Thursday, February 11, 2016

Holy threads, consecrated strands, hallowed fibers, blessed filaments

God’s footprints alongside ours, His fingerprints all over our lives: Divine intervention.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? We like having God intimately involved in our lives.

But “…divine intervention is nowhere near as simple a thing as we might imagine,” writes Ravi Zacharias (Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives).

Think about this:

Sometimes those footprints are muddy.

Sometimes tattered, holey shoes left those footprints.

Sometimes those fingerprints are sticky, smudged, scarred, bloody.

Divine intervention “cannot be only a journey of unmistakable blessing and a path of ease,” Zacharias continues. “To allow God to be God we must follow him for who he is and what he intends….

Each of us has heartaches, disappointments, failures.

Many experience betrayal. Unfaithfulness. Abuse.

Some of us know hunger and sickness and handicaps and homelessness.

We know loss, grief, weariness, confusion.

We know hopelessness.

Other times our lives seem hum-drum: We’re boring people living boring lives. We wonder if our lives matter, if we are worth anything of value.

“…incident follows incident helter-skelter leading apparently nowhere,” Frederick Buechner writes, “but then once in a while there is the suggestion of purpose, meaning, direction, the suggestion of plot….” (The Alphabet of Grace)

That’s what Zacharias calls us to see: “the designing hand of God and his intervention in our lives” so that “we know he has a specific purpose for each of us and that he will carry us through until we meet him face-to-face….

Although sometimes life is blah, other times life knocks the air out of us, if we let Him, and work with Him, God uses all of it to shape us and polish us and mature us and beautify usthough we might not understand it at the time, or even see it.

Zacharias challenges us to imagine our lives as exquisite fabric—vivid, brilliant colors with threads of gold and silver intertwined—and to see God as the “Grand Weaver… with a design in mind for you, a design that will adorn you as he uses your life to fashion you for his purpose, using all the threads within his reach.”

You are His workmanship, His treasure
Your life is sacred.

God is custom-making the fabric of your life. Look back over the years and search for each thread and color—the dark ones and the pastel ones, the heavy ones and the light ones, the coarse ones and the golden ones. Those are holy threads. Consecrated strands. Hallowed fibers. Blessed filaments.

Search for—make it your quest to—discover the excellent, one-of-a-kind pattern the Grand Weaver is creating out of you.

Go back: look for spools of thread, God-designed, for you alone. Watch and listen for the sound of the shuttle going back and forth in God’s hand. He’s making something beautiful of your life.

The more you grasp
and that He’s crafting you
into His masterpiece,
the better you can write
your God-and-you stories
and the better you can
share them with your children,
grandchildren, great-grandchildren,
and generations yet unborn.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: From generation to generation

Here’s your 15 seconds of inspiration, your Tuesday Tidbit:

“Some of the best stories
are those spun from everyday life
or from our past.
Family stories are held together
and handed down
from generation to generation
in stories.
And these strong cords of memory
actually become
the ties that bind.”
(emphasis mine)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The stranger’s story

Almost three weeks ago my beautiful niece, not yet thirty, nearly lost her life. A wicked virus attacked muscles from head to toe, leaving her almost completely paralyzed.

Imagine yourself in her place there in the ICU—I’ll call her “L.” She had no use of her arms or legs or facial muscles. She couldn’t speak, swallow, or smile. She couldn’t toilet herself. What a scary, helpless feeling!

After a week of intense intervention, the staff sat her in a chair but she couldn’t keep herself there: They had to strap her against the chair back.

I can only imagine the thoughts and questions racing through the minds of L and her young husband. What if she doesn’t heal completely? Will she spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair? Will she be able to have children? Will she lose her job? If so, she’ll lose her medical insurance. How can she pay her exorbitant hospital bills? And on and on …. This evil virus could destroy all their hopes and plans and dreams.

By God’s grace and in answer to many prayers, little by little doctors and nurses and medicine defeated the virus. Now L has started to regain some use of muscles. She’s now in an acute rehab center and has a long, long recovery ahead of her—maybe a year. Maybe longer.

L is fighting fear, discouragement, and heartache, but she’s also experiencing answers to prayers. She’s determined to fight hard and not give up.

She’s a very brave young lady but the reality is this: She’s fighting a major battle and no one knows how it will end.

Enter a perfect stranger. Two days ago. A young man, age 24.

He told his story. One year ago, he said, he occupied the room is in now, suffering from the same syndrome.

He came, he said, because he wanted L to see how well he was doing after a year. He encouraged her to be patient while her body heals and to work hard at physical therapy.

He urged her to stay positive. He pointed out how important family and friends are to successful healing.

He said he wanted to encourage L with his story and—get this: He said his life is better now for having endured that awful virus.

His story reminds me of the ways God works everything out for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28). It also reminds me of the ways God comforts those who mourn and can bring beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:2-3).

What hope, what encouragement L and her husband and parents received from that young man! God bless him for sharing his story!

 “Stories link past, present, and future in a way that tells us where we have been (even before we were born), where we are, and where we could be going,” writes Daniel Taylor in Tell Me a Story: The life-shaping power of our stories (emphasis mine).

By sharing his story, the young man who visited my niece offered L a glimpse of hope as to where she “could be going.”

“… Healthy stories,” continues Taylor, “challenge us to be active characters, not passive victims or observers…” That’s what the young man and his story did for L: he reminded her that even when she gets discouraged, even when progress is slow, she needs to be active, not passive, in her healing.

“Our stories are interwoven,” writes Taylor. “We cannot live our story alone because we are characters in each other’s stories.” That young man saw himself as a character in L’s life, and recognized that his story and hers are interwoven. He knew he had to tell her his story.

You know where I’m going with this:

Write your stories.
Then share them with others.
Someone—maybe even a stranger—
needs to know your stories.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Wait until your story is ready

Making peace with our problemsour heartaches, disasters, tragedies, mysteriesoften takes time. God's timetable is usually different than oursHe often makes us waitbut within our waiting, God acts (even if we don't sense that He's doing anything).

So, too, our stories: Stories need time to marinate.

Remember a memoir's unique characteristics: It requires reflecting on the past, looking back to an earlier time, pondering what happened, and examining what it means now, years later.

Perhaps you've discovered that in your waiting, your story has come to maturity.

You've found some answers long hidden. You've discovered some clarification over past mysteries.

Your story has ripened. It is ready.

It's time to begin writing your memoir.

Here's something interesting and delightful: In writing your rough draft, God will continue working. Even more puzzle pieces will fall into place. You'll stumble upon answers that evaded you to long. You'll find additional healing from past heartaches. How amazing is that?!

There you have it, 
your 15 seconds of inspiration, 
your Tuesday Tidbit.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

“Zipped into your skin”

Write your memoir so that your "reader gets zipped into your skin," in the words of memoir guru Mary Karr.

Think back: Think of a book that made you feel you were in the story, smelling scents she smelled, tasting flavors he tasted, seeing sights she saw, hearing sounds she heard, feeling textures he felt. 

That's the kind of memoir you want to write—one with sensory details (smell, taste, sight, sound, and touch) because they will draw your readers into your story with you.

And you want to draw them in, to "zip them into your skin," because that's the way your message will make its way into the hearts and minds of your readers.

Notice sensory details of sight and sound that Naomi Benaron used in her novel set in Rwanda, Running the Rift

“He stood until the truck became a speck in the red swirl of dust.... [H]e broke into a run down the road, where life paraded on as if nothing had changed. He strained up the hill, sacks of sorghum and potatoes draped over bicycle handlebars or stacked in rickety wooden carts. Children herded goats fastened with bits of string, lugged jerricans filled with water, trotted with rafts of freshly gathered firewood on their heads. Women chatted on the way to and from the market, basins filled with fruits and vegetables balanced like fancy hats.”  

Because I lived in East Africa for a several years, Benaron’s details put a big grin on my face—they transported me back. For those not acquainted with that culture, her details offer an authentic view of life there. Her words make the reader feel he’s in the scene. 

Notice details of sight, sound, and smell in another excerpt from Running the Rift:

“Market goers created a congestion through which the truck barely moved. In the dying afternoon, hawkers called out bargains, packed up unsold tools and clothing, used appliances held together with hope and string. Flies swarmed around carcasses of meat. The aromas of over-ripe fruit and gamy animal flesh made Jean Patrick queasy. A bicycle taxi swerved into their path…. The woman on the back loosed a stream of insults in their direction. The radio droned; the truck engine whined and coughed. Their bodies jostled together from the potholed road….”

Butch Ward offers advice inspired by Jacqui Banaszynski:

"Write cinematically.
Movies pull us through stories
with strong themes,
compelling characters and revelatory details.
Written stories can do the same thing.
Help readers see.
Zoom in tight on details or images
that have the most meaning;
be descriptive and specific.
(Not 'old boots.'
But 'blonde Fryes with scuffed toes
and heels worn down from years of walking the fenceline.')

Caution: Avoid subjecting readers to irrelevant details—details that don’t enhance your main characters or your setting, details that don’t pertain to the point of your story/vignette.

Extraneous details slow down your story. Even worse: They can bore your readers. If your Great-Aunt Louise visited you at a life-changing moment but was not a key player in that pivotal point, readers don’t need to know she was from St. Paul, wore hippie clothes, and smelled of pot. 

Revisit key scenes in your rough draft and ask yourself, "What did the place smell like?" Were you in a stable, or at the perfume counter at Macy's?

Ask yourself, "What noises were in the background?" or "What did her skin feel like?" If you were eating tadpoles in okra sauce, how did that feel on your tongue—what was the texture? the taste? the smell?

Include details
that invite readers into your story
and let them experience it like you did.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Will readers misunderstanding or misinterpret your writing?

Did you know that 80% of our communication is misunderstood?

Here’s how Kendall Haven says it:

“It has long been a guiding principle of writing that,
if there is any possible way
for readers to misread
and misinterpret
what you write,
they will.
The purpose of laborious
and tedious editing
is to make the writing so precise
that it cannot be misread
and misinterpreted.”
(emphasis mine; Kendall Haven, at A Storied Career)

Consider this oh-so-true statement:

“I know that you believe you understand
what you think I said,
but I’m not sure you realize that
what you heard
is not what I meant.”
(attributed to Robert McCloskey,
U.S. State Department spokesman)

So what are you, a memoir writer, to do about that?

After you've written a vignette—or two or three or ten—set your work aside for a few days (or better yet, a few weeks) and think about other things.

Later, print your manuscript. Reading it on a computer screen is different from reading it on paper. I can’t explain why that’s true, but it is: I always catch boo-boos on paper that I miss on the computer screen.  

With printout and pen in hand, read. You’ll be surprised how objective you’ll be after stepping back from your story for a while. Jot notes to yourself about changes to make.

Next, make those revisions, keeping in mind that every good writer revises his or her manuscript a number of times.

Set aside your manuscript again for a few days or weeks and then print it and read it aloud. Your ears can alert you to what your eyes missed. Repeat this step as often as necessary until you’re satisfied.

Put yourself in your readers’ shoes and, for their sake, clarify. Simplify. Spell out.

Ask yourself, “Will they understand my story? Is it clear?”

Have you used lingo (Christianese, for example) or language (foreign or technical, for example) your readers might not understand?

Reword everything that could cause confusion.

Most of all, have fun spiffing up your rough drafts! Revision is an art: polish your story and make it beautiful.

Remember, your stories are important. Stories can change individuals, families, communities, towns, nations—and even the world!

Stories can change lives for eternity. Write your stories!