Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: Christian living

Write Stuff Wednesday – Writers Write

“This is how you do it: You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard.” – Neil Gaiman

There are days when writing comes easily. I’m perfectly rested. Focus is my middle name. I have nothing pressuring me for my attention other than my work in progress. My time is my own, and I make use of it. The words flow, and the story comes as naturally as breathing. Those days are like a perfectly wrapped Christmas present opened to find an equally perfectly picked item inside the paper.

Then come the days when you open the gift and realize the giver merely wrapped something, anything in order to have a gift. You were an afterthought worked in at the last minute. It’s a box of chocolates for the one who everyone knows has been dieting for a month or an iTunes gift card for the person who has an Android phone. Those are the times when no matter what you do, the story doesn’t want to flow from your brain through your fingertips and onto the screen. Your amazing story idea stalls in the middle of the telling. You write, but it simply doesn’t feel right. Doubts creep in. Maybe you don’t have another story in you after all.

Good days or bad, a writer does one thing. They write. Even when it feels bad. Even when it is bad. They write. We write. We bask in warmth of the days when it’s that easy. We fight our way through the difficult days knowing that there is no mistake that cannot be edited out. We continue in hopes that the sun of successful days will soon shine on us again. Through good and bad we keep writing  and growing stronger through the journey. We do it because we are writers.

It’s this same attitude we need to bring into living our faith each day. How do we be Christians? We get out there every day and live like Jesus lived. It’s as easy and as hard as that. We’ve been given the instruction manual and the perfect example in Jesus. Some days godly love flows easily through our actions. Our priorities are ordered by God’s word. Keeping God’s commands don’t seem like a burden at all.

Then come the days when we just can’t seem to rein in our thoughts or control our attitudes. We are in a funk, and it shows. The difficult people push our buttons, and the last thing we feel like doing it loving them with the love of God. We realize selfishness, discontent, anger, deceit, or pride has taken root in our hearts. We want to do good, but we find ourselves giving in to temptation. We feel like failures of the faith.

But good or bad, we don’t give up. We keep coming to God in repentance for our failures. We turn back to Him and find not only forgiveness but also strength for the next battle. We bask in the good days, not because we’re so great but in praise of the One who gave that day to us. We glean lessons from the bad days, and we find our faith stronger because of it. We do it because that’s what believers do. We are followers of Jesus, and to be that we must keep following.

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Write Stuff Wednesday 6

garbage-3259455_960_720“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” – Margaret Atwood

Some days it’s all I can do to string words together to make a coherent sentence. Somedays, I’m not even sure I can qualify that sentence with “coherent”. Every writer runs into days when the words don’t come easy. But we write anyway. We struggle to put out a few hundred words, and the next day we look at those words with fresh eyes. Maybe they won’t be as awful as they felt when we wrote them. Maybe, by some miracle of the writing world, we stumbled through our writing and the resulting paragraphs are examples of writing at its finest.

It doesn’t happen that way. At least it doesn’t for me. That second look at what I’ve written makes me cringe in embarrassment. How could I stoop to such depths of telling instead of showing? Can you even have a cacophony of colors when a cacophony is a mixture of sounds? And why is my protagonist completely ignoring the events of the last three chapters?

It’s painful, and it makes me grateful that editing is part of the process of writing. I don’t have to succeed perfectly the first time. It would be strange if I did. I need to take a second look, maybe even a third and fourth. I need input from others who know the craft of writing. They can catch things that my eyes miss after being dulled by multiple readings to what is actually written on the page. It’s a long process, but every time I go through it, I learn something I can take with me to the next project.

When I internalize those lessons, they work their way into my next manuscript. It doesn’t mean that manuscript will be perfectly written the first time either. But it does mean, the editing process will be less intense this time around. It means my editors can focus on the next issue I need to get control of. It means I have grown a little more as a writer and am better at it than I was the day before. And it starts by being willing to write, even when the words don’t come easy and I know the results will be less than stellar.

Less than stellar. It’s a feeling I’ve known in more than my writing life. When I look at my Christian life, I’ve also gotten to know that feeling. I can remember times when I meant to do good and yet stumbled my way into hurting people I care about. I set out to witness to someone, and power my way through it without finesse or discernment pushing the person away in the process. As a Christian parent, I can think of so many times I have failed to be the example my children needed to see. I’ve taken some things too seriously and others not seriously enough.

It’s rough. I want to be the person God designed me to be. I don’t set out to mess it all up. But in my inexperience or overzealousness I’ve ended up going in directions that God never meant for me to go. In my own hurt and struggles, I’ve let my sinful nature get the better of me and my witness has lost its power. I relate to Paul’s assertion that “the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (Romans 7:19).

But all is not lost. God looks at my heart. He knows my desire is for Him and living the way He wants me to live. He has made me a new creation, though I may struggle at times to live like it. Scripture is full of people who didn’t live the faith life perfectly, and God chose to use them in powerful ways. Our God is a redeeming God. He redeems us from our sin, and He can redeem situations when we fail for whatever reason. He’s also a forgiving God. Scripture tells us that if we confess our sins He I will forgive (1 John 1:9). It doesn’t say He’s faithful to forgive as long as that sin is never committed again, though He certainly desires for us to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He says He forgives if we have repentant hearts.

Scripture is often the editor of my faith. In it, I learn more of what God wants His people to be like. Through it I can see my sins and mistakes. God also uses other believers in my life to help me edit my walk of faith. As with writing editors, I have to weigh what they tell me against what the experts say. In this case, the only expert I can weigh their teachings against is scripture. If what they say rings true to scripture, then I know I can apply it to my life. I can use it to help me become more of the believer God intends me to be. When I internalize lessons from scripture and other mature believers, God teaches me, and I grow into a better example of what a follower of Jesus should be.

By the Book: Are you allowing God’s truth to work in your life, shaping you into the believer He would have you be?

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Write Stuff Wednesday 4

queen-2941437__340“If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it.” Beverly Cleary

Do you remember the movie The Princess Diaries? Awkward girl, Mia, finds out she’s a princes. Cue the makeover. Contacts, a stylist, and hours of princess lessons transform her from nobody to the girl everyone wants to call friend. Mia is a ruler in training, and though she has some missteps, by the end of the movie she’s getting the hang of things. It’s like she’s a whole new girl. Only she isn’t. She’s still Mia. The wrapping is just a little bit different.

How about Miss Congeniality? Awkward girl, Grace, finds out she’s the agent chosen for an undercover mission in the Miss United States pageant. Cue the makeover. Contacts, a stylist, and hours of beauty pageant lessons transform her from nobody to the girl everyone wants to call friend. Grace is pageant girl in training, and though she has some missteps, by the end of the movie she’s getting the hang of things. It’s like she’s a whole new girl. Only she isn’t. She’s still Grace. The wrapping is just a little bit different.

The same can be said of the movies. Sure, each one has its own unique spin, but several of the elements are shared. It’s no different when writing. We write because we have stories to tell, but that’s not to say we’re the only one who’s going to write a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back story line. Or maybe our plot is more person finds a dead guy, person follows clues to find the killer, person gets targeted by the killer, person ends up trapping the killer kind of story.

Just because our stories share some of the same elements as others in the genre doesn’t mean our story shouldn’t be written. Our story hasn’t been told yet. Our way of wrapping the familiar elements in our own voice and specific details hasn’t happened until we sit down and write. And it’s important that we do so. Your style of story wrapping is going to appeal to people who might not like my style of story wrapping.

That’s why readers don’t have to like every book in a genre they generally love. The various wrappings of the story are powerful factors in whether or not a book draws each reader in. We’ve all picked up a book from the shelf only to place it back in favor of another. And as writers we’ve all had that spark of an idea that won’t let go. And no matter how many other authors have written a story like the one growing inside us, we still have to write it. Because no one has written that story like we will.

As writers, we don’t let similar genres or basic plots deter us from writing our stories. We can see that the story we want to hear, while similar is unique, and it deserves to be written. No one has written our book yet. It isn’t on the shelf, and we want to put it there. But often, we’re guilty of doing the opposite in our faith.

How many times have we heard the excuse, “I would go to church, but they’re all the same” ? The people sharing these sentiments don’t mean them in a positive way. They’re the same people that say, “if that’s what being a Christian is, I want nothing to do with it”. For believers, it can be discouraging. We look around at churches that look like social clubs and wonder if there is a point. We see self-centered churches that don’t reach out unless it directly benefits their church, and we know there’s something wrong with that picture. We see the larger body of believers failing to impact the world, and we get discouraged. Instead of living the faith story we want to see, we give up. We join the crowd.

The basics are the same. We’re people of faith. We want to follow God. We’ve come into relationship with Him through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. But looking beyond that, we see all these other Christian wrappings that don’t sit well with us. They aren’t what we believe Christians and churches should be. They aren’t what we believe scripture tells us Jesus’ followers should be. So, we stuff down our disappointment, deciding if that’s what Christians are then that’s what we’ll be. We let the common elements keep us from telling our faith story in our own voice.

It doesn’t have to be that way. When we don’t find in Christianity what we believe God wants shown to the world, it’s time for us to step up and be that example for the others. We may share the same basic faith but our voice is unique. Our walk with God and our story of faith is one of a kind.

We don’t have to settle for following the spiritual crowd into a life of entertainment, self-centeredness, or inactivity just because that’s the faith story everyone else seems to be telling.  Jesus bucked the religious trends of the Pharisees. He interacted with people in a very personal, life-changing way. He gave us the real example of what a life of faith should be. If no one else seems to be following His lead, who cares? We can. We should. If no one else is living the life of faith Jesus modeled, go out and live it yourself.

By the Book: What wrapping of the faith have you gotten comfortable in that God might want you to rip off and replace with one from Jesus’ example?

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