At the American Christian Writer’s Conference this year I brought home with me pages of succinct and valuable teaching. I learned more in two days of workshops with Literary Agent Chip MacGregor than I would have in a semester of writing class.
Why? Because Chip was passionate about his subject. He was knowledgeable yes, but more importantly, he was passionate. He loved words.
He stirred in me the flame of my passion, not for writing, but for the subject of my writing—Jesus Christ—who is called “The Word.” Christ in me, the hope of glory creates a resonating chord deep within which translates into abundant life and living water flowing onto the page for others who are thirsty for Him.
In the plenary session titled “I Found God in a Bookstore” Chip spoke eloquently of words—what they mean, why they are important.
I confess I have thought of my writing as just one more book in a sea of books and writings. What could one more book mean to anyone? I wrote my book because I was compelled to, because the subject was so important to me and I am convinced, to so many others. But I wrote it primarily because God urged me to, and He wouldn’t let up until I did. I wrote it for that one desperate person seeking answers to why their loved one was behaving strangely and how could their lives be so utterly devastated and where was God in all of it?
Still, I continued to think of myself as someone who wrote a book, but not as a writer. I thought of writing as a hobby. I didn’t set out to be a writer. I haven’t spent years honing the craft or seeking to be published. I, unlike “authentic” writers, don’t have to write to feel complete.
Or do I?
If that were true, then why do I have stacks of journals that I have written over the past twenty years? And in answer to the question as to why do we need another book, Chip answered, “Because every generation needs its own voice. There is always a need for a new book.”
My Grandma, Lyle Shannon, was a writer. She didn’t think of herself as a writer when she wrote entertaining, newsy letters to me while I was far away from home and oh so homesick. Her letters were little vignettes of her simple daily life—crafting, puttering around her house, painting. Her letters brought me immediately into her environment, her cozy pleasant world, and I could almost hear her voice on the page. Chip called it “Personality on the page.”
My Grandpa, her husband, Lester Shannon, had a stroke in 1959 and was transformed from a feisty Irishman into a little fussy child in a matter of a few seconds of his life. She cared for him until he died in 1960, bathing him, feeding him, putting up with his temper tantrums and his weeping. She just did it and I never heard her complain. I remember at his funeral, she finally broke down completely, and cried out “Oh Daddy! Daddy!” It was wrenching to see her like that.
When my own husband had begun to grow childlike through the agonizing process of dementia, I began thumbing through my Shannon family genealogy and happened on a letter written by my Grandma to her sister-in-law, Lella, the day after the memorial service of her beloved “Daddy”. She wrote:
Dear Folks: While I am alone and quiet I will try and answer your sweet letter, seems I have been in such a confusion for so long I can’t settle myself to nothing. …So many coming and going …the day has gone by before I know it, but do dread the time when it all stops and find myself completely alone—for it is going to be so different adjusting myself to a new lonely life. I am only praying and hoping that I will be given strength to continue on, doing the things that in forty-seven years I have not had the responsibility to face alone, have not got that good strong faithful arm to cling to, nobody in this world will ever know what has been taken from me, just part of my life, leaving me with only half. He was my sweet heart from the very beginning and will be until we meet again. It isn’t right to love anyone like I loved him but I just can’t help it. I know he is in the hands of our dear Father who loves him better than we do and is far happier than we are, for the things that He has promised us are most surely being given my dear old Daddy. He saw them all before he passed on and tried to give us a glimpse of it. His face shone with glory, peace and contentment and through all our tears and sorrow we were happy to know that he had found what he wanted after suffering like he did for one whole year.
I wish I could explain to you just what my Daddy went through this last year—it was terrifying, amazing and glorifying—until the final end, when he found himself in the arms of Jesus and was completely satisfied, closing his eyes with sweet contentment half smile and a faint whisper “Mama.” Oh it was hard to take Lella—please may God give me courage and strength to carry on.
Words. Personality on the page. Voice.
Her written words, falling upon my desperate soul like manna from Heaven, brought waves of tears and yet were profoundly healing for me. She had gone before me. Her words, left especially for me in a long-forgotten letter, telling me that she knew—she understood. She too had taken care of a sick husband and she had grieved. She had grieved deep, heaving grief and she still loved her “Daddy.” Yet she went on to live a rich, full and satisfying life.
Chip MacGregor told of humor columnist Dave Barry’s experience of his last words with his father. Upon hearing of his father’s stroke, he rushed over the miles to see him one last time. His father was asking for him. As he sat by his beside, he spoke what he knew would be his last words with his Dad. After a bit, his Dad looked straight at him and said, “I want tuna fish!” Dave went out into the hallway where the rest of the family waited to hear what gems had passed between them and upon hearing this, they wanted Dave to go back in and talk to him some more, but as he later wrote: “Over the course of my life my Dad and I exchanged millions of words. I didn’t need another handful of words to take with me as a souvenir.” (My paraphrase.)
Chip spoke of the “ministry of words.” Think of them: “I forgive you.” “You’re going to get through this.” “There is hope.” The apostle Paul admonished us to “not let any unwholesome words come out of your mouth.” Speak only words that minister. Words change us. We can focus on words that change others. Even God reminds us that His “Word” is living and active” and able to change us. When the Apostle John is faced with condensing onto the page all of the stupendous events he had witnessed in three years of walking with Jesus, he begins by saying “In the beginning was the Word.” The Word was Jesus. What did the writers of the sacred words of God leave us? They didn’t leave us with a picture of of Jesus. They didn’t leave us with a tape recording of him speaking, or of a symphony written about Him or of a painting of Him. They left us with His words.
Chip concluded his talk with these words:
“Words identify us. Someday I’ll be gone and what will be left are my words.”
And so, I will write, not because I have to or because I am a writer by profession. I will write because there are deep things in my heart and in my life and in my walk with Jesus that simply must travel from my heart to the page. In my writing, I only hope that it is not merely my own personality on the page. I hope that His personality may show through my words.