For the past twenty years, I’ve immersed myself in the world of children’s literature. For the past thirty-five years I’ve been a Christian, a lover of Jesus Christ, and a pursuer of his plan for my life. As I prayed and stepped through open doors in my early twenties, I sensed that he wanted me in the secular writing world, writing books that could be found alongside Harry Potter and Charlotte’s Web, Ramona the Pest and Hunger Games.
After only a few months of pounding the keyboard I realized I yearned for the company of other writers. I reached out to the local children’s writing community, a group of writers that met once a month. I soon became connected with other writers and we read each other’s manuscripts, picked apart good books to figure out what made them work, shared writing woes and writing victories. These relationships were vital to my growth as a writer and my desire to connect, but my soul, my creative soul, was feeling parched. At meetings we learned strategies for how to plot or outline or get to the heart of a story. Speakers talked about how books were always important to them and how they really wanted to make a difference in a child’s life. I learned from them, I identified with them, but something was lacking.
As the years went by, stories were written and edited and set aside. My community of writer friends grew, but I still felt a hole in my gut. I began to notice stories published by my church about members of our congregation. In August of 2012 our family hosted a young girl from Rwanda who came to America for medical treatment. I blogged about the experience, and I was encouraged to submit our story to the Story Team. It was accepted, and I was asked if I wanted to tell our story or if I wanted to give it to a writer from the team. I was taken off guard. I had only written children’s fiction, I wasn’t a part of the Story Team. I opted to have someone else write our story, but the invitation to join Story Team continued to poke at my parched soul.
I was worried it would take away from my writing time. I already had a full plate, I was already connected, I already had a trajectory, a path I had pursued for many years, and yet, I was still thirsty. In November of 2013 I took a leap of faith and contacted Steven Bush, director of the Austin Stone Story Team, and told him I wanted to give it a try. Before I was assigned a story, I attended a quarterly Saturday workshop. I felt a little out of place stepping into the auditorium. These were not my people. I didn’t know a soul. I sat at a table of strangers and got busy with my breakfast taco to avoid asking get-to-know-you questions to the other people at the table.
Steven Bush, the Lead Storyteller for Story Team, got on stage and prayed before we began. This was different. This was intentionally giving our time to God before we ever began talking about writing. For years my writing meetings had opened with announcements, not prayer. It was like I had been sitting down for years and digging in to my meal, and then one day I came to dinner and bowed my head before taking a bite. A trickle of truth, of “this is how it’s supposed to be,” began sprinkling on my parched soul.
Steven began to talk about how we crave authenticity, and my heart leapt. All these years I’d been inserting myself into a group of talented writers to learn my craft, but I never felt entirely authentic with them. Steven was talking about our stories, but I was responding with my story, my life. He talked about the epic novel, the Bible, and about how all our stories are patterned after it. We experience conflict. We have to have conflict so we can have a resolution. We must tell the dark side in our stories.
These were all principles I’d heard before. Of course stories need conflict. It makes them more interesting. Readers don’t want to read about a character who has no problems. But to set that principle against the context of the Bible, to recognize that the reason we crave conflict in a story is because we are drawn to the best story, the true story, the story of our own fall and redemption. This was new territory and my soul was doused as I drunk it all in.
I began to write stories for the team. As a fiction wrier, interviewing someone and discerning their plot instead of making one up, was novel. It pushed me to dig deep, ask hard questions, respond with compassion, and write with the goal of getting to the gospel in every story I told. Steven Bush asked a question that day in the church auditorium, “What Biblical truth can we cling to that helps us tell a better story?” This began to bleed into my fiction as well, where I explored themes like guilt, forgiveness, and redemption. Though my children’s fiction is considered secular, it speaks truth that is most sacred.
My thirst for God and Christian community will never be quenched, and my writing life is now nourished with the truth of scripture and Biblical teaching, not just secular wisdom. It is a rich, fertile ground that is producing a crop of stories that will impact many lives, starting with my own.
Feature image by Jordan Vonderhaar