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A Spouse’s Blessed Persuasion

By G.K. Johnson, author of The Zealots

Suddenly I was out of excuses. I stood at the starting line of a race I’d always wanted to run. When a major life change came our way, my husband and I decided that “now” was the time to give my writing dream a shot. Or at least, my wise husband did. God bless him. I started getting excited.

For years, I knew the story God had put on my heart. I knew who I wanted my main character to be and I knew the general gist of the storyline, random points of climax, the fuzzy details between.

Whenever I was asked about a dream I hoped to achieve in my lifetime, I often said, “I want to write a book!” But for years I never put pen to paper. The thought of doing so wore the luster off the idea of being an author. How would I begin? If I didn’t start the ‘right’ way, all would be lost!

Fear of Being a ‘Said Failure’

Looking back on it now, I know the reason I kept putting off my dream. I was afraid of failure.

Perhaps more than being afraid of failure, I was afraid of the ensuing consequences of being a ‘said failure’. What would it mean about me if I wrote something I thought was good, only to find out nobody else liked it? Telling people I had the intention to write a book one day sounded great and impressive but. . . hollow because I never actually sat down to do it.

My husband has a keen sense of discernment. He knew the real reason I was holding back the writing before I did. He urged me to take this opportunity to fulfill my dream. To treat writing like a job and get serious about it.

Getting Serious

I began to imagine my life as a writer. I pictured myself holding a beautifully covered novel, signing books, speaking at events. With these visions in mind, I sat down at my Mac one morning and hit ‘go’ on my stopwatch, the closest thing I had to ‘clocking in.’

I began to write no matter how I felt. I began treating writing like a job. My intention was to write for eight hours. If I was treating this like a job and giving it my utmost effort, that was the thing to do, right? I had no outline, I literally just started writing.

Two Hours In, Mentally Exhausted

Library Story Hour – The Zealots

I know some people can write in coffee shops or listen to music in the background and be incredibly productive but that’s not me. When I write I need silence. This is a bummer because I love the romantic idea of writing a bestseller in a coffee shop while drinking a mocha. It just doesn’t work for me. Anyway. I had typed for two hours and I felt pretty good about what I had on paper, but my brain was worn out.

I stared out the window and wondered how I was going to fill six more hours with productive writing when I felt creatively wrung out. It felt as though my fear of being a failure was already becoming a reality.

What Happened

Halfway through I realized I really needed an outline and wrote one.

After that day of trying to write for eight hours, I realized that was an impossible goal. For me at least. My sweet spot used to be two to four hours of writing a day. Any more than that, and I noticed that the quality of my writing went downhill.

Ultimately I finished that novel several months later.

This time period included several teary breakdowns in which I insisted ‘I can’t do this’ and my husband reminded me I could.

My writing career got even more complicated when our baby came home. Now, I needed to consult with my editor, make changes, rereads, and begin to blog. I squeezed in writing between my infant son’s nap times.

I’m learning that the practice of writing is a fluid thing-ebbing and flowing with seasons of life. I brew myself a cup of coffee for that romantic ‘close-as-I-can-get to a coffee shop’ feeling, but my brew usually gets cold before I drink it. Why? Because my goal is to write and I’m doing that.

My finished manuscript was accepted by a publisher, edited, and finally, my book was published by Capture Books, complete with the important aspects that make a professionally published book sell (hooray!).

In the first month after its release, I didn’t do any book signing events unless you count the ones I signed at my dining room table and sent out. And no one has asked me to speak at their event. Of course, there is a pandemic needing to be quieted for the population to feel comfy in group settings.

In the Midst of the Process

I sent my book to some friends for their feedback and while most of them said nice things, some didn’t like every part of the book.

Yikes, that must have triggered my fear of failure, right?

Well yes and no. Yes, I would be happy if everyone who picked up my book loved it! And yes, it stings a little when someone tells me they don’t like a certain part. But it’s impossible that every person would connect with my genre and writing style. Concerning the story critique, if I’m being honest, I appreciate their input! It’s cliche, but without constructive criticism, it would be impossible for me to grow as a writer. So I’m doing my best to take all the feedback and sort through it. This is the life of a writer.

This week, I was awarded a stunning editorial review from BookLife, an arm of Publishers Weekly.  You may want to read it here.

Here’s the Thing. . . I-Wrote-A-Book.

God told me to write a story and I wrote it. Perhaps this has been the biggest takeaway for me from this entire process. At the end of the day, regardless of whether everyone likes it, I followed through. So when God puts something on your heart believe that He will give you the resources to do it. The support of my husband was crucial throughout the process of writing The Zealots. He is God’s blessing to me.

That first step is scary, but I promise that you will learn so much in following through and accepting the resources the Lord offers. Let someone special in to your writing life to hold you accountable and to help persuade you when you are not “feeling it.” The Lord will be with you every step of the way. When you’re listening to His voice you can’t fail.

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Reading Excerpts and Snippets – Mister B: Living with a 98-Year-Old-Rocket Scientist

 

 

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Come to The Rabbit Room

by Andrew Peterson

Two years ago I walked the streets of Oxford with my wife. We were in London for a few days during the final throes of Spring and took the train to the famously literary town to visit, among other things, the former home of C.S. Lewis.

It’s a two-story brick house called the Kilns, in what used to be the outskirts of Oxford and is now buffeted by subdivisions. Fifty or sixty years ago Lewis sat upstairs at the Kilns and wrote, or he strolled around the pond behind the house smoking his pipe; now college students live in the house and the pond is littered with old tires and oil bottles.

Not far from his house is a picturesque Anglican church building made of hewn stone and tucked in a quiet hollow of Oxford. We walked through the old empty building where Lewis and his brother used to sit through the homily until five minutes before the end of the service, at which time they would sneak out the back door to beat the lunch rush at the pub down the street.

Behind the church is the cemetery where Lewis is buried. My wife and I stood at his grave feeling the peace of the place: the long-haired cows tearing grass from the hill visible through leafy bowers, the sun pushing through gray English skies as soft and easy as a yawn, the green of new grass well-kept. As hokey as it sounds, I felt like we were in the Shire, and I suppose that in a way that’s exactly where we were.

The tour ended at the Eagle and Child, the pub where the Inklings often met for beer, friendship, and the sharing of their latest writings. I dragged my wife inside and promptly ordered fish and chips at the table where Tolkien, Lewis, his brother Warren, Charles Williams, and others once enjoyed one another’s company. I felt bashful and self-conscious about going so far out of my way (with my patient wife in tow) to visit these places. What did I expect to find there? I’m not sure what’s so fascinating to me about these men and their works, their approach to creativity and their understanding of the source of it all. Their brilliance was remarkable; they were Christians, intellectuals, and yet childlike enough to love stories and seek fellowship in their making.

London itself was a wellspring of inspiration for me. We strolled through Kensington Gardens where Peter Pan was born, ate still more fish and chips in pubs that had welcomed travelers for four hundred years, I thought about Robin Hood, George MacDonald, Harry Potter, King Arthur, and Shakespeare. And of course, I thought about the gospel. History breathes in London, seeps through the cobbles and like mist it rises from the Thames. It’s easy to see why so many beloved stories have sprung from England’s imagination.

History swept me up when I walked beneath the portcullis of the Tower of London, when I took communion in Westminster Abbey among the tombs of long-dead kings. The blood and body of Christ, shed for you, peasants and kings, pagans and priests. The feast at the table is good and gives life, and is your only hope for meaning and peace and rest from the baying of the hounds at your heels, because Death and Sin and Hatred pursue you and would swallow you up if not for the strong voice of Jesus saying “Peace. Be still.” And at his word the dogs snap back into the darkness with a yelp as if reaching the limit of their chains. History belittles us. Its story is one of conquest and murder and vast darkness, and the noblest of men ends up as dead as the thief. I realized as I walked through the hall of kings in the Abbey that my time here is brief and my earthly crowns are worthless as chaff; the words of my epitaph will ring hollow lest they point to the fullness of Christ.

Which brings me back to Oxford. Ron, our tour guide, told us that he once asked a hundred people on the streets of Oxford who C.S. Lewis was and none could tell him. None. A few wrinkled their eyebrows and asked if he was “that Alice in Wonderland” guy. He told us that when he started giving the tours of Lewis’s time at Oxford, his tomb was overgrown and covered with mildew, its words barely legible. But for a relative handful of people (most of them Americans) who know about Aslan and the Deep Magic and the High Countries, the world knows little about Lewis and lauds him not. But the marks this man’s stories left on my soul–the gospel in his stories–are deep and lasting and I believe I’ll one day show them to him.

I believe strongly in the value of the artists in this world. I believe that when someone who was made to strive to create beauty in the world is, as Brennan Manning said, “ambushed by Jesus,” the art that results bears a God-given power that draws men to Christ. I have encountered that power in the sub-creations of Christ-followers countless times. (I’ve also encountered it in the works of those who haven’t yet succumbed to the source of their gifting.) Those works of art have helped me to better understand the Bible and its author, they have given me the tools with which to worship, to serve, to revel in the greatness of the Maker.

Those works of art are the fruit of obedience to the artist’s calling. The burden God places on each of us is to become who we are meant to be. We are most fully ourselves when Christ most fully lives in us and through us; the mother shines brightest with her child in her arms, the father when he forgives his wandering son, and the artist when he or she is drawing attention to grace by showing the pinprick of light overcoming the darkness in the painting or the story or the song.

The world knows darkness. Christ came into the world to show us light. I have seen it, have been blinded by it, invaded by it, and I will tell its story. I cannot help but see that story everywhere I look. I see it when I am full of joy and weightless as a cloud, and I see it when grief and self-loathing root me to the cold earth; it is remembering the story, Christ whispering it in my ear, that kills the despair, sets me gently on the donkey, and takes me to an inn to recover from the wounds. How can I keep myself from singing?

The Rabbit Room is a place for stories. For artists who believe in the power of old tales, tales as old as the earth itself, who find hope in them and beauty in the shadows and in the light and in the source of the light.

After my fish and chips in the back room of the Eagle and Child, I noticed a paper sign attached to the gable. On it was written the name of the little room where the Inklings met: the Rabbit Room. I don’t know why it was called that. There was no explanation to be found. But the name struck me, stuck with me, and grew into this website. Here you’ll find writings and reviews by artists and appreciators of art, conversations about creation, storytelling, songwriting, and the long journey of becoming who we’re meant to be.

I also wanted to provide a place where you could support some of these artists and writers by purchasing from the Rabbit Room store (as opposed to some gargantuan bookseller). Sure, you may find the book or CD cheaper elsewhere, but here you’ll help sustain the ministry of some of these artists and writers, and you’ll be supporting this place where I hope you’ll come for support and sustenance of your own. The books and CDs for sale in the store each tell the old, old story in their way, and I believe that they have the potential to be a balm for you in your long journey.

So pull up a chair and join us. The fish and chips are fattening, but so, so good. You can find the Rabbit Room community blog on Facebook here. Join us if you are of like mind and heart.

The Proprietor

The Warren, Nashville

Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.

Welcome to the Rabbit Room

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Home-Baked-Abstinence

The last time I remember baking a dessert from scratch was three years into marriage, now 26 years ago.

I’d invited the whole family over for Thanksgiving.  The sun was pouring through the windows, the feast was complete with smiling expectant faces for the promising desserts, when I brought out the traditional pies plus one.  The South African milk tart had become my favorite having lived and worked in that country a few years earlier, and I was eager to share it with everyone I loved back home.

In the midst of preparing everything needed for our Thanksgiving party, I’d singed the milk needed for the tart.  “Oh, well,” I thought, “it won’t hurt much.”  Quickly pouring it out of the over-heated pan, into the crust, I finished the milk tart.

But, it did matter. Quite a lot. Sampling the tart, the nervous hostess, who was me, was forced to alert everyone else to avoid it.

For some reason, this bitter fail colored all of my future baking interests.  Oh, I’ve made meal after meal over my thirty years of marriage, but I never brought out the sugar and softened butter, the vanilla, or any of my other favorite ingredients.  Besides, I was always on the plump side, and I hoped the discipline of avoiding home-cooked yummies would help the situation.

About two years ago, I found an interesting cookie cutter rolling pin at a Goodwill store and it inspired me to try to bake the sugar cookies that just can’t be imitated by store purchases. Maybe it was for candy cutting. Either way, it would be fun, I decided. When we cleaned out the house last year, my husband tried to toss these kinds of things he’d never seen me use, but he’d never seen my yearning for home-baked cookies either.

I salvaged the cookie cutter

Inside, stood my defiant self sticking out my tongue at the multi-billion weight-loss industry. I was going to bake something yummy.

Still, it wasn’t until two weeks before Christmas, when looking through the cupboards, that I rediscovered the quirky cookie cutter. It was the day before my husband’s birthday. I wanted to spoil him because his special day often gets swallowed up in the holidays.

Google came in handy as I looked up my favorite cookie recipes.  I started with peanut butter kisses and substituted the chocolate kisses for miniature healthy peanut butter cups pressed into the middle.

Then, I went on to soft, traditional oatmeal raisin cookies. The writer of this recipe assumed I knew how much sugar and butter to whip together, how many eggs to add, how much cinnamon, vanilla and baking soda to use. Reaching deep into memories of girlish baking, I put the basics back together and decided to trust my intuition.

Thankfully, I still had some hard chunks of brown sugar in a bag at the top of the cupboard. I also found an inch of molasses left in a bottle.

The recipe that I invented included a few new essentials

  1. A magnifying glass to read the ingredients and the recipe
  2. An ice-cream scoop to pound the brown sugar lumps to smithereens
  3. Hope.

No fancy Kitchenaid mixer gets any credit

My hand-me-down, hand-held beaters worked fine after I softened our frozen butter in the microwave. Mixing my made-up portions of oats, eggs, vanilla, flour, butter and sugar together, butter and sugar first, of course, I threw in some old raisins.  Raisins keep forever – just about. No harm done there.

Dipping into the oven, I traded the pan of hot peanut butter kiss cookies for a sheet of the oatmeal raisin drops.

Then, I went to look up the recipe for the highlight of the season, sugar cookies!

In the meantime, I found a recipe for Oatmeal raisin cookies with the proper amounts listed for the ingredients, so I added a little more flour and butter and sugar and oatmeal, and I decided to add a banana and walnuts to the last half of the dough. I lowered the oven temperature on those already baking.

Back to the sugar cookie recipe, it soon became clear that I needed to roll out the dough, let it sit in the refrigerator, then use the cookie cutter and finally, decorate the little images with icing or colored sugar.

My heart sank at the traditional rolling pin that would be needed. The last time I recalled seeing a rolling pin, I put it somewhere the-sun-don’t-shine that would insure I’d never happen upon it again.

The ingredients called for a bit of almond flavoring.  My favorite. But, nope, I had removed the temptation of almond paste and almond flavoring from my kitchen long ago.

Sugar cookies were going to need a real baker.  I mixed up the sugar and butter, measured out the flour and set it all aside.

The oatmeal raisin cookies were smelling a bit pungent. I swung open the oven and removed the pan of cookies now black around the edges.  Quickly, I used the old-fashioned metal spatula to swoop up the cookies from the heated sheet and deposit them onto the cooling sheet.

A familiar bitterness taunted

Just then, my dog started barking alerting me to the fact that my husband was home from work.  I opened the door to greet the birthday boy and I gave him a kiss wondering how long it would take for him to notice the air-filled sweetness. Would he ask about today’s kitchen episodes?

“Umm, what smells so good?”

“Come, see!”

“You made cookies?!”

“Yep. For you.”

“For me?”

“For your birthday.”

His hand started moving toward the cooling sheet. I steered it to the peanut butter kiss cookie adaption that I’d enjoyed tasting earlier.  “You’ll probably like these better, Hon.”

He munched and smiled and said a few crazy nuthins as he pulled me close.

“What are the others?”

“Um, not your favorite.  Oatmeal raisin.”

What is Your Next Must-Read?

He gathered up a couple and began munching again as he reported on the occurrences in his day. Then, to my pleasure he was too distracted to continue. “Umm, these are great, Honey!”

“They are?”

“I love ‘em.”

“But, they’re a little burnt.” My admission colors the air.

“You know how you loved burnt toast when you were a kid?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, my favorite was having a bit of a burn on my oatmeal raisin cookies. That’s why I’m not fond of the regular kind.  These are wonderful!”

Oh, gosh, his pre-birthday surprise is an unexpected win!

“You know what I want to do tomorrow on my birthday?  I want to grab a stack of these with a cup of coffee and have them for breakfast. That’s all I really want. Well—and I want a little time to cuddle with you. That’d be my perfect birthday.”

I’ve never lost my cuddly appearance, even with the years of home baked abstinence. The older I get, the rounder I have become, but that just doesn’t seem to matter to the one who loves me.

It will be a fun experiment to try to make sugar cookies for Christmas since Santa himself is a jolly ol’ elf.

It will also be a great to try out the Goodwill roller cutter on something else, whether it be little pastries, or mini Swiss chocolates, or maybe some mint cream cheese sweets.  That’s my sweet New Year’s resolution.

Lynn Byk, author of Mister B: Living with a 98-Year-Old Rocket Scientist

 

Lynn Byk is a memoir author with Capture Books. She is available to speak at book clubs or women’s events about practical ways to care for the elderly in one’s life.

She and her Father-in-law co-wrote the book, “Mister B: Living With a 98-Year-Old Rocket Scientist“.

 

What is Your Next Must-Read?