My “Thing”

I think every writer has a “thing” that makes the writing process their own. Some write in the morning, others at night. Some write in a special place or in notebooks before sitting down at their computers. I write to music. I’ve always connected emotionally to music, making it a great background for my writing.

It started accidentally. While writing a devotion book for my sons, the house was always too loud. So, I chose an instrumental movie soundtrack to block distractions. Then the words flowed. The rhythm of the music created a rhythm in the writing. When I saw the tone my first novel was taking, an album came to mind. I listened to it every time I wrote. It kept my writing tone and emotions focused. If the scene I was writing called for something else, I switched up the songs. Now, with rare exception, I write to music.  Other authors would cringe at having to write with music. The sound would be a distraction. It’s not their “thing”.

The idea of authors each having individual ways of approaching writing is intriguing to me. So, when I saw Rachel Hauk’s The Writing Desk, my curiosity was piqued. Tenley Roth is riding the waves of praise for her very successful first novel when her worst fear is realized. She has writer’s block with a deadline looming. She begins to doubt her writing ability, wondering instead if her fame is due to her family name. Her father and great-great grandfather are legends in literary circles.

When she lays eyes on a worn desk in her mother’s home, it speaks to her sense of creativity. Along with the eccentric habit of wearing an over-sized man’s robe and slippers, Tenley adopts the desk as her writing “thing”. The desk, however, has a history that Hauk weaves seamlessly into Tenley’s story, giving readers two stories in one book. Past and present merge as Tenley finds out the truth about her literary history. And we get to join her on the journey to understanding who she is as an author and more importantly who she is as a person. And it all begins with a worn writing desk.

We never know what God is going to use to shape our lives. The kindness of a stranger changed Ruth’s life as she gleaned in the fields. For Peter, it was a stormy sea. Words scribbled in the dirt changed the life of the woman caught in adultery. God changed Saul’s life and purpose with a blinding light and a one-on-one chat.

Many people and events have given me a clearer understanding of who I am and who I am in my relationship with God. Some have been as pleasant as the kindness Ruth received. A lot have been more difficult, like walking on a storm-tossed sea. But whatever my current “thing” is, I want to be open to it. Whether it comes with joy or pain, I want to embrace the chance to learn more about myself and God.

By the Book: Read one of the above scriptures. Meditate on how God used these events in their lives. What did He teach them about themselves? About Himself? Ask God to help you embrace whatever “thing” is in your life and the lessons He wants to bring out of them for you.

Handkerchiefs and Copper Boxes

Unexpected, little things bring back memories of my great-granny who died over twenty-five years ago. But there is one thing that ushers them in every time, an old See’s brand candy box. Nestled inside are items no one else would find worth in, but they are one of only two things I asked for when Granny died. This treasure is Granny’s collection of handkerchiefs.

They came from all over the world. As a nurse, Granny met lots of people, including servicemen. These soldiers sent Granny handkerchiefs while stationed overseas.  When Granny opened that box, she told me the story of each one. They were as varied and unique as the handkerchiefs themselves. I can’t tell you their stories any more, but seeing that box brings back my times with Granny. Memories are powerful.

Suzanne J. Bratcher explores this in The Copper Box. This sense of nostalgia and memories drew me to her story. The story itself kept me reading to the end.

Adopted as a young girl, Marty has her past tucked safely away until her biological grandmother seeks her out. That single meeting begins to break down the walls between Marty’s present and past. Fragments of memories push her to seek answers, but tragedy threatens to keep her from finding the truth. Ghosts from the past haunt her, possibly quite literally. And Marty struggles to learn who she can trust when she returns to her childhood home. Though frightened by events in the present and scared of what her memories might be hiding from her past, Marty keeps searching, believing the answers she seeks are tucked safely away in a small copper box from her childhood.  When she finds the copper box, Marty will finally know who she is.

The Copper Box reminds us that memories of the past help make us who we are in the present. They represent people and events that impacted us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Listening to my Granny talk her handkerchiefs fed my love of storytelling. I learned even the simplest things have a story to tell. In The Copper Box fragments of memories are almost powerful enough to keep Marty from seeking the truth. Memories changed her, just like they change us.

Remembering is an important theme in scripture. God tells the people in Deuteronomy 11 to “lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul”. God inspired the psalmists to create songs telling of all the things God had done for His people. Altars and places of remembrance were often set up after God helped the people overcome hardship. Even Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” after Jesus was born.

God asks us to remember for our benefit. It strengthens us for the road ahead. Looking back at the battles God has won for us, the way He has provided for us, and the comfort He has given us helps us deal faithfully with our current circumstances. Remembering changes us from our attitudes to our focus and prayers. Memories can change the way we live out our faith.

By the Book: Read Psalm 77. What are you currently facing? How has God worked in the past to help you in similar situations? How can that memory change the way you call out to God now?

Making Sense of It All

Sometimes I pray and God gives me what I ask for. But I have learned the answer rarely looks the way I think it should. I pray for God to use me in greater ways. His answer? Refine me through some of the hardest things I have ever faced. I didn’t understand it then. I am beginning to now.

God moves me in a new direction. I go, trusting it to be His will since I spent time praying about it and felt it was what He was asking me to do. I go, believing it will be good for my family, ministry, and myself. I find myself in a situation where trust is all I have because the facts aren’t looking good. I don’t understand it, but I am on my way to a place where I can.

Sometimes God’s answers don’t seem to make sense, and the path He takes us down is very different than the one we would have picked for ourselves. Times like these were running through my mind as I picked up Amazed and Confused by Heather Zempel.

Not usually a fan of nonfiction, the title caught my attention immediately. The subtitle drew me in. When God’s Actions Collide with Our Expectations. I had never read any of her books, but I was intrigued. I began reading the Bible study the moment I got home.

While other scripture is used, the main thrust of the study is the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk. Really? I am ashamed to say I had never really studied the book before. I should have. It’s one of those tiny books in the Old Testament that is sandwiched between Nahum and Zephaniah. Through this study, I have definitely learned not to take the small books for granted!

Amazed and Confused is set up in chapters. Each chapter starts with narrative about a section of Habakkuk. The author uses real life illustrations to highlight her points. Each chapter ends with questions to reflect on and journal pages to use if you are so inclined.

As I read it, I was reminded that I am not the only one in history to be confused by God’s answers. I am not the only one to wrestle with the hard questions like why the wicked seem to prosper so much or why God would allow bad things to happen to good people. Habakkuk questioned too, and he was a prophet.

Written simply and honestly, I came away from Amazed and Confused feeling encouraged. Zempel’s commentary gave me new perspective and understanding on themes I’ve heard all my life as a Christian. She didn’t offer easy solutions. And she admitted we may not have all the answers. But, even then, she gave practical ways to handle those times according to scripture. Zempel caused me to stop and think about what’s really going on when I just don’t get what God is doing, and she did it using Habakkuk.

By the Book: Read through Habakkuk. What questions have you hesitated to bring to God? What has kept you from asking Him? Has God ever given you an answer you didn’t understand? Look back at what has transpired since then. Is the reason any clearer today than it was then?

Words and The Word

As I stepped into the school library for the first time, I was awestruck. The room was huge and filled with books. I had never been to a library. I didn’t realize this one was small in comparison to others. All I knew was there were more books than I could ever hope to read, and the librarian said I could take a new one home every week. One of my first books was Bread and Jam for Francis. It, along with the Berenstain Bears series, became some of my favorites to check out.

In junior high, I began reading adult Christian fiction. My first set was the Place Called Home series by Lori Wick. I loved it, and Wick continued to be a favorite author for many years. As I branched out, I added Linda Chaikin to my favorite author’s list. The books these two wrote filled my shelves from junior high into adulthood.

It was after one of the hardest times in my life that I first read Kristen Heitzmann’s Still of Night. God used the story to encourage me. It is still a favorite today, and I never fail to buy Heitzmann’s books as soon as they become available.

Through the years, God has used books in my life for entertainment, to teach me, and to encourage me. I am incredibly thankful that God has given people a talent for telling stories and a heart to merge their stories with the messages of scripture.

As much as my favorite stories mean to me, their importance fades when compared with God’s Word. Scripture is God’s message given directly to believers for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).  Given by God to us, scripture brings peace, hope, encouragement, and direction when applied to our lives. In the Old Testament stories I can see myself, my struggles, and my successes. In Philippians I find hope and peace. In Romans, I learn about who God is and who I am to Him. Nothing else is as important to growing my relationship with God as time spent in His Word.

My desire to grow through time in God’s Word and my love of reading are why I have chosen to write the By the Book blog. I want to encourage others to seek out God’s truth in scripture and also provide them with a place to learn more about Christian books and the authors who are using their talents to glorify God. I pray each devotion, quote, prayer, and book review helps you in your journey with God.

By the Book: Reflect on your favorite scriptures. What drew you to that scripture? Where has God brought you since that time? Take a moment to thank God for speaking to you through His Word.