Category Archives: Art

Create Anyway

Could you live your life in obscurity?

Could you — would you — still write, paint, draw, sing, act, dance, compose music, play music, take photos if no one ever knew your name? Never discovered your art?

What if you somehow lost the ability to write or play the music you hear in your head? The images you see? The stories you imagine?

What if you were crippled by arthritis, lost your sight, lost your hearing, lost control of part or all of your body, lost your vocal cords or damaged them just enough to still be able to talk but not to sing? What if you started to lose your mind, and you knew it?

Would you consider your efforts vain? If you lost the ability to create before what you had already created was discovered, would you consider your life wasted?

They’ve become almost cliche, as many times as they’ve been passed around the internet, but these words* written on the wall in  Mother Teresa‘s Calcutta orphanage still resonate with me:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

I used to work at a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the youth of the local community, and I posted those words often. Sometimes I’d catch kids looking up at the bulletin board or stopping outside my office window to read them. We didn’t discuss them much — kids will often absorb more via osmosis than they will by being lectured — but I referred to them on occasion when having to correct one of the members.

Had to remind myself, too, of the merit in pressing onward when life is bleak and there seems to be no reason to keep striving.

One of my early freelance newspaper articles involved an interview with a man suffering from MS, unable to physically write and barely able to shift himself from his bed to his chair, and yet he wrote stories by using a speech-recognition program on his computer.

A large writing group I once joined was led by a woman whose spinal and hip bones were deteriorating, and whose hands and wrists were arthritic, and yet she wrote in short sessions, refusing to give in to the inevitable.

A few years later, my critique buddy was a seventy-something alcoholic novelist whose anger and depression and regrets — the things he said he didn’t carry but which were evident in the stories he told — compelled him to write.

Via social media and e-zines, I have met several fellow writers suffering physical difficulties that not only impede their ability to interact in society, but also often obstruct their ability to write.

There was a long stretch of time when I, too, was barely able to function physically or mentally, and had to crawl back toward the light. At the moment, I’m in a greyness, a struggle with body and mind, that dims the light. And yet forward I must go.

Many creative folk I’ve known have been almost desperate to finish their work, “just in case”.  One writer also painted, and wanted to leave a legacy for her children and grandchildren. Another wanted to tell her mother’s story.  Another — one among myriad, I suspect — strove to fulfill a youthful dream set aside to raise a family and live her life.

Artist, singer, author, and speaker, Joni Eareckson Tada, is also quadriplegic, an inspiration and an encourager wherever she goes. The great composer Mozart died before he could finish Requiem, and Beethoven went deaf and became suicidal, thinking he no longer had a reason to exist — and yet he composed some of his most widely-recognized work after his hearing declined, including his Ninth Symphony and its famous “Ode to Joy” passage.

 

Keep going.

We cannot but create.

“We are all pencils in the hand of God.” -Mother Teresa

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* Click here and scroll to the end of the page to read The Paradoxical Commandments written by Dr. Kent M. Keith, upon which Mother Teresa’s version is based.

The Art of the Side Hustle

 

IMG_8836
It’s scary, trading a paycheck for doing something you really love. Or does it have to be that way?

Just the other day I was trying to explain to my parents what I was accomplishing with my art while working a traditional day job. My folks have heard about this art/writing stuff before, of course.

Mom was kind of my first editor when I was in the fifth grade.

She had looked at me with a puzzled expression after reading my first handwritten paragraph on blue-ruled school tablet paper. I was a big fan of horse stories in grade school: Black Beauty, King of the Wind, etc. All the horses in them had nice-sounding names, and so I picked the name “Lincoln” for my horse. The story began, “Lincoln was born in a pasture on a hill top…” Mom chuckled, looked even more confused as I launched into my explanation and then she said, “Oh, I thought you were writing about President Lincoln!”

Back to the present time: my parents know I make some money on the side through original jewelry design and eBay. But when I described what I was doing as a “side hustle” Mom looked puzzled. I guess hustle had a different meaning in the 1970s!

I think that beauty of the side hustle is that it allows you to explore what you really love to do without actually letting go of your full-time paycheck, yet.

But I still want to be a full-time artist and writer. It’s scary, trading a paycheck for doing something you really love. Or does it have to be that way?

I wish I could tell you I know the secrets of art business/writing business success. I don’t. I am still learning how to balance the side hustle art with my regular retail job.

Currently my little Etsy jewelry shop, Bohemian for Life, has been online for four years, has steady small sales and 40 followers. I began jewelry design in 2014, motivated by a friend who made a big success of it when the handmade jewelry market was beginning, before it became a commonplace idea. Did I have the idea of success fast? Oh yes.

But the market is now pretty full, rather like the self-publishing market for books. Once a novelty, now it’s big business, one in which new names struggle to be noticed.

So maybe it’s best to get in on the beginning of an idea.

Or it might be good to feed into the social media machine and have fantastic product samples for your readers and fans in form of product photos or snippets of text from your work.

start small

Here’s a brainstorming list I came up with of ideas to work that side dream job and create your own (mostly) free advertising:

–run a contest with a free book or a free art/craft item up for grabs

–market via your own website as well as the ones you sell on(my friend Keanan Brand has a good example of an author website)

–offer regular perks like special sales and coupons

–have a shareathon on various social media platforms

–post short videos about your story or art: book trailers, for example

–explore local venues for art and writing –farmer’s markets for art, local hotspots to leave business cards

–as a writer, can you get an opportunity to speak to students, or to join a writer’s group for local events to get your book name/your name out there?

–check your local shops for opportunities to sell both art and writing

–check with the local paper for an opinion piece opportunity

–start small, but think big (what will you do when your company grows?)

–network with bloggers in the same fields

–make the story of your art and writing personal, let your audience get to know you

While most self-published writers are trying the largest markets(often the most crowded ones)have you tried alternatives to some of the big names in e-book publishing? Here’s a blog post that might get you started: Alternatives to Amazon

If you have other ideas to add to my shortlist, please give a shout-out in the comments.

And keep working that side hustle, my artist and writer friends! May it turn into something much, much more.

Penworthy Press Presents: Dragon’s Rook by Keanan Brand

The Penworthy Press collective—sounds like a cult, doesn’t it? But we’re just writers, honest!—announces the first book published under our logo:

Dragon’s Rook, book one of The Lost Sword duology by Keanan Brand.

This epic fantasy tells the story of two kingdoms at war. The kings are brothers-in-law—Morfran’s late wife was Damanthus’ sister—but the conflict has nothing to do with family and everything to do with the Territories, a long strip of forest and hills ruled by neither kingdom. The people there govern themselves, but have no standing army.

When Morfran’s soldiers invade, a young shepherd name Gaerbith journeys to the Dissonay capital and begs help of Damanthus to keep the Skardians at bay.

Disson engages Skarda in war, and pushes the invaders out of the Territories and back into the western Plains of Skarda, near the Highlands, a hallowed and feared place where the dead are said to dwell.

When Dragon’s Rook begins, the war is at an impasse. Both sides have lost heavily, and ground has been neither gained nor given in a long while. Gaerbith is now a seasoned soldier and captain of the Fourth Lachmil. His skill in battle has gained him a reputation as possessing magic, but anything special he attributes to the fact that his mother was a Keeper, one of a group of immortals charged with keeping the Great Archive, a storied trove of learning and art that many think is just a myth.

His mother, Uártha, entrusted him with a secret that can only be unlocked when he takes the oath of a Keeper: the hiding place of Azrin, the lost sword of Kel High King, who in ages past slew a Dragon and freed the people.

Yet, even if Gaerbith takes the oath and learns the secret, he can do nothing without Kel High King’s nearest descendant, the only one to whom the sword will answer.

Dragon’s Rook is the name of a cave in Kel Tor near the village of Shea, where a blacksmith lives. He possesses a dagger decorated with the same metal from which Azrin was forged, and he remembers nothing before the day the previous blacksmith found him as a child and took him in as an apprentice.

Kieran Smith and Captain Gaerbith set out on unexpected journeys—the blacksmith to learn who he really is, the soldier to do his duty to a king—and along the way they face great foes, make new allies, gain love or lose it, and must decide whether or not to do the most frightening thing of all: trust their lives to the leading of the Voice.

Dragon’s Rook is currently available as an e-book (visit Keanan’s website or his blog to select which version you prefer), and will be coming soon in paperback.

The cover art and design are by another member of the Penworthy Press collective: artist and writer, Suzan Troutt. She can be found at Gothic Tones blog, at her online jewelry shop, or at Jade’s Journal.

Advance readers have commented favorably on the cadence and detail of the writing, and on the characters, especially the female protagonists. Some readers have selected the story’s quieter moments—not the battles, not the wonders, but the human interactions—as some of their favorites.

Although there are fantasy tropes and archetypes in Dragon’s Rook, there are few mythical creatures—aside from Dragons, there are bloodthirsty giant crows called Nar’ath, invented for this story, but expect no dwarves, elves, ogres, trolls, and the like. The author freely admits to the classical influences of Tolkien, Lewis, folklore, mythology, and the Bible, and built the world of Disson and Skarda on a mix of American and European geography, but weaves a story all his own.

We at Penworthy Press are proud to present this novel to the world. May it and its successors bring joy to their readers for many years to come.

Nobel, Patrick Modiano, and Me

Never heard of Patrick Modiano?

It might help if you lived in France.

I didn’t know there was any past kerfuffle over the Nobel committee’s tendency to be Euro-centric in its selections for the literary prize, but I don’t mind getting to know about excellent writers outside my own country.

(K)eep in mind that while foreign translations from most literary writers can be hard to come by, there really isn’t reason to complain about Nobel winners being inaccessible. After all, the vast majority of winners since the prize’s debut in 1901 had written in English.

What’s more, awarding the honor to little-known writers — at least, from an English-reader’s perspective — can help introduce authors to a wider audience. Shortly after Jelinek won the prize in 2004, the American distributor of her book The Piano Teacher ran out of copies because demand was so unusually high. That was famously one of the goals of the Swedish Academy’s previous Permanent Secretary, Horace Engdahl, who once responded to criticism saying, “The purpose of the prize is to make them famous, not to tap them when they are famous.”

That prospect has already excited fans of Modiano’s in France. Anne Ghisoli, the director of the Parisian bookstore Librairie Gallimard, told the Times she had long been a Modiano fan, “but this prize will help raise the global profile of one of our consummate writers.”

[Gibson, Megan. “Why You Haven’t Heard of Patrick Modiano, Winner of the Nobel in LiteratureTime, 9 October 2014.]

A portion of his speech is highlighted in today’s issue of Shelf Awareness:

Time has speeded up since then and moves forward in fits and starts–explaining the difference between the towering literary edifices of the past, with their cathedral-like architectures, and the disjointed and fragmented works of today. From this point of view, my own generation is a transitional one, and I would be curious to know how the next generations, born with the Internet, mobile phones, e-mails and tweets, will express through literature this world in which everyone is permanently ‘connected’ and where ‘social networks’ are eating into that part of intimacy and secrecy that was still our own domain until quite recently–the secrecy that gave depth to individuals and could become a major theme in a novel. But I will remain optimistic about the future of literature and I am convinced that the writers of the future will safeguard the succession just as every generation has done since Homer.

I can identify with that need to put up a shield against the noise and the constant connection that eats at the soul.

Although I won a few prizes for speech-giving while in school, I dislike standing before crowds because my hands and voice shake and my thoughts scatter. Modiano, too, expresses his discomfort:

Calling to mind the way school lessons distinguish between the written and the oral, a novelist has more talent for written than oral assignments. He is accustomed to keeping quiet, and if he wants to imbibe an atmosphere, he must blend in with the crowd. He listens to conversations without appearing to, and if he steps in it is always in order to ask some discreet questions so as to improve his understanding of the women and men around him. His speech is hesitant because he is used to crossing out his words. It is true that after several redrafts, his style may be crystal clear. But when he takes the floor, he no longer has any means at his disposal to correct his stumbling speech.

Ah, yes. The need to constantly edit and revise. That explains my current profession.

Gustave Flaubert, a 19th-century French writer whose work ethic and precision with words one might well admire and imitate, even if his personal activities were best left behind the curtain, once wrote, “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”

And, I might add, it is in the act of writing that you realize not only do you have something to say, it is worth saying.

I also belong to a generation in which children were seen and not heard except on certain rare occasions and only after asking permission. But no one ever listened and people would often talk across them. That explains the difficulty that some of us have when speaking – sometimes hesitant, sometimes too fast as if we expect to be interrupted at any moment. This is perhaps why the desire to write came over me, like so many others, at the end of childhood. You hope that the adults will read what you write. That way, they will have to listen to you without interrupting and they will jolly well know what it is you have on your chest.

Listening — truly listening — is a great gift.

We may not understand all we hear, we may not agree with all we hear, but if we listen, we will learn, we will build bridges, we will encourage.

I was a child whose early, stumbling, terrible writings were listened to with patience and encouraged by adults. It was my peers who made me mute. They mocked, they misunderstood, they shrugged. Without the listening ears of a few grownups I respected and loved, I might not be a writer today.

Akin to truly listening is truly reading. There are few things more encouraging to a writer than knowing his words are being read. And not just read. Loved.

The announcement of this award seemed unreal to me and I was eager to know why you chose me. On that day I do not think I had ever been more acutely aware of how blind a novelist is when it comes to his own books, and how much more the readers know about what he has written than he does. A novelist can never be his own reader, except when he is ridding his manuscript of syntax errors, repetitions or the occasional superfluous paragraph. He only has a partial and confused impression of his books, like a painter creating a fresco on the ceiling, lying flat on a scaffold and working on the details, too close up, with no vision of the work as a whole…

So yes, the reader knows more about a book than the author himself. Something happens between a novel and its reader which is similar to the process of developing photographs, the way they did it before the digital age. The photograph, as it was printed in the darkroom, became visible bit by bit. As you read your way through a novel, the same chemical process takes place. But for such harmony to exist between the author and his reader, it is important never to overextend the reader – in the sense that we talk about singers overextending their voice – but to coax him imperceptibly, leaving enough space for the book to permeate him little by little, by means of an art resembling acupuncture, in which the needle merely has to be inserted in exactly the right spot to release the flow in the nervous system.

A certain short story comes to mind, one in which I purposely included certain themes but in which readers found other connections, better connections, than I intended. That was, I think, the first time I realized that a writer and a reader encounter different stories, though the words are the same.

The rest of Modiano’s excellent speech is dense with historical and literary references, and is literature itself. I highly recommend it to every writer, and to every reader who wonders where writers find their stories.

It and other speeches can be read at the Nobel website. Photos of the author can be viewed at The Telegraph, and an introduction to/review of some of his works may be read at The Guardian.

Dragon’s Rook–the Evolution of a Book Cover

My friend and fellow author Keanan Brand is nearing the publication of his new fantasy novel, Dragon’s Rook. In June, I saw this post on his Adventures In Fiction blog: “Wanted: Cover Artist.”

When Keanan asked me if I’d draw the cover art for his book, I accepted the job and felt honored to be chosen for the work.  As a child the public library was my playground of choice and I suspect that deep down it has always been my dream to be a cover artist!

But there was a problem. I was trying to break into the design world via my Bamboo tablet (a graduation gift). I’d already faced the challenge of learning to draw on a flat surface while looking at the laptop screen to see where my stylus was pointing. How I wished I had a tablet with a screen as I struggled to get my hand-eye coordination right! For an artist used to drawing on paper, it was certainly my first hurdle to overcome.

Practice improved my skills, and I felt ready to try a larger project.

The Original Vision:

Keanan’s vision for the cover of Dragon’s Rook was a detailed drawing–

“Art involving a dragon eye, a massive claw gripping a pile of rubble, one wing wrapping the side and bottom of a crumbling stone tower, and maybe shadowy shapes in the dark distance. A cover that will still look good as a thumbnail image.”

My Vision:

Though I searched online for images to inspire the work, I felt drawn to the idea of a circle in the middle of the book cover. A single dragon eye, like the picture Keanan had posted on his blog. We talked about it, and Keanan liked the idea. It almost seemed to pay homage to a hardbound book he recalled from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The Eye of Sauron. The eye of the Dragon King.

We decided that a castle tower would be reflected in the pupil.

A simple and thought-provoking image, telling a tale, inviting the reader to open the book. Or in this case to purchase it for their e-reader, since Dragon’s Rook will be published electronically first.

Evolving Images:

My initial offering was a rather menacing eye, but still not detailed enough to catch the reader’s attention as a thumbnail image. You can see this below.

dragon eye example

I also had a few hiccups along the way, including one image that looked a little bit like an olive. “Dragon’s Cook?”

dragon_eye_greengold

Finally the image began to look more like something we both felt was getting close to the vision.dragon_eye_greengold.sumo5

I wanted to add smoke and fire, but felt it would complicate the image too much. Keanan suggested creating a white for the eye rather than using the yellow background for the iris. I also wanted to add wrinkles to indicate the creature’s age.

I decided to build up the scales with the bevel effect with the Bamboo oil and dry brush tools. The scales reminded me of cobblestones. The bevel effect made them pop with an almost 3D-style!

The details faded as the viewer got further from the center of the eye. Like a tornado, the swirling scales pulled a sharper focus toward what the dragon was viewing.

The Final Image in Progress:

dragon_eye_greengold.sumo7

We felt that our vision for the cover was simple, intriguing, and menacing!

Future Plans:

We plan to use a very similar style for the  Dragon’s Bane cover. This is the next book in the series, and it will feature the eye of a different dragon character, with a sword instead of a castle tower in the iris of the eye. This image is not shown at full size, but should give a good idea of our design plans for the book.

Feedback on this design is greatly appreciated as we finalize the project!

-Suzan Troutt, artist and author, art copyright 2014-

Dragon’s Rook–the Evolution of a Book Cover

My friend and fellow author Keanan Brand is nearing the publication of his new fantasy novel, Dragon’s Rook. In June, I saw this post on his Adventures In Fiction blog: “Wanted: Cover Artist.”

When Keanan asked me if I’d draw the cover art for his book, I accepted the job and felt honored to be chosen for the work.  As a child the public library was my playground of choice and I suspect that deep down it has always been my dream to be a cover artist!

But there was a problem. I was trying to break into the design world via my Bamboo tablet (a graduation gift). I’d already faced the challenge of learning to draw on a flat surface while looking at the laptop screen to see where my stylus was pointing. How I wished I had a tablet with a screen as I struggled to get my hand-eye coordination right! For an artist used to drawing on paper, it was certainly my first hurdle to overcome.

Practice improved my skills, and I felt ready to try a larger project.

The Original Vision:

Keanan’s vision for the cover of Dragon’s Rook was a detailed drawing–

“Art involving a dragon eye, a massive claw gripping a pile of rubble, one wing wrapping the side and bottom of a crumbling stone tower, and maybe shadowy shapes in the dark distance. A cover that will still look good as a thumbnail image.”

My Vision:

Though I searched online for images to inspire the work, I felt drawn to the idea of a circle in the middle of the book cover. A single dragon eye, like the picture Keanan had posted on his blog. We talked about it, and Keanan liked the idea. It almost seemed to pay homage to a hardbound book he recalled from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The Eye of Sauron. The eye of the Dragon King.

We decided that a castle tower would be reflected in the pupil.

A simple and thought-provoking image, telling a tale, inviting the reader to open the book. Or in this case to purchase it for their e-reader, since Dragon’s Rook will be published electronically first.

Evolving Images:

My initial offering was a rather menacing eye, but still not detailed enough to catch the reader’s attention as a thumbnail image. You can see this below.

dragon eye example

I also had a few hiccups along the way, including one image that looked a little bit like an olive. “Dragon’s Cook?”

dragon_eye_greengoldFinally the image began to look more like something we both felt was getting close to the vision.dragon_eye_greengold.sumo5

I wanted to add smoke and fire, but felt it would complicate the image too much. Keanan suggested creating a white for the eye rather than using the yellow background for the iris. I also wanted to add wrinkles to indicate the creature’s age.

I decided to build up the scales with the bevel effect with the Bamboo oil and dry brush tools. The scales reminded me of cobblestones. The bevel effect made them pop with an almost 3D-style!

The details faded as the viewer got further from the center of the eye. Like a tornado, the swirling scales pulled a sharper focus toward what the dragon was viewing.

The Final Image in Progress:

dragon_eye_greengold.sumo7

We felt that our vision for the cover was simple, intriguing, and menacing!

Future Plans:

We plan to use a very similar style for the  Dragon’s Bane cover. This is the next book in the series, and it will feature the eye of a different dragon character, with a sword instead of a castle tower in the iris of the eye. This image is not shown at full size, but should give a good idea of our design plans for the book.

Feedback on this design is greatly appreciated as we finalize the project!

-Suzan Troutt, artist and author, art copyright 2014-

Wanted: Cover Artist

from Unambiguously Ambidextrous blog

Just posted this on Facebook:

Artists–

My first choice for book cover artist isn’t available after all, and I’m in need of art involving a dragon eye, a massive claw gripping a pile of rubble, one wing wrapping the side and bottom of a crumbling stone tower, and maybe shadowy shapes in the dark distance. A cover that will still look good as a thumbnail image.

No fancy streamers on this dragon, or fur or horns, but make him streamlined and muscular. Defined eye ridge. Cat-like rather than human-looking pupil. Think ginormous Komodo dragon with a large wingspan and a long neck and tail. Legs maybe a person-and-a-half tall. Gold scales, green eyes.

Full disclosure: I can’t pay much right now, but I want to be fair, and may be able to add a bonus after the book sells. I’m interested in your best work. The fantasy novel — Dragon’s Rook — will be released as an e-book first, and then in print. You will receive full credit for your work (on the copyright page and/or in the acknowledgements), and I will be happy to include your contact information, as well (website, e-mail, etc.). Thanks!

To the description should be added these necessary details: broader head or snout than a Komodo, and huge eyes. None of these beady little things that are easily dismissed, but mysterious, arresting eyes that could mesmerize anyone looking into them. If that’s not possible with a cat-like pupil/iris, then use a human-like eye shape.

If this sounds like a project you’d be interested in joining, please leave a reply to this post.

I’m interested in seeing various styles of art, and whichever is chosen for Dragon’s Rook will have the first crack at the cover for the second book, titled either Dragon’s Bane or Dragon’s Blood.

Telling Our Stories (Part 2)

In Part 1 of “Telling Our Stories”,  an adaptation of a presentation given to a female group of non-writers, I discussed editing, faith, and how and why God is a storyteller. In this half, I discuss why we need to tell our stories, and then I’ll share a bit of my own.

My favorite Bible stories teach and encourage me:
Queen Esther
Mary, the mother of Jesus
Ruth
Elizabeth, her wise cousin
David and Goliath
the Resurrection
Elijah and Elisha
the Acts of the Apostles
and many, many more.

Jesus told parables involving women (the lost coin, the ten virgins), and there are several stories in the Gospels of His interaction with women:
woman taken in adultery
Jairus’ daughter
woman at the well
Peter’s mother-in-law
woman with the issue of blood
Mary at the wedding in Cana
the Syro-Phoenician woman
the women among His followers

The Old Testament is also full of strong female role-models: Esther and Ruth, of course, as well as Deborah the judge and Rahab who—even though she was a prostitute—came to trust God and was an ancestor of Jesus. The stories of Abigail and other women not only captured my imagination, but planted truths in my soul that helped me grow in my faith, even as a child.

3

God invites us to be storytellers.

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy
Psalm 107:2 (NKJV)

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe
Psalm 107:2 (NIV)

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Deuteronomy 6:4-6 (NKJV)

But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:14-15 (NKJV)

So, why don’t we share our stories?

Pride? Fear? Distrust?

Perhaps we think people will judge us or won’t care.

Maybe we don’t know that our stories matter.

Maybe our stories are difficult—not just difficult to hear, but difficult to tell.

If so, here’s a secret:

Stories are only interesting if something bad happens.

If the hero never faces a challenge, never has an obstacle to overcome or an enemy to defeat, what’s the point? If Goliath was a wimpy little fella, why tell the story?

If it were a movie, people would fall asleep in the theater. If a book, it would never be read.

I’m not saying we should be happy when trouble enters our lives, but we can recognize it for what it is: another twist in the plot, another event in the story of our lives.

Yaquina Bay Bridge, Newport, Oregon (c2013, KB)
Yaquina Bay Bridge, Newport, Oregon (c2013, KB)

We’ll tell others about it later—how we faced down death, came back from the brink of financial disaster, survived homelessness or alcoholism or physical abuse. Stories are bridges between hopelessness and purpose, failure and perseverance, darkness and light.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:1-5 (NKJV)

THAT’s why we tell our story.

4

I always wanted to be brave, but knew I was a coward.

I loved to read stories of heroes from history, heroes of the faith, everyday people who were strong and stood for what was right.

However, I wouldn’t tell the truth when I should, out of fear of the consequences.

In childhood and even into my twenties, I attended churches with intensely evangelistic environments that could be compared to high-pressure sales: no one was getting away without hearing our pitch.

I hid from that by—ironically enough—carrying my Bible on top of all my schoolbooks, hoping other kids would ask me about it without me having to approach them first.

I’d stand up for my friends, but mock my faith, my overweight appearance, my bookish ways, and I’d back down and hide.

At age four, a huge fear entered my life, and with it came nightmares.

In the early 70s, my cousin DJ and I witnessed a fatal accident while playing in our grandparents’ front yard. We’d wanted to play in the ditch, but the grownups wouldn’t let us because 1) it was muddy, and 2) it was outside the fence.

We heard a screeching crash, and looked up to see what looked like one car with two back ends. A drunk driver in a Thunderbird had rounded the corner and veered into the inside lane, crashing head-on into a family’s station wagon.

He was thrown into a blackberry bramble on the far side of the road, and survived with only scratches and a broken collar bone. As I recall, only the father and one child survived in the station wagon.

In the confusion to help the victims, someone handed me a blanket, and I did what everyone else was doing, and toddled out to the ditch so I could give one of the rescuers a blanket. Recall, I was only four, and this was before the days of 911 and rescue vehicles being coordinated in their response times.

I reached the ditch, and saw my father straddling a body with no face. Whenever he would push down on the chest, air bubbles formed in the blood where the face should have been. I held out the blanket. He reached for it, and then he realized who was standing there. He yelled at me to get away, and I thought he was angry with me. Only later did I understand he was trying to protect me.

From that day onward, I had a fear of accidents, of wearing my seatbelt or not wearing it, of being cut by glass or being thrown out the window or hitting face-first against the seat in front of me. Riding in cars was stressful for a good long while.

Much later, in late teens and early twenties, I lived in a long dark tunnel of depression. The first time, I was suicidal. The second depression was shorter, I recognized it for what it was, and came out of it stronger than before.

I’ve survived automobile accidents, workplace bullies, foolish choices, church gossip, and even my own family.

Shortly before my twelfth birthday, my maternal grandfather and my uncle resorted to violence to settle a problem so minor it could have been resolved with a conversation. It didn’t even bear mentioning.

And yet they held a knife to my eight-year-old brother’s throat, and guns to our heads.

They threatened to kill our parents if anyone came to get us. They disowned my mother, and said many other things best forgotten. Peace I cannot describe came over me, and I knew God was in charge. We were going to come out of there alive.

There’s more to that story, but I’ll tell you later.

In my twenties, a suicidal woman named Carol pointed a gun at me and my friend, intending to kill us and then herself. I didn’t move, didn’t speak, but just continued leaning against the window A/C unit and sent up a silent prayer. I didn’t know what else to do. Again, I was strangely calm in that moment. I was ready to die.

Carol put down her gun and wept. Many nights later, she was drunk and met me in the church parking lot, but wouldn’t look me in the eyes. She said the reason she couldn’t pull the trigger the first night, and why she couldn’t look at me now, was because of the person she saw with me, the person looking out of my eyes. Not me. Someone else was looking at her. She wanted the love she saw, but felt unworthy of it. Could I help her?

In my thirties, I hit an icy patch on the road and rolled my truck. The man who helped me get out expected to find a dead body. Instead, I blacked out only briefly. Although I had a concussion and strained muscles, I was cognizant and fully able to move.

When I look back on the events of my life—the miracles, the healings, the long troubles that seemed never to end—I can see the story God has been telling.

But only when I look back. It’s hard in the moment to see the story.

5

Why Stories?

Stories are powerful.

They convey truth often better than a lecture, an advice column, or even a sermon.

And how are sermons illustrated? By scriptures and by stories.

Jesus used stories to point to the kingdom of heaven, to show people how to live, to show how much God loves us. However, to do so, He also showed us ourselves in our imperfections. In the parables of Jesus, people make mistakes or wrong decisions:
a rebellious son squanders his inheritance
a man forgiven his debt refuses to forgive someone else
bridesmaids arrive unprepared
wedding guests refuse to accept a generous invitation

For centuries, histories were kept alive by storytelling. Now we write history in books.

In past generations, classic stories pointed—directly and indirectly—to God and to Biblical truths: Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan; The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis; Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace; The Darkness and the Dawn by Thomas B. Costain; and more.

Strong stories often contain Biblical truths or concepts,
although they may not outright preach them.

I reiterate, stories are powerful.

People who might never pick up a Bible will pick up a novel.

Stories can reveal truth in ways that will capture the minds and hearts of readers who otherwise might never come into a church to hear the sermons.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [overcome] it. John 1:4-5 (NKJV)

Stories spark the imagination.

They ask questions and rouse curiosity. They engage the mind.

Remember the disciples asking Jesus what His parables meant? The disciples were interacting with the stories. They were engaged.

Stories are why novels, role-playing games, stage plays, television shows, and movies are so influential in our culture.

To Be Told
Click the book cover to read a sample chapter

To further answer the question, “Why stories?” read Dan Allender’s excellent book, To Be Told. In it, he shows how God uses our stories to guide, heal, and direct us, and to help us minster to others.

6

Remember when I said there was more to the story involving my grandparents and my uncle?

The police took my brother and me away from the house in the wee hours of the morning. The grownups said everything was my fault.

My parents considered pressing charges, or at least getting a restraining order, but because of what my grandparents and uncle told the police, I was afraid they would lie in court. I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. I just wanted everything to quiet down and be normal again.

About a year or so later, my grandparents announced that my grandfather’s heart was failing, and begged to come see us. I tried to be cool about it, but I couldn’t wait for them to leave.

A couple years after that, near Thanksgiving, my grandfather died. Mom mourned him, but I couldn’t understand. Yeah, he was her father, but he’d been abusive to her, and he’d tried to kill me and my brother. I was relieved he was dead.

This August, nearly thirty years later, Mom and I traveled out west to see my grandmother and uncle. I didn’t want to, but I knew it mattered to Mom, and we’d had a trip to the West Coast planned for several years.

I’d forgiven my grandmother and uncle a long, long time ago. Yet, rather than accept the responsibility for their actions, they continued to blame me.

But when we walked into the rehab center, Grandma was sitting in her wheelchair near the door, and the first thing she said to me, tears running down her face, was “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” No blame, no lies, just repentance.

Life is messy.
It’s also full of blessing.
Life is hard, but God is good.
And that’s my story.

–The Story Never Ends–