On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. Matthew 2:11
Yesterday I read an article listing the ten best Christmas gifts for writers. Pens and markers, Starbucks gift cards, back and neck massage — all good. This brought to mind the story of Harper Lee and an article that she wrote for McCall’s magazine in 1961 describing her best Christmas gift. She was staying with her friends in New York for the holidays. Christmas morning she was surprised by their gift to her. In a simple envelope on a slip of paper was written:
“You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”
The family providing the gift was not wealthy, they were raising young children. In their gift they gave a young writer hope and encouragement. Who can measure the impact on hearts around the world of To Kill a Mockingbird?
Harper Lee reflects on the gift:
“Outside, snow was falling, an odd event for a New York Christmas. I went to the window, stunned by the day’s miracle. Christmas trees blurred softly across the street, and firelight made the children’s shadows dance on the wall beside me. A full, fair chance for a new life. Not given me by an act of generosity, but by an act of love.”
What can we offer this Christmas?
Our best gifts are given not as acts of generosity but as acts of love.
Merry Christmas, The Writing Sisters
“And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest.
They are the magi.”
- O. Henry, “The Gift of the Magi”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Then the angel left her. Luke 1:38
…I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.” And the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary.
The rat pushed the paper away from him wearily, but the discreet Mole took the occasion to leave the room, and when he returned again sometime later, the Rat was absorbed and deaf to the world alternately scribbling and sucking the top of his pencil. It is true that he sucked a good deal more than he scribbled; but it was a joy to know that the cure had at least begun.
Kenneth Grahame – The Wind in the Willows
Writing can heal the writer. When we share our stories, we share our hurts and pains and let light into the dark places.
As a counselor I worked with women who had experienced grief. Nothing was more powerful in healing than the sharing of their stories often in the form of letters to the lost loved one. In the writing and sharing was healing for the writer. In the telling of stories came understanding and connection and often the beginning of the healing process.
Journaling is a tool for understanding confusing emotions and clarifying hurtful thoughts. Naming the pain through words is hard but important in moving forward. Naming the joys helps us fully appreciate our blessings.
Writers have the unique occupation that brings constant revelation and introspection that can cause understanding and healing in the writer. My writing shows me what I think and helps me to understand my life.
When we write, we are changed.
Have you been healed or changed by your own writing?
Betsy Duffey writingsisters.com
I always write better when dinner is cooking in the crock pot. This is Laurie’s recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup. Like all of her recipes, so easy and so good.
Laurie’s Chicken Tortilla Soup
Combine in a crock pot:
1 jar of mild salsa (64 oz)
2 cans black beans drained
2 cans yellow corn drained
2 chicken breasts.
Cook all day on low.
Before serving remove chicken breasts and shred the meat. Add the chicken back to the soup.
Stir in one 8 oz brick of cream cheese. Yum.
Serve with tortilla chips.
Enjoy. Mine is already cooking.
She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:7
What can a donkey teach us about writing? Recently at a Bible study I was challenged to experience Scripture with all five senses.
When we read the stories with our senses, we begin to think: What did it smell like? What did it sound like? What did they feel? What did they see? What did they hear? The stories become alive and real as we enter the scene with our imaginations. God gave us the senses to help us experience the world. When we bring those five senses into our writing we make our writing come alive for the readers.
We’ve been working on a Christmas story, and what better way to deepen our writing than to visit a farm. With Priscilla, our donkey friend, we were able to experience the farmyard sensations first hand. When we write about Mary traveling to Bethlehem, and think that she may have ridden on a donkey, we want to know: What did she see when she looked down at the donkey’s ears? What did her hand feel resting on his neck? What did she hear? And of course there were smells!
When we write about Jesus being placed in a manger we need to remember the sounds of animals and the smells of a stable. The Son of God came to earth and experienced the fullness of the senses.
Our visit gave us the details we needed and brought life into our writing as we worked on our Christmas story. God has blessed us with sights and smells, sounds and tastes and the ability to touch. Today may I write with all five senses!
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~ Anton Chekhov
Insight is defined as the faculty of seeing into inner character or underlying truth. As a writer I must constantly look beyond outward appearances to seek the truth, the inside story. Like the rings of a tree, the story is hidden. I learned this lesson recently at a dinner party.
“I have a lot of stories,” my dinner companion said leaning forward over her plate. The party around us seemed to recede and her eyes grew more intense, “Yes, I have many, many stories.” She didn’t look like a woman with “stories.” There was no indication in her smart dress and pulled together look that she had led anything but a charmed life. But there were the stories.
She told of growing up in an eastern European country and being exiled with her mother and grandmother at the age of two. Between bites of broiled salmon and cranberry salad she told a story of her mother, a pianist, spending ten years in a labor camp. And then she told the story of her separation from her own daughter who was in the United States when martial law was declared. Three years later she saw her daughter again. Time stood still as we talked.
Hidden within a tree, each ring symbolizes a year of life. Years of drought, the ring is small. Years of plenty, the ring is wider. We hold inside of us our stories, the thin rings, the thick rings. The good times, the bad times are written in our brains and in our hearts.
“I have many. many more stories,” my new friend said as she left and I knew she had spoken for us all.
May I always look beyond appearances to see the inside story.
Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7
I thank my God every time I remember you.
The table is set, a feast is prepared. Empty seats wait for guests. If we could give a feast of gratitude and fill the seats with those to whom we owe thanks, who would we invite?
As a writer I need to remember that my ability, creativity, and the practice of my craft has been shaped and molded by others. As a reader I remember that I have been transformed by the presentation of truth in the efforts of writers who have come before me. I am thankful for each of them.
I’m thankful for my mother who showed me perseverance in a writer’s life by faithfully writing through eleven years of rejections. For Corrie Ten Boom who taught me about forgiveness. For Catherine Marshall who taught me that prayer was real and possible. For C.S. Lewis who showed me that theology can be read and enjoyed. For JRR Tolkien who showed me the power and truth in story. For A.W. Tozer who wrote on his knees and Oswald Chambers who gave his life to follow his calling. For Watty Piper who taught me that I could, and Margaret Wise Brown who made it safe to say “Goodnight”.
Many writers lived, worked and sacrificed before my time, gifted by the grace of God. They have helped me to move forward.
Thank you. Thank you.
The table is set. Empty seats are waiting. Who would you invite?
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Sir Isaac Newton
“I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes.”
I’ve been in a critique group for 20 years. It is one of my most valuable assets as a writer. Through the years people have come and gone in our group and I’ve seen different reactions to criticism. Some soak it in, jotting down notes and asking questions for clarity. Others become defensive and discouraged. I’ve reacted both ways.
How do you respond to criticism – not just in your writing, but also in your Christian life? Perhaps the criticism is from a person, or maybe the Spirit of God is revealing areas of sin. Does criticism send you into a downward spiral, thinking you are a “bad” person?
Not many of us will get better (in our writing or life) without some critique. So how do we respond positively, avoiding the downward spiral?
First – Start with the gospel. (For God so loved …John 3:16) As Christians we tend to think the gospel only relates to our salvation. But the gospel is so much more, and can be applied throughout your life.
When you receive criticism, remember: You are loved! That’s the gospel. Think of all the wonderful “R” words in the Bible: redeem, reconcile, restore, recover, resurrect, renew, return, regenerate. God wants to continue to do those things in your life because He loves you. Embrace opportunities to “consider your ways”.
And what about writing? If you’re not in a critique group, I encourage you to join one. Embrace opportunities to “consider” your manuscript and apply some of those “R” words, including the biggest “R” word of all for writers … rewrite.
Submission means to yield to the power or authority of another.
As a writer to submit means the moment of terror that I experience when I drop the envelope into the mail slot or hit send on my computer. Submission means judgment of my work. I love the story of E.B.White begging the mailman to return his just sent manuscript. I have felt the same desire to hold on one more day.
Can we write with the spirit of submission to God? What difference would it make to start with submission, instead ending with submission. If I can submit the work to God first then the fear of submitting to man disappears.
Catherine Marshall writes in Adventures in Prayer about this Godly submission during the writing of her first book, A Man Called Peter.
About midway in the manuscript, I received devastating criticism from one whose judgment I trusted. He told me bluntly, “You haven’t even begun to get inside the man Peter Marshall,” And he was right, that was the sting of it. The realization of my inadequacy as a writer was not only an intellectual one. It was also emotional; there were plenty of tears. But out of the crisis came a major realization.
In my helplessness, there was no alternative but to put the project into God’s hands. I prayed that A Man Called Peter be His book, and that the results be all His too. And they were.
The book was published and sold millions of copies all around the world. My best writing comes when I give up control of the results and begin to see my books as God’s books.
May I write today with submission.
Where will the words come from today? What will be my inspiration? Inspire means to breathe. The inspiration that I seek, like the air that I breathe, must come from a source outside myself.
Karla M. Kincannon in Creativity and Divine Surprise writes about what happens in our work when we encounter “the creative energy of God.” “The encounter takes the artist…where she or he cannot go independently.”
“When we cooperate with the God who encounters us on the pilgrim’s journey we become servants of the Divine, doing the work of Love even as we allow it to be done in us. The end result always embodies greater significance than we could have accomplished on our own.”
Frederick Buechner writes about inspiration in The Eyes of the Heart:
“I don’t mean a truth that I thought up on my own and then put into her mouth, but a truth, instead, that came to me out of God only knows where, the way Godric came to me once, and Leo Bebb, the way all my life moments have occasionally come to me when I said more than I knew and I did better than I am.”
Inspiration from God comes when I open myself up to His creative energy and choose to cooperate with His work in the world.
This is my prayer this morning, that with God’s inspiration I may say more than I know and do better than I am.