Just Ask

The other day, while waiting on the phone before a live radio interview about my latest book, I prayed from my computer screen the Psalm that I had assigned myself as part of a memorization project a friend and I had embarked on. Our goal was not to memorize all the Psalms—that would be too hard—but just to acquaint ourselves with the gist of each one and memorize a favorite verse. Mine, from Psalm 2, was verse 7, in which the unspecified psalmist says, “I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have become your father’” (Psalm 2:7 NIV).

Interviews stress me. There’s no predicting what the host will ask. Sometimes they haven’t read the book, so I spend the whole interview trying to untangle what it’s really about from what the host thinks it’s about based on the title or cover material. Other times, they’ve read the book but have specific questions about parts of the book I’ve forgotten. Add to that the time constraints! A typical radio interview lasts only ten or fifteen minutes, including breaks for commercials and station identification. Invariably there’s a final question that begins, “In the thirty seconds before we break, can you explain …”

The worst part of radio interviews is that I’m very picky about how I say what I say—which is why I’m a writer and not a speaker. As a writer, you can revise your thoughts, or delete them entirely. In an interview, you’re committed to whatever crazy business emerges from your mouth in the moment.

Or maybe an even worse part of radio interviews is my general antipathy to self-promotion. Why can’t I just write, I wail inwardly, and leave that part of the publishing process to someone else?

To calm myself, I imagined the Father actually speaking the words of the Psalm to me: “You’re my daughter; today I have become your father.”

Frank Weston Benson--My Daughter Elizabeth

F. W. Benson–My Daughter Elizabeth

What a thrilling thought! The God of all creation as my actual parent.

When I got to God’s invitation in the very next line, though, I faltered: “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.”

Whoa, I thought. The Bible notes must be right. The unidentified “I” of the passage must be David or some Davidic king or even Jesus himself. Anyone but me.

“But you write books,” I sensed or imagined the Father saying. “Just ask. I’ll give you nations of readers.”

Asking for that was too awful to imagine—however much I might want it. I couldn’t pray the words, not even in the secrecy of my mind.

Just then, the radio host’s voice intervened. Ten minutes later, I hung up.

I was still thinking, That went okay. I didn’t embarrass myself that badly, when the host called back to thank me personally.

“I’m sure people everywhere have said this,” she said, “but your books really minister to me.”

People everywhere. Answers to my prayers rarely come so immediately or unambiguously. Or maybe they do, but I return so quickly to not expecting God to respond that I don’t notice when he does. Or maybe I don’t really dare to pray with abandon—and thereby reveal to my own Father what’s really in my heart.

What Disney Knew That Your Teacher Didn’t: You CAN Do It!

Find me one published author who never received a single “not the right fit” letter, and I’ll show you a fish with feathery wings. Whether at the educational stage, the agent stage, or the publishing stage, most have been told their work is not worthy.

I was lucky when it came to agents and publishers, but my rejection came earlier in life, when a high school teacher read my papers aloud ridiculing me in front of my peers. She teased me relentlessly (today it would be called bullying), and on the last day of my senior year in high school, she said to me, “I hope you don’t waste your scholarship to study writing. You may be able to write a greeting card, but that’s about as far as you’ll ever go.”

I made a mistake that day. I believed her. I put down my pen for nearly a decade and let way too many stories go untold.

That’s why, twenty years later, as Publishers Weekly gives me a starred review for my debut novel, I feel such tremendous excitement. Whether Into the Free sells two copies or two-hundred thousand doesn’t matter one bit to me. I now know one important thing: she was wrong.

Here’s what she didn’t teach us: God gives us each special talents, gifts, and dreams. Who are we, if we are not of God? What are our abilities, if not God-given?

I am a teacher, and I spend every bit of my energy trying to teach my children one lesson: You can do it!

I am tired of teachers telling us who we are and what we will or will not achieve. I am weary of labels and bell curves and standardized tests. I weep for this generation of children who are told you need x, y, z medications to fit into our box. And I mourn the countless souls who believed the people who said, “You’ll never…” or “You can’t…” or “You aren’t good enough…”

I say to you, today. You can. You are good enough. You were born for a purpose, and only YOU know what that is. Don’t let anyone discourage you from living YOUR life to its fullest potential. And if you fail, you’re only one step closer to succeeding.

Watch this little video clip I found on YouTube, and you’ll see…all great minds have a few things in common: failure, rejection, and a willingness to risk it all anyway.

Has anyone ever told you “you can’t”? What one piece of criticism has made you a better, stronger writer?