Living in Faith, What I've Learned Lately, Writing life

Iron sharpening iron … in a writer’s contest world

Creativity takes courage. Henri Matisse was right about that.

Whatever form it might take — art, music, writing, design — sharing the “baby” of your creative soul is scary and humbling and sometimes downright humiliating. I’ve experienced all three (and more) with my writing. Sharing what you’ve created is not for the faint of heart and doesn’t necessarily get any easier with time.

Creativity takes courage quote from Henri MatisseAnyone who looks at this blog or my author social media accounts can see that I stepped away from those things for a few years. The desire to write was still there, but some things had to shift when I went back to the corporate world after working from home for almost 18 years. Now life has shifted again and I’ve been dipping my toes back into the Christian writing world during the past few months (yes, partly because I’m working from home again due to COVID-19, but also because we’re now empty nesters so I have fewer Mom things on my plate).

Last month I decided to be brave and entered the “First Impressions” contest with American Christian Fiction Writers. It’s for writers who have never published book-length fiction; you submit a 200-word summary of the book and the first five pages to be judged.

I entered several contests years ago and also submitted work for faculty to critique when I went to writers’ conferences. Some comments were helpful, some were harder for me to find the help in. Most included at least a couple of encouraging notes, but one in particular was so hurtful to my tender ego that I couldn’t bring myself to write more of that story for months.

All that to say, I hoped for good scores and comments when I entered First Impressions, but mostly hoped I would be able to accept the judges’ critiques and learn from them. This story is a different genre and for a different audience from most of what I wrote years ago (young adult dystopian instead of historical romance). Plus, this is the first time I’ve written in first person/present tense and that’s a world away from the usual third person point of view.

One of my prayers when I submitted the entry was that God would either give me a bit of encouragement that I’m writing what He wants or that He would make it clear that I’m going in the wrong direction.

I said the same prayer when I sat at my computer this afternoon, butterflies in my stomach before I opened the email with my score sheets and comments. I asked God to help me keep an open heart and mind when I opened those three attachments and read what was inside.

iron in blacksmith fire
Photo from Morguefile

And then five minutes later I was sitting there with tears in my eyes and a hand clamped over my mouth, overwhelmed by God’s goodness.

Did I win my category? No. Was I one of the three finalists? No.

Instead, God blessed me with three gracious judges who gave valuable feedback but also shared encouragement and compliments that bolstered my insecurities. I can do this thing if I keep praying, keep learning, keep working hard.

Maybe someday God will bless me with a publishing contract so that my book can find its way to people who need to read it. Or maybe He won’t. All I can do is keep writing and be faithful to use this love for words that He gave me.

Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” That give-and-take of helping and accepting help applies to every area of life. It’s  a reminder that we need to be accountable to each other and that while sometimes we’re helping sharpen someone else, at other times we’re the one who needs to be sharpened.

Today that’s especially true in the writing corner of my life. Three people took time away from their own friends, family and writing to read my entry and share thoughts on how I can be a better writer. Today they sharpened me. And someday I’ll use that knowledge to help sharpen someone else.

Living in Faith, Scripture verses, What I've Learned Lately

Acting with tenacity – thanks to Amelia Earhart

For the last several years, I’ve bought a daily tear-off calendar for my desk; one was Bible verses, one was great books to read, one was beautiful photos. This year’s is called “Seize the Day” and has inspirational quotes by people ranging from professional athletes to authors, historical figures to models, TV personalities to scientists.

Last weekend’s quote was from Amelia Earhart:

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity.”

Do you find that to be true? I often do, especially when the decision is faith-based.

I want to do what God wants me to do. I want to be the person He wants me to be. I want to go where He wants me to go.

But sometimes I’m so intent on doing what God wants that I end up doing nothing – because I want to be extra, extra sure that whatever I do is what He wants. So I pray about it. And I have conversations with God about it. And I pray about it some more. And I ask Him to help me know which way He wants me to go.

And in the course of all of this, I often stay right where I am instead of taking even a small step in one direction or the other.

As if He can’t readjust my path to get me where He wants me to be if my first few steps are in the wrong direction (because He definitely can).

As if sometimes both options I’m considering might not both be acceptable to God and usable by Him (because they can be).

As if I’m not old enough to know that sometimes He might just want me to take a tiny step of faith before putting all the pieces in place for me (because He’s done it before).

Amelia Earhart quote about tenacity
Was Amelia Earhart thinking about faith when she said that? My guess is probably not, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still apply it to our lives as Christians.

Deciding to follow Christ is a one-time action: once you profess your belief in Him as Savior and ask Him to come into your heart, it’s done forever. But we still have to decide day after day – sometimes minute to minute – to put our belief into practice.

Following Christ can be hard. Living as a Christian in today’s world can be hard. We need to be intentional about following Him because it’s not going to happen if we stop paying attention. And we need tenacity – persistence, determination, doggedness – to help us stay connected with God and focused on Him instead of everything that pops up on our path.

Tenacity helps us keep moving forward in the direction we believe God is calling us, even if it’s just one tiny step at a time. Because then one tiny step can become two tiny steps, and two can become three, until we find ourselves taking slightly bigger steps as our confidence in following God grows.

A few blog posts back I wrote about the focus words we received at church in January and that mine was “faithfulness.” I like “faithfulness” and believe it’s a great word for any of us to focus on. I definitely need to, especially during a year as crazy as this one.

But the more I think about “tenacity,” the more I like all the ways it can apply to my faith. My spiritual life could probably use some tenacity, some persistent holding onto God.

David wrote about this in Psalm 63:8. Many translations use variations of “my soul clings to you” or “I stay close to you.” But this is one time when I really like the King James translations:

  • My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me (NKJV)
  • My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me. (KJV)

And then there’s the Contemporary Amplified version:

  • My whole being follows hard after You and clings closely to You; Your right hand upholds me.

I like the verb picture of following close behind God. It shows that I’m not just holding on for the ride, I’m chasing after God. And I’m following hard, making it a priority and trying to stay right with Him instead of just wandering along at my own place, checking occasionally to see that He’s still in sight.

Intentional following. Dogged, persistent, determined following. Tenacious following. Because it’s worth the focus and the fight to stay right with Him, wherever He’s leading me to go.

That’s how I want to be. What about you?

Your turn: What keeps you holding on and following hard after God?

Living in Faith, What I've Learned Lately

Faithful despite the fear

What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? (Romans 3:3 ESV)

Our refrigerator helps tell the story of our lives. You can barely see the surface behind favorite photos of our kids, Christmas card photos of friends and families, and magnets representing vacations or craft times.

The side by the pantry sports two yellow stars that my husband and I added in January. Identical stars were probably in elementary classrooms all across America before the COVID-19 pandemic changed so much about our lives in the last few months. But ours aren’t from an old school project. Ours are from our pastor.

In one of her first sermons of 2020, she talked of how people sometimes choose a word as a theme or focus going into a new year. She thought it would be an interesting exercise for us to do as a congregation – receive a word that could be a touch point for our faith this year, and see what we had learned from it a few months later. We all chose a star without looking, praying that the word written there would be something of merit for us.

My word is faithfulness. And the further we get into 2020, the more I see that I would be hard pressed to find a word that better represents what I have needed this year.

  • Faithfulness in God’s direction as our daughter chose which college she’ll attend in the fall.
  • Faithfulness in His leading when I wanted to find a new ladies’ Bible study that works with my crazy work schedule.
  • Faithfulness in His provision when I stared at aisle after aisle of empty shelves when I tried to buy groceries.
  • Faithfulness in His protection as our son completes a 10-week summer internship in California.
  • Faithfulness in His calling as I turn back to writing for Him after years of keeping flash drives full of words and ideas tucked away while I focused on other things.

Some of these situations seem easy on the surface. But the truth is, these – and many other things – have made fear clench my heart and knot my stomach more times than I’d like to admit.

Fear? Of finding a Bible study or resurrecting writing projects?

Yes, fear. The older I get, the more I see that my biggest fears and insecurities often tie to things that seem simple because they’re the things I know God would want me to do. After all, why wouldn’t I feel confident that God would want me to go to Bible study?

My confidence in that is exactly right – because it’s not God who’s making me feel fearful or uncertain. Those confidence-busting thoughts and emotions are coming from the enemy. And they crop up at those times because the enemy knows exactly when and where to push my insecurity buttons to keep me from moving in the direction God wants.

But here’s one thing I know: my God’s faithfulness far outweighs any fears that the enemy might stir up in me. I might falter in my faithfulness to whatever He’s calling me to, but He will never falter in being faithful to me. Even on the days when I let the enemy get in my head too much.

My God will always – always – take away my fears, no matter how big or small they might be. I just have to go to Him in faith and trust Him to do the rest.

Father God, there are so many times when fear grips me so tightly I can hardly breathe. Remind me in those moments that You are the breath of life, the calm in the storm, the balm for my fears. Strengthen my faithfulness and help me trust You more each day. Amen.

Living in Faith, Scripture Saturday, Scripture verses

Scripture Saturday: Romans 15:13

 

Romans 15 13 a

Hope.

It’s something that ties us all together, no matter who we are or what we do or where we’ve been. It’s that little spark inside us that refuses to die, that helps us press on when it seems like all is lost.

It’s a gift from God that grows in us as we learn to trust Him with every part of our lives — the big, the small, and the in-between. The things that affect our family, our country, and our world.

The rest of this verse (which I couldn’t fit on the meme) is, “so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Even on the dark days, we can hold on to God’s promise that He’s in control and that everything is going to be OK. And aren’t we glad He gives us the Holy Spirit to help us remember that? I know I sure am.

Let’s have a beautiful, hope filled day.