107 – Sharing the Hardest Stories with Guest Elizabeth Ludwig

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Sharing the Hardest Stories with Guest Elizabeth Ludwig on the Write from the Deep PodcastDoes it sometimes seem like the hits just keep coming? Like all your hopes and dreams are going by the wayside, and you’re left with disappointment and discouragement? Guest Elizabeth Ludwig shares how God has used her challenges to change and refine her––and prepare her to share stories that are hard and painful. Because those are the stories that change people’s lives.

About Elizabeth Ludwig

Elizabeth Ludwig is a USA Today bestselling author and speaker. She’s also a frequent teacher at writers conferences. Besides writing, she enjoys skiing, cooking, and her four mini-dachsunds. She’s been nominated for a Carol Award and named a finalist for both the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence and the 2015 Selah Awards. Recently, she was awarded the HOLT Medallion for A Tempting Taste of Mystery, part of the Sugarcreek Amish Mysteries series from Guideposts. To learn more, visit ElizabethLudwig.com.

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

Erin: Hello, listeners. Thank you for joining us and welcome to the deep, and we’re welcoming a guest today, too. We have Elizabeth Ludwig here with us, and Karen’s going to introduce her.

Karen: We’ve been enjoying getting to know Elizabeth a little bit better before the show. Just talking and sharing things. Elizabeth is a USA Today bestselling author. Her work has been featured in all kinds of places. She’s won several awards for it.

She also goes to workshops and writers conferences and teaches on editing and writing and all kinds of wonderful things. But other than writing, her two true loves, we found out, are downhill skiing and her four mini dachshunds, which I think is wonderful. You guys know how I feel about dogs.

So, Elizabeth, we are just delighted to have you here with us today.

Elizabeth: I’m delighted to be here. Thank you both so much for having me.

Erin: Thank you for being here, Elizabeth. So, let’s begin. Let’s go to the first question that we always love to ask. What does the deep mean to you?

Elizabeth: If you had asked me that question when I was 20 years old, and I’m quite beyond the 20 years old, I’m not gonna tell you how far, but beyond. I think the answer would have been very different. Now for me, the deep is that communion with the Lord and being able to translate that into my writing.

It was hard for me to do that at the beginning. It was a scary thing to be able to share my deepest, darkest moments. Not all of them are pretty, let me just say.

Karen: Yes.

Elizabeth:  And to be able to be open enough and vulnerable enough to share that with anyone, much less everyone. So for me, the deep is that place of honesty and humbleness and vulnerability, and being able to share that with people.

Karen: Yeah. You had said during our conversation earlier that the hardest stories to share are exactly what someone needs to hear, but when you put those on the page, when you write about them in a book, basically you’re inviting people into your pain. That’s a really risky thing, especially if readers don’t react the way they think they will.

The hardest stories to share are exactly what someone needs to hear. #amwriting @karenball1 @ELudwig_Author Click To Tweet

Elizabeth: Right. My prayer, often, is Lord, give me the skill to be able to adequately express what is in my heart. Sometimes the things that I want to say, and the way they sound in my head, I struggle to get that down on paper.

I think that part of that is because, even when I’m open to the word, and asking him to use me, I still hold back. I still hold back the hardest parts. So what comes out on the paper is not one hundred percent honest, because I haven’t been a hundred percent honest.

Karen: It’s really hard to do that. They say that the number one fear that people have in life, aside from death, the number one fear is public speaking. Writing is right next to that because when you do public speaking, sometimes they record it, but it doesn’t stick around for a long time.

When you write a book, it’s all there on the page and that book is out there for a long time. A lot longer than the record of what you do in public speaking.

Elizabeth: Yeah, that’s right. This is going to sound strange, but public speaking is easier for me than writing. The reason for that––I have to credit Barbara Burmeister, my drama coach and speech teacher in high school. She used to push me. Every time I saw her coming down the hallway, I would try to duck into a room or hide in a locker. Because I knew it was because she had signed me up for something else. Some other speaking engagement.

As much as I hated it, when I took on this role of author and speaker, I thought back to all of those times that she was pushing, pushing, pushing, and encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone.

I had the opportunity to visit with her about three or four years ago. She was well into her eighties. She was suffering from the onset of dementia and some other things. But when I walked in her house––I knocked on her door, and I brought her one of my books. When she opened the door, I wasn’t sure she would remember me. That was my first thing, “Hi, Mrs. B., I’m not sure if you remember––

And she goes, “Lisa Gracia.”

That was my maiden name. And oh my goodness. We, talked and we laughed, and I thanked her for the influence that she’d had. It was just a wonderful, special time.

Erin: She was pushing you out of your comfort zone.

Elizabeth: Still is, let me just tell you.

Karen: I have this image in my mind that that’s what we do as writers. Sometimes when God’s coming down the hallway, and we know that he’s going to ask something else of us, and we’re trying to duck into any door any room to avoid having to encounter him and say yes.

Elizabeth: That literally happened to me. I wrote the Edge of Freedom series for Bethany House several years back. Originally I had proposed a two book series, and they came back and asked me for a third book in that series.  Of course I said yes before I even knew what the story was going to be about.

As I got well into the writing of the second book, the Lord started whispering to me what the third one was going to be about. There was a minor character in book one named Tillie who had lost a child. The Lord kept saying, “This is her story.”

I kept saying, “I don’t want to write about Tillie.”

He kept saying, “This book is about Tillie.”

The reason I didn’t want to write about Tillie was because my husband and I had lost a child. I knew that writing the emotions that come with that were going to, it was going to be very painful. It was going to involve reliving some of the heartache of that.

I just didn’t want to do that.

But I’m glad I did, because of the three books, that is by far my favorite.

Karen: The most painful is what needs to be told. I love that.

Erin: That needs to be the theme of your life, of your writing. Because that’s come up a couple of times now when we’ve been talking.

Talk to us a little bit about some of your recent experiences with spiritual and physical attack as you’ve been writing hard stories and having difficult things happen to you.

Elizabeth: The most recent things, you know, we’ve had some emotional and spiritual things, I call them hurdles, things that you just have to overcome. I’m the kind of person that always tackles things head on. You know, take the bull by the horns kind of gal.

Well, this most recent thing was a physical attack, and I ended up in the hospital for five days. This was in early August. I had a book that was due at the end of August.

That was a different kind of battle for me because up until that point, it was just power through. Whatever you have to do to get the book done, do what you’ve got to get done. Just power through it.

This was one time where I really couldn’t do that. Physically, I just was not able to. I contacted my editor in tears because I have never, ever missed a deadline.

At that point I just did not see how I was going to be able to make that deadline. So I reached out to my Facebook friends, you know, all of my close friends, and said, “Y’all please be praying for me. This is what’s going on.”

I had so many people respond. And not only respond and say, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” But so many people responded privately to say, “I am praying for you.”

I acknowledged that when I turned in the book, which I did turn in on time. It required a lot of editing. I’m not gonna lie. There was a lot of editing that had to go into that because I couldn’t give it the time and the attention that I like to give most of my books.

But it still got turned in on time. I know that that was because of the faithfulness of the people who said they were going to be praying for me and did.

Karen: And diverticulitis ended up in that book, right?

Elizabeth: What’s funny is, originally in the outline, there is a character who is having some heart issues. And as I got to that point in the story, I’m like, nope, buddy, you’ve got diverticulitis.

Karen: You need to know how serious this is.

Elizabeth: I’d heard of it. My mother has diverticulitis. My mother is, okay y’all, I have a Hispanic mom. She is, you know, anybody who has a Hispanic mom, you feel me. You know what I’m about to say.

My mom, she’s so funny and I love her to death. She’s my cheerleader. She’s just my best friend. And she has suffered with diverticulitis for many years. And she called me in the hospital and she says to me, “I’ve had diverticulitis forever. You get it one time and you’re busted.”

I guess that’s where I get my just power through attitude.

Anyway, it was a challenge getting that book done. The title of that book is called The Bitter Brew, which has been so fitting because on top of the physical attacks that were happening in the writing of that book, shortly thereafter came some emotional and spiritual attacks.

Can I tell you about those a little bit?

Erin: Please do.

Elizabeth: We live on the Gulf coast. We are very familiar with hurricanes and tropical storms. But tropical storm Imelda kind of snuck up on us. We weren’t expecting the amount of rain that we got. Over 40 inches in a 24 hour period.

Right around midnight, my daughter called and said, “Mom, we’re on our way over. The house is flooding.”

And so I said, “Okay, I’ll make breakfast.”

They got the house about three or four in the morning. We were making breakfast and the phone rang again. It was my son, and he said, “Mom, be praying for us. We’re on the way to the hospital. Mandy is losing the twins.”

At that time, she was pregnant with twins. I have to tell you that the same day that she went into the doctor and found out that she was carrying twins, in the same visit, she was also told that the twins did not have a heartbeat. Which was so… of course, we knew she was pregnant, but when we found out that she was having twins, all of a sudden I wanted them so much more.

Karen: Yeah.

Elizabeth: She decided to carry the twins for a month after she found out that they were gone. The reason for that was because we were praying and asking that the Lord would, that she would deliver them naturally and not have to face the excruciating choice of whether or not to have them surgically removed.

Erin: Right.

Elizabeth: So on the night that they called, she had begun to miscarry them. But I have to tell you that even that night, my broken prayer to the Lord was just, “Why?”

Both of my children are suffering. Why?

Of course every parent says, you know, their kids are perfect. And mine are by no means perfect, but I’m so blessed to know that both of my children are faithful to the Lord. And so it was hard. I questioned why they were suffering so much.

Since then, and this is the goodness of the Lord, my daughter and her husband moved back into their house just days after the storm. Our church family came together and helped tear out all the dry wall. Tear out the house and dry it out.

And then she came back in and cleaned and painted and did a lot of the things herself. When the insurance adjuster came, he was so good and so generous. We are so thankful that because they were able to save some money in that, and because the church family and several of the men came out to help with that and those expenses, of course they were all volunteers, they were able to get back into their house very quickly and pay off some of the things that we just never thought.

Such a blessing. And then my son and his wife has, they called last night. It was almost with, I have to admit, it’s a little bit of fear. I know that they’re still trying for children.

I want them to have more children, but there’s that fear because this is her second miscarry. And so when they called, I was kind of holding my breath, almost expecting that that was what they were going to tell me.

Instead my son said, “Mom, I’ve been offered a position as a pastor in our local church.”

What better couple to minister to other couples than these two who have been through so much. God is so good and so faithful. We don’t always get to see it in our timing, but he’s so good.

Erin: Very true.

Karen: You said that writing is a healing process for you. That it’s something that almost serves as a catharsis. Talk a little bit about that.

Elizabeth: It sure does. In the midst of all of these trials, it was like almost a reprieve for me to be able to escape into this world. I write for Guideposts.

Karen: Right.

Elizabeth: Guideposts has a very particular audience. They’re very gentle stories. They’re very sweet stories. I always tell people when they ask me, what is it, I always refer to Angela Lansbury’s kind of Murder, She Wrote.

Karen: I love that show.

Elizabeth: Everything always turns out right in the end.

Karen: It’s so campy, but I love it.

Elizabeth: I know it. And it truly was such a reprieve for me to be able to escape into this world where everything is good and right, an everything always just worked out in the end.

So for me, writing is, sometimes it’s a healing thing. Even when there’s things I don’t particularly want to write about. By the time when the Lord lays it on my heart, and by the time it’s on the page, I understand why he asked that it be. It’s because I needed it. It’s something that I needed to deal with.

Erin: Right. I love your story, Elizabeth, and I want to wind back time just a little bit now and go back to something we’ve been talking about. As you were a newer writer and you had these challenges and things that were going on and you felt that God was giving you this task of writing, and yet you had challenges, talk a little bit about what happened and why you’re still a writer.

Elizabeth: Well, I am kind of ashamed to admit that I was so naive and just thinking that when I sent out my first manuscript that it was going to be acclaimed the world over. Everyone was just going to receive it with glad tidings.

Obviously that didn’t happen. The first thing I ever wrote was, really it was just a commentary of the days following the death of our son. There were some things that I just could not express or put into words. And so I started scribbling them onto a page.

That was many, many years ago. I found those after we moved to Texas, after we found out that my husband was losing his job. He went to work one day, this was in early December, and was told that as of January 1st the plant was closing, and he was no longer going to have a position.

But they were offering transfers to anybody who wanted to stay with the company. One of the places that was available for transfer was Texas. My mother is originally from the Rio Grande Valley area, and so we have some family who lives there. My grandmother and my aunts all lived in Houston at the time. We were looking at Texas as a place because we had some family living here.

But it was very hard being 1200 miles away from family. So, I started writing. I started earnestly seeking publication right around 2000 or 2001. I had heard through a friend about ACFW, and I learned that they were having a Christian writer’s conference in Houston, which was just a couple of hours from where I lived.

I thought, okay, I’m gonna go. My husband, who’s always been so supportive, encouraged me to go. While we were there, I was given a verse. It’s from Habakkuk. It’s chapter two, verses two and three. And I know it’s familiar to a lot of writers.

But to me, it really spoke to my heart. It’s, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets so that he who runs may see it. Though the vision tarries, wait for it. It is yet for an appointed time.”

I knew that that was the Lord saying to me, “You need to write these things down. These visions that are in your head, write them down.”

I will say that though the Lord gave me a vision, it did tarry almost for seven years before I sold my first book. It was during those, I call those by desert years, it was during those times that I’ve struggled so much with whether or not I truly had heard the Lord’s call.

One day, for Christmas, my husband, we were opening Christmas gifts and my husband had given me a computer. I mean, it was all set up. Laptop with internet. I couldn’t believe it.

Karen: Wow.

Elizabeth: I said to him, “Why would you do this?” At this time we, our finances  were not, we could not afford that kind of gift.

And he said, “Because when you sell your first book, you’re going to need it.”

I said, “You really think I’m going to sell it?”

He said, “Baby, let me put it this way. You’re too stubborn to give up.”

I go back to those verses often, especially when there’s difficulty. When a book is not received as well as maybe I hoped it would be. Or, when I’m facing a physical or spiritual challenge.

I go back to those verses, and I remind myself of why I felt like the Lord had put it on my heart to begin with, to write for him. And when I get away from that, when I get to where I’m writing for myself, or when I’m writing for the sales numbers, or when I’m writing for the editors, when I get away from the original message of the Lord, which was to write a vision so that people would see him, that’s when writing is hard.

When I get away from the original message of the Lord, which was to write a vision so that people would see him, that's when writing is hard. @ELudwig_author @karenball1 #amwriting Click To Tweet

Erin: Yeah.

Elizabeth: But the Lord has a way of bringing us to a humble place where we are forced to depend on him.

Erin: Right.

Elizabeth: Sometimes it’s in the hospital with an acute attack of diverticulitis. Or sometimes it’s just the broken place when you’re comforting your children. But he’s always faithful.

Karen: Elizabeth, I just can’t thank you enough for being here with us and sharing your heart and your experiences today. You’ve moved me to tears several times and that doesn’t happen all that often. Thank you so much for being transparent and honest.

My prayer is that we will all come to that place where we remember that our focus needs to be on the one who gave us this task, and on writing what he gives us to write.

May he draw us into whatever we need to experience to be focused on him. And may we feel the same joy that you have felt when he proves his faithfulness over and over and over again.

God’s best blessings for you, my friend, and I’m sure that we’ll have you on again because you have a wealth of wisdom to share. Thank you so much.

Elizabeth: Thank you both so much for having me. And to your listeners, I pray that my story blesses you a little bit.

Erin: Amen.

We want to hear from you!

How has God used your painful experiences in your writing journey?

Books by Elizabeth Ludwig

Tide and Tempest, Edge of Freedom Series, book 3

Tide and Tempest by Elizabeth Ludwig
(Affiliate Link)

Garage Sale Secret

A Tempting Taste of Mystery

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One comment

  1. Thank you, dear Elizabeth, Erin, and Karen for this inspiring and touching podcast. Elizabeth’s words confirmed the desire and prayer I have this week to write according to God’s will for me. I’m waiting for direction while I continue entering the doors that are already open. Hearing her story encourages me not to view opposition as an indication I’m on the wrong journey.
    Blessings ~ Wendy Mac

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