As writers, our goal is to encourage and challenge our readers, to point them to God and His truth. In fact, guest Cathy Gohlke takes that a step farther and encourages us to be “pen warriors and light bearers.” She shares how God showed her this was her job as a writer, and how you, too, can become a warrior for God in your writing.
About Cathy Gohlke
Bestselling, Christy Hall of Fame, and Carol and INSPY Award-winning author, Cathy Gohlke writes novels steeped with inspirational lessons, speaking of world and life events through the lens of history. She champions the battle against oppression, celebrating the freedom found only in Christ. When not traveling to historic sites for research, she and her husband of 39 years, Dan, divide their time between Northern Virginia and the Jersey Shore, enjoying time with their grown children and grandchildren. Visit her website at cathygohlke.com.
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Erin: Welcome, listeners. We are delighted that you have joined us here in the deep, and we’re excited because we have a guest! We’ll let Karen introduce her.
Karen: Cathy Gohlke is our guest today, and we’re so excited. She’s a bestselling Christy Hall of Famer and a Carol and INSPY award-winning author of ten critically claimed novels. The most recent of which is A Hundred Crickets Singing. She signed her first novel contract on her 50th birthday, folks. That book resulted in her first Christy Award, all confirmation that it’s never too late to step into the dreams God plants in our hearts.
She and her husband of 39 years, Dan, divide their time between north Virginia and the Jersey shore, where they share time with their children and three precious grandchildren. All that’s so great. You can find out more about her at authorcathygohlke.com.
Welcome, Cathy. We’re so glad you’re here.
Cathy: Thank you, Karen. Thank you, Erin. I’m thrilled to be here with you, and I so appreciate the invitation.
Erin: We’re glad to have you, and we look forward to asking all of our guests, what does the deep mean to you?
Cathy: To me, the deep means going deep into the heart of God, seeking his perspective about our broken world and asking what grieves my Father in heaven? And what, conversely, gives him unbounded joy? And what makes me, his child, weep with him? And where do I find his joy in my life?
I find those answers, that sorrow and that joy, in Scripture. In Psalms and Proverbs and the countless stories from the Old and the New Testament. And honestly, the sorrows I find on the world stage in today’s headlines and current events. And in history.
Erin: Yeah, it’s so cool that we have a God who reveals his heart to us in Scripture. That’s a place where it’s there for all time for us to look at and also by his Spirit, his Spirit living in us to help us see those things, too. I love that definition of going deep into the heart of God. That’s great.
Cathy: Well, I think what you just said is true, too, about Scripture. It is always relevant. It is timeless. I mean, it was relevant 2,000, 4,000 years ago, but it’s relevant to today. For me as a writer, and I know writers are listening today, it’s always that God presses some need, some concern, on my heart and on my mind. Some current event that I believe grieves his heart and won’t let me go.
It’s those things that I see emerging in the headlines, some division in society or some injustice I observe. It’s that thing that if I was given the gift of oratory, I’d stand on my soap box and declare, but because I’m a warrior with a pen, that’s what I do with it.
Erin: I love that.
Karen: A warrior with a pen. That’s exactly what we’re talking about today: being warriors with a pen. I’m in an online group with Cathy and other published authors, and she had posted her speech that she gave when she won the Christy Hall of Fame Award. I want to share with you just a few paragraphs from that, because it just struck me. The truth of it and the power of it struck me so hard. This is from Cathy’s speech for that award:
“Through Christian fiction, we battle a confusing and broken world. Our weapons are our minds and pens gifted by the Lord, forged through life experiences, and sharpened by the iron we find in one another. Through story, we enter dark rooms where gradually we lift the shutters of lanterns offering God’s love and redeeming grace. Only then can we rise and walk with our characters and readers into hope, joy, and privilege. Conversely, many writers I see tonight look younger than I, and that does my heart good, reminding me that God is on the move, and that Christian fiction—stories that change lives, bringing hearts closer to the heart of God—is in strong hands. So know that I’m cheering for you and praying for the stories you write and will write. May God bless you, pen warriors and light bearers for the kingdom of heaven.”
That’s you guys, all of you listening. That’s you—pen warriors and light bearers for the kingdom of heaven.
Then she ends with, “May God give your words wings into the hearts of readers for years to come.”
Amen! That whole imagery, Cathy, of being pen warriors, light bearers, for the kingdom of God, I love that. I absolutely love that. When did you realize that that’s what you were?
Cathy: I think that was a gradual thing. Although, I think maybe it came with my very first book. I always knew that I wanted to write an underground railroad story for my first book.
I actually thought that was the only book I’d ever write in my life. I was the most surprised person when anybody wanted more. But really, I started that book not as Christian fiction. I started writing because I wanted to become a writer. I wanted to write stories, and I wanted to write YA fiction.
I was working as a children’s librarian at the time in the school, and I wanted to write books that would set my young readers in the library on fire and get my son reading. But as I wrote that first chapter, it kept coming back to questions. Like, I mean, I remember a question about searching, you know, how our Lord went, searching for a lost lamb. My character felt lost in his confusion about the times and what was going on.
As I wrote this story, people kept telling me, “You should take out all that Christian stuff because it’s really not going to sell.”
Honestly, I tried, but it didn’t work. It just kept coming back because that’s who I am and that’s who God is. He is relentless in our hearts, praise his holy name.
Cathy: So, I wrote it as he gave it to me. I realized as I went through that story that we’re in a battle ground for our minds and our hearts as writers. The enemy will do anything and everything to kill, steal, and destroy. As well meaning as the people I knew at the time were about telling me to take all of that out, that was a subtle infiltration of the enemy for me.
I think it was at that time that I knew that I had to be honest with the Lord. I had to be honest with myself. I had to be faithful to what he gave me. I knew that that was a battle ground, and I think that was the beginning.
Karen: The enemy is so determined to slither his way in and to whisper those things to our hearts and into our dreams that make us think that if we don’t do this, if we don’t do that, then our dreams will never come to fruition.
Then we kind of paint it with this seemingly holy response. Or we say, “Well, if my books don’t get published then readers won’t read what God has given me to tell them. So I have to make sure that the book gets published so that I can serve God that way.”
Those are all lies and justifications that we tell ourselves and that the enemy whispers to us. You know, “If you don’t gain a platform, you’ll never be able to speak out for God.” We forget that every single moment of this journey, every single step we take, has already been prepared by God. He’s there in every moment and every decision.
We don’t have to listen to those voices that are coming at us, whether it’s our friends, or other writing people, or it’s the enemy, we don’t have to listen to those because we can go to the core. We can go to the truth and that’s God’s Word. We can pray to him and prepare ourselves.
I was looking for Scripture about being a warrior and I love Psalm 144:1-2. Listen to this guys and think about it for you as you’re writing. “Blessed, be the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war.”
He trains your hands on the keyboard. Your hands on the pen.
“Who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.”
Oh my gosh. Warrior with a pen.
“Blessed be the Lord. My Rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle; he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.” Psalm 144:1-2 (ESV)
Cathy: Amen. I love that.
Erin: Cathy, I like what you said, too, about these people giving you advice. They were well-meaning, and you had to be very discerning about that. You had to keep that soaked in prayer. And for you, you knew where God was calling you to.
“For you,” I like how you said it that way as well, because for some people, they’re going to write different kinds of stories than you write. That’s what God is leading them to. But the real key is for us to have that discernment about these subtle, well-meaning pieces of advice that can come from both friend and foe. It’s so hard.
How would you say that you were able to discern it? What were the things that really helped you to discern God’s specific leading for you?
Cathy: I think I came to a point, and I don’t know when this realization really hit, but it’s been a few years. I came to realize that the experiences in our lives, the very unique experiences that we have been given, sometimes we fail through those. Sometimes we rise victorious. But those experiences are uniquely ours from the Lord, and we learn unique things.
Now it’s true that there’s nothing new under the sun in one way, but we are uniquely and wonderfully made. The way we perceive what’s happened, the way we engage with what’s happened, those unique experiences are ours, and they’re given for a purpose. We can’t ignore that.
Cathy: But I think as writers we can use either of those experiences, the things we’ve learned from those experiences, the emotions we’ve experienced, we can use those things to transform our writing from entertainment to parable. I think that is the place and the time.
You know, our demons come for us in many forms. Some are overt and some are subtle, as we’ve talked about. But they creep in like thieves in the night. You know, things like shame and addiction and discouragement and despair and feelings of hopelessness or being overlooked. And for writers, we all battle insecurity. No matter how many books publish, no matter how many awards we’ve won, we battle insecurity, discouragement, sometimes jealousy, or envy, or feelings of effectiveness. Or maybe we feel like, “Oh, what’s my purpose?”
Sometimes we have ridicule even from our families or health challenges. Sometimes it’s the challenge of the blank page. It’s a war. It’s a battle every day. I think that realizing how we are uniquely gifted by the Lord with those experiences can really transform our writing.
Karen: I agree. I think it’s the difference between sharing the reality of those battles, the reality of what we went through: being vulnerable and transparent about our failures, as well as our successes, putting that on the page, letting our characters go through those same things and fail and succeed and showing through it all God’s presence and how he works in those things. That’s what transforms our stories such that God can reach and speak to the readers.
I’ve known authors who have written stories and they kind of try to cover up for God, because they feel like if they failed or something bad has happened to them, God blew it. So they have to make everything look good, and they themselves have to seem like everything is great all the time or else people will be saying, “Well, what’s the point of serving God if you have to go through all these difficult things?”
We have to let people know that serving God will bring difficult things. That’s what it is to be in the fellowship of suffering with the Christ who suffered for us, and who suffers with us whenever we struggle. Being a believer and being a Christian writer doesn’t mean everything’s going to go great. It means that when it doesn’t go great, when in fact it goes horribly, horribly wrong, we have a Savior who understands. A Savior who walks with us, and like you said, uses those experiences to refine us and to prepare us, and to use those things to prepare others for the battle.
Cathy: I think that’s so true and so exciting because just like we talk about story, we are the heroes of our own story, and we have that outward journey, just like our characters. And we have that inward journey that the Lord walks us through. If we didn’t have that inward journey, if we didn’t face that conflict and do that battle in our lives or through our characters, there’d be no story.
Karen: Conflict, conflict, conflict.
Cathy: That’s right. Stories should never be short of conflict because if they are, they’re short of victory.
Erin: That’s really the key. The more our characters struggle, the more heroic they appear when they triumph. The same is true in our life, only we don’t want to do that.
Karen: The interesting thing, though, for believers is that yes, there’s triumph, but before the triumph, there has to be surrender. You know, you look at the world today and their message is that you need to be strong and you need to face all this and never surrender, never give up. Yet as believers, we have to surrender everything, but to God.
My husband and I, when we sold the last home that we sold in Illinois, and this is twenty some years ago, it took two years for that house to sell. Now we knew God was leading us to move to Oregon to help my folks. But we couldn’t go anywhere until we sold the house. We were constantly checking again with God and guessing and saying, “What is this all supposed to mean?”
Then after awhile, we just stopped asking those questions. After a while, Don and I created a kind of mantra. We said, “God is in control. I may not understand it. I may not even like it, but he’s in control, and I trust him.” You go into every day saying that several times a day. “I trust you. I don’t get it, but I trust you.”
Cathy: Right. And he is faithful. He is trustworthy. We can see that through history, through the Bible, and throughout our lives.
I love what you said about surrender because until we surrender to him, we don’t have a captain. We don’t have anybody to lead this army. Until we surrender to him, we bow our knee to him, we’re not even able to put on the armor. That armor that’s listed in Ephesians six, that helmet of salvation, that sword of the Spirit, that girdle of truth, that shield of faith that is going to repel the fiery darts of the enemy that aim straight for our hearts.
We have to through faith put on that armor every single day. As writers, if we don’t have that armor on, we have a thin skin, and you can’t be a writer and have a thin skin. You won’t survive.
Karen: No, you really won’t. It seems like there are whole armies of reviewers out there just determined to tell you how you should have written this way and how your story doesn’t work here and how “Good heavens didn’t anybody tell you what a bad idea this was for a book?”
Cathy: No shortage of “help.”
Erin: Cathy, I love that you started your whole writing career or at least your publishing career at age fifty. Talk just a little bit about how that dream came about and happened there at age fifty.
Cathy: Well, it started at age five without the zero at the other end, when I was sitting on a sofa with my younger brother, Danny, and our grandmother was sandwiched between us reading us Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.
That book was magic to me. I thought in my five-year old brain, I couldn’t read, and I believed that those black block symbols on the page were created by magic that enabled Grandma to read that story again and again. She’s like, “Cathy books aren’t created by magic. Real people write books.”
Well, I didn’t believe that could be true, so I challenged her and I said, “If that’s so, can I write books?”
She said, “Well, usually men write books.” My grandmother was, you know, from the Edwardian age. She said, “But I don’t see why not. You have to learn to read.”
I knew always that I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t have the opportunity for that kind of education. Nobody in my family had done it. Nobody believed it could be done, but the dream never died. After my children were old enough, I took classes at night and online for writing, and I started writing for two local newspapers, just picking up light news and features.
Then I started working in the children’s library, and I wrote plays for a group of mothers. We called ourselves The Mom Street Players. We performed in libraries, and the school, and restaurants sometimes. I wrote poetry, and I guess my first publications in Christian literature were with Marlene Bagnall and her book, My Turn to Care: Essays about Caring for Aging Parents.
I did all kinds of writing, whatever I could do. I wrote skits for church. But I always wanted to write a novel. Finally, I started taking a course through Writing for Children and Teenagers. That was a wonderful correspondence course because it was very much like working with an editor. That’s when I started my first novel.
It took me many years to really learn how to write that novel, but that was the beginning. When I sold that novel, I signed that contract on my 50th birthday. It felt like a new beginning, like the Lord had given me this second opportunity at life. I have loved it.
Karen: I know you guys are just hearing our voices, but I hope in Cathy’s voice, you can hear the amazing, beautiful smile on her face right now. We have video. She’s got a great smile as she talks about God letting her step into that dream and making it a reality! That’s what we all want. We all want to step into the dream God has for us and serve him.
Cathy, believe it or not, our time is coming to an end. Do you have any final words of encouragement or wisdom for our listeners today?
Cathy: Just keep writing. Keep reading. Keep believing. Stay deep in the Word of God. Spend time with him every single day in prayer and in the Bible and in meditation. Just be with him and enjoy him and let him enjoy you. Then go forward with the unique experiences he’s given you to write. To live. He will lead you where he means for you to go.
Karen: Amen. Let me conclude today with the Scripture that you mentioned in Ephesians six, starting with verse ten:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” Ephesians 6:10-20 ESV
And for us, keep alert with all perseverance making supplication for all the writers and for each and every one of us who are warriors with pens, that words may be given to us, in writing boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel for which we are ambassadors in chains that we may declare it boldly, put it on the page and write as God calls us to write.
Cathy: Amen.Be a pen warrior and light bearer in your writing! Guest @GohlkeCathy tells how! #amwriting #christianwriter Click To Tweet
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Have you ever felt like a pen warrior? Why or why not?
Book by Cathy Gohlke mentioned in the podcast
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