Hopeful Stories

Historical Fiction for His Glory

What I Learned From One of My Characters

For the past few years I’ve had anything but a normal life. In many ways that’s a wonderful thing. After all, almost every single one of the influential people in the world that God has used for His glory had very difficult and abnormal lives. And while I’ve greatly enjoyed the busyness and excitement and the fact that I never get bored because there’s always something to do, some days there is way too much to do and I feel overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious. A couple of weeks ago I had one of those days. This is what happened:

My grandparents had just moved from New Jersey down to an apartment in North Carolina ten minutes from our home. My dad and I had been there until about midnight helping them get settled in. I had to teach piano early the next morning and I was dreading the fact that I was going to get about six hours of sleep before the next day rolled around. I got up as late as possible and was able to get downstairs to the basement where I teach, with food in my stomach, by 8:45am. I taught four students back to back, and they behaved well and worked hard. I was encouraged and my spirits were lifted.

At about 11:15 I sat down at the computer to work on content for my website and write several long emails regarding my story or suggestions for youth projects at church. About forty-five minutes later I was summoned upstairs to spend some time with my little six-year-old brother. I decided to tackle organizing the kids’ bathroom. Now, I try to be neat and organized. But my stuff usually ends up what I like to call “an organized mess.” At this point, our bathroom wasn’t organized at all. It was just a mess. But, you know how organizing projects always take longer than you planned? By the time I had finished with lunch and cleaning the bathroom, it was 2pm. I suddenly realized the predicament I was in.

I was supposed to plant a ton of plants and seeds in the garden in just two hours. I had been hoping to have at least three. And then my publisher called with the request to do a one-hour marketing meeting. I felt overwhelmed and upset. I had just told my mom that I couldn’t pick up my fifteen-year-old brother from work because I needed to work in the garden. But now I didn’t even have time to plant seeds and I needed to be in a meeting at 3pm and then have from 4pm-5pm to get a shower and look presentable for the cast party I was attending for my acting class that night, finish making food to bring to the cast party, and pack clothes and cosmetics for my overnight stay at my grandparent’s new apartment.

Frantically I dashed around the house and got my six-year-old brother Josh to finish cleaning the bathroom and then come help me in the garden. Josh had helped me last year in the garden, but when I started to dish out instructions he just stared and me and didn’t seem to comprehend. He kept asking question after question and didn’t know where stuff was or what to do. As we finally started digging trenches, Josh kept messing things up. First, we couldn’t find our second little trowel and I was sure he had misplaced it (of course, it ended up being me that misplaced it). Then he was throwing the dirt out of the raised bed. Finally, when I had just laid out the tape measure for a second time, Josh accidentally knocked it over and the tape retracted. I had already been frustrated and upset, but now I was bordering on angry. And for those of you who know me, I rarely get truly angry. I can only think of one or two times in my life when I’ve been really, truly angry. This was the kind of angry that made me want to yell at Josh and cry and get upset at how horribly my day was going. But as I opened my mouth to yell at my poor little brother, a thought suddenly struck me. I instantly knew it was from God. This is what I thought.

“What would your main character, Jarah, do in this situation?”

I froze, thoughts speeding through my mind at one hundred miles per hour. I had never thought about learning anything from my characters. After all, I had created my characters! They were supposed to be learning from me, right? But this is what I suddenly realized.

First, Jarah, and probably all of the other Hebrew slave girls, had many days that were far worse than mine. I had never been beaten or abused or starved. In my story, Jarah has a very unloving mother and older sister. She is often bossed around and things don’t usually go her way - just like what was happening to me today. As I was thinking about it, when Jarah gets angry, she doesn’t yell at her siblings. She used to, but God had done a work in her heart. Instead of erupting into horrible, hateful speech, my little twelve-year-old character Jarah would stop, take a deep breath, and say a short prayer to God before responding. I knew that was what I needed to do.

Standing out in the garden, covered with dirt and feeling my chest constrict from stress and frustration, I stopped. I shut my mouth. I took a long, deep breath and prayed, “God, please help me not to be angry.” I looked down at my adorable, sweet, innocent little brother and felt the anger start to melt. Taking another deep breath I said to Josh, “Ok Josh. We’re going to stop now. We’re going to do something else.” We both agreed that we were just going to plant the broccoli plants instead of plant tons of little seeds. Even though it took me a few minutes to calm down, this job was a lot easier and Josh actually helped me. Neither of us were upset any more. And we got the little baby broccolis planted and watered just in the nick of time. My alarm for my meeting with the publisher went off just as I was turning off the hose.

I met with my publisher. I got all my stuff packed up for the evening (well… almost all of my stuff…). I had time to get a shower and look presentable and I finished dinner. And I left right on time to go pick up my sweet friend Tori and take her to the cast party.

On the way to Tori’s house, I was thinking about my day. Yeah, my day hadn’t been the best. But I thought of two things. First, I as a twenty-year-old author had just learned something from the twelve-year-old character that I had created. Wow. If that’s not humbling, I don’t know what is. Doesn’t God have an amazing sense of humor? But it’s so cool looking back at it and realizing that this book has really been such a blessing to me. I’m truly a better person because of writing it and delving deep into God’s word and learning what He wanted to teach me. I can just hope and pray that this book will have the same impact on many other young people who read it.

Second, my characters have some pretty rough days. Just wait until you read chapter six! :-) But none of what they went through, or what I’ve gone through, can compare to what Jesus went through. He died on the cross, a horrible, torturing, painful, humiliating death. And he died for us. He died to take away our sin and our anger and our pride. It all rested on His shoulders that day when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus went through the worst possible thing - death and separation from God - for every single one of us. Why? Because He loves us that much. As Jesus died His last words were, “It is finished.” His work here on earth was done. He took away all of our sin. And then He came back to life to give us a hope and a future, to tell us to spread His message to the entire world! He’s alive! He’s real! And He wants you to come to Him and get to know Him. He wants to be your best friend. And then He wants you to tell everyone else that He wants to be their best friend, too.

So, I just wanted to encourage you all that if you’ve had a rough day, or a rough week, or a rough year, just remember to stop and pray. And remember that Jesus went through things much worse than we could ever imagine, and He wants to help us through the hard times now. When my book comes out and you read it, I hope it will encourage you all to want a personal relationship with Jesus and that you will be inspired to tell everyone about Him. That is my prayer and my hope.

Why I Write

Welcome to my blog, Hopeful Reflections!

For my first blog post, I decided to talk about why I write and why I enjoy being an author. Let’s start back at the beginning of my life and where this whole journey began.

From the time I was very little I loved to talk. I was very verbal and loved reading. My dad worked from home when I was five-years-old, and I often got to work alongside of him. My dad is a fabulous storyteller. He made up stories about people who were based off of my favorite characters in literature and put people in the stories with my name and my brother’s name. I learned a lot from those stories about life and about characters and about how to form and make stories.

My mom read me stories almost every day of my life. Together, we’ve read whole series of wonderful, God-glorifying books. We read the entire “Elsie Dinsmore” series (the old one, not the new one. The old one has twenty-eight books!) together and finished it when I was around twelve-years-old. I started to write a play based on the first Elsie book. It quickly became way too long. But I enjoyed it, and spending time on it made me desire to write even more.

Now, if you knew me when I was about twelve-years-old, you wouldn’t really know this but… I talked to myself all the time. From the time I was four to about the time I was thirteen or fourteen I was constantly talking to myself. I had imaginary characters or pets that lived in my world. I wrote entire books in my head and acted or talked them out. It wasn’t until I was about thirteen and people started to catch me telling myself ridiculously dramatic stories. That quickly put an end to my vocal storytelling. But I continued to work through thoughts and ideas in my head for many different books.

When I was thirteen, we started actively studying Ancient Egypt. I loved studying Ancient Egypt. The dress, the architecture, the style of living. Everything was so exciting, so cool, so colorful. As I finished my study of Ancient Egypt, my dad told me to “write a short story based in Ancient Egypt.” Well, I wrote a story that was short for me. All of my other current works at that time (the Elsie play and an 8th Narnia book) were over eighty pages long. My short story was only twenty-five pages. That’s short, right? Umm… Not really. But I remember my dad reading my story aloud to my family. At the end, he actually teared up! I didn’t realize my story was that moving!

Later, my dad told me that I had a great idea going and that I should pursue writing this into a full book and making it better.

That’s how my journey began. Now, seven years later, my dream is finally becoming a reality.

It’s been so exciting to see cover art, to start editing and getting ready for type-setting, to talk to my publishers about conferences and short stories and marketing ideas. It all feels so surreal, but then so real at the same time. It’s a lot of work. I’ve spent years getting to this point. But it was all worth it. I grew closer to God, I have a book that I pray will encourage others, and as an author I get to see first hand how God is going to use this book.

Granted, it wasn’t all easy. There were many days I was frustrated, angry, or upset. I’ve been through about ten drafts (currently) on this book. Editing is hard work! But if you really feel God is calling you to write a book, He will give you the strength to accomplish it.

For those of you out there who, like me, have a dream of getting a book published, I just wanted to encourage you in that. Even if you don’t think you have a gift but you still feel God tugging at your heart, start traveling down the path of writing a book. If you’re writing for God’s glory, God will bring the right people to you to help you and guide you and teach you. And if you’re open, humble, and teachable, you might be able to make a better book than naturally gifted writers who are prideful and unteachable.

But before you begin, let me tell you some of the main reasons why I pursued writing a book. First, I felt God calling me to it. Second, I believed in the message of the book and knew that it was something that many girls and boys my age needed to hear. But there’s a third reason, a reason that’s incredibly, incredibly important.

When I was about seventeen, my mom and I went to a Christian book store to get something, I can’t even remember what right now. I told my mom I was going to the youth section to look at the books. My book was getting closer to the finished stage and I was dreaming of the day when my book might be on one of these shelves. I picked up some books, flipped them over, and started reading the backs. As I continued to read and continued to pick up books, I was appalled. This is what kids these days are reading? I thought in horror. All of the books that I had picked up in the girls’ section didn’t seem “Christian” in the least. They all talked about romance and boys and gossip. I believe I only saw God’s name mentioned once or twice, and prayer mentioned maybe three times. But even then it was because the main girl character was praying to God for help in her relationship with her third boyfriend at the age of fifteen. Seriously? This is “Christian encouragement”? Shouldn’t Christian books be challenging fifteen-year-old girls and boys to draw closer to God and grow in their faith instead of filling their minds with impure thoughts, sin, and lust? Yes, they need to be “real,” but shouldn’t negative thoughts and behaviors be identified as such and renewed minds be encouraged?

I continued to see a need for good, Biblical solid Christian fiction. I picked up a “Christian historical fiction” about two years ago at a book store and skimmed through it. It was an adult fiction book this time, but there were passages I had to skip over because of sexual content. This so-called Christian historical fiction had almost nothing to do with history and practically nothing to do with God. I saw God’s named mentioned once or twice through the whole book. The main character was competing with her best friend for the attention of a wealthy young man. Jealousy, inappropriate male/female interaction, and selfishness were praised in this book. Those are all attributes that God detests and doesn’t praise in His book.

As I continued to write my own book, “A Cry From Egypt,” I prayed almost every day before I sat down to write. I prayed that this book wouldn’t draw anyone away from Jesus. I prayed that I would write what God wanted me to write so that people would be encouraged in their faith. I encourage you, if you are an author, or an aspiring author, please look around you at the books that are out there. How many of them bring glory to God’s precious name? Without Jesus, we wouldn’t be here right now. There would be no hope, no joy, no love in this world. We can’t even breathe without God’s help. Why would we write anything that would either water down the gospel or teach your readers to pursue the world and the things of this world and take them away from God?

I fell in love with some great books from the 1800s like the “Elsie Dinsmore” series or G.A. Henty’s historical fiction. I’ve heard others degrade them and call them “old fashioned.” And unfortunately, today many Christians treat Jesus like that. They want Jesus in their world, but they only want Him around for the good parts of life. They use Him as a crutch in the hard times, or just go to Him when they need something as if He was a genie in a lamp. We hide Him in a corner and never let His light shine. We tell Him, “Yeah, I want You in my life, but I don’t want to obey Your rules because our culture is different today and purity doesn’t matter. Your rules are old fashioned. Just help me and make me happy and maybe I’ll keep you around.” How do we dare to treat the Creator of the universe that way?

But back to the books from the 1800s. As I said, many people dislike older books because they are “old fashioned.” I’ve also heard people say that those books aren’t believeable because the characters are too perfect and unrealistic. While I agree that it is hard to relate to characters that are too “perfect,” they at least pointed the readers towards God and God’s word. They helped the readers to strive for higher morals instead of bending down to the worldly culture around them. The medium of writing and story-telling is so powerful! And over the last two hundred years it has been changed so dirastically for the worse. I firmly believe that one of the reasons why our society is so far from Christ today is because of what we’ve allowed to enter our minds through the things we watch and the things we read.

With my book, I’m trying to change that. I tried to make characters who, though very imperfect, learn from their mistakes and strive to become more Christ-like each and every day. I endeavored to promote what is good and put down what is evil. But I couldn’t do it alone. This book wouldn’t have been written without God’s help or His ideas. The entire plot is based on His word! And this summer, I realized that my book wasn’t worth writing unless God received the glory for it.

I encourage you, I beg you, please help me and other Christian authors out there to take back writing for God’s glory and do it in humility to not just hold up Christ’s righteousness, but to show our need for His righteousness in exchange for our filthy rags. Imagine the impact we could make on the books people read, on the movies that are produced, on the way people think, and on the entire world if we put God first and let Him direct our paths. It’s not the easiest battle, but the rewards are endless and eternal. Are you ready to join us?