By the Book

where a love of God and good books meet

Tag: FaithsJourney

Cover to Cover – Beyond the Cover

I didn’t make this one part five, because the step in the process takes place before, beside, and after the publishing of your book. It is marketing. And it isn’t as easy as one might think. To find out more, I turned to a person who has taught me a lot in the last few months, Linda Fulkerson. The most recent lesson she’s taught me? It’s that when you ask her for an interview be prepared for a thorough interview! Her interview follows, and though it is longer than my usual posts, I think you’ll come away with a new appreciation of marketing and maybe even some good ideas for marketing your own book!

Thank you for interviewing me!

Can you tell us little about how you got into offering marketing services and the services your company offers to authors?

It’s kind of a long story, lol.

 Back in 2002, my then-agent had been shopping my manuscript for The Prodigal Daughter: Hope for Runaway Christians and Those Who Await Their Return (my first book – a nonfiction memoir-style self-help book). Editors liked it, but wouldn’t offer a contract because I wasn’t well known, and unless you’re a celebrity, memoirs don’t sell. My agent’s advice was, “Go get famous. Then resubmit.” Because I was naïve, I asked him, “How does one get famous?” He told me to start a speaking ministry and start blogging. Very few people were blogging back in 2002. I didn’t know much about it, so I started taking online courses from professional bloggers and learned a lot.

 Fast forward a few years to 2009. By this point, blogging had become a big deal for authors, but still, not many had a blog or knew what to do with it if they did have one. Word got out among my author friends – Linda knows how to blog! I was literally spending at least an hour (sometimes more) on the phone, explaining to different authors how to blog and use digital marketing, (including SEO, social media, email marketing, etc.) effectively. My husband suggested to save time, I should start a blog about blogging. (I married a wise man.) I don’t update it anymore, but all the content is still available online at OnBloggingWell.com, named after the old book, On Writing Well. During this time, I was conducting a popular workshop in several states titled, “Marketing with a Blog.” (Although some things have changed, most of those same principles I taught then still work today.)

 In 2011, I moved to Texas and was hired as the online editor for a daily newspaper. The day after I started, the general manager called me into his office. He told me after reviewing my résumé further, he wanted me to move out of editorial and launch a digital services company for area small businesses. So, after being an editor-for-a-day, I became the Director of Digital Services. We conducted small business training seminars and sold website/digital marketing packages that included print advertising options (it was a newspaper, after all, lol). It was a fast-paced, exciting job, and our client base grew quickly. Plus, I learned SO much!

 I moved back to Arkansas in late 2013. My husband suggested that, instead of getting a job, I begin my own digital marketing company, which I did. I started off by doing cold calls to local mom & pop brick and mortar companies, but quickly the word got out among my author friends that I was building websites now and offering marketing services/consulting. God has blessed my business tremendously. For well over three years, all my clients have come to me via referral. No more begging for business! I still have most of my original small business clients, but today, I offer my services exclusively to authors and speakers. I’m so blessed. J

Why is it important for authors to have access to these kinds of services?

When an author pitches a book idea to an editor or agent, one of the first questions asked will be, “How big is your platform?” Just like a physical platform enables a speaker to be seen by a crowd, an author’s platform gives him or her “visibility” in a crowded marketplace. An author’s platform includes a variety of elements – blog subscribers, email list subscribers, social media followers, author networks, friends & family, local community, and “marketing evangelists,” such as a street team or even reader-fans the author may not even know. Growing such a platform takes a lot of work – persistency and consistency. Like anything, it all starts with a solid foundation – a properly structured website. I call it the author’s “Marketing Machine.”

 The problem is, many authors either (a) don’t have the technical skillset to develop such a platform, or (b) don’t have the time to do so. That’s where people like me can help. Many times, someone will hire me short-term, just to get everything set up, structured properly, and offer training on how to use the system effectively. Then, they take it from there. Others hire me to do ongoing marketing tasks, such as search engine optimization and/or social media management.

 Which service that your company provides is the most enjoyable for you?

I enjoy making video book trailers. The turnaround time is quicker than websites, plus, most authors get super excited when they see their book premise in video form.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

That little four-letter-word: TIME. Sometimes my to-do list can be overwhelming. I have a lot of clients, and frankly, I do my best to spoil them. But sometimes I get bogged down Somedays, when I check my email, every subject line has the word “HELP!” in it, lol. I am blessed in the fact that my kids are grown, so I no longer have the day-to-day duties of a mom thrown in with work. I would like to write more, but I put my paying clients’ work ahead of my personal writing goals.

 At first, that really bothered me. I feel God has given me the gift of words, and I should share them. Today I try to look at it like this – God has also given my clients words to share, and by helping them spread their words, I’m perhaps in a small way helping spread His. (But I still want to write, lol!)

 Another challenge is sometime the technology itself. Things change so rapidly in the digital world. It can be frustrating at times. For instance, there may be a WordPress plugin I’ve used to enhance a website’s functionality that worked fine for months (or even longer), but if the developer doesn’t keep it updated, a new WordPress version may render the plugin useless, or worse, crash a website. Some of these issues are unforeseeable, but can be hard to explain to clients. My motto is, “Technology is great – when it works.” (This is why it’s vital to have a website backup system in place!)

Do you have a project that stands out as a favorite?

I really enjoy book cover design. I’ve done a few for clients, but I haven’t really put myself out there as far as a graphic designer yet. Most people think of me as a website builder or marketing consultant, which is fine. It may be selfish, but so far, my favorite thing I’ve created is the cover for my own book, DEAD BROKE. I’ve had so many compliments on that cover – mostly from people who didn’t even realize I’d designed it. Now I wish I’d entered it in some cover-design contests, but it’s been out for two years now, so probably a little late for that.

 If you could give authors one piece of advice what would it be?

Okay, but I have to share two. Sorry.

 First, realize that marketing is not about you. It’s about the audience. What they want. What they need. The sad truth is, other than your close friends and family, people don’t care about you or your books. People are selfish. Human nature is “what’s in it for me?” If you can (1) discover the dreads/desires of your audience (through effective market research) and (2) help them avoid those dreads/attain those desires, you will become a best-seller. (See the last paragraph for how to do this.)

 Second, understand the various components of marketing and the purpose each one serves. I teach relationship marketing – it’s called the “Know-Like-Trust” system. Basically, it goes like this: If people feel they know you, they will like you. If they like you, they will begin to trust you. Once they trust you, they will buy from you.

 A lot of people attempt to use social media to sell books. That rarely works. The best use of social media is to build brand awareness (name recognition) and develop relationships. Social media is included in the “KNOW” and “LIKE” part of the KNOW-LIKE-TRUST principle.

 Blogging is a great way to improve upon your audience’s like for you, plus, it builds trust. When people see you are knowledgeable about a topic, they believe you are an “author”ity on that topic. Blogging is one of the best ways to set yourself apart from the crowd. There’s a trend now in the publishing industry where agents and editors are telling authors that blogging isn’t important for fiction writers. I’m not sure where they got that information, but I disagree. I study blogging trends from professional bloggers, not from editors or agents. They know the publishing industry, but pro bloggers know digital marketing. That’s where I’ve learned most of what I know. Those who are most well-known and respected in the blogosphere say blogging is not dead. But, most people just don’t know how to blog effectively, so they’ve made an assumption it doesn’t work. From my experience, blogging can be one of your best marketing tools.

 One of the most vital elements in your marketing toolbox is your email list. The value of an effective lead capture/email marketing system can’t be stressed enough. Most authors don’t know how to build an email list and if they have one, they don’t know how to use it properly. An email list is hands-down your NUMBER ONE sales tool.

 Summing it up: Use social media to build that KNOW/LIKE – getting your name out there. Use blogging and/or podcasting to build LIKE/gain TRUST. Learn how to build and email list effectively as a sales tool.

 Here’s a practical system on how put it all together:

  • Use your blog to provide solutions to your readers’ problems. First, know who your audience is. Then, do some market research and make a list of 20-25 fears/problems your audiences faces. Make a list of 20-25 dreams/desires they long to attain.
  • Write one blog post per fear/problem and one blog post per dream/desire. Now you’ve got about a year’s worth of blog content. Do keyword research so you’ll know what exact-match phrases to optimize for in each post, then optimize your post content for search.
  • Include a call-to-action within each post to join your email list. When someone joins your list, give them something valuable to entice them to join. Then nurture those leads by providing even more useful, relevant information. Useful and relevant are two of the most important words in marketing. Finally, pitch your books via email. But be sure to provide more useful content than pitches. So, every email won’t include a book pitch. A good ratio is somewhere between 4:1 and 7:1, depending upon your audience.
  • Use social media as teasers to lead people to your blog posts.

Thank you Linda for participating in this interview! You can find Linda at lindafulkerson.com. And to see a little bit of what she does, you can click below to watch the book trailer Linda created for Faith’s Journey.

 

Main Character Monday #8

Faiths Journey

Welcome to Main Character Monday. It’s a little different than my regular blog posts, a little more lighthearted. But stick with it, and you just might find some characters you’d like to read more about. And even though it isn’t my usual devotional style, you may still come away with an encouraging word from the Word. I hope you enjoy Main Character Monday!

 

Today’s Guest is Katie McGowan from Faith’s Journey by Heather Greer. Thank you for joining me.

What is your favorite book of the Bible from both the Old and New Testament?

I like Genesis. It’s all about real people who are doing their best to follow God, but they mess up, constantly. I think it gives people like me hope when we see the list of the faithful in Hebrews and can go back and see they aren’t included because they’re perfect.

If you could meet anyone from scripture, not including Jesus, who would it be?

Jacob and David are definitely out. They each took turns as a betrayer in their individual stories, and that hits a little too close to home for me. Maybe I’d like to meet Paul. Yeah, I’d definitely like to meet him. Talk about a redemption story. That man messed up so much before he gave his life to God. And we’re not just talking everyday mess ups. The man was murdering Christians. I’ve done a lot of stuff I shouldn’t have, but I’ve never killed anyone. If God can use a man like Paul, there’s hope for me too.

Jesus had twelve disciples. Which one do you feel you are most like?

I hate to admit it, but I’d have to say Thomas. Thomas had doubts. I don’t think scripture ever says why he doubted, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. He doubted. His faith waivered. For a long time, so did mine. I watched too many people who claimed to be people of faith living like everyone else. Their lives weren’t changed at all. I couldn’t help wondering if God was really who He says He is, wouldn’t it make a difference?  It took Austin to put me on the path to understanding I’d been putting my faith in God’s people and not God himself.  And of course, people fail.

Jesus says we are to be His light in the world. What does this mean to you?

Used to I would have said it means we need to share the truth about who Jesus is with those who don’t know Him. Now, I believe it’s more than that. God wants us to live like Jesus did, love the things Jesus loved, and desire the things Jesus desired. When we let God into every part of how we live and think, it shows. I think this is how we become His light in the world.

If you could give one message to those reading this interview, what would you tell them?

Don’t let your past keep you from living God’s future for you. Chase after a relationship with Him, and He will show you His purpose for you.

Just for Fun:

Dark or Milk Chocolate? Dark, if I have to choose one, but I prefer the white chocolate in Austin’s white chocolate, cranberry and macadamia nut scones!

Roses or Daisies? Daisies. Roses are too pretentious.

Salad or Soup? There’s nothing better than taco soup on a cool evening.

If you could describe Heather Greer in three words, what would those words be? Messy, honest, geeky. Don’t get her started on Doctor Who or Lord of the Rings. You’ll be there all night. 

If you would like to get to know Katie better, you can purchase Faith’s Journey on Amazon in both e-book and paperback formats.

By Sweet Design

bakery2Growing up, it was a frozen yogurt place. Too bad it was before the frozen yogurt craze. It didn’t last too long. After that, it housed various pizza places. None of them stayed around too long either. People blame it on the location, sitting on the fringe of the town’s business area. I think the location could be a success with the right business.

I think the cute little building would make a great bakery. I love to bake. And since the last pizza place moved out and the newest For Sale sign went up, I’ve imagined it as one. A fresh coat of paint would give it new life, as well as covering up the graffiti on the lamp posts. A good cleaning would allow the windows to sparkle. It would be fun, yet comfortable. Inviting. People would stop in each morning for traditional pastries as well as clean eating options. Regulars would provide a solid base to keep the doors open even when the students left the nearby university each summer. It might not make the owner rich, but it would provide a decent living. I even know what I would name this imaginary bakery, By Sweet Design.

I have it all planned out, and the building still sits empty. It’s been that way for a couple years now. There’s no fresh paint. There’s not a brand new sign sporting a fun cupcake and the name of a bakery. The windows definitely don’t sparkle at this point. I don’t own a bakery, and I never will. But my planning wasn’t completely in vain.

By Sweet Design has come to life. The color scheme and décor are everything I dreamed they would be. The sign is quirky and fun.  And customers love the pastries, from the brownies to the scones and everything in between. It’s a relaxed atmosphere that draws people in and invites them to stay a while.

Want to know the best thing about my bakery? It’s never going to go out of business. The empty building and my own bakery ideas are the inspiration for Austin Blake’s bakery in my book, Faith’s Journey. I even kept the name the same. Austin didn’t mind. He loves the way people like Erin and Katie hang out after a girls’ day out. He knows his regulars by name, and treats each customer like they’re his best customer.

Through writing Faith’s Journey, I’ve gotten to create my bakery. I’ve gotten to see it become everything I knew it could be, and I love it. It may not be the way I imagined when the idea popped into my head, but my plans for By Sweet Design add life to the story of Faith’s Journey. My time spent daydreaming and planning weren’t a waste. And though I didn’t see it at the time, I know God did.

Jeremiah 29:11 promises there is a plan and purpose for our lives. It’s not our plan. It’s Gods. And it’s comforting to know His plans are for our good. It doesn’t mean they won’t surprise us though. And it doesn’t mean we’ll understand everything as we go through it.

I didn’t know why I had such a clear vision for a bakery I would never own. Now, I do. A woman I know dreamed of being a missionary. Her husband didn’t share the vision. Her desire to go into all the world never wavered. Years would pass before she began taking youth groups on mission trips throughout the United States. It wasn’t all the world, but she was sharing the gospel outside her immediate vicinity. More years would pass before she started blogging. Her blogs share the truth of scripture and a strong gospel message. Her followers include people from around the world. God has brought her to the realization of her dream of world missions.

Does it look like she expected it to look? No. Blogging didn’t exist when the spark to reach others was first lit inside her. Computers and the internet were not in most homes. Now, they are, and God is using them as the vehicle to take her into the world.

She could fight God on it. She could refuse to see this as God’s fulfillment of her dream. She could gripe about how this wasn’t what she meant when she said she wanted to impact the world for Him. She could do these things and lose the gift God has given her. She could miss His purpose and plan because it doesn’t look the way she thought it would. Instead, she chooses to embrace it. She sees it for the blessing and provision it is. She chooses to live by faith, trusting that each step of the way has been planned by God’s sweet design.

By the Book: When has God worked things out in your life in surprising ways? Have you embraced His plan or do you fight it because it doesn’t look the way you envisioned?

Doing Nothing

Today, I did nothing. I didn’t clean my house. I didn’t read the book I intended to finish and blog about. I didn’t do laundry. And until this very moment, I didn’t write a word. I did nothing.

I guarantee next week won’t be this way. In addition to my 8-5 job, I’ll finish preparations for the Faith’s Journey Book Launch party, bake several batches of cookies for the event, and complete all wife and mother related activities. Creating trivia night questions for a mission trip fund-raiser is on the back burner until the launch is over. That will demand all my time for the weeks after the launch.  Finishing lesson material for the camp I direct every summer will wait until the weeks after I finish the trivia night questions. Sometime, in the middle of it all, I need to complete the sequel to Faith’s Journey.

There were plenty of things I could have done today. Anything from cleaning my house to working on the sequel and all the activities in between. Instead, I chose to ignore every possible activity.

I’m tempted to feel guilty over wasted time. It would be easy to stress over the things I didn’t check off my to-do list. But I’m not going to. It wouldn’t help anyway. The time is gone. It won’t come back. Tomorrow is another day. With its beginning, I will rejoin the masses and be a productive member of society. But I refuse to feel bad about today’s lack of industriousness.
Days when we don’t cater to a never-ending list of demands are needed. They work as a sort of reset button for our minds and bodies. We were created to need rest. In Genesis, God gave us the example of rest when He rested on the seventh day. He didn’t do it because He was tired. He did it, in part, to show us the importance of a day of rest. And the need to escape the noise and busyness doesn’t end with our minds and bodies. The example extends into our spiritual lives as well.

Ministry requires our time and energy. Whatever area of ministry we find ourselves in, no matter how much we love it, it can push us to our limits physically, mentally, and emotionally. It can also drain us spiritually. When we expend energy, it needs replenished. When our bodies burn calories, we have to replace them with more. Constant attention to our own spiritual life is necessary to ministering in a way that honors God. Through worship and fellowship with other believers, listening to pastors and teachers, and daily prayer and time in God’s word, we stay connected to the source of spiritual replenishment. But there are times when the ministries we are part of take more out of us than usual. In those times, and even before those times if we are wise, we will remove ourselves from the busyness and focus only on being with God. Just as He gave us the example of physical rest, God has given us the example of spiritual rest.

Jesus’ ministry on earth took place in a relatively short time span. He went from unknown son of a carpenter to healer, teacher, and miracle worker with the turning of water into wine. Crowds followed Him everywhere. Everyone needed something from Him. Those who didn’t follow Him in awe, followed Him in attempt to discredit Him. Even when the masses weren’t right beside Jesus, the disciples were.  And they needed instruction as much as anyone else in the crowd, maybe even more so since they would serve as the leaders of the church after His ascension.

Jesus was God made man. He had the same needs we all experience. He knew exhaustion. He knew frustration. He knew how to handle it when the demands became too much. Luke 5:16 tells us, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Other references to Jesus’ examples of solitude for spiritual renewal can be found in Matthew 14:23, Mark 6:46, Luke 6:12, and Mark 1:35. At the most demanding time in His ministry, when Jesus was preparing to give His life for us, He prayed. Though some of the disciples went to the garden with Him, Jesus chose to go off on His own once there. He poured out His heart to His Father in solitude, and He found the strength to do what needed to be done.

As we give of ourselves in ministry, can we expect to need times of quiet solitude with God any less than Jesus?

By the Book: When was the last time you got away from the busyness of ministry and spent time simply being in God’s presence? Why is giving ourselves permission to do nothing in our daily lives and ministry hard at times? What can we take away from the examples of rest that God has given us in scripture?

Good and Perfect Gifts

Tonight I celebrated twenty-one years of marriage to my husband, Andy. Last year, on our twentieth anniversary, he got me a new wedding ring. I hadn’t been able to wear my original one in years, and this new ring was the perfect gift for that milestone anniversary. Tonight’s celebration wasn’t nearly as elaborate, but considering our busy lives, just being able to go to dinner with him and spend some time window shopping made it special.

That’s not to say I didn’t get an anniversary surprise this year. It just didn’t come from Andy. Tonight, as we pulled into our driveway, I noticed four packages waiting for me. Knowing what they held, I couldn’t contain my excitement. As soon as we carried the four boxes inside, we picked one back up and headed to my parents’ house. I wanted them to join Andy and me as I opened the first box.

Of course, I opened the box to a huge wad of paper. But once I threw all the paper to the floor, I got to see and hold my very first published novel, Faith’s Journey. I didn’t expect them for another week, closer to the February 13th release date. It was an experience I’ve dreamed about and worked for since I was in grade school. And it couldn’t have become a reality on a better day. It was like a special gift.

My anniversary surprise was a great reminder of James 1:17 and Matthew 7:11. “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

I know there will be tough days in the years to come. There will be struggles and disappointments. God doesn’t promise only rainbows and sunshine for those who follow Him. But when those times come, it’s encouraging to know I can look back on all the good and perfect gifts He has blessed me with and continue to praise Him even in the storm.

By the Book: What are some of the most memorable “good things and perfect gifts” that God has blessed you with?

 

Granny’s Way

Katherine Angeline Winterstein Robinson McGowan was my great-grandmother, and she was a force to be reckoned with when you came alongside her stubborn streak. Growing up, Granny told me stories and taught me to embroider and quilt. I was the favored one who could go through her souvenir handkerchief collection and her jewelry box whenever I wanted. But when it came to cleaning, even I ran into her iron will.

While cleaning her living room, Granny insisted I was vacuuming her floor incorrectly. What she wanted would take twice as long, serving no real purpose. I told her this, but it did me no good. Granny insisted her way was the only way. So, I did the only reasonable thing. I waited until Granny left the room and completed the task the way I had started it. Of course, Granny never found out I failed to complete my task her way.

Maybe we’re all a little like Granny sometimes. I knew from the time I was a kid that I wanted to write. As I experienced more writers, my desire to write grew. I wanted to do for others what my favorite authors did for me. As I matured in my relationship with God, I knew He wanted me to use whatever ability I had along with my passion for writing to minister to others. I can’t tell you exactly how I knew, but I knew.
You’d think there would be freedom and maybe joy in finding out what God has for you. Instead, I knew frustration. I couldn’t see why God would clearly show me the path I was to take but not let me live it out. Sure, God used my writing in my home town ministries. He used it when I taught Sunday school and summer camp classes. He used it when I wrote lessons for our youth group. God never stopped using my writing, but it wasn’t the way I wanted it or in the time frame I wanted it to be in. I was as set in my ideas as my Granny.

At times, I questioned. Had I misheard? Did God have something else for me to do? And if so, why would He have given me this overwhelming desire to minister through writing? In these times, I gave my dream back to Him. God was faithful to give it back with encouragement to keep going. He reaffirmed my path every time. I kept learning and growing, both as a writer and a believer.

What I thought would happen in my early twenties is finally coming to be in my early forties. In thirteen days my first novel, Faith’s Journey, releases. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to see God moving this dream to fruition. But it’s more than that. God has given me an extra gift. He’s shown me why this didn’t happen before.

As do most twenty year olds, I had the world figured out. I had felt what I thought was the deepest depths of pain. I’d lost people I loved. I’d had disappointments. But in reality, I had only been refined in the flames of a candle, maybe a campfire, the kind you roast marshmallows on. Hot? Yes, but nothing compared to the heat and destruction of a raging wildfire. Child’s play when placed side by side with the fire needed to refine metals like iron.

It wasn’t until my late twenties and into my thirties that I experienced this type of refining. All my childhood lessons of faith became more necessary to life than I’d ever thought possible. They weren’t unimportant before that time, but after, I realized how much I took faith for granted. I needed God in a more tangible, undeniable way.

This new understanding grew my faith. It provided a deeper understanding of what it means to live by faith. My refining had nothing to do with my writing, and they didn’t have to change it. But as I dealt with these experiences in my life, I was shown something that has impacted my writing. Through other believers, I came to understand that I can hoard the things God has done in my life or I can share them. In sharing the pains, lessons, and joys, others can benefit as I have benefited from those who came before me.

I had a choice. God wouldn’t force the issue, but His desire was clear. Use what I experienced to minister to others. This doesn’t mean every circumstance I write is something that happened to me. Every character is not someone from my life. My novel is fiction. The people and situations are products of my imagination. But the lessons I have learned, the joys I’ve had, and pains I have known can find their way into the pages I write. The scriptural truths God has used to keep me going as I’m being refined can be a source of encouragement for others who are going through their own refining process.

This is why God’s path to my destination looked so different from mine. This is why it had to take time. The story was not ready. I was not ready. I may have known where He was leading, but I couldn’t see why the path to get there was so long. I thank Him for each painful fall and strength sapping climb that has brought me to where I am today. I pray that as I continue along this path, I will hold tight to the lesson I have learned. It’s not simply His will. It has to be His will, His way.

By the Book: Read the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and consider what it means to say whole-heartedly “Your will be done”. Read the story of Abraham after God promised him a son. What happened when Abraham went after God’s will in his own way rather than God’s way?

Granny's Way

Katherine Angeline Winterstein Robinson McGowan was my great-grandmother, and she was a force to be reckoned with when you came alongside her stubborn streak. Growing up, Granny told me stories and taught me to embroider and quilt. I was the favored one who could go through her souvenir handkerchief collection and her jewelry box whenever I wanted. But when it came to cleaning, even I ran into her iron will.
While cleaning her living room, Granny insisted I was vacuuming her floor incorrectly. What she wanted would take twice as long, serving no real purpose. I told her this, but it did me no good. Granny insisted her way was the only way. So, I did the only reasonable thing. I waited until Granny left the room and completed the task the way I had started it. Of course, Granny never found out I failed to complete my task her way.
Maybe we’re all a little like Granny sometimes. I knew from the time I was a kid that I wanted to write. As I experienced more writers, my desire to write grew. I wanted to do for others what my favorite authors did for me. As I matured in my relationship with God, I knew He wanted me to use whatever ability I had along with my passion for writing to minister to others. I can’t tell you exactly how I knew, but I knew.
You’d think there would be freedom and maybe joy in finding out what God has for you. Instead, I knew frustration. I couldn’t see why God would clearly show me the path I was to take but not let me live it out. Sure, God used my writing in my home town ministries. He used it when I taught Sunday school and summer camp classes. He used it when I wrote lessons for our youth group. God never stopped using my writing, but it wasn’t the way I wanted it or in the time frame I wanted it to be in. I was as set in my ideas as my Granny.
At times, I questioned. Had I misheard? Did God have something else for me to do? And if so, why would He have given me this overwhelming desire to minister through writing? In these times, I gave my dream back to Him. God was faithful to give it back with encouragement to keep going. He reaffirmed my path every time. I kept learning and growing, both as a writer and a believer.
What I thought would happen in my early twenties is finally coming to be in my early forties. In thirteen days my first novel, Faith’s Journey, releases. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to see God moving this dream to fruition. But it’s more than that. God has given me an extra gift. He’s shown me why this didn’t happen before.
As do most twenty year olds, I had the world figured out. I had felt what I thought was the deepest depths of pain. I’d lost people I loved. I’d had disappointments. But in reality, I had only been refined in the flames of a candle, maybe a campfire, the kind you roast marshmallows on. Hot? Yes, but nothing compared to the heat and destruction of a raging wildfire. Child’s play when placed side by side with the fire needed to refine metals like iron.
It wasn’t until my late twenties and into my thirties that I experienced this type of refining. All my childhood lessons of faith became more necessary to life than I’d ever thought possible. They weren’t unimportant before that time, but after, I realized how much I took faith for granted. I needed God in a more tangible, undeniable way.
This new understanding grew my faith. It provided a deeper understanding of what it means to live by faith. My refining had nothing to do with my writing, and they didn’t have to change it. But as I dealt with these experiences in my life, I was shown something that has impacted my writing. Through other believers, I came to understand that I can hoard the things God has done in my life or I can share them. In sharing the pains, lessons, and joys, others can benefit as I have benefited from those who came before me.
I had a choice. God wouldn’t force the issue, but His desire was clear. Use what I experienced to minister to others. This doesn’t mean every circumstance I write is something that happened to me. Every character is not someone from my life. My novel is fiction. The people and situations are products of my imagination. But the lessons I have learned, the joys I’ve had, and pains I have known can find their way into the pages I write. The scriptural truths God has used to keep me going as I’m being refined can be a source of encouragement for others who are going through their own refining process.
This is why God’s path to my destination looked so different from mine. This is why it had to take time. The story was not ready. I was not ready. I may have known where He was leading, but I couldn’t see why the path to get there was so long. I thank Him for each painful fall and strength sapping climb that has brought me to where I am today. I pray that as I continue along this path, I will hold tight to the lesson I have learned. It’s not simply His will. It has to be His will, His way.
By the Book: Read the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and consider what it means to say whole-heartedly “Your will be done”. Read the story of Abraham after God promised him a son. What happened when Abraham went after God’s will in his own way rather than God’s way?

We Are Family

I have more families than I can count. I have a literal family. I’ve had a few church families throughout the years. When my children were toddlers, I had a mothers’ group family. One especially close to my heart is my SICC camp family. The faces in that one have changed through the years, but all of them are still family.

Looking back, I see the importance of each family group in specific times in my life. My literal family has helped shape who I am from the beginning.  My moms’ group family helped me navigate the tough toddler years. Though each church family has impacted my life, my Scottsboro church family was there when I needed a little more spiritual encouragement and love. I owe them greatly for helping me find joy in serving. My camp family, well, I can’t even begin to tell you what it means to me. I can’t imagine my life without each member. They’ve been there since I was six months old, and they play a part in many of my best memories and most of my spiritual development.

Recently, God has added to my family list. In this new writing adventure, He has gifted me with two amazing groups. One is a local Christian Writers’ group. God has used this group to motivate, challenge, and encourage me. We have fun, but we also prioritize growth in our writing. They helped me review and prepare Faith’s Journey to be sent to publishers. They were the first people to know about and celebrate with me when I got the contract for publication.

My other new writing family is made up of the Mantle Rock Publishing authors. I’ve never actually met any of the people in this family. We talk only through social media. But this amazing group has taken me in as one of their own. They’ve answered questions and given tips on everything from using social media to running a book launch party. We cheer each other on and learn from each other. Some have been in the family a long time, but others are relative new comers like me. It doesn’t matter. We all have something to add to the family.

That’s the great thing about chosen families. They each have a special place and fill a special purpose in my life. Each member adds their own unique twist to the family unit. They contribute something special that no one else could give in quite the same way. And, hopefully, I bring something of worth to each of them too. We make each other better, stronger. That’s what family is supposed to do.

That’s also what the church is supposed to do. God didn’t create us to work independently of each other. Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 are two of several scriptures that compare believers to a body. Each body part is unique in what it does and how it does it. Each body part is necessary to the health of the body. It’s why we are encouraged not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25). We were made to teach and encourage each other. We are meant to rejoice and cry with each other. When we show love to each other the way God intended, the world sees it and amazing things can happen. The first chapter of Acts details many times that God worked through His people and the result was an increase in believers. What starts off each of those miraculous times of ministry? Unity. The church was unified as one family of believers.

So what keeps us from working that way now? Why do so many believers choose to strike out on their own rather than being part of a body? It’s because our church families are like our literal families. If you have siblings, you know what I’m talking about. It’s hard to live without conflict in close quarters with people who are vastly different in personality and likes and dislikes. Sometimes, jealousy creates sibling rivalry. How can we admit our sibling’s idea is a good one? Won’t that mean our own idea wasn’t a good one? Why does that family member always seem to do the one thing they know bothers us worse than anything else?  Rather than holding tight to the things that unite our family, we let the differences deplete our patience, tearing us apart.

The things that creep into our literal families also threaten our chosen families, even spiritual families. What God designed to be one healthy body working in love and showing the world a different way to live, becomes a body riddled with the disease of sin. The family God gives us for our good becomes so dysfunctional that family members become estranged. As members strike out on their own, there are two losses. The person that leaves loses opportunity for the support and encouragement God meant for them to have. The ones that stay lose a little more of their ability to impact the world for God as the world judges them to be no different than everyone else. And who wants to be part of a dysfunctional family?

By the Book: Do you have a church family? If not, what keeps you from it? Ask God how to heal the hurts and find the family He has for you. If you do have a church family, is it working together as one the way God intended? Are you doing your part to help it function in love? Ask God to show you how to be the spiritual family member He designed you to be.

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