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114 – Renewal: Why We Need It and How to Get It

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Renewal Why We Need It and How to Get It

We get so busy doing life that we miss the signs…the fatigue, the burnout, the sense that we’ve lost our focus. So what do we do about it when we realize it’s happening? Seek spiritual, professional, and personal renewal, And how, you may ask, do I do that? Well, that’s what we’re here to share with you today!

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Why Renewal Matters

Scripture talks about renewal in several places, and it’s woven into the Gospel itself:

Colossians 3:9-10 says we’ve “taken off [our] old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

2 Corinthians 4:16 (NIV) says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

And Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

We can’t take something this important, renewal, for granted. We need to regularly take stock and purposefully ask, “What needs renewal in our lives?”

But first let’s define renewal better…

Renewal: To make new spiritually

Merriam Webster gives one definition of renewal as “to make new spiritually.”

This isn’t the first definition listed, but we should cover it first, because for us as believers, it all starts with spiritual renewal. First, when we accept Christ, we go from death to life, but it doesn’t stop there. As we live out our faith, we experience—and need—spiritual renewal on a regular basis.

Now, we’re not saying you have to renew your acceptance of Christ. Once you accept His gift of salvation, He covers you with His blood and brings you into relationship with the Father.

No, we’re talking about renewing our commitment to living and following Christ. Why do we need that? Robert Robinson, the writer of “Come Thou Fount,” says it well:

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love…”

He wrote that in 1758, and we have not changed one bit since then. We need to stop and check in with our heart. It’s not “have we wandered from God?” It’s how and where have we wandered from God, and what do we need to do to get back?

Spiritual renewal comes in different ways for everyone. For Karen, it comes when she’s in nature, when she’s playing with her dogs. Through spending time reading God’s Word, or in focused prayer.

If you’re going to try focused time in prayer, one idea is to focus on who God is. What are the various qualities of God? Spend focused time thinking and praying about each one.

Consider spending time with friends who are believers. Talk about God and about living a life of faith. Conversations like those strengthen us, encourage us, and renew us. Another idea is to go on a spiritual retreat or a silent retreat. Take time to be still and know God is GOD. Let Him breathe new life into you.

There are many ways we can find renewal. But ultimately, we need to remember that renewal is in God’s hands. He does this for us, regardless of our location or efforts or anything.

“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.” Isaiah 41:17-18

We don’t need to make renewal. We can’t do that. We need to ask for it, to desire it, but God makes it happen.

Renewal: To make like new, to restore to freshness or vigor

Another definition of renewal, and the first Webster listed, is: “to make like new : restore to freshness, vigor, or perfection.”

Let’s skip the notion of perfection. We’ll never achieve that. But take stock and ask yourself in what areas do you need new freshness or vigor?

Are you:

  • Physically tired, worn out, used up
  • Or creatively burned out, like your ideas have dried up and withered
  • Or maybe it’s professional and you feel like your career has gone stale, or you’ve noticed you’re doing the same old, same old with every book or article
  • Or maybe you’re still new to writing, but you feel like your energy for finishing your first manuscript or even continuing to write has drained away

This is all normal. We go through times like this, where we need to be restored to freshness. And friends, that means we need to first stop and NOTICE that it happened, and second, take the time for renewal.

Physical Renewal

We can’t keep going when our physical bodies are at the breaking point. We don’t have an unlimited supply of energy. We have to manage our bodies. Listen to them and rest when we need to. Are you eating right? Sleeping? Ask yourself, are you doing anything restorative or are you just using up your body?

Creative Renewal

Creative energy is limited. We have to manage it well, using it where God directs. And we have to feed our creativity, to nurture it. Here are a few ideas to nurture or jump start your creativity:

  • Get quiet.
  • Distract Yourself. Let something or someone else do the work for awhile. Try:

Watching cartoons

Going to a movie

Babysitting a child

Visiting the art museum or gallery

  • Do something relaxing. Take a bath or go for a bike ride. But take a pad and pencil or a mini-recorder along to capture ideas when they spark!

For more ideas see Karen’s Creativity Starters.

Be careful as you go forward. Pay attention to how you’re using your creative energy. Plan your activities with an alternation of creativity use and creativity restoration.

Professional Renewal

When you’re evaluating your writing, if you’ve been writing the same old, same old, chances are your readers are noticing that too. Don’t hear us say you should change your brand. We’re saying it’s time to deliberately search for ways to freshen your writing.

●      Take a weekend and read a new writing book, even if you’ve been writing for decades. Or, broaden the source of your stimuli, what you take in everyday. Creativity is about making connections across disciplines and ideas.

Take a class or go to a seminar in something completely new, something you’ve always been interested in but never took the time.

Go to a vineyard, learn to play chess, take up calligraphy, learn a new language, or how to bake bread over rocks at a campfire. Whatever.

Infusing your brain with new ideas and experiences will infuse your writing.

  • If you’re just tired of writing, it’s time to think back and remember why you started writing in the first place. What drew you to it? In the midst of discouragement, deadlines, or delays, what still draws you to it? Write that down. Pray about it. See what God is telling you. Maybe it’s time to stop writing. Priorities change, passions change, interests change. There’s nothing wrong with moving on if that’s what you feel God is telling you.
  • Or maybe it’s time to let God remind you of all the ways your writing pleases Him. All the ways it helps you grow, all the ways it helps you be conformed to the image of Christ.
Renewal: To Restore to Existence, Revive

Another definition of renewal from Webster’s is “to restore to existence, to revive.”

Restoring to Existence

There’s an example of this in the Bible. In 2 Kings, chapters 22-23, at King Josiah’s command, the Israelites restore the temple, and they find the Book of the Law, God’s covenant, which the whole nation seems to have forgotten about. Josiah realizes they haven’t been keeping the commands and he tears his clothes. They rededicate themselves to following God’s laws, to being His people, and have a ceremony to outwardly show the renewal of the covenant.

Maybe you’ve gotten side-tracked from writing. Like the Book of the Law, it’s gotten lost, buried under business or other activities. Or, maybe you had to completely step away for a while.

Take the time to re-evaluate.

It could be time for you to recommit. To make plans again. To set goals and follow through. For some, it helps to have a ceremony of some sort to mark your restoration. This could be as simple as going to the store to buy a new journal, or writing down a new and improved mission statement, or going out with friends or family to celebrate your commitment.

Or, perhaps it ISN’T time to restore your writing time. But that’s okay. You’ve considered it and can move forward with peace. Even if that’s hard because you want to be writing, you know there’s been thought and prayer behind not writing. It’s a decision, not something you drifted to.


One of the things I (Karen) love about spring is seeing my perennials revived. They come back to life.

Maybe your writing career feels like it’s frozen, too. Contracts dried up or got cancelled, and your career seems to have died without your consent. How do you restore that? First and foremost, pray. Submit your career, your writing, your passion to God and ask for His wisdom and guidance.

Then consider if you should try a different genre. If you feel God telling you to keep writing what you know and love, then keep writing. Remember, this is about obedience. And when you obey God, even when it doesn’t make sense to you, your spirit will be renewed.

Physical Restoration

Sometimes we need physical restoration. Perhaps we’ve been debilitatingly sick, or broken a bone, or we needed a surgery of some sort.

We can’t help those things, but what we can do is make sure we’re regularly evaluating: are we ready to re-establish physical activity?

Are my bones healed? Is my body over its illness? We have to ask because it’s easy to slip into complacency and never get back to physical activity.

If your body is ready, excellent. Pick out your first day to get back to work and then, hear me, TAKE IT SLOW. If you’re not ready yet, that’s okay too. You’ve done the work to check.

It’s so easy to get busy and stop exercising. That’s why we need to make time to check in, to evaluate what needs to be re-established in your life that will help you be restored.

Renewal: To Make Extensive Changes

The next definition of renewal from Webster is “to make extensive changes in.”

As writers, we’re painfully aware of the concept of revisions: to make extensive changes in our manuscript. But we need to regularly apply this idea of revision to our lives. Not everyday—but perhaps monthly, quarterly, or whatever is appropriate.

Look at the different areas of your life: your work life, your family life, your relationships with others. Your behavior. Your attitudes. Your health.

Are there revisions you need to make? What’s working? What’s not working? What could be tweaked to be better? What needs a complete overhaul?

Then make a plan to tackle that. Thinking about renewal is only half the battle. The easier half. You have to decide how you want to put your revisions into practice.

Renewal: To Grant an extension

One last definition we should talk about is “to grant or obtain an extension of or on.”

It’s easy for us to get locked into a timetable of our own creation. We become slaves to it, and we get stressed, frustrated, and discouraged if, or I should say when, we can’t live up to it.

So much needless worry comes in our lives when we think we’re in charge of what ultimately is God’s domain: His sovereign will, His perfect timing.

For this kind of evaluation, look at your deadlines. Are they self-imposed or not? Are they causing you stress?

We’re not saying deadlines are bad. Realistic goals are excellent. They help push us to completing projects. But it’s also wise to re-evaluate the time tables you create and adjust them when necessary.

It’s all about trust. Do we trust that God is in control or are we letting our own deadlines rule over us?

Final Scriptures

Remember, we can and should seek renewal, but it’s God who does the work. “I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” Jeremiah 31:25 (NIV)

If God has given you the task to write, be ready and willing to rekindle it. “I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” 2 Timothy 1:6

Renewal. We all need it. Happily, God is ready and waiting to give it to you! #amwriting @karenball1 Click To Tweet
We want to hear from you

In what area of your life do you most need renewal right now? What are your ideas for how to be renewed?


Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Special thanks to our March sponsor of the month, Stacy McLain. Stacy’s been hard at work on her first book—a Christian speculative fiction called Make Known the Path, so be watching for that!

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast Production Services for their fabulous sound editing!


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113 – How God Speaks to Us Through History with Guest Tamera Alexander

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How God Speaks to Us Through History with Guest Tamera Alexander on Write from the DeepThere are all kinds of reasons to pay attention to history, both world history and our own family history. And guest Tamera Alexander helps us see some of the most important reasons of all. She shares how history can inform and enlighten us in our lives, our writing, and our faith. So listen in to this poignant episode as she shares what God has taught her about living, loving, and dying well.

About Tamera Alexander

Tamera Alexander is a USA Today bestselling novelist and one of today’s most beloved authors of inspirational historical romance. Her works have been awarded numerous industry-leading honors—among them the Christy Award, the RITA Award, the Carol Award, Library Journal’s top honors—and have earned the distinction of Publisher’s Weekly Starred Reviews. Her deeply drawn characters and thought-provoking plots have earned her devoted readers worldwide, including Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, and Romania. Tamera and her husband reside in Nashville, Tennessee, where they live a short distance from Nashville’s Belmont Mansion and Belle Meade Plantation, and Carnton—the settings of Tamera’s #1 CBA bestselling Southern series. Learn more about Tamera at her website tameraalexander.com.

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

Erin: Welcome listeners. Welcome to the deep. We’re so excited today! We have a guest. Yay! It’s Tamera Alexander, who’s written all kinds of great historical books. We’re going to let Karen introduce her.

Karen: I met Tamera Alexander, better known as Tammy, gosh, how long has it been, Tammy? Sixteen years?

Tamera: Oh, sixty-five years, maybe? No, just kidding.

Karen: Yes, sixty-five. You were still in the womb when I met you. So was I, for that matter. As you can tell, Tammy and I have an odd relationship. An odd and wonderful relationship. She’s odd and I’m wonderful.

Tamera Alexander is the USA Today bestselling, award-winning author of just amazing Southern historical novels. Her novels from the very first one—I remember reading that first one—they’ve taken readers by storm. Great quality, great emotion. Everything that I tell the people I edit, everything I tell them they should do, she does.

She was inspired to become a writer by her mother-in-law, Claudette, who gave her a book that she took one look at and thought, “Mmm, I’m not interested.” But being a Southern gal, she thanked her sweet mother-in-law profusely and then shoved the book for a later date.

A few weeks later, Tammy got a phone call saying that her mother-in-law had died very suddenly of a brain aneurysm at age 58. In the following months, Tammy happened upon the little book again. She sat down and read it cover to cover and discovered that her long-ago, tucked-away love of writing was, it says on her website, was “given new life.” And the book? Love Comes Softly by Jeanette Oke.

Beautiful, beautiful story. You know, Tamera is a true southerner. She can insult you with the sweetest smile on her face. And she writes what she knows, and that authenticity shines in her work as does her faith. Her greatest hope is that when her reader turns that final page, she prays that they will have taken a step closer to Christ, and I guarantee you that happens with her books.

Tammy and her husband live in the Nashville area. They enjoy life with their two adult children, both of whom are wonderful, and Murphy and Bailey, two rambunctious and utterly adorable Australian terriers. So Tammy, welcome.

Tamera: Thank you, Karen. Thank you, Erin, and thank you for having me here with you guys. I’ve long enjoyed your podcast. So to be a part of it is a real special treat, even though Karen is here. Erin, you and I will just try to have a great time and we’ll try not to let Karen, you know—

Karen: She says that out of jealousy.

Erin: We’ll kick things off here by asking you, Tammy, what does the deep mean to you?

Tamera: Writing from the deep or the deep to me, and actually my word—I’ll, go ahead and share this is—deeper. I’ve been with a group of writers. We meet every summer in Coeur d’Alene. One of those members said, “I focus on a word every year.” So my word this year is deeper.

What the deep means to me, specifically in this place and walk in my life right now, is closer. It’s being closer to the Lord, being more in tuned to his will, being immersed in his Word. Being more attuned to the Holy Spirit.

We were talking about that before we came onto the podcast, about walking in the Spirit, and being in sync, and listening. Basically living life postured in a way to hear. And to hear from the Lord. To live expectantly, not just waiting, but to wait expectantly. Watching and praying.

Erin: I love that. We just had a podcast, by the time this airs it might be a few podcasts ago, and it’s all about hearing God. Sometimes we have trouble hearing because we’re not expecting. We’re not walking in that posture of listening. So I love that.

Tamera: Exactly. Very good.

Karen: So we’ve been emailing back and forth about what we’ll talk about on this podcast, and one of the things that you mentioned was discovering in your writing journey about the lessons we can learn from our ancestors. For instance, I’d like you to tell us about your dad’s situation and the struggle that came because of that and what God finally helped him realize.

Tamera: Oh yeah. My dad was diagnosed with dementia about ten years ago, and then Mother passed about that time. As a matter of fact, they were with me down in Orlando, and the very first time we found out about it, it was time for the Christie’s. They were there for the award.

He went out on a walk, and he called Mom and said, “Junebug,”—that’s what he used to call her, her name was June. And he said, “I don’t know where I am.” And June, my mom said, “Well, honey, you’re in Orlando…” Anyway, Mother then passed about a year after that. She passed in ’09. So dad came to live with us for a while, and the dementia was a slow walk at that point.

Dad got remarried. His path crossed that with a wonderful woman, Esta. Oh and listen to the full name: Esta Maude Higgins. Do you not think that’s gonna go into a Southern novel someday?

Esta and Dad had been friends when they were really young. So they were married. Dad was 80. She was 79. I love that December romance.

She was a nurse. I pulled her aside and I made sure. I said, “You know that there is the—we don’t think it’s Alzheimer’s, but it could be—we just don’t know.” And she said, “I already see it. I love your dad. I’m all in.” So they married. They had about two, two and a half years.

Then Dad was just no longer able—she couldn’t care for him at home anymore. So we found a memory care center there in Atlanta. I kept the roads hot for the last couple of years. I would just go home every couple of weeks or every week and see Dad. Thankfully, Nashville’s a hop, skip, and jump, not four hours maybe from Atlanta. So that was wonderful.

But, just to watch him—I told someone the other day—watching him, walking him home, was honestly the last great gift that he gave to me. I often say that Mother taught me how to live well, and she taught me how to die well. And Dad just taught me what it meant. Even as he was so strong in his faith early on in his life, and the faith turned very childlike the longer down that road it went.

I’ll never forget—I was talking to him once toward the end, probably two or three months before he passed—I was hugging and kissing him and about to head out, and I was telling him that even as God was going to be with me as I was driving back to Nashville—I would call Dad on our echo show, where we could see each other, I gave him one and I had one so we could talk back and forth that way. I said, “Even as God is with me, he is here with you, and he can be in both places at once.” Because Dad was afraid because I had prayed that God would be there with him, and Dad wanted God in the car with me, too.

It was the sweetest thing. And he said, “Who taught you that?”

I said, “Well, Daddy, you taught me that.” And he just, his eyes teared up. That was just one of the greatest gifts to me. Walking him home and reliving. Definitely the parent becoming the child and the child becoming the parent.

For anyone out there who has a parent who has dementia or Alzheimer’s, it is a hard, hard road, but it is a road with incredible blessing along the way. So I’m just, I’m really thankful to Dad for that.

Erin: How do things like that make it into your writing? Obviously they affect you profoundly. How does that translate for you on the page, or when you’re even trying to write and going through those emotions?

Tamera: When Dad was first diagnosed, I have to turn several books back, it was the second Belmont Mansion book. I actually wrote that, wrote the heroine’s father having dementia. But in the mid 19th century, they did not know about dementia. They thought it was insanity.

They had insane asylums. In the Belmont Mansion book, A Beauty So Rare, Adelicia Acklen, the richest woman in America, she was the one of the secondary characters in that book. Her husband was the director of the Nashville insane asylum. I really wanted to explore what life was like, so I went back and studied all the insane asylum history that we had and how they treated them.

Nashville was actually a model asylum. They would bring people here ’cause you can imagine—if you know anything about that history, I mean, they were chained. They were just shoved off. It was horrific. So that was my first story to really explore dementia and what it would mean. Her father during the course of that story—you know, it’s one thing to write about it, and it’s another thing to live it. But God met me on the page just like he did about six months before my mother passed. I was in the middle of a book. It was Within My Heart. That was one of the Colorado territory books.

The whole premise of that book was, what do you do when God chooses not to heal? Then Mother’s diagnosis of gallbladder cancer came up. From diagnosis to when she passed was six months. God met me on the page in a big way with that one because not only was I, you know, not only was I walking with her but writing the book.

It came to that point where we realized very quickly that she was not going to be healed. But again, one of the most important lessons I learned, specifically from that time and was reminded again with Dad, was the person dying gets to choose.

There comes a time, especially with Mom, with cancer, where you stop forcing them to try to eat, or strongly encouraging, quote unquote.  You just want so much for them to linger, to stay here, until you finally realize, this is not about me.

God is going to strengthen me to walk them home. And that is my job. The person dying gets to choose. It needs to be at their pace, and I need to give them free rein for, when the Lord calls them home, for them to just run after him. So that’s what I started whispering to Mom.

In the last two to three days, I would just lean down and whisper, “As soon as you see Jesus, you run for him for all your worth. You just run for him.” She was really worried about leaving Dad with the dementia, and I said, “Don’t you worry. We will take care of Dad.” And I said, “We’ll be right behind you. You’re going to turn around soon enough and we’ll be there.”

I whispered the very same thing to Dad. I feel so incredibly blessed to have been there when both of my parents passed because I’ve found out that’s not a common thing in this day and age where we’re so spread out.

That was a gift that God gave to me. Maybe something within me needed that and God knew that, but I was just so grateful to be able to be there with them both of those times.

Erin: Yeah.

Tamera: Sorry to be so heavy.

Karen: No, no, that was great.

Erin: These are the things we deal with. This is life. Life is also death.

Karen: Erin walked the road with me when Daddy was in his last few weeks from the stomach cancer he was diagnosed with in ’15 and then we lost him in ’16. She came during those last weeks. She was there and such an incredible emotional support for me and for dad.

And she actually, she and my husband Don, were with Daddy when he finally passed. I was so tired. I went to bed and Don came in and woke me up with a kiss and said that Dad was gone. So they were there with him.

Tamera: How precious.

Karen: It is, and you know, that whole situation of letting go—I so wanted Dad to stay.

My mom died in 2002. I had always told Dad, “I’ve had to do this gig without Mom. I’m not doing it without you.” And so when it was clear that he was leaving, I still wanted to fight.

The hospice worker took me aside and she said, “He’s in hospice. You need to let him go, and to give him the freedom to go.”

Once I was finally able to do that, once I went to God and I said, “What do you want of me here?” and realized that that’s what needed to happen, it was terrible. Because I knew the end was coming. But it was so much better. Like you, there were so many blessings woven into that whole time.

I still sometimes just sit and think about it and weep both for the loss and for the joy of what God did.

Tamera: And also to realize—I was sharing this with a friend not long ago—when a believer passes, I do remember the death days. If you look through the Bible, more often than not, they don’t tell you when a person is born. They tell you when that person passed into eternity: He lived this long and then he died.

So I do remember death days. My husband used to think, and he kind of still thinks, that’s really morbid and kind of strange. But I look at it, I mean, that’s the graduation day. That’s the day. That’s the goal of your salvation. You see Christ Jesus face to face.

I’ve read the Bible cover to cover, and there are certain verses you think, “So does this mean this? Does this mean that?” But without a doubt, we know when Paul says it is so much better to die and to be with the Lord, I don’t know what exactly that means. All I know is we’re with Jesus. Done! Done.

Erin: Amen.

Tamera: That’s what I remember about those. And I celebrate those death days.

Something else in writing historical fiction, that also then impressed me going through my dad’s things just this past fall and clearing things out, is that we all leave something behind. That’s true as I’ve read and written about these real people in these Southern mansions and the real battles, and read just scores of diaries and accounts. We all leave something behind.

Yes, some of the physical things we leave behind do say a lot about us, but I’ll tell you what: I treasure the letters. I treasure letters from my grandmother, my grandparents, to my parents back and forth, and I treasure my dad’s Bible, my mom’s Bible. It makes me ask myself, “What am I leaving behind if I were to die right now?”

The conversations, and of course in this day and age, the emails, the verbal texts. What am I leaving behind? And is that going to be enough to point people who are coming behind me to Christ? It’s not about remembering what I’ve done. That just pales. You want to point people to Jesus Christ because that’s where the saving grace and the strength is.

That’s something that resonates throughout, when I write these historical novels, is looking at them and thinking, you had no idea that 150 years later, this crazy woman in Franklin, Tennessee, is going to be reading your intimate love letters and writing your story. Hope you’re okay with that! But yeah, looking at what you left behind and the heritage of faith.

Erin: I think on one hand that’s great, but it’s also challenging because today we have all these things—social media  and texting—and man, there’s probably a lot of words that I might be leaving behind that I don’t want to. I hope that’s a challenge for us to not just look at what kind of good legacy we can leave, but also let’s curate ourselves, you know? Let’s think before we put something out there in the world.

Tamera: Amen.

Karen: Something I used to do, well, I still do it, but I delete things right away, is write something when I’m angry or frustrated or, whatever, I write it in a Word document or I write it in an email to myself and then go through it again and see what really should come out. This kind of conversation reminds me that I need to go back and get rid of some of those things!

Tamera: Oh yes. Here, let me have your laptop for just an hour, Karen. Just an hour. I’ll hold that for you.

Karen: I think not.

Erin: It’s the lost letters of Karen Ball!

Karen: And then there are some of the pictures that I have of Tamera Alexander…

Tamera: We’re friends. I’ll be good. I’ll be good.

Karen: The other thing that I did a number of years ago, because of traveling so much—and Tammy, I’m sure you do the same thing, or if you haven’t, you should—is that I wrote letters to everybody that matters. They’re in a fire safe. I will go in and I will revise those letters as the years go by.

So if anything happens to me, people don’t think, “Well, I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.” Because I can say the things that I should have said in those letters, and they’re there waiting for them.

Tamera: That’s good. And I have done that, but that does remind me as matter of fact, I’m writing a note right now, is that Joe and I are going to go through our will. It’s time to do all that. It’s time to do all of that stuff. But I’m just going to write, “letters, update,” here because I need to do that.

Something that happened, I remember when Mom was in her, probably the last two or three months. I was in Atlanta and I had just gotten back home, 45 minutes drive from the hospital and Dad and I had traded off, so he was staying with her for the night.

I just walked into the house, into their condo and the phone rang. He said, “Mom’s dying. You need to hurry up and get back.” So I immediately went back. The whole time I thought, “I just want to see her again. I want to see her again. I want to say I love you again.”

But what hit me before I even got to the room was, we had learned to live with everything said. That’s another lesson through this. With the people right now, people that you love, people that you’re friends with—this strikes a little bit to don’t let the sun go down on your anger—if there’s something that you have against someone or that you know that they have against you, go and reconcile.

Live with everything said. There is such a peace in that.

There’s such a blessing just to know that if, you know, if on my way to Walmart, I’m gone, everything’s been said. There’s no deep dark secret that I needed to apologize for or anything. I would wish to tell you I love you one more time, but you already know that. That’s something that I learned through those journeys as well.

Karen: Well, Tammy, it has been so great having you here. Thank you so much for all the wisdom and the wonderful truths that you’ve been sharing with us. I can’t believe how fast time has gone, so thank you.

Tamera: I really appreciate what y’all do.

Erin: Before you’re all saying thank you, let’s just put her on the spot one last time here. Or maybe you have one last final word of wisdom from all your collected historical study. Anything you’ve learned from history or whatever that you want to share and leave our listeners with.

Tamera: I’ll just encapsulate it to one. It was really how my writing journey started out. I had gone to a conference. Someone said, “Would you send us the full of this?” So I sent it. I sent the full manuscript in and then you’re waiting.

That Sunday, as I get home—I was on the praise team—and we’re praying, and I hear God as clearly as if I’m just hearing you and Karen in my head right now, “Would you write this book if you knew you were writing it only for me?”

At first I thought, “Aaah, voice of God.” I mean, I’ve heard that on maybe one hand. And then it happened again. “Would you write this book if you knew you’re writing it only for me?”

In that moment I knew that if I did, number one, God had my writing career in his hand, and that whether my books sold or whether they didn’t sell well, I was to write for an audience of one. Period.

This was about him. It wasn’t about me.

For all the writers out there, really meet with God on that. We want our books to sell well, but the bottom line, it is about writing for the audience of one. And would you write this book if you knew you were writing it only for God?

And I very humbly, but also with one eye open, said, “Yes, I will, Lord.” But the very human side of me wrestles with that again. And he keeps pulling me back, keeps pulling me back to, “You’re writing for me alone, and don’t worry about all the other stuff. Just write it for me.”

So that’s my constant plea, my constant prayer. To write for him alone.

Karen: The Scripture that we can leave you with today is Exodus 19:5: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations, you will be my treasured possession.” We are his treasured possession.

We see that in Tammy and her walk of faith in her life and in her faith and obedience in her writing. And we see that in the deep. We see the ways that he refines us and he touches us and he teaches us. So good to know we’re not alone on this path. So thanks, Tammy. Really appreciate it so much.

Tamera: Thank you! God bless.

Erin: Thank you.

What has God taught historical fiction writer Tamera Alexander about living, loving, and dying well? Come find out! @tameraalexander @Karenball1 #amwriting Click To Tweet
Books mentioned in the podcast

Within My Heart by Tamera Alexander

Within my Heart by Tamera Alexander

A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander

A Beauty so Rare by Tamera Alexander

We want to hear from you!

What has God taught you through your own or your family’s history?


Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Special thanks to our March sponsor of the month, Stacy McLain. Stacy’s been hard at work on her first book—a Christian speculative fiction called Make Known the Path, so be watching for that!

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast Production Services for their fabulous sound editing!


Want the latest news from Karen and Erin? Click here to join our newsletter and get an exclusive audio download.

112 – Where’s Our Happily Ever After? with Guest Linda S. Clare

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Where's Our Happily Ever After Guest Linda S ClareGuest Linda S. Clare has faced countless family crises, and begged God for deliverance. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, as she puts it, “In my life, God hardly ever delivers me out of a problem, but He carries me through it.” Come listen in as she shares all she’s learned about family, faith, and God’s love in the deep.

About Linda S. Clare

Linda S. Clare is the author or coauthor of seven books, including her latest, Prayers for Parents of Prodigals, from Harvest House Publishers. A longtime writing teacher and coach, Linda also contributes to Guideposts, Chicken Soup books, MomPower.org and The Addict’s Mom. She lives with her family in Oregon.

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

Erin: Hello, writers, and welcome to the deep. We are so glad you’re here with us. And we also have a guest. We have Linda S. Clare with us today, and I’m going to let Karen introduce her because she’s good at it!

Karen: I’ve known Linda for quite a few years. She was one of my clients when I was an agent, one of the first people that I signed, because she’s very talented as a writer.

If you haven’t read her books, get out there and read them. But she’s faced countless family crises, and she’s still been able to write books in the midst of all that. It’s been amazing to see what she’s accomplished in her life.

She’s been writing professionally since 1993, and she’s taught fiction, memoir, and essay writing for Lane Community College for more than a dozen years. So, she’s a prof! In addition to her published books and award-winning short stories, her articles and essays, she works as a writing advisor for George Fox University, which I think is very cool. She’s a frequent presenter at writer’s conferences with good reason.

In her spare time, all that spare time that she’s got, she dotes on her grand babies, collects too many cats, she gardens and walks on the beach. And Linda is a fellow Oregonian, so she lives in Oregon with her family and all those wayward cats. Linda, welcome to Write from the Deep.

Linda: Thank you for having me today, Erin and Karen. I’m so happy to be talking with you this morning because the deeper my writing goes, the better writer I am, so I know I’m in the right place.

Erin: Tell us, Linda, what does the deep mean to you?

Linda: The deep. Oh my gosh. It means everything to every writer, but especially to a Christian writer, because the deep is where you find him. That’s where Jesus hangs out. He hangs out in the deepest places. The places that hurt us, the places that make us say, “I can’t go on.” The places where we are so frustrated that we cry out for his presence.

That’s what the deep means to me. We have a little saying in the community college classes that I taught: crack it open. When I would teach, especially memoir writing about people’s lives, I would say, “This part is really good. Crack it open.”

When you crack something open, where does it go?”

It goes eventually––sometimes we have to have a few layers before we get there––but eventually we go to the deep.

Karen: Yup. Very good. Thank you.

Erin: Exactly. I love it. One of the reasons that we wanted to talk to you today is that you have some struggles that you face as a writer because of family issues and family members dealing with serious issues.

Talk a little bit about how you’ve written through that and how that affects your writing.

Linda: Even back in the 90s, addiction was already rearing its head in my family. I have a middle child who, I always say, is a beautiful boy, if there ever was one. He’s incredibly good looking. I mean, really.

When he began to show signs of addiction, even like in the sixth grade, then we were alarmed. At first we said, “Okay, it’s a phase. He’ll go through this and then he’ll be okay.” Just for the record, this child had had some mental health issues since first grade. So he had already been to social workers, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, you name it.

He had been on Prozac. He had been on all that stuff as a little boy. By 2000, around the turn of the century, he and his older brother, who was about two and a half years older, were still giving us problems. And we still believed it was a phase.

Two buddies of mine, Heather Kopp and Melody Carlson, we got together and we wrote a book called Lost Boys and the Moms who Love Them because we each had at least two boys.

I was the only one who has a girl. Because I have four children, not two like them. Anyway, it was going on even back then. Fast forward twenty years. At the time I thought that only one child had a problem, which turned into be a method addiction, which is one of the worst ones if you ask people.

Karen: Right.

Linda: No, it’s all three of my sons. I have four children altogether. Two of them are twins. I only asked for three, but I got four. I didn’t know I was having twins, by the way. All three of my sons have substance use disorder, which is the nice name that they give it now, instead of addiction.

Two are alcoholics. The middle son is still mostly a meth addict and he struggles mightily. All three of them struggle mightily against it. When I was having all three of my sons living with me about five years ago, my husband ended up in the hospital with a heart attack, and he received some stents. Those things that prop open your arteries when they’re all plugged up.

One of them blew during the procedure, so they had to rush him back in and do another. Somewhere in that big chaos, the plaque on the inside of his arteries caused something called a cholesterol embolism. Bottom line is that he’ll be on kidney dialysis for the rest of his life.

At that time, it was four days a week, and if you know anything about kidney disease, each dialysis time takes four hours.

Karen: Right.

Linda: In which they take all your blood out and cleanse it, remove toxins, and then put it all back in. Not all at once!

Erin: I’m assuming you’re the caregiver during this time.

Linda: I am the caregiver, and I had all three sons living with us. Boomerang kids. They’re all grown ups, but they were living with us. Different circumstances.

Erin: And you’re trying to write during this time?

Linda: I’m trying to write during this time. In fact, during that time, a friend of mine and four other editors put together––I wrote a once-a-month blog post that year for C.S. Laken and her Live, Write, Thrive blog, and then she put it all into a book and gosh, five years later, I’m still getting royalties off that.

Karen: That’s great.

Linda: It was. It was a wonderful way to put a lot of really solid writing advice into book form. I can’t believe how well that book has done. I think one of the secrets to it is that it has before and after examples for each thing.

Anyway, I was writing. I was also spending a lot of time at the hospital. My husband kept having crisis after crisis. I would come home at night from the hospital and expected my three grown sons to act like adults when I came home exhausted, knowing that their father was clinging to life.

No. They were out in my garage every night carrying on. Getting into arguments the way only Irish American people do.

I was flummoxed. I was so unprepared for that. And so what do you do with all that baggage? I think that’s where all that stuff, when we talk about writing from the deep, really comes in.

At the time I wrote about my experience as catharsis, as therapy for me. You’re going through a terrible part of your life. You know, somebody’s got cancer, somebody’s been cheated on, somebody’s kid’s got something bad wrong with them. There’s addiction. Whatever the issue is, even writing as a journal is a way for you to stay connected to God during that difficult time, just pouring out your thoughts.

But I also learned something. I wrote some pieces for Chicken Soup––different call out submissions. And they rejected every single one of them, because I was in this deep, dark place. I was in the deep. And of course those books are meant to be positive and optimistic, and I was just not there.

It taught me that maybe I didn’t need to be making money in that classical sense of the word at that time. I was writing more to God than I was as a professional writer for publication.

Karen: Right. When we were talking earlier, you made a comment that I think is so powerful. You were saying that, you know, you’d prayed for God to come and deliver you and your family from all these things.

You said, “In my life, God hardly ever delivers me out of a problem, but he carries me through it.”

In my life, God hardly ever delivers me out of a problem, but he carries me through it. @lindasclare #amwriting @karenball1 Click To Tweet

Linda: That’s right.

Karen: I think that’s such a powerful truth. That’s a truth that we all need to hold onto. We all want, and we’ve talked about this before in our podcast, we all want out of the deep as fast as possible, but sometimes God says, “This is where you need to tarry, and I will carry you through these struggles. I will be there and I will provide and supply for you.”

What were some of the ways that you saw God carrying you?

Linda: I saw God carrying me in all different ways. It was absolutely amazing, and it changed my life because I was so far in the deep, not only with my sons, but with my husband, whom I thought might die at any time. I was forced to really reevaluate, who do I think Jesus is?

Who do I think God is? What does that mean to me and why am I writing in this area? Why do I write as a Christian writer? It helped me redefine not only who I am, but who Jesus is for me. And it stopped being a, “Yeah, I believe in Jesus.” And I started walking with him.

And I noticed that when I would come home and have those horrible nights where the boys would be fighting, and I was all alone that there was somebody with me. It was almost as cheesy as those old bookstore posters of the footprints in the sand. You know? But it was real. It wasn’t just a poster anymore. It was something like, “Oh, he really is walking here with me.”

One of the things that has happened, although I’m sure it’s a little more slowly than God would prefer, is that I’m learning how to reject tough love when it means severing relationship with my sons, but I’m also learning how to create boundaries that are healthier for me.

I mean, just last week I ran into a woman who runs a ministry in Minnesota. She’s from Minnesota, anyway. I was asking her some questions, “Would you recommend my new book, Prayers for Parents of Prodigals coming out?” And she wrote back, “Yes, I would.”

Then I told her, “But my real book is called Not Tough Love, Just Love. That’s the one I get rejected all the time. She wrote back and she said, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe this. I have already set aside the domain name of just love ministries.”

Karen: Oh my gosh.

Linda: Now we are planning to collaborate on the book. She has the letters after her name. She’s a licensed drug and alcohol counselor. I have no letters after my name except D-U-M-B sometimes.

Karen: Oh, stop it!

Linda: Or D-O-H like Homer, “Doh!” But I can write. I don’t know if this is where God’s leading me, but this is where I’ve been carried so far.

Karen: That’s so much like what happened with Erin and me when we first realized that we both had this passion for being chaplains to writers and encouraging them spiritually. God just orchestrated it so perfectly and we look back on that, how long ago was that? Five years, Erin?

Erin: Oh, seven maybe.

Karen: Seven years ago and we look back at that, and we’re just amazed at the way that he does things if we look to him instead of looking and trying to figure things out ourselves.

That’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my family crises and dealing with the things that we have is that it’s not my circus and not my monkeys, unless God tells me it is. It’s not my circus and not my monkeys, and he will take care of those details.

I just need to be obedient in the tasks he’s given me.

Linda: Yeah. And there is another thing that I really wanted the writers out there to hear today. One thing that I’ve learned as God carries me through all this is trust your gut. When you’re covering yourself, “Oh, I don’t want people to know that. I can’t let people see this.” Then you are not writing from the deep. I’m sorry.

You may have to be vulnerable, but here’s the thing. When Jesus calls us to follow him, he asks us to keep our hearts fresh and open and vulnerable. If you can’t be vulnerable in front of your readers, they aren’t going to see themselves. Because they are longing for somebody to see them.

They are longing to see themselves in what you write.

Karen: Amen.

Erin: Linda, how did you do that? How did you come to that ability given the terrible things you were going through and the loneliness and the difficulty? What are some ways that you were encouraging yourself to open up when you had to have been so pummeled? How’d you open up?

Linda: I feel like it all started with a little memoir that I wrote a while ago that’s still not published. It’s called One Hand Clapping. It’s all about several visits to a Shriner’s hospital in Salt Lake city that I underwent from about age nine to about age twelve.

I’m from Yuma, Arizona, but the hospital is in Salt Lake city, so I always had to go by myself. You would stay for like three months without any kind of parental family around. I learned to be self-reliant.

I remember when I first started writing this story, I was trying to ask my mother––I’m a polio survivor, and I’ve been disabled most of my life, I use one arm––and I asked Mom for some details of that time of when I was a kid going to that hospital.

She turned around to me and she said, “Oh, but Linda, that’s all over now.” And I remember thinking, “Well, not for me, it’s not.” By journeying back to that little girl who was the scared little girl. In that hospital at that time, I mean, they didn’t hand out teddy bears back then.

They would only allow you to keep your shoes, two books, and stationary. Everything else was hospital issue. Your clothing, you went to school there, everything. You weren’t allowed to have toys. Nothing from home.

Erin: Wow.

Linda: One of the things that was my precious possession was a little white Bible with a gold zipper on it and a cross for the pull.

Karen: I remember those.

Linda: Yeah. Jesus’ words in red letters, and I kept it under my pillow because I was so terrified. I was on a ward with 12 other girls. We all had major surgery. Major orthopedic surgery, I might say. They’ve expanded since.

But that experience I had sort of tucked away, and that’s what I’m getting at when I say, “Open your heart. Be willing to be vulnerable, because God says, ‘Love.'” God is love. And what is love if it is not vulnerable?

You have to be willing to open yourself. As I did that, all these memories came flooding back, and I had to deal with some stuff. I had to deal with the fact that I was in that place for three months and no one ever came to see me.

Erin: Yeah.

Linda: That I would sit on my bed every Sunday afternoon from 1:30 to 4:00 visiting hours and just sit there, you know?

I had to unpack all that. At first, of course, I was mad at everybody because I get mad easy. But now it’s part of the way that I understand how important it is not to hold back. How to reach other people.

I had a little saying when I taught memoir classes and it went like this: You say a memoir is about your life, but it’s really not about you.

It’s about your reader. It’s about what your reader sees in themselves as they’re reading and how they relate to what you’re saying and if you are holding back, if you are saying, “I’m only going to give you the nice Linda, the good Linda,” then you’re not going to be able to reach that place.

Karen: It’s authenticity, and we need that on the page. We need that in the church. We need that in our relationships. If you are hiding a part of yourself because you’re ashamed of it or because you’re afraid of what people will think, you’re cheating God out of being able to use that, not just to help others, but to help and refine you.

Linda: Yes.

Karen: If you’re not going to be honest about the things you’ve gone through and the struggles and who God has been to you in the midst of it, then why bother writing?

Linda: I feel like it’s also a good thing to remember though, too, that when you are vulnerable, it’s okay to be terrified. I’m still terrified. But you go back to that idea that he carries me. He carries me through it so that I can afford to be vulnerable.

Erin: There’s a great Bible verse that talks about that. It’s Isaiah 46:4, and this is the NIV version. It says, “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you. I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

I can’t think of a better promise than that.

Linda: No, I can’t either.

Karen: It’s so easy for us, especially if you’ve been in the church all your life, to read over those things and to say, “Yeah, yeah,” and to quote it, but you don’t really understand it. You don’t really embrace it.

When things get hard, we freak out and we wonder where God is instead of remembering that he’s right there with us, and he’s carrying us like you’ve shown so clearly, Linda.

Thank you so much for being here and for sharing what you’ve learned about God and family struggles and faith in the midst of it all. I know that you’ll bless our listeners because you’ve blessed me, and I’m sure you’ve blessed Erin in the midst of it.

God is good all the time. That’s a catch phrase, but it’s true. Friends, God is good all the time. You don’t have to doubt it. You don’t have to wonder if he’s with you. He is, and he will carry you. He’s made that promise and it’s a promise you can count on.

Erin: Yes. Amen. Thank you, Linda. We will have the links for your books in the show notes. Prayers for Parents of Prodigals and some of the other books we mentioned. Everyone, there’ll be links in the show notes. Thank you so much for being here, Linda.

Linda: All right, well, you guys are doing a good job. I really love what you’re doing. I mean, I honestly want to say thank you. Not only for having me on, but also to say this is a message that writers need to hear. I’ve been teaching at Mount Herman the last two or three years, and that’s all I ever tell people is, you know, be who you are.

Erin: Yes. Amen.

Books Mentioned in the Podcast:

Prayers for Parents of Prodigals by Linda S. Clare

Prayers for Parents of Prodigals by Linda S. Clare

Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them by Melody Carlson, Heather Kopp, and Linda S. Clare

Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them

We want to hear from you!

Do you have a prodigal? What gives you encouragement as you wait and pray?


Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Special thanks to our February sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow! Tammy is a southern author and a speaker at women’s retreats. Her novel Blood Beneath the Pines is set mostly in the deep South and is a tale of prevailing justice. Find out more about Tammy at her website: Tammypartlow.com

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast Production Services for their fabulous sound editing!


Want the latest news from Karen and Erin? Click here to join our newsletter and get an exclusive audio download.

111 – Hearing God, Part 2

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Hearing God Part 2 Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young

Too many of us want to hear from God, but don’t seem to do so. We’ve explored, in the previous podcast, Hearing God, Part 1, what some obstacles to hearing God are and how to overcome them. Now we’ll dig in to how you can recognize God when He speaks. What does He sound like? And how can you know if you’re truly hearing God? Or if it’s someone—or something—else?

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Reasons We May Struggle with Hearing God – a brief review
  • We don’t know how to listen or how to focus. Or, we do know how, but we don’t take the time to do it.
  • We want to see big picture all at once. Or, we want a guaranteed outcome, or just an answer right now for what’s bothering us.
  • We don’t expect God to communicate with us. We believe we’re not important enough or spiritual enough. Or we’re expecting big flashing signs, rather than God’s still small voice.
  • We’re in sin, and that’s separating us from God and his voice.

We talked about how the foundation of hearing God is about relationship. He doesn’t want to give you a set of directions and leave you be. He wants you to walk with him.

Loneliness and the human condition

Dallas Willard, in his book Hearing God, talks about loneliness. Even when we’re in good relationships with people, we still struggle with loneliness. But with God, it’s a totally different story. He’s the only being who knows us perfectly, and who is with us always.

He’s in our thoughts, our spirit, our heart. It’s a closeness we can’t get with any other human. Through birth, death, and beyond, God is the only one who can be, and IS, with us through it all. Our human relationships will come and go, but not our relationship with God. He will never leave us nor forsake us. It makes sense that we should put as much effort as we can into cultivating that relationship.

Recognizing God’s Voice

How do we know when we’re hearing God and not our wishful thinking, or thoughts from Satan, or words from someone who’s misguided?

Characteristics of God’s Voice

—There’s a weight of authority, a sense of power to God’s voice as it impacts us.

—God’s voice doesn’t argue with us or try to talk us into doing something. It merely speaks with authority. His voice is not condemning or accusing. That’s a tactic of Satan or our flesh.

—We may notice a powerful effect God’s voice has on us. Even if, at the time, it didn’t seem like some huge revelation, it alters who we are and how we act.

—There is a deep love; a peace, a sureness, and a joy that is the spirit of the voice of God. Think of who Christ was as he walked the earth, the compassion and tenderness. He is still that person. Even if God is telling you of some wrong you’re doing, you should never feel belittled.

—The content of God’s voice must conform to the principles in Scripture and never contradict it.

“…what we discern when we learn to recognize God‘s voice in our heart is a certain weight or force, a certain spirit, and a certain content in the thoughts that come in God’s communication to us. These three things in combination mark the voice of God.”  Dallas Willard, Hearing God

There’s no quick and easy field test for recognizing God’s voice, unless what you hear clearly contradicts Scripture. Hearing God, learning to recognize his voice, especially within your own mind, takes time, practice, and experience.

After first meeting someone and talking to them for a few minutes, you wouldn’t presume you could recognize their voice if they called you on the phone.

But eventually, over time, you’d become familiar with the tone of their voice, the pitch, the spirit of who they are, the way they phrase things, and you’d learn to recognize them. For you fiction writers, this is what it means to establish character voice in your story, or your own voice as an author. Recognizing God’s voice isn’t an immediate thing. You grow to learn it.

Hearing God is an individual experience

How you experience hearing God is individual. Don’t expect your experience to be the same as someone else’s. You’re neither more nor less spiritual than someone else whom God works differently with. Your goal is to figure out how it works between you and God, and even then don’t expect it to always be the same!

In his book, Dallas Willard describes his own hearing of God as “a characteristic type of thought and impulse, which was to me the moving of God upon my mind and heart.”

Your experience may be more sensory, or more oriented to words and thoughts, or anywhere in between. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. It’s still about opening yourself to God’s presence in relationship.

Keep in mind that even after years of practice, after years of feeling like we can recognize God’s voice, we still aren’t infallible. God is the only one who is infallible. We can’t fixate on perfection, or stress, or give up if we make a mistake. God still desires the same thing no matter what: a continuing relationship.

FINAL TIPS for hearing God

There’s been so much in this topic, we could never cover it all, but here’s some final tips:

1. Walk in openness to God’s Spirit.

Be constantly open to God’s voice, with a listening posture that’s attentive and expectant all the time.

One of Webster’s definitions of listening is: to be alert to catch an expected sound. So if we want to hear God, we have to expect Him to speak.

2. Don’t be the one who’s always talking.

Remember, hearing God isn’t about “doing prayer.” It’s about being in relationship.

Don’t hear us saying you shouldn’t be praying. Look at how often the apostle Paul talks about praying.  Philippians 1:9, for example, says, “I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment.”

So it’s okay to “do prayer.” I (Erin) need to plan time in my day and week to meditate on God’s Word, to remember His works, to consider who He is, and to intercede for myself and others. It’s important to me to help ground me and feed my mind and spirit. But that’s only PART of my relationship with God.

Even when we have planned prayer times, we still need to try to walk in as constant of a connection with God as we can. In relationship and communication throughout our day, because relationship is a quality of being together in daily life.

3. God isn’t interested in making robots.

His goal isn’t to have us blindly carry out a detailed set of instructions all day long. Rather, he wants us to grow and learn who he is so that our lives are about our character continuing to conform to Christ, partnering with Him for the work of the Kingdom.

Hearing from God isn’t about doing things right, but it’s about being. Being in relationship with God. Spending time with him, trusting that he’s always there. Building familiarity and trust just as you do with your family and friends. There’s no better place to be than in God’s presence, and there’s no voice so sweet and loving and TRUE as God’s.

“The LORD your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior, He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” Zephaniah 3:17


How do you recognize God’s voice? What helped you learn that?

Do you struggle to recognize God's voice? #amwriting Click To Tweet

Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Special thanks to our February sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow! Tammy is a southern author and a speaker at women’s retreats. Her novel Blood Beneath the Pines is set mostly in the deep South and is a tale of prevailing justice. Find out more about Tammy at her website: Tammypartlow.com

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast Production Services for their fabulous sound editing!


Want the latest news from Karen and Erin? Click here to join our newsletter and get an exclusive audio download.

110 – Hearing God, Part 1

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Hearing God part 1 Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungEver spent time praying and doing everything you know to do so that you can hear God speak to your heart? You listen and listen and…silence? Join us as we dig into the obstacles to hearing from God––and how to overcome them.

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Today we want to talk about hearing God. We’re Christians, we’re followers of Christ, yet many of us struggle to hear God. To know where God is leading us. To know God’s will for us. Maybe we’ve got a big decision to make, or we simply need direction, or we want a closer relationship with Christ. We hear others say things like “God told me…this or that.” We ask, we pray, we seek, and yet we hear…nothing. Why?

Reasons we may struggle with hearing God
1. We don’t know how to listen

What is listening?

One of Webster’s definitions says:

  • to hear something with thoughtful attention

We would say listening is a state of thoughtful, receptive focus; sincere engagement. You’re focusing your mind AND your heart to give something your attention.

We live in a noisy world bombarding us every day. We’ve lost the ability to stop and focus, we’ve lost the ability to give quiet attention to anything, or careful consideration.

This is a skill many of us need to practice. Start by listening to people. You probably have co-workers, family, friends, who all want someone to listen to them. This will help you learn to listen to God.

There’s a difference in how I listened to tornado sirens in Oklahoma. Every Saturday at noon they tested them. When the sky was blue and the sun was shining I ignored their wailing for 5 solid minutes.

But when the sky went dark and the wind was whipping through my backyard trees swirling in scary circles, I tuned in to those sirens because they’re going to communicate when and if I needed to take shelter. Because in less than a minute, a mile-wide F-5 tornado could form and head straight for my house.

This is the kind of listening we need to do all the time. Someone might be telling you something––reaching out for help, or sharing wisdom you need. Or God might be speaking to your heart and you’re not tuned in. You’re too distracted.

2. We know how to listen, but we just don’t do it

Have you ever had a conversation where you know the other person is not listening, not considering anything you’re saying? They’re just waiting for their turn to talk? Have you had a friend who never lets you get a word in? That friendship doesn’t last long. It’s too one-sided. Sometimes we’re not hearing God because we’re too busy talking.

Or sometimes we’re too focused on our own worry. Have you ever tried to talk to someone who’s hysterical or anxious? They’re in no frame of mind to listen.

Or maybe we’re too focused on our own agenda. We come to God to give us a holy amen to our plans.

But God is about relationship, not feeding you step-by-step directions for your plans. When our attitude is that we just want an answer to our question right now, or help with a particular decision, that doesn’t build relationship. We’ll be talking more about this as the podcast goes on.

Dallas Willard’s book, Hearing God, gave us a lot of material for this podcast. We highly recommend you read it.

Willard gives an example in the book about how we can be so focused on simply wanting to follow directions that we miss the thing God wants with us: relationship.

I can fall into this because I’m duty oriented. I’m hyper responsible. But––and this is a paraphrased example from Willard’s book––imagine if you had a child who wanted to please you all the time and was constantly asking, “What do you want me to do next?”

Your joy as a parent isn’t about giving that kid orders all day long and watching them follow each one. Just as God’s delight in us is relationship. It’s in us knowing him, and in him watching our character grow so we know what pleases him. It’s in us participating with him in the work of his Kingdom.

3. We want or expect to see the big picture all at once

We want God to unfold the grand plan all at once so we can see if we like it, or so we know exactly where we’re going. If he did that, first of all, that grand plan might terrify you in its bigness and you’d run away.

Consider how Moses felt when God told him to go to Pharaoh in Egypt to lead the Israelites out. That was big enough, and it was terrifying. How much more so if Moses had known about all the plagues and that he’d be leading a rebellious multitude of Israelites around in the wilderness for 40 years?

What would become of your relationship with God if you had the grand plan all at once? Think about the other relationships in your life. They’re a process of getting to know each other, spending time together, going through a variety of experiences together. When we’ve been through tough situations with friends at our side, that’s when we develop trust and learn to appreciate each other. That’s where love for one another grows.

God wants relationship with us. He wants us spending time with him, talking to him, crying on his shoulder, rejoicing with him. He wants to be a part of every aspect of our lives, not just a master planner who gives directions and leaves us to it.

4. We’re seeking God’s direction because we want a guaranteed outcome

We think that if we’re sure God told us to write, then it’ll be worth it. It’ll be “successful.” Or if we know he wants us to go with agent A over agent B, or if he’s given the stamp of approval to a certain marketing strategy, or whatever, it’ll go well.

There again, we’ve lost the idea of hearing God in relationship. He doesn’t need our marketing success. That’s not his ultimate agenda.

5. We don’t expect him to communicate with us

We don’t expect that he’ll actually talk to us. Maybe we think we’re not important enough, or that it’s just for the extremely holy people, or leaders, or only the people in the Bible.

But in Mark chapter 10, Jesus rebukes the disciples because they were hindering the little children from coming to him and talking to him. But Jesus wanted that connection.

That’s not a random story in the Bible, that’s a picture of how God wants it to be. Every child of God is just that––his child. God sent his son to die for you so you could be in the family. There’s a bond, a communication that takes place in healthy families.

If you come from broken or dysfunctional families, or terrible parental relationships, you may have a hard time picturing this. If so, maybe it’ll help to think about Jesus as your shepherd, leading you, as it says in Psalm 23, beside quiet waters, refreshing your soul, guiding you in paths of righteousness, and in verse 5:

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

There’s an intimacy of relationship in this whole psalm. Think of a quiet dinner for two at a nice restaurant, and it’s just you and God. Even in the midst of a noisy world, even with enemies around you, no one can intrude on your table. He’s focused on you and you alone for communication, for relationship.

6. We’re looking for big flashing signs rather than a still small voice

It’s true that God has used, and can use, many different ways to communicate with us. For example:

  • some type of big phenomenon like Moses and the burning bush, or Paul with the blinding flash and audible voice
  • dreams and visions
  • visits from angels

We can see this in the Bible and some of you may know people who’ve experienced things like this. But we tend to overvalue those things because they seem larger than life, and somehow more “spiritual.” As a result, we undervalue simple, direct communication.

However, God communicated to Elijah in a gentle whispering in 1 Kings 19:11-12, at one of the most terrible times in Elijah’s life. Also consider how God speaks to Samuel in 1Samuel 16, when he tells him to go anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the next king after Saul.

God and Samuel have a whole conversation as each of Jesse’s sons are paraded in front of Samuel. And Samuel is thinking about the first son, Eliab, “This must be the guy. He’s big and handsome.”

God’s like, “No, I look at the heart. This isn’t the guy.”

This isn’t communicated in a big flashing sign. It’s not like they have an audible conversation that Jesse and all his sons can hear. This is God speaking in Samuel’s heart and thoughts. It’s clear, easy to understand communication. And Samuel’s had a lifetime of experience listening to God’s voice, and becoming familiar with it.

This is probably the most common way God communicates with us. Through our own thoughts and words that we grow to recognize as his and not ours. There’s a different quality to them.

We’ll talk more about that, but let me also say that God speaks to us through others as well. Be tuned in to that possibility. Consider who the truth speakers are in your life. Consider how sometimes even a stranger says something that hits you hard. Helps you see something more clearly.

Friends, when that happens, it’s God. Of course, we always have to test these things, because people are fallible. But it does happen. Maybe a friend shares the perfect Scripture to minister to you, or a sermon, or book, or article, hits home in some particular way for you, in a way you feel is meant for you. It has a special emphasis, an authority that strikes home in your heart.

Or maybe––and this happened to me when I first met Karen and she was giving me feedback about who I was as a writer––it was like God was ringing a bell in my mind telling me, “Pay attention this is important.” And it was. He’s like, “Hellooo, this is what you need to hear.”

This is one of the things the body of Christ is all about. Speaking words of exhortation and encouragement from God to each other like it says in Colossians 3:16: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

7. We may be walking in sin of some sort

Sin separates us from God, and therefore from his voice. We see examples of this in Scripture and in our lives today.

Isaiah 59:1-2 (NIV) says, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”

James 4:4 (ESV) says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

God’s people, again and again, turn to idols. An idol is anything that we value or treasure more than God. That comes out in subtle, or not so subtle, ways.

Are we truly asking for God’s direction because we want what HE wants, no matter what? That requires some soul-searching. I can guarantee that what God wants isn’t going to be about our glory, it’s going to be about his glory. And about how we can become a better servant, a better reflection of who God is.

Hearing God in Relationship with him

One last thought on listening to or hearing God. We’ve talked some about relationship with God, but some of us may have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to listen to God and hear from Him. We see it as something we do, or need to do better.

But it’s far more about being. Being with God. Savoring time with God. Building relationship with Him. All of which we’ll dig into in our next podcast: Hearing God, Part 2.

We encourage you to ponder this prayerfully before going on to the next podcast episode where we’ll talk more specifically about how we recognize God’s voice.


Do you ever struggle to hear from God? What has helped you?


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