Saturday, June 11, 2011

Becoming A Great Writer of Devotions

What makes a devotion great?

She is precious in God's sight!

Real life illustration:

Every writer has heard this saying over and over, "show, don't tell." I still don't have this ability down like a great fiction writer. 

Showing would be something like this: 
"The wind whipped around the two Asian ladies as they dragged their happy, bright-colored, heavy suitcases down the wet two lane street. With her damp hat folded in one hand, she tried to focus her map directions that she held in her other hand as it flipped around in the steamy early evening breeze. Confused but not discouraged, she trudged along with her companion in tow until I interrupted their odd journey. Smiling as I offered to give them a ride to their destination, their jaw dropped before they could speak." 

Really, I do get it. Showing instead of telling is so nice to read, but it is not very natural to me. It is not the way God created me to write, at least not yet. I never know what He may do next. So here is what naturally flows from my rapid typing fingers:

I love God, and have many real life encounters with Him and people. For example, after dropping off my 16 year old son on Thursday night to do his 4th double day of volunteering (morning VBS at one church and evening VBS at another church), I saw two Asian ladies pulling huge suitcases down the busy 4 lane street. I pulled into the entrance/exit path out of the church so that I would be close to the road to ask these ladies if they needed a ride somewhere or help of some kind. One spoke broken English, the other mostly her native tongue, Japanese. I happily offered to drive them to their destination, a hotel on the main Hwy after the upcoming light. Stunned by kindness of a stranger, she handed me the map and directions. I assisted in loading the luggage and they gratefully climbed up into my van. 
On the way I asked questions to find out more about my new passengers. They had flown from Japan to our little town of Murfreesboro, TN to attend the Bonaroo, a yearly musical festival that has attracted really big name artists in a woodstock-ish environment for a long weekend on farmland in the middle of nowhere. They were so cheerful, and very willing to explain their situation. I drove them about 10-15 blocks down to the hotel that even included an overpass over the interstate! It would have taken them hours on a very dangerous highway path.
I enjoy allowing God to let me cross roads with people I may never see again. I am not sure how God will use this experience in their life, but I loving cared for them and even gave them my number in case they needed a ride again while still in town. When I hugged them goodbye and wished them well on their visit, they both bowed in thanksgiving toward me. As I drove off I trusted God to use the encounter for good in these two sweet ladies lives.

This is an example of a day in my life. It is not all neatly, packaged, well-written showing- story with a great moral punch. I may never know the "Paul Harvey, "And here is the rest of the story" ending" until I am in heaven. It is enough for me to be obedient to God's nudging to intervene in helping two strangers on His behalf without cheapening the moment by trying any gimmicky one verse or one question evangelism. I trust the Holy Spirit to do His job, and simply am content to do my part... not flashy, not a cinch in my witnessing belt, not a number to report for a religious job well done. No, simply living the life of a disciple, a Jesus follower, bringing warmth, kindness, and help in others lives.  

I reflect on this today because I have been trying to take a stab at writing devotions for a ministry that I was the copy editor for their magazine. The devotional site is a new ministry and I just thought I would try it out, but it seems I can't compose the kind of devotions they are needing for their intended audience. It is either not based on a single theme, not short enough, or not having illustrations of how I have had great interactions with my children or others that can be perfect little examples of God at work in our lives. Here is the example I was to try to follow:

Where I have highlighted could you replace with a story to illustrate this idea - such as “When I saw my son give away one of his favorite Hot Wheels I asked why he was so nice to the little boy who wasn’t even a close friend and he replied, ‘Well, I saw you being nice to Mrs. Nelson our neighbor when she was lonely and you did it even though we know she is a real bad gossip.’  I was amazed seeing my actions spoke louder than words and my child was exercising spiritual values based on what he saw as much or more than what he heard.”
I get the point. It is a very nicely concise story that gets a moral point across, but for me it is not real. Maybe it is what happens in other Christian families, but it has not been my experience. So, this was my reply to the devotional re-write suggestion:

When it comes to examples I am not the best because I don't have a lot of typical real life examples... like the one you wrote is really nice but in my life that was the "suppose to happen" example and never reality. My children never spoke to me that way, and still don't. And I never had many "perfect scenario" teaching moments. I don't know how to pretend or to write a pretend "wish it was like that" story illustration. (inserted thought for blog, not included in original response: I think these kind of stories make most normal parents feel like failures thinking why can't my child be like that and why don't I find those great statements to make in "teachable" moments.)
Everything we did together was a challenge. Raising up my little ones was one struggle after the next. I was on my knees a lot, and really crying out to God in desperation. He never failed to meet me, but many times the messy reality of imperfect parenting caused me to be more of a teacher to my children in seeking forgiveness and trying to make sense out of disasters. We had a lot of spiritual warfare, conflict, disobedience, repentance, forgiveness, grace and gradual growth - but it was all real. 
No hypocrites in my house. And while we love each other deeply, we know each other deeply. My children have seen most of my faults firsthand, and I have seen theirs. The real victory in Christ is despite the rumbling, uphill path God allowed us to walk on, we still have very honest, open, important conversations.
We push deep into our relationship with God, knowing how easily we fail ourselves, each other and mostly God. But we don't hold grudges, grace abounds. My children are now teens (17 (18 in July),16,13 (14 in Aug). And I am just entering the healing years of being more consistent, stable and available. Due to all of this, I am not sure I am able to provide the type of devotions that will be telling sweet stories like the one you wrote. I have none to share. Nothing like that ever happen in my life or my children's. It would have been nice, maybe, but I don't regret our experience. I know that God will use it mightily in each of our lives.
I thanked the editor for the opportunity but declined trying another re-write. My writing just doesn't fit the mold the site is looking for and that is OK. If you might like to read the devotion I submitted go to this link.

How do your illustrations flow as you write?

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