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Writing & Speaking

11 Reasons Why I Write (And Plan to Continue)

writer excited about garage door purchase

Why do I write? This is something I had never answered . . . until Cyber Monday. That’s when I splurged on Michael Hyatt’s “Get Published” course. (Yes, I’m already a published author, but that doesn’t mean my wheels haven’t been spinning in the mud for a while now.) In Michael’s first session, he asks, “Why do you want to write?” Here are eleven reasons why I write (and plan to continue), in no particular order. More

Two Travel Sagas with a Layover in a Neurology Hospital

Twice now Kimberly Wagner and I have traveled to exotic locations to speak at an event together. We met in Brazil in 2015, and a month ago at the Gospel Coalition Conference in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Prince Edward Island . . . Or Bust

This past speaking engagement in Canada has been on our calendars since 2015. Our host kindly offered to let us stay a couple extra days with our spouses to be refreshed. It didn’t take more than a few seconds for Trevor and I to agree, “Prince Edward Island? Um . . . yeah!” Kimberly and her husband, LeRoy, also planned to take our host up on his kind offer.

That was before I was pregnant and gave birth to our son. And before we learned that Trevor wouldn’t be able to travel with us, as it fell during his busiest season at work.

It was also just before LeRoy began experiencing strange symptoms. These undiagnosed symptoms persisted for the next two years—right up until the conference. In spite of his declining health, LeRoy insisted that they keep their commitment. He and Kimberly set out from Arkansas the day after my mom, my son, Iren, and I left New York.

An Exhausting Day of Travel

woman and baby sleeping on plane

 

In spite of the fact that Iren is a peaceful baby, our travel was exhausting. After several delays, we arrived in Prince Edward Island twenty-two and a half hours later. Our luggage, however, did not.

Thank the Lord for the kind man at the front desk of our hotel. He fetched robes, toothbrushes, and deodorant for us, and we stumbled into our beds—and Pack ’n Play—at 4 a.m. Thankfully, I didn’t have to speak the next day.

Kimberly, however, was not so fortunate. She also arrived at 4 a.m., but she had to speak at 9:00 that same morning.

And while I got to see my protector-husband at his finest (Trevor went to bat for us, tweeting at and calling Air CANADA in search of our bags), Kimberly had to support her husband. Literally. Within forty-eight hours of their arrival, he couldn’t walk without her help.

I got to connect briefly with LeRoy and Kimberly at the conference, and you would never have known they were going through so much. They were as kind and others-centered as ever.

Once the conference was over, we said our goodbyes (I wanted to get back to my hubby!), but LeRoy and Kimberly had planned to stay a couple extra days to relax.

More Delays . . . with A Layover in the Neurology Hospital

Our travel home wasn’t much easier than our travel there. I’ll take our delays over Kimberly’s any day, though. While we were delayed hours, she and LeRoy were delayed weeks.

LeRoy collapsed in the hotel lobby while they were still in PEI, and he couldn’t get back up. They arranged for an earlier flight home with a connecting flight in Texas, so they could visit a neurology hospital in Dallas. That layover and ER visit turned into an unplanned eighteen-day stay. LeRoy was finally discharged . . . with more questions than answers, and a whole lot of medical bills.

The Journey from Here

Leroy and Kimberly Wagner

This journey is far from over for them. Would you cry out to God on their behalf? Here’s the latest update so you can pray knowledgeably.  

Also, if you’ve been touched by Kimberly and LeRoy in person or through their writing, would you consider giving financially to help them pay their medical bills?

I texted Kimberly asking if they have insurance, and she told me they’re a part of Samaritan Ministries. She’s hoping that will cover a large portion of the hospital cost (which they have to pay up front), but it doesn’t pay for LeRoy’s medications. And these meds aren’t cheap. These dear friends are looking to God to provide, and you can help answer their prayers.

Thanks for taking the time to read our stories, when I know you have your own delays, illnesses, or other challenging circumstances. Big or small, may you walk intimately with God today, knowing that He is in control, and that He is good.

I leave you with this post Kimberly wrote about LeRoy while they were in the hospital. It’s one of the most touching posts I’ve read in awhile, as it shows the impact of walking with God intimately for years.

As the Wagners want more than anything else, may God be glorified through your own current saga—and theirs.

This post was originally featured on TrueWoman.com as “Unexpected Travel Delays and an Unexplained Illness.”

Back to Blogging Post-Baby

Hello there! It is so good to get back behind these keys post-baby. 

In the past three months I’ve pushed out a baby boy, survived the early days of insomnia and a new baby routine, prepped three new messages for a speaking engagement, and traveled out of the country with my son for said speaking engagement. Whew!  

The Baby Part

I don’t want to paint myself as some kind of wonder mom. Truth is, God blessed us with “Wonder Baby.” That’s what I call him. I do so quietly, though, so all the other new moms aren’t filled with envy.

Meet our son. Iren Daniel Marsteller joined our family on May 20. He was big. Over nine pounds. When the pediatrician first measured his head, he exclaimed, “How did you get him out?”

The answer to that would be “Trevor.” I never could have done what I did without his coaching; encouragement; and constant, strong pressure on my lower back.

I still can’t believe we did it. I don’t even want to look at the hospital when we drive by, and Trevor–with a twinkle in his eye–says he now understands how some people have PTSD. We’re not huge fans of the process.

But the result is so worth it.

We finally landed on our son’s name just before we were discharged from the hospital. (It’s a requirement, folks. The hospital turns into a prison until you land on a name for that little one.)  

Iren means “peace,” and Daniel means “God my judge”. We named him that so when people ask about his name, we can briefly share with them that our greatest need is to find peace with God the judge through Jesus.

Pray that Iren will find peace with God through Christ, and that he will cling to Jesus from an early age and point many to Him.

The Blogging Part

In the weeks to come I’ll share more about my struggles with learning I was pregnant, to life as a new mommy, to the three new messages I prepped and our travel to the latest speaking gig, and much more.

I haven’t been this excited to write in a long time. I ache to write, the way I ached for Iren when his grandparents took him for the first time for a few hours.

In addition to continuing to write for other blogs, I want to do more personal writing here. Trevor and I do a lot of hospitality, and I’d like to welcome you into our lives. Complete with baby pictures.

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, type your email in the box to the right under “Don’t Miss a Post!” and you’ll receive future updates in your inbox. (If you’re reading this on your phone, click on the menu button at the top and choose “Subscribe by Email.”) You can unsubscribe at any time.

Now it’s your turn. What has occupied your summer? What are you getting back to, now that summer is drawing to a close? I’d love to hear.

So You Want To Write A Book?

So You Want To Write A Book?

I often hear from aspiring writers asking for tips on how to make their dream of becoming a published author come true. Here are three steps I recommend for those whose eyes are set on a writing career.

Explore Your Motivation to Write

Why do you want to write? Why do you want to publish a book? Motivation matters—big time.

In 1 Samuel, we see the Israelites demanding the prophet Samuel to appoint them a king. There was nothing technically wrong with wanting a king (see Deuteronomy 17:14–20 for proof). The problem was why they wanted a king. Here it is, straight from their mouths:

“There shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:19–20, emphasis added).

God had a flawless record in fighting their battles for them, but they wanted a king who looked and acted like the kings of the nations around them. This was a direct rejection of God:

And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (v. 7, emphasis added).

God gave His people the king they wanted, but He warned them through Samuel that the day would come when they would cry out to God for relief from their king. On that day, God would not answer them (see vv. 10–18).

Motivation matters to God. And it should matter to us.

I’d encourage you to take some time to journal through these questions. Ask God to search your heart. Why do I want to become a well-known writer? Why do I want to publish a book? If you find less-than-lovely motives (or more like when you find less-than-lovely motives), confess them to God. Ask Him to cleanse you from sinful desires and to replace your ungodly motives with pure ones.

Write Like You Mean It

If you want to become a writer, you have to write. And write. And write. Dreaming won’t put words on the page.

If you’re anything like me, it’ll take you awhile to figure out what routine fits you. Try different options until you’ve figured out what works best in this season of life.

  • Are you an early riser . . . or could you be? Wake with the roosters, and write at a set time each morning.
  • Do you need a good amount of time to “get into the zone”? Maybe an extended Saturday date at Barnes & Noble would be just your thing. Consider inviting a friend along for accountability and an occasional laugh.

Warning: This will feel like work. Hard work. Because it is. This is why it’s important to know why you’re writing (back to that motivation thing). You’ll need a solid reason to sit down at your laptop again when others are out enjoying the sunshine with friends.

Don’t always choose writing over time with friends, though. You’ll need to read diversely and live well so you actually have deep thoughts to ponder, adventures to write about, questions to answer.

Once you’re into a rhythm of writing regularly, you might want to think about starting a blog (I recommend WordPress), so you can begin to grow an audience and so others can benefit from your words.

Once you’ve mastered the discipline of writing regularly, there’s one more thing to do.

Something Your Profs Won’t Tell You

Bestselling author Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth (author of nearly twenty books, with more than three million copies sold worldwide) never set out to become an author. She was approached by a publisher for her first book when she wasn’t well known. When I first heard that, I thought, Well, that worked for you, but then . . . you’re Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. You’re special!

But then, miracle of miracles, it happened for me, too. Unbeknownst to me, a publisher had been reading my blog, and then they approached me about writing a book. Professors never even tell you that’s a possibility when you’re sitting in Writing 101! They spend all their time warning you that you’ll have to submit countless query letters and will receive scores of rejection letters.

There’s nothing wrong with sending query letters, but I think those writing profs would do well to also remind hopeful students that they live under God’s providence. While we were still unformed, God wrote in one of His books every day that was formed for us (Ps. 139:16). This same God opens doors no one can shut and shuts doors no one can open (Rev. 3:7).

Wait on God

One of the twelve “Cutting-Edge Commitments” of Life Action Ministries (the parent ministry of Revive Our Hearts where I’ve worked for the past eleven years) is faithfulness. They say it like this:

God has not called us to be “successful,” as the world measures success, but to be faithful. It is not our responsibility to promote ourselves or the outward, visible growth of our ministry. If we will take care of the “depth” of our lives, God will take care of the “breadth” of our ministry” (1 Cor. 3:12–14; 4:1–2).

So my counter-cultural advice to you would be rest. Wait. Stay close to Jesus. Be faithful with what God’s entrusted to you, even when it looks like no one is watching, when you don’t know how this could possibly be advancing your own dreams.

Regularly talk to God about your dreams. He will most likely ask you to die to them. But then, He is the resurrection and the life, and I’ve found He will often resurrect dead dreams when you least expect Him to.

How about you? What dream could you begin to work toward today?

As I share in this post to college grads, be patient if it doesn’t happen right away. Trust God and know that He doesn’t waste anything; He is still writing your story. True contentment is found in Him; not in a dream job.

Pursue your dream job (as long as you don’t have to sin to do your job), and trust God to open and close doors in His perfect, infinite wisdom.

So You Want to Write a Book? was originally published on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com. 

Anne Steele: A Voice That Still Sounds Today

Anne Steele: A Voice That Still Sounds Today

As cars speed past my home with windows open and music spilling out, I wonder if singers—and more specifically, songwriters—are not among the most influential voices in our culture.

A couple centuries ago—before radio, iTunes, iPods, Pandora, or Spotify—I imagine hymn writers were some of the most influential people of their day. Men, women, and children sang their songs both corporately and as they went about their everyday work.

Anne Steele (1717–1778) was one of these major influencers—the first significant female hymn writer in history and purportedly the most popular Baptist hymn writer in the history of the church.

I was introduced to the late Anne Steele a couple years ago by my hymn-loving husband. In fact, if you ever unearth her three-volume work* in a used bookstore and sell it to me, Trevor and I just might name our first child after you in profound gratitude! (Anne is Trevor’s favorite hymn writer, and this book is a highly coveted treasure.) But I digress . . .

A Humble Heart

Anne never set out to become a successful writer. She wrote for her own personal reflection until her beloved pastor-father began to use her hymns in the church he pastored.

According to John Gadsby:

From early life [Anne] was exceedingly fond of poetry, but was very unwilling for her productions to be submitted to the public eye. When at last she gave her consent, she would not have her own name attached to the volumes, but published them under the signature of Theodosia (“The Gift of God”), and gave all the profits to charity.

Anne’s hymns first appeared in a hymnbook in 1769. Her father wrote in his diary:

Today Nanny sent part of her composition to London to be printed. I entreat a gracious God, who enabled and stirred her up to such a work, to direct in it and bless it for the good of many. I pray God to make it useful, and keep her humble.

Humble she remained. In one letter to her father—whom she affectionately referred to as “honoured father”—Anne wrote:

If while I am sleeping in the silent grave, my thoughts are of any real benefit to the meanest of the servants of my God, be the praise ascribed to the almighty Giver of all grace.

Oh, how they have benefitted Christ’s Body! And not because she was perfect. Anne wrestled with doubts and assurance of salvation. In fact, that’s one of the things I appreciate most about her writing: She’s so candid about a believer’s doubts, pain, fears, and—at times—profound suffering.

Centuries later, it’s apparent that Anne’s hymns have stood the test of time. Kevin Twit, founder of Indelible Grace—an organization that produces old hymns set to new music—writes, “I find her hymns so rich, and yet easily understood even by those living 250 years after her death!”

A Deep Faith

Another thing I appreciate about Anne’s hymns is that they aren’t merely intellectual exercises. As John Sheppard, author of a short memoir about Anne, wrote, “The emotions expressed were ever genuine, and the faith which awaked them was true and operative.”

That is probably due to how much she suffered:

  • Just three years after Anne was born, her mother passed away.
  • She suffered physically, living with chronic recurring malaria, painful stomach issues, and severe teeth pain . . . as well as seriously injuring herself when thrown from a horse at nineteen.
  • When she was twenty-one, her fiancé, Robert, drowned.

And yet those who knew her personally testify that in spite of all this, she . . .

possessed a native cheerfulness, which not even the agonizing pains of her latter days could deprive her of. In every short interval of abated suffering, she would, in a variety of ways, as well as by her enlivening conversation, give pleasure to all around her (Dr. Caleb Evans).

The only explanation is her rich, intimate relationship with God. For a glimpse into her enjoyment of Him, look at just a few of the unique ways she referred to God in her hymns:

  • Thou lovely source of true delight
  • Dear refuge of my weary soul
  • Eternal source of joys divine
  • Great source of boundless power and grace
  • Father of mercies in Thy word
  • Dear center of my best desires

Personally, I wonder if the closeness she experienced with her heavenly Father was related to her relationship with her earthly father, who referred to her in letters as “dear little Nancy, more and more entertaining.”

Anne lived with her father and stepmother until her father passed away. She spent her days writing (144 hymns, forty-eight psalms in verse, and about fifty poems) and helping her father with his pastoral duties. Anne herself died at age sixty-one, after nine painful years confined to her bed. Dr. Evans writes:

She often spoke, not merely with tranquility, but with joy, of her decease. . . . she took the most affectionate leave of weeping friends around her . . . her last words: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

Her tombstone in Broughton churchyard reads:

Silent the lyre, and dumb the tuneful tongue, that sung on earth her great Redeemer’s praise;
But now in heaven she joins the angelic song,
In more harmonious, more exalted lays.

Anne’s hymns live on; may her legacy live on in you and me as well:

  • Are you and I thoughtful and cheerful toward others even as we’re suffering?
  • Are we diligent but humble in stewarding our gifts to bless members of Christ’s Body?
  • Is our hope fixed on that day we will be with God face to face . . . or on the trivial pursuits we experience here and now?
  • Are we honest with God and with others about our doubts and struggles?
  • Do you and I deeply enjoy our glorious God and shower Him with the praise He deserves?

I leave you with two songs by Anne, set to music by Indelible Grace. The first is for those in pain; the second for those with hearts full of praise. Enjoy!

Thou Refuge of My Weary SoulIFrame

Thou Lovely Source of True Delight

IFrameWant to learn more about Anne Steele? Kevin Twit lists several resources at the beginning of this post.

*possibly under her pen name “Theodosia”

(This post was originally featured in a series titled “25 Women Who Impacted the World for Christ” over on ReviveOurHearts.com.) 

5 Ways to Read a Blog Post Without Getting Your Jimmies Rustled

5 Ways to Read a Blog Post Without Getting Your Jimmies Rustled

Have you seen the meme “rustle my jimmies”? It came into use in 2010 and expresses strong emotional angst toward someone else’s post on the Internet.

As a blog manager for the past seven years, I’ve observed my share of “jimmy rustling” in the comments section—on this blog and on other blogs. Yes, it appears even Christians get their jimmies rustled from time to time.

When I read a disgruntled commenter expressing sharp criticism toward the author of a post, it makes me think of this admonition from James:

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be

  • quick to hear
  • slow to speak
  • slow to anger;

for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (1:19–20).

I can’t help but wonder how this verse might read if James were addressing modern-day blog readers. Something like this, maybe?

Know this, my beloved Internet users: let every scanner be

  • quick to read carefully and slowly all the way to the end of a post
  • quick to seek to understand where the author is coming from
  • slow to comment
  • slow to get their jimmies rustled

for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19–20).

One of the best pieces of communication advice I have ever received is to seek to understand before seeking to be understood (again, just another way of summarizing James 1:19–20). It’s no different from how we are supposed to read the Bible—seeking to understand the author’s original intent rather than jumping to conclusions.

That said, would you mind if I passed on five pieces of advice that will aid you in not getting your jimmies rustled—and not sinning in your responses?

1. Don’t judge a post by its title.

In order to catch readers’ attention in a culture glutted with information, bloggers have to write intriguing titles in order for readers to even click on their posts. So give the author a break and read their post before blasting them for their title. Even then, don’t blast them for their title. Comment on their whole presentation, not on six words stripped of their context.

2. Don’t post a comment before reading to the end of the post.

Often the writer is making the same argument you are . . . you just didn’t stick around long enough to realize it.

3. Do ask clarifying questions.

Rather than reading between the lines and connecting dots that aren’t really there to connect, ask the author what they meant by such-and-such. Give them a chance to clarify rather than putting words in their mouth.

4. Do pray, re-read, and wait a bit before you instantly post a comment.

Growing up, my mom taught me not to send an important email immediately after writing it, but to leave some space before sending it. She probably got that idea from the Word of God: “Whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way” (Prov. 19:2).

Words can never be taken back. I trust bloggers are doing the same thing as they write a post: praying, re-reading, and waiting before instantly posting their thoughts on the worldwide web.

5. Do share truth in love.

If correction is indeed needed, share this correction in love. The apostle Paul says it better than me:

I . . . urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:1–6).

I’m not saying you have to agree with everything that’s posted on the Internet, or even on this blog. Hardly! But I am asking you to help me change the commenting culture to one that honors God, gently corrects where needed, and encourages where possible.

I’d love to hear what you think. Have you noticed this same trend? How have you either contributed to or bucked the my-jimmies-are-rustled-and-you’re-gonna-hear-about-it system?

5 Ways to Read a Blog Post Without Getting Your Jimmies Rustled was originally posted on TrueWoman.com. 

Insider Tips on Speaking

Insider Tips on Speaking

Hey there! If you’re interested in public speaking, here’s an interview Leslie Bennett did with me and Trillia Newbell before we participated in the “Speaking to Transform Lives” panel at the upcoming Revive ’15: Women Teaching Women Pre-Conference.

Selecting Topics

Trillia: I don’t speak on something I haven’t experienced or researched well. It’s that simple. For example, I won’t speak about raising teenagers because my children are young, but I wouldn’t mind being on a panel with older women who could speak to that topic.

Paula: I ask what the purpose of their event is and if there’s a topic they want me to cover. Then I open my Speaking Engagements folder on my computer to see if there’s anything I’ve already written or taught that I can repurpose. No need to reinvent the wheel!

The Role of Prayer

Trillia: I ask the Lord to fill me with His Spirit and give me wisdom as I read His Word—I don’t want to make things up when I speak. I’d like to truthfully speak from His Word. I ask the Lord to help me be self-forgetful so I can serve well without thinking much about myself. I ask that those who hear have ears to hear what He might have for them, and if there’s anything I say that wouldn’t be helpful, that those words would be tossed from their minds.

Paula: It’s impossible to pray enough! The power of prayer is phenomenal. When I recently spoke in Brazil, there were literally thousands of people praying around the world. I’m convinced the fruit that continues to come out of that week is a direct result. I’d recommend setting up a prayer team. I email mine before and after an event to be sure I have prayer covering.

Sharpening Skills

Trillia: Get someone to listen to you who would be willing to tell you hard things. I have a friend and colleague who regularly critiques my talks. It has been the most helpful thing I’ve done in a long time. He’s a trusted scholar, which definitely helps, but he’s also not afraid to tell me the truth. Finally, he not only wants me to do well; he wants those who hear me to be served. It’s a blessing!

Paula: Consider every opportunity to speak as vital practice and preparation. No opportunity is too small: making an announcement, emceeing a wedding reception, or hosting a small group. See if it can be recorded. Then, when you’re done, ask other great communicators to critique you. It’s scary, but invaluable.

The Three Best Tips We’ve Received

Trillia:

1. Critique yourself.
Even as painful as it is, listen to your talks or watch the videos so you can see and hear what you are saying/doing.

2. Be organized.
Have a clear goal for each message. I wrote my messages out word for word at first, but now after a few years, I can do an outline on some talks.

3. Be yourself.
You can’t be anyone else! Don’t try to mimic someone; be you. Don’t try to be an entertainer. If you’re a teacher—teach.

Paula:

1. Channel your nervousness.
I will never forget my college speech professor telling our class that everyone gets nervous right before they speak. The key is to channel that nervousness into . . . energy!

2. Keep your priorities straight.
Don’t ever forfeit time with God for ministry.

3. Take your thoughts captive.
Something I’ve learned is to take the thoughts captive that inevitably come: I’m not ready. I’m not adequate. They have the wrong girl. If God brought this speaking engagement my way, He must think I’m the woman for the job. Praise Him; His strength really is made perfect in our weakness!

Best Practices

Trillia:

  • I read over the talks and pray. I pray a lot. I feel my great need for God while speaking. It’s not like writing where you can edit; once it’s out of your mouth, it’s out there. So I pray. Where words are many, sin is close by. I want to be aware of that.
  • I also try to chat with those I’ll be speaking with (in the crowd). I want to be their friend, if even for that moment. I like to relate with them so that when I’m up there, it’s clear we are in this together.

Paula:

  • I wake up early—even though I never sleep well the night before a speaking engagement—and spend time with God, in spite of the fact that I can barely keep my eyes open.
  • I arrive earlier than I think I need to be there, and I’ve yet to get there too early! There’s always something unexpected to attend to.
  • I like to greet women as they come in and get to know them a bit. (Sometimes I’ll change my examples and illustrations on the spot after I learn about women as they come in.)
  • After I’ve spoken, I thank God. He came through . . . again! Soon after the event, I write my host(ess) a thank-you note and journal about the event. It allows me to process and learn. I also update my prayer team, then try to rest. Easier said than done after all that excitement!

I bet you’ve learned a trick or two from your teaching experiences! What speaking tips can you share?

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies-in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:10–11).

Insider Tips on Speaking was originally posted on ReviveOurHearts.com.