By Tonya Jewel Blessing from the Bible study, Soothing Rain
Chris and I live in the bush. To get to our home a four-wheel drive vehicle is required. The road is rough, rutted, and extremely sandy. The other day as Chris and I were traveling, Chris muttered just as he hit a large rock, “Hold onto your bosom.”
Several days after Chris’ comment, I was visiting with a woman in one of the local townships who speaks Sotho. Conversing was limited. The woman was sitting under a tree washing dishes, and I was sitting on a log next to her.
The elderly lady touched her partially exposed breasts and then pointed toward mine. It’s not uncommon to see mammaries in South Africa, even at church.
I’m not sure what my friend was saying. She might have been asking if I have children, telling me that she needs a bra, asking my size, or even indicating that she needed food for her orphaned grandchildren. When I didn’t respond, she talked louder and, like my car ride, held onto her bosom.
Sometimes we just need to hold on. Life can get bumpy, and the ride can get tiresome. Sometimes the rockier the road, the more thrilling the destination, thrilling so that we shake our bodies with laughter and need to hold onto “the girls.”
In Colorado, the road home would sometimes be rough and rutted also. We never know what we will see because of a rut, or from the top of the hill, or what lies just beyond the bend.
I was teaching a class of second and third grade gifted readers a number of years ago when during group reading time one of the students read aloud the word “bosom.” He then proceeded to explain to the others what the word meant. It was very titillating for the children and caused me to laugh out loud.
Over and over again in Scripture, we see rocky and rough life paths producing miraculous and thrilling adventures.
We serve a great God. He is with us on the rough roads and the thrilling rides, so get ready to hold onto your bosoms.
Questions for this devotional/conversation starter by Sue Summers.
Life can indeed “get bumpy.” Summarize a time in your life that was especially “bumpy.”
Some of the women mentioned in the Bible are Ruth, Esther, the widow at Zarephath, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Select one of these women, locate and read the story about her situation in Scripture, and then summarize her need to “hold onto her bosom.”
Read the story of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, in Genesis 17:1-19. Explain how this story fits with the comment: “Over and over again in Scripture, we see rocky and rough life paths producing miraculous and thrilling adventures.”
Why do you think God chooses “rocky and rough life paths” for us? Explain your thinking.
You’re likely familiar with “Breaking Bad”, the TV series about a chemistry teacher desperate to secure his family’s financial future, after his devastating cancer diagnosis. Facing the reality of death does funny things to people.
Even if you’ve never watched Breaking Bad, apparently most of America has. The series quickly became a national sensation and rendered a new buzzword, “breaking bad” for when someone good suddenly changed character.
If “breaking bad” is slang for “defying expectations” then “breaking bud” is a crisp turn–of–phrase for “just kidding, the weather has a mind of its own”. Out of the brown and crinkled tan shades of left-over winter, buds are due. The milk of flowers is already rising through pale green rose stems.
Fine, with this springtime tease, we’ll don a warm jacket today, a light sweater tomorrow, carry a pair of boots in the car for just–in–case.
Spring waltzes in sideways, full of bluster and drizzle, followed by little sunny intervals of calm. Throw in a late snow squall for good measure, and you have springtime in Northwest Pennsylvania: Unpredictable, moody, playful, and perplexing. But we always tolerate the irregularities of spring because it holds promises: Birds returning, leaves unfurling, windows are thrown open to let in the breeze.
We’re starting to hear the spring peepers, those tiny chorus frogs that give usloud concerts every night for a fortnight. The early flowers are already pushing through soil, declaring forgiveness for winter’s icy grip. Something shifts in the air. There’s a mix of earthy smells, a giddy kick of anticipation.In spite of all the challenges we’ve endured, there is this one thing: Spring is “breaking bud”.
I had the honor of proofreading the book, BEING CREATIVE, by Laura Bartnick this spring. Her thoughts on creativity simply jibe with my feelings about springtime’s empowerment. I’m declaring new explorations this year. Did you know. . .
God calls all of His creation His servants, because He has a purpose for our existence. He is the Re-namer, and Redeemer, and Re-purposer. When we walk with the LORD, the possibilities are endless. We can search for Him—though He is not far from any of us. Coming closer to our Creator, we can accept His call to be cunning and skillful. We can even become His friend.
“Anything can become the next exploration. Even those creatives who want nothing to do with being a child of God often find their best material in Scripture and in the church. God can use the imagination of anyone to teach us.
“Your own skill is a learned thing. Wisdom takes time. You may not yet understand this when you begin to write about a tragedy causing a family to become displaced, all their treasures to be lost. What you are really going to discover and write about is the greater gift of creativity from loss, the value of new relationships, and community—finding other treasures in hidden places. This story may require much prayer, wrestling with God for the blessing, and many edits to test and strengthen the wings.”
Spring is going forward and gathering steam, hurtling headlong into backyard picnics, flip-flops, beach time and road trips.
There are ten little rules of creativity listed at the end of each chapter in BEING CREATIVE. There is also the suggestion to keep a journal nearby. I have practiced this invitation of capturing the wonder of my days, of God’s creative invitations to life in my own way. This is where the gift book series, BREATH OF JOY, was budded and flounced. SINGING SPRING announces this season of life burgeoning from death. It celebrates wonder with yellow daffodils, with purple lilacs, and with perfuming pink hyacinths.
Crops are going in this spring, and before we know it there will be rows and rows of sweet corn. That’s what I love about seasons. They simply show up. Regular as a heartbeat, as welcome as the friend you haven’t seen in quite a long time. Springtime is roguish, breaking bud and being mischievous in all the best ways.
I found one of my favorite quotes in chapter four of BEING CREATIVE:
Experience allows us to follow the dots into the unknown. We learn from intersecting paths along the way. We learn to improvise.”
I just love this! I want to lift it out, highlight it, then repeat it for emphasis!
Unconcerned about vaccines, politics or March Madness, the season is a joyful riot of mud puddles and sudden bursts of color, chasing away the landscape’s last edges of grays and browns.
By Jenny Fulton, author of Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye
Has God ever asked you to make a personal gifting or a private hobby public?
In many ways, this is a terrifying transition for a creative person. Before, creating something provided an inner joy; the only critic was yourself or the Gift Giver.
I have numerous journals, each of which are personal and private. How could I bridge the gap between my writing for private process and writing for what others wanted?
To share a talent with others is to expose yourself – to open your vulnerability to another’s criticism, to discover how much you still need to learn and grow in your abilities.
It’s far easier to hoard such giftings in isolation. Yet, more often than not, God won’t allow us to keep them shut away indefinitely.
I was teaching in China when God asked, urged, and encouraged me to start writing for more than myself. His first prodding came through a friend.
She speaks softly and listens loudly
Lara was another American teacher at the school. She possesses a quiet and gentle spirit, a trustworthy one, a daydreaming one. We formed an instant connection; I somehow knew she was a creative before she verified it with words. Our time together included playing our guitars, engaging in deep conversations, and talking about writing.
She was one of the first people with whom I shared the fulness of my passion for this art.
One day, we were sitting in her apartment, talking about our secret hobbies. “You know,” she said, “I was just reading this book, The Soul Tells a Story, by Vinita Hampton Wright. She talks about writing and creativity going hand-in-hand with spirituality and encourages people to say, ‘yes’ to their God-given gifts. You can read it when I’m finished.”
I did. As I read, a long-held dream crept from its world of silence and impossibility into the realm of light and reality.
What if my desire to write wasn’t temporary?
What if it wasn’t meant to remain a side-hobby or a means by which to communicate newsletters, but was given to me by God to be used for Him to His glory?
What if my dreams to write and be published didn’t just belong to me, but were a reflection of His dreams for me?
Soon after this conversation, Lara introduced me to Faithwriters.com, an online writing site for Christians. For the first time, I put my heart and stories on display to be read and critiqued by strangers who had no knowledge or context for the person behind the words. I didn’t know where it would lead or how God would use it; I only knew I must obey – I could no longer ignore the desperate call within me.
In 2008, I submitted my first fictional story, Chang Chang’s Hope, to the lowest level of the Faithwriters weekly writing challenge. Then I waited in terrified expectation for people to post their comments.
People really liked it! The judges liked it and gave it a 2nd place ranking in its level.
My next entry, More Than a Yearly Journey, was an autobiographical one. It caught the attention of the site managers who featured it on the Front-Page Showcase.
While I certainly seemed to be off to a good start, I knew my skills needed to develop. But maybe, with time, instruction, and practice, I could really do this writing thing.
These initial successes persuaded me to be more intentional about learning the craft. To this end, I read the highest-ranked stories and tried to pinpoint what made them so good. I studied writing lessons on the site and tried to incorporate those skills into my entries.
Sometimes my pieces connected well with the readers. Other times they didn’t
Regardless of whether my writing connected well with others, I was learning, improving, and gaining insight into where my strengths and weaknesses lay.
After several months of sharing online, I gathered my courage and tentatively offered to write the devotionals for an upcoming youth retreat. Offering, writing, and sharing God’s gifting to me in this form was far scarier than posting online. Exposing my heart to strangers was one thing; revealing it to those I knew was another.
Although the devotionals were presented as anonymous, I was able to gain some encouraging feedback.
These occasions to share made a few things very clear.
My desire to write wasn’t temporary.
The enjoyment and ability to write had been given to me by God to be used for Him to His glory.
My dreams to write and be published were a reflection of God’s dreams for me.
“Lord,” I prayed. “I entrust this writing, this interest and ability, to You as something You want me to continue to develop and use for Your glory. I’m not sure to what extent, but I do know that I will follow Your lead in this and seek any opportunities You may have for me. For whatever reason, and to whatever extent, You have, among other things, made me a writer. To You belong the details.”
Life Happens in The Details
I continued posting short stories online for the next five years. Life changed drastically in that time, but the commitment to write held steady. In 2010, I moved back to the U. S. Two years later, I was married, and a year after that, I gave birth to my first daughter.
In 2014, when my daughter was a year old, I left teaching to become a stay-at-home mom.
The dream and dedication to writing continued. With my husband’s encouragement, I pursued a few freelance writing jobs. One of them landed me a contact as a ghostwriter for a young adult fantasy novel. That book was published in 2016.
This past year, in July 2020, I came across Laura Bartnick with Capture Books. After a few months of communicating back and forth about a couple of writing projects, she offered me a contract to publish my first picture book. Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye was released on March 10, 2021, with paperback and hardback versions as well as ebook versions.
Timing for this release thrills me because the book is now available for comfort and hope around the Easter holiday because the theme of Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye is eternal life after death.
Encouragement from the Word
In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks much about the giftings of the Holy Spirit. Although writing or other artistic endeavors aren’t specifically mentioned, the manifestation of the Spirit is. “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The expression of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is meant for the common good.
Many times, God’s gifts aren’t given for the benefit of the receiver alone and aren’t meant solely for personal use and gratification. Instead, He often grants us skills and abilities so that we may use them to help others.
Matthew 5:16 (NASB) says, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” God’s light is expressed through how we live our lives, in our physical work, in what we say and do. This includes artistic endeavors.
May the dreams, skill, and abilities God has given us shine before others in such a way that they might glorify our Father who is in heaven.
Although it’s scary to publicly share our gifts, I’ve discovered the value of opening my heart in creative writing. It’s definitely worth it.
I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.
– Eric Liddell
I’m a great admirer of Eric Liddell. I grew up repeatedly watching Chariots of Fire, a movie that follows Eric’s strenuous journey to the Olympics and a tough, God-honoring decision he made when he arrived there. The movie fed my interest in this man and I devoured any books about him that I could find. The above quote quickly became a favorite.
Why? Because it takes something physical, something of this world, and attaches spiritual significance and eternal joy to it.
Eric knew God had called him to be a missionary–something anyone religious would consider to be a holy, spiritual calling. But God had also given Eric a great physical ability to run fast. Because both had been given by God, Eric considered them both to be holy. He knew that when he exercised his talent, it brought spiritual pleasure to the Giver of it.
The idea that a physical ability possesses a spiritual significance, pleasure, and outcome could be applied any number of gifts and abilities. This truth can be seen from the story of creation, where God created physical bodies, mind, and nature and called it “good” to stories and instructions about physical prowess.
In the Bible, when the young King Solomon humbled himself and asked for righteous attributes, God granted him amazing natural gifts of administration, art, architecture, poetry, favor of other kings and queens, love, and wisdom. His father, King David, was a musician long before anyone else heard him play. There in the fields outside of Bethlehem, he played his harp for the sheep and sang for the lambs. Never could he have suspected in those early days that God would call upon him to use this gift to calm a distressed and angry king.
The artisans in Exodus were gifted and practicing their crafts long before God called upon them to create the priestly garments and form the elaborate embellishments of the temple. Did they have any idea, in their early days, that God would one day use their skills as a visual representation to draw people to himself?
What Does the Bible Mean When it Says, “Whatever”?
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
Colossians 3:17 (NASB)
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”
Colossians 3:23-24 (NASB)
“Whatever you do” offers a wide and non-judgmental appeal to what pleases you to do. Your personal choice and desires are honored by God because of the unique way He fashioned you. You have space to experiment and try what is on your heart and mind.
People often ask, “What is God’s will for me?” Yet, God’s will often lies within the intimate designs of our bodies and minds, in our relationships, current commitments, and interests. He says, “whatever you do in word or deed, go in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
In context, “whatever you do” also means “whatever is not in opposition to God’s principles and statutes.” It would be nefarious to say I’m committing adultery or slandering someone because Colossians 3 says, “whatever”. Yet, scripture called Tamar righteous and not Judah, when she deceived him in order to gain her legal rights and benefits.
We don’t have to contort our personal essence into something else.
We can trust in His goodness. Inside nature’s limits is how He created us to be.
He lays out our paths forward, some say naturally. Some say spiritually.
The Lord chooses to anoint our work for a special purpose like He did with David’s music, Solomon’s wisdom and skills, and the other artisans who built the temple and later rebuilt Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day.
Our physical gifts and abilities begin within. They are given by God, create another connection with him, and bring him joy. God is our first and primary audience, long before anyone else is aware of the passion that burns within.
When I first began learning to play the guitar, I did so only when nobody else was around. I lifted up my voice and played and sang for myself and God alone. Once I could reasonably play a few songs, I occasionally invited my family to join me. After a while, I began seeking out others who enjoyed playing for the purpose of learning from them and enjoying the fellowship that came from a shared interest. In spite of my busy high school schedule, setting aside time to sing and play was a soul necessity.
My love for writing began with childhood stories and developed upon the pages of secret journals that not even my parents were allowed to see. By the time high school came around, my enjoyment of it, my need to engage it, were so great that I sought out any opportunities to do so. This included writing for our school/county newspaper and even taking an independent study course with news writing during my senior year. Although the articles were of a less personal nature, the fact that I was able to write brought me great joy and a greater sense of connection with God.
When God gives us a gift, and a passion to exercise that gift, we can’t help but to engage with it and God. There is no shame in this. In fact, it may even be a necessity for our souls to do so. It may be done without an audience or shared only with a small group of like-minded individuals as we slowly and quietly develop and improve in that which we’ve been given. Like David and the artisans in the Bible, God may one day call upon us to display our gifts in a more public forum. But until that day comes, if it comes, we quietly and steadily work at it for God, delighting in the pleasure it brings to both him and us.
Jenny Fulton is a wife, mother, children’s book author with Capture Books, YA fantasy author, blogger, and freelance writer with a B.S. in Bible, a B.S. in elementary education, and an endorsement in K-12 ESL.
Her debut children’s story, Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye is released 2021, in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.
ENDORSEMENT: “A poignant child’s perspective of the last moments of a beloved grandfather’s journey on earth. Lillian’s guardian angel accompanies her and guides her as her mother and father share with her the glorious truth that his story is not over, but only just beginning. Death itself is treated as just a stepping stone to a perfect forever home with the “Great King,” and the trappings of death, illness, and pain are mentioned but not dwelt upon. Ideal for children dealing with or learning about the death of a family member.”
Child therapists, parents, or ministers can use this book as a tool to explain heaven and what happens when a loved one dies.
Find more Biblical studies and celebration of the arts by Jenny Fulton HERE.
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.
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
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.
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.