Thursday, March 31, 2016

Your memoir: Like the sound of a bell

Two Horses
(author unknown)

Just up the road from my home is a field, with two horses in it. From a distance, each looks like every other horse. But if you stop your car, or are walking by, you will notice something quite amazing. Looking into the eyes of one horse will disclose that he is blind. His owner has chosen not to have him put down, but has made a good home for him. This alone is amazing.

If nearby and listening, you will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to her halter is a small bell. It lets her blind friend know where she is, so he can follow her.

As you stand and watch these two friends, you’ll see how she is always checking on him, and that he will listen for her bell and then slowly walk to where she is, trusting that she will not lead him astray. When she returns to the shelter of the barn each evening, she stops occasionally and looks back, making sure her friend isn’t too far behind to hear the bell.

Like the owners of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we have problems or challenges. He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.

Sometimes we are the blind horse being guided by the little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives. Other times we are the guide horse, helping others see….

Your memoir can serve as a “bell” for others.

We think of the sound of bells as pleasant, lovely. Bells chime in times of celebration.

Write stories to remind readers of all that’s good, to remind them they have reasons to celebrate. Write to cheer others and warm their hearts and inspire them to walk with a spring in their step. Write to brighten a person’s day.

Write to give someone a smile, or even a belly-laugh. God blesses and teaches through hilarious incidents and humorous encounters and comical blunders—and who knows? Maybe someone, through your story, can learn to laugh again.

Sometimes God hands us pure joy—surrounded by a crowd of loved ones, or maybe in the presence of just one kind person or kindred spirit. Demonstrate that through your stories.

Bells can also sound warning, get our attention, demand action.

The author of the above piece wrote: “God…brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.” That could be your role, helping others in need of guidance:

Your stories can sound warning by letting people witness the ways you messed up—your rebellion, foolishness, fears, immaturity, poor judgment—and inspire them to avoid the mistakes you made and the heartaches you suffered.

Like Jon Acuff said, “Sometimes God redeems your story by surrounding you with people who need to hear your past, so it doesn’t become their future.

Someone needs to hear your “I once was blind but now I see” story, your “Amazing Grace” story: Someone needs to know how God forgave your sins and cleaned you up and helped you stand tall and gave you a second chance.

So sound those bells! 
Write your stories!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

“The unmistakable mark of divine contrivance”

“Event after event has the unmistakable mark of divine contrivance,” writes Lawrence Kushner. Divine contrivance! He writes about recognizing “it is all the doing of the Holy One.” (Eyes Remade for Wonder).

Kushner was writing about what was true in Biblical times, yet it’s still true in our times—but we often overlook the ways God is with us in our everyday comings and goings.

Too frequently we fail to recognize He’s busily at work—that He has the big picture in mind and is taking steps to make important things (often disguised as small details or coincidences) fall into place.

Memoirists need to catch glimpses of God at work. We need to notice His loving care and help in our tragedies and failures and heartaches—our huge defining moments (or months, or years)—but also in our day-to-day activities and relationships and opportunities.

And so, today I hope and pray the words below will stir up story ideas for your memoir—that they will lead you to think deeply and discover “divine contrivances” and “doings of the Holy One.”

Before you read these words I have compiled for you:
  • get out a pencil and paper (or sit down in front of your computer),
  • read the first quote slowly,
  • ask yourself what experience (yours or someone else’s) it reminds you of,
  • and jot down a few notes.
  • Read the rest of the quotes, doing the same exercise listed above,
  • then use your notes to craft stories for your memoir.

Okay, let’s get started with the quotes: 

“God has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

“When I looked back at the years of struggle, I realized they all took part in the beautiful pattern that became my miracle and it would not have been possible without the struggle.” (Lene Fogelberg)

“The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.” Walt Disney

“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking)

“We are all brave men and we are all afraid, and what the world calls a brave man, he too is brave and afraid like all the rest of us. Only he is brave for five minutes longer.” (Alistair MacLean)

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10, NLT).

“Do it trembling if you must, but do it!” (Emmet Fox)

“We are all travelers in what John Bunyan calls the wilderness of this world… and the best that we can find in our travels is an honest friend. He is a fortunate voyager who finds many.” (Robert Lewis Stevenson)

“It’s one thing to go through a crisis grandly, yet quite another to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, and no one paying even the remotest attention to us. To do even the most humbling tasks to the glory of God takes the Almighty God Incarnate working in us. The true test of a saint’s life is not successfulness but faithfulness on the human level of life.” (Oswald Chambers)

“God is already working on Plan B even as Plan A lies in shambles around your feet.” (John Claypool)

“It’s one thing to say God is a way-maker. It’s another thing to see Him make a way.” (Tony Evans)

“'Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?' declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:24a).

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” Mary Oliver

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5).

What we need is a hope that’s more than wishful thinking or blind expectation that everything will work out smoothly. We need a hope that is vibrant in pain, consistent in grief, indefatigable when people break our hearts, unassailable in disappointment, and unflagging in life’s pressure…. True hope… does not come from searching for hope. It grows out of two basic convictions: that God is in charge and that He intervenes.”(Lloyd John Ogilvie, God’s Best for My Life)

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or death to you.” (C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

“…Our Lord never wastes times of testing. The pain and struggles and confusion connected with my circumstances only seemed futile and unfair.” (Charles R. Swindoll, Come Before Winter and Share My Hope

“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

Notice God
doing major things
during momentous, life-changing events,
but also search to discover
God doing major things
in what you thought were everyday,
even trivial,

“Father…You met me
at every fork of the road
with clear guidance
and fresh grace.
I beheld Your glory.”
(Lloyd John Ogilvie, Quiet Moments with God;
emphasis mine)

Your stories are important. Your memoir can be a life-giving handbook.
It can offer readers:

hard-earned wisdom, 
a hand up, 
a warning, 
a smile, 
a good cry, 
a more meaningful life, 
a solution to a problem, 
help in making a decision, 
faith in God, 
determination to keep a promise, 
and so much more.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: People who pop into our lives

Have you found this to be true while thinking back on your life and writing your memoir?

Be sure to explore levels of your life that are just under the surface. Peel back layers. Examine. Ponder. Make time to discover gems for your memoir, gems in the form of people God brought into your life to play key roles.

That's it,
your 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

For your memoir’s grand finale: Psalm 136

Recently we’ve been considering your memoir’s ending. You want, and need, to create a grand finale—an ending that will impact your readers. (Click on Do you know how your memoir will end? and Give muscle to your memoir’s ending.)

Your grand finale gives you an opportunity—a chance to highlight your moist important points, those messages you want your readers to remember and apply to their own lives.

Most of us here at SM 101 write our memoirs because of verses like Deuteronomy 4:9 which tells us:

Always remember what you’ve seen God do for you
and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren!

(That doesn’t mean you must mention God in every incident/chapter/vignette, but you, the author, will pull everything together, recognizing God was always with you and acting on your behalf even if you didn’t recognize Him at the time.)

Craft a grand finale that celebrates God in a personal way.

One of the easiest, most powerful ways to craft a grand finale is the following fill-in-the-blank exercise using Psalm 136, a magnificent song of praise to God—a celebration of God.

You’ll customize your own version of Psalm 136 starting in verse ten, but first let’s look at verses one through nine. Praise focuses on God the Creator of all: He is good and His love endures forever. He made the heavens, spread out the earth upon the waters, and made the sun, moon, and stars.

I suggest you include those first nine verses, as-is, in your grand finale, then starting with verse ten, you can tailor-make the rest of the psalm for your memoir.

Here’s what I mean.

Starting with verse ten, praise focuses on God who is personally involved with His children—their families, their daily comings and goings, and the span and purposes of their lives.

For example, those next few verses praise God for bringing Israel out of Egypt and recount the additional ways God showed His love and faithfulness to His people, Israel.

Your customized version of Psalm 136 could look something like this (and you will fill in the blanks, listing the ways God guided your family):

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.
            His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
            His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
            His love endures forever.
to Him who alone does great wonders,
            His love endures forever.
who by His understanding made the heavens,
            His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
            His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—
            His love endures forever.
the  sun to govern the day,
            His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
            His love endures forever.
His love endures forever.
His love endures forever.
His love endures forever.

…and so on. (Psalm 136, NIV)

Starting with verse ten, you might want to go back several generations, especially if, for example, your family survived the Holocaust, or the infamous Clearances in Scotland, the potato famine in Ireland, a war, or the Great Depression, or some other challenge. Or maybe you know (or can research) stories of your family as pioneers or immigrants.

Add as many lines as you wish. Probably the more the better!

Your grand finale will likely consist of
more than a paraphrase of Psalm 136,
but including it can help your kids, grandkids,
and other family members
recognize they are part of God’s family,
part of something much bigger than themselves and their generation.

Make your grand finale a celebration of God!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Buechner on what’s going on in our lives

Watch for God's fingerprints, His footprints.

“It is absolutely crucial…
to keep in constant touch with
what is going on in your own life’s story
and to pay close attention to what is going on
in the stories of others’ lives.

If God is present anywhere,
it is in those stories that God is present.”

Frederick Buechner

originally published in Whistling in the Dark 
and later in Beyond Words

There you  have it, your Tuesday Tidbit, 
your 15 seconds of inspiration. 
But what a lot of punch Buechner packed into those 15 seconds!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Give muscle to your memoir's ending

Your memoir's ending needs to have muscle. Impact. That's the "A-ha!" part.

How will you conclude your memoir? What will your ending be?

Grasp at least a general idea of your ending while you're writing your rough draft so you can aim for a specific conclusion. (If you missed last Thursday's blog post, click here.)

Write an ending "elegantly crafted that does not end with 'and as you can see, "all things work together for the good."'" (Cindy Blomquist, Women of the Harvest)

Keep in mind the definition of a spiritual memoir:

  • Writing a memoir involves pondering, unraveling, examining, reflecting.
  • Looking back, what did you learn from your experience?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • After connecting the dots, what patterns (repetitions) did you discover in your thinking, relationships, and faith that you hadn't noticed before?
  • What new person did you become? 
  • As you see it now, what did you learn about God?
  • In retrospect, what do you now see that God was doing?
  • What deeper lessons did God have for you in the experience(s)?
  • Do you now have a better understanding of God's purpose for your life?
  • How was your faith strengthened for the future?
  • Include Bible verses that illustrate and validate your experience/life.
Sum up principles you've learned.

Keep in mind that
transforming truths,
spiritual truths,
underlying truths,
relevant truths.

Your readers long to discover them
in your life's stories
so they can apply them to their own lives.

Your goal is to write a compelling, satisfying end that gives readers hope, courage, faith, tenacity, and inspiration for living.

In your ending, tell your readers:

  • This is how far I came,
  • this is how I got there,
  • this is how I overcame obstacles.
  • I am now a new person.
  • This is the most important lesson I want to leave with you.
Phrases you might include:

  • I didn't recognize it at the time, but...
  • Though I didn't understand it forty years ago, now I see that...
  • Neither I nor they understood why it was happening, but... 
  • It occurs to me now that...
  • It took me many years to realize that...
  • Over the years I've come to accept...
  • Years later I discovered....

How do you want readers to feel when they finish reading your memoir?

How do you want them to think as a result of reading your memoir?

What do you want them to do, how do you want them to live, because they read your memoir?

Write your memoir not because you're so great,

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

“Questions we have to ask ourselves…as we write”

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

"What is it that makes a piece of writing
larger than its immediate story?

What is the inner purpose,
what connects this story
to something larger 
than the family being written about?

What is the compelling reason
for people to read this memoir?

Why are you writing it?

These are the questions
we have to ask ourselves
over and over
as we write."

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Do you know how your memoir will end? (Part one)

While you write your memoir, keep in mind where you’re heading: Build toward your ending.

But wait! Do you know how your memoir will end?

I beg of you, don’t settle for an anemic, trite “And they lived happily ever after.”

The beauty of memoir is that we write much more than just events and details. We uncover a story larger than the story on the surface.

We excavate a story deeper and higher and wider than the immediate story.

We dig it outin pieces if we must—but we dig it out.

Dig until you find your gems, the gold, the silver.
That takes time and commitment and tenacity.
Don’t give up!
(Take a minute to read Dig it out, in pieces if you must.)

You have probably already written some of your stories/vignettes—that’s the easy part!—stories like:

  • How did you rise above obstacles?
  • Who did God use to show you what grace looks like?
  • What did God do to heal emotional scars?
  • Who did He bring into your life to turn you in the right direction?
  • What unexpected opportunities did God offer you?
  • What was the saddest day of your life?
  • What was the happiest day of your life?
  • What was the scariest thing you’ve ever had to do?
  • What was the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
  • What event or person helped you take off blinders and see yourself in a new and better way?
  • Who/what opened your mind and heart to new worlds (emotional, spiritual, mental, physical)?
  • Who showed you what forgiveness looks like?
  • Who took a risk and trusted you?
  • Who did God send to demonstrate how to parent your kids?
  • Who gave you a second chance?
  • Who did God send to help you believe in Him? Trust Him? Enjoy Him?

Set aside time to ponder and examine and pray about what God wants you to discover deep down in your life’s events.  Uncover the story that’s deeper and higher and wider than the surface story. Give yourself all the time you need.

As you aim toward your memoir’s ending, ask yourself: What principles, what life lessons do your stories illustrate?

What universal truths—or themes—come to light in your stories?
  • Do your stories illustrate the importance of honesty, integrity, grace?
  • Faithfulness to God and marriage?
  • Helping the poor and sick?
  • Choosing courage over fear?
  • Resilience instead of giving up?
  • Forgiveness instead of bitterness?
  • Mercy instead of revenge?
  • ...and so on.

What attributes of God shine from your stories? For example:
  • His patience,
  • forgiveness,
  • unconditional love,
  • omnipotence,
  • wisdom,
  • gentleness,
  • faithfulness,
  • holiness,
  • and so on.

What Bible verse or phrase captures the point of your memoir? Here are a few suggestions:
  • …a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (Isaiah 61:3, NIV)
  • His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9)  
  • Joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5)
  • When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. (Isaiah 43:2, LB)
  • The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercy never comes to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV)
  • My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart. (Psalm 73:26, NIV)

Is there a quotation that embraces your memoir’s overall message? Here are a few suggestions:
  • “Never believe that so-called random events of life are anything less than God’s appointed order. Be ready to discover His divine designs anywhere and everywhere.” C. S. Lewis
  • “It is often in our darkest hour that the light of God’s presence shines the brightest.” Stacy L. Sanchez
  • “The very circumstances which were meant to break Joseph’s faith in [God’s] promises were actually the events setting up their fulfillment.” David Ramos
  • “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” C.S. Lewis
  • “Believe me, the reward is not so great without the struggle.” Wilma Rudolph at God-sized Dreams 

 People long to discover universal truths, 
transforming truths, 
spiritual truths, 
underlying truths, 
relevant truths. 

Your readers long 
to discover them in your life’s stories 
so they can apply them to their own lives.

Once you can pinpoint them, you’ll have at least a vague idea of where you’re heading with your memoir—how you want to conclude it.

For now, get started on the above. 
Next Thursday, 
come back for 
Do you know how your memoir will end? (Part two).