In 1984, desperate to flee the Louisiana ‘hood where I grew up, I set out for Europe with a student-fare train pass. Twenty years later I began writing Village of Bridges, a coming-of-age novel inspired by the journal I kept in girly cursive that filled up a 120-page chemistry lab notebook, documenting the summer I never wanted to forget. I had the book in mind as a practice exercise, the prequel to a fiction series I believed was destined to pay for my 4-year-old son James’ college education.
Writing is hard work. Journalist and writing professor William Zinsser said, “I don’t like to write. I like to have written.” Three years later, James turned 7, and I still hadn’t typed out those blessed six letters THE END on the first manuscript. I was having a hard time just getting a few decent pages cleaned up on the initial draft. And the clock was ticking.
There’s nothing like the feel of producing great writing that gives the illusion the words have written themselves. So in 2007, I decided mind-over-matter that my manuscripts from that point forward would be different. By sheer willpower, I’d write better and write faster. I’d churn out those pages. Boom, boom, boom, I’d make four books happen.
That summer, Doug and his dad built a porch over the patio slab behind our house. I envisioned an open-air office, no glass between me and the backyard with breeze-swayed sunflowers and live oaks filled with chirping birds. Window screens would keep out biting bugs. The shady shelter plus a ceiling fan would make the space habitable an hour or two later in the day, even in Texas summer heat.
The back porch would provide me with a happy place way more conducive to writing than the breakfast table. Ramped-up page counts would mean I’d get that brilliant first novel done, and the next, and the next, and the next, well ahead of my 2018 deadline.
Not many weeks passed before that porch no longer smelled of its first slap of paint, its newness not so new, and on many days the heat unbearable before 10 a.m., even with the fan on high. Disillusionment became as much a thing in this setup as it had been while my work was junking up the kitchen. I found myself grunting out an ooze of lines erased and rewritten, only to be backspaced over again and again with no net gain of wordcount. I wondered whether this was what screenwriters had endured creating the script for Groundhog Day.
One afternoon I’d had enough.
On Oct. 9, 2007, I jumped up from the chair, banged my laptop on the back porch table, looked toward the sky and yelled at God:
“WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO WITH THE REST OF MY LIFE?”
My rant was as much an accusation as a threat. The Holy Spirit told me a week after I gave my life to Christ in 1987 to go back to Louisiana Tech and get a journalism degree. So I did. After a sojourn in grad school, I worked four years in newspapers and, by 2007, thirteen more as an independent writer for outlets ranging from Christianity Today to Compass Direct News.
I’d punched my timecard. I’d done my part.
But showing up at the page still wasn’t yielding fruit. At this rate, James would be retirement age before I finished the first book. My biggest fear was our family plunging into debt peonage to get him through school.
Why hadn’t God shown up to tell me how to get this done? I wanted success. Why wouldn’t He want that for me? I was ready to go on strike until He delivered my entitlement.
I hadn’t expected a response. But out on the porch, I heard this:
Go get your Bible.
My main Bible was a quarter-century-old New King James, its pages loose as the beginning through Genesis and the last third of the New Testament were coming unstitched. That Bible was in the bedroom.
I stomp-stomp-stomped into the house.
But on the nightstand I saw a small red Bible in Spanish.
Once more, the Holy Spirit spoke to me: The red one.
I picked it up. “WELL?”
Again, I heard the voice of the Lord: Open it randomly.
That’s not typically a reliable way to get a word from God, but I did it anyway.
My eyes fell on the top left-hand corner: Isaías 8—Isaiah Chapter 8, verse 1:
“El Señor me dijo, ‘Toma una tabla grande y escribe en ella….’’
Translated: The Lord said to me, “Take a big scroll and write on it….”
Humbled, I fell silent. The answer confirmed what He told me on Sept. 23, 1987: I’m called to write.
And writing ain’t easy. It brings no guarantees.
And now, fifteen years after Jesus reaffirmed His destiny for me, that call remains. I’ve obeyed, even though my books have yet to gain traction.
But my latest work, Victorious: The Impossible Path to Peace, a nonfiction book about a move of God in one of the world’s historically most violent places, has received some plum endorsements. Last week John F. Maisto, retired United States ambassador to Nicaragua, Venezuela and the Organization of American States, who also served as Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council, added his endorsement to the growing list. Another is David Levy, M.D., author of Gray Matter: A Neurosurgeon Discovers the Power of Prayer . . . One Patient at a Time. Dr. Levy, a first-generation Jewish-background believer in Jesus, now speaks on topics that include the healing and restorative nature of forgiveness, for which Victorious provides dramatic cases in point. Others who have endorsed the book include Jeff Taylor, retired president of Open Doors International, and Chip Anderson, president of Christ For the City International.
Meanwhile, I can replay so many vivid mental videos that detail the Holy Spirit beckoning and empowering me across more than thirty years to write on scrolls of various sizes—280-character tweets on Twitter to Victorious, some 90,000 words. Come what may, He has called me to write.
Over the decades my vision has borne precious little resemblance to how that call has unfolded. I’ve long been tired of waiting. I want God to bestow upon me success as I envision it. And I think He should do it yesterday.
Satan sows doubt while seducing each of us with what we want. In the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3 the serpent whispers deceit: “Did God really say…?” Job proclaims his own righteousness for most of the book of Job. In the end, God issues His four-chapter response, and Job repents. God then honors Job, vindicates him to his friends and more than restores his losses.
The Lord honors humility like that which Job possesses in Chapter 42. In contrast, I do him dishonor when I come to Him covered in my own pride demanding my way, not only as if He owes me something, but also as if Jesus should feel honored to have me on His team.
I deserve hell. Anything else is gravy.
Jesus loves me despite me, His prodigal daughter with a bad attitude. His love has said no to me until His time is right. His plan for me is good, although His Word tells us that plan includes suffering and trouble. He doesn’t reject me even in my anger and arrogance that this isn’t exactly what I signed up for, even though, truth be told, it is.
If I don’t live to see what I believe the Lord has promised to do with what I write, that’s okay. Those in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith didn’t see His promises for them fully unfold in their lifetimes, either. Christ calls each of us to faithfully place our obedience on the altar as a sacrifice. Without faith, it is impossible to please Him. Then and now, the outcome and timing are up to Jesus.
Against all hope but with a tiny bit of faith, when I saw Village of Bridges wouldn’t sell enough to buy James a 12-ounce dark roast, I asked Jesus to provide for his education. Between scholarships, grants, a teaching assistantship, credits for excellent AP and ACT scores, and a modest school savings fund, last year James graduated debt-free from Southwestern Assemblies of God University with a degree in digital media arts. Surplus from his school account paid off his wife’s student loans and left a small nest egg for their future children’s education fund. James’ SAGU experience far surpassed what he would’ve ended up with had my plan actually panned out.
Jesus is worthy of my trust. His Word testifies to that; my life is a testimony to it.
But it’s up to me to not give up.