From the Archives, January 19, 2010.

Having just returned from the amazing Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference, I’m revisiting these words penned four years ago. I was trying to figure it all out. Last week, after a short sabbatical from the ardent pursuit of publishing, I fell in love, once again, with the power of the pen. I am fired up and ready to work hard on several book projects. I am so grateful for the men and women who commit their time, talents, and energy to equipping us to do what we feel called to do.

Sometimes it is good to stop and ask ourselves, “Why do we do what we do?”

I’d love to hear your comments on that subject.

Today, I share these words from the past.

“Love is not written on paper, for paper can be erased.
Nor is it etched on stone, for stone can be broken.
But it is inscribed on a heart and there it shall remain forever.”

The Art of Writing

I am often asked, “Are you a writer who speaks or a speaker who writes?” I’m never sure how to answer that question and wonder if it really matters. Several years ago, as I embarked on my new ministry of speaking and writing, I attended many great conferences where I was taught the art of writing book proposals, establishing a platform, polishing my profile, increasing marketing savvy and after gleaning all the necessary information, took the first steps towards making my dream of becoming a published author come true.

If I am honest, which I pray my writing will always be, somehow I got lost in the gloss of it all. Old messages rose to the forefront of my mind: be the best, look the best, write the best. The new path shared great similarities with my old path of beauty pageant preparation: polish, strive, excel. My calling to wield the pen as a ready writer (Psalm 45:1) somehow became clouded by numbers, cultural relevance, and platform. Let me explain:

  1. Numbers. Christian publishers are in business, yes, it is a fact. They need to sell books. I completely understand that and desperately hoped my first book would be a huge success. Every author envisions being on the bestseller list. I longed to see Rock-Solid Families on the reading list of every seminary, stamped with Focus on the Family’s Seal of Approval, and heralded by pastors as a “must-read book on parenting!” BUT, in reality, it has yet to make it’s way to a second printing and most definitely, hasn’t received any notable awards or accolades. Oh how I wanted it to shine for my amazing editor, Dan Penwell, and all the incredible men and women who worked so hard at AMG Publishers to make this book happen.They were the absolute best and taught me so much about excellence in Christian publishing. As a first time author, I couldn’t have been in better hands. They pushed me to my edge and as a result, we produced a book to be very proud of! In light of this, I was honored with an interview with Focus on the Family’s Dr. Bill Meier, only to have the economic crisis force budget cuts, which in turn delayed the airing of that interview. Yet another miscarriage of hopes and dreams, reminding me that God is in control of this project and will steward it as he sees fit.
  2. Cultural Relevance. Every author prays for the next big book (well, I think they do). Perhaps one that has the sphere of influence, in the Christian world, of “The Shack” or “The Prayer of Jabez” or “Captivating,” to name a few or in the broader literary world, “Eat, Pray, Love,”  or “Three Cups of Tea” or “The Blind Side.”Over Christmas, my family and I were in Barnes and Nobles doing some shopping, when I found myself standing in front of the shelf of recent best sellers. My son came up beside me and smiled.”Dreaming?” he asked.”I guess I am,” I grinned.”A girl can dream, can’t she?”Over and over again, I have conversed with my agent about book ideas and topics I am passionate about. So often, the question of marketability arises. “Will it sell? Is it relevant? Is it the next hot topic?” The pressure to have that next big idea or message often keeps me away from my writing desk, as negative thoughts creep in, such as, “What’s the use? Why write? Do I have anything to say?” The revolving door of self-imposed pressure brings nothing but hazy vision and confused purpose which leads to not fulfilling God’s call.
  3. Platform. It is a fact that publishers, both in the Christian and secular arena, look at an author’s ability to market their book, via radio/television appearances, book signings, international appeal, and ministry audience. These are critical factors when it comes to sales. So, building a platform becomes yet another time-consuming pursuit for aspiring Christian speakers and authors—building a website, creating savvy marketing materials, establishing a social networking presence on Facebook, Twitter, and so forth. And, then, of course, the writer must find the time to write. I have even been told I was “self-promoting” and “ego-driven.” Honestly, I am sure it appears that way, but it is all part of the marketing and publicity agenda.

Wrestling with this tension is much like walking a tightrope—finding the perfect balance between “the physical” (effort, preparation, training, excellence and so forth) and “the spiritual” (movement of God, spiritual gifts, power of the Holy Spirit and so forth). Sometimes, it makes me absolutely crazy, but, while I was in Bangkok, God, in his infinite mercy and love, reminded me why I do what I do.

Throughout the course of the retreat, my books were made available for sale. Here in the States, I would spend a good deal of energy decorating my book table, but due to travel restraints, didn’t have the “typical” book table decor. My friend, Kim, graciously accepted the responsibility of preparing the table, but as one of the coordinators of the retreat, didn’t really have the time to “dress” the table. So, she put the box of books on the table, opened it, and before she knew it was selling books left and right.

It's not about the trimmings.

It’s not about the trimmings.

Paper Can Be Erased

All the “trimmings” suddenly became very, very unimportant. Women wanted the book, not the trimmings. I sold two cases of books in a very short time. I was stunned by their hunger for Christian reading material. Kim reminded me that they don’t have Christian bookstores on every corner, that international shipping (via amazon and other internet book stores) is very expensive, and that because Bangkok is 1% Christian, women are hungry and thirsty for materials that will strengthen their walk with God.

Woman after woman shared their stories; entrusting the private spaces of their heart to me. I will never forget their hunger. Their thirst for teaching. Their passion for knowing Christ intimately. Together, we prayed. We cried. We laughed.

One particular Chinese young woman, Esther (her Christian name), rededicated her life to Jesus at the retreat. It was a joyous time of prayer. On my second trip to Bangkok, she came up to me at church. I was so delighted to hug her neck and see her face, once again. Through tears and broken English, she poured out her heart.

“Janell, I hope it okay. I translate your book into Chinese for my Chinese brothers and sisters who are hungry for it,” she shared.
Pointing to the title, she continued, “In China, we have so many broken families. They want to be rock-solid families, so they cry out for your book. I finish the first chapter in Chinese and give it to them. Is that okay? They want more. There is so much broken family. This help them. I also put on Chinese website to pray for you and your book that it will get translated. I send you the link. I ask them to pray that I can translate the book for them.”

At that particular moment in time, I could hardly breathe. All thoughts of royalties, licensing, etc. went out the window. What could I say to this dear Chinese sister in Christ who just wants to give spiritual food to her starving friends? I seriously doubt my book would ever be permitted in Communist China. I have no idea, but to God be the glory. When I came home, I clicked the link to her website, written completely in Chinese, and there was my name and the title of my book—the only English words on the entire page. I can’t begin to express the utter joy that I felt at that moment. Deep, inexpressible, eternal joy.

It seems at that moment, the wrestling match was over. God had pinned my strivings to the mat. It is true that paper can be erased. Paper, in this sense, meaning all the “trimmings” that are seemingly so important. Oh, I will do my part and continue to strive for excellence—to the glory of God—but the motives of my heart will be very, very different. When God writes on a heart, that cannot be erased. That is eternal. I will never ever see those Chinese brothers and sisters reading Esther’s translation of Rock-Solid Families, on this side of heaven. I will never ever receive any royalties for sales of her translation or be able to “tally” those numbers on a spread sheet. I will not see restoration or healing or fruit from those readers, but God, who resides in heaven, sees and hopefully, when we are all united in heaven, can dine together at the banqueting table—one very big, happy, rock-solid family of God.

“Love is not written on paper, for paper can be erased.
Nor is it etched on stone, for stone can be broken.
But it is inscribed on a heart and there it shall remain forever.”

And we all say, “Amen!”

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