Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dig out the gems, in pieces if you must

When you write a memoir, you record more than the details of what happened.

You peel back layers,
                        dig deep,

You mine gems buried under your life’s layers.

You get out a magnifying glass and hunt down the inner, more significant story.


Search for ways your experience changed you and made you who you are today. You might find answers to questions that eluded you in the past—or maybe you’ll make peace with questions that still have no answers.

Search for lessons you learned, for patterns (positive or negative) you recognize now, looking back.

Mining those gems can hurt. Have you ever watched Prospectors on The Weather Channel? 

The digging can scrape skin off your knuckles and break your nails and leave dirt between your fingers.

But the discovered treasurespriceless! Priceless in mining, priceless in memoir-writing.

Unearth things about yourself, and others,
that you hadn’t realized before.
Sometimes the discoveries sting,
but they can also shape and mature you
and send you down better paths
and strengthen your faith
for all that comes your way in the future.

Sometimes you unearth blessings you overlooked before,
the ways God was walking alongside you,
closing some doors and opening others—
even if you couldn’t detect it at the time.
Recognize the people He sent to cheer you on,
a job to pay the bills,
a doctor to diagnose your illness,
a Bible study, a church, a friend,
a scholarship, a car, a repairman, a song,
a professor who believed in you, a fireman.
A grandparent who prayed for you.

Look over the vignettes/chapters you’ve already written. Within each one, ponder, meditate, piece together:

  • What did you learn the hard way?
  • What do you know now that you didn’t then?
  • What new people did you meet—people who changed your life? Maybe for better, maybe for worse.
  • How was God involved? Include relevant Bible verses.
  • What wisdom did you gain from the experience?
  • What joy resulted from the experience?
  • What would you do differently if you could go back and do it again?
  • What (or who) would you have missed without that event?
  • How did the event make you a better person?

So excavate, burrow down, plow, rake, till, sift through the soil of your life.

Dig out those gems—
in pieces if you must—
but dig them out!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Sounds, rhythms, and fragrances

Here's your 15 seconds of inspiration, your Tuesday Tidbit:

Look over your rough drafts and study your vignettes' settings: 

  • Have you written so readers will get a sense of place?
  • Have you included the wordsthe lingo, the vocabularyof that region?
  • Have you captured the place's philosophy? Include that if it's relevant to your story.
  • Have you included the area's passions and culturethose unique activities or beliefs or traditions that characterize the place?

Take timemake timeto recognize the "sounds and rhythms and fragrances" (L.L. Barkat) of those places and write them into your vignettes.

And have fun!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

“Don’t Waste Your Trials,” a new way to look at our hurts

Heartaches and trials and hurts and tragedies: You and I experience them, and when we do, “we focus on why they happen and how,” son-in-law Brian said in his Sunday sermon, “and we want to solve them.”


But Brian really caught my attention when he pointed out, gently, that in times of calamity, we become self-centered.

When the doctor says we have a terminal disease,
            when someone tries to destroy our reputation,
                        when we’re reeling in pain,
when we face financial ruin,
            when a loved one dies,
                        when the house burns down,
                                    when we’re wrongly accused,

we become self-centered, Brian said. Self-centered. And he’s right. His words made me think back to my past hardships and, sure enough, I became self-absorbed in seeking an end to my pain and a path back to normalcy.

Brian continued with compassionate words, with humble words full of grace: “We have wrong expectations if we think life shouldn’t have trials. When they happen, avoid self-centeredness.”

Instead, he said, think of this: “God might be doing something bigger than you.” Does that grab you like it did me?

Brian urged us to use our tragedies for good by looking to others.

Don’t waste your trials,” he said. “God might allow something hard so you can encourage others.

Use your problems as an opportunity,” Brian said—an opportunity, he said!—to encourage others as they endure their own difficulties:

Your life, your experiences,
and your stories
can serve as another set of eyes
for others
struggling through their own trials.
You can help them
negotiate through the dark
and find the light.

In the midst of heartbreak, when life sends us on a bumpy detour into the wilderness, let’s focus on trusting that God has good plans for each of us. He loves us and doesn’t forsake us. Even when we can’t sense it, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV).

Let’s watch for the ways God takes bad things and works them out for good. Sometimes it takes years, even decades, to detect how He’s been working, often quietly—even silently—out of sight. But He’s been working nevertheless, and it’s our job to take time and make the effort to look back, connect the dots, and put all the puzzle pieces together.

And then let’s write our stories 
and share them with others. 
Our stories can’t help anyone unless we share them.

“Life is a steep climb,” wrote Mrs. Charles E. Cowman about a century ago,“… and it does the heart good to have somebody ‘call back’ and cheerily beckon us up the high hill.” (By call back Mrs. Cowman means cupping your hands around your mouth and hollering, as opposed to returning a phone call.)

“We are all climbers together, and we must help one another,” Mrs. Cowman wrote. “This mountain climbing is serious business, but glorious. It takes strength and a steady step to find the summits.… If anyone among us has found anything worthwhile, we ought to ‘call back.’” (From Mrs. Charles E. Cowman’s Streams in the Desert; emphasis mine)

That’s what memoir is all about: Those who have found something worthwhile—that’s all of us, isn’t it?—ought to share it with others.

Think of the times someone else’s story:

  • turned your life in a new direction,
  • convinced you to keep a promise,
  • gave you hope,
  • kept you from making a big mistake,
  • inspired you to take a leap of faith,
  • taught you how to love,
  • helped you forgive,
  • gave you courage to stand against evil,  
  • solved a mystery,
  • showed you how to give a soft answer,
  • helped you make a hard decision,
  • inspired a new goal.

Those are the people who “called back” to you.

Now it’s your turn
to “call back” to others.

Write—and share—your story.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: What to leave out of your memoir

Here's your 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit:

Think about Dani's message
and make needed changes
to your manuscript.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Holy threads, consecrated strands, hallowed fibers, blessed filaments

God’s footprints alongside ours, His fingerprints all over our lives: Divine intervention.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? We like having God intimately involved in our lives.

But “…divine intervention is nowhere near as simple a thing as we might imagine,” writes Ravi Zacharias (Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives).

Think about this:

Sometimes those footprints are muddy.

Sometimes tattered, holey shoes left those footprints.

Sometimes those fingerprints are sticky, smudged, scarred, bloody.

Divine intervention “cannot be only a journey of unmistakable blessing and a path of ease,” Zacharias continues. “To allow God to be God we must follow him for who he is and what he intends….

Each of us has heartaches, disappointments, failures.

Many experience betrayal. Unfaithfulness. Abuse.

Some of us know hunger and sickness and handicaps and homelessness.

We know loss, grief, weariness, confusion.

We know hopelessness.

Other times our lives seem hum-drum: We’re boring people living boring lives. We wonder if our lives matter, if we are worth anything of value.

“…incident follows incident helter-skelter leading apparently nowhere,” Frederick Buechner writes, “but then once in a while there is the suggestion of purpose, meaning, direction, the suggestion of plot….” (The Alphabet of Grace)

That’s what Zacharias calls us to see: “the designing hand of God and his intervention in our lives” so that “we know he has a specific purpose for each of us and that he will carry us through until we meet him face-to-face….

Although sometimes life is blah, other times life knocks the air out of us, if we let Him, and work with Him, God uses all of it to shape us and polish us and mature us and beautify usthough we might not understand it at the time, or even see it.

Zacharias challenges us to imagine our lives as exquisite fabric—vivid, brilliant colors with threads of gold and silver intertwined—and to see God as the “Grand Weaver… with a design in mind for you, a design that will adorn you as he uses your life to fashion you for his purpose, using all the threads within his reach.”

You are His workmanship, His treasure
Your life is sacred.

God is custom-making the fabric of your life. Look back over the years and search for each thread and color—the dark ones and the pastel ones, the heavy ones and the light ones, the coarse ones and the golden ones. Those are holy threads. Consecrated strands. Hallowed fibers. Blessed filaments.

Search for—make it your quest to—discover the excellent, one-of-a-kind pattern the Grand Weaver is creating out of you.

Go back: look for spools of thread, God-designed, for you alone. Watch and listen for the sound of the shuttle going back and forth in God’s hand. He’s making something beautiful of your life.

The more you grasp
and that He’s crafting you
into His masterpiece,
the better you can write
your God-and-you stories
and the better you can
share them with your children,
grandchildren, great-grandchildren,
and generations yet unborn.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: From generation to generation

Here’s your 15 seconds of inspiration, your Tuesday Tidbit:

“Some of the best stories
are those spun from everyday life
or from our past.
Family stories are held together
and handed down
from generation to generation
in stories.
And these strong cords of memory
actually become
the ties that bind.”
(emphasis mine)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The stranger’s story

Almost three weeks ago my beautiful niece, not yet thirty, nearly lost her life. A wicked virus attacked muscles from head to toe, leaving her almost completely paralyzed.

Imagine yourself in her place there in the ICU—I’ll call her “L.” She had no use of her arms or legs or facial muscles. She couldn’t speak, swallow, or smile. She couldn’t toilet herself. What a scary, helpless feeling!

After a week of intense intervention, the staff sat her in a chair but she couldn’t keep herself there: They had to strap her against the chair back.

I can only imagine the thoughts and questions racing through the minds of L and her young husband. What if she doesn’t heal completely? Will she spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair? Will she be able to have children? Will she lose her job? If so, she’ll lose her medical insurance. How can she pay her exorbitant hospital bills? And on and on …. This evil virus could destroy all their hopes and plans and dreams.

By God’s grace and in answer to many prayers, little by little doctors and nurses and medicine defeated the virus. Now L has started to regain some use of muscles. She’s now in an acute rehab center and has a long, long recovery ahead of her—maybe a year. Maybe longer.

L is fighting fear, discouragement, and heartache, but she’s also experiencing answers to prayers. She’s determined to fight hard and not give up.

She’s a very brave young lady but the reality is this: She’s fighting a major battle and no one knows how it will end.

Enter a perfect stranger. Two days ago. A young man, age 24.

He told his story. One year ago, he said, he occupied the room is in now, suffering from the same syndrome.

He came, he said, because he wanted L to see how well he was doing after a year. He encouraged her to be patient while her body heals and to work hard at physical therapy.

He urged her to stay positive. He pointed out how important family and friends are to successful healing.

He said he wanted to encourage L with his story and—get this: He said his life is better now for having endured that awful virus.

His story reminds me of the ways God works everything out for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28). It also reminds me of the ways God comforts those who mourn and can bring beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:2-3).

What hope, what encouragement L and her husband and parents received from that young man! God bless him for sharing his story!

 “Stories link past, present, and future in a way that tells us where we have been (even before we were born), where we are, and where we could be going,” writes Daniel Taylor in Tell Me a Story: The life-shaping power of our stories (emphasis mine).

By sharing his story, the young man who visited my niece offered L a glimpse of hope as to where she “could be going.”

“… Healthy stories,” continues Taylor, “challenge us to be active characters, not passive victims or observers…” That’s what the young man and his story did for L: he reminded her that even when she gets discouraged, even when progress is slow, she needs to be active, not passive, in her healing.

“Our stories are interwoven,” writes Taylor. “We cannot live our story alone because we are characters in each other’s stories.” That young man saw himself as a character in L’s life, and recognized that his story and hers are interwoven. He knew he had to tell her his story.

You know where I’m going with this:

Write your stories.
Then share them with others.
Someone—maybe even a stranger—
needs to know your stories.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Wait until your story is ready

Making peace with our problemsour heartaches, disasters, tragedies, mysteriesoften takes time. God's timetable is usually different than oursHe often makes us waitbut within our waiting, God acts (even if we don't sense that He's doing anything).

So, too, our stories: Stories need time to marinate.

Remember a memoir's unique characteristics: It requires reflecting on the past, looking back to an earlier time, pondering what happened, and examining what it means now, years later.

Perhaps you've discovered that in your waiting, your story has come to maturity.

You've found some answers long hidden. You've discovered some clarification over past mysteries.

Your story has ripened. It is ready.

It's time to begin writing your memoir.

Here's something interesting and delightful: In writing your rough draft, God will continue working. Even more puzzle pieces will fall into place. You'll stumble upon answers that evaded you to long. You'll find additional healing from past heartaches. How amazing is that?!

There you have it, 
your 15 seconds of inspiration, 
your Tuesday Tidbit.