book review: humble roots

If we've talked very long recently, you've probably heard me mention something about growth mindset. It's a concept that crystallized for me this summer as I read Carol Dweck's book Mindset, which I reviewed in my last post. And that's been a book I've recommended numerous time this year, typically with a caviat that it's not written from a believing perspective. And I found myself thinking multiple times as I read the book, I wish there were a book that captured these key ideas but was written from a thoroughly believing perspective.
And then I signed up to join a Book Launch team for Hannah Anderson's new book Humble Roots.  
Near the end of my last post, I shared one of my key take-aways being: "Fixed mindset has a huge overlap with pride; and growth mindset strongly corresponds to humility."  
And as I read this delightfully rich exploration of humility, I found myself scribbling "growth mindset" in the margin, and I smiled in awe at the way God had already been working in Hannah's heart to work through this same crucial concept from a uniquely Christian perspective. 

"Humility is accurately understanding ourselves and our place in the world."
- Hannah Anderson, Humble Roots, p. 56

It started with a Facebook post. Long-time friend and kindred creative, Michelle Radford, shared a photo of a watercolor she'd been working on for Hannah Anderson's new book along with a link to join the Moody launch team. 

When my box came with two copies of Hannah's book, a little jar of grape jelly, and the watercolor print of a Red anemone (displayed on the typewriter in the photo above), I was thrilled! And despite being in full swing as resource director and academic coach, I finally sipped enough cups of tea and savored all eleven chapters of Hannah's book

Hannah has tilled the soil, working in the composted nutrients  of thoughts and Scriptures that have already nourished her soul. She has carefully prepared and thoughtfully placed each seed. Like the virtuous woman, she has brought her food from afar, borrowing from classic literature as well as natural history. She has weeded out all-to-common errors and has worked hard to keep her produce pure. And having labored long in love for the rest of us ladies whom she desires not to nourish (because a book this rich doesn't write itself), Hannah has at long last presented us with a beautiful package - like a beautiful Mason jar filled with preserved goodness to share - a book written for us ... and generations yet to be born. 

Hannah is a deep thinker, a theologian, and a lover of beauty. Her book abounds with beautiful metaphors, and she draws on a number of literary passages that are exquisite and classical. I remember wondering at one point if that form facilitated the message, or if some of the literary analogies were a bit lofty for a humility-themed book. But (to reflect on truly classic, albeit children's, literature) Charlotte's Web so kindly reminds: humility means not only humble in character but also low to the ground. And just as flowers push themselves up through the dirt, humility is a thing of beauty - but it takes hard work. So Hannah's quotes made me think, made me dig, made me work - but I truly believe that's a good thing.

And though well-versed in the literary, Hannah is in the end a down-to-earth West Virginia pastor's wife who writes from an honest-to-goodness searching soul. 
"Like many of you, I am in the throes of responsible adulthood - my days spent caring for family, serving the church, and pursuing good work. And ... I often find myself overwhelmed by these good things" (9). 
She has a charming way of connecting earthy realities with eternal truths. 

Largely drawing on her family's experiences in the farming community where her husband pastors, each chapter is an extended metaphor that urges the reader to get back to the root of herself and to embrace what God intended for us as human beings, to depend on and worship God from that freeing place of personal humility.
"Humility frees us to flourish as the human beings we were made to be: to celebrate the goodness of our physical bodies, to embrace the complexity of our emotions, and to own our unique gifts without guilt or feeling like an imposter" (12). 
Each chapter is like a thick slice of homemade friendship bread. Some are served with fresh-sliced tomatoes, some with honey. Others have a gracious plenty of bursting, hard-to-catch-all-the-juice blackberries. Snap green beans, sweet basil. Homemade jam. And fresh wildflower arrangements. And before too many servings, you feel as if you really are sitting across the farm table sharing warm bread and meaningful conversation with Hannah. 

I'll share a sampling just to whet your appetite: 

1. Red anemone. Rest vs. anxiety. "I had no large looming problems, only small ones that felt large. ... I was stressed and unhappy with a very normal life" (21). "Jesus understood this. He understood that small things can unsettle us more than large things; so when He called the people of Galilee to leave their anxiety - when He calls us to do the same - He does so in context of very mundane, very ordinary concerns. 'Do not be anxious about your life,' He assures them, 'what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on' [a quote from Matthew 6]. It's striking, really. Here, in the middle of arguably the greatest sermon ever, Jesus talks about our daily worries. ... He doesn't shame us for worrying about them. He doesn't tell us to just be grateful, to remember how much better we have it than other people. He doesn't tell us that we simply need to be more productive or to work harder. Instead, He asks whether our worry is actually accomplishing anything. ... He calls us outside our current perception of reality to remember who really cares for us" (26-27). 

2. Forsythia. Come to Me and find rest. "And suddenly trying to change the world - and seeing it stay very much the same - feels like nothing other than the weigh of the world resting on your shoulders. ... Pride convinces us that we are stronger and more capable than we actually are. Pride convinces us that we must do and be more than we are able. And when we try, we find ourselves feeling 'thin, sort of stretched ... like butter that has been scraped over too much bread' [A Tolkien quote]. We begin to fall apart physically, emotionally, and spiritually for the simple reason that we are not existing as we were meant to exist" (40-41). 

3. Wild grape. Identity. "If phylloxera was the cause of the blight, then growers had one option: a radical solution known as 'reconstitution.' In order to save their vineyards, some of which had been passed down through generations, they'd have to graft their healthy vines onto North American rootstock that was immune to the attack of phylloxera. The vines would retain their individual identity, but the roots would be foreign. To some growers, this suggestion was a greater offense than the blight itself. [Insert margin scribbling: fixed mindset.] In their pride, they convinced themselves of the sufficiency of their own roots and continued to use insecticides and other treatments to fight the symptoms. But the vines continued to die. And suddenly we begin to understand what's at stake in our fight against pride. What's at stake is our own sense of identity" (55). 

And Hannah sweetly leads us to John 15 and directs us to abide in Christ. "We too must be grafted. If we are to find rest from our stress, if we are to have any hope of escaping our pride, we must be grafted onto the one who is humility Himself. We can no longer simply be content to attempt to imitate Him; we must become part of Him in order to reflect Him" (57). 

4. Apple tree. Multi-generational impact.

5. Honey. Purity produced by humility.

6. Healing herbs. Emotions. "Humility brings rest to our internal life" (104). "I'm free to see the world from a perspective larger than my own heart" (106). "When we finally learn that God is greater than our heart ... [w]e are free to enter into our emotions, letting them do what God intends for them to do: draw us back to Himself. ... Humility does not shut down your inner life; humility redeems it" (114).

7.  Tomato. Wisdom ... and waiting. "Humility teaches us to forgo prepackaged, cellophane wrapped, artificially ripened answers to allow faith to develop naturally. ... to be less concerned with knowing the answers and more concerned with learning the answers" (129). "Easy answers aren't sustainable" (131). "Humility teaches us to wait" (133).

8. Milkweed. Gratitude and resourcefulness. "Humility teaches us that all is gift" (142). And though she doesn't quote Ann Voskamp here, this chapter reminds me of One Thousand Gifts. "God intends for you ... to become a humble, resourceful person, first by receiving His gifts with gratitude and then by cultivating them for the good of those around you" (152).

9. Green beans. Dreams and plans ... and trust. 

10. Blackberries. Hard things ... and goodness. "Blackberries with their prickly canes and lush fruit embody God's grace in the midst of our suffering. Even in the brokenness, there is life ... goodness ... hope. The humble person doesn't deny the pain  ... but ... she continues to forage for the sweetness that God has promised" (188). 

11. Crocus. Death and resurrection ... and rest. 

Humble Roots is a timely encouragement to flourish and find rest. And I sincerely hope you'll claim your own copy, break open the seal, and "taste and see that the Lord is good" and that His plan for humility is the most healthful and hopeful way to live. I think you'll also really enjoy Michelle's artwork. (Watercolor prints available at a 20% discount now through December 31, 2016. There are notecards too. Enjoy!)

And I'd LOVE for you to share how God uses this book in your life in the comments below. :) 

Multiplied grace and peace
 - and Merry Christmas! - 
with love, 

michelle

a review of carol dweck's mindset: the new psychology of success



This summer, as I began laying the ground work for a new resource program at our church's Christian school, I met with a handful of area professionals -- other resource teachers and program directors, some college Special Education professors, and a handful of local psychologists. I gleaned valuable insights from each. But one of the most transformational things I picked up was a book from Dr. Milt Lowder at the Lowder Group. "We give a book to each of our families, and often it's this one," he said as he placed a copy in my hand. "You'll love this." And he was right! The book? 

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. 

Image result for mindset book

Thoroughly researched, well-organized, and communicated in a clear and compelling way, this book explains how something as basic as your mindset translates into true success in every major category of life -- from sports to business, and from personal relationships to roles as parents, teachers, and coaches. 

THE FIRST THREE CHAPTERS set the stage, defining and exploring the two fundamental mindsets. They're worth reading (as tempting as it may be to jump into the categorical chapter that most intrigues you). 

The two mindsets are these: fixed and growth. 

Simply put, the fixed (or, performance) mindset wrongly assumes that a person's characteristics "are carved into stone," that they do not change. And this "creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. ... Every situation calls for a confirmation of [your] intelligence, personality, or character" (6).

But the "growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are thing you can cultivate through your efforts" and that "everyone can change and grow through application [effort] and experience" (7). 

Whether we have a fixed or a growth mindset in any given situation impacts both how we approach the situation, how and whether we perserve through the situation, and how we evaluate the results. 


Here are a few questions to help determine your current mindset: 

  • How do I face a difficult task? Avoid or embrace?
  • How do I respond to critique in the midst of a task? Justifying, arguing, quitting, or welcoming and adjusting? 
  • How do I respond to failure? Excuses, abadoning the project, or creatively and strategically working through it, determined to grow? 
  • To what do I attribute success? Innate ability or hard work and perseverance?
One of the most significant points in the book is that you can change your mindset! I've been thrilled this year already to see how this really simple truth has impacted myself, my family, and my students. It's incredibly encouraging


Throughout the book, Dr. Dweck relays a plethora of quotes and scenarios that flesh out what the two mindsets look likeAnd this is one of my favorite things about the bookIn fact, if you were to look in the back cover of my well-worn copy, you'd see that I've scribbled a long list of growth-minded individuals -- including athletes, coaches, educators, authors, inventors, artists, mathmaticians, and neurosurgeons. My goal is to build a library of growth mindset biographies for my classroom. 

CHAPTERS FOUR THROUGH SEVEN apply the principles from chapters one through three in the following categories: Sports, Business, Relationships, Parenting, Teaching, and Coaching. Just to let you sample, here is a set of quotes from each category:

Sports. 
"As much as our culture talks about individual effort and self-improvement, deep down ... we revere the naturals. We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don't like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary" (90, credited to Malcolm Gladwell). 
"When you read about an athlete or [a] team that wins over and over and over, remind yourself, 'More than ability, they have character'" (97, quoting Coach John Wooden). 

Business.
"They're not constantly trying to prove.... Instead, they are constantly trying to improve" (110). 
"When bosses become controlling and abusive, they put everyone into a fixed mindset. This means that instead of learning, growing, and moving the company forward, everyone starts worrying about being judged. ... It's hard for courage and innovation to survive a company-wide fixed mindset" (124).
"Think seriously about how to root out elitism and create a culture of self-examination, open communication, and teamwork. Read Gerstner's excellent book Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? to see how it's done" (143). 

For me, Dr. Dweck's insights in this business chapter were especially helpful -- even comforting -- in that it helped me pinpoint the impassibility of certain past circumstances that had been confusing and painful. This book helped me to see the very real struggle it can be for a growth-mindset individual to thrive under the authority of a doggedly fixed-mindset person or organization. And rather than allow the impass to define me, I've been able to move on -- better understanding the realities of the situation, finally able to choose not to define myself by that "failure," and even pitying those who had caused me pain - because as long as they persist in their fixed mindset, they are not winning. I can hope that they will change their mindset. But even if not, I can forgive and choose to be thankful for the lessons I learned during that season. And I can rejoice that I am now happily employed in a place where this growth-mindset is at the core of the culture! 

Relationships (Love).*
"In the growth mindset, there may still be that exciting initial combustion, but people in this mindset don't expect magic. They believe that a good, lasting relationship comes from effort and from working through inevitable differences" (149). 
When dealing with rejection, the goal of a person with the fixed mindset is revenge; whereas the goal of someone with a growth mindset is forgiveness (149-50).
"Every marriage demands an effort to keep it on the right track; there is a constant tension ... between the forces that hold you together and those that can tear you apart" (150, quoting John Gottman). 
"The growth mindset lets you rise above blame, understand the problem, and try to fix it--together" (158). 
* Friendship, Shyness, and Bullying are included in this chapter too. 

Parenting, Teaching, Coaching.
"Every word and action can send a message. It tells children--or students, or athletes--how to think about themselves. It can be a fixed-mindset message that says: You have permanent traits and I'm judging them. Or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: You are a developing person and I am interested in your development" (173). 
"Lowering standards ... leads to poorly educated students who feel entitled to easy work and lavish praise. ... On the other hand, simply raising standards in our schools, without giving students the means of reaching them, is a recipe for disaster" (193-94). 
"Great teachers believe in the growth of the intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning" (194).
"Above all, a good teacher is one who continues to learn along with the students" (201). 

THE FINAL CHAPTER is on "Changing Mindsets," which (again) is one of the most hopeful realities presented in the book: you can change your mindset! This chapter includes a number of workshop scenarios as well as this helpful graphic: 



A few final thoughts:  
  • Overall - wow! This is hugely helpful with immediate applications. 
  • Fixed mindset has a huge overlap with pride; and growth mindset strongly corresponds with humility. 
  • Dr. Dweck appreciates Darwin more than I. She also includes a bit of unnecessary language. 
  • The appropriate audience is emerging adult to adult, versus young adult or middle grader. I could definitely see value to a youth edition of this book.
  • Dr. Dweck's findings have really taken off. You can find countless resources by exploring "Growth Mindset" on Pinterest.
  • As with any book, a believer must read with discernment. There is much to glean from this book! But I did find myself wishing there were a book that worked through some of these thoughts from a uniquely biblical perspective. For example, I love this quote: "No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplisment" (41). But there's a crucial piece missing -- and that is God. One could argue that God works through our effort. But it is important to note that "it is God who works in me both to will and to do" (Phil 2:13) and that anything good I accomplish is because of God. In a large way, though, this is compatible with a growth mindset that acknowledges success is a combined effort. There's value to the material as-is. Still, filtering it through the lense of biblical wisdom adds even more clarity and intensity to the picture. 
  • Dr. Dweck points out that children tend to have a growth mindset, unless they've been put in a situation that's pushed them into a fixed mindset. They naturally want the next harder puzzle. They role with mistakes. They get back up. They grow. And I can't help but think about how Jesus said "for of such is the kingdom of heaven." In a big way, I think growth mindset exemplifies many of the characteristics that God intends for us as his children. And that is a beautiful meditation. 


Word-Filled Women's Ministry and The Pastor's Wife: a two-book review


What I love about Gloria Furman is her clear writing and her confident commitment to the Word. A cross-cultural pastor's wife and mother of four, Gloria gets life. And she happily invites her readers to do life alongside her. My heart resonates with hers, and my own experiences often echo the personal stories she shares.

 


Most recently, I read her book The Pastor's Wife: Strengthened by Grace for a Life of Love. Now I know that I am not formally the wife of a vocational minister. At the same time, I do anticipate a day when Alan will step into that calling, and I sense a need in my own spirit to be prepared for that day. 

Even right now, though, I sense the need to be "strengthened by grace for a life of love." As a husband and father, Alan is a shepherd, even if primarily to his own little flock: me and the kids. And largely, I believe, the title of this book could put the word pastor's in parentheses, for though it certainly has some applications specific to those whose husbands serve as a pastor in a church, it has so many more applications that are helpful to all of us who stand alongside a man as his wife.

This book is broken into three parts: Loving the Chief Shepherd, Loving an Under-Shepherd, and Loving the Bride of Christ. And each of these, depending on how you define under-shepherd, applies to each of us. 

Under the heading of "Loving the Chief Shepherd," there are truths about the importance of finding our identity in Christ: 
* "Whenever we speak of our identity as being a woman, a wife, or a pastor's wife, let us have in our minds the primary reference point of being 'found in him' (Phil. 3:9). Every hat we wear or role we play must be viewed through this perspective" (28).  
* "When you hear of the expectations that others have of you, you are free to consider them in light of God's truth. ... There is no need for defensiveness, fear, anxiety, or insecurity but only for gracious rest because of our security in Christ" (31-32).
* And I read this portion after having been called out of a morning worship service for an unruly toddler: "Would it still be 'well with my soul' if we let the church leaders know that we need their prayer and support, for whatever reason? Do you need to enjoy the approval of the leaders in your church in order to enjoy life? Do you feel burdened to represent your husband and family as a public relations manager would? ... Isn't it a grace to us, then, when we are passed over for whatever reason, and when our opinion is ignored or marginalized in that women's ministry meeting, and when our child throws a fit in the middle of Communion?" (47).
* "Amid all the expectations that come from others (and from yourself), expect that God's grace will always be sufficient for you all (2 Cor. 12:9). ... Grace carries us all the way through" (51, 54). 

Under "Loving an Under-Shepherd," we learn the definition and joy of being a "helper" and are reminded that God Himself is our Helper
* "In the midst of all the requests and pressures, there is but one man whom we are called to serve and serve alongside, and there is one God-man who serves us all" (75). 
* Each family has unique needs that require specific help and support, and by God's grace he gives us everything we need to facilitate this help" (78).

Finally, under "Loving the Bride of Christ," Gloria discusses the doctrine of the Church and urges us to "enjoy the privilege of being part of a gathered people" (118). 
* "We need God's grace to steward our gifts and opportunities well" (123). 
* "Our weaknesses are not in the way" (135ff) because "our potential to minister to others is not measured by our gifts but by our God" (138). 

The Pastor's Wife by Gloria Furman is a thoughtful working through for all of us. Maybe in their next round of publishing, they'll go ahead and artfully put parenthesis so that the title reads The (Pastor's) Wife. It certainly deserves wider readership than its current title invites. And as for those parts that do specifically apply to those married to a vocational pastor, they're good for the rest of us to read and understand and make sure we, like the women in Gloria's church, "support [our pastor's wife's] efforts to be a learner alongside [us]" (92), that we pray for her, include her, and love her well as our sister in Christ. 


An earlier book, and one I read this summer, is a composite work edited by Gloria Furman and Kathleen B. Nielson of The Gospel Coalition. It is Word-Filled Women's Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church. And again, this book is not just for those engaged in leadership of women's ministry, but for all of us women ministering side by side for the sake of the Gospel. 

One of the treats of this book is getting to read the collective work of various women who are serving our Lord in a vast array of ministries all around the globe. Contributing authors include Keri Folmar, Kristi Anyabwile, Nancy Guthrie, and Gloria Furman.

My biggest take away was the importance of the Word energizing us individually as well as energizing our interactions with other women. 

"The foundational truth [is] that the Bible is God speaking to us" (21). As editor and contributing author, Kathleen Nielson frequently returned to Isaiah 55:10,11, to exhort us to see "the Scriptures as central" (20). "This picture shows us something originating from far outside ourselves--like precipitation from the skky, something we desperately need but don't have in ourselves--so that we're called not to look / inward to receive it but to look outward, to look up and hold out our hands" (21-22). 

I loved Carrie Sandom's chapter "The Word Passed On" where she writes: "Yes, the gospel needs to be proclaimed to unbelievers, but we also need continually to teach it to ourselves, that we might be fully established in our faith and rooted in the Lord Jesus Christ" (75). Her teaching through 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 was especially helpful to me. And her perspective on the importance of in-depth biblical training, that "no biblical training is wasted in God's economy" and that it is both a "delight" and a "necessity ... so that one generation will with full voice keep declaring God's grace in Jesus Christ to the next" (86), was really an encouragement.

I very much appreciated Cindy Cochrum's insight that "creating a balanced and beautiful local church community grows out of our shared commitment to God's Word and to one another" (102). 

In Gloria's chapter, she shares her personal testimony in which a Bible study was pivotal to her coming to saving faith in Christ (114, 131). But she also points out that Bible study is needed by all of us, not just those who need to meet Christ but also by those of us who would be healthy ambassadors for him. In her conclusion of this chapter, she writes something that has stuck with me: "As far as we are able, we must take God's Word as seriously as it takes itself" (132).

I could point out more, but let me just conclude with the passage that Nancy Guthrie concludes the entire book with: "It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Phil. 1:9-11)" (244).  

The more-and-more growth of the Christian life hangs largely on our intimacy with the Word of Truth.

To Gloria and to each of these other contributing authors, THANK YOU for your heart for women and for your consistent investment in developing resources that encourage us to put our confidence in the Word and to then compassionately live out that Word in our everyday lives. 

Readers, I hope you'll take advantage of these two resources. And more, I pray that you will commit yourself to continually learning the Word and living it out in your own home and in your community. 

May "the Word of the Lord run swiftly and be triumphantly celebrated and glorified" (2 Thessalonians 3:1 AMP). Amen.  

writing a middle grade adventure novel (that happens to also be historical fiction)

Each time as I've neared the completion of a writing project, God has seemed to kindle an interest in a specific topic or portion of Scripture. And I have a ridiculous number of concept ideas. But when there's an unquenchable burning to answer a question, to figure out, to understand - that's where I invest my efforts. And writing is just my way of working things out.


After writing The Girl in the Mirror and No Matter What, both devotional workbooks for teens/young adults, God led me to 2 Kings. 

No Matter What was my struggle through a difficult season. For two years I gazed into the tide pool of Psalm 104, watching the ripples, unearthing the mysteries, finding the joy. 

And then God gave us our second son, our healing in the midst of muddy waters, and we named him Jordan. And God fixed my attention on the story of Naaman. 

I needed to understand the biblical backgrounds, the literal lay of the Land, the characters, the big picture and the minute details.

It was important for me to get the history right. I plotted a timeline of 2 Kings 2-8, piecing in the facts in a plausible order. I cross-referenced other portions from the biblical history books to make sure I had my Northern and Southern kingdoms' kings (who seem to use identical names in some of the versions). I borrowed other people's research to check my own. I drew maps. I poured through Manners and Customs of Bible Lands

Pretty early on I knew this book wasn't going to be a devotional. Instead it would be a middle grade adventure novel grounded in the reality of the biblical story. 

Guy Vanderhaege writes, "History tells us what people do; historical fiction helps us imagine how they felt."

So I kept rereading the passages with inquisition and imagination. 

I knew from the beginning I needed to tell the story of the little maid (I called her Cassia). I needed to see through her eyes, to experience her life. At one point I even limited my own Bible reading to only what Cassia would have had available to her.

As I began to tell the story, I realized that I couldn't tell all of it from the character's perspective. I knew I didn't want to write from an omniscient viewpoint, and as I started working through the passages, I came to the realization that I could tell the whole story (from 2 Kings 2 through 8) with just three POV characters: 

Cassia, the little maid from Israel, 
Marcus, an attendant to Captain Naaman,
and Gehazi, servant to the prophet Elisha. 

With three years of full-time resource teaching and two more children added to our family along the way, the journey of this novel has been a ten-year trek that I cannot wait to share with you. I learned so much along the way! 

One of my early readers, an elementary librarian friend of mine, shared: "Just finished it!! Could hardly put it down. Absolutely AMAZING read. Thank you so much for sharing it with me. ... Loved the way you weaved the Bible history together." And later she wrote again saying: "Just so you know, my mind has replayed this story many times since I've read it. Looking forward to buying several of the finished copies." 

I've had a bit of a pause in my writing since completing this novel, and I'm ready to see it in print too! Ready to see the illustrations and cover art that Justin Gerard comes up with! Ready to hear from you about how this story has kindled a desire in your heart to read Scripture with your imagination engaged. Because that is the whole point - to spark into flame a passion for knowing and understanding the Word. 

And even as I move on to my next project (writing a women's devotional through the book of Philippians), my heartbeat remains: 

That the Word would fuel my writing ...
and that my writing would fuel your pursuit of the Word.

Multiplied grace and peace,

michelle 

the importance of accuracy in creative narrative, and a recommendation for isobel kuhn's whom God has joined

In my last post, I shared the book Telling True Stories and discussed the craft of narrative journalism, or creative nonfiction. 

As I read that book, one of the really important themes that emerged was the importance of accuracy in writing. 
  • In his article "The Line Between Fact and Fiction," Roy Peter Clark writes of "two cornerstone principles: Do not add. Do not deceive" (166). 
  • Katherine Boo places "the moral imperative ... with the writer" in her article "Truth and Consequences" (177).
  • And Melissa Fay Greene, in her article "Adventures in History," points out, "When we choose to write nonfiction, our first commitment is not to be readable or to educate or to curry favor with our readers. It is to be as accurate as possible" (89).

As I reread Isobel Kuhn's Whom God Has Joined about John's and her early years of marriage and ministry in China, a scene she shared reinforced and fleshed out this theme. 

Creative writer that she was, Isobel took on the writing of their missionary report letters. And conscientious editor that he was, John took on the marking up and nit-picking of her every word.

Isobel had a way of painting a picture with her words. And John, well, let's just say he wanted to make sure her painting wasn't too impressionistic. 

It was quite a contention between them for a while. But as good marriage partners do, John and Isobel each learned to appreciate the gifts and personality of the other. 

John learned that when Isobel wrote the letters, God used her words to move readers' hearts to prayer and giving. He eventually saw her creative skills as an incredible gift and was able to encourage her in it. 

As for Isobel, she came to see the importance of accuracy in her writing and was able to graciously accept her husband's stricter conscience and accountability. As God moved in her heart later in life to write nine books, Isobel was truly grateful for John's early emphasis on accuracy, knowing that the honest telling of the historical details made her books that much better. 

To this day, Isobel Kuhn is among my favorite missionary authors. Her voice is authentic, her transparent honesty and humor both endearing. 

And I would have quoted her telling of these events, if I could only find my copy of that book. I write from memory here, so I hope I'm getting it right as that would be tragically ironic to write on the importance of accuracy and then not get the details right. I'm still hoping it will turn up. But if not, I will purchase another copy from OMF

I highly recommend Isobel's books, my two favorites being By Searching (Isobel's story of losing her faith and finding it again) and Whom God Has Joined (one of my favorite wedding gifts for couples heading into ministry).

May your writing be honest and your reading stir your soul. 

Multiplied grace and peace,
michelle 



telling true stories: recommended reading

It's always a privilege to sit with someone who has found success in a career that fascinates you, to listen and gather up the gold they're able to share from their experiences. I'll never forget lunch at Schlotszky's with Jamie Langston Turner, one of my writing professors from university. And a writer's conference is always inspirational and memorable, both for the content learned and the personal connections established.




Reading Telling True Stories (Mark Kramer, Wendy Call, editors) is like attending a writer's conference and getting to have personal conferences with professional journalists, creative nonfiction authors, editors, and other publishing gurus - lined up back to back for several days! They've anticipated all your questions - because they've been where you are now. And they've collected their best secrets and painted an honest portrait that's highly instructive.

Frankly, much of their advice for writing about the world is just plain good advice for living in it. Stuff like this: 

* I had to learn to listen, to surrender my place in the moment (Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, 62).
* Every person lives multiple stories... . Choose the right story. (Malcolm Gladwell, 73).
* Look for ways that the outer journey can mirror an inner journey (Adam Hochschild, 78).
* Bring a strong sense of humility to the work (Debra Dickerson, 107).
* Choose what matters (Jon Franklin, 127).
* As I matured . . . I returned to something simpler (Susan Orlean, re: writing style, 159).
* Do not add. Do not deceive (Roy Peter Clark, 166).
* Transcend stereotypes and assumptions (Isabel Wilkerson, 176). 
* Narrative is at once daring and humble (Emily Hiestand, 201).
* You must learn how to take criticism and use it, but you must also learn when to resist criticism (Walt Harrington, 230).
* No matter how massive the event, the grieving is individual (Jacqui Banaszynski, 250).
*Occasional discomfort, both physical and emotional, is one of the burdens of being a narrative writer. ... Every time I push myself out the door, I try to remember that there will be a payoff. ... By forcing myself to stay out there, I usually discover something on which the whole story turns (Susan Orlean, 285). 

And here's a short list from their suggested reading, included at the back of the book, that I'd like to check out - because the best place to get good recommendations on writing is from professional writers: 

* Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, thirtieth anniversary ed. New York: HaperResource, 2006.
* Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft. New York: Longman, 2002.
* Cheney, Theodor. Writing Creative Nonfiction, Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books, 1987.
* Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, reissue ed. New York: Vintage, 1991.
*Gerard, Philip. Writing a Book That Makes a Difference. Cincinnati, OH: Story Press Books, 2000.
* Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. Perennial, 1990.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in writing or is just fascinated by the inner workings of the journalistic mind. 

Enjoy!




after Arabia: finding encouragement in the timeline of Paul


I would not call myself a history buff. Sure, I enjoy an occasional biography (especially of the missionary variety). One of my boys in particular loves history, and I enjoy seeing him enjoy it. But it surprised me recently, as I invested some time in researching the backgrounds of Paul's letter to the Philippians that I'm working on for a women's Bible study that I'm writing, when I found myself really truly enjoying the puzzle-sorting of passages and piecing together the chronology of Paul. I honestly didn't expect that studying the historical backgrounds of the book would wind up being an incredible source of encouragement as I connected his experience to our own journey.

After Paul's dramatic conversion, and true to his personality, he threw himself into confessing Christ immediately - but the people were confused, and not quite ready to listen to this one who so recently had been hellbent on persecuting the Church.

So God did what He so often does to prepare his servants - He took Paul to the wilderness of Arabia (modern day Jordan). And it's not for certain how long he spent there, but upwards to three years. His own testimony in his letter to the Galatians: "I did not receive [the gospel I preach] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. ... When [God] was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia."

In his own sort of private seminary experience with the greatest of all Teachers, Paul sat at the feet of Jesus, unlearning the errors that he'd learned in his prestigous studies under the honorable Jewish instructor Gamaliel, and learning the Truth. 

After Arabia, Paul returned to Damascus, but the Jews there plotted to kill him. So he went on back to Jerusalem. There that man of consolation Barnabas spoke on his behalf. But even there, they were still trying to kill him.

And so they sent him off to Tarsus, his hometown. And Acts 9 continues on with Peter - because it's not a history of Paul, but a history of the Church. But Paul stays in Tarsus for somewhere between four and ten years! - years that we know very little about.

When Paul is in his late thirties/early forties, in Acts 13, Barnabas sees what God is doing among the Gentiles and remembers the man God had so dramatically redeemed to Himself for the purpose of preaching among the Gentiles and he goes and finds him and establishes him in the work of the ministry in Antioch.

My heart longs for a Barnabas, someone who will recognize the work God is doing and just know that this is what we were called to do. And it may not happen exactly like that, but praise God for the way He still connects people and brings together those perfect fits for the furtherance of His Kingdom.

But seriously, the simple fact that Paul was right around forty before God situated him in his calling, that fact alone is a huge blessing to me. I'm so prone to want to measure my life by the timeline of Christ who's earthly ministry climaxed when he was 33. But then 33 came and went without fanfare.

And it may not seem like much, but for me, it was significant.

And the Spirit whispers, "What did you expect? That your timetable would match up with Mine?" 

Of course not. I should know better. For the Word speaks it plainly: "My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts, saith the LORD."

So in this waiting, as Paul in Tarsus, let us find contentment in learning faithful obedience, and confidence that He will make His way plain before our faces, in His time and for His glory.

And no one who is qualified to promise such things has ever promised it would be easy. But it is promised that those who are called according to his purpose will find that all things work together for good, and that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8).

Multiplied grace and peace,
with love,

michelle