193 When God’s Surprises Are Hard with Guest Lynn Austin, Part 1

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When God's Surprises Are Hard with Guest Lynn Austin, Part 1 Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungWe believers talk a lot about God surprising us in wonderful ways. When God does exceedingly, abundantly beyond what we imagine. But some of God’s surprises are hard. Even devastating. Guest Lynn Austin shares how God’s hard surprises have been some of the best surprises in her writing journey.

About Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin has sold more than two million books worldwide. She has won eight Christy Awards for her historical fiction and was one of the first inductees into the Christy Award Hall of Fame. One of her novels, Hidden Places, was made into a Hallmark Channel Original Movie. When she isn’t writing, Lynn can be found riding her bicycle or playing with her four grandchildren. She and her husband have three grown children and make their home in western Michigan.

Thanks to our sponsors on Patreon, we’re able to offer an edited transcript of the podcast!

Erin: Welcome, listeners. We are so delighted that you have joined us here in the deep, and there’s extra excitement today because we have a guest whom Karen will introduce.

Karen: Our lovely guest is Lynn Austin. She’s a prolific writer, and she’s award-winning in her writing and as a speaker. She’s published twenty-three novels. You get that guys? Twenty-three novels and one nonfiction book. Her novel All She Ever Wanted was chosen as one of the five inspirational top picks of 2005. 

Her novel Hidden Places was made into a movie for Hallmark Channel starring actress Shirley Jones. I just think that’s so cool that she got to meet Shirley Jones! And Shirley was nominated for a 2006 Emmy Award for her portrayal of Aunt Batty in the film. 

Recently, Erin heard Lynn speak at the Florida Christian Writers Conference and was struck by what she had to share. We asked her to join us here and share her experiences and wisdom with you. Welcome, Lynn.

Lynn: Thank you. So glad to be here. 

Erin: We are delighted to have you here to talk with us. We’ll start with our first and “always” question. What does the deep mean to you?

Lynn: I think for me it means writing from my own wounds, my own doubts, like all the spiritual struggles I had, to not just gloss over them, but to use them in my work. And to not be afraid to ask the hard questions, confront the hard questions in my writing, like unanswered prayer. I mean, theologians battle over these. For example, why does God sometimes not answer prayer? 

I don’t have the answers to that. But I have to be able to have my characters express those questions and their doubts. My most recent book, Long Way Home, tackled the Holocaust of all things for goodness sakes. How do you have answers that? 

Karen: God gives you easy topics to write about. 

Lynn: Yeah! But I think to go deep, you can’t be afraid to do that. You can’t be afraid to do that and to touch on your own experiences in doing it.

I went through a period of unanswered prayer for probably about seven years, praying for a child and not having one. To tap into how I felt that, and to be honest about it. How I felt my arguments with God, because those are the times you grow. So I think for an author to go deep is to handle that tough stuff. 

Karen: Erin and I were talking about that just before the podcast. Sometimes writers are afraid to tap into those deep places because they want to share a message, but they’re not willing to go into where their own wound is. 

Lynn: Right. 

Karen: As a result, the writing can be on the surface. While things are happening to the characters, things aren’t happening within the characters, and that doesn’t communicate anything to anyone. It’s just words on the page if we’re not tapping into that deep part of who we are. I have been doing gardening at this new house that we have in Washington, and there’s one rose that they had planted here that’s a type of rose that I absolutely abhor. I do not like this kind of rose. 

Erin: You hear that? There’s a flower Karen doesn’t like!  

Karen: I decided this thing had to die. I dug and I dug and I dug and I got down to the ball that all the shoots were coming off of. I dug out one root and then there was another root twice as big. Then there was another root that went straight into the ground. My husband brought out a Sawzall for me, you know, one of those automatic saws. I cut apart the part of the root ball where the shoots were coming up, and I was exhausted. It took days. 

I know that there are still roots and there are still sections of that stinking rose down there. We need to go that deep. We need to cut that deep into what we’re doing, get to the core and the heart of who we are in order to have our books touch and change people.

Lynn: Right. Sometimes I think we’re afraid to do that deep digging in our own life, so we gloss over it. But, we have to resolve these deep issues in our own life, and I think it does deepen your writing. 

Erin: I love how you put it: confront and confront with honesty. I think sometimes we feel like we can’t ask that question because, you know, maybe God’s going to disappoint us. Or maybe we can’t ask it in the book because we have to somehow defend God and not let him look bad, you know? As if God can’t take care of himself.

Karen: And not let us look bad. I mean, putting it on the page, people are going to think that we’ve struggled with that, so, you know, “I’m not gonna put that down there because then they’ll know that dark place inside of me that I haven’t told anyone about.”

Lynn: Exactly.

Erin: Very true. Well, one of the things that I loved when I was passing through at the Florida Christian Writers Conference, I heard you say something to your class about surprises on your writing journey. I was just like, “Aw, she has cool surprises. I know she does.”

So I’d love to hear you share your experiences. What kind of surprises did God have in store for you on your writing journey? 

Lynn: I was surprised right from the very beginning that I was called to be a writer. Because when I went to college, I was a psychology major. It never occurred to me. I was not one of these kids that has been writing ever since they’re little and make little journals. 

I had a conversation with Beverly Lewis, and she said she always knew she wanted to write, and I’m like, “Eh.”

I didn’t always know that. But I finally got to the place where I was so disappointed with so many books. I wanted a book with hope. I sat down one day when my babies were napping and I thought, “I’m just gonna try to see what happens when I write.”

And I loved it! I figured out that God had wired me to write, because when I was a kid I was always off in my imagination. So that was the first surprise: Hey, maybe he’s calling me to do this.

But then there was a long period where I struggled with it. It was a secret. I didn’t want to tell anybody that I was writing, because of course then they ask you a week later, “Hey, have you gotten your book published yet?”

Karen: Right, right. 

Lynn: You know, no clue at all. So, I didn’t tell anybody. My husband knew, but I would just sort of sit in the dark and write and was enjoying it more and more. I felt God say at one point, “If you really believe I’m calling you to write, you have to take a risk and call yourself a writer.”

That was very hard for me because I wasn’t entirely sure. So I kind of stepped out and said, “All right. I am going to take this risk and I’m going to call myself a writer.”

I was writing in my home. The kids were playing around me. I had my typewriter, that’s how old I am. My husband’s a musician. He was giving music lessons, and kids were filing in and out. This young man came in waiting for his turn and saw me working and he said, “Whatcha doing?”

Well now, you know, I didn’t want to tell some sixteen-year-old kid I’m this wannabe writer, but I said to myself, “No, I’m gonna take a chance here.” 

I said to him, “I’m writing a book. I’m a writer.”

He didn’t laugh. He said, “That’s really cool. My mom’s a writer. You should meet her sometime.”

I said, “You mom’s a writer? What kinds of things does she write?”

He got a little bit shy and he said, “Well, we’re Christians, and my mom writes devotional books for a company in Chicago called Moody Press.”

I was completely blown away. The next week when he came for his lessons, and his mom came with him. She turned out to be this kind of person who loved to mentor other writers. She had been doing it for a while. 

Now I lived in Canada in a city of about 700,000 people and God brought probably one of the very few published Christian writers right to my door when I took this step of faith. I often wonder, “Would I be a writer? Would I have the success I’ve experienced if I hadn’t taken that step?” 

But you know, I think it’s important and what I try to tell other writers is, confirm your call. Ask God to confirm it. Because there were many times in the years afterwards when I wanted to quit, but I remembered that. When I took that tiny little step of faith, he confirmed that call in such a surprising way. A trumpet student’s mother of all things!  

Erin: But such a God thing, though. That is absolutely such a God thing. Those are the kinds of things we have to hang on to. Like, that’s an Ebenezer, you know? You have to write that down and remember those stones that he gave us, those promises that he fulfilled.

Lynn: Right. 

Erin: Because everything builds off of that. Our faith, we have to keep going back. We have to preach that to ourselves. Because there’s going to be dark roads. Long paths. 

Lynn: There were a lot of those. I think what it showed me, too, is that it’s not just a matter of writing books and getting published, but that it is a spiritual journey that I’m on and that, you know, that if God could do this miracle, I mean, you gotta admit that was miracle, right?

When I was starting off, she took me under her wing and mentored me and taught me everything I needed to know. Took me to writers conferences. She had a writers’ critique group. Everything I needed just right there at my doorstep. It showed me this is a spiritual journey, and that he is going to teach me along the way and coach me, and that’s what it turned out to be. It was a matter of learning to trust along the way.

Karen: He’s amazing in the way that when he asks us to do something for him, he then equips us. We like to think that it’s all on us and our reaction is, like Moses, “Here am my Lord. Send Aaron! I’m not a man of clear speech. I can’t do this, but send my brother. He’s really good.”

Yet God supplies every single thing we need along the way. If we just will be willing to step out one step at a time and move forward on that step. And like you said, would you have been a writer if you hadn’t taken that chance?

Well, hard to tell, but God will continually pull us to do the thing that we need to do to accomplish what he has for us. Not because he needs us, but because he wants to bless us, which he has done for you in your writing.

Lynn: Yeah. Starting off I didn’t know anything. I barely knew how to write. I was reading Writer’s Digest Magazine and trying to figure out writing. And here’s somebody who not only knows writing, but the whole publishing process and everything. Just anything I needed to learn about the whole thing. 

Karen: Just amazing. God is good. 

Erin: Right! I’m guessing that’s not the last surprise he had in store for you, though. 

Lynn: No. It was a matter of learning to trust. Because it started off with such a bang and such blessings, there were a few surprises along the way of learning to trust his timing. 

It had been my prayer early on that family had to come first. I didn’t want this big writing career and send my children off to nursery school so that I could write. My family came first. 

I reached a point where I had a manuscript finished. This was the days before agents, and I’m sending it off and getting it back, and sending it off and getting it back. Finally a publishing company down in the United States said, “We’re interested. Send the whole manuscript.” 

Which I did, and the waiting period was about a year. Waiting, waiting, and waiting, and hearing, “Okay, it’s got another committee it has to go through,” and all that. 

Finally it was in the last stages of the publishing process and it was like, “You should be hearing any day.” 

So I’m not leaving the house. Back in those days, the phones were hooked onto the wall, so you didn’t wanna go too far. So I’m waiting for God to open the whole world of publishing up to me. The doorbell rang. It was the mail carrier. He had a big black plastic garbage bag with my name and address taped onto it.

My first thought was, “Somebody’s sending me garbage? I guess I don’t have enough of my own?”

I opened it up and inside was my manuscript, and the box that I had mailed it in, which had burst open somewhere in a post office along the way. They very kindly shoveled all these pages of my manuscript into this bag.

I’m looking through them, and some had tire tracks on them and footprints on them, just this whole mess, and this disintegrated box. In the bottom of the box was a letter and it said, “We’re sorry, but we’ve decided not to publish your book.” 

Karen: Oh my. 

Erin: That’s painful. 

Lynn: It was very painful. I knew God had the power in his little finger to get a yes, and I’d be off and running. I guess I was surprised by that. I mean, it could have been rejected, but to come in a garbage bag? You know, what are you gonna think? 

Karen: The symbolism there. It’s just a little too hard to ignore. 

Lynn: It was not lost on me, believe me. I’m asking for answers, “Lord, why, why, why?”

Within a week or two of this devastation, I was still very depressed. We were leaving on a family vacation. We were going from Canada down through the US and my husband wanted to stop at every national park along the way. 

Erin: Oh, fun!

Lynn: I’m viewing all these great wonders of nature, and just looking up at them and still going, “Why, God, why? Why?” 

I wasn’t feeling any answers. When I got home from this vacation, I was putting all the pictures in the photo album. Remember when we used to do that? Real photo albums?

I’m looking at all these pictures side by side, the giant redwoods, and the Tetons, and the Rocky Mountains. I realized God had been shouting at me all that time that he makes all things beautiful in his time, and that this just wasn’t the time yet. 

Now what, how many years later? Forty years later I can say that, yes, I would’ve had to sacrifice family life and a lot of other things if that book had been published at that time. But at that moment, I didn’t know. 

To see all those God-given things and at that point, did I have the faith? Did I have the trust? I’m sorry to say I didn’t, because I realized that even if I started the process all over again and printed out another manuscript and started sending it off, it could be a year.

So without praying about it, without thinking about it, I was in a little tantrum, I took a teaching job. By then my youngest kid was in school, so I went and took a teaching job. That was the worst teaching job. Worst job I’ve ever had. There was so much stress. Three different times I was in the doctor’s office with three different ailments, and every time they said, “Are you under a lot of stress?”

I happened upon the book of Jonah, and I thought, “You know, I think I’m headed in the wrong direction. I think I’m in the belly of the whale with this job.”

I was surprised yet happy that he would go so far to redirect me if I would listen. And I listened. This wasn’t right, and when the contract was up the end of the year, I said, “All right, I’m gonna give this my all again. Go full bore.”

It’s learning to trust that even the bad things, the garbage bags he sends, are for a reason and to keep going. 

Erin: It’s so interesting because we always think surprises are good. But sometimes surprises are hard. 

Lynn: Very hard. 

Erin: And we’re just not as prepared for them. I think that’s probably one of the biggest surprises even that I had as a new writer. It’s hard. Oh!  

Lynn: It’s very hard. 

Erin: If I’m supposed to do this, it should be easy. Surprise. It’s not. It’s hard. 

Karen: The other thing that we forget is that those hard surprises, those surprises we don’t really want, those are God’s answer. We could be saying, “God, why didn’t you answer my prayer?”

And God’s like, “I did. I just didn’t answer it the way you want it.”

Lynn: Right, and if you give two conflicting prayers: you want a family life that isn’t gonna change and you want a successful career, you have to leave it up to him to figure out which one. 

Karen: I think that’s why my husband and I both have glommed onto the prayer request that says, “I know nothing but Christ and him crucified. The rest is all God’s. God can handle all the other details. I know nothing but Christ and him crucified. That’s what I’m holding on to. Lord, your will be done. I may not like it. I may not understand it, but your will be done here.”

Erin: I love that because you’re praying like two different things. You’re wanting two different things and it’s like, how are we not gonna be disappointed? It’s kind of a no win situation. 

Lynn: Right. 

Karen: No, but there is a win. The win is that you, you submit. 

Erin: Yes. 

Karen: You surrender, and you accept that as his answer and then look forward to what he has for you next. 

Lynn: Right. 

Karen: So you don’t end up in a teaching job that sends you on Prozac.

Lynn: I’m telling you, you ever end up in the belly of the whale, it’s not a pretty place to be. You turn around and get spit out. I guess that I was learning, too, that I had this image in my mind of what my writing career would look like. At the time we had Janette Oak and we had Bodie Taney and you see the trajectory of their career, and I had to get to the point where I asked, “Do I want that this image, this idol, really, or am I gonna accept what his will is for my career?” 

Karen: Right. 

Lynn: So I was over forty before my first book got published. But that was his answer. 

Karen: Wow. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve had chills and been inspired. It’s just been a terrific time. It’s been so good, we’re going to do it again in part two, in our next podcast. Be sure to come and join us. 

Why does God send us surprises that seem far more hard than good? Guest @LynnNAustin shares how her hardest surprises were the best of all. #amwriting #Christianwriter Share on X

Long Way Home by Lynn Austin

Long Way Home by Lynn Austin

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Has God sent you any hard surprises on your writing journey?

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Thanks so much to our July sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow! She’s a speaker at women’s retreats, and her debut novel Blood Beneath the Pines, a suspense set in the deep South, is now available. She’s hard at work on the next book in the series!

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4 comments

  1. Karen Anderson says:

    Only God could orchestrate the meeting of a novice writer with a veteran writer who is willing to be a mentor.

  2. Darlene Webster says:

    I love this:
    “I know nothing but Christ and him crucified. The rest is all God’s. God can handle all the other details. I know nothing but Christ and him crucified. That’s what I’m holding on to. Lord, your will be done. I may not like it. I may not understand it, but your will be done here.”

    I want this to be written on my heart and remembered. This was such a great interview with Lynn, Karen and Erin. Thank you!

    • Erin Taylor Young says:

      You’re welcome, Darlene! We had a delightful time with Lynn. It’s so inspiring to hear stories of what God is doing in the lives of his followers. He’s SO faithful!!

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