Story Influencers


I’m intrigued when authors and artists post books they’re reading, musical/artistic inspirations, or just influences in their lives in general.  It’s like a peek into someone’s psyche. Maybe it’s a writerly thing, this curiosity about a person or character and his or her back story?  In any case, I thought I’d try something similar here and share what’s been inspiring or influencing me.  The working title is Story Influencers: the who’s and what’s that are making impressions on my life story, otherwise know as what I’m reading, listening to, or watching.  Here are three current “story influencers.” 

Image-1-2Ellie Holcomb.  I’ve been listening to Ellie’s music for a few years now (Magnolia and Rain for Roots, a children’s record, are probably my favorite albums) and recently caught her interview on the Listening In podcast.  Although I am not a singer, I am drawn to the art of songwriting. Ellie calls herself a “recovering perfectionist”, a term which hits home for me.  She also speaks of breaking the mold of a “good person”, defined by works and people-pleasing.  She describes her music as “interlaced with Gods word” and I appreciate her vulnerability as she openly shares about her own brokenness.  Vulnerability does not come naturally to me but it’s something I value as I like to move past the small talk and get right to someone’s heart.  The  above lines from “Only Hope I’ve Got” have become an important reminder as a Christian writer: as much as I love to write and share my story, I desire to be the vessel carrying words of a much bigger Story.  Check out Ellie’s music if you haven’t already.  You can listen on her website

IMG_7075.JPGWalking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller.  I’ve always been a fan of Keller, who amazes me in his ability to approach Scripture and difficult topics with a unique blend of intellect, clarity of thought, and a soft heart.  I often listen to the Redeemer podcast while at the gym and think what a gift he is to the people of NYC.  This book has been perched on our bookshelf for a couple of years; a recent turn of life events had me pouring over the hard questions of suffering that Keller brings to light.  As is his style, this is an extremely thorough book and Keller even grants “permission” in the introduction to skim the what is suffering and why suffering parts of the book to the practical how to chapters.  These were my questions: how does one truly walk through grief as a believer and how does one suffer well?  In a nutshell, Keller talks about the importance of not merely coping with or covering up emotion but diving in and wrestling with it.  It’s refreshing to have a prominent Christian leader and author share this in black and white; he shares how the weeping, trusting, praying, thinking, thanking, loving, and hoping are all part of the process.  Yes.  Also check out his books on marriage, vocational purpose, and doubting God.

The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts.  Recently, my husband and I watched the memorial service of Kara Tippetts.  During the service, many spoke including pastors, her editor, and Focus on the Family President, John Daly.  My friend, Kitty, mentioned Kara’s book on social media soon after we found out we had lost our second baby.  I identified so much with Kara’s words and was struck by the way God’s grace was the hallmark of her life even in the midst of cancer.  It was evident that she believed and lived out the gospel.  I mentioned throughout the series of posts on miscarriage how God’s grace carried me and it was comforting and affirming to “meet” someone else — even if only through words — who found grace in tremendous pain and suffering.  I’ll leave you with this game changing (for me, at least) quote from her book:

Miraculously, my story had the freedom to be changed.  I was able to turn over the authorship of my story to the One who knew how to best write my life.  I could trust again, knowing the story wasn’t promised to be easy, but I was no longer silent in it.  I was a beautifully redeemed daughter of the King.  I would walk in grace.  But what about you?  Are you avoiding your story, embracing your story, living out of the pain of your past, or looking to the horizon for Jesus to redeem your hurt and walk with you in faith” (34).

There you have it: three of my current Story Influencers.  What are yours?  Please share in the comments!


fill3What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word cavity?

A cascading crack in the mountain? A great divide in the earth?

I think of teeth.

Warning: I’m an English major prone to dancing imagery and descriptive language.  The combination often entails spiritual analogies.  That’s where teeth come in.

(Get it?)

You know the drill.  The dentist numbs the side of your mouth.  Then, that glorious waiting time arrives — a few short minutes of uninterrupted quiet.  He returns to clean out the gunk and restore the tooth with some sort of filling material.

This whole process mirrors the cleaning-out-and-filling-up we undergo as we walk with God.  First, we must allow Him to clean us out and make us new and then fill up on the good stuff. 

But what is the good stuff?


In dentistry these days, you often have a choice as to the substance of the filling: silver, porcelain, gold, resin…

We also have a choice with what we fill our ears, mouths, our bodies…our lives.

This is not a message to condemn — to say you shouldn’t do this, shouldn’t read that, or shouldn’t watch this, and shouldn’t go there.

Rather, it’s a positive challenge to take to heart Paul’s words above, to fill up on God’s best; to question if we are really filling up on what is honorable, pure, and lovely.

First, we need a spirit that yields to the scraping, the cleaning out, the drilling.Then, we can make decisions as to what goes in.  This may look different for each of us.

The tricky thing?  In spite of our superb brushing and flossing, a cavity may still pop up.  Rinse and repeat; it’s an ongoing, lifelong renewing process.

Just a little something to chew on. ;)

What does “filling up on the good stuff” look like in your life?    

{This is an excerpt from a previous Mug Message, a devotional series that is on break for the summer.  To receive future Mug Messages by email SUBSCRIBE HERE}

A Happy Book

A happy book will inevitably make a happy author.  Therefore ask: Is the book happy?  Are the illustrations happy?

In other words, is the story told with clarity?  Are the characters unique?  Is the setting specific?  Is the ending consistent with the beginning?  Does the story adhere to a unified code?  Does the text division follow the natural units of the story?  Has the book achieved the right blend of spontaneity and planning?  Is the book’s form an organic outgrowth of its content?  Are the size, scale, and shape of the book most suited to its content and mood?  Are the pictures accurate and readable, and do they capture the content and the mood?  How do they relate to each other?  Are all the parts of a picture unified, and do they help one another to achieve the picture’s goal?  Are all the parts of the book coordinated into a coherent whole?

When such questions are considered, you can better understand the needs of the book and tell whether it is truly happy.

— Uri Shulevitz, Writing With Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books

The questions Shulevitz lists in his introduction seem overwhelming but they demonstrate the thought and meticulous effort that go into putting a children’s book together.  The spontaneity & planning question speaks to me: a book, save perhaps a baby’s board book cannot be overly contrived nor completely out in left field.  As readers, we have to be able to trust the main character to some degree but also leave room for some surprises.  I know there are authors and books that break the mold but these are some pretty good questions to guide one’s writing.

It’s kind of like a golf swing, right?  There are so many aspects you have to think about from the grip to the stance and swing, not to mention keeping your eye on the ball.  Let me just say I’ve “whiffed” many-a-time because I wanted to impress my husband wail that little ball.

Writing is a little, or a lot like that.  We just want to go for it but if we don’t follow through or lift our heads, something could go awry in the execution.  Yet once everything clicks, there’s nothing like a good shot.  As long as it’s in the right direction….

That’s a different story.

Writers (and readers, too) — which of these questions stand out to you?  Is there a particular book that you thought of while reading this list?