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Monday

Faith, Belief, and... Will Someone Please Write My Book Already?



Have you ever felt a struggle between faith and action? Sometimes it's so easy to believe and so hard to actually do, and other times believing in ourselves, in God's call upon our lives, is the hardest thing in the world. So how do we learn to negotiate the space in between the two?

You see people who believe whatever they say will magically poof into being. Hate to break it to you, folks, but you're not a fairy godmother. You need special fairy dust for that. I saw it on Once Upon a Time. And then you have other people who have to be doing something at all times just for that feeling of accomplishment. Like those people who clean their cars every day. I've never understood that... how will you find random dollar bills shoved between the seats years later?

Well, let's look at the story of Abraham. We're all familiar with his situation. God promises to make him the father of many nations. But years go by, and Abraham and Sarah start getting too old to have a child, so Abraham takes matters into his own hands and impregnates Sarah's servant. Clearly this is a mistake, but God still fulfills His promise by giving Abraham another child through Sarah. Seems like Abraham has failed the test, right? And in many ways he has. And yet, what does the Bible say about Abraham's faith?

Romans 4:3-5:
"What does Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness."

Wow! This passages always gets me because Abraham clearly blew it, and yet, God still "credits" his faith as "righteousness" because he never gave up on the promise. What a powerful concept.

If God has placed a calling on your life to write, that calling matters. And believing in this calling begets righteousness and action. Faith should lead to fulfillment as we respond in an appropriate way to the promises God has given us.

But here's my question, and I want to hear what you all think. What does that "appropriate way" look like in reality? Sometimes it's so easy to believe we're called to write, but how do you put action to this belief, especially when tough feedback begins to roll in?

How does "faith" translate for you to actually sitting down in a chair and writing each day?

Tuesday

The Faith of the Faithful

Let me tell you a story.

A young woman loses her husband. She is heartsick, troubled. She doesn't know where to turn, what to say, what to do, or who she even is anymore. The life she knew is completely gone. She is suffocated, unable to move, to breathe.

But instead of looking to herself, she looks to another. The mother of her beloved, who is also hurting just as much, for she has lost her husband as well as her son. And she is just as troubled, just as heartsick. She's lost the very fiber of her own identity just like the girl, with one difference. She is old. And the prospects of her remarrying seem slim.

So the girl goes to the woman amidst all this pain, and she says, "I will stay with you. No matter what else happens, I will stay." And the older woman tries to convince her this isn't a good idea. That she's old. That she's insignificant. That she doesn't matter. But the girl sees something else in this woman. Something worth affirming, something worth being faithful to. And she tells her, "Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and I."

And the young woman stayed by her side. Even though she had nothing to gain.

God clearly honored this woman's choice. Because He gave her the book of Ruth.

How many times in our lives have we felt like Naomi? Abandoned, with nothing but the hope of the harvest to cling to? How many times have we faced a decision like Ruth? To be within our rights to leave just when someone needs us the most?

One of my favorite verses from this first chapter of Ruth is verse 22. It says, "So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning."

See, a little background: Naomi left Bethlehem because it was in famine, and she needed food to eat, sustenance. Here, she's returning because she's heard these rumors that God had "come to the aid of His people." So she packed everything up, figuring "What do I have to loose?" and moved back. But she returned as a different person. She returned as "Mara" and told her old friends God had made her life bitter, empty.

The beautiful thing is, this last verse in the chapter points not toward the emptiness, but toward the harvest. In fact, bounty is contrasted here with lack, so that an implicit promise is given through the foreshadowing imagery of the harvest, and we can see that Naomi's faith will yield plenty.

Maybe you're in the midst of a drought in your life right now. Maybe all you're clinging to is the faint hope of a promise God has declared over your life. Be of good cheer today. The harvest is coming. God, like Ruth, will remain by your side through it all.

Or maybe you're a "Ruth" in someone else's desolation. Please don't give up on them, even if they tell you to pack your bags and head back home. God's faithfulness is most clearly demonstrated during those times we most desperately need it.

Questions for conversation: Have you, like Naomi, struggled with feeling empty? How can we overcome this feeling of desolation? What does faithfulness look like in the day-to-day, and how can we enact that in our lives?

Wednesday

That Moment of Glee


I'm working on eating a bag of Peppermint Patties and reading blogs instead of writing a proposal, and suddenly this rush of excitement pulses through me, like I'm on the Scream Machine at that point before the wooden rockedyness gives you a neck ache for the rest of the day. This proposal is going out to a publisher. The thought hits me with all out glee.

Sometimes I get this way in Barnes and Noble as I'm looking through the racks. I feel like I have a secret that I share with all these books. I have a story friend for them, and eventually it's coming to sit on that shelf one way or the other. EvenAdd Image if I have to print off a copy at Kinko's and stick it up there with a business card taped to the front. Not that I would actually do that--erm...

Usually this feeling comes late at night, just before sleep, and sometimes it keeps me awake. I remember the first time it happened was the day I discovered the ACFW conference online. I decided I wanted to go to one of these conferences and meet my favorite authors. I had no way of even imagining how much greater God's plans were for me.

Questions for Conversation: What keeps you going when you're working on something like a proposal or final edits on your work? Have you had this inexplicable joyous feeling before? When does it usually happen for you?


Monday

The Perfect Ending


Today I'm going to talk about endings that make you say, "ahhh."
We've all read books before that leave us wanting to know about the characters, as well as books that just make us... well... mad. Have you ever found yourself frustrated with an author for speeding through the ending, or for not giving an ending at all as a way of selling their next book in the series? It's like someone dangling pecan pie in front of my face and then taking it away just when I get a whiff!

This past weekend, I saw The Vow, a movie I've been anticipating for months now. I was so into this movie, really enjoying the writing as well as the acting and the premise. If you don't know, it's based off a true story about a husband and wife who get in a car crash, resulting in the woman's amnesia. She can't remember anything about their relationship or marriage. The last thing she remembers is being engaged to another man, so her husband has to fight to win her heart back and make her fall in love with him all over again, like it's the first time. The tension in this storyline as well as the acting was just wonderful. Talk about built-in conflict as both the husband and wife are wanting the same things, love an
d memory, but struggling with how to find that.

Here's the thing. After an hour and a half or however look the movie took, it just sort of... ends. I don't want to give away the ending in case you haven't seen it. But while the final note is certainly hopeful, it left me wanting so much more. I wanted to see them recite their vows once again. I wanted to see a white dress. I wanted to see a kiss. I felt feeling frustrated, like I had invested all this emotion with no way for that to be fulfilled by the story.

You don't want to do this to your reader.

Think back to your favorite old movies. Sabrina, An Affair to Remember, The Philadelphia Story. What do all of this have in common? A knock-out ending. We feel satisfied and convinced the characters really will live happily ever after. Even in movies with "sadder" endings, like Roman Holiday, where the characters don't end up together, we feel satisfied that this ending is the best extension of the story. And in commercial fiction and movies, we typically feel satisfied that the characters have grown as people and will feel happy.

How can you achieve a knock-out ending? It all depends on your particular story, so there is no one answer that will fit everyone. But
having your characters simply end up together is not enough. You need to decide what your characters' biggest challenges are, and then show your readers how everything the characters have faced throughout the book has enabled them to face those challenges in a new way, in a way that is ultimately successful. Everything doesn't necessarily have to be perfect in your characters' lives (think An Affair to Remember), and in fact, having problems may in some cases make your ending believable, but the thing that does have to be resolved is the character's main struggle in the book. That is what will leave your readers feeling satisfied. To continue with my Affair to Remember example, even though the couple faces the unthinkable and even though their romantic plans to meet at the Empire State Building fail, the ending is so much more romantic because it shows the challenges their love is strong enough to overcome. That is what modern movies are missing, and that is what you want to get in your story.

And a really good final kiss helps too.

Questions for comment: What are your favorite movies, and what do you love about their endings?