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136 – How Do You Listen to God?

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How Do You Listen to God? Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungListening to God is vital for our writing and our faith, but HOW do you listen to Him? Many of us wish we could do it better! We’ve asked some of the writers we know to share their thoughts and tips on ways to listen to God—REALLY listen. Come join in and learn!

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

One of the struggles writers often express is knowing God’s will for their writing, hearing his voice, and knowing his direction. We’ve done some podcasts about that: 58 Did God Really Ask You to Write, 110 Hearing God Part 1, 111 Hearing God Part 2.

But today we want to focus on one aspect that we all need to work on. It’s something every relationship can benefit from, perhaps even the most important thing, and it seems to be a skill the hostile social media environment proves is lacking in many (or all) of us: Listening. 

 What does it mean to listen?

Merriam-Webster has this to say about what it means to listen:

1: to pay attention to sound

2: to hear something with thoughtful attention : give consideration

3: to be alert to catch an expected sound

My (Erin’s) church recently posted a thoughtful article about listening to God. Here’s a quote:

“In part, listening is an act of submission. When we listen we release control over a conversation, submitting to the terms and direction set by our conversation partner. When we listen to God we submit to our limitations by acknowledging it is only God who can cross the divide between Divinity and humanity. Therefore we wait for God to start the conversation.”  Joseph Luigs

We can see two principles in that:

  1. Stop talking in order to listen. That is an act of submission. Give God a turn and understand how amazing it is that he took the initiative to create fellowship with us.
  2. Focus your attention. This is how we can show God the reverence and respect he deserves.

Luigs’s article goes on to say:

“Sometimes he speaks. Sometimes he listens back. But however he moves, it is always in love. Like all forms of submission, listening is vulnerable. We open ourselves up to God having to trust that he will move toward us in a way of love.”  

We need to trust that God will and does speak, in his time, in his way.

Since there are many ways for God to speak and many ways we can listen, we decided to enlist the help of you, our listeners, to gain new insights and ideas. We sent out an email to various writers’ groups to get feedback to share with you. Thanks for your thoughtful replies!

WAITING on God

“I refuse to go on to the next thought when I ask Him a question. I just wait. Sometimes He answers. Sometimes He doesn’t. When that happens I don’t forge mightily ahead until He directs. Sometimes He wants to talk about something else. I’m the kind of person they put crash bars on doors for. It’s important and difficult for me to listen before I move, whether I’m writing or pursuing something else. However, I’ve learned that the result of roaring down the road, looking back over my shoulder, asking, ‘What do you think God?’ produces less than optimum results.”  Jane Baker 

“[Mark Batterson] has really taught me about prayer, how to pray and how to listen to God. I listen. Sometimes I think I have heard the Lord’s voice – not loud and clear, but a whisper…I’ve learned immense patience and trust. I believe God gives us answers to the promises He gives by constantly reassuring our faith in those promises. God does not tease! He does not treat our desires lightly. But He gives us the strength and trust and patience to prevail. Many times I’ve ‘felt’ Him say, ‘In my time. Please be patient.'” Bonnie Engstrom

“I use a finger labyrinth to talk with God. I lay my cares or prayers before God on the way in and then in the middle I wait until I hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, then I walk my finger back out and listen and let the Spirit transform me. I do the same for my characters as well, especially when they get stuck in situations only God can get them out of.”  Jessica White    

“I listen to God by practicing silence in His creation. Our world is loud and heavy with distractions, and I struggle to quiet my mind. But when I can surround myself with the creative works of God and center my thoughts on Him, I’ve found my heart is in the best place to listen for His voice. It’s not easy, but God is good and patient and He is always there, waiting for me to listen.” Becca Wierwille

I (Erin) agree. Sometimes listening in my heart works best because in my head, my own words can get in the way. Sometimes I just take time to focus wordlessly on listening with my heart. It’s one of the best ways I sense God’s love for me. Paul prays in Ephesians 3:18-19 for us as Christians to be able to comprehend the breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s love for us. But this love, he says, surpasses knowledge, so to me, one of the ways I can hear it and feel it is wordlessly in my heart.

“How do I listen to God? I’ve learned to be still. Just be still and calm, even when my life seems to be unraveling. I walk on the beach a lot. This is where I truly feel God. The ocean is an amazing creation that brings both joy and danger, excitement and tragedy. I respect the ocean as a gift God created. My creativity is also a gift from God. Sometimes, I can see the signs, such as when I came up with an idea for a new book while walking on the beach, fearing I’d run out of good ideas. I knew the lead character would be named Jeremiah. When I got home, anxious to write down my idea, my inbox prayer for that day was from the book of Jeremiah. ‘And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart’ (Jeremiah 29:13 NKJV). I have always found God in times of isolation. And God has always given me exactly what I need in times of isolation. When I walk alone on the shore and marvel at God’s amazing creations, He in turn reminds me I am one of his creations. He gives me exactly what I need if I only stay still and wait for him, if I only seek Him. Because when I do this, HE seeks me and shows me the way with each step I make on that glistening white sand.” Lenora Worth

“Something about taking a walk increases my receptivity, or a message comes to me early in the morning when I’ve been puzzling over a knotty question.”  Gail Kittleson

PAYING ATTENTION 

“Lately I’ve learned how important it is to pay attention immediately after I pray and throughout the day. Ask, and you shall receive, the Bible says, yet I so often ask and run off. Rushing into the day, mind heavy with plans and focus and determination, I’ll miss it. I’ll miss the Holy Spirit speaking to me through an impression, scripture, circumstance, or another believer unless I’m paying attention. The Lord is not limited in the ways He communicates with me, but I often act as if I don’t expect Him to. Yes, sometimes He is silent, but since I know He is faithful and His timing is perfect, I’m learning to wait. Oh, that four-letter word! Paying attention has become the account I want to keep most current in my life. It pays the biggest dividends.”  Davalynn Spencer

“In mulling over the answer, I found I don’t so much listen to God as I listen for Him. I continue a running dialogue with him throughout my day and sometimes well into that place between waking and sleep. While sometimes this dialogue is in-the-moment prayers, other times my mind just gravitates toward Him. It’s in those moments more than any other that I will hear Him. To be clear, I have never heard God speak to me in an audible voice and yet I can tell you without hesitation that He has indeed spoken to me. Sometimes this comes in the form of a nudge to say or do something—or to NOT say or do something. Other times it might be a little whisper in my heart about something I have been praying about. Rarely do I get an immediate answer from Him. Most times the answer comes when I least expect it.” Kathleen Y’Barbo

“I come from a health science background so I’ve always viewed God as working in and through my body’s tension and energy. When I pause long enough to engage in more than small-talk with Him, I find my body is one of the first ways He clues me into his intentions and plans for my future (both near and far-reaching). There is this release in physical tension and a renewed energy and purpose when my plans align with his intended purposes. If I’m pushing my own agenda, the tension (and back pain and break-outs) continue, whereas if I consider His Word and act accordingly, I feel rejuvenated and inspired to dig into those areas of my life.” Tara K. Ross 

“I listen to God by watching carefully for a sense of God’s wonder in my writing, in my work and in everyday life. I find that God speaks most clearly to me when I see something in way I’ve never seen before and catch my breath with a quiet wow! That’s God. Or when he shows me something beautiful in the midst of ugliness or pain … in a place where I’d least expect to find God and his beauty. That’s when I hear God the most clearly. So, watching for him in everyday things, and in difficult, ugly things … that’s how I listen to God.” Marlo Schalesky

“…My days were busy and passed by so quickly, that when evening arrived I was too tired to consider sitting down to write. Gradually, I found myself awakening around 5:30 a.m. and feeling pushed to get up and write. Most days I did just that, because I believed the “push” was from the Holy Spirit and I didn’t really want to get up. Time continued on and I was trying regularly to be obedient to the Holy Spirit. One morning when I was into my second book of the series and moving along quickly with the story progressing, I abruptly stopped. I couldn’t go any further. I had no idea where the story was going—how was this going to be resolved? I just couldn’t think of anything. Then like a jolt to my mind, the whole rest of the book was in my brain. I offered up a prayer of thanksgiving! I knew without a doubt that this was from God.”  Janet L Walker  

STUDYING & READING GOD’S WORD

“For me, I believe that the most important way we listen to God is by reading and studying His word regularly. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I learn more about His love and His ways of caring for me. I see more clearly my own sins and my need for forgiveness in Christ and find compassion in my heart for others. When I start my day with prayer and Bible reading, I’m more aware of  His presence throughout my day, and much more likely to recognize and act upon the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit. I also more readily recognize when I’m speaking or acting in a way contrary to Scripture and hopefully make quicker efforts to repent. When I read God’s Word, I find strength for each day’s tasks, help with my fears, and hope for the future, even in difficult times!” Kathy O’Neill

“By reading and studying His Word.” Stephanie Whitson

“Mostly God speaks to me through his Word. I feel confident if I have Scripture to back up something I write. Also, I am moved often by praise songs.” Kathy McKinsey  

HEARING GOD THROUGH OTHER PEOPLE

“I adamantly want follow God’s call in my life. Making sure I am doing what God wants me to do requires me to revisit the topic on a regular basis. God’s still, small voice can be hard to hear, and unfortunately, He’s never taken me by the hand and guided me while yelling, ‘KRISTIN, I WANT YOU OVER HERE, WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION ABOUT DOGS!’ Instead, I often feel the heavens are brass, and God’s voice is inaudible. But eventually, after much prayer, I hear him, usually in one of two places: scripture or the words of another Christian. Being immersed in scripture dials up the volume on God’s voice. It centers me, allowing me to focus on the core of our faith, not on the distractions of life. That helps me hear Him. I have also heard Him in the counsel of other believers. This is a powerful experience when it happens. We are His church—His people. If we’re doing it right, others can see God in us and even hear God through us. It’s a humbling event when you discover you have been that conduit for another, and it’s inspiring to see God speaking to you through a Christian friend.”  Kristin Kaldahl

Bonnie Engstrom also mentions hearing God through prayers and words from prayer partners.

“God speaks to me through His written word (the Bible) primarily, but also through sermons, through times of worship, through books, and through other Christians. On a rare occasion, He’s spoken to me through a dream. There is something about being attuned to God that causes a person to hear and understand His voice even when nothing seems related. For example, the pastor is speaking about Topic A, but suddenly God whispers into my heart about Topic B that needs addressed in my life.”  Robin Lee Hatcher  

“For me it’s not very complicated. When I need the Lord’s leading or wisdom or help, I pray. Lord, what should I do? What should I say? How can I best honor You? Sometime in the next little bit–minutes, hours, days–a thought appears or a comment is made that answers my prayer. The big challenge is recognizing it as God’s answer, especially if it differs from my human inclination.” Gayle Roper

 “I like to write out my prayers and journal my thoughts and record what the Lord is saying to me. I often copy out a verse that is meaningful to me and ask Him to show me what it says and what it means for me…” Carrie Turansky

Carrie also mentions reading God’s Word, doing Bible study, reading devotionals, being married to a spiritually mature pastor who helps her hear from God, taking walks and listening to God as she sees his work in nature. But then Carrie adds this:

“This has been encouraging to think of all the ways I can listen to God and hear from Him. How does this apply to my writing . . . what I write comes out of who I am. Who I am comes out of who I listen to and what I take into my heart and mind.”

There’s nothing better to take into our hearts and minds than God speaking to us. How do you listen to God? Think about that for a moment. How do you make sure you’re attuned to the voice of God? What is it for you that opens your heart and mind to hear his truth as he whispers to you? God is so good to us all. He speaks to us in the way that we need. Take the time. Sit in his presence. Open yourself up to him and let him respond, not just for your writing but for every aspect of your life. Give him your thoughtful focus. I guarantee you, you will be blessed. 

How do you listen to God? #amwriting #christianwriter @karenball1 Click To Tweet
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

How do YOU listen to God?

THANK YOU!

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

Thanks so much to our February sponsor of the month, Wendy L. MacDonald. Not only is Wendy a writer, she also produces a weekly, short, inspirational podcast called Hope Walking with Wendy. You can find it on Spotify and at her website.

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

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135 – Developing Courage as a Writer with Guest Thomas Umstattd Jr.

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Developing Courage as a Writer with Guest Thomas Umstattd Jr on Write from the DeepThere are a number of things you have to do to be a writer, and a number of attributes you need to develop. Chief among them? Courage. Without it, your writing will never touch hearts. Let guest Thomas Umstattd Jr. help you develop this essential attribute in your life.

About Thomas Umstattd Jr.

Thomas Umstattd Jr. is a speaker, author, podcaster, WordPress guru, and Christ follower. In 2009 he started AuthorTechTips.com, now AuthorMedia.com, a website to help authors build their platforms and sell more books. The site was twice featured in Writers Digest as one of the 101 most helpful websites for authors. As a podcaster, Thomas hosts the popular Novel Marketing Podcast as well as The Christian Publishing Show. He’s the author of Courtship in Crisis, a book which came about through a viral blog post he wrote. Thomas is also an award-winning speaker who teaches all over the world, and he currently serves as the CEO of Author Media.

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

Karen: Hey there, we’re venturing into the deep again. We are so glad that you’re here with us, especially because yes, it’s true, we have a guest. Not just any guest! We have the amazing Thomas Umstattd Jr., and I’ll let Erin introduce him. Like he needs it. But I’ll let Erin introduce it.

Erin: I will tell you, it feels like I’ve known Thomas almost as long as I’ve been writing, because I met him at one of my very first writing conferences that I went to. Back then he was building websites, and very well I might say, and helping authors connect with their audiences.

Since then he has become an award-winning speaker. He’s been teaching creative people all over the world how to build their platforms, sell more books, and change the world with writing worth talking about. He’s also authored a book, Courtship in Crisis, and he’s had experience as a literary agent with the Steve Laube Agency.

If that’s not enough, as a podcaster he hosts the Novel Marketing Podcast, which we’ll have a link to, and we recommend that for everyone. He also hosts the Christian Publishing Show, another great show. Right now he serves as the CEO of Author Media. We’re just delighted to have you with us, Thomas. Welcome.

Karen: Welcome!

Thomas: Thanks for having me here. I’m excited.

Erin: Yes, we are too. As we always like to start, what does the deep mean to you today? As things come and go, it might have a different meaning every day. So today, Thomas, what does the deep mean to you?

Thomas: I think it’s anchoring. How deep your roots are. I think about a palm tree, there’s not a whole lot going on above the surface. It’s just a single branch. But underneath, palm trees go about as deep into the sand as they go up. They’re very different from redwoods in that way. Redwood trees don’t go very deep, but they connect to each other. They rely on community for their strength.

Palm trees are able to stand on their own, even in a hurricane. You’ll see a palm tree bent, you know, almost flat with the ground. Then when the wind stops blowing, it pops right back up. Because it’s got that deep root system, even though it’s planted in the sand, which you wouldn’t think of as a strong foundation, but its roots are deep enough to make it work.

Right now life is kind of crazy. Crazy in the world. It’s crazy in my personal life. We’re moving right now, and I’m moving my office. What is deep is what remains when the wind is done blowing.

Karen: Amen.

Erin: I love that. I’ll just say that Thomas has been very brave because he’s moving with his family, little kids. It’s tough to move with little kids, even when you’re not outnumbered yet. You and your wife have two kids, so you’re not outnumbered, but it is still so hard with them being so young.

You’re brave, Thomas, and of course that’s good. I mentioned brave ’cause that’s kind of what we want to talk about with you today, Thomas. We want to talk about courage, and courage for writers. Let’s just start with what do you think courage is? How would you define courage?

Thomas: Courage is being afraid. You can’t be courageous without first being afraid. And there’s a distinction between courage and boldness. Boldness, which you see often in the Bible, the Holy Spirit will come on somebody and they will do something without any fear at all.

There are times in our life when we experience boldness, and some people are bolder than others.

Erin: Karen!

Thomas: Right? Some people are incapable of really experiencing fear. It’s just not a thing that they experience, and that can be its own risk. But other people experience a lot of fear and courage is doing the right thing anyway. It’s not letting the fear control you.

There’s something really special about courage because the easiest way to be bold is to be ignorant of the risk. You have no idea that there was a chasm there, and so you’re walking without fear. Whereas courage is that you know there’s a chasm there, but you’re walking there anyway.

Karen: There’s a terrific book out there that I read a number of years ago called The Courage to Write. The subtitle is How Writers Transcend Fear.

I absolutely loved that book when I read it, because I can tell you probably every single writer that I have worked with has that element of fear and insecurity, and they want to make it better. Yet they feel like they can’t make it better. And how did they beat their last success?

The author, Keys, tells the story of E.B. White, who was an amazing writer. He says that E.B. was a consummate rewriter. He would rewrite things five, ten, twenty, thirty times, and never wanted to let them go. In fact, he wanted to rewrite so much that often after he had mailed the manuscript, he would return so that he could go to the postmaster and ask that they would give him his book back so that he could rewrite some more.

But in addition to being a consummate rewriter, he was a gifted procrastinator. He often managed to avoid the trauma of writing altogether until he had to do it, and he didn’t have any choice. He said that he was the most frightened person in the world. He wrote, “the old emptiness and dizziness and vapors seized hold of me,” when he was trying to write. “Nobody who has never suffered my peculiar kind of disability can understand the sheer hell of such moments.”

All of that is talking about fear and the necessity for courage as we write and share what God has asked us to share.

Thomas: Yeah, procrastination really is often just fear. Sometimes it’s a time management technique that we use to determine if something really needs to be done. Because often we procrastinate things that we never end up doing. We deep down know this task doesn’t need to be done, so we put it off.

But for writers, we know the writing needs to happen. So when we procrastinate, it’s fear and writer’s block, which is a new term. You know what they used to call writer’s block back in the day? Fear.

That’s all it is. Just a fancy term for somebody who’s ashamed of being afraid. They’re like, “Oh, it’s not that I’m afraid to move forward or afraid to write bad words. I just have writer’s block. It’s unique to me and Ernest Hemingway.”

No, it’s just fear. If you want to write, you have to write. No other profession has, you know, dentist’s block or doctor’s block or brick layer’s block, because in those other professions, they have something that casts out their fear, which is another fear: the fear of the boss.

That’s why journalists don’t get writer’s block, right? Because they have real deadlines. The paper is going out. There’s a printing press. It’s going to print the paper at five o’clock. You have to have your article in by four-thirty to get it printed. If not, there are consequences, and that greater fear casts out the lesser fear of writing something terrible.

I’ve noticed something working with authors. Journalists, or people with a journalism background, a real one, where they actually worked at a journalistic outlet, not just a degree, they are faster with writing, and they complain far less about writer’s block because they’ve learned to overcome that fear, because they have a bigger fear of missing the deal.

Erin: What else do you think writers fear? I mean, I’m sure there are lots of things that you could come up with that they fear. Rejection, maybe. I don’t know. But in your working with writers, what do you hear most?

Thomas: There’s two places I see fear really getting in the way for writers. The first is in the writing, which we’ve already talked about. It’s the procrastination.

But it’s more than that. It actually affects the craft itself. There is a fear of offense. Of giving offense and making people mad. Authors who are writing with that fear often fill their writing with so many qualifications and fluff words, or they speak so indirectly that no one understands what they’re saying. They end up taking all of the power out of their craft because they’re afraid. Deep down, they’re afraid to be understood.

If you’re afraid to be understood, you’ll never make it as a writer. The act of writing is all about being understood. You have to be willing to be understood. That requires courage because you will make people angry.

The act of writing is all about being understood. That requires courage because you will make people angry. #amwriting #christianwriter @karenball1 @thomasumstattd Click To Tweet

Especially nowadays, it doesn’t take much for somebody to be like, “Oh, I’m offended.” Okay. That’s nice for you. How is that my problem? You have to eventually get to that point where you’re not letting someone else’s offense control your life.

It does take wisdom. Sometimes there’s some good feedback that comes in. But nowadays, being offended is such a powerful tool of manipulation. Of somebody to manipulate you into being more like them by anything that you do that’s different. Any element of diversity you have that breaks from their way of thinking offends them, and they’re trying to control you. It takes courage to stand up to that.

Erin: What about, when you say that they’re afraid to be understood, isn’t there an element also of rejection there? If they understood me and this is what I truly believe, they can reject that?

Thomas: Yeah. Especially if somebody really identifies with their ideas, where they see them as part of themselves rather than as a separate entity. Some people think of their ideas as this thing that exists. It’s like, “Hey, what do you think of this idea?” And it gets criticism, and they’re like, “Oh, I’ll come up with a better idea.”

Other people it’s like, “This idea is me. If you insult my ideas, you’re insulting me.” It can be really scary to put your ideas out there if that’s how you view your ideas as an extension of yourself. You have to decide, “Where do I get my value? Does my value come from having good ideas or does my value come from something else that’s more substantive?”

Because I’ll tell you, you have some really bad ideas. I have really bad ideas. We all have really bad ideas.

Erin: That’s good to know.

Thomas: If that’s your source of psychological validation, it’s going to be a really tough road ahead because one, you’ll either refuse to let your ideas change as you learn, and now you’re not maturing. You’re not gaining wisdom. You’re staying just as stupid and ignorant as you were. And that’s really a terrible way to live, right? ‘Cause we were hopefully gaining wisdom as we grow older.

Or, you’re just feeling terrible because you’re like, “Oh my gosh, everything I knew is wrong,” and you throw it all out and you start over from scratch, which again is not gaining in wisdom.

Erin: Right. Well, and also if somebody is going to reject your writing, at least it forces you to look at those ideas and decide, you know, and think about your ideas again and reconsider them in light of somebody else’s argument. I think those are good things.

What would you say then to the writer who has trouble not necessarily separating themselves from their ideas, but separating themselves from their ability to write? So they’re afraid that they stink at writing. How do you help them with that?

Thomas: Well, you do stink at your writing. If you have that fear, you do. Most people aren’t very good writers. It takes a lot of work to get good. There’s a meme going around TikTok and Instagram right now. It’s like the one wholesome meme of 2021. It’s this: to get good at something, you must practice that thing. Or something along those lines. Then the person’s like, “I tried it once and I was terrible, so I’m quitting.”

No, no. To get good at something, you must practice that thing. The reality is you’re not good at writing, and the way to get better is through practice and through training. You get a mentorship, you read books, and you do the work. It takes a long time to get good at writing. Just embrace it and see it as a thing that you do rather than an identity that you take on.

And evaluate why you got into this in the first place. I notice a lot of people are writing because they want a legacy. They write it because they want to be somebody. Those are often the ones who struggle the most with insecurity.

Whereas if you’re writing because you want to do something, because you want to reach a group of people and you want to minister to those people, you want to get as good as you possibly can so you can minister to your readers as well as you possibly can.

You welcome feedback, and you welcome that criticism because it allows you to minister better. That mindset of “Am I in this for me or am I in this for others?” really affects how you handle feedback.

Karen: I see it a lot also with people who get into it thinking that it’s a good way to make fast money, which shows an unbelievable misunderstanding of what writing and publishing are. But they get into it to make money.

When the contracts don’t come in and agents say no, and editors say no, they then get angry, based on their fear and say, “These people don’t know what they’re doing. I’m just going to self publish.”

Then they jump into self publishing and it doesn’t go anywhere. Then they get angry and discouraged and blame it on everybody else. So it’s about motivation, like you said, “Am I doing this for me or am I doing this for others?” But also what is the purpose from the standpoint of, are you doing this so that you can make money and be famous? If that’s the case, then forget it. It’s not gonna work out that way because if you’re doing that, you’re not going to be willing to be vulnerable. And if you’re not vulnerable, your writing will not touch anybody.

Thomas: There are easier ways to become famous than writing. Writing is a really hard way to be famous.

Karen: It is. It’s a devastating career. It’s one where rejection is part and parcel of the work. In any other career, there is no surgeon that will come and stand next to another surgeon and say, “I really don’t think you should have done that with that particular vein. Now, if I were doing that surgery, this is what I would do,” and come in and change the surgery.

But lots of people will read your book and say, “I could’ve written that better.” So it’s a tough career. It’s tough on your heart and your spirit.

Thomas: Yeah, it’s kind of like being an offensive coordinator in football. Everyone thinks that they can pick good plays, right? On Monday morning, everyone’s criticizing the offensive coordinator for picking the wrong plays. Going back to your example, you know, it is possible that another surgeon might give another surgeon feedback. Like, “Oh, you should’ve done the vein over here.”

But what’s different is that in writing, it’s not the other surgeon that’s giving you feedback, it’s the patient who doesn’t know anything. It’s like, “Hey, I think you did this…” and they’re wrong. They don’t know, and yet they’re the ones who are giving you the feedback, and it’s really easy to judge yourself based off of what they’re saying.

Erin: What would you want to tell to a writer that just, they feel like they want to write, they feel like God’s called them to write, and then they struggle with the self-doubt of, “Oh, I don’t have anything to say,” or “What could someone possibly want to hear from me?”

Thomas: Well, there’s two things that cast out fear, and I want to share those with you. But first I want to go back. If you don’t know what you’re going to say, you’re not ready to start writing.

You’re ready to start practicing your craft, but you’re not really ready to start writing. I really believe you have to have a message. You have to have a story in your heart, and that’s before you’re ready to actually do the work.

It’s kind of like, “I don’t know what sport I want to do in the Olympics.” Okay, you’re not ready for the Olympics yet. But you are ready to start training, right? All Olympians run. All Olympians do weights. So you can do kind of basic training.

But the kind of writer you need to be if you’re wanting to write mysteries is very different than the kind of writer you need to be if you’re writing theological breakdowns of the book of Romans. It’s kind of like on a football team, you have the guys who are skinny and fast and you have the really big guys that are really hard to run around.

Karen: The refrigerator, you remember him? William Perry.

Thomas: The human walls. They serve a different role. As a writer, you need to know if you’re trying to be a human wall or the skinny fast guy, because you train differently depending on what that role is going to be.

If you don’t know what you’re wanting to say, you’re not ready to start writing something for publication. What I would say is write for practice, write short stories, get to know what a good sentence is. Get to know what a good paragraph is. Purge passive voice. Purge adverbs and adjectives.

Karen: Oh, bless you!

Thomas: Really learn how to write well. That’s the first thing I’d say. Now, when it comes to how do you find your courage, how do you cast out fear? The first way I already alluded to: one fear can cast out another fear. You’re on the high dive and you’re afraid to jump off, and then someone cocks a shotgun behind you and says, “Jump or I’ll shoot.” Suddenly jumping isn’t too scary anymore because your assessment of the overall danger has shifted.

Obviously that’s an extreme example, but you know, that is what deadlines mean. In some industries like journalism, deadlines are real. There are real consequences for missing a deadline. In book publishing, there are not real consequences for missing deadlines, at least not any major ones. Often they’re like, they expect the deadline to be missed. I heard a stat that 90% of authors miss their book deadlines.

Karen: I want to stop you for a second. People, don’t hear that as saying, it’s okay to miss deadlines. It’s not. I just want to stress that it’s not okay to miss those deadlines.

Thomas: Yeah, and what I was going to say was that the authors who make a living at their writing, they’re in that 10% who hit their deadlines.

Karen: Yes.

Thomas: When you miss your deadline, you’re subtracting your pay. Let’s say you got a $10,000 advance and your deadline is in two months. That means you’re getting paid $5,000 a month to write your book. You miss your deadline, and now it takes you four months to write your book instead of two months. The amount of money you’re now making per book has been cut by you from $5,000 a month to $2,500 a month.

A consequence of missing a deadline, and part of the reason why your publisher is fine with you missing their deadline is that it may mean that they don’t have to pay you quite as quickly. They get to pay you with next month’s money instead of this month’s money.

If you really want to be a professional, if you want to be able to provide for your family, it means hitting your deadlines. Once you get really good and really popular, there’s a whole series of things that need to happen.

I was talking to Jerry Jenkins and he was talking about how, when he was doing the Left Behind books, they had trucks that had been reserved to take shipments of books from the printer to the warehouse. If he missed his deadline, there were truck drivers who were getting paid to do nothing. There were real consequences to him missing his deadline. If you want to get to that level, you have to be faithful in the little things.

So, fear is one way of casting out the other fear. It’s probably the most common way amongst authors, where the fear of the deadline or fear of something else, creates some consequences for them.

But in the Bible we’re given something else that can cast out fear. You know what it is. It’s love. The better that you love, the less fear you will have. If you can fall in love with your readers, if you can write your book out of love for your reader, it will make the fear go away.

I don’t know if you can love perfectly. I don’t think I can love perfectly. Maybe you can with supernatural help. But if you can, the Bible tells us it casts out all fear. Then suddenly it’s no longer courage, it’s boldness. You’re not having to work in the midst of fear, you’re having to work without fear.

Love is a really powerful thing. Loving your reader, but also loving God. If you feel like God has called you to do this, then do this. Do your writing as an act of worship and as an act of love.

Karen: I’m going to take us back to the causes of fear. I think there’s an extra added cause nowadays, and that’s the whole idea of being canceled. I don’t want to get into politics, but we are seeing it in social media, we’re seeing it in publishers who are canceling contracts with authors because the books that they want to write have a conservative focus to them.

I’ve been hearing writers talking recently about, “Yes, but how can I write that now? Because if I write that, no publisher will ever want to touch me, or the readers will come after me, or it’ll get my name on some list and the government will come after me.”

We used to look at those as conspiracy theories, but those kinds of things are actually happening now. I understand the source of that fear, but Isaiah 43:1 has this to say:

“But now this is what the Lord says, he who created you, Jacob–he created you as a writer, he created you to do the task he gave you–He who formed you, Israel. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name. You are mine.”

If that fear comes and it hits you when you think about writing God’s truth in the crazy world that we’re in today, remember that God doesn’t call you to back away from the hard things. He calls you to speak his truth however he is moving you to do it. Don’t pull away from doing that. Don’t let fear stop you from serving God and writing something that can change people’s lives and help them as they face their own fears.

Remember, he has summoned you by name and you belong to him.

Thomas: That’s really good. And remember that our love for God can cast out fear, but also our fear of God can cast out fear.

Karen: Amen.

Thomas: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and it also can become an all consuming fire.

Erin: Yeah. I agree with you, Thomas. I think sometimes we have a God that’s just a little too friendly in our mind, you know? And we’ve forgotten that he’s holy, and that he’s righteous, and that he has the whole world in his hand and the whole universe. Sometimes we forget to fear. We forget to reverence that. I totally agree.

Karen: Deuteronomy 31:6 is a great scripture to close out this segment. It’s about remembering where your fear belongs. I love the scripture that you shared Thomas about the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, but Deuteronomy 31:6 was what he said to those building the temple.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them,”–whatever that them is for you in your life, don’t be afraid or terrified of them–“for the Lord your God goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

He hasn’t put you on this path to write, and then he’s not going to say, “Oh, you’re afraid? Okay, well, never mind. I’ll find something else for you because I didn’t realize how scary this would be for you.”

God knows every aspect of what’s happening in your life, in your career, in your writing. He knows every aspect of what’s happening in your heart and your spirit, and he tells you to be strong and courageous in him.

Fear him with wisdom, but don’t be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Friends, you can write. You can do anything that God asks you to do because he’s right there with you. He’s right there beside you. He’s breathing his courage into you and you can rest in that.

Erin: Amen.

Thomas: Amen.

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What aspects of being a writer require the most courage from you?

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134 – When God Opens Doors with Guest Mary DeMuth

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When God Opens Doors with Guest Mary DeMuth on Write from the Deep

How do you know if God is opening a door for you? How can you tell if going through, and even changing directions, is exactly what God wants for you? Guest Mary DeMuth shares keys to understanding new opportunities—even when we feel insecure—and to following God’s path boldly in this constantly changing world of writing.

About Mary DeMuth

Mary DeMuth is an international speaker, literary agent, podcaster, and she’s the novelist and nonfiction author of over forty books, including Pray Every Day (Harvest House Publishers 2020). She loves to help people re-story their lives. She lives in Texas with her husband of 30 years and is the mom to three adult children. Find out more at marydemuth.com. Be prayed for on her daily prayer podcast with over one million downloads: prayeveryday.show. For sexual abuse resources, visit wetoo.org.  For cards, prints, and artsy fun go to marydemuth.com/art. Find out what she’s looking for as a literary agent at https://www.booksandsuch.com/our-agents/meet-mary-demuth/

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

Erin: Welcome, listeners, to the deep. We’re excited to have you here, and we are excited to have a guest with us, Mary DeMuth. Yay! Karen will introduce her.

Karen: Mary DeMuth is an amazing person. She does so many things and does them all so well. Her most recent thing is the Pray Every Day podcast, which, in only three years has 1.5 million downloads. You can find that at prayeveryday.show and it’s in 150 countries and who knows how many languages. She’s just really remarkable.

She also is an amazing artist. You can find her artwork at marydemuth.com/art. That will take you to her Etsy shop. But the most important thing about Mary is how much she loves Jesus and how much she trusts him and how, when the unexpected things come to her, she follows him even if it’s difficult.

So that’s the most important thing about Mary. The depth of her love for Jesus and the depth of her faith in him is just so inspiring, and that’s what we want to share with you today because she has experienced yet another change and detour on her journey in the deep.

Erin: That’s right. Welcome, Mary.

Mary: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Erin: All right. We are excited to have you here. Some of you may or may not know we’ve had Mary on in the past for one of her books. She’s written so many, but one of them that we talked about way back when. I think that was episode 25 when we talked about God’s Wild Love, but we always ask our guests what the deep means to them.

Mary may have answered that way back when, but that changes for us. That changes according to what we’re going through in our lives. So today, Mary, what does the deep mean to you?

Mary: Today, it means fostering a very strong adherence and love for the Word of God. I’ve been making the spiritual practice, over the past two years, I’ve been choosing to rapid read the Bible in two our three month increments from beginning to end, and it’s been one of the best spiritual practices I’ve ever done. It’s caused me to have really great connections between the Old and the New Testaments, and a really strong understanding of the storytelling of God.

So, to be deep is to steep myself in the Word of God, so that I know it well enough to be able to rattle it off at any moment and to recall it at any time.

Karen: Wow. That’s impressive.

Erin: It is. How long did you say you’ve been rapid reading? Like how many times now do you think you’ve done that?

Mary: I think probably eight to ten times over the past year and a half to two years.

Karen: Wow.

Erin: That’ll get you a lot of insight. I love that. That’s a great idea.

Let’s talk about just the most recent change that’s happened in your life. Because we’ve talked about a few things and we want to cover all of them, but this most recent thing that you are doing now after writing and doing all of these other things, training writers, you are now an agent. How did that happen?

Mary: I don’t know, but it just did!

It’s interesting because growing up, I never thought, “Oh, someday I want to be a literary agent.” It’s just been part of this journey that God has brought me on. This last fall, I had to let go of my literary agent and was looking for a new one. During that time, my husband and I, and our adult kids were hiking in the mountains of Colorado.

We climbed a fourteener, which was crazy. But while we were doing that and I’d lost an agent, my husband said, “You should become an agent.” Of course I told him that I can’t be my own agent, but that kind of stuck in my mind, like, “Gosh, that sounds interesting.”

I have been mentoring writers for decades. The moment I learned something I would teach it. It’s just kind of in my blood. I’ve been masterminding, I’ve been doing intensives. I’ve been training, coaching. I mean, I’ve just been doing it forever.

Well, what an interesting way to use that skillset, but to mentor writers toward traditional publishing. I have a lot of affection for traditional publishing. I know it like the back of my hand, and I’ve been through the sanctification process that is publishing, which is all the sadness and all the joy and all the things thrown in. So I feel like I can be a really good empathetic agent who understands both sides of the industry.

Erin: What made you think, though, like from his suggesting this, how did that suddenly come to be as, “Yeah, that’s really what I should do”? Lead us through that decision-making process and how you came to feel more sure that that was the next move for you.

Mary: Well, my first reaction was, “That’s dumb. I don’t want to do that.”

But the second reaction was to pray. My very first Mount Herman that I went to, Randy Alcorn was the speaker, and he encouraged us to have a prayer team. And so even before I was published, I gathered this prayer team. So the first thing I did was I went to my prayer team and some of my counselors and just sent them that idea and asked them to pray.

About a month of praying, and then Cynthia Ruchti became my agent. She’s from Books & Such Literary Management. I said to her when she signed me, “Hey, I just want to let you know, I’m actually thinking of becoming an agent. Would there be like a possibility for me to do that here?”

The answer was yes. So then that opened up some conversations between myself and Janet Grant, and we had several conversations. Then I prayed some more. I just had so much peace about it, and we just went forward. I started January 4th.

Erin: As we’re recording this, that’s just a few days ago. So what has been your impression after all of one week on the job?

Mary: Oh my goodness. My impression is that a lot of writers who want to be traditionally published have not done their homework. They don’t understand what it takes and they sadly, naively believe that if they have a good idea, that that is enough.

While that can be true, there can be good ideas with no platform, that can happen, but it has to be a pretty stupendous idea with stellar writing and all of that. I typically, this is very sad and I wish that wasn’t the case, but the way I’m weeding out my yeses and nos, and mostly nos is just asking, “What’s your platform?”

I’m taking mostly nonfiction, so it matters more. If I were taking more fiction, that number and that thing doesn’t matter as much, but on nonfiction, if I’m going to take a project to a publisher, it’s one of the first things they’re going to ask. So it’s gotta be the first thing I asked to.

Karen: Right. Yeah, it’s funny, my first month agenting with all the proposals that came to me, probably 98% of them were exactly what you say. They hadn’t done their homework. When I was working as the managing editor for publishing houses, heading up fiction lines, I had readers who did the first pass read on proposals.

I didn’t have that as an agent and so I went to Steve Laube, and I said, “Who are these people? And how do they keep finding me?”

Please, listeners, don’t think that we’re making fun of you. It’s simply the fact that I had not realized, naively, I had not realized how many people just don’t understand what’s involved in seeking a traditional publishing contract.

Erin: Right. So aside from platform, what else would attract you, Mary, to working with a specific person? Because there may be lots of people who might meet some of those criteria. What would sway you in one direction over the other?

Mary: I’ve had the privilege of working with authors for about 15 years now, and so of course, one of the answers is relationship.

Karen: Right.

Mary: Relationship really matters. If I know someone well, and I know their writing, and I know their heart, and I know what they do to promote, and I know all that already, I can take what they say at face value. So that helps, of course.

The other thing is if it kind of hits a very strong pain point in the culture today. We’ve got lots of pain points thanks to COVID. So, I’m also looking for something to speak into what’s going on in our world. That could trump, to use, you know, a president’s name, but that would trump, some other things. That would maybe cancel out the need for a bigger platform if there’s something theological to say.

I’m also really, really interested in theologically sound voices. People who know their Bible very well. I have to be able to stand before God someday with the things that I champion and be able to say that this is good for the Kingdom. If it’s slipshod theology or it’s playing loosey goosey with the word of God, I don’t care if it’s going to make me a million dollars. I just flat out don’t care. I would not put it out there.

Erin: Right.

Karen: That’s integrity in what you’re doing. That’s far too lacking in our world today.

Erin: Let’s switch gears a little bit. We led with this whole idea of your podcast, Pray Every Day. That surely was a change from being a writer. How did that podcast come about?

Mary: You know, it launched three years ago in the midst of some pretty extreme spiritual warfare. That always makes me realize that God’s up to something when there’s a bunch of, you know, hoopla around it.

I was actually launching the book Jesus Every Day, which is a 365 day devotional, where it’s like the opposite of Jesus Calling. In Jesus Calling, Jesus says stuff to you. In Jesus Every Day, you get a Scripture, and you pray that Scripture back to God. So it’s a prayer that you say, or that you read back to God.

I was meeting with my mastermind group. I have my own author marketing mastermind group that I’m a part of, and we were on our retreat. I said, “I want to think of something that would be creative to launch this book.” My friend Thomas Umstattd said, “You should do a podcast where you read Scripture and pray according to the Scripture.”

I was like, “Wow, that’s brilliant.” It was not my idea. But that’s how it came about. It started on February 1st, three years ago, and it’s just that simple. It’s about five minutes long. I’m reading through books of the Bible. Right now, I’m reading a chapter of Isaiah every day. I read it and then I pray according to what I’ve read, and I pray for my audience. That’s all it was.

Karen: That’s amazing. The Word of God reaching out and touching people all over the world. That’s exactly what we need. I’m delighted that it has had the reach and the success that it’s had, because it’s the Word of God. That’s outstanding. That’s using social media the way it should be used.

Mary: Yeah. Definitely.

Erin: Actually I love this, Mary, because this idea, the podcast, you were like, “Oh, first reaction, brilliant idea.” And that moves forward. But the agent, you know, “First reaction, dumb idea.” But that still moved forward.

I mean, to me, it’s that when you go and you continue to explore, and when you see the path that God is putting you on, maybe some of us out there might have that same reaction: Oh, that’s not a good idea. But when we are open to it or continue to explore, and especially when we are willing to pray about it, I love how that opens doors that we would not have gone through.

Mary: Yeah. When authors come to me and say, “Well, what’s the best thing I can do for my career?” I always echo Randy  Alcorn’s advice: Get yourself a prayer team. Have them walk you through your entire career.

I would not be where I am today without prayer.

Erin: Right. Well, let’s talk about another change or maybe it’s just an addition. You’ve got this art shop. Talk a little bit about how you can be a writer and still do all these other things. Because I think some people feel maybe pigeonholed as if they can only write, but look at all these other things you’re doing.

Mary: Yeah, I think about, you know, some people are made “Renaissance-y” that way. Like that’s just to use it, to coin a word, and I’m that way.

I just have a lot of interests. If I had listened to folks way back at the beginning of my career, I wouldn’t be where I am today, because I did write fiction, and I wrote nonfiction, and I wrote memoir, and I wrote devotionals, and I’ve done historical fiction. I’ve done everything.

I don’t know why the Lord has allowed it, but it’s been great. But in terms of the art, that was a fluke. This is why I think it’s really fun. About five or six, maybe seven years ago, I had a friend of mine who, instead of not eating chocolate for Lent, or whatever, he would create a piece of art every day.

I just loved that idea, so for about three or four years during Lent, I would just create a piece of art every day. Sometimes I’d throw it up on social media. Not often, but sometimes, and I would send it to my newsletter list and whatever. I just started having all these people ask me for it.

For years I resisted. I was like, “That’s dumb.”

I was insecure about my art. I’m not insecure about my writing. I have been working on it for decades. I’m very good at it, and I know that. I’m not saying that to be prideful, but I have confidence in all of that work that I’ve done. But I haven’t studied art. I don’t have any of those decades behind me, so I’m super insecure.

Finally I just thought, “Well, I’ll just throw a couple of things up on this Etsy shop and see what happens. It’s ended up being what helped me during the pandemic to make money. It was surprising. It’s actually been very sweet.

The thing that sells the most on that shop are 31 Scripture cards. That was an idea from my friend Susan, who is an amazing author in Austin. She said, “You really ought to make little cards of Scripture with art on them.” And I was like, “That’s cool.” She was brilliant.

I guess one of the things I’ll say is listen to your readers. Listen to the people around you. Listen to people who know you. They actually may see things in you that you don’t see in yourself.

Listen to your readers. Listen to the people around you. Listen to people who know you. They actually may see things in you that you don't see in yourself. #amwriting @MaryDeMuth Click To Tweet

Karen: That’s interesting because that plays into your responses to these ideas. When your response to Thomas’ idea of the Scripture and all that was, “Wow. That’s brilliant,” it was because it was Scripture. Yeah, it was you praying what you learned from that Scripture, but it was still Scripture.

But when it was the idea of you being an agent and the idea of you doing your art, your response was, “Well, that’s dumb,” because we’re so insecure about the abilities that we have to share. Creativity in other ways beyond writing. So I think it’s a good lesson to us that if our first response is something like, “That’s dumb,” stop and evaluate why you think it’s dumb. Why are you thinking that this is not something you should be doing?

It could be God saying, “Well, that’s dumb.” Or it could be your inner voice and tapes saying to you, “No, don’t do that because it’s too scary, and you’ll be putting yourself on the line, and you just really don’t want to do that. You don’t need any more rejection, you’re an author!”

We need to be aware of how our own inner tapes impact our ability to step out and try something.

Erin: Yeah.

Mary: Karen, that is brilliant. I have never thought of it that way. I’m serious. You get five gold stars. I had never thought of it that way, but you are so right. I think a lot of us as artists, and I’ll just say it as, you know, vocalists, artists, graphic artists, whatever, we are quick to discount what God has put inside of us.

I said I’m rapid reading the Bible again. I just got through the temple and all of the people that God had imbued with these talents. Some of them were the jack-of-all-trades. Some of them were Renaissance-y. They were like doing bronze and then they were doing weaving and so on.

The Bible has precedent for you to be able to be you. To do the things that he calls you to do. He’s also very gracious to place people in your life to encourage you when you’re freaked out about it.

Karen: Yes. I love that. He takes care of all of it. Why can’t we just rest in that and trust in that?

Erin: Mary, as we’re starting to come to the end of our time, is there anything else you would want writers to know about change?

Mary: Well, of course, it’s the one thing we can count on.

Karen: Right! The only thing that never changes is change.

Mary: That’s right. It reminds me of a discussion on the Books & Such Facebook page, that’s the literary agency I’m with. Someone brought up new social media platforms, in light of just recent events, and should we jump onto those as well?

My first hunch was well, you know, of course we need to be flexible and nimble and go where our readers are. So I won’t say you have to go here, or go there. Just find your readers and go where they are.

But the other thing we talked about was thinking of some of those long-term things that cannot be taken away from you. Social media platforms can be, but your email list typically cannot be. My thought is, yes, there’s going to be change in the industry. There’s going to be change in our world, but building your tribe on platforms that you own is really important. On your website, your email distribution lists, those are things you own, and that’s where we should place our concentration.

There are so many stressed out authors. They’re spreading themselves thin. My advice in that way is to find one thing first. Do it well, and then venture after. You can put yourself out in all the places just don’t deal with them for awhile. Become great at one and then venture after that.

Karen: Yeah. That’s very true.

We can also hold fast to the fact that the one thing that will never change is God. He is speaking into our hearts and our lives. He’s leading, he’s directing. He is who he is now and forever, and we can trust him.

It’s clear that you’ve done that. It’s clear that you have grown and learned that when he plants an idea in your mind, yes, let’s explore this and see if this is a door he’s gonna open.  I love that kind of confidence and that kind of freedom because we can just rest in the fact that he has the very best in mind for us. We can never tell how he wants to use us.

Mary, thank you for being an example of that. Thank you for looking to God and to prayer, to guide you and to lead you in the decisions you make. And thank you for reminding us that the most powerful thing we can do for not just our careers and our writing, but for our lives and our witness is to steep ourselves in the Word and to steep ourselves in prayer.

It’s been a delight. You’ve been a delight, and we just wish you every good thing in this new venture God has led you to.

Mary: Thank you so much. It’s such a blessing to be on, and I really appreciate your hearts for this need in our industry and in our writings for the deeper things of God.

I think a lot of us, we look with earthly eyes on earthly success. We forget that on the other side: new heavens, new earth. I have a feeling that the first are going to be last and the last are going to be first and the best sellers are going to be the least sellers and the least sellers are going to be the best sellers.

We are not tasked with success. We are tasked with obedience, so we have to look beyond what we see here with our eyes.

Erin: Amen. Thanks, Mary.

Books Mentioned in the podcast

Jesus Every Day: A Journey Through the Bible in One Year by Mary DeMuth

Jesus Every Day by Mary DeMuth

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Has there been a time in your life when God opened an unusual, unexpected door for you?

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

Thanks so much to our January sponsor of the month, Stacy McLain! She’s been working on her first book, a Christian speculative novel titled Make Known His Path.

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

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