Sunday Devotion- Expect the Unexpected

Janet Rubin

Yesterday we celebrated my daughter’s sixteenth birthday in an unusual way. As far as she knew, we had nothing planned, but when she got home from school I told her, “Get dressed up nice and be ready at four-thirty and don’t ask any questions.” A while later, her best friend picked her up, blindfolded her so she wouldn’t know where she was going, and took her out for a nice dinner. When they returned, Chelsey found that her other friends were here at the house for a sleepover. A pink streamer web stretched to every corner of the kitchen and sixteen candles glowed on the table. I showed her the pile of junk food I’d purchased for the occasion and the stack of movies I’d rented, which included Sixteen Candles (what kind of a mother am I if I don’t make her suffer through an Eighties movie I watched at sixteen?). The look on her face was priceless.

Learning to surprise the reader is something I’ve been working on. We all enjoy stories that aren’t predictable—ones that make us say, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.” Or even if we suspect the outcome ahead of time, it’s more satisfying if we wander through unexpected paths to reach the end. Crafting a story that keeps the reader guessing isn’t easy, but in the end it’s worth it. Seeing a reader take delight in the twists and turns of a story I wrote is like seeing the shocked, happy face of my daughter upon entering a candle-lit room where friends yell, “Happy Birthday.”

Our Heavenly Father likes to surprise His children as well. He doesn’t always do things how or when we expect. The problem is we don’t always like to be surprised. We know what we want and we put in our orders. Lord, I’d like a contract please. Or an agent. Or a good review. We spell it out carefully so He won’t be confused, telling Him when, where and how. If what we ordered doesn’t show up on time, in the way we wanted, we might get upset with our Father for not delivering.

We need to remember that God’s plan for our lives is perfect. If we can trust Him, we can look at the future as an adventure, full of wonderful surprises. Perhaps God will take us in a direction we hadn’t thought of. Maybe the book we’re presently working on isn’t “the one.” Or maybe there are things we need to learn on the way. Just when we least expect it, something will happen, something we didn’t expect, surrounded with divine balloons and streamers. It might not even be the thing we asked for, but we’ll find that it’s even better. And we’ll know without question it’s a gift from our heavenly Father.

When we read something by an author who has proven him or herself time and again, we don’t expect to be disappointed. How much more should we anticipate a satisfying story from the Author of our lives?

Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday Devotion- The Mastermind

Janet Rubin

Grrrr! I scrolled through several chapters of my novel, read a paragraph and growled at my computer. I was in the process of reading through all 350 pages to figure out what parts needed changing. See, after writing about 2/3 of the story, I had decided that I needed to begin the novel at an earlier point in time. So I had written about thirteen new chapters and had just caught up with my old beginning. Now I had to read the parts I’d written months ago (much of which I’d forgotten), and see how things fit together before writing the end.

The process was turning out to be maddening. I was finding all kinds of inconsistencies. For one thing, I realized that about six months in a row are autumn in my novel world—not very realistic in New Hampshire! For another, I’d given one character about three different pasts that contradicted one another. Another problem was that with so many pages and different points of view, it was just plain hard to remember who did what, when, and on what page.

After re-reading, taking notes, and making a time line to help me keep the story organized, I’m finally ready to get things whipped into shape.

Thinking about how much trouble I have just keeping one little fictional world of my own creation in order, it amazes me all the more how God orders His creation.

He had things planned, had US planned, before the world was even created. Unlike me, who writes “by the seat of the pants,” God isn’t wondering how it will all work out. He knows all things. He knows the beginning from the end.

He holds it all together. He knows every family, every individual, every sparrow, and sees them all at every moment. He orders the seasons, the weather, the birth of every fawn, the hatching of every egg, the blooming of every flower. He knows the number of our days.

Not only that, but God has promised to make everything that happens to His children work for their good.

What an Author! What a Creator! I’m so glad a mind much greater than mine is in control.

Psalm 92:5 How great are your works, O LORD, how profound your thoughts!

Sunday Devotion: It’s not as easy as it looks

Janet Rubin

This morning, my walk took me to the shore where I stopped to watch a mallard. Against the gray winter backdrop, his green feathers provided a delightful shock of color. He and his mate glided silently down an unfrozen corridor in the otherwise icy cove. The V’s spreading out in the water behind the ducks intersected and formed a W, the outmost edges of which widened until they were halted at the ice borders.

Web-footed labor concealed in the blackness beneath, the birds’ movement seemed effortless. Heads, necks, wings, all still, as if they were children’s boats pulled along by strings. Yet I knew of the unseen work that propelled them forward, the ceaseless paddling below.

When reading masterful writing—the sort of prose that flows poetically across the page, rich with texture, layers, and metaphor—I sometimes forget about the painstaking work behind the words. Such writing flows, seemingly without effort, and I imagine the words rolling from the author’s imagination, through his or her fingertips by way of a keyboard, falling into perfect order on the page. Envy turns me greener than the mallard as the desire to write something just as good stirs within me. I feel so inadequate. I could never write such prose!

But the truth is, the story did not form without labor. It undoubtedly came to be through a process marked by crumpled papers in a wastebasket, deleted paragraphs and chapters, edits, rewrites, and emptied bottles of Tylenol. While the work progressed, the writer may have experienced days devoid of inspiration, moments of self-doubt, and thoughts of giving up. He probably had to struggle to conquer some weakness- a propensity toward over-using adverbs or a tendency to “tell” rather than “show.” To bring the work to its polished end, there were most likely editors, critique partners, and people who helped in the researching of topics or places described in the book. And preceding the masterful writing were works of lesser quality, much of it unpublished, that brought the author to the place where he or she could pen something so good.

I should not be discouraged by the false belief that such marvelous writing comes effortlessly for some. Nothing great or beautiful comes without work.

How much of God’s work is unseen, going on beneath our skin, in the deep regions of our hearts and minds? Though we do not see or understand His ways, it is His work in us- the work He promised to bring to completion—that propels us forward on the straight and narrow path and draws us closer to Him. Even our salvation, which we come by so easily- by simply accepting His gift—was accomplished by Jesus’ work on the cross.

Father, Thank You for the unseen work You are continually performing in me. Help me not to be discouraged when I see the work of someone much more experienced and skilled that I, but to remember that beneath the surface of every great work there is blood, sweat and tears. Give me the strength I need to persevere, investing myself in the work I need to do in order to be the best writer I can be. Amen.

Proverbs 23:12 Apply your heart to instruction, And your ears to words of knowledge.

Sunday Devotion- More than Publication

Janet Rubin

One of my new year’s resolutions was to actually crack open and read some of the many how-to-write books I have stacked in piles about my house (as opposed to simply being content thinking how scholarly having such books scattered around makes me look.)Last year I read two terrific books on writing: Stephen King On Writing, and Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott.

The first one I’m tackling this year is a book my sister Susan (possibly my biggest fan) gave me for Christmas, called On Becoming a Novelist, by John Gardner. I think it will be a good one because, even though I’m still just in the preface, I’ve found a great quote:

“It is far more satisfying to write well than simply to write well enough to get published.”

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that getting a novel published is a dream of mine. Right along with seeing my picture on the book’s dust jacket, having my own spot on a shelf at Borders, and maybe even doing book signings. Perhaps I’ll see those dreams realized, and then again, maybe not. But getting published shouldn’t be my big goal.

My big goal should be using my gift for God’s glory, and letting Him use me in any way He wishes. If I’m writing for God’s glory, I must strive for excellence, not publication. I hope that once I am published (Lord willing), I won’t decide my writing is “good enough,” and stop growing. I hope that all my life I’ll continue improving and learning.

As the above quote suggests, it is possible to write well enough to be published, yet not be writing your best. But God has designed us in such a way that we find true satisfaction when we know in our hearts that we are doing our very best.

Colossians 3:23-25 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Lord, As I continue on my writing journey, please help me to keep my eyes on You. Help me not to be lazy or to lower the standards of what I’m striving for. I want to work at this writing thing with all my heart, working for You, and looking forward to the inheritance I’ll receive from You as a reward. That inheritance will be far more precious than any contract or raving book review could ever be. Amen.