The Scary Road of Publishing and God’s Goodness

 

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

These words from C.S. Lewis may be my favorite literary quote of  all time. It gives me chills every time I read it. The God we serve is King over all. Not just any king, but a good king. However, though He is good, He is not safe.

He doesn’t promise us comfortable lives.

He doesn’t give us everything we want.

He doesn’t keep us within our comfort zone.

He doesn’t shelter us from experiencing the brokenness of the world.

Instead, He is good.

He promises to be with us always, even when it’s uncomfortable.

He calls us to die ourselves so that we might have new life.

He gives us His Spirit to guide us and empower us for His kingdom.

He promises to be good and work good through all things – even that which is painful.

Is that not incredible? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather follow a Warrior King who carries the flag of unchanging goodness as He leads me onto the battlefield than a Couch Potato King who lets me sit comfortably while refilling my bag of deadly junk food for the rest of my life.

He. Is. Good.

 

He is Still Good

Gracelaced Chou Simons p. 31My bff gave me an amazing devotional for my birthday called Gracelaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart by Ruth Chou Simons (not Graceland as I always call it). It’s amazing. I am not an artist, but Simons’ artwork in this book is breathtaking, perfectly illustrating the timeless truths.

The other day, I went through one devotional in the book called “Sufficient”. Simons uses 2 Corinthians 12:9 to prompt discussion on God’s sufficiency in all things, including the thorns He chooses not to remove so that we can beyond “the rose we long to beyond, just beyond the thorn” (p. 28). There’s a lot of profound stuff in these few pages, but I have been particularly struck by the concluding words:

AND IF NOT HE IS STILL GOOD.

 

The Scary Road to Publishing

This whole publishing journey is scary, let me tell you. A friend asked me today, “Don’t you just feel like you’re putting your whole heart and soul out on the table?” Yes. Yes I do. It’s terrifying to hand 5 years of prayer, reflection, inspiration, writing, and editing – the fruit of my own walk with Jesus and my experiences in this world – to someone else to critique and possibly reject. It was hard enough to let my best friend and close family members read it, much less submit proposals to literary agents and (hopefully if I get represented) publishers.

Writing the book was the easy part, comparatively. If I’m honest, some days I don’t want to do it. Pursuing publishing demands much more of me on many levels. I just want to keep writing for me, maybe sharing with friends and family. I don’t want to be critiqued. I don’t want to be rejected.

But then He asks me, “Did I call you to write this for nothing? Are you willing to trust me, no matter what?” and I’m reminded of Mr. Beaver’s words in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: of course He’s not safe. But He’s good. Because He’s good, I will pursue publishing until the road runs out. Because He is still good I will self-publish if traditional publishers reject it. Because He is yet still good I will take whatever rejection and criticism that come my way and say, “All for you, Jesus. Use it as You will.”

Now friends, hear me say, I recognize there are far scarier things to face than not getting published. I talked with a friend today whose family disowned her for following Jesus. I’m not saying that my publishing journey is comparable to suffering or persecution for Christ. It’s not, but that doesn’t matter – because regardless of whether our “unsafe” is big or little compared to someone else’s, the truth is the same.

I am saying that no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, no matter what steps of faith He is asking you to take, no matter what fears stand between you and the things He has made and called you to do, no matter how scary and untried the planks you’re putting your next foot forward on, remember that He is good.

He isn’t safe, but He’s good. And if not [fill in your own blank], He is still good.

What is God asking you to do that steps beyond your comfort zone? How have you seen God’s goodness in the midst of it? For further reflection, read Psalm 27.

Photo is from p. 31 of Gracelaced by Ruth Chou Simons.

Sunset Britney LYn Hamm Blue Springs MO

“This is Us”: Reflections on THE Episode

Sunset Britney LYn Hamm Blue Springs MO

For months fans of This is Us have been anxiously – and perhaps dreadingly – awaiting THE episode. THE episode where we finally find out how Jack dies.

Fellow fans, you know exactly what I mean.

We’ve known it’s coming. We’ve known it would rip our hearts out. We’ve known we would have to actually face the fact that he died. We’ve know it would put us all-too-close to raw pain we aren’t sure we can handle.

When the Super Bowl ended last night, I had mixed feelings. I was ready to just get it over with. Get ‘er done, folks. I was also dreading it, because I knew it would be painful (and because fire is already my worst fear. Thanks a lot for adding fuel to that flame. Pun intended.).

The timer one the screen read 14 minutes, then 7. I nervously played on my phone and settled into the couch. Then the awkward smile hit. The one that uncontrollably comes over my face when I think or talk about tragic things. So, as I walked back in the room after doing my business, grinning ear to ear, wondering why on earth I wasn’t just heading to bed for a good night’s sleep.

 

Why We Watch This is Us

Now, it begs the question, why on earth do we put ourselves through this? Why would we want to spend our relaxing evening watching something that will wreck our emotions? Why, when we are surrounded by brokenness in our real lives every day, do we want to watch brokenness unfold in the lives of fictional characters on TV?

I think it’s quite simple, actually. Simple, yet deeply revealing.

Every human being recognizes that tragedy is all around us, and that we ourselves are not immune to it. If tragedy hasn’t hit you yet, just wait – it’s coming.

We long to understand tragedy. We seek answers to the questions we cannot find words to ask. And we need to believe there is hope.

Watching tragedy unfold before us in the lives of fictional characters on a screen or in a book meets that longing in a small way, helps us grapple with those questions, and convinces us there is hope.

That’s why a show like This is Us is so popular. That’s why books like Redeeming Love or All the Light We Cannot See are bestsellers. That’s why I write the kind of fiction I write – the kind that deals with the deep, complex, hard stuff of life wrapped in a message of authentic hope.

Do we want the lighthearted, fairy-tale fluff that lets us escape reality? Absolutely. There are plenty of award-winning TV shows, movies, and books to prove that. But we still long for more.

 

Four Things This is Us Does for Our Souls

This is Us has done a phenomenal job of doing what any fictitious portrayal of real life, whether on screen, on stage, or on page, should do:

  1. It gives a voice to our grief and pain, even years after others have forgotten. We feel the characters’ pain acutely – pain that still exists in raw form two decades after the tragedy. All too often, when the funeral is over or the mess is cleaned up, the tragedy is forgotten, by everyone but those who survived it. It’s important for our healing to remember that it’s ok we’re still grieving. It’s ok we still feel pain. It’s ok that we’ll never be the same again, even years after tragedies have hit us. Healing is possible, but the pain never truly goes away, and that’s ok.
  2. It allows us to acknowledge the ways that experiences and people shape us for better or for worse. We see what the characters themselves do not entirely see – the way the death of Jack and the circumstances surrounding his death shape them. We watch snapshots of their childhood, their adolescence, their adulthood, and we trace the threads through their lives to understand their struggles and why they are who they are. We are fascinated by this, because we know that our experiences and the people in our lives have shaped us for better or for worse. Somehow I think it helps us heal to acknowledge that.
  3. It helps us wrestle through the questions we don’t want to ask of our own experiences. As each character walks through Super Bowl Sunday in their own way, we see each of them wrestling with their deepest questions. Kate asks, “Is it my fault?” Rebecca asks, “Was I strong enough for my children?” Kevin asks, “Why didn’t I reconcile with him?”, and Randall asks, “What would he have wanted?” We know that all of them are asking, “Why? Why him? Why then?” That’s the question we’re asking. That’s the question that haunts us about our experiences, the experiences of those we love, or simply the experiences of humanity in this world.
  4. It paints a picture of hope to show us that survival after tragedy is possible – and maybe even happiness, too. Each character carries scars left by the tragedy, some more visible than others. The journey to healing is a long one, and it’s never complete this side of heaven. But the writers of This is Us have intentionally woven strands of hope into the storyline. We’d never keep watching it if they didn’t. We see Kate finding love in Toby, a man who fights for her in the same way Jack always did. We see Rebecca finding happiness again in her marriage to Miguel, a”quieter and older” love than what she had with Jack, but she’s happy. We see that Randall has found a sense of peace in being for his girls the kind of father his dad was for him. Kevin…well, Kevin’s struggling perhaps more than any of them. But he’s alive, and he’s fighting, and he’s working through it, finally. As we watch, we think to ourselves, “They survived this. I can survive ____ too.”

The lighthearted fairy-tale stuff that helps us escape from reality won’t ever bring any real comfort, because deep down we know we can’t escape reality. Reality follows us wherever we go, and where there’s reality, there’s tragedy. In the midst of tragedy, we need the freedom to feel, to reflect, to wrestle. Most of all, we need hope.

I believe there is hope in the midst of every tragedy – hope wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. Rather than me explain what that means, I’m going to let my friend Dave Furman explain it as he does so well in his post on Crosswalk, excerpted from his new book, Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials. 

I’ll conclude with this, my favorite go-to passage when dealing with the sticky things in life:

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

– Lamentations 3:19-26

 

Friends, I don’t know what tragedies are at your doorstep today or tomorrow. I don’t know what tragedies lie behind you. I don’t know what bitterness and gall await you or eat at you. But I do know, there is always hope. 

Photo credit: Britney Lyn Hamm, Taken in Blue Springs, MO on February 3, 2018

Lynn Austin: Influences That Shaped My Writing: Fellow Authors, Part 2

Welcome back! Ready for the second author who influenced my writing?

Drumroll, please…

Lynn Austin.

First of all, y’all have to understand that I read a lot (My sister and I both kept books in the bathroom growing up. Made for some long bathroom visits. Fellow moms of young children ask me how I have time to read…ahem. Try it. And nursing mamas, embrace the e-reader. But that’s a topic for another day.). I also read very fast. This means that I’ve read a LOT of books!

It’s extremely rare that I remember an author’s name, much less the title of a book. Because I have read so many, a book must impact me in a very deep way for me to remember it – otherwise it is namelessly filed in the “books I’ve read” mental folder. Candle in the Darkness is one of those few, and the first that I remember from adolescence on. I can’t remember the first time exactly that I picked it up, but I know that it changed me. I wept as I read it, on multiple occasions, and still do when I re-read it. I could feel the heroine’s pain as if it were my own…the utter, gut-wrenching heartbreak at the crux of the story. The inner conflict as she wrestled with impossible choices. The utter horror as she understood what was happening to her fellow human beings (Go buy it. I won’t spoil it for you 🙂 ).

If you pick up my copy of the book now, you’ll see markings throughout (many of them in purple, because let’s remember, I was in junior high the first time I read this). I underlined quote after quote of powerful truth woven into a fictional story. The book challenged me to begin wrestling with the issue of racism and a godly response to it – an issue I am still working through that is extremely relevant where I live now, in Kansas City (watch this 13-minute video and you’ll see what I mean).  It made me wrestle with questions of right and wrong, the endpoint of loyalty when what’s right is at stake, and the hope for marriages that seem broken beyond repair.

Lynn Austin Candle in the Darkness Favorite Books
The cover has since been updated since this, but this is the cover I have.

Candle in the Darkness is still one of my favorite books. I have probably read it a dozen times. I have read many of the other books Lynn Austin has written (see list below). All of them are good. All of them have shaped me. All of them have impacted my faith. All of them have prepared me for marriage. Most if not all of them are over 400 pages, which as a fast reader who enjoys deep characters and stories, I appreciate!

Lynn Austin is one of those writers who possesses the unique ability to use fiction as a vessel of transformative truth. Her characters are real – believable and flawed, not in the “she-had-one-freckle” and “he-drank-too-much-once” kind of way, but in the “in-need-of-Jesus-every-moment” kind of way. Her characters grow and change, as characters shoulder, throughout the stories. Her romances are beautifully crafted but far from fairy-tale-like. Her stories are complex and fascinating. Her books center around historical themes that challenge us to ask tough questions about the past and present that shape our future.

How has Lynn Austin shaped me as a writer? Quite simply, she gave me a model for the kind of writer I wanted to be: the kind that uses fiction to challenge people to think, grow, and change for the better.

What novels have challenged your thinking on a topic? What novels stay on your bookshelf to be read over and over?

Other Favorites by Lynn Austin

I’m realizing as I write this I have some serious catching up to do! Visit Lynn Austin’s site for a full list of her books – there are several I need to read!

Hidden Places

All She Ever Wanted

A Woman’s Place

A Proper Pursuit

Until We Reach Home

While We’re Far Apart

All Things New

Fire by Night

A Light to My Path