Category Archives: On Writing

On Writing & Connection–Elizabeth Goudge

“A book begins with falling in love. You lose your heart to a place, a house, an avenue of trees, or with a character who walks in and takes sudden and complete possession of you. Imagination glows, and there is the seed of your book.” -Elizabeth Goudge, The Joy of the Snow, 1974

Squeezed into the wooden container on my desk is a well-worn yellow file folder labeled simply, ‘Books.’  Inside are sticky notes on old journal paper, torn pieces from the corner of a calendar, typed out comments from my computer and the other jigsaw pieces of my writer’s random brain. This is the folder where I stash my “find this book!” titles. (Maybe you have notes like that?)

In 2007 I discovered a writer whose name continued to pop up in the work I was reading. After awhile, when one hears a particular person mentioned over and over again, when their writing is cited with glowing praise each time in those mentions, one considers, “well, perhaps I should look her up.”

That is how I found Elizabeth Goudge. Goudge was a British writer in the early 1900’s (1900-1984) whose astonishing descriptions and magical phrasing carries a strong message of faith throughout each and every one of her rich stories. I recently added to my Goudge collection with the arrival of eight (8!) paperback copies from a publisher in Great Britain–titles I’d been looking for high and low here in the States. I’m very grateful for online used book dealers.

In the recent delivery is a copy of  Goudge’s autobiography, The Joy of the Snow mentioned above, I have relished learning more about her life but find particularly encouraging her notes for writers. In the first chapter, ‘Storytelling’, she has this to say about inspiration:

…the great flood of light which poets and mystics pour into the world

has nothing in common with the glowworm sparks of the small fry;

except for the fact that something, or some being, must have lit it in the first place. (emphasis mine) p. 18

What I find most remarkable and deeply likable about Goudge’s storytelling is the way she embodies the Christian life without ever talking about Jesus. It is far easier, I think, to make surface declarations about faith and a relationship with Christ, spelling out for readers exactly what you mean. A truly great writer leaves a bit of illumination on the page, lighting the way for us to find the Truth buried like a treasure in between the lines.

Sacrifice, kindness, faithfulness and selflessness are just a few of the many biblical themes woven through the characters and story in Goudge’s work.

Her reactions to critics who questioned the ‘value’ of her work due to its religious (albeit often hidden) nature, she has this to say:

We all hold our faith with a certain amount of fear and trembling (even Blake wrote,

My hand trembles exceedingly upon the Rock of Ages”), and to find that others share our faith has a steadying influence, especially in these days when the Rock of Ages himself is for ever being prodded and sound to see if he is still there.

To those of us who think the tapping hammers would not sound so loudly if he was not there, the likemindedness is a very special joy. p. 21

If our faith in God were not based on truth, all those ‘tapping hammers’ on the Rock of Ages would indeed sound quite loudly as the echoes ring out because of the hollowness inside. (click to Tweet.)

But ours is not a hollow faith. And for those of us who write, that likemindedness with our readers, the gift of connection when we find a kindred spirit responding to our words–well, there’s nothing richer.

I imagine that is why I love my treasure trove of books by this inimitable author–her writing resounds like a glorious, pealing bell deep in my soul, with language like honey on my lips, deeply satisfying and soul-filling. Looking into the pages of each of Goudge’s stories brings a reflection of the face of my Jesus in all His many incarnations–child, vagabond, lost soul or king. Vicar, actress, schoolboy or penchant, mischievous little girls.

I take particular courage from her thoughts about writing,  especially as someone beginning later in life to channel this gift of co-creating. She had this to say about those who pick up their pen as more “mature” writers.

Words to a writer are the same as bricks to a builder. It is necessary to learn about their size and shape and how to put them in place. The imagination and vivid life of someone young, poured into a first book, or even a second or third, can sometimes shape the bricks into place by sheer instinct and good luck, but when the fire dies down a little, the building is not so easy.  The process of creation, however humble it may be, is always mysterious. -The Joy of the Snow, Coronet Publishing, p.21

Encouragement in our calling or craft is a gift whenever it comes, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. Surrounding oneself with people who can speak into our lives, whether in person or in the pages of a book, is a wise investment of our time. Soul-deep connections and the confirmation that we’re on the right path are irreplaceable gifts.

Whether you’re a reader or a writer or both, my prayer is you, too, will find this gift at the right time. It may very likely be in the pages of a good book, where the author’s story is intertwined with your own.

For isn’t the Author of our lives always writing our story?

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To list all of Elizabeth Goudge’s work would take up far too much space; here’s a link instead to quotes from her books on Goodreads. Enjoy!

By the way, I write a Quarterly Newsletter–“Random Acts of Writing-Miraculous & Mundane”. The sign up is here–no spam, just some inspiration and encouragement.

Dear Readers–On Filling up the {ink}Well

Thank you for allowing me to pop in to say a quiet ‘hello’  and share some thoughts on my writing in this space.

Since the release of my Advent/Christmas/Epiphany book last year, so richly received by many kind folks~yay~I have decided to walk slowly forward writing-wise here on my blog. I’ve discovered the energy it took to write and release all those words into the world left my writing well rather low.

The word God has given me for the year is “L I S T E N”, which I sense means a number of things, particularly in relation to my growth as a writer and my place in this world to care for and pray for my family.

I’ll be sporadically writing on the blog and venturing into the world of poetry more–investing in the craft and submitting work in various places.

One thing I am committed to doing regularly is write a quarterly newsletter. (January’s has already gone out, but you can find it here.)

To that end, I’d like to invite you to sign up to receive Random Acts of Writing, Miraculous & Mundanewhich will catch you up with what I’m hearing and seeing as God speaks.

There’s a lot of noise in the world these days and I want to be more intentional about carving out some space to catch the whispers of my own heart along with that of my Jesus.

As always, thank you for allowing me to land in your Inbox. I appreciate each and every one of you.

Happy New You! Listen, Learn, Write

The season ahead for me in this corner of the interwebs may be a little quieter. I’m going to focus more on my poetry (I have a poetry website. Did you know this?) to grow in that craft and spend time with folks who can lead the way.

To that end, I’ve signed up for a conference at Calvin College this April in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to hang out and be inspired by other writers.

Maybe you’re considering where to invest time and money this year on perfecting the gifts God has given you–narrative writing, painting, poetry, fiction and many others. Well, as a service to my dear readers (and myself!) I gathered a list of an even 14 different venues to be inspired this coming year. Prices vary from $59 for one day in Colorado to $2600 for one week in Alaska (with Ann Voskamp!)

Locations vary from Tennessee to Colorado to Alaska. Alas, there is nothing on the books for the Pacific Northwest…I am praying with some friends about remedying that.

I’m praying about what the year ahead holds for me (I’d like another miracle to happen to get me to New Mexico and The Glen Workshop this year.) Perhaps you are praying, too, about where you can invest some time and money in yourself and your gifts. Who doesn’t need a bit of inspiration and a place to listen to God as He guides your work?

As you pray about the year ahead, this list might be a help. Let me know where you’re going–I’d love to hear! (email me? heyjode70 at yahoo dot com). Or leave a note in the comments.

Write on!

I am From {a #poem}

20170501_133356I am from doughboy pools and homemade Barbie houses

from Huffy bikes and Helms Bakery donuts.

I am from three sisters to a room and broad green bermuda lawns.

I am from bright sandy beaches and weeping willows

whose drooping green sheltered me from California’s sun.

I am from Coppertone and Sun-In

from Helen and Wes and John.

I am from belting out a tune and scribbling in the dark

from roller skating and tree-fort-building

from fighting at the top of my lungs and finding quiet at any cost.

I am from Bible stories with Mrs. Cluck and anywhere-you-can-take-5-kids-on-a-Sunday.

I am from the Hebjums and Lindseys, a Best at heart with an adopted name

from porkchops and sauerkraut, applesauce and meatloaf

from a father two generations back that made a grown girl flee

and a mother who lived chasing beauty wherever she could find it, rich or poor.

But mostly poor.

I am from luaus and carnivals, beach trips and berry-picking

babysitting and in charge at age 12 and hiding with a book to make it all go away.

I am from those moments of running, singing, writing, hiding, lying in the sun

but never far from the watchful eye of an invisible Father

held in arms more real than scratchy lawns and doughboy pools and donuts and

roller skates.

A Father more present than my own skin, closer than the sunshine on my bright brown hair.

Lover of my soul who was there every meandering minute, keeping time until I came home. 

~~~~~~~

In November of 2017 I had the privilege of participating in a gathering called “What’s Your Story? Discovering the Gift of Hearing and Telling our Stories.” Guest speakers were Cornelia Seigneur, founder and director of the Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference, and Velynn Brown, mentor and speaker. They are both from the Portland area.

I’m grateful to Velynn for sharing her “I Am From” poem with us and modeling how to write our own. The original form and idea comes from George Ella Lyon, writer and teacher.  If you’d like to write an “I Am From,” there are resources and examples on Georgia’s website. Mr. Google can also oblige.

#On Beauty, Books & A Birthday-A Photo Essay

No matter where I live, I recognize the song of a red-winged blackbird. In rushes near the shore’s edge of a California beach, along the canals and waterways in the San Joaquin Valley, the tall grasses along a Louisiana bayou or deep in marshes along Washington’s coast, the voice of the songbird is the same. There’s a trilling like no other, punctuated by startled flight and appearance of dark black wings dotted with a circle of scarlet. Once you hear the voice of red-winged blackbird, you will know it anywhere.

When I first began this blog, I was introduced to a writer whose work became a song of a different kind, with words that sang and soared right off the page. My friend and I have swooned over this writer’s work for several years now. We compare notes about the ways in which she speaks to the depths of our souls, the longing we share for rich literature, the tapestry of language that weaves the glory of God’s kingdom into a piece.

I recall sitting in my living room last year reading one of Lanier Ivester’s essays, “Songless.” I had a printout in my hand and the piece featured the color print of a red-winged blackbird. When I finished, I sat for a few moments in silence; I was literally struck speechless with the way the words were woven together.

I can either do one of two things when I encounter writing that is lightyears beyond mine (don’t we all have a different measure of what “better than I can do” looks like?) I can either throw down my pencil or close my laptop and give up. Or, I can drink from the rich deposit in my soul, be inspired to go on in my own work, and keep looking for beauty, order, design, clarity, whatever facets of God’s creativity I’ve been given to show to the world.

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I’m turning sixty five this week. It’s a daunting milestone and one that is bittersweet; I’ve officially lived ten years longer than my mother. Cancer took her at 55 when I was in the throes of raising two children who now have children of their own; I miss her a great deal. Turning 65 also prompts its own kind of contemplation—what is my contribution to the world? Have I achieved my dream(s)? What legacy am I leaving? Is it too late to make a difference?

I set out at the beginning of this year to write a book about the season of Christmas. When I discovered that Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first Little House book at the age of 65, I was greatly heartened. So, for my birthday, I’m giving the world a book. Sort of. Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas won’t be released until the end of October some two months or so away, but it will still be in The Year I Turned Sixty-Five.  

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Besides birds and a book and a birthday I’ve also been contemplating the stunning beauty of blown glass.

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My sister visited recently and we wandered through the Chihuly Glass Garden in Seattle. Chihuly’s work is housed inside in quiet, cavernous rooms and outside in wide open, bright spaces.

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The glass sculptures that took my breath away were those inside, where uplighting pierced through each installation and shone through the dark in glittering rainbows.

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We were spellbound. “How does someone even dream up these ideas? Where does this kind of creativity come from? I could never do that.”

No, I can’t. But I can visually absorb the power of each piece, the scale, the variety, the brilliance. I can let it soak in just a little bit then take it as fuel for inspiration. What kind of creativity can I bring to the world? What’s in my hand? What’s in my heart? What’s in my head?

In 1699 Jean Haudicquer de Blancourt wrote a book about glass blowing which uses ashes, not sand. (I have no idea how old he was.) “The art of glass: showing how to make all sorts of glass, crystal, & enamel” details in great length the way to transform beauty from the ashes of hearths and homes across de Blancourt’s native France. People looked beyond what they saw in their chimneys and someone figured out a way to melt it into glass. Glass which provided people with a way to see.

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I began this post telling of a writer whose work is a tremendous inspiration to me, someone who finds beauty in ordinary things like gathering color from her garden or sharing a cup of tea. In a tragedy that defies all that makes sense, this beauty-bringer recently experienced the loss of her 100 year old farmhouse when it burnt nearly to the ground. She and her husband were left with ashes.

In the shock and trauma that have followed since then, the community of writers whom she calls friends have rallied around her–not by sending cash or showing up to help rebuild. No, many of us sent a gift for her soul—lovely china tea cups, plates and saucers for daily use. While time perhaps does not allow for the ‘taking of tea’ in this season, and indeed might seem a preposterous undertaking given the weight of the tragedy she’s endured, Lanier believes that beauty matters. The pattern on L’s new tea set? The Phoenix.

It is good for us to stop and enjoy the weight of God’s glory that shines in the sway of flowers in our garden, the glance of sunlight on the water or birdsong out our windows. We also can live as purveyors of goodness and beauty, shining our own gifts through the ‘glass’ God gives us.

Can you draw or paint? Write a song, play a tune or dance?

Have you a pen in your hands you can yield to God as you write through your pain?

Is speaking your gift?

Bring beauty from your ashes, write the words, fashion a glass and help us see. 

*****

Lanier’s post “Songless” is here.

 

On God’s Timing (and Rejection Letters)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will

reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Why does it always seem like the final hours of a long trip last forever when all you can think about is your comfortable bed? My husband and I had just spent a recent weekend with our son and his family so the two of them could work on car repairs; their family van was kaput primarily because of a timing belt.

Clearly life and car repairs mirror each other often—timing is everything.

Now, I have no idea what a timing belt does but I’ve heard my husband moan more than once about the challenge they represent when something is off. I realize we are beyond fortunate that he can repair our vehicles (and our kids’) but sometimes the task is easier than it sounds.

As our tires lapped up the miles in the dark, I began a conversation that would keep Mr. Mechanic occupied while he drove. It was a simple question. “So honey, how’d that all work out with Aaron’s van? Obviously you guys got it running…..”

Thus began an explanation in my husband’s usual animated style, making a long story longer. Smile. I pretended to listen to his response; all I know is he talked pretty much nonstop for at least 30 minutes about pulleys and rotator thingys and notches and tension belts and… Well, he lost me at “top dead center” and “serpentine.” My innocent question prompted way more information than I bargained for.

You get the picture. In fact, I was so impressed with his auto repair recitation, I actually pressed the recorder app on my phone to document the conversation. Feigning attention, I have to confess I had my own running dialogue inside my head. “How does he remember this stuff? He can’t remember six things on a grocery list once he’s gets to the store.”

Then my thoughts turned to timing of a different kind.

I was thinking about writing in particular and the dream or desire of many people to be well known for their words. Since I’m currently working on a book, this is a frequent thought of mine. Imagining my name of the cover of a book, stopping shoppers as they pass by in the bookstore. Oh, the power. The fame. The glory.

Then there’s the other voice in my head, God’s voice via the Apostle Paul, reminding me that all good things take time, not just recognition for a well-written book.

Sometimes when you’re doing good, it may be awhile before people notice. Actually, you can count on it. Whether that ‘good’ is everything from sharing what God’s given you via voice or writing, serving others, teaching and investing in your kids or grandkids. The list is a long one of good and noble endeavors.

There’s no magic formula to “success” and if success is what we’re after, we will come up empty. If there’s to be any recognition for our accomplishments at all, they manifest only when we show up and do the next right thing, whatever it is.

And showing up, whether it’s for an audience of 1 or 10 or 100, is what we are called to do with the gifts we have. The holy spirit reminds me often, “what you have came from God to begin with. Just offer it back to Him with an open hand.

/ / / /

As a writer, I haven’t had a lot of rejection letters (yet) in the short time I’ve been serious about my work. Okay, I’ve had three. I know those “Dear Jody” letters are an expected part of the publishing process, but it doesn’t make it any easier. When I feel a little discouraged, I’m reminded of my hero and inspiration, author Laura Ingalls Wilder who published her first “Little House” book at 65. Sixty-five. I imagine she had a few rejection letters along the way. Talk about perseverance. She then went on to write 7 more books. Seven.

I read a comment recently by a Christian writer who said it took her eight faithful years of writing and blogging until the time was right for her first book to be born. This perspective encouraged me; in fact, she strongly urged new writers to keep a file of their rejection letters as a way to later recall God’s faithfulness when the fruit of their work showed up. I liked that idea; sort of like a paper trail, but the best kind. I’ve got my three.

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Positive results are always about timing—the message I have to share will resonate and reach people when God makes the way for them to hear. There’s preparation that needs to take place first, not only in my life in the process, but in the lives of whoever will read the message. And in the publishing business especially, it is often the simple fact of the words falling on someone’s desktop or laptop, when your gift meets the need and the timing is just right.

An old French proverb came to mind last week when I thought about how we build our lives and our work and our words.

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“Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.”

Little by little, the bird builds its nest. (from the French)

One piece of straw at a time, some yarn or spent leaves, (eraser dust? wadded up paper?) moss or downy feathers—they’re all part of the perfect environment for something to be born, all in God’s perfect time.

Keep on, my friends, whether you’re writing or painting or singing. Keep plowing, investing, pursuing….for in due season you will reap if you faint not.