Write Stuff Wednesday: Hidden Stories

old-farmhouse-2535919__340“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” Orson Scott

There’s a small dilapidated house down the road from my grandmother’s house. The wood siding has long since faded and worked loose from the house. Shutters hang in crooked lines refusing to give up their final hold on the window and plunge to the ground. The porch is in shambles, and the yard is overgrown. I wonder why the owners don’t tear it down. It doesn’t serve a purpose.

Still. It draws and keeps my attention. The dark windows pull me in to find the house’s story. It’s the story of an old farming couple, shriveled through years of manual labor in the hot southern Illinois sun. It’s the story of disappointment, a childless couple with no one to care for the home they worked so hard to create once they’re gone. It’s a melancholy story that is as beautiful as it is sad.

It’s a very different story from the one birthed by the abandoned farmhouse near my in-laws house. The simple white house is newer in style. White siding is dingy but still intact. Large, glass windows stare out at me without shutters framing their dark depths. Another farming family lived here. They worked the land but with more modern conveniences. They shared meals with their children around a large kitchen table. There was laughter and love, but there was also discontent.

As the children grew, the life of the farm didn’t offer enough to satisfy. Though it left their parents with no one to carry on the family legacy, each child chose to leave for more lucrative lives in the city. The couple worked their farm, selling off bits and pieces to make up for the bad years, until their bodies could take no more. The home was reduced to a house after their deaths, and the land waits for a time when the children can agree on the proper way to dispose of it. It’s the story of the loss of a way of life and a lack of appreciation for all it held.

Two empty houses. Two different stories. But they’re each only one of many that could be told. Who knows where the truth lies? These are simply the stories I see first when I look at the two houses. What do others see? Two empty houses.

This is why I write.

The stories I see are different from the stories anyone else may see. And some people may not see them at all. That’s why writing is important. We can share stories others can relate to but not otherwise get to hear. We can put life back into empty houses.

But it doesn’t end with story-telling or houses. As believers, we each have a different story. We also have unique ways of approaching life. Just as writers need to see stories in the world around them, believers need to see the lives of the people around them.

We’re called to be salt and light to the world. We’re called to reach into the lives of others and change them through practically showing them the love of God. To do this, we must see their story. With empty houses and a laptop, I can imagine a story and shape it to fit my desires. With people, we need to dig deeper and find the truth. What do they need? How are they hurting?

When we see these things, we can act on their story. We can give love in an unlimited number of ways that will speak to their need. We can show them God through joining them in their story for a time.

And the beauty of it is, the people in need aren’t the only ones like empty houses. Each of us is a unique house on our own. When I step into someone else’s story, I bring my unique perspective, my own story into theirs. I can minister to their needs in a way that is different than anyone else.

This carrying of each other’s burdens, sharing in their joys, and showing them God’s love in practical ways is a believer’s calling from God. Not everyone may look at an empty house and come away with a story like a writer does. But seeing and responding to the stories of others is a trait every believer should cultivate in order to live their faith each day.

Write Stuff Wednesday Interrupted

living roomNormally, this is the day I feature a writing quote. It’s something to inspire, encourage, or challenge us to become better writers. Of course, it ties into a faith lesson. By the Book is the place where a love of God and good books meet. All of my posts from the writing focused ones on Wednesdays to the book reviews on Saturdays and the character interviews on Mondays work to bring these passions of my life together in a way that is hopefully helpful and meaningful to readers.

I try to stay consistent. Every article on blogging and writing preaches consistency. Knowing what to expect from the blogs you’re following is great. If I like a particular feature, I want to know when I can expect more of the same. But I have a confession to make.

Hello. My name is Heather Greer, and I failed at consistency this week. I didn’t read a book this week. That’s highly unusual. I have a library full of To Be Read books on my tablet. I blog book reviews. One of the requirements to do book reviews is to read books. Sure, I can grab an old favorite to write about every now and then, but I try to make sure my reviews feature fairly recent releases. Not finishing a book during the week hinders my ability to do that.

I didn’t post a review on Saturday. Friends from church came and laid my living room floor, which looks great by the way. They were done by early evening, and I had plenty of time to write a review. But I didn’t. Ten hours of cleaning, helping lay floor (even though my contribution was only helping pull staples out of the floor), and having people in my house wore me out. I didn’t have it in me to write a review.

I also didn’t post on Monday. It was a holiday from my nine to five job. I spent the morning grilling my family’s meals for the rest of the week, after all it would be a shame to waste good, hot charcoal once you’ve got the grill lit. I spent time with my elderly grandmother who was having trouble remembering why my parents weren’t home. It helped her to have someone to eat lunch with and to take her to buy orange juice and bread. Oh, and I wrote about 5,000 words on Grasping Hope. I thought about stopping to do my post, but I have a deadline with the publisher if the book is going to be ready for its March release date.

Being inconsistent wasn’t easy. Every time I thought about my missing posts, I suffered blogger’s guilt. Is that a thing? If not, it should be. Saturday I consoled myself with the idea that I would post on Sunday. I didn’t, but I did tell myself I would do it on Monday. We know how that turned out. I felt the same guilt on Monday, but my progress on my book eased my conscience.

As I considered my posting failures, the idea that I had become a slacker nagged in the back of my mind. I don’t want to be a slacker. I want to be productive. Today, as I considered what my post should cover, I knew my focus should be my blogging struggle. But it should do more than chronicle my failures. I needed to encourage too.

I don’t think I’m the only one who occasionally struggles with being productive. Maybe you’ve had an off week and feel a little bit like a slacker yourself. For me, these slacking tendencies affect my writing because it’s my ministry. I don’t know what ministries you’re involved in, but I’d be willing to bet whatever they are, that’s where your slacker tendencies show up. Ministry takes a lot of mental, emotional, and spiritual energy. Throw life into the mix (especially if you’re dealing with outside work, kids, or family issues), and it seems like you’re on a never-ending roller coaster ride suffering from motion sickness without the help of Dramamine. It’s exhausting.

I know I said I was going to encourage. Hang in there. It’s coming. The good news is God didn’t intend us to go 24/7 without a chance to care for our own needs. He didn’t rest on the seventh day of creation because He was tired. He rested to set an example. When Jesus was on earth ministering to the masses, scripture says there were times He needed to get away by Himself to pray. He was taking time to make sure He stayed strong spiritually, and He, too, was setting an example for us. It points to the wisdom in Ecclesiastes 3. “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven”. I think passage could include something like a time to review books and a time to lay floors with friends, a time to post and a time to write on your book, a time to minister to others and a time to minister to your family.

It’s not an excuse to stay in a place of slacking off. It’s not downplaying the importance of staying consistent. But it is an escape from ministry guilt (also not a term, but I think it should be), when it’s time for that much needed rest and recharging of our emotions, minds, and spirits. Sometimes, other things need to come first for a short time. We need to take care of ourselves to continue doing what God is calling us to do. So, take your break when needed, and then return to your ministry with a fresh energy and focus. It’s okay. A brief respite doesn’t make you a slacker.

By the Book: When was the last time you were proactive about taking care of own emotional, spiritual, and physical needs?

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?