Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Stepping back from your mosaic

Henri Nouwen writes, “How do we know about God’s love, God’s generosity, God’s kindness, God’s forgiveness?”

It’s a good question but I’m a little hung up on the word “about.” I’d like to add this: The purpose of knowing about God is to move us increasingly closer to Him until we know Him. He longs for us to know Him in an intimate way so that we recognize we’re in His presence and we love and enjoy Him. And He loves and enjoys us.

It’s not just knowing about, it’s knowing.

Here’s a little human illustration. I knew about an actor who stars in Hallmark movies. And then, thanks to a certain school and two specific students, I have gotten to know that man. And I’m here to tell you there’s a lot of difference between knowing about and knowing. (He has even given me a hug!)

So, let’s go back to getting to know God:

We have any number of ways to hear about Him. One is to read and study the Bible.

Another way is to go to church.

And we can come to know about God through people. Here Nouwen points out the roles people play: “Through our parents, or friends, our teachers, our pastors, our spouses, our children—they all reveal God to us,” he writes.

This is where Nouwen’s illustration of a mosaic comes in—a pattern or design comprised of varying colors of small tiles, stones, glass, or paper which, skillfully pieced together, create a work of art.

Nouwen compares such a mosaic to the way humans discover God.

“A mosaic consists of thousands of little stones,” Nouwen writes. “Some are blue, some are green, some are yellow, some are gold.

“When we bring our faces close to the mosaic, we can admire the beauty of each stone. 

“But,” he continues, “as we step back from it, we can see that all these little stones reveal to us a beautiful picture, telling a story none of these stones can tell by itself.” (Bread for the Journey)

That’s the story of you.

God brought all those "stones," those people 
into your life so they’d point you toward Him.

How amazing is that?!

Through countless encounters with countless people—through
  • work experiences,
  • accidents,
  • books, movies,
  • serendipitous opportunities,
  • health struggles,
  • adventures,
  • Bible studies,
  • friends of friends, (even Facebook and Instagram),
  • doctors, scientists,
  • athletes, journalists—

any and all of these little “stones,”—which together comprise your own mosaic—have made God discernable for you, real for you, relatable for you.

Those are the ones God has placed into your mosaic to help you discover His heart, His grace, His guidance, His love, His plans and purposes for you.

In Lawrence Kushner’s words, they were for you “messengers on a sacred mission.”

Here, instead of the symbol of a mosaic, Kushner writes of puzzle pieces and the ways we can be puzzle pieces in other people’s lives.

“Every now and then (from where does that thrilling and terrifying insight come upon us?), we feel compelled to act. Each one of us are (sic) messengers on a sacred mission. . . .

Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
For some there are more pieces.
For others the puzzle is more difficult to assemble.
Some seem to be born with a nearly completed puzzle.

. . . You do not have within yourself
All the pieces to your puzzle. . . .

Everyone carries with them at least one and probably
Many pieces to someone else’s puzzle. . . .

And when you present your piece . . .
To another, whether you know it or not,
Whether they know it or not,
You are a messenger from the Most High.”
(Lawrence Kushner, Eyes Remade for Wonder)

Think about the people God used
to point you to Himself.
Thank Him for those dear folks!

Consider how you might include them in your memoir.

Or, here's an idea:

Think about writing an entire memoir
based on the people God placed in your "mosaic."
He could use you as "a messenger from the Most High."
Just think about that!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

They asked me: Why did you write your memoir?

Last night I attended the first meeting of our church’s fall book club, for which they’ve chosen my new memoir, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir.  I’m happy but also humbled that they chose it.

Among other questions, they asked me: Why did you write your memoir?

Good question.

I took time to answer because a memoir—every memoir—can and should be a gift for its readers. In fact:

I believe God Himself
dreamed up the idea of memoirs.
If you think that’s a stretch, read on!

Last evening, I took the ladies back to the beginning of my passion for memoirs—though originally I didn’t even know the definition of “memoir.”

It started some thirty years ago. I’d been reading Streams in the Desert, a devotional from 1925 (!) by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman (though nowadays they call her L.B. Cowman).

Not only have publishers updated her powerful devotional by letting the dear lady use her own name instead of her husband’s, they’ve also updated the wording and Bible version.

But I’m still using the old-fashioned version, so keep that in mind when you read what L.B. wrote. It’s based on Luke 21:13 which says, “This will give you an opportunity to tell about Me” (ERV).

“Life is a steep climb, and it does the heart good to have somebody ‘call back’ and cheerily beckon us on up the high hill,” she writes. “We are all climbers together, and we must help one another.

“This mountain climbing is serious business, but glorious. It takes strength and steady step to find the summits. The outlook widens with the altitude. If anyone among us has found anything worth while, we ought to ‘call back.’”

And then L.B. Cowman shares with us her poem:

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back—
‘Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perchance, Faith’s light is dim, because the [lamp] oil is low,
Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;
Call back, and say He kept you when the forest’s roots were torn;
That, when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill,
He bore you up and held you where the very air was still.

. . . But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky—
If you have gone a little way ahead, oh, friend, call back—
‘Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.

That poem—that thought of cupping our hands around our mouths and cheering on others who are struggling up the steep trails behind us—that thought zinged me. It zapped me. “Yesssss!” I said.

I fought tears when I thought of the people 
who had already battled up life’s steep mountain trails, 
who then turned to me to show by their example 
how to choose courage and faith, 
who shared with me their words, 
who cheered me on and kept praying.

My heart lurches when I think 
how my life’s battles might have turned out 
if those dear souls had not told me their story—
they and their stories kept me pounding one foot in front of the other, 
hoping, believing, refusing to give up 
because if God had helped them, He’d help me, too.

A Call Back book,” I told myself. “That’s what we need—to share our stories and keep each other fighting the good fight. 

Reading that poem was a defining moment for me. For years I thought about a Call Back Book. But the idea was raw and tough. It needed to marinate for a few years.

Fast forward twenty years or so. I came upon the following words (words which you know well by now if you’ve been with our SM 101 tribe for a while): “Always remember—and never forget—what you’ve seen God do, and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

When I read those words, they gave me another zing and zap. That was another pivotal moment for me. “That’s it!” I told myself. “That’s what a Call Back Book would accomplish.” My undeveloped concept began to take a more solid form in my mind and heart and vision.

And the fact that God told us to tell our life’s stories to our kids and grandkids—Wow again! He commanded us to tell our stories

It's a calling He's given all of us.

I remember asking myself, “I wonder what a memoir is.” I looked up the definition and—Wow again. Memoir was a perfect format for telling our stories. (Click here for the definition of memoir.)

And, as they say, the rest is history:

Last evening at the Book Club meeting, I was in for a delightful surprise. The ladies started discussing the definition of memoir, and then they realized that each of them has a story. One thing led to another and I think some of them are eager to attend the upcoming memoir classes.

They’ve caught the vision of the importance of telling our stories. I’m excited.

In the words of Lloyd John Ogilvie, “ “. . . we can be God’s tap on a person’s shoulder. . . . It’s awesome to realize that God can use us as His messengers, healers, and helpers. He’s up to exciting things, and all He needs is a willing, receptive, and obedient spirit” (Silent Strength for My Life).

If you’re reading this post,
YOU are those Ogilvie writes about—
YOU are the ones with a willing,
receptive, and obedient spirit.

How awesome to realize that
God is using YOU as His messengers,
healers, and helpers.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Your memoir: Lighthearted or heavy?

I’ve mentioned before that memoirs can be about happy experiences, good people, and victories. They can be lighthearted, even humorous.

Yet many memoirists write stories about suffering, trauma, setback, or failure.

The genre of memoir lends itself to stories of hardship because we write about: 
  • moving from one stage of our lives into a better one,
  • learning from our experiences—about ourselves, others, and God,
  • and becoming new and improved persons as a result of our experiences.

Those aspects of memoir, when we think of writing one ourselves, often trigger memories of difficult circumstances we’ve fought through and overcome.

But memoirs don’t have to be about battles fought and won. They can be about happier occasions, too.

Perhaps Marion Roach Smith’s updated definition of memoir will set us free to write of pleasanter experiences.

She says, 
Memoir is about something you know 
after something you’ve been through.”

For example, she tells about her love of gardening: “. . . what I really know from thirty years in the garden is that peace can be found in my own back yard.”

So, our job as memoirists is to tell readers what we learned—how we transitioned from our old selves into our new selves.

Too many people live on the busy, trifling surface, decade after decade—which is a sad way to live. That’s probably what Chuck Swindoll had in mind when he wrote, “Some of God’s best truths, like priceless treasures, are hidden in depths most folks never take time to search out.”

That’s why writing a memoir requires us to search out those hidden treasures—to intentionally reflect, to ponder, examine, piece together events and relationships, connect the dots and discover what was really going on, to grasp the deeper, wider, higher picture. (Click here to review what the definition of memoir is.)

With that in mind, here are ideas for less-than-traumatic memoirs.

What did you learn, what do you now know, after: 
  • taking a cruise to Alaska
  • playing sports
  • spending a summer on your uncle’s ranch
  • taking care of pets
  • going on a short-term mission trip
  • babysitting
  • being a parent
  • working on a summer camp’s staff
  • living in the desert—or rainforest
  • working as a driver’s ed instructor
  • blogging
  • belonging to your high school Girls’ Club
  • volunteering at a nursing home
  • reuniting with your first love.

What did you learn from: 
  • your best friend
  • your parent
  • a grandparent
  • your children
  • your grandchildren
  • your favorite professor
  • an immigrant
  • a first responder
  • a handicapped person
  • a Bible study
  • your first paying job
  • a road trip
  • learning how to cook
  • learning how to make house repairs
  • your favorite songs.

And here at SM 101, we also seek to discover what God was doing in the midst of our experiences. We might not have noticed His involvement at the time, but in making time to look back, we realize He was doing what He promised in the Bible, teaching us truths we need to understand, strengthening our faith, and more—all kinds of special, loving things.

Your story could be about something that happened suddenly, or about something that slowly, quietly crept into your heart and changed your attitude, or gave you hope, made you laugh, strengthened your faith, or gave you peace.

Think about an Aha moment 
when you discovered something lovely 
or insightful or helpful. 

A realization that filled you with wonder. 

A mystery you solved, 
or a discovery that delighted you, 
a discovery that, if you shared it, 
would add joy to other people’s lives. 

It could turn a person’s life in a new direction.
God can use your story.

Someone needs to hear it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Finally! Amazon now sells my e-book! (and other good news)

Whew! It has taken close to three months but, finally, as of yesterday, Amazon is selling the e-book version of my memoir, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir.

A special thanks to Barnes and Noble for selling both the print book and e-book from the very beginning, June 4. Because of that, I’ve been referring everyone to them.

Amazon has sold my print book since day one, but I had to fight one battle after another after another to get Amazon to (1) sell my e-book and (2) install the “Look Inside” feature.

Also, I want to share with you this endorsement from a special person:

I read [Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’sMemoir] over the weekend and had a hard time putting it down. 
At times I found myself laughing out loud, especially at some of the cute stories you include about your children. 
Other times I read through tears, imagining some of the heartache the Lomalinda team endured. 
Your writing style is engaging and descriptive. I also enjoyed looking at the photographs you included. 
Thank you for your Wycliffe service and for saying “yes” to God’s call on your life. 
Vicky Mixson, Executive Vice President and Chief Communications Officer, Wycliffe Bible Translators USA
I told you it was from someone special!

Also, many thanks to memoirist Kathleen Pooler who left a five-star review (!) at Amazon and Goodreads. Check it out at this link.

Thank you to everyone
for the nice comments you’re making about

I hope you’ll think about
doing what Kathy Pooler did
leave a review on Amazon,
Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, etc.

Reviews are like a much-needed
pat on the back for weary authors!

Check out Kathy’s blog, Memoir Writer’s Journey. Also, I encourage you to consider buying and telling others about Kathy’s excellent first memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse. Her new memoir will be released soon.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

“What made me think I could write my story?” How to stay on task

When working on any significant project, often obstacles pull us off track.

In writing your memoir—as a ministry, not a hobby—what derails you? What distractions lure you away?

Lots of things could entice you to say, “I don’t have time to write today. Maybe tomorrow.”

And before you know it, you’re turning the calendar page to a new month. And then to a new year.

And when you think about getting back to writing your memoir, you get discouraged.

You might even ask yourself, “What made me think I could write my story?”  

Sound familiar?

When that happens, we must refocus on the value of our stories. We must believe that our stories have importance.

One of the best motivators for me to write is this: I have learned some of the most important things in my life from other people’s stories. From them, I have learned about courage, hope, direction, healing, integrity, faith, wisdom, and understanding.

How crippled and lost I would be without those stories ministering to me. Like Proverbs 13:14a says, 

“The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life. . . .”

The blessings I’ve received from other people’s stories inspire me to pass on my stories to others.

Another motivation for me is this: God tells us to share our stories with others, starting with our children and grandchildren and spreading outward from there. 

If you’ve been with SM 101 for a while, you’re well-acquainted with Deuteronomy 4:9 which tells us to always remember what we’ve seen God do and to be sure to tell our kids and grandkids.

And in Luke 8:39, Jesus said, “Go tell your family everything God has done for you.

When you finish writing your memoir and hand it to your kids, grandkids and great-grands, this is, in effect, what you’ll be saying to them:

“Come, children, listen to me.
Let me teach you how to honor the Lord”
(Psalm 34:11, CEB).

Bottom line: You will face obstacles—other activities will look soooo fun, you’ll have good tasks that you’ll need to do and out-of-town guests to entertain. You’ll get sick. Interruptions will arise, but don’t let them throw you off track for long!

Ask God for help. Pray for wisdom to refocus and discipline to reprioritize so you can keep on task and fulfill this responsibility He has given to you.

Pray Moses’s words, that your stories might bring refreshing, nourishing blessings to your readers:

“Let my teaching fall like rain
and my words descend as dew,
like showers on new grass,
like abundant rain on tender plants”
(Deuteronomy 32:2).

And you can pray Lloyd Ogilvie’s words:

“Gracious Father . . .
I never cease to be astonished
that You have chosen to do Your work through me.
Remind me throughout this day
to yield myself in prayer
so that my mind is directed by Your guidance. . . .
I say with the psalmist,
‘. . . for Your name’s sake, lead me and guide me’
(Psalm 31:3).”
(Lloyd John Ogilvie, Quiet Moments with God)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Who is the real author of your story?

Last week we touched on the importance of avoiding preachiness in our memoirs, of avoiding coming across as holier-than-thou. People won’t respond well if we have a know-it-all manner, as if we’ve “arrived.”

Instead of preaching at our readers, let’s just humbly tell our stories.

Rather than drawing attention to how awesome we are, let’s show readers how awesome God is!

It’s not all about what you and I did, but what God did.

Henri Nouwen offers us this wisdom:

“I need to learn to speak well of the work God is doing in my life…, not with self-congratulation but with humble awareness of divine activity.” (Henri Nouwen, Discernment)

Think about two prominent men in the Bible, David and Paul. We tend to think of them as set-apart saints, but they were regular people like you and me—they really messed up sometimes.

Their lives were a mixture of faith and disobedience, spiritual success and failures, yet God used them in mighty ways and continues to use them to this day. It’s not so much what David or Paul did, it’s what God did.

Abraham is . . . one of the most important men in the history of the world,” writes Richard Peace. “What makes Abraham so important . . . is not his sterling character (which he did not have), his outstanding intellect (which may have existed but it is not mentioned), his charming personality (he could be pretty annoying), or substantial personal accomplishments (he has few, apart from his pilgrimage to the promised land).

“What Abraham is remembered for,” continues Peace, “is his faithfulness in obeying God’s call to undertake a long and demanding journey. It was not so much what Abraham did, but what God did. . . . In Abraham we see not so much a saint in action; rather, the faithfulness and graciousness of God. . . . In Abraham we see an ordinary man who is used by God, not because of who Abraham was, but because of who God is. . . .” (Richard Peace, Spiritual Storytelling)

Bottom line: Write your stories, not because of who you are, but because of who God is.

Praise the Lord . . .
Tell everyone what he has done. . . .
Remember all his miracles
and all his wonders
and his fair decisions. . . .”
Psalm 105:1-5 selected CEV

 . . . Our adequacy is from God. . . .
Therefore, having such a hope,
we use great boldness in our speech [or writing]. . . .
2 Corinthians 3:5, 12, NAS

Write your stories!

Depend on God to make you adequate for this awesome ministry.
Humbly use heavenly boldness in your writing.

God can use your story
to help others become all He intends for them to be.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Let's leave a spiritual legacy without getting preachy

I lost track of how many times my former pastor, Sid, urged us to leave a spiritual legacy for our children and grandchildren.

His messages made me want to holler from my back-row seat, “Amen! Everybody needs to write a memoir!”

One Sunday he reminded us of Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

. . . Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and your gates.”

In other words, God gives parents a responsibility:

to teach children,
to encourage them,
to inspire them—
night and day—
to love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength.

God gives grandparents such roles, too—see Deuteronomy 4:9, Deuteronomy 6:1-2, and Proverbs 13:22.

In Psalm 127:4, Solomon said children are like arrows in the hands of a warrior.

That might be confusing, but Pastor Sid challenged us: “Put feathers on those arrows!”

That takes time, he said, and skill.

It takes time to sharpen arrows, and it takes skill to aim them so they hit the target.

When built well and aimed correctly, arrows fly straight.

You and I have a responsibility to invest in “arrow-making”—to equip and nurture the children in our lives so they fly straight and arrive at the right place.

One way to do that is by talking with kids and grandkids—telling them your God-and-you stories, “wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night” (Deuteronomy 6:7, The Message). In telling your stories, you’ll leave a spiritual legacy for your children and grandchildren.

But let’s be realistic:
Of the stories your parents and grandparents told you,
how many do you remember?

I have forgotten 95% of the stories my family told me.

You know where I’m going with this:

Another way to “make arrows” is by writing what you’ve seen God do in and for your family—writing it and placing it in the hands of your kids and grandkids.

Preserving your God-and-you stories in writing means even generations not yet born can read your book long after you’re gone.

In doing so, you’ll leave a spiritual legacy—for who knows how many generations!

One caution: Don’t preach! Refuse the holier-than-thou attitude.

No lectures.

No self-righteousness.

Let’s not be offensive.

Instead, let’s remember what Madeleine L’Engle said:

“We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”