Thursday, December 28, 2017

We need stories about what genuine happiness is

This well-known New Year’s Prayer could serve as a framework (or pattern, or outline) for a memoir.

I hope you’ll consider using it for writing your memoir, or your next memoir.

New Year’s Prayer

May God make your year a happy one!
Not by shielding you from all sorrows and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, as it comes;
Not by making your paths easy,
But by making you sturdy to travel any path;
Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking fear from your heart;
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows;
Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you when people and their causes need you most,
and by making you anxious to be there to help.
God’s love, peace, hope and joy to you for the year ahead.
~ Author unknown; adapted by Debra Mooney

Read the poem again, pondering each point. What experiences have you had, or have you witnessed in others, that illustrate the following:

Happiness came not necessarily from being free of sorrow and pain, but from God strengthening you to bear the grief and hurt that came to you. What Bible verses come to mind?

In 2 Corinthians 1:3-10, Paul tells us that “the God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our troubles….” He tells of his “hardships . . . suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God….” (See also 2 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 119:28; Isaiah 41:10; Ephesians 3:16.)

Happiness came not necessarily by making your paths (your life) easy, but because God enabled you to travel down potentially hazardous “paths” with strength and sturdiness, despite blows, overwhelming challenges, and unwelcome surprises. (See Psalm 40:2, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” Also see Psalm 56:13, 66:9, 73:2, 119:105.)

Happiness came not necessarily because God took hardships from you, but because—rather than cowering in fear—you trusted Him and moved forward, facing the fear. (See Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Also see Psalm 56:3-4, Proverbs 3:21-26; Matthew 8:26, 10:29-31; John 14:27.)

Happiness came not because God gave you only days of “unbroken sunshine” (days and years with no hindrances, no hardships, no sadness, no loss) but because God put hope and joy in your heart despite experiences or people that were contrary, despite troubles, despite unkindness, despite sorrows. (See Habakkuk 3:17-18, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” See also Psalm 40:2-3, 42:5, 62:5-6; 96:1-4, Psalm 146; Jeremiah 29:11-13; Romans 12:12, 15:13.)

Happiness came not because God always made your life pleasant (see above for references) or because you focused on making your life pleasant, but because you did what God urges and desires: that we love others. (See Mark 12:28-31 when one of the teachers of the law asked Jesus which commandment was most important. “‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this . . . “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’” Such service to others is a result of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Such service is the overflow of our hearts. See also Romans 12:13; Galatians 6:7-10.)

Your stories are important. Think of them within the context of what Peter Mommsen said: “If we are going to live with courage and joy and integrity, we need honest, true-to-life stories to show us how.” Your stories can do that!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Your Worst Christmas

Maybe you recall a Christmas that was simply awful—a time you were heartbroken, or homeless, or broke, or far from home, or jilted, or frightened, or sick—and your future looked bleak.

You remember it as the worst Christmas ever.

But I invite you to think again.

Writing a memoir can be such a blessed project. Memoir requires taking long, deep looks at the past. Memoir involves pondering, re-thinking, unearthing, and finding gems we might not have known were there.

Sometimes what seems to be our biggest disaster
turns out to be a blessing—
one we couldn’t have received without the difficulty.

Sometimes we think a calamity will destroy us, but God works in the midst of our situations and, in the way only He can do it, He turns everything inside out and upside down and—instead of destroying usit makes us stronger and better.

Failures. Tangled messes. Catastrophes, Tragedies. Conflicts. Blows. Adversity. Upheavals. Disasters. Setbacks. Unwelcome surprises.

God can use our deep disappointments to get our attention,
shake us up a little,
clear our heads,
help us see we were putting our hope in something we shouldn’t,
open new doors for us,
give us new perspectives,
tenderize our souls,
give us fresh starts.

God can do all that.

That’s what Romans 8:28 is about:  “…God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes for them.”  (NLT)

A long time ago, H.C. Trumbull told this story:

“The floods washed away home and mill, all the poor man had in the world. But as he stood on the scene of his loss, after the water had subsided, brokenhearted and discouraged, he saw something shining in the bank which the waters had washed bare. ‘It looks like gold,’ he said. It was gold. The flood which had beggared him made him rich. So it is ofttimes in life.” (Quoted by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman, Streams in the Desert, January 20 selection.)

When turnarounds and relief and solutions eventually come our way, it’s so easy to snatch them, run with them, and never look back. We too easily fail to recognize God’s intervention on our behalf, and we pay too little attention to the good He has brought to us out of the midst of our hardships.

Take timemake time—to dig through the dirt and ashes of what you thought was your most disastrous Christmas, and mine those bits of gold.

Search for evidence of God’s healing, new directions He offered you, new friends, and new hope.

Pinpoint the ways He strengthened your faith for the future.

Recognize these were all part of God’s unique plan for you and your life.

Gather those discoveries and write stories in your memoir that detail the ways God was with you in the midst of your worst Christmas ever.

Write stories about the way He took a disaster and turned it into something good—blessings you couldn’t have received without that difficulty. Instead of destroying you, it made you stronger and better.

If you’ll make time to do that, you can receive heaps of blessings.

But it doesn’t end there. Your readers can benefit, too.

Like Jeff Goins said:

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: Find your place’s “sounds and rhythms and fragrances”

In writing your memoir, find words to invite readers into your "place."

Use your location's unique words.

Pin down the place's philosophy and passions.

Find their sounds and rhythms and fragrances.

And have fun!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Dreaming of a black Christmas?

Let me share an excerpt with you from my almost-ready-to-publish memoir. The scene takes place on a mission center, Lomalinda (pretty hill), in South America during our family's first December there.

Following up on our December 5 post about sensory details, notice the details I included. (Sensory details: What do you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel?)

Lomalinda was into the dry season with clear clean blue skies and hardly a wisp of a cloud. Daytime temperatures soared to over 100 degrees in the shade—cruel, withering. The green scent of rainy season had given way to the spicy fragrance of sun-dried grasses. Immense stretches of emerald disappeared, leaving the grasslands stiff and bleached and simmering under unrelenting equatorial sun. Leaves browned and fell. Even my favorite tree dropped its leaves—the young one with delicate fern-like leaves. 
Muddy paths and single-lane tracks turned rock-hard and, with use, changed to dust. Yards and airstrips and open fields turned to dust, too. 
From sunrise to sundown, a stiff wind blew across the llanos (plains), a gift from God because it offered a little relief from the heat. On the other hand, we had to use rocks and paperweights and other heavy objects to keep papers from blowing away. Dust blew through jalousied windows and into homes and offices and settled on our counters and furniture and in cracks and crannies and on our necks and in our armpits and up our noses. 
… The parched wind gave us a break from the profuse sweating we endured in rainy season so, in that way, it was a friend, but it could also be a foe. 
 One blistering afternoon, Dr. Altig hollered through our screen door, “Call for help! We have a fire!” Across the road, flames leaped and smoke billowed….

That year, our family’s first there, we learned December traditionally was a time of wildfires in and around Lomalinda, leaving acres of black ashes. Shortly after that day’s fire, the following happened:

One day I walked a sun-cracked track and that celestial fireball cooked my skin and the smell of charred grassland swirled in the breeze. The school principal puttered up to me on her red motorbike and smiled, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!” 
Pris watched me for a few seconds and then laughed—my face had betrayed my thoughts. I had to bite my tongue to keep from blurting out, This looks like Christmas? You’ve gotta be kidding! 
To me, Christmas looks like frost-covered evergreens, and snowflakes, and frozen puddles. Heavy coats, scarves, mittens, boots. Runny noses. Sledding. Ice skating. Swags of cedar and pine and holly tied with red ribbons. 
I learned a lesson that hot, dry day. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” means different things to different people. To most Lomalinda-ites, especially kids, a blistering wind, sun-bleached landscape, charred fields, and a whiff of ashes signaled we’d soon celebrate Christmas. Folks enjoyed saying, “I’m dreaming of a black Christmas.”

What could I do to make this piece better? 
I welcome your critique in the comments below.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: What the amazing process of writing reveals

"What is your journey," Rebecca S. Ramsey asks those writing a memoir, "the big change you experienced that you want to share with the world?"

Remember: Memoir is about change, transformation. What new person did you become because of your experience?

Rebecca continues, "What were the little struggles and big struggles that got you from the beginning to the end?" 

She admits the answers to those questions weren't clear when she began writing her new memoir published last month, The Holy Eclair: Signs and Wonders from an Accidental Pilgrimage.

So how did she figure out that change—that transformation, renovation—in her life? 

After much work (writing The Holy Eclaire took ten years), she discovered that writing helped her answer those questions. Something about the process of writing helped her reflect on her transformationa vital part of writing memoir.

So give yourself time to discover your story and write it
even if it takes ten years like it did for Rebecca.
Within the process of writing,
and search for answers.

They are there.

Don't give up before you find them.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: Your Christmas stories need sensory details

Be sure to include sensory details in your Christmas stories.

Sensory details: What do you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel?

Why are sensory details so important? What's the big deal?

You want to draw readers into your stories. Let them experience what you experienced. Sensory details can do thatthey can draw your reader right in beside you. 

During these weeks leading up to Christmas, even if you're too busy to write, pay attention to the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and textures of the season. Jot them down so you can use them later when you do have time to write.

What sensory details will you include in your holiday stories?

Maybe these: the sight of the northern lights, the sound of shoveling snow off the sidewalk, the taste of fruitcake, the scent of a pine Christmas tree, and the texture of a woolen scarf.

Or maybe your sensory details include palm trees, sandy beaches, saltwater on your skin, the smell of smoky barbecues, the taste of gingerbread.

Your Christmas details are unique. Find words for them so your readers can relive your past holidays with you.

And have fun writing!