Sunday, July 26, 2015

Lessons from the Trail

In future blog posts, I will share more insights about prayer that I learned in my quest to better understand it. Today, however, I’m continuing to share my writing journey.
Writing is a new work God is doing in my old age. It’s a huge blessing to me and I can only hope it will bless others along the way too. I thank Him daily for opening these doors, even though as is often the case, it was born out of a difficult and even dark time in my life.
I have a close friend named Susan Siami, whom I love to quote. I find her spiritual insights so inspirational. She once said, “I am so committed to my own agenda. And that agenda is zero pain for myself and those I love. God’s agenda is far greater than mine. He is producing a work in me and through me and often pain is the very means He uses to produce it.”
That certainly was the tool God used to begin my writing journey.
In 2009, I attended the Kentucky Christian Writer’s Conference, hoping to learn how to get my manuscript on prayer published. I came home thinking that goal was unachievable, at least at the time. I could self-publish but I had learned three things: 1) I knew very little about the publishing world, even after the conference, 2) I have editing issues. 3) I didn’t have a platform
I now know that I can pay an editor, and hire out other parts of the publishing process. And in fact I am in the process of self-publishing a small devotional book co-written with a friend. But at the time, getting a book out seemed impossible.
Writing still intrigued me. Actually, it did more than that; it pulled like a magnet. I had words I wanted to share and had spent the previous four years honing my ability to put them down on paper. (Learning to write on a computer came later. My 60,000+ word manuscript and my first few articles and devotions were all hand-written and transcribed onto a computer.)
The wheels started turning in my head. If I could start getting small pieces published, then I would be scratching that writing itch while building a platform too. A platform, for those of you who are not writers, was defined to me as the number of people who would read something simply because it was written by you. For me at the time that number was a big zero. Well, my mom and dad would probably read it, so maybe that number was more like two. J
So, I sat at my kitchen table one day, shortly after returning from the writer’s conference, sharing my thoughts with my daughter. I sheepishly told her about the great workshop on how to freelance small pieces and confessed my desire to try my hand at it. But who did I think I was fooling? I was not a writer.
My daughter looked up from her orange juice and said, “You know mom, the average American reader only reads at a sixth grade level.”

I burst out laughing and replied, “I can write at that level!”
And I sat down immediately and began transcribing a devotion I had hand-written in my journal onto my computer to send to The Upper Room. That devotion, titled, “The Day of Small Things” based on the question posed in Zechariah 4:10, “For who has despised the day of small things?” became the first piece I ever submitted. It was not the first piece I ever had published, because it takes a very long time from submission to publication with some devotional magazines. It was published a year and a half later in the February, 2011 issue of The Upper Room.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Ashes for Beauty

Harriet Michael's photo.

*The picture I posted is the one that ran in the newspaper, my senior year of high school when I won the “Bicentennial Minute” essay contest.

Isaiah 61:1-3 says in part, The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives … to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness …” (KVJ)
That is exactly what God did for me when He opened the doors to writing for me. He exchanged my spirit of heaviness for a garment of praise; gave me beauty for ashes.
The year was 2003 and someone close to me was hurting greatly after experiencing a trauma. I started praying, oh so, earnestly. And as I did, all of my prayers were focused on my friend, her pain, her trauma, her need for healing. But I happened to be reading the Psalms in my devotions. (I write the word happened facetiously as I do not think it was happenstance at all, but rather God’s divine leading.)
One day I noticed something interesting in how David and the other Psalmists petitioned God. They did not base their petitions on their needs. Oh, sometimes they did, and certainly they cried out to God, pouring their hearts out to Him and telling Him their problems. But these were not the basis for their petitions. Instead they based their petitions on God—who He is, His character traits, His power, for His glory, and so forth. This observation revolutionized my prayer life. I started asking for healing not because my friend needed healing, for example, but because God was the great physician, because He was merciful and full of loving kindness, etc.
Then I thought, “Wow, what else do I not know about prayer?” My missionary parents taught me to pray as a child, and I have prayed all of my life.  But I did not realize this truth; what else had I missed? 
I began a personal quest to understand prayer better. I read from Genesis to Revelation, seeking passages on prayer, or times when people spoke to God, praised God, or made requests of Him. In the Old Testament these were often in conversation form, but I still considered them prayer since they were communing with God. I journaled as I searched.
Four years later, I had a hand-written manuscript written. And my friend? She was and is doing well. Beauty for ashes for both of us.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Who Knew?

Last weekend I had the privilege of serving on the nonfiction panel at the Kentucky Christian Writer’s Conference. One of the participants directed her question to me, asking about my journey to publication. As I shared with that group, I realized some of my readers might like to hear the story too. I will tell it in a series of blog posts in the coming few weeks. Today I am reposting a condensed version of an article I wrote a few years ago titled, “Who Knew? I Became a Writer After All.” The original article was published in Writer’s Weekly, May 2011. It tells some of my writing journey but I will tell more in the next few blogs. Here’s the article:
The year was 1976. Our nation celebrated its bi-centennial anniversary and my community held a writing competition. Students from several area high schools were asked to write short essays called “Bi-centennial Minutes.” I participated because I had to…it was a required assignment in my English class. A few weeks later, a reporter and a photographer from the local newspaper walked into my high school and interviewed me. Why? –Because I had won the competition!
Another spring a year or two earlier, at my high school’s awards ceremony, my name was called as a “Laurel Leaf” winner. This award, given to a written piece, which I had submitted because, again, it was required in my English class. In other words, I had to. No one was more surprised that I won than me! You see, I could not spell or punctuate–at all. I punctuated written pieces like some people sprinkle salt and pepper on their food; I just sort of sprinkled some around in my written pieces, or so it appeared. I loved to write, but I grew tired of all the red marks my papers collected so when college came, I majored in nursing.
Several years ago, someone I loved struggled severely and I struggled along side of her. I longed to be able to pray more effectively for this person. I began a personal study of prayer, journaling as I gained insights. After a few years, my friend was better and I had a manuscript written. I discovered I loved writing, now that we have computers that can spell and punctuate for me.
A few summers ago, I read a newspaper blurb about an upcoming writer’s conference in my area. I longed to attend but I was not a writer, at least not a published writer. I showed the article to my husband, sheepishly confessing my new silly dream of becoming a writer. He encouraged me to attend. I laughed as I made plans to attend. I decided I would simply declare myself a writer.
The conference was wonderful! The speakers were great. I came back greatly encouraged and more excited than ever about writing. In one of the sessions, took a class taught by Lettie Kirkpatrick-Burress where I learned about writing small pieces like magazine articles and devotions, as well as how to find magazines in need of articles and how to write query letters.
I came home and tried what Lettie taught and to my surprise, I began getting contracts for my submissions. The money I spent on the conference was earned back and turned a small prophet in the first year. And guess what? Though no one saw it coming, I turned out to be a writer after all!