Monday, February 21, 2011

why not ask your readers?

Yesterday I was sitting in church listening to the music before the service started and was thinking of my current conundrum in my new series. I've been reading over the manuscript of book one in The Ballantyne Legacy the last few days, trying to get a handle on the spiritual threads in the novel before moving forward and typing THE END. It's far easier to rectify things mid-book than having to rewrite 400 pages when done. Work smarter, not harder, has become my new motto:) Anyway, I'm sitting there shivering in the cold pew when a little light comes on...why not ask your readers? So...

One of my main characters is a young woman of twenty who lives in rural Pennsylvania in 1785. Her autocratic father, a former Quaker, was read out of Quaker meeting years before due to a transgression and has since turned his back on God. He won't allow his daughter to attend church and allows no prayers to be said even at table. There is no Bible in the home. Therefore, this young woman has NO knowledge of spiritual things. Yet she has a hunger and thirst for Him.

Since I was raised in the church it's hard for me to identify with this character on a spiritual level. I know some of you came to Christ later in life. Do you remember what that was like? What drew you to Him? How did you pray - if you did - before you knew Him? What was your understanding of God like? How do you think someone like this character of mine might respond to God given her situation? How would she even know who or what to pray to?

I'd love to know your thoughts...

*The painting above is compliments of Meadow Gist, the artist who made my 18th-century gown. She has a gallery and blog and is busy bringing more amazing historical details to life!


  1. Since this young woman is one of your lead female characters, then I know she has an innate intelligence and resourcefulness. I think that without the physical structure of a church, the written word of the Bible, and the music of spirituals and hymns, she will find her religious truth in nature. She will observe the beauty in the world that is painted by a master hand. The sounds, scents, and sights that she experiences all around her will lead her to a basic belief in a beneficent creator. A creator who allows us to err and be reborn, as if we were tender green shoots pushing up from the earth after the cold bleakness of a harsh winter season. As she goes through the trials of everyday life, she will at times seek relief and reassurance from a higher power than the constraints of mortal man. As she earnestly seeks, she shall receive.

  2. Laura,

    According to Romans 1, God shows himself also in Nature(things He created. That is how some people who do not know anything of Him, is drawn to Him, which He in turn leads them Jesus. Maybe she has a love of nature and God reveals Himself to her in creation. Maybe her love interest is an expert(as much as you can be in the 1700's) in Creation).

    You might have created the love interest part but I had to put it in there because my imagination started to go wild!! :-)

    Can I tell you how much I love that you are asking us?!?! Even if you don't use our ideas it is fun to have input!!

    Your Friend,

    PS..We came home from Canada and got 8inches of snow! So, I have to go to the post office tomorrow to send your surprise.

  3. oh goodness, my answer to this is a novel in itself ;) I will email you about this when I get a moment... :)

  4. I agree. She should find God in the nature around her but I think she should also see and know God through the lives of others.
    When people see a Christian who is happy in hard times, joyful in life, and not frightened for their future it really speaks to those who don't have the same joy and peace that we do. They see that we have something that is beautiful and they yearn for it. They want to be able to experience the same love and passion that resides in our hearts. I think that non-believers respond to example better than anything else. If she can see someone enjoying life and living with passion I think it will give her that desire for God and the life He offers.

  5. Oddly, I've known God most of my life, but I do recall a time when we didn't attend church.

    As a child, I had this strong pull toward God, even when my parents weren't church attenders and I didn't know about Him. I prayed, when I didn't even know what prayer was, talking to God like He was there. And I could feel Him there with me.

    If I could pull more out of you on the story, was your heroine born or old enough to witness her father being run out of the church. And I'm sure she has contact with other people who speak of God, maybe that's how she knows He's real?

  6. Your new series sounds fantastic. I'm going to pop over to Meadow's website. Her painting is beautiful!

  7. I became a Christian when I was 16. My parents were good people, but they did not teach me about God. I remember that as a young teen my increasing awareness of the need to grow up and take my place in the world made me begin to question what my purpose was, who had made me, and whether or not there was more to life than what could be experienced here on earth. Kind of, "What's the point of going to college and getting a job if all of this just comes to an end?" Another thing that pushed me to question was hearing so many adults confidently claim there was no God and speak against Him. I thought, "Why do they care what I believe about Him if He's so insignificant?"

    When I least expected it--while I was taking a walk on a beautiful day, after I turned out the lights at night, when I heard sweet music or read a book that touched me--thoughts of God would intrude. Though I wasn't sure He even existed, I found myself praying prayers of panic and negotiation, "God, please don't let me die" or "I promise to find out more about You if You'll blah blah blah."

    My first conscious prayer of faith was something like, "I think You're real. And I don't get all this. But I want You. I need to believe in You . . . help me to believe in You." (I had heard the gospel at that point.) I felt nothing different. I began wading through the book of Mark and then as the days went by noticed feelings of peace, understanding, and joy creeping into my heart and replacing the fear.

    And then a big, big deal in my life was being trained to teach backyard Bible clubs and leading a child to Christ at one of them. Watching God work in another person made me realize, "This isn't just in my head. This is real!"

    That's probably way more info than you need so feel free to edit your blog comments, Laura! But I think some of it would apply to your character--autocratic father denying God, coming of age questions and doubts, seeking God yet knowing not why or where to go. His Spirit works inside the seekers even when they don't understand what it is--and thank God for that!

  8. I must say I find it very interesting that you've posed this question today. The reason for that is yesterday marked the 14th anniversary of the beginnings of my spiritual journey.

    I was 19 at that time, and a sophomore at Pikeville College. One of the classes I was taking at that time was an Old Testament survey. After leaving work that evening, I was in a serious car accident. A car pulled out in front of me, and the impact sent my car into the oncoming lanes of traffic. Thankfully the majority of that traffic was stopped by a red light about a mile away. My car was totaled. A man who stopped let me call my mom. She saw the car before she made it to the hospital, and if she hadn't already spoken with me, she would have thought I was dead. Both of my ankles were broken (identically, which is something I laugh about to this day) and my left wrist was broken.

    I call this the start of my spiritual journey because not only did it cause me to face my mortality, and the knowledge that if I'd died I would have ended up hell, but it also caused me to see that God still takes in interest in this world. The Bible I used in the Old Testament class was in the front seat. The small coke I'd just purchased at McDonald's had spilled on it. It only soaked the preface pages, and the first couple of pages of Genesis though. Given everything, that was something I found a little miraculous.

    It took me five years after that though to go to church, and to really ask Jesus into my heart. I'm stubborn, want to do things my way, and it took my plans falling apart to get me into church. I remember in the summer of 2002, praying "God if you do x, I'll go to church when I go back to Lexington." Well, God did x. I came back to Lexington (I'd spend the summer at my parents), and the first weekend back, I didn't go to church. But during the next week, God did Z, which was in no way on my horizon before it happened. I remember that day, saying I need to get myself to church this Sunday. That Sunday morning found me in the parking lot of Southland Christian Church. Three to four weeks after that I went forward during an altar call. I was baptized on Oct. 19, 2002.

    I feel like I've written a very long post here. ;) Explaining my knowledge of God during my agnostic years will likely take a post just as long. My lunch is almost over though, so I will come back later and answer that question.

  9. As someone else mentioned, I love that you are coming to your readers with this question! And I can't wait to read everyone else's responses.

    I was raised in the church but I did not come to have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ until I was 27yo. I probably can't answer anything about what you asked because I did have a *head* knowledge about God, I just didn't have the *heart* knowledge, too. I will say that I recognized that I was empty, hungry, and searching and I later came to understand that the Holy Spirit was drawing me to Him the whole time.

    It sounds like your character's father is a very harsh, cold man. It seems like she might would see an example of a loving, kind father in someone else's family and she would long to know a Father like that.

    I love this inside peek into your book!

  10. Laura, the one thing you said that stood out to me was that she wouldn't know who to even pray to.

    But in that time period, wouldn't she be surrounded by people who did know about God? People who did go to church and prayed? My thought is that God was such a huge part of society then that she would have to know about Him from others, even if she didn't get any of that knowledge from her own home. So for her to really know nothing about God, in my mind, would mean they'd have to live in seclusion.

  11. That painting is so awesome. Later I am going to check out the artist's site.
    I learned of God at a very young age, and once I could fathom Him things just sort of made since. I did need to read the Bible to learn more of His character so I think that may be important. I do remember when I was a teen someone seeking God asked why I believed in Him. She may ask someone that she knows is a believer. Other than this, I can't really drag up much from my memory except that C.S. Lewis came to Christ later in his life. I read a biography on him that said he was attracted to books that were about God. So maybe she could find a book. Or... and this may be a bit farther than you were asking for, but Beth Moore has a missionary book called Voices of the Faithful, and some of the missionaries would run into people that had dreams of God telling them who to seek or where to go. She could have dreams.

  12. What a beautiful discussion you have started, Laura. I've been touched reading all these wonderful testimonies. I agree with what Sally said about your character knowing at least the rudiments about God and religion since it was a part of society back then. Whatever the personal beliefs of people were, nearly everyone went to church and fessed to being God fearing. So I would think she'd know enough to want more. And that's the key. She would see God's hand in the people she knows. Perhaps, hungering for that 'something' that made them different.

    I also think nature would be the perfect starting point for her to ponder the power of God, as others have already said.

    You say that your character has a hunger and thirst for God -- and you know, that is all that she needs. In His all loving way, He will reach out to her, through people, circumstances, thoughts. If a person is open to receiving God there is nothing that can keep Him out. I think this hungering would make her more in tune to spiritual things and, has she investigates God would grant her more knowledge and she would gain a testimony. There would be no stopping it.

    I speak from experience, I grew up in a home where one parent was agnostic and the other had turned her back on God. We stopped going to church when I was very young but I still knew God and wanted to know Him more. I can't remember a time when I didn't pray or think about Him inspite of severe punishments when my burgeoning faith was discovered.

    Becoming a member of a Christian congregation didn't happen until I was eighteen and strong enough to seek out fellowship without a care for the consequences. In fact I couldn't bear living another day keeping my faith a secret though it created a lot of conflict in my family.

    I'm going to love this book you are writing, Laura. And what a wonderful venue for showing how much God's love can transform a life.

  13. I didn't grow up in Church my parents didn't attend Church. However even as a child and young teen I felt something missing; I didn't know it at the time, but God was drawing me to Him. A friend that I had in middle school was a Christian, her and her mother invited me to church, because of their friendship and inviting me to Church, I was able to have a heart knowledge of Jesus, and gave my heart to Him at fourteen. Maybe your heroine meets a Christian woman close to her age who shows her who Christ is through her actions. Just a thought.

  14. The one grown person I can think of who forbid his family to attend church was a truly frightening guy. I think it is more common to have a parent who by disapproval or other more manipulative means gets the other family members to lose out on a spiritual home in the church.

  15. I just read through the other responses and I don't have much to offer. I am excited to hear about your new series. It sounds wonderful!

    I remember growing up in a Christian home, but still went my own way when I hit my early 20's. I remember being drawn to God in every area of my life. I remember the burden on my heart being so heavy that it was hard to not obey what I knew was the right thing to do. God was using His Holy Spirit to convict me in a big way.

  16. I've been away a few days and just saw your post. What a blessing to have all this conversation. I grew up with Jesus so I'm afraid I don't have much to contribute here.

    I love, love, love that painting and went right to her blog! Wow!

    3 more days until Dressing a Colonial Lady!

  17. Virginia, So glad to get your thoughts here. Love that "she will find her religious truth in nature" as that dovetails beautifully with what Scripture says. You are such a fine writer and express things so beautifully here. I have always had a love of nature, particularly the wind and snow, and see God's hand in that and think I would even if I didn't know Him. Truly, all men are without excuse when it comes to His creation. Your last line here reminds me of a blog post I've been preparing - as she earnestly seeks, she shall receive. Thanks so much for this.

  18. Stacie,
    I think it's so interesting that you and Virginia were thinking the same thing at the same time! Nature is such a HUGE part of how God speaks to us, moving our hearts toward Him.

    Oh, I'm just dying to tell you about the "love interest" in this first book as you so aptly put it! Our imaginations are running in the same direction:) Bless you for your thoughts here. They mean so much.

    I'm amazed you have more snow! And thanks for thinking of me via the post! No rush!

  19. Heather, I just read your very interesting email and will reply to you shortly:)

  20. Hannah, So very true! Your comments remind me of the old quote ~ Your life is the only Bible some people will ever read. Our walk is paramount, especially, like you said, when Christ gives us joy and peace. That kind of testimony makes the Saviour irresistible. And He really is or should be that to us:)

  21. Winter, You think like a writer based on your questions:) Oh, I wish I could spill all the story beans here! No, her father was read out of Quaker meeting before her birth. Their situation makes them quite isolated though her father is a tradesman. Enough said, I guess, as I want you to read the book:)

    I love hearing your personal testimony here and that you felt the Lord with you even before you really knew much about Him. That speaks of a relationship, truly, and not just a religion. Thanks so much for taking time to be here and help me with this.

  22. Rita, I thought you'd like the artwork as this is your beloved time period, same as me:) I need to pop over and see if Meadow answered about those prints... Thanks for the thumbs up on the series. I'm enjoying following your SIP as well!

  23. Renee Ann, Reading everyone's thoughts here is so moving, yours included. You have a teacher's heart! I can see how the Lord was moving you in that direction beginning with backyard Bible clubs! I'm struck by the fact that He met your need very personally through the conversion of that little child in which He became more real to you. Also, I love your honesty as you prayed and told Him you didn't have all the answers. Reminds me of one of my favorite Scriptures/Bible scenes where the father said, basically, "Lord, help my unbelief." I've often prayed the same. God loves an honest, humble heart.

    You've given me some wonderful things to think about regarding this character and I can't express how much that means. I think writers should regularly ask their readers such things!!

  24. Michelle,
    Happy 14th anniversary:) It's by far the most important you'll ever have as it began a new life - and I think it's wonderful that you remember/mark the date.

    I chuckled when you said you are stubborn ~ guess it took a few broken bones to get you to bend His direction:) And I'm so amazed at how you ended up at Southland!! If I could ever plunk someone down in a church it would be that one! Things progressed very rapidly for you after that, sounds like, and I'd love to hear the rest of your story if you have time.

    This is so helpful, hearing how Christ reaches out to us in very personal ways. I'll try to share my own story below...

  25. Sally, You have an editor's head and heart:) But then you ARE an editor (and writer)! You've tested my believability angle here which is one of the things I was curious about. Yes, that time period was certainly saturated with religion, especially in light of the revivals/Great Awakening, etc. She would probably know about prayer based on her outside contacts, etc. Part of the conundrum has to do with her situation and temperament - she lives in relative isolation because of her family's past and she is startlingly naive about so many things. I so appreciate your comments as I wade through this. As you know, a character/situation has to be believable or they lose credibility with readers. I don't want to suspend disbelief too much...

  26. Mary,
    Oh, you've said it so succinctly and hit upon my own personal struggle so well ~ there's such a huge chasm between head knowledge and heart knowledge, YES! And pride and humility are all tied up in there. Head knowledge does nothing to change us but only leads, like you said, to emptiness, hunger, and searching. I always find it so comforting that God meets us at the point of our need and draws us to Him in personal ways. Several of you have mentioned that here. What he does for one he does something else for another. I couldn't have handled Michelle's accident and broken bones so He knew He had to reach me like he did you, by letting me come to the end of myself and my head knowledge. UGH.

    I think your example of my character wanting or looking for a loving, godly father is a wonderful one. Oh, how I'm longing to tell you the rest of the story:)

  27. Adrienne, You are so creative! I so appreciate the book idea and the dream idea. You've said something so important - that you read the Bible to discover/learn about God's character. I do have that happen in the book in a very (hopefully) unique way. And I'm so wanting to tell you all about it!

    You've mentioned CS Lewis who is one of my favorite heroes of the faith. I'm reading a book right now that reminds me of Beth's Voices of the Faithful. When I read it I think of you and Julia. It's called 50 People Every Christian Should Know and was a Christmas gift from my publisher. We can learn so much from those who have gone before.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here. They help tremendously.

  28. Kav,
    I had an "a-ha" moment reading your comment. Several, actually. Love how you said He will reach out to her through circumstances, people, thoughts. That's exactly what has happened in this novel though it wasn't something I'd intentionally done. This character's life really is all about God's intervention in her life even through painful circumstances. Your comments made that clear to me.

    The 18th-century was such a dramatic time and religion played a huge part in the settling of colonial America. So yes, it would be hard for this character to grow up in a vacuum, so to speak, no matter how isolated she is.

    Your own story brings to mind Matthew 5 - Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. We tend to think that only went on in olden days but it's something that happens here and now. You're an amazing example of perseverance and I'm sure that shows itself in your writing as it does here.

    So hoping you enjoy this book once it's out. It will be better for your comments here. They've sure touched and blessed me.

  29. Carissa, You're a beautiful example of how important it is to reach out to others, even in a novel! YES, having another person, a godly woman, perhaps, reaching out to her is so helpful. My mom's personal story is similar to yours as a friend took her to a Bible study and church and that led to her becoming a Christian. Love that you dwell on the "heart" aspect of knowing Him. It trul is a relationship, not a religion. Bless you, Carissa, for your thoughts here!

  30. Carrie, I bet you've seen all kinds of scenarios similar to this novel one being a psychologist. I appreciate your take on this as everyone's perspective is so unique. Taking notes...

    This character's father IS a scary guy. Of course I'd like to see all my characters redeemed by book's end but guess that is too fairy-taleish!

  31. Laura what a coincidence, I am reading 131 Christians Everyone Should Know! 50 is probably a better number, but I have found it very interesting. Right now I am almost half way through.

  32. Stacey,
    So good to see you here and read your heartfelt comments. It's so true that there is no peace apart from Him and that He convicts to bless us in the end. As my boys head into their 20's I wish could jsut fastforward life for them and they could skip those years. But you've made me see that searching time is redeemed by Him, too, and isn't a thing to be feared.

    I'm so happy you're excited about this series! I'm trying to make it the best book for you:)

  33. Carla, You always bless with your presence here even if you don't think you don't contribute with a comment! Sooo happy to have you meet Meadow - I hope you found her website. I love the painting of the blacksmith and the lady with the baby on her lap - and the coach - and - well, she sews, beautifully, too! But you knew all of that.

    I can't wait to hear more about Mary's presentation and am so glad you get to go! What a treat!

  34. Adrienne, So glad you told me as I was just lamenting that my book is only about 50 folks (I'm halfway through) and I wish it was far longer:) So now I know just where to go - bless you for this! And happy reading!

  35. Laura, you're right, it did take a few broken bones to bend me to His will. ;) There is a little more to that side of the story too. The left ankle did not heal 100%. In March, 1998, it was at about 90% healed. So surgery was not an option for it. On June 30, 2005, I fell and re-fractured it. It took about 3 months for it to heal. When the final x-ray was taken, my doctor was absolutely amazed. He said if he had not known better he would have thought it was an x-ray of my mother's foot. It healed completely, and that was nothing short of a miracle.

    One of the reasons I think things moved quickly when I started going to church is I didn't grow up completely outside of the church. I went to church until I was 7, which is when my mom and my biological dad divorced. I believed very strongly then, and honestly I wanted to be baptized then, but my mom thought I was too young. Not being in church, and quite honestly my intellectual bent eroded that childhood faith.

    I termed myself an agnostic, but I sometimes thing deist would have been a better description for me during those years. I never doubted the existence of God, what I strongly doubted though was that He had anything to do with anything on Earth today. It took Him showing up in my life for me to believe.

    I chose Southland because Mike Breaux, who was senior minister at that time, was the only minister I would see on television who would hold my attention. Oddly enough, when I still was living in Pike county we did get one of the Lexington TV stations on our cable, and it was the one that has Southland's television ministry. My mom would watch it from time to time, and before I moved to Lexington she told me I would probably like Southland.

  36. Oh, Laura, yes Meadow's paintings are wonderful. I could just imagine having a ride in that coach!
    My favorites in addition to the lady with the sheep (I love sheep!) are the blacksmith, the silversmith, the shoemaker, and "the clever illiterate". My imagination is soaring!

    I'm going to try to get some pics at the presentation and post them on my blog.

    Enjoy your day dear friend!

  37. Michelle, Thanks so much for taking time to tell the rest of the story here. I know readers are blessed same as me. In fact, I've had email from other readers who didn't post to that effect.

    Your physical healing is truly a miracle:) I like to think that He healed you completely so you would trust Him even more and see His hand in a very personal way.

    My parents also divorced after 20 years of marriage. I know now that my relationship with my earthly father had a significant impact on my relationship with my heavenly Father in terms of my ability to trust. Your sharing that brought it to mind. It's only been the last few years that He's shown me what an impact that had on me. I'd pushed it aside for a long time.

    So glad you're at Southland. How I would love to come back and attend there or even visit one Sunday. Though Wayne S. is no longer pastor, nor would he remember me, I have such fond memories of him and them.

  38. Just a quick not to say I listen to a bradcast that I thought had some relevance to the discussions, It was Entitled "Sharing the word with others" ( and discusses how for over two thousand years the gospel has been spread by word of mouth.

    How in truth it spreads like a vine producing fruit. I thought the whole symbology of the vine tied in nicely with nature.

    Also, I think it is important to note that what we do not see .. the Holy Spirit is alive and guiding us throughout life. And is the source of all wisdom and knowledge.

    Well that is my 2 cents for what it is worth. Blessings to you all.

  39. Stephanie, So glad to have your 2 cents here:) Like you, I love the way the vine spreads like the truth of the gospel - I've never thought of that in such a concrete way and it's a stunning picture! I also think of the Scripture that says Jesus is the vine, etc. Word of mouth is so key and I'm so glad you've mentioned that here. I'm sitting here this morning and it's snowing outside my window which is another reminder of God's power and majesty in nature. So thankful you've come by and hope to see you again!