Thursday, January 30, 2014

"The things that your books make happen"

“Write about what you really care about.…
Write about what truly matters to you
not just things to catch the eye of the world
but things to touch the quick of the world
the way they have touched you to the quick.…
Write not just with wit and eloquence
and style and relevance
but with passion.
Then the things that your books make happen
will be things worth happening
things that make the people who read them
a little more passionate themselves for their pains…
a little more alive, a little wiser,
a little more beautiful, a little more understanding,
in short a little more human.…”

Frederick Buechner, from The Clown in the Belfry
(emphasis mine)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What do you regret?

Our stories can help others deal with success and with failure.

That means it’s important to write stories about getting life right and blowing it, about succeeding and falling short.

We can’t go back and undo bad decisions and failures but, if we’re wise, we’ve learned from them and made positive changes.

And, here’s a bonus: if we share our stories, maybe our kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids won’t make the same mistakes.

Recently on Facebook someone asked, “What do you regret?” The question got some lighthearted and groan-worthy replies:

cooking with margarine
using artificial sweeteners
that perm I got in the ‘70s
that orange body suit
EVERYTHING about high school
Reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull and thinking it was profound

It’s good—valuable, recommended—to include funny, lighthearted stuff. Make ‘em laugh. Humor connects, it endears you to your readers and makes them keep reading.

That’s important.

So include humor in your vignettes. (Don’t miss this: Like a sneak attack; it’s one of the most powerful techniques a memoirist can use.)  

But don’t stop there. Write your way into more consequential failures.

What do you regret?

Maybe you lament getting into a bad habit or an addiction.

Or losing contact with a friend or relative,

not saying “I love you” often enough,

spending too much time on your career and not enough time with your children,

family feuds,

telling a lie,


One of my biggest regrets is walking around a dying refugee on a sidewalk in Nairobi. Ignoring her. How could I have been so cold-hearted? I still reel over the long list of ways I totally blew it.

Ah, such things hurt, don’t they? Sometimes regrets can endure for years. But I have good news.…

One of the beauties of writing a memoir is the pondering, examining, and reflecting it requires. The process can prompt us to ask God and others for forgiveness and turn our lives in a different direction.  

And here’s where it gets better:

“That God still chooses to use us flawed human beings 
is both astonishing and encouraging.” 
Richard Stearns, World Vision

Yes, God can and does use us, flawed as we are: By telling our stories, those who come after us can learn from our mistakes and gain wisdom for living life well—but only if they know our stories.

So what do you regret? Or, who do you know who made a horrible blunder?

What was God doing in the event, as you see it now, in retrospect?

What deeper lessons did God have for you in the experience?

What did you learn about yourself?

What did you learn about God?

How did the experience change your life? What new person did you become?

What stories can you write about doing things differently in the future? About getting a second chance? About making a new start?

Write your stories!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Instilling bravery

How would you instill bravery and strength in boys when the current culture seems to work against these traits?

My husband and I—oldsters—received an invitation to lead a parenting class Sunday evening. We had handed out paper and asked parents to submit questions for us.

All questions were good but the one above caught my attention. (If you’re a regular here, you knew it would, didn’t you?) The question just begged me to tell what memoir is all about, and I didn’t let the opportunity slip away. (You knew I wouldn’t, right?)

After a brief explanation of what memoir is, I asked the audience:

Who inspired bravery in you? What’s the bravest act you ever witnessed?

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done? Write your story and give it to your kids.

Who taught you the importance of being strong? Who modeled for you how to be strong when it was mighty tempting to be weak? Write those stories and give them to your kids.

Think about this, too: Stories of failures can pack a lot of punch.

With that in mind, what’s the most un-brave act you’ve seen? The most cowardly action you’ve taken?

What is the most un-strong deed you’ve witnessed in others? When did you give in to weakness?

Have you ever pinned down, specifically, the values and traits and strengths you want your kids and grandkids to possess? If not, start today: Compile a list.

How about some of these for a start?

a sense of humor
self discipline

Don’t wait another day! Begin making your list.

In coming days and weeks, beside each trait, jot down a few words to remind you of a story demonstrating that trait.

Then sit down at your computer, or get out pen and paper, and start writing rough drafts of those stories.

Can you write one story a month? If so, you will have twelve stories a year from now!

Stories have a bigger impact than statistics,
a lecture, a chart, a meeting,
an article, or intellectual reasoning.
And nagging.

You have stories that only you can tell.
Your children and grandchildren
and great grandchildren need your stories.

Look for photos to accompany those stories—either your own or from the Internet. Photos can help in a couple of ways.

First, they’ll help you remember details, settings, sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, smells. They’ll help you remember songs of the era, clothing styles, hair styles, and historical settings. Use such details to draw readers right into your experience.

Second, photos add a depth of understanding and experience to your kids and grands when they read your story. According to an ad at, approximately 83% of human understanding happens visually, and our brains process images 60,000 times faster than text—so dig out those old photos. They’ll involve readers in your story and help them remember it.

“Our stories aren’t just part of a timeline.
They are part of human legacy.
They are the things that connect generations.
They connect geography, they connect culture,
they connect ethnicity and race.”
Jacqui Banaszynski,
Touching Hearts One Story at a Time”

Related posts:

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Our dysfunctional families

Does your family tree include a few messed up people?

You probably answered “yes,” and that’s OKReally. Take heart: Jesus’ human genealogy included some messed up people, too. 

In a recent Sunday sermon, son-on-law Brian pointed out that Jesus’ family tree included a liar, a schemer, an adulterer, a murderer, a drunkard, a prostitute.…

We all have blemished families, in varying degrees.

But here's the good news: God used Jesus’ less-than-perfect human family and God can use yours and mine, too.

How can that be? It doesn’t seem possible that God could use defective, broken, scarred families and their stories.

How could God use OUR stories

“It’s purely because of grace,” said Brian.

God doesn’t make us submit an application listing our qualifications. “It’s not about qualifications,” he said. “We base our lives on God’s promises of faithfulness and grace.”

What would we be without God’s forgiveness and lavish grace?

I want to fall on my face in tears when I think what I’d be without God’s merciful grace.

Our lives matter
of God’s grace and forgiveness
and healing and faithfulness. 
Our lives matter
God reaches out to us
in our disasters and calamities
and gives us second chances:
He heals us spiritually,
mentally, emotionally,
physically, relationally.

That’s how we can go on with our lives. And that’s why we can, and should, tell what He has done in our families and daily activities.

In fact, we need to tell our stories. Jesus said, “Go back and tell your family all God has done for you” (Mark 5:19; Luke 8:39).

God uses stories. They are among His most powerful tools.

You are part of a story
much bigger than yourself.

Your story is important.
It’s part of God’s story,
and God’s story is part of your story.

Connect your story with God’s story—
not as a hobby, but as a ministry to your family.

Write your stories. Yes, acknowledge the problems, but instead of dwelling on wreckage and malfunctions, tell what God has done to turn lives around. 

Other dysfunctional people—that’s all of us—need to know how God helped you. Tell us your stories: We want to know how God can bring help and healing and hope into our own lives and families.

Related posts:  
Say it”  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Creating future stories

Since you are busy this week with holiday doings, and since I am busy this week, I’m keeping this post brief.

I’m spending time with my three grandsons, all the while thinking—as a good memoir geek would—that this week we are creating story material for future memoirs!

Happy New Year, friends!

Grandpa and the boys found something in a tide pool.

What could it be?

A baby octopus!