Thursday, August 29, 2013

On sputtering flames and rekindling sparks

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person,” said Albert Schweitzer. “Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Read those two sentences again and pause to think:

How many times has your light dimmed and faltered, only to be rekindled by a spark from another person?

In what ways was God arranging events to bring that person into your life? You might not have recognized His efforts at the time, but if you take time to give it thought, perhaps you, like Jacob, will wake up and declare, “God was here all along but I wasn’t even aware of it!”

Connect the dots and pin down the ways God hovered close, working out His good plans for you.

Frederick Buechner observes that on the road to Emmaus, Jesus recognized the disciples even though they didn’t recognize him.

Buechner continues, “In this dark world where you and I see so little because of our unrecognizing eyes, he, whose eye is on the sparrow, sees each one of us.… And I believe that whether we recognize him or not, or believe in him or not, or even know his name, again and again he comes and walks a little way with us along whatever road we’re following. And I believe that through something that happens to us, or something we see, or somebody we know—who can ever guess how or when or where?—he offers us … a new hope, a new vision of light that not even the dark world can overcome.”  (Secrets in the Dark; emphasis mine)

Take a few days or weeks or even months to recognize those occasions. Make yourself a working document: a two-column list of both the events and the people who stepped into your life and invited you into the light.

Each of those incidents is a story waiting to be written and shared with others in your memoir.

When you write, dig deep and deeper. Refuse to skim over the shallow surface of life. What lessons did you learn through both the faltering of your light and the rekindling? As a result, how did your life change? What new person did you become? How did the experience strengthen your faith?

If you write your stories, your memoir can rekindle a flame for someone else whose light is sputtering.

Related posts:

Thursday, August 22, 2013

“Histories of families cannot be separated from the histories of nations”

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“We are not used to associating our private lives with public events,” writes Susan Griffin. “Yet the histories of families cannot be separated from the histories of nations.…

“There are so many strands to the story.… I begin to suspect each strand goes out infinitely and touches everything, everyone. I am reminded that nothing stands alone. Everything has something standing beside it. And the two are really one.” (A Chorus of Stones)

Yes, you and I have observed history-in-the-making—sometimes as bystanders and other times as the movers and shakers—and our personal histories are intertwined with our world’s history.

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

When we link ourselves with the history that surrounded our lives, we anchor our stories in time and place.

Our stories can make history come alive—they can make history personal—for our readers.

Below is a module I wrote about the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Do you remember what a module is? It’s a short account—in contrast to a stand-alone story that has a beginning, a plot, and a conclusion. A module is only part of a story. Read more at Modules Add Zing to Your Memoir.)

This module is still in rough draft form. I welcome your feedback. Feel free to leave your response in the comments section below.

Cuban Missile Crisis

Against a black velvet autumn sky, the American Flag glowed brilliant, like diamonds and rubies in the spotlight, but my tears blurred its radiance.

Our high school band played The Star Spangled Banner while my friends and I stood, singing along, in our football stadium. But I was choking on the words:

“O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

It was Friday evening, October 26, 1962. All I had ever known of being an American—and even of being alive—hung in jeopardy.

Our nation trembled at the forefront of the most dangerous point in recorded history: America was engaged in a nuclear face-off with the Soviet Union.

From my earliest childhood memories, our nation’s people had been gripped in fear over a potential nuclear attack. Fallout shelters, and stocking them with survival supplies, were common topics of discussion. Weekly, usually Wednesdays, every community and school conducted air raid drills. When the siren screamed, we students practiced hiding under our school desks until we got an all-clear signal.

So now, in October, 1962, it had come to this: On Sunday, October 14, US reconnaissance flights revealed that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had installed nuclear warheads in Cuba, just off the Florida coast.

From there, Hiroshima-sized bombs could destroy American cities up to 1,550 miles away—virtually all of the US’s southeast states and beyond—beyond Chicago, beyond Kansas City, beyond Dallas.

Soviet missiles could deliver three-megaton bombs to Washington, DC, within five minutes.

Not only America, but the entire world, stood on the brink of nuclear war and, no doubt, World War III. It would be annihilation. Armageddon.

By Wednesday, October 17, the US had begun Operation ORTSAC (Cuban dictator Castro’s name spelled backwards), with a mock invasion of Cuba carried out in nearby Puerto Rico.

The next day, US forces started mobilizing for an invasion of Cuba.

Friday, October 19, news agencies reported military activities in Florida. The 81st and 101st Airborne were placed on alert.

In response, on Monday, October 22, Nikita Khrushchev said he’d use nuclear weapons to thwart a US invasion of Cuba, and he put Soviet forces in Cuba on alert in readiness for a US paratrooper drop.

That same day, President John F. Kennedy announced a naval blockade of Cuba.

The next day, Tuesday, October 23, American F-8 Crusaders flew low-level reconnaissance flights over Cuba and took close-up photos of Soviet missile sites.

Wednesday, Adlai Stevenson, US Ambassador to the United Nations, put forward evidence of those missiles.

US military forces were ordered to the highest state of military readiness.

Friday, October 26, the day of our high school football game, US intelligence discovered evidence of short-range nuclear missiles ready to target US forces invading Cuba. Khrushchev was following through on the threat he had made a few days earlier.

As children, we’d been educated about the effects of a nuclear attack, but it was my junior high science teacher, Mr. Serwald, who drove home raw truths in the event that we never got that all-clear signal. As I recall, he said if our town came under nuclear attack that within a certain radius, humans would be vaporized. A little farther away from the blast, bodies would have all flesh burned off. A little farther away, bodies would be covered with blisters. Any remaining vegetation and water would be contaminated. The list of horrors went on and on.

Those images filled my thoughts that night at the football field while I sobbed through The Star Spangled Banner, eyes glued to the American Flag sparkling against the night sky.

Related posts:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What can your memoir teach about looking fear in the face?

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face," said Eleanor Roosevelt. "You must do the thing which you think you cannot do." 

Think back. When did you look fear in the face? When did you do the thing you thought you could not do?

And what can your memoir teach your kids, grandkids, and other readers about taking a wild-eyed, white-knuckled leap of faith?

Read the quotes below, slowly, and pause as long as it takes to rediscover personal stories they revive, incidents you might have forgotten long ago.

The jump is so frightening between where I am and where I want to be…
Because of all I may become
I will
Close my eyes
And leap!
(Mary Anne Rachmacher)

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (Anais Nin)

“You can’t test courage cautiously.” (Annie Dillard)

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” (Nelson Mandela)

“Courage is contagious. When a brave young man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.” (Billy Graham)

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” (Anais Nin)

What stories do these quotes bring to mind?

What courageous thing have you done? Perhaps when you triumphed over fear, others watched. Or maybe you looked fear in the face and took action, even though no one else ever knew about your bravery. Was Anais Nin right? Did your life expand in proportion to your courage?

On the other hand, perhaps some of these quotes reminded you of a time you refused to take that leap, when you remained tight in a bud and chose not to blossom. Was Anais Nin right? Did your life shrink in proportion to your lack of courage?

Looking back now, whether you took that courageous leap of faith or not, what did you learn from your choice?

How did God help you? As a result, in what ways did your relationship with God change?

What Bible verses pertain to your story?

How did you change as a result of your experience?

Did you do things differently in the future?

What valuable lessons can you pass on to others?

Write your stories! Why? Because your children, grandchildren, and other readers will face situations in which their courage and faith are wobbly. Your story could make all the difference in their outcomes.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why did you underline them?

What verses have you underlined or highlighted in your Bible? Look over a few and ask yourself why they are special to you. Why and how did they speak to your heart? During which event or era were those verses your delight? Or your instruction? Or your only hope?

Stories that go with those verses could provide good material for your memoir.

Recently I spent half an hour looking through an old Bible, the one I used from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s. Reading underlined passages sent me back to the ministries I had during those years, and to specific locales, and they reminded me of people and situations and heartaches and joys.

Reading them again also showed me God was always there in the midst, working out His best, whether or not I knew it at the time.

Below are a few verses from Genesis and Exodus that I found underlined. Perhaps in reading them you, too, will discover story ideas of your own.

Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. (Genesis 24:1)

All nations on earth will be blessed because Abraham obeyed me.… (Genesis 26:4-5)

God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering. (Genesis 41:52)

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done.… (Genesis 50:20)

I have seen the misery of my people.… I have heard them crying out.… I am concerned about their suffering.… I have come down to rescue them. (Exodus 3:7-8)

I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you.… (Exodus 3:16)

When they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped.  (Exodus 4:31)

Now you will see what I will do.… Then you will know that I am the Lord your God. (Exodus 6:1-7)

The Lord kept vigil that night.… (Exodus 12:42)

They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. (Exodus 14:10)

I will sing to the Lord,
            for he is highly exalted.…
The Lord is my strength and my song;
            he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him. (Exodus 15:1-2)

I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. (Exodus 19:4)

Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:21)

Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness. Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.… Do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.… (Exodus 23:1-3)

Moses said to the Lord … “You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”(Exodus 33:12-13, 17)

Everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to the Lord.… (Exodus 35:20)

Take a few days to go through your Bible and find old passages you cherish, verses that changed your life, passages you held onto in dark times, verses that made you fall down in worship. Then write your stories!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Wounded Women

Most of you have faced a shattering loss at some point in life.

Or maybe someone betrayed you. Many of us have wounds inflicted by others—by a spouse, parent, child, sibling, or friend.

Some of us imposed wounds on ourselves by choices we made.

Sometimes we suffer because God seems silent; we feel He has let us down—or maybe even abandoned us.

Grief. Illness. Financial problems. Scars. Heartache.

Wounds. We all have them.

Would you like perspective and healing and hope for those wounds? If so, Dena Dyer and Tina Samples’ new book will bless your heart.

In Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts, Dena and Tina offer an in-depth look at women of the Bible and their wounds, and then pair their stories with those of modern-day women, everyday women like me. Yes, I am honored that Dena and Tina chose a story from my memoir, Grandma’s Letters from Africa, for their book.

From Tina’s website:

“Imploding relationships, incapacitating losses, injurious personal mistakes, or spiritual failures—whatever the issue, the wounds are the same. Whether it’s a lapse in judgment by Bathsheba or the moral failure of the women’s ministry leader in your local church; the spiritual insensitivity of Martha or the compulsive obsessions of your church’s care circle chairwoman; the terror of an abandoned single mother like Hagar or the struggling single mother in your prayer group—the time and circumstances are different, but the wounds are equally deep and spiritually devastating.”

Dena and Tina write:

“Our heartfelt prayer is that while reading the stories we’ve shared … you would find His peace for your pain, His joy in the midst of trials, and His hope for your heartache.”

From the back cover:

“Dena Dyer and Tina Samples don’t pray this prayer lightly for their readers.… In this book, they … [seek] models of Scripture’s wounded women to lead the way to healing.… If you’ve never thought of women playing much of a role in the Bible, or of having much to teach the modern woman, you’re in for a surprise.”

Wounded Women of the Bible includes a Bible study for individuals and groups that want to dig deeper. Consider this Bible study for your church’s women’s groups: it’s a Bible study for women of all ages.