module, an end result module, or a historical module. (I haven’t included examples of IIWIA, spiritual need, or end result modules but if you’d like more info, leave a comment below.)

Can you think of other types of modules?

Modules add texture and zing and flavor and richness and depth and pizzazz—and isn’t that what we all enjoy in stories?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cathy, Lia, and Kathleen proved it

Stories matter. Stories make a difference. Even little stories.

Cathy, Lia, and Kathleen proved it.

Tears stung my eyes when I read their comments after last Wednesday’s post, Connect Your DotsDo you remember it?

“O, Lord, You’ve said You will make my path straight!” Barb cried. “So why is my path so crooked?”

She listened for God’s answer. He seemed to say, “Barb, this is my straight path for you!”

God’s reply zinged Barb.

Barb’s story zinged three of you.

Cathy Scibelli left this comment:

“…  Many times when I read your posts I feel as if I've tapped into a hotline to the Almighty because they are so often an answer to something I've been musing and praying about. Just today I was thinking similar to Barb, saying to a friend I wish God would put up road signs that say ‘Wrong Way’ so I don't stray off a nice straight smooth path. Now I understand not to fear the bumpy detours.”

Lia London said this:

“I absolutely love this idea! For years, I’ve understood that the Lord has customized trials for us, but I had never visualized the ‘path’ idea. Your dot-to-dot idea further helps me see how each individual’s journey is its own beautiful work of art, and we are in the care of the Master Artist.”

“You always seem to strike a chord in me with your posts! This one took me back to the time I decided to move out of state. I was a single parent with two school-aged children and on the surface it certainly didn't seem like a rational plan. Even my brother said ‘there's a straight line from A to B but Kathy chooses the zig zag course.’ In retrospect, as irrational as it all looked, I know now that God knew what He was doing. Thank you for another thought-provoking post that gets me in touch with my own journey and with the awesome presence of God in my life.”

So there you have it: Stories are important!

Stories can solve mysteries, encourage change, inspire action, and give hope.

Even your everyday stories can impart wisdom and shape character.

Your stories can change lives.

No wonder God urges us to tell others what we’ve seen Him do!

Over the years, God used Barb’s story in powerful ways, and He can do the same with your stories.

Your stories can build bridges between past generations and future generations.

Like Lisa-Jo Baker said, word by word, build your bridge, that others might walk across. (From her blog post, Because Words Can Build A Bridge)

Last summer Pastor Sid Tiller preached a sermon based on Psalm 100:5, “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Sid challenged us, saying,

“Generations before you lived for you
and told you of God’s love and mercy.
There are folks counting on us—folks not born net—
who need us to put Psalm 100:5 into action.
May your children and grandchildren
and great-grandchildren
know the name of God and praise Him.”

Stories matter. Stories make a difference. Even little stories.

Your stories can be sacred, full of life and light.

Write your stories!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Graduation: an ending and a beginning

This evening my first grandchild, Maggie, graduates from high school.

If you read Grandma’s Letters from Africa, you’ll remember Maggie, that little babe I wrote letters to from Africa. 

She’s all grown up now. How can that be?

The words of Sunrise, Sunset tread softly in my mind and heart, and I change a few words for Maggie:

Is this the little girl I carried?

I don’t remember getting older, when did she?

When did she get to be a beauty?

When did she grow to be so tall?

Wasn’t it yesterday when she was small?

What words of wisdom can I give her? How can I help to ease her way?

Sunrise, sunset,
Swiftly flow the days.
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers,
Blossoming even as we gaze.
(adapted from Bock and Harnick’s song in Fiddler on the Roof

Graduation: a successful completion.

But we also call the ceremony a “commencement,” a beginning, a start, a launch.

However we define it, it’s a major turning point in life.

What do you remember about your high school graduation? Or your children’s graduation?

What vignettes can you write to entertain your memoir’s readers?

Does or did your family have traditions surrounding graduations?

What wisdom can you pass on to your readers about completion and new beginnings?

What stories can you tell to help ease their way?

Be sure to include photos! They can be priceless.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Connect your dots

“O, Lord, You’ve said You will make my path straight!” Barb cried. “So why is my path so crooked?”

My friend and fellow BSF leader, Barb, was referring to Proverbs 4:11, “I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths,” and Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

After she cried out to God, she listened for His answer. He seemed to say, “Barb, this is my straight path for you!”

Suddenly it all made sense to her: What appeared crooked was actually the straight path God designed for her. Her meandering, rough journey was the God-designed route leading to His good plans for her.

This reminded both Barb and me of Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Barb hadn’t seen the big picture, but God had it under control.

When Barb recognized these things, she relaxed in God’s love. She felt peace about the way He was leading her through life.

Barb could even look back and connect the dots along her circuitous pathway. One dot at a time, the God-designed picture of her life was taking shape. The process was making more sense. 

What about you?

I have a hunch you, too, can look back and connect the dots and recognize, maybe as never before, that God has been leading you all along. Perhaps like Barb, you’ve discovered that your crooked, bumpy paths are really God’s straight paths.

Look at this connect-the-dots picture. My granddaughter, Claire, almost missed 11 and 12. Have you almost missed a significant dot?

Claire got off track between 14 and 15 but then got back on course. When did you veer off track? What brought you back?

What vignettes you can write about your life’s zigzags?

Was there a time you wanted to stroll down a grassy path through the meadow but, instead, God took your hand and led you to a jagged cliff in the desert?

Look for valuable lessons God taught you at that dot in your life.

Connect that dot to the ones before and the ones that followed.

Look for ways God is bringing your dots full circle.

Write your stories!

Your children and grandchildren need to know that God, whose ways and thoughts are higher than ours, makes our paths straight—according to His definition of the word. Your readers need to know how you have connected your dots so they, too, can connect their dots

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jessica’s vignette for Mother’s Day: An Unusual Keepsake

Continuing with our Mother’s Day vignettes
here is “An Unusual Keepsake” by Jessica Cherie Errico.
You’ll also enjoy Jess’s two blogs, Jewels for the Journey 

If you missed the first in our Mother’s Day series,
click here to read Ellie O’Malley’s

and our second in the series,
Julie Miller’s “Good Direction.”

An Unusual Keepsake

by Jessica Cherie Errico

Keepsakes come in all shapes and sizes. Some sparkle with market value, others appear ordinary and hardly worth a moment's notice. But don't dismiss an "everyday" heirloom too quickly, for its legacy may be priceless!

As I lift the hope chest lid and survey the cherished items carefully packed within, one object in particular stands out. Once shiny, it is dulled by use. The rounded dome is still sturdy and its perforations form a fanciful pattern. This is the aluminum colander my mother passed on to me when I ventured out into the world over a quarter-century ago.

Since then, how many cans of tuna fish have been drained by its capable bowl? Surely thousands of servings of pasta have been prepared with its straining effect. Fruit salads and kidney bean salads have been lovingly prepared with its aid. Children have been nourished and my sweet husband blessed with the use of this colander.

Turning it over in my hands, I observe its sturdy form and my fingers trace some random dimples in the metal. These evidences of hard use murmur to me of surviving in a complex world. Just as the colander drained away impurities and unwanted oil, so too, my mother survived loneliness and disappointment, cancer and osteoporosis, only to forge ahead with a smile.

Bound up in this keepsake are her examples of endurance and a positive attitude, characteristics I've put to the test and have proven to sustain me. How grateful I am for the gift of Mother's colander, and the courage and perseverance it represents. As I pass it to my daughter for use in her kitchen, may the inevitable trials of life be strained away to reveal the same joy and strength of those who used it before her. Bon apetit!

copyright © 2012 Jessica Cherie Errico

“The Story Woman,” Lynn Henriksen, encourages sons and daughters to write compelling stories about their mothers and, if interested, to submit them to her.

Recently she published TellTale Souls Writing the Mother Memoir, a writing guide that also includes 40 bio-vignettes submitted to her by people just like you.

Interested? Click here to read Lynn’s blog post, How The Mother Memoir Came To Life

Also click here to read Sharon Lippincott’s related blog post, Mother Memoir.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Good Direction: Julie Miller’s Mother’s Day vignette

Continuing with our Mother’s Day vignettes
in honor of all mothers everywhere,
here is Julie Miller’s Good Direction.
Be sure to look over Julie’s blog, “Burst of Salt.”

(If you missed the first in our Mother’s Day series,
click here to read Ellie O’Malley’s


I learned something long ago from my mother, something it took me quite some time to appreciate. I've known for years that if you're looking for a compliment from my mother, you're probably wasting your time.

She is a lady of more understanding and insight than anyone I've ever known, and she loves God, she walks with Christ, she cares about others, but she's just not someone to spout off words of glowing praise for others, not even her children.

I think it's good. Honestly, I do. It took some time for me to realize she's done me a great favor by not allowing me to see myself as more than what I am. I know she loves me and is proud to be my mother. I have no doubt of that. And she's taught me so much by example: The praise and glory goes to God, rather than to us.

Scripture does teach us to resist pride and teaches us it's better to receive instruction and wisdom than praise. I think the culture we live in doesn't always subscribe to that viewpoint as the world day by day becomes more secular, but it seems a shame in the way that we're missing out on one of the great truths God would like us to see.

To raise a child, feeding and building endlessly on their sense of self-pride really can handicap them, in my opinion, unless they are naturally of a disposition that will keep that idea at bay. It can be a harmful thing in a couple of ways, one being that it can make it very hard for them in life to follow God's path.

Are you loved? Are you valued greatly? Yes, always, because your life and your very spirit and soul are treasured by God.

God is concerned about the condition our spirit is in because that affects our whole life. I don't doubt He's happy if we've excelled in life at various thingsacademics, running, dancingbut He wants us to develop spiritually and that's the purpose of our lives that He has for us. That carries over, from this life to the next. Possibly everything else is left behind in the dust of memories.

And so, it's with gratitude and great love and respect in my heart that I offer thanks to God for the things I've learned from Him. And I thank Him for my motherthat He gave me her, and no other in the worldbecause she has offered me a viewpoint of life that has helped bring clarity of mind I might have otherwise spent a lifetime searching for.

copyright © 2012 Julie Miller