Why Storyformed?

My website has a new header. It’s not dramatically different, just a change from “Passionate living through passionate writing” to “Storyformed living through storyformed writing.”

Why the change?

I was first introduced to the term “storyformed” back in 2015 when my husband and I attended a church planter training called Soma School in Tacoma, WA. Soma recommended The Story-Formed Way, a method of facilitating conversations about God and the Bible through the overarching narrative of Scripture with believers and nonbelievers alike.

The concept behind the Story-Formed Way is that the Bible is first and foremost a story, a grand narrative in which God is the main character. To help people understand who God is and what He has done for us, it’s helpful to start by understanding the Story of God. Stories level the playing field, because when we stop and read the Bible as a story (a true one) and its individual components as stories, we relate to it, to God, and to each other on a whole new level.

The term reflects an instrumental change to my perspective on the Bible and my faith walk. I am part of a larger story. Every verse of the Bible fits within a larger story, a story God has been unfolding since the beginning of time. It’s incredible and masterful and brilliant.

We are a Storyformed people. We tell stories. We relate to stories. We pass down stories. Jesus used stories called parables to illustrate his points and the Bible is at least 50% narrative text because God knows this about us. We are a people shaped by stories, and specifically by the Story of God, whether we follow Him or not.

When it comes to my writing, I don’t love the term “Christian fiction,” because it’s too vague and peachy. My books aren’t just clean books Christians can feel comfortable reading or fun stories with some Jesus sprinkled on top (not that there is anything wrong with that); they’re purposeful vessels of life-transforming truth that include messy, raw people and complex plot lines. They’re intentionally written to reflect the reality of living in a broken world and how the gospel of Jesus breaks in and changes everything.

I slightly prefer the term faith-filled fiction, but considering that some of my characters are definitely NOT Christians for a good part of the story, that doesn’t quite resonate either.

Instead, Storyformed sums up the purpose and content of my writing. Every word is shaped by the Story of God, the grand narrative of God’s unrelenting pursuit and His redemptive work to save Humanity from our sin. Whether I am writing articles for small newspapers, penning blog posts, or authoring books (fiction or not), my prayer is that every word I write will point people to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So, welcome to Storyformed Writing, where you’ll find Storyformed Fiction and other forms of written word. If my writing in any way helps you to better understand the Story of God and your part in it, I would love to hear from you – please send me an email or post a comment!

P.s. – I did my research on the term “Storyformed” to make sure it isn’t trademarked (it’s not at present). I did find one other organization using the term, The Storyformed Project, which is focused on getting quality literature into the hands of children. AWESOME! I haven’t dug into it much, but I plan to check it out, and if you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or have ever met a child, you should too 🙂

pen quill paper photo Britney Lyn Hamm

The Author of Life Analogy: Seeing God’s Authorship When Reading a Book by an Author You Know

This is a guest post on my blog today by my friend Morgan Robertson. Morgan is a deep thinker with a stunning mind and a beautiful heart for God. She shared this concept with me the other day after she finished reading my Christian romantic suspense novel, Finding Freedom. I asked her to pen these profound thoughts into a post I could share with my readers – enjoy!

“All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:3-4)

Cosmic Creation earth photo by NASAI’ve read numerous novels in my lifetime. Romance, science fiction, dystopian fiction; you name it. Though the books themselves differ from each other, one thing they all have in common is that I don’t know the author personally. Sarah Dessen, Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, Agathe Christie, Phillip K Dick, I don’t know a single one of them.

I never really thought about that until I read a book by someone I do know personally. When you read a novel or any piece of writing by someone you’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking to, you start to see their personality, their identity in their works.

I just finished reading Britney Lyn Hamm’s debut novel, Finding Freedom. Though the plot and characters are not fashioned after her own life, I can still see evidence of her authorship throughout the novel. From the way she constructed the plot (I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read it yet) to the development of the characters down to the nitty gritty of vocabulary choices, I could definitely tell that Britney is the author of the story. Many of her characters share some of her likes – mocha lattes, dance, music, her Lord and Savior. Some of the characters share her own abilities – Jeremy and Lila, for example, were excellent Biblical counselors, a skill I know Britney uses for the Lord. Through every dialogue, every thought monologue, every description of places, food, events, you can so clearly see the author of Finding Freedom showing herself through her work.

I couldn’t help but draw the beautiful parallel between knowing the author of Finding Freedom and knowing the pen quill paper photo Britney Lyn HammAuthor of Life. Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, has created a beautiful masterpiece of a novel with an incredible plot, insane character development, and amazing words spoken at just the right time. Throughout human history, you can see the Lord’s hand moving, writing, authoring the story of mankind. His kindness and mercy show through as well as His justice and righteous jealousy. The characters in His work reflect many of His own attributes – kindness, mercy, justice, righteous anger, love, morality. His characters are so fearfully and wonderfully crafted in His image.

God is a magnificently talented Creator and Author of Life. I imagine if we relinquish the pen more frequently, He’d use our lives to author an incredible story full of His love, redemption, mercy, and grace.

My question is this: Would Britney’s influence in her novel have been obvious to me had I not known her? The influence would still be there, the text would remain the same, but I wouldn’t have noticed it as much. I might have been able to piece together an idea of the author, but it wouldn’t be nearly as nuanced or detailed; just a vague sense of how this author differs from others.

In the same way, God’s influence on Creation as the Author of Life throughout human history has always been and will always be there. We just don’t really see it unless we know Him and His personality. At times, we can piece together a vague sense of some greater being behind it all, but the details are lost unless you seek to find out more.

At the end of her book, Britney has an open invitation for you to know the backstory of her choices. In her author’s note, she explains her love for Ireland, Maine, lighthouses, etc. She’s opened a door into her identity and has made her choices clearer for her readers.

Bible dock ocean sunsetGod gives us the same author’s note invitation to know Him in His Word – The Bible. He reveals His motives for the choices He’s made throughout the story of human history. He reveals the reason for the overarching plot, the climactic moment of His Son dying on the cross. He shows us His personality and how it affects the characters of the story, bringing some to complete repentance and others to total depravity and the hardening of their hearts. If you find yourself with some vague sense of who God is, both God and I invite you to dig deeper into Him. “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13).

Authoring a novel is another of many ways in which humans reflect the beautiful reality of how God works and who God is. This analogy can certainly be developed further, but I’ll let it rest with this simple invitation: seek Him and find Him throughout the masterfully told story of humanity.

 

Looking for a good book to read? Grab your copy of Finding Freedom – both ebook and paperback are available. If you order the paperback directly from my site, use the code FFRELEASE for 5% and free shipping or FFLOCAL for 20% off local pickup orders. And please, leave a review on Amazon when you’re done reading!

 

Earth Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Quill & Paper Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Bible & Water Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The Word is Jesus Christ John

Why Christians Should Write Fiction: The Power of Words and the Reason to Write Them

The Word is Jesus Christ JohnSeveral years back, a Mary Kay consultant came to my house. Before she left, she told me she thought I would make a good Mary Kay consultant and asked if I would be interested in joining her team.

I refrained from the urge to laugh and politely told her I would think about it. Me selling makeup is a laughable proposition to begin with. I am one of the lowest maintenance girls on the planet – if my makeup routine takes longer than 2.5 minutes, we have ventured into the land of improbability. Just ain’t happening, folks.

I later told her no, and not just for the above reason. In high school, I won every debate – but only when I agreed with the position I had to defend. Some people are great at selling anything you put in their hands or winning any debate, no matter which side of the argument they are on. That is simply not how I’m wired. I can only convince someone of something that I absolutely believe in, and when it came to Mary Kay, I couldn’t sell something I myself wasn’t sold on.

As I embark on my writing career, I find myself asking the same questions of passion and purpose behind writing. If I am going to put the work into this – and not just writing itself but everything that comes with it – I must be sold on it. I’m not just talking about believing in the quality of my writing; I’m talking about believing in the purpose of writing (and reading). I must be sold on fiction as a worthwhile pursuit if I am going to write it.

Is Writing Fiction a Worthwhile Pursuit?

Those musings have led me to mull over one persistent question with the Lord: why write, and why read? More specifically:

  • What’s the point in writing novels if they don’t end up getting published?
  • Since I can’t guarantee that any of them will get published, does that make writing them a work in futility?
  • What is the value of fiction? Are reading and writing a worthwhile pursuit when we have a lost and broken world that desperately needs to hear about Jesus before His return (which could be anytime, because none of us knows)?
  • Can writing novels be a Great Commission, Kingdom-building activity?
  • Scripture says do all to the glory of God – therefore, how do I write and read in a way that is purposeful and honoring to Him?

During my writing break over Lent, this question of “why write, why read?” was one of the central points of my reflection with the Lord. I could probably write 50,000 words about what the Lord is showing me from that time, but for today, there is one clear point I want to share:

Words have power.

There is a reason that people throughout history have burned books and emptied libraries as a way to contain ideology, limit thought, decrease self-sufficiency, and ultimately, control people. When you remove people’s access to written thought, you reduce their agency.

We see a clear example of this in our own country’s despicable history with slavery and racism: slaves were not allowed to learn to read or write. Why? Because reading and writing is knowledge, and knowledge gives agency. When the oppressed party exerts their own agency, it undermines the power of those in authority.

As I tell my 7-year-old daughter regularly: when you can read, you can learn anything. When you can write, you can think anything. Therefore words are a tool of power, which when yielded for good, can be utterly revolutionary, and when yielded (or revoked) for evil, can be utterly oppressive.

THE Word IS Power

As I reflect on the power of words, I cannot help but reflect on the power of THE Word. Scripture says Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died for our sins and rose victorious from the grave so that we can again have perfect fellowship with God throughout all eternity, is THE Word. Scripture says the entire created world and all of history point to Him, if we are willing to see it.

God doesn’t strip us of our agency and force us to see the world His way. He is not a tyrant blindly forcing us to succumb to His ideology; He is the loving Father teaching His children to read so that they may have the choice to believe truth. He has given us words and thought and free will. He has given us His Word, the Bible, which reveals THE Word, Jesus Christ.

THE Word, Jesus Christ, is the complete source of knowledge. He is the ultimate source of truth. He is the endless well of wisdom and understanding.

If words have power, THE Word IS power. Remember the quote I posted last week?

He utters His voice; the earth melts. – Psalm 46:6 (ESV)

That’s the power of THE Word. He alone has power to raise life from death. He alone has power melt the earth with the utterance of His voice. He alone has power to give us new life and restore the earth to the way things were meant to be. With the revelation of THE Word comes the revelation of the most precious thing: HOPE.

Writing Worthwhile Fiction

I want people to know that hope. That is my heartbeat. Therefore, my conclusion is simple – any reading and writing that points people to THE Word is purposeful and worthwhile. Any reading and writing that points my own heart to THE Word is purposeful and worthwhile. For when words draw us to THE Word, we encounter hope.

That has been my prayer since I first began writing stories as a child – that through my stories, people would see Jesus. Until He tells me to stop, I’m going to keep writing the kind of fiction that points people to Jesus. And if you, my readers, ever find that my writing ceases to fulfill that litmus test, by all means – stop me!

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.

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

 

Influences That Shaped My Writing: Fellow Authors, Part 1

If I could sit down with each of my favorite authors for an hour, do you know what question I would ask every one of them?

            What influences have shaped your writing?

Today I’m going to begin answering that question for you, because I imagine many of you would ask the same question.

There are far too many people who have influenced my writing to put in one blog post (ahem, mammoth post) so let’s make this a post series, shall we? Maybe another time I’ll write a series on experiences that have shaped my writing, but for now, let’s focus on people, and specifically, fellow authors and teachers, who have helped me grow as a writer.

So grab your cup of coffee (or tea, if you must), snuggle up under a blanket, and journey with me through my relationship with literature, starting with… (drumroll please) …

Marcus Pfister.

I’m not even joking.

You still think I am, don’t you?

Hear me out for a minute.

I was three years old. Maybe four. My family went to dinner (or something…I don’t really remember) at my preschool teacher’s house. Her husband happened to be my dad’s business partner at the time. There’s a fuzzy picture in my mind of a room and a book in a basket. She read me the book.

Marcus Pfister Rainbow Fish It was The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister.

Now, those who know me should be able to easily name one reason why I love that book: I have an affection for anything that sparkles. Who knows – maybe that book is the reason for my sparkle fixation! Reading that book for the first time…I was hooked on books. My mom read to us four kids a lot when we were little. She loves reading to children – and children love hearing her read. I have no doubt that The Rainbow Fish certainly wasn’t my experience being read to by an adult, nor my last.

I could name several other favorite childhood picture books, but The Rainbow Fish sticks out because it was the first time a book had me, heart and soul, forever locked in that favorite place in a reader’s heart. I was drawn into Marcus Pfister’s underwater world through the captivatingly colorful illustrations. I felt the pain and subsequent joy of the rainbow fish as he experiences the loneliness of having no friends followed by the warmth of sharing with others.

My heart still skips a little beat when I see that book. Even as an adult, the book takes me back to that happy reading place, the place where books give us a glimpse into another world and into the experiences of another person (or fish).

How, then, did The Rainbow Fish influence my writing? I think it’s suffice to say that had I not fallen in love with reading fiction, even as a small child, I would not have fallen in love with writing fiction. The Rainbow Fish taught me that books have the power to move the soul, transport the mind to another world, and teach invaluable lessons that shape us more than we’ll ever know.

What’s your favorite children’s book? What’s your earliest memory of reading?