Tag Archives: Ann Voskamp

Friday Friends: Author Sara Davison (part 2)

Last Friday we chatted with Canadian author Sara Davison, whose novel, The Watcher, released in March 2011. [You can read part one of the interview here.]

Janet: Welcome back, Sara. You’ve persevered a long time on the road to publication. What hope can you share with those of us still slogging?

Sara: It is a difficult journey, and a tough business that is only getting tougher as a result of uncertain economic times and on-going developments in technology. When this book was rejected yet again a year and a half ago I launched a blog called Choose to Press On, emphasizing the fact that if you believe in your story, and believe that God gave you this gift and this calling (and you really, really have to believe that or I would strongly recommend looking into other career options) then you have to just keep going and not give up. The stories are given for a purpose, and that purpose will be fulfilled in God’s time and in his way, not ours. In the meantime, keep working on your craft, honing it to  continually become a better and stronger writer. To get published now, work can’t just be good, it has to be excellent which, as writers working for the glory of God, should be our objective anyway. After that, we have to leave the results up to God.

Janet: Sound advice. Thank you. Are you working on a sequel?

Sara: Good question Janet. And the answer is maybe. When the book was UnBroken, I had a sequel written. Now that it has all been changed I’m not sure if the sequel still works or is needed. However, people have been asking about one, so I am taking a hard look at the other book to see if it can be rewritten to follow The Watcher or not. I will have to keep you posted on that. I do have another suspense novel written, The Child-Snatchers, which was short-listed in the Word Alive contest, so I am currently looking into publishing options for that one as well, but that one is the first in a completely different series.

Janet: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?

Sara: The song “Praise You in the Storm” by Casting Crowns has had a big impact on me. The first time I heard it, a girl from our church was singing it at the funeral for her twenty-year old brother who had died suddenly in a car crash. Praising God is always powerful, but I was overwhelmed by how powerful it was that someone could be in the midst of devastation and heartbreak, and still praise God. I often thought of this song, and of the moment I first heard it, when I was writing about how Kathryn dealt with what happened to her in The Watcher. 

Janet: I think the choice to praise God in the hard times and in the pain is very powerful. And it’s something we all need to do at times. Next question: Are you a writer who likes to immerse herself in details of the setting while incubating the story idea?

Sara: Actually, that depends on what I am writing. The Child-Snatchers is set in a diner in Toronto, so I have spent a lot of time in diners in my town, trying to capture the feel, sounds, smells etc. Other than my husband questioning why I am suddenly spending so much more money on coffee and breakfast, I love being surrounded by everything my characters see and experience in the book. In The Watcher, the setting doesn’t play as big a role as the actions and interactions of the characters, so I did not end up spending extra time on a ranch, or travelling out to British Columbia. I do immerse myself in the dialogue, internal and verbal, of the characters whenever I write, however. I don’t tell this to many people, but I do act out a lot of the scenes, holding up both (or more) ends of the conversation and really putting myself into the action so that I can feel and think everything the character would be feeling and thinking. Like most writers, I find my characters become very real to me. In fact, I realize they are becoming too real to me when my poor husband says something to me and I find myself thinking “Nick would never say that to Kathryn!” That’s when I have to stop and remind myself that Nick is a fictional character and it’s not really a fair comparison.  

Janet: What do your family think of your writing?

Sara: Well, other than moments like that, they are unbelievably supportive. It’s not an easy thing to live with a writer, and to go through all the emotional ups and downs that come with that calling. It would be extremely difficult to pursue that vocation if your spouse and children (and, in my case, grandmother, parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephew, aunts, uncles, cousins etc.) didn’t support you and encourage you daily not to give up. My husband Michael is my biggest encourager, and tells everyone about the novel, whether they want to hear about it or not J. My kids think it’s pretty cool that I’ve written a book, and they seem to be impressed. My older two anyway. My youngest son, who is seven, recently said to me, “I’m glad you stay home with us and don’t work. Well, except for writing books, but that’s easy!” They make me laugh, anyway, and that goes a long way toward keeping me sane and keeping me going.

Janet: Writers are told to read widely and voraciously. I think that’s one of the perks of the deal. What are you reading these days?

Sara: At the moment I am reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle for a book club I attend and it is a beautifully written book. I am also reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, another beautiful, poetic book that is teaching me to live with a perpetual attitude of gratitude, and an awareness of the grace of God in the ordinary and everyday things of life. I also recently read In the Company of Others by Jan Karon, as enjoyable as the rest of the series, and Rescued by Donna Dawson is next on my list. I try to read a variety of books and authors, and to expand my horizons beyond what is familiar and, sometimes, even comfortable, in a desperate attempt to learn how great writers tell a story that has a powerful effect on their readers.

Janet: What do you like to do to get away from it all?

Sara: Is that an option? It’s pretty tricky for me to get away from it all these days, as I have three kids and have moved away from my family and don’t know very many people in town yet. Mostly I escape up to my room with a book, and I walk every morning with a friend down to the lake or on one of the many trails around here. Now that my kids are a little older, my husband and I do actually get out for a meal or a movie once in a while, and an hour or two of uninterrupted conversation is pretty much as close to a getaway as we’re taking these days.

Janet: Uninterrupted adult conversation is nothing to sneeze at! What’s the most surprising/fun/zany/scary thing you’ve ever done?

Sara: Wow, after contemplating this question for quite a while, I have come to the conclusion that I mustn’t be a very surprising/fun/zany/scary kind of a person, as nothing significant immediately came to mind. I’m not a huge risk-taker by nature, so this whole journey of putting myself and my work out there has been an on-going process of pushing myself further and further out of my comfort zone, which is always a good thing. Flying is I guess the scariest thing I have done, mostly because I have encountered pretty much everything that can go wrong with a flight short of crashing – being lost in fog, landing in tornadoes and the plane almost tipping over, having the plane searched for a bomb after someone checked in and didn’t get on a flight loaded with Hell’s Angels. I will still do it when necessary, but it does require a leap of faith and trust every time. Oh, and one of the most fun things that ever happened to me was bumping into Donny Osmond – literally – on a sidewalk in Toronto one day when he was there performing in Joseph. 

Janet: Sounds like plenty of things that could work into future novels! Sara, thanks so much for taking time to let us get to know you a bit. May the LORD continue to bless you and make you a blessing to others—in every area of your life.

===

Sara Davison blogs at Choose to Press On, and you can also find her on Facebook and on the Great Canadian Authors site. Visit her website, saradavison.org, for information on her current projects, an excerpt from and discussion questions for The Watcher, interviews, reviews and more.


The Goodness of the Lord

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.
Psalm 27:13-14, NIV*

This verse gave me a lot of comfort during a hard time. I don’t know the translation a friend sent to me, but the wording for verse 13 is “I would have despaired if I had not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (It’s similar to the NASB translation of Psalm 27:13)

I clung to that promise, repeated it over and over, and although that crisis has passed the words are still on my fridge. Things were bad, and I needed help believing there would be good days ahead.

The verse has been going through my head again this week, in the form of a song by Carolyn Arends, “Land of the Living”. Just the chorus:

I would despair
If I did not believe
That I would see again
Your hand in the land of the living.

And I saw something deeper: the promise doesn’t say anything about what this goodness will look like. Doesn’t say the pain will go away, health or wealth be restored, wars and natural disasters cease.

What it says is that we will see the goodness of the Lord.

See the goodness of the Lord.

One of the points I took from Ann Voskamp’s amazing book, One Thousand Gifts, is that sometimes God’s goodness—the grace He gives us—is hard to recognize. It comes disguised as what we call more bad news or hard times.

She also points the way to see it: “praise precedes the miracle”. As we pray, praising God for who He is, asserting our confidence in Him, He helps us recognize His hand even in the hard experiences.

If the circumstances don’t change, or while we’re waiting for the change, don’t we need to recognize—to see—the goodness of the Lord present with us? Don’t we need His goodness to get us through? That’s grace.

Father God, Giver of all good gifts, open our eyes and our spirits to see Your goodness here with us, in the land of the living. We will still pray in trust that You will deliver us from our hard places and heal our hurts, but in the here and the now, help us praise You. Praise You with no strings attached: not if You work things out a certain way, but because of who You are. And we will remember that the praise does precede the miracle, whatever that miracle will turn out to be.

 

I couldn’t find “Land of the Living” as an audio file, so here’s a video of my first favourite Carolyn Arends song: “Seize the Day.”

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Review: One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully, Right Where You Are, by Ann Voskamp (Zondervan, 2011)

One Thousand Gifts is a rare book: at once a very personal story of one woman’s journey, and yet it’s everywoman and everyman’s story. It’s a journey we can all join.

Which of us hasn’t struggled with ingratitude? It is, after all, Satan’s oldest lie. It can root so deeply that we don’t even see it anymore.

Listen to how Ann Voskamp describes it, describes the too-familiar wretched state and the haunting questions that lured her out of it:

“If I’m ruthlessly honest, I may have said yes to God, yes to Christianity, but really, I have lived the no. I have. Infected by the Eden mouthful, the retina of my soul develops macular holes of blackness…. One life-loss can infect the whole of a life…. Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency.” (p. 16)

“How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God places? To more-God places?

“How do I give up resentment for gratitude, gnawing anger for spilling joy? Self-focus for God-communion.” (p. 22)

For Ann, the answer started with a Greek word, eucharisteo [yoo-khar-is-teh’-o], which means ‘thanksgiving’ and which contains the root words of ‘grace’ and ‘joy’. From reading her Bible, she discovered “Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle” (p. 35). And that’s what God proved in Ann’s own life as she kept her friend’s challenge to list 1,000 blessings—gifts—from God.

She came to this point in her life with more pain than some of us have: the most significant cluster in the form of losing her younger sister as a child. But whether you’ve lost more or less, whether it’s been taken from you or you’ve given it away, you can find healing in these pages.

Read the book slowly, let it encourage your spirit by its message and by the poetry that is Ann Voskamp’s prose. Walk with her as she learns to thank God for the sweet blessings—graces—in her day. Keep walking as she learns to see His grace in the painful moments, to practice what she calls the “hard eucharisteo” by giving thanks even when what He gives doesn’t look like grace to our eyes.

If you like simple, plain language and straightforward sentences, this may not be the book for you. I’ve included some excerpts to give a feel for the flowing language. And be aware that poetic language often uses imagery for a soul’s intimacy with God that strictly-literal thinkers may find difficult.

But if you’re one of the many who choose to read this book, you will be challenged and changed by the example of an ordinary Canadian woman who dares to have a heart like King David’s and to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God in the good and in the bad—not denying the pain, but trusting the Master Designer not to waste it.

This is how Ann describes what she discovered in her list of now well over 1,000 gifts:

“In eucharisteo, I count, count, count, keeping the beat of His song, the love song He can’t stop singing, this long song of longing. That He sings love over me?

“What else can all these gifts mean?” (p. 204)

One Thousand Gifts is a book to read contemplatively, and to keep near to read again. My friends are buying extra copies for their friends rather than lending a copy they might not get back. I can see why. Click here to read an excerpt from One Thousand Gifts. And here’s a link to the book trailer, which is a gift in itself.

Canadian author Ann Voskamp writes a daily encouragement blog at A Holy Experience. She’s also a regular contributor at the DaySpring blog, (in)courage.

Oh… my list? I’m at #33 today. And loving it.

[Review copy source: my personal library]

Marching Forward

I don’t know what time of year our local writers’ group began, or how many months I attended before guilt made me write something: just a short letter to the editor of our local newspaper.

The group, bless their hearts, praised me as if I’d written a feature article. I started listening to my thoughts—and to God—a little better and writing inspirational and personal experience essays.

Got my first rejection letter—and a positive one at that—on my birthday one May.

When a novel started brewing, I resisted for a year before giving in. My earliest dated notes for that manuscript are from March 1994. That means I’ve lived with some of these characters for 17 years now, ignoring the long gestation period. No wonder we have cake every March!

Three years ago, again in March, God nudged me into this blog. It’s been a great way to meet some new friends in the faith, and I need to publicly say that not once has He not provided the input for a weekly devotional. He is faithful.

Since March seems to be the month for significant writing beginnings for me (not that I’d turn one down in, say, September) it feels appropriate to choose now to join the Christians keeping gratitude journals.

Not lists of positive things, but lists acknowledging that those things are gifts from God who loves us. Lists that accept the gifts and thank the Giver.

I’ll add a thank-you to Ann Voskamp, whose lyrical book, One Thousand Gifts, convinced me to give this gratitude journal idea a try.

I won’t post a weekly list, but here are the first gifts I’ve recorded (resisting the urge to play catch-up for the ones in my memory):

  1. Bright, white seagull in a clear blue sky.
  2. Spring sunshine.
  3. Dancing candle flames—and the little girl who shared them with me.
  4. Expansive stillness moment in my spirit.
  5. Michael Tait singing “Glorious”.
  6. Sparkles on my journal cover—and that it was waiting on my shelf for this purpose.
  7. Fluffy black cat nestled on the back deck.
  8. Sun stripe bright on green moss on the willow branch.
  9. Small brown sparrow in the bare, brown hedge branches.

10.  White-gold sun disc behind translucent clouds.

Thank You, God!

To Know He Loves Us

For you make me glad by your deeds, LORD; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. Psalm 92:4, NIV*

Sunday’s sermon taught that God wants us to know He loves us. We need to know it in order to have a close relationship with Him, and to be open to His work in our lives.

We need to know He loves us.

The night before, I’d read in Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts that noticing—naming—in her case writing a list of—those things that bless our spirits is, in a sense, accepting the gifts. God gives them, be they sunsets or fireflies, but if we don’t receive them we miss the blessing.

So… we need to know God loves us. What better way to press it into our hearts than by recording and rehearsing the many small gifts He lavishes on us each day?

Father God, You give so many good gifts to Your children. Many we don’t notice, some we refuse because we don’t like the way they’re wrapped. Help us to know for sure that You are good. Open our eyes to see Your gifts, open our hearts to receive Your grace. Let your gifts prove Your love to our tentative hearts. Draw us into the relationship You’ve designed us for.

Breaking the pattern this week… instead of a song, here is the video trailer for One Thousand Gifts. It will bless your spirit.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Perspective and Gratitude

Think of the grateful, hopeful people you know. Have their lives been easy, or have they learned to rely on God despite their circumstances? It’s tempting to complain about the small stuff when the framework of our lives is rich with blessing. If we do it long enough, though, we don’t see the treasures that are really ours. I wonder if that’s why people keep gratitude journals.

This is something God is nudging me about in my own life. I need to be awake to the wonders of the present and delight in what He gives—and not allow desire for my own way to poison me.

I love how whatever He’s trying to show me will pop up in the strangest places. Here are a few:

§ I’ve recently discovered Louise Penny’s mystery series, set in small-town Quebec, Canada. Wish the language wasn’t so harsh in places, but I have so enjoyed the first two novels and am in queue for the third at the library. For mainstream novels, they treat Scripture and faith with respect. Armand Gamache is a homicide detective. Look at what he says:

“People expect me to be cynical because of my job… but they don’t understand. …I spend my days looking into the last room in the house, the one we keep barred and hidden even from ourselves. The one with all our monsters, fetid and rotting and waiting. My job is to find people who take lives. And to do that I have to find out why. And to do that I have to get into their heads and open that last door. But when I come out again,” he opened his arms in an expansive movement, “the world is suddenly more beautiful, more alive, more lovely than ever. When you see the worst you appreciate the best.” Dead Cold, by Louise Penny. [Headline Publishing Group, 2006, p. 268]

§ I finally had the chance to see the Chronicles of Narnia movie, Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Near the end, Prince Caspian realizes he’s spent his time regretting what’s been taken from him (his father), instead of embracing what he’s been given—a kingdom to rule. That changes his life.

§ One of this week’s posts at Other Food: Daily Devos includes this quote from Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction:

“We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to centre ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab.” A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 96-97. [It’s worth reading Violet’s entire post here: Statute Songs]

§ I’ve been hearing Johnny Reid songs on the radio lately—and liking them. The first time I heard him,. NJ Lindquist was teaching at a local writers’ conference and she used one of his songs as an example of story: “Kicking Stones” . Again, it’s about how we choose to react to our circumstances.

§ My copy of Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts arrived today. I’m sure it’s going to reinforce the message.

We may not have much control over what happens, but we can choose how to respond. We can choose where to focus. We can, by the grace of God, learn to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” 2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV*. Or in the fresh language of The Message we do it by “fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ” 2 Corinthians 10:5, MSG**.

Johnny Reid’s official video for “Kicking Stones.” (2007, Open Road Records) 

*New International Version, ©2010 (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2010 by Biblica

**The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

No matter how busy you are, and especially if you’re busy and stressed… find five minutes today to watch this video trailer for Ann Voskamp’s new book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. You will feel better. 

How does one live life well? In the book trailer, Ann Voskamp makes it sound so simple… yet so hard… but attainable. Doesn’t it stir something in you?

The book has just released in the US and won’t be available in Canada until February 1, although apparently the electronic version was available in time for Christmas. Reader response has been huge, and I think it’s because the premise touches a need so deep in our hearts that most of us don’t even recognize it until someone like Ann Voskamp articulates it.

You can read an excerpt of One Thousand Gifts, and refresh your spirit with a visit the community at A Holy Experience. To read more about how a quiet Canadian writer attracted such a large international following, see Emily Wierenga’s article about Ann Voskamp in ChristianWeek.

I had the privilege of attending a blogging workshop Ann taught at Write! Canada in 2010. We came to learn how her A Holy Experience blog gained so much attention, in hopes that we could do the same. Instead, she challenged us to write what God gives us–gives each of us–and to be faithful in delivering that message with excellence, as an act of worship, even if it only reaches one person. None of us went away disappointed. Her words and the example of her attitude inspired us, and a number of new blogs were born that day.

This is a woman with a gentle, authentic spirit and a true heart, and in One Thousand Gifts she’s sharing a message that can make a difference in our lives.  The book is on my must-read list for this year. I’ve already put my name on the list at my local Christian store.

One Thousand Gifts is a Bloom (in)courage book club selection, and the club is offering a limited quantity of free copies to those who need them, plus the opportunity for others to act as sponsors for these books. You need to live in the US to be eligible for a physical book, but Zondervan has made e-books available for international participants. As a bonus feature for all participants, beginning February 6 there will be weekly videos with Ann Voskamp discussing the various chapters of the book.

You can learn more about the book at the Zondervan site, and read Violet Nesdoly’s review of One Thousand Gifts at Blogcritics. And consider accepting Ann’s invitation to “Come join the community taking the dare to LIVE FULLY” at A Holy Experience.

Be Still, My Soul

I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Psalm 131: 1b-2, NIV*

This is one of those psalms God uses to remind me to draw nearer to Him, to learn to abide in Him. After He nudged me through 2 Timothy about needing to steep in His presence, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see these verses show up in my daily reading calendar.

Two more gentle invitations to abide arrived in my in-box, posted on other blogs. At Under the Cover of Prayer, Judith Lawrence’s post, “Contemplatives Without Cloisters,” lures me with the promise of ongoing communion with God, even amid life’s ordinary routines.

“The call is to prayer, to be at one with the Sacred at any and every given moment of the day or night.”

Meanwhile, at Other Food: Daily Devo’s, Violet Nesdoly posted “Walking with God”:

“When we walk with someone we go in the same direction. We move at the same speed. A walk conjures pictures of conversation and fellowship along the way. It is exercise non-strenuous enough that we don’t tire quickly — a relationship for the long haul.”

Violet’s post includes a selection of quotes from Andrew Murray. This one stirs a longing in my spirit:

“Abiding in Jesus is not a work that needs each moment the mind to be engaged, or the affections to be directly and actively occupied with it. It is an entrusting of oneself to the keeping of the Eternal Love, in the faith that it will abide near us, and with its holy presence watch over us and ward off the evil, even when we have to be most intently occupied with other things. And so the heart has rest and peace and joy in the consciousness of being kept when it cannot keep itself.” (Devotional Classics: Andrew Murray George Müller Collection [Andrew Murray Collection, Kindle Edition], Location 847)

Father God, Creator, Sustainer, my spirit longs for this awareness of “being kept when it cannot keep itself”. Only You could plant such a desire, and I thank You for it. You are also the only one to fulfill it. Help me do my part and learn to walk with You. Help me not to waste time fretting about things that are Your responsibility. Help me rest in You, securely held in Your keeping. Help me trust and love You in complete faith.

Note: Ann Voskamp has a beautiful post today at A Holy Experience: “Three Ways to Really Enter into His Rest Right Now

You Are My Hiding Place,” by Selah, lets me reflect on God’s trustworthiness.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

New Places I’ve Found on the Web

Here are some of the new or new-to-me places I’ve found on the Internet:

My Utmost for His Highest provides daily devotionals by Oswald Chambers

Under the Cover of Prayer shares insights, revelations and stories that will show the power of prayer.

Kyria is an online, subscription-based magazine for Christian women. You can check out a free sample here: Kyria: December 2009: Rest.

Listening to My Hair Grow is a new blog from Rose McCormick Brandon with posts on various topics that arise from “a search to regain quietness in my life”.

Live Green, Live Better is a garden-related blog by Kim Burgsma, offering “tips, tricks and true confessions from a landscape designer”.

Heartfelt Devotionals offers a variety of “Thoughts for Common Sense Living” from Brenda Wood.

Return Home and Tell is a new blog from Kimberley Payne, acting on Jesus’ words in Luke 8:39, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

Free2soar offers flight-themed poetry and Scripture.

Talk on the Way is a website “dedicated to helping our generation know more than just facts about Jesus–to know Him personally” with articles and conversations to deepen personal spiritual growth and relationships.

Maureen’s Musings is the art-and-words blog of Nova Scotia folk artist and writer Maureen Newman. Maureen’s Rural Moments site will let you see all of her paintings.

Dreaming Big shares “reflections about identity, freedom and dreaming with God” from Christian speaker Heather Boersma.

And a hearty thank-you to Ann Voskamp of A Holy Experience, whose blog is not new to me but whose Write! Canada workshop on blogging challenged Christian writers to remember Jesus’ upside-down definition of success and to serve with our words.