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Sharing Creativity is to Grow in His Gifts

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.

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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?

It’s been quite a winding journey from that time to the present where my book, Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye is now offered in audiobook for your listening pleasure.

Faith writing

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.

  1. My desire to write wasn’t temporary.
  2. The enjoyment and ability to write had been given to me by God to be used for Him to His glory.
  3. 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.[1]” 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.

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 12:7.

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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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Where a Creative’s Journey Begins

By Jenny Fulton

It begins deep within the heart of the artist.

There is a whisper, an idea; it stems from the spiritual depth of a being.

It is a voice yearning to be expressed.

-Jenny Fulton

For as long as I can remember, storytelling has been a part of me. When I was no more than four-years-old, I would draw pictures that had very detailed storylines.

“Come hewoo, Mommy,” I’d say. “Look at my pictoow. Look at what’s happening!”

A Child’s Story

Mommy would come, pencil in hand, ready to patiently dictate the story she knew I was about to tell her.

“The smoke is puffing up. The lightening is flashing. A tornado came up and make the smoke even higher. A flash of lightening filled the sky. The little girl was in her playhouse. She was frightened. Then she benembold [remembered] that Jesus was taking care of her. She knew that Jesus was by her even though she could not see Him. Then the storm went away because Jesus, said, ‘Quiet down storm, the little girl is frightened.’ So the storm quieted down and so the little girl smiled. The little girl’s name was Jenny.”

My head was full of words and stories that couldn’t seem to be contained, whether that release came by means of paper and pencil, or through playing pretend.

I certainly wasn’t the only creative in our house.

Some form of cross-stitch would usually be lying within reach of my mom’s hand. Sometimes she’d get out her autoharp and sing. She taught us to sing and harmonize with her.

My dad would often be working on some craft or other. Sometimes it was a piece of wood or leather that he chiseled and worked designs into. Sometimes it was beadwork or jewelry that took shape under his artisan hands. My favorite times were when he’d get out his banjo or guitar and play away in answer to some melody that danced through his heart and flowed out through his spirit by means of the notes played upon strings.

I loved those times of singing or listening to the music, loved how my soul seemed to soar and connect in joy with God.

As I grew older, my love for both music and writing grew. I learned how to play the guitar so I could sing and enjoy its sound anytime I wanted.

I wrote because, I couldn’t keep from doing so.

Thoughts unknown

Words unspoken

A universe waiting to be explored but lacking a vehicle to take me there

Until my fingers picked up the pen and unlocked my unspoken soul

I was known, throughout my school days, as the quiet one.  Parent-teacher conferences would generally include some version of, “Jenny is a great student, but I just wish she would speak up more in class.”

At some point, I realized that I didn’t want to speak up unless I knew exactly what I was going to say and how I was going to say it.  Socially, I was the same way.  My mind would play out a million options for the conversation and analyze each possibility, along with the potential outcomes.  By the time it settled on one it deemed “safe,” the real conversation had already moved on.

Everything was different when I was alone and could pick up a beautiful, blank sheet of paper.  My fingers would reach down, pick up the pen, and say for me on paper what I could never seem to say in person.  Thoughts that were too numerous and too complicated to understand suddenly came pouring out through my fingers.   Things that didn’t make sense in my brain suddenly made sense on paper.  My spirit was given full, unhindered access as it raced through the pen and revealed itself in visible words.

In these moments, I was free.

My thoughts were known.

My spirit was given a voice.

I have believed in and followed God since I was very young – at least 5-years-old, if not younger, if my early stories are any indication. As I grew, I did the things good Christians are told to do: I prayed and read my Bible regularly. While those practices are good and they helped me grow in my relationship with and knowledge of God, it was those moments of immersing myself in music or writing that made me feel the most connected to Him.

As Laura Bartnick writes in her book, Welcome to the Shivoo,

In the beginning, God revealed Himself by creating. Apparently, this was His heart’s desire.

When I create, when we create from a Heart that loved us, we connect to this Heart in a strong, almost tangible way, as two beings whose camaraderie is strengthened by partaking in the joy of creation. We call this creativity, this similar activity. And, God’s Word says He created humanity in His own image. We are creatives because He is the Creative.

Like all other creatives, this is where my journey as a creative began. In the beginning, created in the image of God.

Little did I know where or how God would use my gifts in the future.

Psalm 45:1

My heart overflows with a good theme;

I address my verses to the King;

My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.[1]

 

Psalm 33:1-2

Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;

Praise is becoming to the upright.

Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;

Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.[2

Indian woman an angel and a child
Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye, children’s book

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ps 45:1.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ps 33:1–2.