Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Back to basics: Your memoir’s ending, Part 2

Sunday at church, a lady came up to me and gushed, “I just read the end of your memoir!”

She wore an enormous smile but had no words beyond those eight—she was speechless. But she waved her hands and gestured with her arms and let out a few sighs, and her non-stop smile continued to light up her face.

As you might imagine, her words pleased me.

But that’s not my point. 

My point is this: The ending of Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir resonated with her. It must have made sense to her. It left her feeling the way she did.

Your job as a memoirist is to set aside plenty of time to craft your memoir’s ending. You want it to end on a high note so readers will long remember it.

How do you do that?

Ask yourself, “I had a reason to start writing this memoir. What was it?”

If you pinpoint your reason to begin writing your story, you’ll have a better idea of how you want it to end.

Ask yourself:

  • In what ways am I a different person because of what I experienced in my story? (Click on What is a memoir: Back to basics)
  • What principles do I want my story to illustrate?
  • What attributes of God do I want to shine in my story?
  • What Bible verses or passages capture the point of my memoir?
  • What lessons do I want readers to apply to their own lives?
  • What change do I hope to see in my readers because of my story?
You might get out a sheet of paper and divide it into two columns. In the left one write, “The reason I’m writing my memoir is _________” and fill in the blank. 

In the right column, write, “The message I want readers to take away from my memoir is _________” and fill in the blank—realizing you won’t likely know the final version of your ending until you’ve written all your chapters.

That’s because, within the process of writing, our stories often take us directions we didn’t anticipate.

And that’s because the process of writing can open our eyes to things we overlooked before.

That, in turn, can change the end of our story. (Click on last week’s post, Back to basics: Your memoir’s Grand Finale, Part 1.)

You might not know the heart and soul and best ending until you’ve finished your first draft and have made time to mull it over—and that could take weeks, or months, or even years.

But that’s okay. As you keep writing, these will become more evident.

When you’ve finished and polished 
the main body of your memoir, 
finalize your Grand Finale 
so readers will resonate 
with your memoir’s significance.

The beauty of your memoir will shine brightest
in its carefully crafted ending.

“Make sure no loose ends hang from the story
that leave people wondering.
They will feel the story isn’t over. . . .”

You want readers to feel the story is over, to feel that:

“The story has been told, the tension resolved,
the consequences shown. . . .”
(Craig Brian Larson, “How to Tell A Moving Story”)

Leave your readers satisfied. 
Leave them celebrating 
all God has done in your life. 

Leave them thankful and changed 
because they read your memoir.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Back to basics: Your memoir’s Grand Finale, Part 1

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

Your ending is the most important part of your book 
for both you and your readers.

For that reason, never, never, never settle for this trite, anemic conclusion: “And they lived happily ever after.”

For the benefit of (a) yourself and (b) your readers, pin down the heart and soul of your story.

But consider this: Most of us don’t know precisely how our memoirs will end because, within the process of writing, our stories often take us directions we didn’t anticipate.

That process of writing can open our eyes to things we overlooked before and that, in turn, can change the end of our story.

You might not know the heart and soul and best ending until you’ve finished your first draft and have made time to mull it over—and that could take weeks, or months, or even years.

But that’s okay. As you keep writing, these will become more evident.

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

You excavate a story deeper and higher and wider than the immediate one.

Here’s the key: You must make time, must be deliberate in reflecting, pondering, digging. Discover new insights and patterns and connections that significantly impacted your experience and your life.

Use your Grand Finale to highlight your story’s most important points, those messages you want your readers to treasure and incorporate into their own lives.

Keep this in mind:
The beauty of your memoir
will shine brightest in its conclusion.

Come back next week
for additional inspiration
in crafting your memoir’s ending.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ideas and inspiration for you as you write your memoir

Every so often I post quotations, poems, and Bible verses to trigger ideas for vignettes or themes to include in your memoir.

I’m happy to say I have the next batch ready for you. At least one of these quotations will remind you of a significant experience from your past—maybe a lesson you learned, or perhaps a major life-changing decision, or an insight that helped everything fall into place.

Or maybe one of these will help clarify why you chose your career, or married your spouse, or stopped doing something, or started doing something. The possibilities are endless.

So, settle in and take a couple of minutes to ponder these inspiring quotations.

“I trembled, yet my heart’s deep trust replied, ‘So be it, Lord.’” Mrs. Charles E. Cowman

“Wisdom is . . . understanding we’re not a pretty box of identical pastel-colored macarons lined up in formation on tissue paper, rather a mess of broken and crumbled biscuits at the bottom of a rumpled package. A beautiful and beloved mess.” Linda Hoye

“I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6, NCV). “Gracious God . . . You do not change. May Your changeless love and reliability give me the courage to change what needs to be changed in my life.” Lloyd John Ogilvie

“I often misinterpret the hardships of my life as evidence that God is against me.” RyanChase. (Read his whole post, “Strength for Today, Hope for Tomorrow.”)

“The human hand—this bundle of bones, flesh, and nerves—think of all it can do. It can bless or curse. It can draw blood or bind a wound.  It is gentle, agitated, vicious; supplicating, ardent, tender. It can weld an iron bridge or caress a child’s head. It possesses the power to both harm and heal.” Karl Joseph Friedrich

God is not limited by your failures, weaknesses, feelings, thoughts, or fears. Linda K.Thomas

One song can spark a moment
One flower can wake a dream
One tree can start a forest
One bird can herald spring
One smile begins a friendship
One handclasp lifts a soul
One star can guide a ship at sea
One vote can change a nation
One sunbeam lights a room
One candle wipes out darkness
One laugh will conquer gloom
One step must start one journey
One word must start each prayer
One hope will raise our spirits
One touch can show you care
One voice can speak with wisdom
One heart can know what’s true.
One life can make a difference.
You see, it’s up to you.
(author unknown)

“Almighty God . . . some problems You won’t solve until I’m ready to be used by You in working out the solutions. Sometimes You wait until I am ready to be part of the miracle You want to perform. Show me what You want me to do.” Lloyd John Ogilvie

“Repentance is not merely saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ Repentance means your heart is broken over what you did, and more than anything, you want God to forgive you. It doesn’t stop there. Repentance means you choose to live differently in the future.” Linda K.Thomas

“LAUGH! Give yourself permission to laugh
—long and loud and out loud —
whenever anything strikes you as funny.
The people around you may think you’re strange,
but sooner or later they’ll join in
even if they don’t know what you’re laughing about.
Some diseases may be contagious,
but none is as contagious as the cure . . .

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.” Proverbs 4:23

“Listen... and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path.” Proverbs 23:26

“But there he sat. Scrunched in the corner by the door. Humble. Lowly. Dirty. One you would certainly miss if you weren’t looking. But I didn’t miss him; he was staring intently. His eyes met mine with both invitation and conviction. They practically asked me, Are you just like them? Another one rushing past me to get that cup of [coffee] to warm your hands for the day? Everything in me wanted to snap back, ‘Well, yes, I am. . . .’ But I didn’t. . . . I stopped. . . . I drew near, and the closer I got the more I couldn’t help but inhale his stench and observe his deep, dirty lines of life-pain. . . . God knew. He positioned that man at the door and me heading to it. He set up a [chance encounter] founded on the principle of love. . . . God’s deep affection was stored up in this chance connection of two unlikely souls. It often is . . . . What if I had pretended like I couldn’t see him or hear him and just kept walking?” Kelly Balarie

“God says, 
‘Dare to believe I have better rewards for you 
than the goals you pursue outside My will.’” 

“God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“At strategic times of internal war I stop and ask myself,
‘What if this is a critical moment? 
What if this very thing, this very decision, 
is the most important piece of the puzzle comprising my purpose?’”

"God is whispering well-nigh incessantly. Whenever the sounds of the world die out in the soul, or sink low, then we hear the whisperings of God. He is always whispering to us, only we do not hear, because of the noise, hurry, and distraction which life causes as it rushes on." F. W.Faber

"Refrain from shrieking or squawking."

"Be a leader in doing what is right." Linda K. Thomas

Look at yourself through the eyes of God: 

“If you were to think of yourself as I think of you, 
how different you would be. 
If you were to think of yourself as I think of you, 
how glad, how healthy, how satisfied you would be.” 

Be confident that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” Philippians 1:6

"Hope is not optimism. Hope is a dog fight for serious people determined to make it in a difficult world. Hope is not cute or whimsical, wishful thinking. It is a resolution to trust the promises of God even when everything around looks bleak. Hope is for grown-ups." Lee Younger

“Most of the time God’s promises are in your reach. They are not in your hand. You have to go get them.” Tony Evans

“Any grief we have gone through ourselves and given over to the Lord’s healing is a preparation for comforting others. . . . As one who has received comfort from Christ, I will think of myself as a communicator of comfort.” Lloyd John Ogilvie

“Don’t let what you’re afraid of keep you from what you were made for.” Bob Goff on Twitter

“When you realize God’s purpose for your life isn’t just about you, He will use you in a mighty way.” Tony Evans

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.  The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life." Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The Lord wants to use us as agents of encouragement.” Lloyd John Ogilvie

"Do the next thing." Elisabeth Elliot

“May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. . . .” Ephesians 3:17

“. . . Our happiness does not depend on the work we are doing, the place we are in, our friends, our health, whether people notice us or not, praise us or not, understand us or not. No single one of the circumstances has any power in itself to upset the joy of God, but it can instantly and utterly quench it if we look at the circumstances instead of up into the Face of light and love that is looking down upon us—the Face of our own God.” Amy Carmichael

“Never once in [Scriptures] . . . is the Christian life regarded as something in any way naturally easy.” Amy Carmichael

“If you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul. Return to the Lord your God and obey Him. He is merciful and will not abandon or destroy you.” Deuteronomy 4:29-31

“If things are tough,
remember that every flower that ever bloomed
had to go through a whole lot of dirt to get there.”

“The stories of our ancestors inspire the heroes of our future.” Author unknown

“Where we love is home—home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

“The greatest act of courage is to simply keep facing one direction when everything in you wants to turn and run. Stand your shaky, holy ground.” Ann Voskamp

“Create in me a pure heart, O  God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10, NIV

What experiences or events 
or turning points 
came to mind when you read these quotes?

What stories can you tell about them?

What wisdom and blessing and hope 
will you share with others through your memoir? 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Stepping back from your mosaic

Henri Nouwen writes, “How do we know about God’s love, God’s generosity, God’s kindness, God’s forgiveness?”

It’s a good question but I’m a little hung up on the word “about.” I’d like to add this: The purpose of knowing about God is to move us increasingly closer to Him until we know Him. He longs for us to know Him in an intimate way so that we recognize we’re in His presence and we love and enjoy Him. And He loves and enjoys us.

It’s not just knowing about, it’s knowing.

Here’s a little human illustration. I knew about an actor who stars in Hallmark movies. And then, thanks to a certain school and two specific students, I have gotten to know that man. And I’m here to tell you there’s a lot of difference between knowing about and knowing. (He has even given me a hug!)

So, let’s go back to getting to know God:

We have any number of ways to hear about Him. One is to read and study the Bible.

Another way is to go to church.

And we can come to know about God through people. Here Nouwen points out the roles people play: “Through our parents, or friends, our teachers, our pastors, our spouses, our children—they all reveal God to us,” he writes.

This is where Nouwen’s illustration of a mosaic comes in—a pattern or design comprised of varying colors of small tiles, stones, glass, or paper which, skillfully pieced together, create a work of art.

Nouwen compares such a mosaic to the way humans discover God.

“A mosaic consists of thousands of little stones,” Nouwen writes. “Some are blue, some are green, some are yellow, some are gold.

“When we bring our faces close to the mosaic, we can admire the beauty of each stone. 

“But,” he continues, “as we step back from it, we can see that all these little stones reveal to us a beautiful picture, telling a story none of these stones can tell by itself.” (Bread for the Journey)

That’s the story of you.

God brought all those "stones," those people 
into your life so they’d point you toward Him.

How amazing is that?!

Through countless encounters with countless people—through
  • work experiences,
  • accidents,
  • books, movies,
  • serendipitous opportunities,
  • health struggles,
  • adventures,
  • Bible studies,
  • friends of friends, (even Facebook and Instagram),
  • doctors, scientists,
  • athletes, journalists—

any and all of these little “stones,”—which together comprise your own mosaic—have made God discernable for you, real for you, relatable for you.

Those are the ones God has placed into your mosaic to help you discover His heart, His grace, His guidance, His love, His plans and purposes for you.

In Lawrence Kushner’s words, they were for you “messengers on a sacred mission.”

Here, instead of the symbol of a mosaic, Kushner writes of puzzle pieces and the ways we can be puzzle pieces in other people’s lives.

“Every now and then (from where does that thrilling and terrifying insight come upon us?), we feel compelled to act. Each one of us are (sic) messengers on a sacred mission. . . .

Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
For some there are more pieces.
For others the puzzle is more difficult to assemble.
Some seem to be born with a nearly completed puzzle.

. . . You do not have within yourself
All the pieces to your puzzle. . . .

Everyone carries with them at least one and probably
Many pieces to someone else’s puzzle. . . .

And when you present your piece . . .
To another, whether you know it or not,
Whether they know it or not,
You are a messenger from the Most High.”
(Lawrence Kushner, Eyes Remade for Wonder)

Think about the people God used
to point you to Himself.
Thank Him for those dear folks!

Consider how you might include them in your memoir.

Or, here's an idea:

Think about writing an entire memoir
based on the people God placed in your "mosaic."
He could use you as "a messenger from the Most High."
Just think about that!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

They asked me: Why did you write your memoir?

Last night I attended the first meeting of our church’s fall book club, for which they’ve chosen my new memoir, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir.  I’m happy but also humbled that they chose it.

Among other questions, they asked me: Why did you write your memoir?

Good question.

I took time to answer because a memoir—every memoir—can and should be a gift for its readers. In fact:

I believe God Himself
dreamed up the idea of memoirs.
If you think that’s a stretch, read on!

Last evening, I took the ladies back to the beginning of my passion for memoirs—though originally I didn’t even know the definition of “memoir.”

It started some thirty years ago. I’d been reading Streams in the Desert, a devotional from 1925 (!) by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman (though nowadays they call her L.B. Cowman).

Not only have publishers updated her powerful devotional by letting the dear lady use her own name instead of her husband’s, they’ve also updated the wording and Bible version.

But I’m still using the old-fashioned version, so keep that in mind when you read what L.B. wrote. It’s based on Luke 21:13 which says, “This will give you an opportunity to tell about Me” (ERV).

“Life is a steep climb, and it does the heart good to have somebody ‘call back’ and cheerily beckon us on up the high hill,” she writes. “We are all climbers together, and we must help one another.

“This mountain climbing is serious business, but glorious. It takes strength and steady step to find the summits. The outlook widens with the altitude. If anyone among us has found anything worth while, we ought to ‘call back.’”

And then L.B. Cowman shares with us her poem:

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back—
‘Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perchance, Faith’s light is dim, because the [lamp] oil is low,
Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;
Call back, and say He kept you when the forest’s roots were torn;
That, when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill,
He bore you up and held you where the very air was still.

. . . But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky—
If you have gone a little way ahead, oh, friend, call back—
‘Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.

That poem—that thought of cupping our hands around our mouths and cheering on others who are struggling up the steep trails behind us—that thought zinged me. It zapped me. “Yesssss!” I said.

I fought tears when I thought of the people 
who had already battled up life’s steep mountain trails, 
who then turned to me to show by their example 
how to choose courage and faith, 
who shared with me their words, 
who cheered me on and kept praying.

My heart lurches when I think 
how my life’s battles might have turned out 
if those dear souls had not told me their story—
they and their stories kept me pounding one foot in front of the other, 
hoping, believing, refusing to give up 
because if God had helped them, He’d help me, too.

A Call Back book,” I told myself. “That’s what we need—to share our stories and keep each other fighting the good fight. 

Reading that poem was a defining moment for me. For years I thought about a Call Back Book. But the idea was raw and tough. It needed to marinate for a few years.

Fast forward twenty years or so. I came upon the following words (words which you know well by now if you’ve been with our SM 101 tribe for a while): “Always remember—and never forget—what you’ve seen God do, and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

When I read those words, they gave me another zing and zap. That was another pivotal moment for me. “That’s it!” I told myself. “That’s what a Call Back Book would accomplish.” My undeveloped concept began to take a more solid form in my mind and heart and vision.

And the fact that God told us to tell our life’s stories to our kids and grandkids—Wow again! He commanded us to tell our stories

It's a calling He's given all of us.

I remember asking myself, “I wonder what a memoir is.” I looked up the definition and—Wow again. Memoir was a perfect format for telling our stories. (Click here for the definition of memoir.)

And, as they say, the rest is history:

Last evening at the Book Club meeting, I was in for a delightful surprise. The ladies started discussing the definition of memoir, and then they realized that each of them has a story. One thing led to another and I think some of them are eager to attend the upcoming memoir classes.

They’ve caught the vision of the importance of telling our stories. I’m excited.

In the words of Lloyd John Ogilvie, “ “. . . we can be God’s tap on a person’s shoulder. . . . It’s awesome to realize that God can use us as His messengers, healers, and helpers. He’s up to exciting things, and all He needs is a willing, receptive, and obedient spirit” (Silent Strength for My Life).

If you’re reading this post,
YOU are those Ogilvie writes about—
YOU are the ones with a willing,
receptive, and obedient spirit.

How awesome to realize that
God is using YOU as His messengers,
healers, and helpers.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Your memoir: Lighthearted or heavy?

I’ve mentioned before that memoirs can be about happy experiences, good people, and victories. They can be lighthearted, even humorous.

Yet many memoirists write stories about suffering, trauma, setback, or failure.

The genre of memoir lends itself to stories of hardship because we write about: 
  • moving from one stage of our lives into a better one,
  • learning from our experiences—about ourselves, others, and God,
  • and becoming new and improved persons as a result of our experiences.

Those aspects of memoir, when we think of writing one ourselves, often trigger memories of difficult circumstances we’ve fought through and overcome.

But memoirs don’t have to be about battles fought and won. They can be about happier occasions, too.

Perhaps Marion Roach Smith’s updated definition of memoir will set us free to write of pleasanter experiences.

She says, 
Memoir is about something you know 
after something you’ve been through.”

For example, she tells about her love of gardening: “. . . what I really know from thirty years in the garden is that peace can be found in my own back yard.”

So, our job as memoirists is to tell readers what we learned—how we transitioned from our old selves into our new selves.

Too many people live on the busy, trifling surface, decade after decade—which is a sad way to live. That’s probably what Chuck Swindoll had in mind when he wrote, “Some of God’s best truths, like priceless treasures, are hidden in depths most folks never take time to search out.”

That’s why writing a memoir requires us to search out those hidden treasures—to intentionally reflect, to ponder, examine, piece together events and relationships, connect the dots and discover what was really going on, to grasp the deeper, wider, higher picture. (Click here to review what the definition of memoir is.)

With that in mind, here are ideas for less-than-traumatic memoirs.

What did you learn, what do you now know, after: 
  • taking a cruise to Alaska
  • playing sports
  • spending a summer on your uncle’s ranch
  • taking care of pets
  • going on a short-term mission trip
  • babysitting
  • being a parent
  • working on a summer camp’s staff
  • living in the desert—or rainforest
  • working as a driver’s ed instructor
  • blogging
  • belonging to your high school Girls’ Club
  • volunteering at a nursing home
  • reuniting with your first love.

What did you learn from: 
  • your best friend
  • your parent
  • a grandparent
  • your children
  • your grandchildren
  • your favorite professor
  • an immigrant
  • a first responder
  • a handicapped person
  • a Bible study
  • your first paying job
  • a road trip
  • learning how to cook
  • learning how to make house repairs
  • your favorite songs.

And here at SM 101, we also seek to discover what God was doing in the midst of our experiences. We might not have noticed His involvement at the time, but in making time to look back, we realize He was doing what He promised in the Bible, teaching us truths we need to understand, strengthening our faith, and more—all kinds of special, loving things.

Your story could be about something that happened suddenly, or about something that slowly, quietly crept into your heart and changed your attitude, or gave you hope, made you laugh, strengthened your faith, or gave you peace.

Think about an Aha moment 
when you discovered something lovely 
or insightful or helpful. 

A realization that filled you with wonder. 

A mystery you solved, 
or a discovery that delighted you, 
a discovery that, if you shared it, 
would add joy to other people’s lives. 

It could turn a person’s life in a new direction.
God can use your story.

Someone needs to hear it.