Smokin’ Hot

fried eggsSometimes my day feels like a cracked egg, running all over the pan in a yellowy glob of goo. Time slides fast. Out of control. Joy skitters away in the wake of unmet expectations.

From this broken shell of a place, the Holy Spirit whispers in the midst of waning joy, “Rejoice in me, the one who breathes fresh life in you.”

“Are you kidding?”

Of course, he isn’t. I know the chapter and verse:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:4-5

His invitation rings warm. And in this hope-stirred moment, I unclench my fists, wondering, Is joy really a choice? By focusing on God’s truth, can I turn up the joy knob a notch? Watch this broken egg that’s staring back at me bubble up warm in its rawness?

I look up joy in Bible Gateway and find it singing and shouting everywhere, even in the broken places of defeat.

“Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” Isaiah 52:9

I’m not used to singing in the midst of chaos. It hasn’t quite become habit yet. But I know neuroscience shows it positively affects our brain chemistry. Healthy thoughts register deep in our dendrites.

I also know that it’s easier to sing when I know who I am: chosen, redeemed, clothed in God’s righteousness. The same spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in me. In me. This little writer who longs to make a big difference.

God-dreams tick louder than time bombs. Do you feel their press to keep moving forward? We have much to say, but sometimes we stare blankly at that empty egg pan.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Thank you, God, for the gift of words. Crack me open for you. Pour me out raw. I want to flow in your joy and hope and all things good.

When life turns up the heat, we wait with confidence in his presence: hopeful, grateful, and open to the fact we’ll soon feel that first bubble. And one bubble will lead to another and another. And before we know it, whoa–we’re cooking, Baby! Smokin’ hot for Jesus. All we need to do is stay open in God’s great pan. Let him stir up our gifts and see what happens.

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” Psalm 37:23

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Why I Don’t Believe in Writer’s Block

It’s one of the most oft-asked questions I get as a writer and teacher: “What can I do about writer’s block?”

“Write,” I say. (I was going say, “Simple. Write.” Alas, I realize it isn’t simple. It isn’t easy.)

I tell people I don’t believe in writer’s block.

The PCT heading toward Oregon's Collier Cone.

The PCT heading toward Oregon’s Collier Cone.

Do the words sometimes come harder than at other times — or hardly at all? Sure.

Do you sometimes need to change things up to feel the mojo again? Sure.

Do you sometimes crave the idea of skipping that 5 a.m. appointment with your keyboard? Sure.

But this idea that we can’t move forward until the muse returns with open arms — no, that’s a crock. Basing your writing on feelings is no better than basing your life on feelings.

Sometimes you just have to power your way through.

It’s that way with anything we do. But writers seem to have created something of a self-fulfilling failure prophecy, a challenge apparently so insurmountable that we’ve given it an official name. And once something is named, it becomes an official malady.

Read: An excuse.

I don’t believe in writer’s block anymore than I believe in “plumber’s block” should the guy fixing my pipes suddenly find the going difficult. “Sorry, pal,” he might say as he gathers up his tools — and, of course, hitches up his, ahem, jeans. “Just not feeling it today.”

I don’t believe in writer’s block anymore than I believe in “surgeon’s block” should the doctor doing my knee operation find herself stymied. “Hey, Bob, hang in there. I’m going to flex out the rest of the day. Maybe catch a matinee to see if I can get back in the groove, you know?”

That’s not to say there aren’t things you can do to get yourself “unstuck.” Sometimes I’ll go back and read my piece from the beginning. Explain my plight to someone who knows my story with hopes they can jar something lose. Maybe even take a walk.

But this idea that you somehow need to wait until the “feeling” returns is bunk.

Ernest Hemingway said it well: “Easy writing makes hard reading. Hard writing makes easy reading.” Jack London claimed to have written 20 hours a day.

Part of writing is discipline. Is doggedly moving on. Is writing on even if the results aren’t perfect. Even when it hurts. Even when you’d rather be doing something else.

So, today’s efforts might not have rung your literary chimes. But they count for something. You persevered. To quit whenever it hurts it to make it that much easier to quit the next time. A lesson I learned while hiking the 452-mile Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail: “You must go when your body says no.” With writing, you must go when your mind says no.

Just last week, after a speech, someone in the audience asked me which of my books I’d written was my favorite. “They’re like children,” I said. “Each one is my favorite for a different reason. But the one I’m proudest of is American Nightingale because nothing in my nearly four decades of journalism has come with more difficulty. Nearly four years from idea on a Wendy’s napkin to seeing it on a Barnes & Noble shelf.” (I captured that research, writing, and promotional experience in a subsequent book, Pebble in the Water.)

Sometimes I draw inspiration from fellow writers. I do a lot of 5-a.m.-to-9 a.m. book writing before I go off to be a newspaper columnist. If my alarm goes off and I don’t want to get up I remember my novelist friend Jane Kirkpatrick and think this: Jane has already been on her keyboard for an hour.

Or because I write a lot about inspirational people, I’ll think about something they soldiered through — war, disease, the death of a loved one — and think to myself: Buck up, pal. This is just stringing together words. You’ve got it easy. 

Loaves, Fish, and Writers

Late in the afternoon the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” 

He replied,  “You give them something to eat.” 

They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.”  (About five thousand men were there.)

But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”  The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  Luke 9:12 – 17

Give it up

Poking at God about what I could cook for you today, he flipped this sizzling little fish story onto my brain plate.

Eyes scrunched on “impossibility” rather than on the Master of limitless capability, it’s easy for us writers to be disciple-like and condescend to natural-mindedness.

The crowds aren’t growing less hungry, aren’t inching any closer to food. Cloistered in the middle of nowhere, fatigued and famished, the beloved twelve scratch their heads before Jesus speaks: “Give the people something to eat.”

As we shake our heads at our scanty drizzle of words, Christ tells us the same: “Give the people something to eat. Don’t worry about sparse resources or small beginnings. If I’m in it, as sure as the heavens, you can make a difference.”

“Give them something to eat.” 

Thrust in this love-test, the apostle John records a different angle in sharing Philip’s retort: “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite.” Andrew speaks up. “Here’s a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

No matter how measly, how un-supersized our flounderings, if God calls us to serve fresh truth in a word-stir, if he speaks the royal “ok,” we step up.

Notice how Jesus dishes up faith-stretching instructions to the disciples. Directing five thousand people to sit in groups of fifty is no small potatoes. It takes time and sweat. Just like advancing in writing.

And so we lift our minuscule loaves and fish, and give thanks.

Give Thanks

Wouldn’t you give your lunch to see the puzzled looks on those hungry faces when Jesus raises his bitty snacks to give thanks?

Thanksgiving flows from a posture of humility. The soul bends low, acknowledging our Sovereign Source, his power, ability, and desire to provide.

Jesus gives thanks and his fingers rip the bread. I wonder if he considers how his flesh will soon be broken to feed many.

Writers know about brokenness, the heart-deep pain-sap that drives and feeds our meanderings. With battle scars, we give thanks to the living Word who uses our words and wounds to paint blood-colored pictures of grace.

No matter how few or many we touch, we give thanks for the opportunity. Chosen conduits of hope, we’re blessed to be a blessing. Our words, charged with Spirit-power, awaken God-hunger. They sustain and multiply life!

Whenever we naturally live out thankfulness, we display God’s bigness to a hungry, watching world. We become more than wishful thinkers about remote possibilities.  We reveal supernatural expectancy. This is how the world sees truth in us as we step up to our dream.

Expect Much

“It will take a miracle to get published!” We say it like miracles are viruses when they’re more likely God’s favorite pastimes.

Food in hand, Jesus says thanks because he expects the miracle. He prays and “looks to heaven.” He isn’t focused on his stomach, the food, or the crowd, but on his Father, the source.

The more we fix our eyes on God, the more we see miracles. The more we see miracles, the more we look for them in him.

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…” God’s prayer transcends the “me,” and rests on “us,” because we, in the body, are one, and because love necessitates caring for those outside ourselves.

If we want to use our love gift to nourish souls, we can expect God’s provision to match his call. I haven’t forgotten that we can also expect spiritual warfare (perhaps even intensified tests from a rattled enemy), but ultimately mercy triumphs over Satan’s thievery. God promises to give us everything we need to win!

This gift, this impervious spawning of words, isn’t an instant dinner miracle; rather, it’s a progressive one, a long-term partnership with Chef Jesus.

Part of the miracle involves staying with the process. If God says, “Get everything and everybody in place,” that’s what we do. We plunge in for the long run, expecting to produce sweet fruits like patience and perseverance. Likewise, we expect readers, writers, characters, and observers to be transformed by our faithfulness.

We’re Christ-followers, sojourners on the cusp of miracles. In the course of our collective, out-of-this-world writer-journeys, we can expect nothing less than God cooking up his best.

Bon appetit!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11. 

Honoring the Writer’s Call

Remember the Call

As ambassadors of the written word, we’re called to awaken people to truth. Rubbing words together, we set the world on fire!

Above publishers and agents, God’s our number one boss. With pure, submitted hearts, we make it our mission to please him first.

Am I on the right track, Father? What do you want me to share today? These are the questions we ask.

We try not to judge and compare ourselves with other writers because we know God equips each of his instruments for different specific tasks.

When fearful, overwhelmed, and wondering why we chose this career/ministry path in the first place, we remember… God never calls us where his grace won’t sustain us.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Gal. 6:9

Persevere in the Call

When tempted to distraction by potentially good things like social media, movies, and chats, we’re privileged to consult our boss: “Please show me what to do and give me the strength to carry it through.”

When tempted to discouragement by trials, we understand they’re God’s method of making us stronger, more Christ-like, and more effective in our writing.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Rom. 8:28

Because we clearly know we have been called to write, we persevere when people judge us, and we remind ourselves it only matters what God thinks, and the Lord sees every heart. 1 Chron. 28:9

We persevere when our paychecks are sparse because we know God will supply all our needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:19

We persevere when the road is rough and slow and we can’t see ahead because we know who leads us each step of the way. (Ps. 37:23)

Balance the Call

Balance starts with rest, and rest starts with prayer. Jesus walked a tight deadline, but rose before dawn to commune with his Father. He snuck away from the crowds to reconnect. Do we sneak away from our characters to bless the Word of words?

Jesus waited on His Father for wisdom and wants us to do the same; but it takes trust.  (James 1:5-6)  When it comes to trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, we often get it backwards, and lean on our own understanding first. Then, when things go awry, we cry “Help me!” and ask him to direct our path. He will, but we must first acknowledge him.  Prov. 3:5-7

Jesus only spent three years in ministry; however, his thirty preparation years were just as important because they defined and nurtured the Father/Son relationship, enabling him, in the right time, to turn the world upside down by submitting to His Father’s peculiar but brilliant plan of reaching the Jews first, then the Gentiles.

God writes a different plan for each one of us. He calls some of us to blog first, others to write books first, and still others to do both at the same time – in balance.

Whether we’re writing, speaking, networking or spending time with the family, God isn’t just interested in what he’s doing through us; He’s interested in what he’s doing in us.  He wants us to joyfully trust him so we can honor him with our calling.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  Jer. 29:11

Please talk to us about remembering, persevering, and balancing God’s call to write. We’d love to hear your stories, lessons, insights, and experiences.

And what is God reminding you about today?

My First Rejection: the Twenty Year Ache

I received my first manuscript request in fourth grade.

My teacher invited me and another student to write a short story. The prize for the winning submission was breathtaking: a trip to a young writer’s workshop, where we would learn from real writers and hobnob with kids who, like me, dreamed secret stories deep in our young hearts.

For a ten year old, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I poured myself into my story, sparing no imaginative fancy. I don’t remember many details, only that it featured talking animals, a charging knight, and puppy love romance. I thought it was spectacular, one of a kind. I submitted my story and waited for the happy news.

A few days later, the teacher called me to her desk. Her soft, sympathetic voice set my knees to trembling. Why did she sound sad? Didn’t she have good news to deliver? “I’m sorry,” she said.  She’d chosen the other student’s story, a vignette about a visit to grandma’s house.

Oh, that rejection hurt. I cast green eyes at the winner and felt sick the day he attended the workshop. While he worked with grown-up writers, I solved math problems and filled out worksheets, just like every other school day.

If I’d been a stronger, more self-assured child, I might have pondered that grandma story. I might have learned the first adage of beginning writers: “write what you know”. I might have considered the fact that readers can relate to a visit to grandma’s, but no one can relate to talking ducks, fanciful knights, and puppy love. . .all in a single-page story.

I might have, but I didn’t. Instead, my young writer’s heart sported a big, throbbing bruise. But I didn’t talk about my writing, not to anyone.  So I came to my own conclusion: I wasn’t good enough. And that was that.

I couldn’t stop writing, though. I wrote poems and journal entries, short stories and personal narratives. I wrote frantically, then tore my words to shreds. Sometime I tucked my writing under my bed or in pages of childhood books, never to be seen again, even by me.

Meanwhile, I learned to deliver what my teachers wanted. An essay with a topic sentence and three paragraphs? Done. A summary of The Grapes of Wrath? Done. I earned good grades, but protected my writer’s heart with layers of bricks and barbed wire constructed from that fourth grade rejection.

I protected too dearly, and finally stopped writing all together. For twenty years I wrote nothing but grocery lists until, a few years ago, the writing exploded out of me with all the force of a long-dormant volcano.

Predictably, I still face rejection on this road to publication. But I don’t hide my words or tear them up anymore. I expect the hurt of rejection. I even embrace it, if I can. Because I understand now: the best stories come from bruised and throbbing hearts that don’t hide, don’t shred, and refuse to give up.