Saturday, July 15, 2006

Not Earned

I've been thinking about my previous post on Christy Reflections, and there's something I want to clarify and expand upon. I not only didn't earn this award all by myself -- I didn't earn it at all. I don't see this as a partnership. I'm the slave, He's the master. He must increase, I must decrease. I see the award as a grace gift from my Father all the way, and grace, by definition, means I can't have had any part in earning or working for it.

I realize this is a difficult concept to get one's mind around. It's taken me about thirty years. All the times my pastor has said that we don't deserve anything, that everything that comes to us does so as a function of the grace of God, I didn't really understand what he was saying. Part of me would hmph and grump and say, "Well I'm the one who's doing all the writing! I'm the one who's doing the thinking and the striving and so forth. I don't see how that's not something I've done."

So God, in his everlasting faithfulness, has seen fit to show me what He has given me:

A body that includes a brain that is able to think at all, lungs that breathe, fingers that type, eyes that see, a butt that can sit in a chair (and with some of the transient ailments/injuries that have come to me over the last couple of years -- at least six different things-- not even this is a given).

Air to breathe, food, clothing, shelter, a computer, an office with a door, mentors, friends, critiquers when I needed them, instruction -- by books, by people, by conference. Other writers who write books to inspire and instruct me. Novels, novels, novels to read and love and study.

A prepared pastor who studies the word of God daily and sees that his congregation gets daily academic teaching of the word, either from him, or his excellent pastors-in-training. The local building where the teaching can occur, a computer to access it with, the brain/air etc to be able to hear and concentrate on the message, the filling of the Holy spirit to enable me to understand it.

It is this information, learned, believed, stored in my soul and applied in my life -- along with all the myriad life experiences I've had -- that have given me the subject matter I write about.
Everything that I am -- my personality, my likes and dislikes, my upbringing -- is courtesy of God's grace ("I am what I am by the Grace of God"). My lifelong love for words and fiction, the ability to use words easily (it's like breathing for the most part; my mother says I taught myself to read and I cannot recall a time when I did not know how) my ease and love of reading... all from Him.

Story generation is about the same. I believe God has placed in me the desire and aptitude to write -- a natural one that predates my salvation. Once I was saved, the desire to write novels melded with the desire to write about the Christian way of life (my life) and to illuminate the wonders of who God is. I no more go to the keyboard out of "obedience" than I breathe and eat out of obedience. It's something I have a strong desire to do, even when I don't want to do it. (A statement which probably only another writer can understand.) I am more inclined to be of the viewpoint of trying to fit my life into my writing, than the other way around.

And even when I look back on what I did during the writing of Shadow Over Kiriath, I see not much of me and a whole lot of Him: so many times I had to wait for the words to come. When I didn't want to work, it was because there were no words, no scenes, no ideas. I wanted them though, so I was willing to do whatever it took to get them to come: wait, walk, nonstop, outline, plan... I had to do lots of confession of anxiety and impatience and frustration. But when the words and scenes finally did come, I was at the keyboard typing away, completely absorbed. I love to do it. I want to do it. And so I do it. It just doesn't seem much like obedience.

Obedience is when you have to go next door and apologize to the man for your dog who just ran into his yard and bayed at him until he jumped onto the hood of his truck (I suppose that means that Bear has "treed" a man...) That's when you want to crawl in a hole and do anything but face the guy, but you do it anyway, because you know that's what the Lord wants you to do.
Writing for the most part is not like that at all.

Okay, but what about the thinking and the stories?

The stories, as I said come out of who I am -- all the stories I've read and seen in movies, everything that delights me or frustrates me or excites me. The craft, the putting of it all together, that comes from the reading I've done, the instruction I've had, all down through the years, opportunity after opportunity -- all from the Lord. (When I first decided I wanted to write novels again, but as a Christian now, the very next day I found a Writer's Handbook sitting on the bottom shelf of a bedside table where we were housesitting; shortly after that, living in Northern Arizona, I went to the thimble-sized library in the teacup-sized town of Lakeside, AZ and discovered an entire set of the Famous Writers Study at Home Course for fiction -- which completely blew me away.)

Yes, I always took advantage but it never seemed like obedience. I was delighted to do it. I loved learning about the craft, and studying other novels and seeing what worked and what didn't. It was pure pleasure. I loved tinkering with my own works to improve them. And I began to think that maybe I knew quite a bit about how to write fiction...

Since I've had to write to a deadline, though, the Lord has taken that part away from me. I start a book with the vaguest of outlines. Maybe a paragraph or two of words that will somehow become a 211,000 page manuscript (LOL). The entire time I'm writing, I don't know where I'm going, really, beyond what's in those two paragraphs. Scenes will pop into my head that seem to have nothing to do with the rest of it, but it's the only thing I have. It's seat of the pants, and I'm not by nature a seat of the pants writer. Before I was published, when I had all the time in the world, I liked the outline approach. I did the scene and sequel cards. I had things mapped out. I took the time to get my head around the whole story. If I chose, I could put it away for a month, six months, even a year to cool so I could come back to it entirely fresh. No more. The Lord has taken that away, so all the things I might consciously bring to the table in order to control, direct and manage the process are no longer there. Which means He's the one who has to do it.

With regard to the writing, I feel very much like a branch. And a branch is just a tube through which the vine pours nourishment out to the leaves and the fruit. Every day I have to go to my Father and ask what I'm to do next. I have to trust Him to guide me when it seems like I'm going nowhere. I sometimes sit down and just ask him to give me a scene. And He does. When it's done and I see things that I had no idea were there... how can I take any credit for that?

The only thing I can take credit for is obeying the command to "seek Him first, and His Righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." And by seek Him, I mean making the number one priority in my life to be my daily exposure to my pastor's teaching of God's word. Okay, and being filled with the Spirit as much as possible, too, so I can apply what I've learned to my life. Listen to the word being taught on a daily basis, keep short accounts in the confession of sin. Everything else that's of any worth at all comes from those two things. (And even in this I can't take much credit since He does all the work here, too. But that's another post.)

"He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, "We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done." Luke 17:9,10

And that which we were made to do, as well.