My title comes from lyrics to a song called “Pushing Back the Dark,” and as I prepare to speak at another women’s retreat, I need to hear these words: “Somebody needs the light you have.”
Right now, parts of my life feel dark. Not a depressed darkness, but an unknowing and confused darkness. Mainly, I have parenting puzzles I don’t know how to solve, and these consume most of my waking hours. I don’t know when domestic life will level out to where I feel I can handle it without hiring help.
Satan would have me believe I’m not fit to speak to this bunch of ladies in Texas because I still have so many problems regulating my household and my own emotions…but that is just life as I’m seeing it. I have to remember not to “underestimate the God I follow.”
I’m so thankful, in this time of discouragement, that I happened upon Josh Wilson’s CD Carry Me and his song “Pushing Back the Dark.” (I randomly picked it up at our local library.) The song has reminded me that I do have light to share, and somebody needs to hear it. Maybe I don’t have lots of answers to my parenting puzzles right now, but I can speak on overcoming depression—and that part of my life can bless someone else, as it has done before.
When I filmed my testimony for 3ABN, I was focused on reaching an audience beyond the TV studio. But within a week of filming, a crew member who had helped in the production of the show said he’d needed to hear my message. Praise God. Before the program aired, my light had already reached at least once person.
So today, if you feel dark and overtaken by current realities, I encourage you to remember the places in your life God has already lit up, and know that you do have something to share, and someone needs to hear it. You may not be an expert in all things, or have all the light there is to have, but you have some illumination, and you are called to “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
For more inspiration, read the full song lyrics here.
It’s a lesson I’ve been hearing and trying to apply for years: Don’t underestimate the power of good words. Today I’m not talking about skillful writing (per se), but uplifting words, written or spoken. I hear this advice as a wife, when my husband entreats me to stop nagging him for his shortcomings. “Positive reinforcement,” he says, “Is what will get me to change.”
I heard this advice at graduate school when learning best practices for teaching writing: “If you only criticize students, you will freeze their writing process. You must encourage what they are doing well so they can gain confidence to keep writing.” And, “Wait until later to correct their grammar and punctuation. If they only see red marks on the page, they will be so scared of screwing up, they won’t take any risks.”
The Bible says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit” (Prov. 15:4), and, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Prov. 16:24).
Putting Wisdom into Practice
I’ve tried to put this advice in practice this semester as a college writing instructor. This doesn’t mean I never comment on what’s bad in an essay, but I give as many compliments, if not more, as criticisms. And I waited until about halfway through the semester to significantly address punctuation or grammar. I’m not sure if it was this approach, or my sequence of assignments, or the natural improvement that comes over time, but by essay four, all my students were writing their best papers yet. I think it has something to do with all of the above, plus the fact that the fourth assignment, modeled on a magazine article submission, was a true story of their choosing written for teens. They seemed to care more about this task, given the topic and the clear audience, and it showed in their writing.
I think older, more experienced writers, can handle criticism without letting it derail them. Same goes for older people in any context, if they are well adjusted adults who have learned to let adversity lead to growth. Still, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings…” (Isa. 52:7). As one who has just received some good news, I am reminded just how life giving good news can be.
My Own Good News
This weekend I received the edit letter on the second (partial) draft of my memoir. I sent Trish 130 new pages thinking, “These suck,” but I sent them anyway, because I had done what she suggested. As I awaited her letter, I expected to read, “You were right; I see why you didn’t put these things in the book originally; they don’t work, they aren’t well written.” I thought she would confirm my self-diagnosis, and I would be stuck at square one, trying to figure out a book structure that’s been problematic from the beginning.
Guess what? I was wrong. Her letter positively glowed. Here are some of the good words she gave me:
I am so, so proud of you for digging deep.
It was a vivid, powerful reading experience.
I didn’t do much line editing, mostly because I was really caught up in the story.
These are great scenes. There are lots of pages where I don’t note anything because the story was carrying me along. That means you’ve done it right.
Overall, you have raised your writing level so much with these new pages. I know this is taking longer than you thought it would. But you will be glad you took this time and wrestled out these scenes. The end result will be a book that you will be really proud of, and will entertain and bless your readers.
You’re a fun, talented writer to work with.
The Results of Good News
After the second time I read through the six-page letter, I felt light, like a weight had been lifted. A week ago when I sent in my pages, I felt heavy, lost in my writing process, and unsure what I was going to do after she told me to try again. I resisted working on my memoir for the entire week, figuring it would do no good until I knew what she would say.
Now I am re-energized. Last night around bedtime, I even felt compelled to sit down and outline some new scenes that will finish the book. The outline poured out and suddenly clarified the structure of my book. I saw how the new pages would circle back to and unify this new, as yet unwritten, ending. I realized I could not have conceived of this ending until now, because the events have just happened within the last month.
One lesson for me to learn was, again, God’s timing. Though I tried to set a date on this book project from my very first blog post, I couldn’t, because I didn’t know what all needed to be in the book.
The other lesson was good news. How lovely was this good news to me! Would I have seen the vision for completing my memoir without Trish’s good words? God used her words to revitalize my writing, and now I can’t wait to get back to work!