Monday, July 4, 2011

Writing When It Hurts

Writing a novel is alot like the cliffs notes of a book.

All the important stuff - but in a condensed version.

There has been a lot of tough stuff going on for a lot of people lately, and I've been thinking about how our stories parallel life in so many ways.

As writers, we help people understand one of life’s basic truths.

They are not alone because bad stuff happens to everyone.

Whether in this century or the last, we could quote what the preacher said yesterday. “Manure happens.”

Was he talking about gardening? Cattle farming?

Nope – he was talking about ‘the fruit of the Spirit’.
Anyone else lost by that correlation?
 Let me explain:

Life is full of stuff- good, bad, amazing, horrible, shocking, transforming…stuff, but the stuff that has a tendency to ‘grow’ us the most, is the strategically placed trials God allows into our lives.
The manure, so to speak.
God cultivates kindness, goodness, gentleness, patience (I always cringe when I type that word) – through our suffering. We grow.
(The picture to the right is of quadraplegic, painter, singer, speaker and Christian author Joni Erekson Tada)
As writers, this news shouldn't surprise us. We throw manure at our characters from the first chapter to the last. Piles of it.
Conflict makes a good story, of course – but suffering builds character.

Trouble has a way of refining us, digging to our core and showing what we’re really made of and who it is we truly trust. And ya know what?
I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask why.
It’s okay to scream to heaven and wonder what He’s doing up there.
It’s okay to show your weaknesses, pout, and shudder from the fear of what might happen next.

God isn’t surprised by any of our reactions. He made us. He knows.
So the question isn’t really ‘why does bad stuff happen’, but ‘how do we grow from the bad stuff that does happen?”

Perspective changes everything. The lens through which we view our circumstances directs our thoughts, emotions, and reactions. Our POV, if you will.

I know we’ve shared a lot on this site about our dear Alley Cat, Krista, but her journey for the past year with her daughter, Annabelle, has been an example of perspective and faith. I’m sure she’d tell you that there were plenty of times when she felt like screaming to high heaven, when she questioned why, when her heart cried ‘how long’, but within the weak moments, God grew elements of strength that the rest of us may not have yet.

I don’t know how you deal with the bumps and bristles of life, but I’ve found comfort in the fact that there is purpose in them. When trials and hurts come into our lives, we usually respond in various ways. Here are a few of the positive ones:
1.       We slow down
2.       We reflect
3.       We gain perspective
4.       We find the light
5.       We grow from the moment

Besides the spiritual aspect of growing more like our Creator, we grow in other ways too. As writers, working through our own wounds, trials, and disappointments adds spine to our stories in ways other things never could.

I can assure you that the way I describe the emotions involving death is a lot different than before I lost one of my best friends in October (my grandmother)
But...I don't want or need to experience first-hand all the heartaches I put my poor characters through to write about them - I will say though, the deeper our pain, the deeper our growth, and from those deep wells of emotion we can write.

Great things usually come out of struggles. In fact, look at this nation! Today we celebrate Independence Day - a day carved in American history after years of conflict and pain.  Would we have a day like this to celebrate or be as proud Americans as we are, if we hadn't fought for this liberty? If it hadn't cost us something?

Writing can be great therapy. By putting our thoughts, feelings, wounds, and praises on paper, it slows us down so we can reflect on them. As Christians, it gives us time to gain a proper perspective and find the light of God’s grace in the middle of the pain. Out of our writing, reflection, and soul searching, we grow more like Jesus.

(And the best thing about it is that HE is with us all the way. He sends His hands and feet, through other Believers, to comfort us and give us strength)

Did you know that more writing time was spent on the last week of Christ’s life than any other part of the gospels? For example, the book of John is flying along chatper by chapter and then…boom – we slow down once Jesus rides into Jerusalem. The pacing is slower. There are more descriptives. God is drawing attention to an important part of the story, helping us experience it with the disciples.

It’s a powerful writing tool. When your character is struggling, emphasize the moment by slowing down the pace. If God used it, then it must be a good one J

What else do we learn from suffering and the Bible? Well, it’s what any good novel shows.  A main character struggling through adversity and growing from it in the end. The Bible is peppered with examples. Wounds, adversity, poor choices, calamity, persecution, temptation… for both heroes in the faith and the every day ‘women at the well’, there is a story of growth through pain.

Hmmm…..sounds like life.

Manure happens.
We grow from it – as people and as writers.

I wrote a poem after a miscarriage because conversations just weren’t powerful enough.
I started a novel born out of pain and it became a beautiful way for me to deal with a deep wound from my childhood. Cathartic.

If nothing ever happens from my words in print, it was enough to write them for my healing heart.

You see, if you haven’t figured it out by now – writing is more than just a hobby, it’s a calling. We take emotionless words on a page and bring them to life for broken hearts? And sometimes the reader who needs them the most, is the one who wrote them.

You are not alone. Your words are not empty.
Take up your pen….and write.

pics courtesy of


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Pepper, what a beautiful post. I appreciated all you shared to convey your point about the "manure of life." It seems like a lot of people I know are working through "manure" right now. I can only imagine the beautiful fruit that will come from their lives as a result.

And you're right, God can take the trials we walk through and use them to minister to others through the written word. Thanks for that encouragement.

I, too, experienced a miscarriage many years ago. Journaling helped me greatly in working through it. Happy Fourth!

Anonymous said...

I met Joni Tada years ago at a conference in Washington, D.C. What a gracious, wonderful person who loves the Lord. She had a presentation that challenged all of us to live life to the fullest, despite the heartaches or difficulties. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:13)
Marsha Hubler, author

Joanne Sher said...

Absolutely beautiful, poignant, and TRUE post. This moved me greatly, Pepper. Wow.

Pepper said...

Thanks for sharing. It's been a wonderful blessing for me to be able to minister out of my own hurt. Isn't it remarkable how God brings people into our lives after we've experienced a hurt like this and then allows us to comfort them.
I've been amazed at how many times He's given me the opportunity to, not only write encouragement to others, but pray with them - whether from a miscarriage, sexual abuse, or whatever...he's used those pains in amazing ways to glorify Himself.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Lovely post, Pepper! You can tell you are a writer! Thanks for the beautiful words.

Happy 4th of July!


Pepper said...

FABULOUS reminder from Scripture - and I'll add another one in honor of my granny.
It is her 'life' verse, so to speak.

Romans 8:28 - All things work together for the good of them who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

All means... ALL :-)
Praise God.

My hubby met Joni several years back and he said the same thing. She is truly remarkable

Pepper said...

So thankful to have blessed you. Isn't it wonderful that God gives us so many avenues to touch people's lives - if we'll take them.

POV matters so much- our POV of ourselves and of Him

Pepper said...

Thanks, Sue
Happy Fourth to you too.


Julia M. Reffner said...

Great post, Pepper!! I so admire Joni..she's one of my heroes of the faith.

I like your pastor's analogy about how we're growing fruit of the spirit. In my own life God has definitely used my own trials to help me to understand and sympathize for others more.

Have a great Independence Day, Pepper!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Beautiful words from a beautiful heart. I love how God works through you to minister to others. Your words about manure hit home to, that sounded weird, but it's true. So many are hurting and it is easy to lose sight of the hope we have in Jesus. Thank you for the reminder, friend.

Krista Phillips said...

Your pastor totally copied me... and made it more palatable. *grin*

Although, mine is a bit different.

"Crap happens, but I will praise God through the crap!"


AMAZING post, Pepper!!!! God really HAS tought me and "grown" me a ton this last year, and is still doing so. I don't like what we went through, but I'm so very thankful He brought us through and used our situation for HIS glory. It was my greatest prayer before Annabelle was born.

Pepper said...


I totally understand about the 'growing fruit' things - oooh, and it hurts.
The soil of my heart can be hard ground to cultivate into Godly virtue - I'm so glad God loves me enough to use the tiller of trials to ready my spirit to grow his fruit :-)

Pepper said...

You know, Sherrinda -
I never imagined my words to hit home like manure ;-)
Kind of stinky sounding.

You are a dear friend, and like we've talked about before, the size of the suffering is relative to the person it affects. What's big to me - is big to me. God knows our hearts and He knows exactly what we need to refine us into instruments he can use, and make us little lights in a dark world that will show off His love.

For me it might take one thing - for you another.

I love you my dear friend.

Pepper said...

the whole idea of the word manure and palatable being in the same post makes me cringe a little ;-)

I'm so thankful that God allowed us (at the Alley) to follow along with your journey and see the beautiful way God has worked through you and yoru family.

Misha Gerrick said...

Beautiful post. And so true. I also look at life that way. It doesn't mean that it's fun to go through at the time, but I always come to appreciate it later.