Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"And ye, beneath life’s crushing load"

The tragedies in Newtown, Connecticut, have saddened this Christmas season for me—and for you, too, I’m sure.

My heart goes out to the victims’ families, the first responders and their families, the community’s clergy and educators and doctors and nurses and law enforcement officials.

I ran across this artwork in an antique Christmas book and its caption took my breath away

I know the words so well, words I have sung my entire life, but in the past I’ve glossed over them.

This Christmas that phrase takes on deeper meaning: “Ye, beneath life’s crushing load.”

And I’m thankful the words caught my attention. I’m thankful they jostled my heart and made it care.

Sometimes it’s good to step back from our giddy holiday festivities to think about and pray for those struggling beneath life’s crushing load.

And then, let’s take it beyond that. Let’s search for vignettes we can write for our memoirs, stories to bless and encourage our readers. We can’t know, now, what crushing loads they might carry in the future, but we can pray our stories will give them hope and faith. 

Have a blessed Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

“Where Are You From?” for your December stories

Do you remember our “Where Are You From?” exercise? It’s a deliciously fun writing project—but it’s much more than that!

Based on a poem by George Ella Lyon, your “Where I’m From” sheds light on “the sources of your unique you-ness that you’d never considered before,” according to the website.

And you know what that means! It means your “Where I’m From” is valuable memoir material. It can make your stories come alive for your readers.

Lyon’s online template suggests you write “Where I’m From” something like this:

“I am from _____ (specific ordinary item), from ______ (product name) and _______.

“I am from the ______ (home description … adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

“I am from the ______ (plant, flower, natural item.…)

“I am from _______ (family tradition) and ________ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) .…

“From __________ (something you were told as a child).…”

.… and so on. (Read more at this link.)

For example, Lyon’s poem begins this way:

“I am from clothespins, from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.…
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm.…”

I propose you make a unique “Where I’m From” specifically for your December stories—maybe as an introduction to one or more of your vignettes.

Use Lyon’s template as a jumping-off spot, but feel free to soar way beyond it: Branch out in new directions. List December song lyrics, weather, tastes, smells, sights, sounds, textures. Add activities: Did you go ice skating? Make gingerbread houses? Go to The Nutcracker?

Did your parents or grandparents read you a special story every Christmas?

Did mistletoe play an important role in any of your December stories?

Consider writing several December lists: one for early childhood, one for your teen years, one for young adulthood, and so on.

Here’s a fun idea: Include winter fashion trends from various eras in your life.

My “Where I’m From” December stories capture deep-freeze winters in eastern Washington State, Christmas Eve ferry rides in western Washington, and one Christmas in Washington, DC. They include Salvation Army bells and fireplace smoke in crisp night air. And hot chocolate with candy cane stir sticks. Gag gifts and laughter. Bayberry candles. Cordial cherries and newborn babies. And Christmas carols, lots of Christmas carols.

My nine Christmases on the equator, however, were much different: three of them with temperatures of 104 degrees, hot winds, wildfires, and ashes heavy in the air. Melting Jello salad carried to Christmas dinner at the home of relative strangers. Being “home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

My Christmas list does not include lefse, lutfisk, or herring, but for some people, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without them!

Some of my friends and relatives celebrate Hanukah rather than Christmas. Maybe you do, too. If so, what flavors, songs, traditions, and stories will be on your “Where I’m From” list?

Give this some thought: What kinds of December details might your readers (kids, grandkids, great-grands) never guess about you?  

This is a busy time of year so maybe you can simply make a list of snippets to remind yourself later.

Then, when the time is right, create your own “Where I’m From” specifically for your December stories, and have loads of fun! (Warning: This can be addicting!)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

In your memoir, how are you teaching values and beliefs?

Does our culture’s focus on consumerism bother you?

It bothers me.

It burdens my heart.

Our craving for material goods and comfort makes me very sad because, the way I see it, such pursuits clash with the reasons God gave us life.

Often I feel out of step with people around me, especially at Christmas when I recognize, yet again, what we’ve made of it: an emphasis on consumerism.

This year I’ve made time to ponder how it is that I dance to a tune different from so many around me. I want to know how it happened because I want to include my values and beliefs in stories I write for my grandchildren.

Looking back over the years, I’d say it’s God’s fault I’m out of sync with so much of my culture.

He sent me way out of my culture—to South America for three years and to Africa for eight—and He did some heavy-duty remodeling of my heart.

On those two continents, God showed me that millions of people live always on the edge of desperation. I watched them, got to know them, sang with them, cried for them, and prayed for them.

The experiences humbled me and changed me and broke me.

He shook up my priorities, my worldview, my lifestyle. He shook up the way I spend money—or not.

It’s as if He said, “You and your family don’t need more stuff! Instead, use your money for the poor and needy, the orphan and widow!” (James 1:27 sums it up pretty well, but also see Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and Isaiah 1:17.)

God turned me into what Kay Warren calls “seriously disturbed, gloriously ruined.

In Dangerous Surrender: What Happens When You Say Yes to God, Kay writes of those who belong to the Seriously Disturbed, Gloriously Ruined Club:

They are no longer content to live with the focus of their lives on their world—themselves, their problems, their family, their career. 

Their eyes have been opened to new realities. 

They have seen how the suffering world lives, and it is now real. 

They cannot ignore the suffering or pretend it doesn’t exist.

They are compelled to do something about it.

Kay helped me see: God trained me, He gave me a counter-cultural view of consumerism—and of our purposes for being. He impressed upon me that my life’s goal is not to increase the number and quality of my possessions. He whispered to me that gifts for family members don’t need to be expensive and extravagant. He said loud and clear: “Be generous with the needy instead!”

So I ask myself: What vignettes can I write to illustrate those values and beliefs to my children and grandchildren?

And, at the same time, how can I emphasize Jesus’ warning not to give to the needy for the purpose of drawing attention to ourselves and receive honor from others? (See Matthew 6:2)

How about you? Do you ever feel you’re marching to the beat of a different drummer?

Do you know why or why not?

What experiences re-shaped your heart and cemented your values and beliefs?

What stories can you write for your readers to reveal values and beliefs different from those the world offers them?

Write stories to communicate James’ message: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

Take care to emphasize Jesus’ warning not to give to the needy for the purpose of drawing attention to ourselves and receive honor from others (Matthew 6:2).

Pray, as you write, that God will give your children, grandchildren, and other readers a sense of purpose and joy in being generous to those in need.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

“To remember only the pain, or only the joy, would be incomplete”

This month’s blog posts resulted from welcome comments Samantha White left after my blog post, Don’t Forget Your Memories!

If you’ve been hanging around SM 101 for a while, you know we emphasize the importance of remembering, based on several Bible verses, and Samantha’s probing ponderings brought real-life clarity to the topic.

With grace and wisdom, Samantha wrote, “Remembering can be a great gift and also a great curse. Memories can haunt us and pull us away from the present.…”

And so, her insight brings us to the end of this month’s examination of forgiveness and whether forgiving also means forgetting.

(If you missed earlier posts, here are links: Does forgiveness leave room for forgetting AND remembering? If we’re ready for “…a radical reconstruction of the heart,” (Max Lucado), God is ready and eager to forgive. God’s forgiveness is complete. Perfect. We also need to forgive ourselves.)

So the question today is:

After God forgives us, after God takes our sins from usas far as the east is from the west!—should we forget our wrongdoings? Or should we remember them?

Here’s what I think:

If remembering keeps us stuck in pain and regret,

if remembering prevents us from moving on,

if remembering keeps us mired in self-loathing,

if remembering our forgiven sins defines us and declares us ruined for the rest of our lives,

then remembering is not God’s best for us.

On the other hand,

if remembering focuses us on God’s unfailing love and all-sufficient grace,

if remembering makes us fall on our knees before Him in awe and thanksgiving,

if remembering speaks of  “a joyful release from the things that have bound us far too long” (Chuck Swindoll, Grace Awakening),

if remembering helps us hope,

if remembering  blows us away,

if remembering shows how far God has brought us,

if remembering leads us to delight in God and love Him more,

then let’s remember!

God invites us to a sacred remembering,

a sacred remembering that releases us from wallowing in old history,

a sacred remembering that invites us to be our true selves: “Your True Self is who you are in God and who God is in you” (Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for our True Self),

a sacred remembering that enables us to live in the present, and for the future,

a sacred remembering that leads us to say, like David,

“Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins” (Psalm 103:1-2, NLT).

and, “You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance; you have taken away all my sorrow and surrounded me with joy. So I will not be silent; I will sing praise to you. Lord, you are my God; I will give you thanks forever” (Psalm 30:11-12, GNT).

 “Never be afraid when God brings back the past.
Let memory have its way.
God will turn the ‘might have been’
into a wonderful beginning for the future.”
(Oswald Chambers)

Forget the things that happened in the past.
Do not keep thinking about them.
I am about to do something new.
Don’t you see it coming?
I am going to make a way for you
to go through the desert.
I will make streams of water
in the dry and empty land.
  (Isaiah 43:18,19, NIRV)

God invites us to a sacred remembering in which we view our forgiven sins not as through rose-colored glasses, but as through grace-fogged glasses, when we view forgiven sins as distant clouds, as morning mists.

Samantha wrote insightful words that will bless your life and help you write your memoir:

“Memories can … make us deeply grateful for all the good we’ve received. One of the gifts for me in writing my memoir is that it helped me put my most painful memories to rest. By publishing them, I have given them wings on which to fly and stay alive, without my having to personally relive them daily.… The Bible is about times of pestilence and suffering AND triumph and survival. I suppose we need to remember it all … that life was difficult, and that we overcame and grew.… To remember only the pain, or only the joy, would be incomplete. We need to remember it all, as a package, because life is all of it. Pain and loss, healing and joy. We LEARN by remembering!!! I think the message of the Bible, ‘Remember,’ also means ‘Don’t let the suffering, nor what was gained and learned from it, be wasted. Learn. Remember what we’ve learned.’”

Many thanks, Samantha! You have blessed us all!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

As a memoirist, how do you deal with this elephant in the room?

I have done no research, but I suspect every memoir involves some aspect of forgiveness:

Our need to ask forgiveness from others
Our need to accept and embrace God’s forgiveness
Our need to forgive ourselves

If I’m right—if every memoir involves some aspect of forgiveness—do we treat it like the elephant in the room?

In one way or another, forgiveness surrounds our everyday lives, from birth to death, but do we shy away from taking a serious look at it?

It looms, maybe in the corner of the room, but are we uncomfortable discussing it?

As a memoirist, how are you addressing the topic of forgiveness?

Last week I challenged you with this:

Your readers—
your kids, grandkids, great-grandkids,
generations yet unborn—
will struggle with their own failures
and weaknesses
and temptations
and sins.
God can use your life’s stories
to help them turn to Him
for forgiveness and restoration.

Twice this month (Thanksgiving month—no coincidence!) we’ve examined a couple components of forgiveness (click on links above). Today, let’s continue:

We need to accept and embrace God’s forgiveness, and we need to forgive ourselves:

After we’ve confessed and asked God’s forgiveness for our willful rebellion against Him and others, after we’ve sincerely turned our lives around, too often we continue to beat ourselves up over our failures and stains. We still consider ourselves soiled, ruined, disgraced. We feel doomed to live with shame the rest of our lives.

If that’s where you are today, I encourage you to ban the following judgment of yourself:

Instead, ask God to help you embrace the following:

Rest in the assurance that God’s forgiveness is complete, perfect, lacking nothing.

Believe God’s promise to forgive (1 John 1:9, Proverbs 28:13, Psalm 103:12).   

LIVE like you are forgiven (Psalm 32:5).

Relax in God’s love, mercy, and grace (Zephaniah 3:17).

Delight yourself in the joy of the Lord (2 Samuel 22:20, Psalm 16:16, Psalm 35:9, Isaiah 61:10, Nehemiah 8:10, Psalm 92:4).

Your stories are important. People need to know your stories of giving and receiving forgiveness—but spelling out every last detail might not be appropriate.

How much do you share with your readers—your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren?

“How open and honest do we need to be?
Do we have to tell our readers everything?
(Marlene Bagnull)

In Write His Answer: A Bible Study for Christian Writers, Marlene Bagnull points out that Paul, in the New Testament, must have had deep regrets over his persecution of Christians, yet he didn’t dodge it, he didn’t treat it like the elephant in the room.

Instead, spoke of his sinful life (Acts 22). He didn’t tell all the gory details of how he persecuted people, but he told the most important information: the Lord confronted him and called him to repent so he could tell others about God’s grace and forgiveness. Paul wrote, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy….The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly…” (1 Timothy 1:13-16; see also Romans 8:2).  

Paul didn’t record what, specifically, was the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-8).

He wrote that he kept doing things he didn’t want to do, but didn’t name them (Romans 7:15).  

But Paul always pointed his listeners and readers to God’s grace.

And he did so even though he knew he still was not perfect. “I am still not all I should be,” he admitted (Philippians 3:13).

You see, it wasn’t because Paul was so great. No, it was because God was and still is so great!

Like Paul, you and I are far from perfect, and, like Paul, we don’t need to tell all our gory details. But with humility, if God so leads, we can share transparently some of our failures in tactful ways so that we, like Paul, can tell how God saved us and changed us—by His staggering grace and mercy.

Your stories and mine are important because those who read them might think they’re beyond God’s grace. Our stories might give them the encouragement they need to accept God’s forgiveness for themselves.

“Out of his awareness of his own sinful nature,
Paul was able to point others to
‘the power of the life-giving Spirit’ (Romans 8:2).
We can do the same.”
Marlene Bagnull, Write His Answer

With God’s help, we can write stories to bless entire families and generations—not  because you and I are so great, but because God is so great!