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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?


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

Thanks so much to our January sponsor of the month, Bobbi Updegraff! You can find out more about another important cause she sponsors at friendsofrenacer.com. It’s a wonderful organization that’s impacting the lives of children in Honduras.

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


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109 – Make Your Life Matter with Guest Laura McClellan

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Make Your Life Matter with Guest Laura McClellan on the Write from the Deep Podcast

It’s 2020! Now is the time to ask yourself what you want this year to look like? What do you want to accomplish––and why? Guest Laura McClellan, a productivity pro, joins us to talk about that. But here’s the beauty of what Laura does: she doesn’t focus on “getting things done,” but on being productive so we can have a life that matters. Join us for a great start to the new year!

About Laura McClellan

Laura McClellan is a lawyer, a writer, a productivity enthusiast, and a tech geek. Married for 40 years to her high school sweetheart, with whom she’s raised five amazing kids, she’s passionate about encouraging women in their individual journeys as people, wives, mothers, citizens. Laura has been published both in professional publications and inspirational magazines and has been a contributor to the popular Stepcase Lifehack blog and she hosts a weekly podcast, The Productive Woman. Find out more at theproductivewoman.com.

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

Karen: Hello, everyone, and welcome into the deep with us today. We are just delighted to have a guest who is going to talk with you and help you as you start into a new year.

I cannot believe it’s 2020 already, can you? It’s crazy how fast time is going, but we have a wonderful guest who’s going to help you make the most of this new year. Erin, tell us about her.

Erin: Our guest is one of my good friends. I get to introduce her. Her name is Laura McClellan. Laura is a lawyer by day and a lover of the written word since childhood. Laura has been published both in professional publications and inspirational magazines, and she’s been a contributor to the popular Stepcase Lifehack blog.

She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and she’s a past women’s fiction category winner in the Phoenix Rattler Fiction Contest and the Olympia Fiction Contest. But she also hosts a weekly podcast called The Productive Woman. I love this podcast, you guys. The purpose of the podcast is to help women find the tools and encouragement they need to manage their time, life, stress, and stuff so they can accomplish the things they care about most and make a life that matters.

I’ll tell you, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Laura for a couple of years now, I think. I have to say, not only do I value her friendship, but I find her to be one of the most purposeful, intelligent, insightful women I know, seriously. I’m just delighted to have her with us today. Welcome, Laura!

Laura: Well, thank you, Erin. The pressure is on now.

Karen: We see each other on video while we’re talking and I’m watching Laura’s face as Erin is introducing her and she’s like, I’m being so set up here.

Laura: Hopefully I can sound intelligent and articulate.

Erin: Well, she does on the podcast and she does in person, so there you go. On her podcast, The Productive Woman, again, I’m going to encourage you guys to listen to that one. We’ll have a link in the show notes for that.

Karen: Laura, as you know, when our victims, I mean our guests come onto our podcast with us, we always ask them what the deep means to them. So Laura McClellan, what does the deep mean to you?

Laura: You know, I have been thinking about that ever since you all asked me to join you here. I know people have different takes on that. To me, the deep means that place, obviously beneath the surface, so that when I am in the deep, or, you know, if we’re writing from the deep, we’re going beneath the surface to––it’s hard for me to articulate this and I probably should have written it out––but it’s the more real place. Getting beyond the surface and the superficial into the depth of who we are, who God is, whatever it is, that deep place is there.

Karen: I like that. There’s way too much superficiality in the church, in Christian writing, in the Christian market. It’s hard because if you’re not authentic, if you’re not vulnerable, if you don’t go beneath the surface, our work really isn’t going to accomplish much of anything.

God is all about being authentic and vulnerable. So I really like that.

Laura: I guess that’s what I was trying to get at. I think for us to accomplish anything, for us to––and I guess we’ll get into this––to make a life that matters, we have to get to the deep. We have to go beneath the surface, beyond the superficial, to the reality of who we are.

I think a lot of that superficiality you mentioned came because going beyond that is scary.

Karen: Yeah. I was texting with a good friend of mine a couple of days ago who was talking to me about something that God had confronted him on and how he needed to confess to God the places that he had gone in this wrong thinking.

He said, “I had to tell him everything I’d been thinking and feeling. Everything.” Then he said, “But it’s not like God didn’t know it, and it’s not like I needed to say those things so that God would know them. What I needed to do was surrender those things and lay them before God, and in doing that, I realized the depth of God’s love for me and the freedom that comes from unburdening yourself from those things that you’re ashamed of.”

Erin: Yeah.

Laura: Yeah. I love that. And it’s so true and so much of what goes on in our world today, whether it’s fiction or in writing or in politics or anything, so much damage I think is done when we stay on that superficial level. We make judgements on other people based on superficiality, instead of going deeper with them. Trying to understand people that maybe have a different perspective than we do. We look at the outside and say, “They’re not like me. They’re wrong.”

Karen: Right.

Laura: “One of us has to be wrong. It must be them.” Instead of taking that space and that time to look inside more deeply and ask God those questions like your friend was talking about and confess to ourselves, first of all, what the truth is.

Erin: As we’re thinking about going deep and we’re thinking about the new year, let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about one of the reasons why I really wanted you on the show, Laura: to talk about your definition of productivity and what it’s all about as we’re thinking about this new year. Why don’t you share with us your philosophy there?

Laura: Sure. It has changed a lot over the years. I’ve been a productivity nerd since I was a kid. I’ve always liked checklists and charts and calendars. I’d go to the library and pull all the books about time management out and organization, all that stuff. To me, that’s just fun and it always has been.

As I’ve gotten older, and especially as I’ve looked into this more and more to make sure that when I put an episode of my podcast out, I’m adding some value in producing some content that’s going to be worthwhile, so there’s that piece of it, but also just my own life. I’ve come to go a little deeper in the concept of productivity, and I don’t believe anymore that it’s about how much you get done.

It’s not about getting more stuff done. It’s about getting the right stuff done. And how do you determine what that right stuff is? Because it may be different for everybody.

Productivity isn't about getting more stuff done. It's about getting the right stuff done. #amwriting @LauraMcMom Click To Tweet

The definition that I’ve come up with that I think you were referring to is what is a productive person? We’re three women on this conversation, but it applies to guys too. That to me, a productive woman, a productive person, is a person who orders his or her life in such a way as to maximize his or her positive impact on the world.

A productive person is a person who orders his or her life in such a way as to maximize his or her positive impact on the world. @LauraMcMom @KarenBall1 #amwriting Click To Tweet

To me, when you’re being productive, that’s what you’re doing. You’re ordering your life in such a way as to allow yourself to maximize that positive impact.

Because we all have an impact on the world around us. Whether it’s the people in our household, the person in the grocery store, or the world at large. And if you want to have a positive impact, there are things you can do to make that more likely.

Karen: I love that.

Erin: I do too.

Karen: I’ve never been a productivity person. I have a great poster in my office I’ve had for years and years. It says: I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by.

I make lists and then I lose them. It’s that whole idea of productivity being about completing the to do list. I’ve never connected with that, but what you’re saying, that definitely is something that would motivate me.

Erin: How does someone go about figuring that out?

Laura: That’s a great question. It’s a question that gets asked a lot, and the question I’ve been asking myself for years. To me, it started with reading books about how to do a good to do list and that sort of thing. But you have to go beyond that if you want to maximize your positive impact on the world. If that’s the goal. So it’s not just about being able to check things off a list, however satisfying that might be.

The instinct––especially if we’re overloaded, if we have too many things going on in our life and we’re feeling overwhelmed––the instinct is to find a tool that’s going to fix that, so we’ll make the perfect list, and then get all that stuff done.

But I think you have to take a breath. You have to take a step back. And again, not to be too cliche here, but you have to go deeper. You have to go beyond that superficial level of “How do I get all this stuff done” to “What is it I’m trying to accomplish here? What kind of life do I want to live? What kind of person do I want to be?”

And it goes beyond that. “What matters most to me?”

There are lots of questions you can ask yourself to get to that point, but I think if you want to be that kind of productive person, you want to maximize your positive impact on the world, then you have to start with asking yourself those questions.

The end of the year, the beginning of a new year, is a great time to do that. To take some time and sit down with a cup of tea or coffee or cocoa or whatever your choice is there, and a notebook and a pen, and do some thinking on paper about that. “Who do I want to be in this world? What difference do I want to make?”

Because we all make a difference. We can either just wing it. You know, be reactive to what’s coming at us and hope that we make the right choices and that our impact is positive, or we can be intentional about it. That requires some thought and prayer and all those sorts of things to get to the heart of “Who are you?”

“Who do you want to be in this world? What kind of life do you want to be living and what needs to change in order to be that person with that life?”

Who do you want to be in this world? What kind of life do you want to be living and what needs to change in order to be that person with that life? @LauraMcMom #amwriting @karenball1 Click To Tweet

Karen: And I think for our listeners and for all three of us, that the primary question too is, “God, who do you want me to be? God, what impact do you want me to have on the world?” And submitting it to his guidance and to his truth. Everything that we think about what we want to be and how we want to impact the world, and then measuring that against the truth of Scripture and letting God give us that inner amen from the Holy spirit.

If you can have a––I’m doing the quotation marks in the air––a productivity list that you’ve gotten that holy amen on, imagine what we could accomplish and how we would not be thrown off by things that come in and seem to be sidetracking us. You know?

It’s so easy to look at those unexpected things that happen and you’re thinking, “Oh, there goes my list out the window.” But instead say, “Okay, Lord, if you’re bringing this into my day, if you’re bringing this situation into my life, what do you want me to be in this and how do you want me to impact this?” Like you said, Laura, not being reactive, but instead submitting it all and then moving forward in the plan that God helps you develop.

Laura: Yeah. I mean, any of us, those of us who are people of faith, who have staked our life on the truth of God’s Word and who he is, that is the starting point. He doesn’t leave us blind in terms of what he wants from us in general. Then we take the time to go into those deep places and get quiet. That’s hard in the 21st century society to just be quiet enough to hear. “I’ve read your Word, I know what it says. What do you want me to do with it today? Right now?” We can get all big picture and come up with big plans, which, you know, who is it that said we make plans and God laughs?

But to get into the nitty gritty of ordering our lives in such a way as to maximize our positive impact, the question has to be, “Where do you want me right now? How should I spend my time and my energy and my attention today to maximize that positive impact?”

Erin: What I like though is that we’re really talking as much or more about being than doing. It’s so interesting when you think about the people who have affected you the most and have had the most positive impact on you. It isn’t always because, “Oh, they did this.” It’s more because they were this, they represented this, they lived this. It’s more about character and I really love that philosophy when we’re talking about productivity. It’s a radical paradigm shift.

One thing, though, because it’s the new year, I know that people are going to be thinking about priorities as we’ve been talking about maximizing your impact. Do you have any tips maybe on how to set priorities?

Laura: Oh, that’s such a loaded question. We can get all philosophical about the word priority as a singular or a plural word. At any given moment there can only be one priority. And it may be different because we really can only do, in any given instant, one thing. We think we can do more than one.

But I think as far as setting priorities in the way we use that in the world––and this is just my philosophy––that has to come out of your values and who you want to be in the world. So it goes back to the things that we were just talking about.

I think on a practical level, as part of your kicking off the year and trying to make the year the best that you can, to make the year that you want to have, you can sit down in that moment with your coffee or tea or whatever and your notebook and think about “What are the roles you play in the world?”

For me, I’m Mike’s wife, and I am the mom to five adult kids, and the grandmother to eight little kids. And I’m a lawyer and I am a podcaster, and I’m a friend to certain people.

Looking at all those roles, think about what you would like to accomplish in each of those and––I’m hesitating here because the sort of traditional productivity discussion about that is ranking them, and I don’t know how you can rank them. Y’all may disagree with me on this, but you know, the traditional sort of party line Christian approach is it’s God first and then, you know, I don’t know, my husband, whatever. Well, this is just my philosophy, but I don’t see anything that says that God wants to be first in my life. What I see is he wants to be my life.

Karen: Yeah.

Laura: And everything else flows out of that. I don’t know that I’m answering your question, Erin, because I struggle with the idea of how do I rank those roles and those commitments I’ve made and those goals I’ve set for myself. To me, it’s not this one, two, three, four, five, six, and I’ve got to figure out where each of those things I talked about fits into that list.

It starts with––and I’m not saying I’m really good at this––with always trying to anchor our life in God and having him be our life and having that listening ear. For me, part of the issue is about––and again, I’m not saying I’m really good at this, but it’s something I do try to get better at––about always having my life ordered enough that I can be quiet enough to hear that voice. That voice behind me saying, “This way, this way, turn here, go there. No, this is the way. Walk in it.”

I know that’s not very practical and I can’t write a book about that. But when I think about priorities, that’s what I think. There are the roles I play, the things I need and want to do in each of those roles, and then moment by moment trying to listen to the direction that I’m getting as to where my attention and my time and my energy should be going right now.

Karen: I think it’s a lot more practical than you realize. I knew, a person once who said to me that she made out a list of the things that she wanted to be or that she wanted to do, but each day she would have that quiet time and she’d say, “Lord, what do you want to accomplish today?”

Sometimes she felt the sense that it was on one of those lists, but sometimes it was something completely different. And as I’m listening to you, I’m thinking a good thing for someone who’s my personality, who’s just off the scale right brain, doesn’t believe in linear thought, who will sit down to make a to do list and completely forget why I’m doing it and what I wanted on it.

But to figure out my priorities based on who I want to be as a believer, who I want to be as Don’s wife, who I want to be as a podcaster or a writer.

What the impact is that I want to have and how will my life matter in the context of each of those things. And then to have that kind of figured out, and then again submit it every morning and say, “Okay, Lord, is today a day where we refine Karen as a believer? Or do you refine Karen as a dog owner? Or what do you want to do today?” Which to me, adds an element of adventure to the day.

Laura: Sure.

Erin: I think you’re both right in terms of focusing on listening. Productivity is so much more about simply listening to God and we’ve lost that in our culture. We’ve lost the ability to listen, to sit still. I mean, nobody seems to listen very much on social media. It’s more about talking.

Karen: No, it’s not about talking, it’s about yelling.

Erin: So yes, that’s in our culture right now. It’s very difficult to battle.

One other thing I wanted to cover, because we’re running out of time here. The three of us have been talking a little bit beforehand about pruning. When we’re thinking about priorities, it may come to pass that we have to prune some things.

Any thoughts on that, Laura? Any tips on pruning or what that’s like? I know you’re going through a little bit of a pruning process––as I have recently in moving––and you’re moving as well.

Laura: Yeah. Pruning as a concept, you could get into the whole thing of why pruning happens in gardening, for instance, and the parallels there in our lives. It can apply to our stuff. It can apply to our commitment. It can apply to our attitudes. All sorts of different things.

We were talking earlier about pruning our belongings because you’ve just moved and, as we were talking, we’re in the process of packing up and getting ready to move to a new home.

To me, it’s really helpful to keep in mind why we would be doing the pruning. We’re not getting rid of stuff just to get rid of stuff. That to me is part of ordering my life in such a way as to maximize my positive impact on the world. The more stuff we have, the more time, energy, and attention we have to spend on cleaning it, moving it around, taking care of it, all of that kind of stuff.

I’ve been trying over the last two or three years to little by little whittle down the amount of stuff we have. Some of that is harder for me than others. We were talking this morning about books. I love me some books. My mother said I came back from the first day of kindergarten just disgusted and said I wasn’t going back because I went there to learn to read, thank you very much, and they were wanting to talk about colors, and I already knew all my colors.

I’ve been collecting books since then, at least, and I have lots of them, but we went through this morning and boxed up a whole bunch of them that we’re going to donate for somebody else to enjoy.

Why do you do that? Why do you consider pruning something? Not just to be doing it, but this again goes back to being purposeful and intentional about it. What is this adding to my life to have it and what would be a good reason to get rid of it? Well, so that I don’t have to take care of it and I can put my time, my energy, and my attention on other things that matter more to me. If there are things that matter more than books, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that on this podcast.

Karen: Of course you are.

Laura: I think it’s a matter of looking at the belongings you have and thinking about why you have them.

Karen: Right.

Laura: And do you like the reason you have? I don’t know that there’s a right or wrong answer, but the question you ask yourself is, “Why am I hanging on to this and how do I feel about that reason?”

If you like the reason you’re keeping it, then keep it. But if you go deeper, “I’m keeping this because I’m afraid I’ll need it some day and I won’t have it.”

Karen: So are you keeping it out of fear and if so, then what’s the fear? And dig deeper into helping God prune you on those emotions that can be damaging.

Laura: Exactly. Because a lot of what we keep, you know, everybody knows the statistics about how much stuff, especially we in America have, and how many households can’t park their car in their garage and they’re paying for outside storage. And I’m not condemning anybody for that. But the question is, if you are wanting to be intentional about living a productive life in that sense of making a meaningful life, a life that makes a positive impact, then maybe you want to think about it.

“All these things that I have, are they adding value to my life? Could I do something better with my life if I let some of this go?”

Karen: And, “Are they adding value to the impact that I’m having?”

We have some antiques that came from my husband’s family years and years ago. But the memories that they carry with them are not positive memories. They’re memories of the abuse that was also handed down from generation to generation. Whenever my husband sees them, he thinks of his grandfather, but those are not happy memories.

We are out of time. Laura, it’s been so much fun to talk with you and I think that we have so much more than we need to talk about, so we’ll look forward to maybe having you on again to dig deeper into all these ideas. Thank you so much for being here with us, the beginning of 2020, for being our first guest, who is helping our listeners to decide how to go into this new year and how to have a life that matters and what kind of impact they want.

Friends, as you’re thinking about those things, as you’re pondering that in relationship to your family, to your writing, to those people that you encounter in whatever role you play, remember the first and foremost thing to do is to ask God who he wants you to be and what he wants you to do. Then you can move forward in real freedom doing those things that help you to develop a life that matters in an eternal sense and not just a temporal sense.

So thanks again, Laura, for being here and getting us started off right for the new year.

Laura: My pleasure.

Erin: Thank you, Laura, and we’ll have a link, everybody, in the show notes to that podcast, The Productive Woman.

we want to hear from you

As you think about the new year, in what ways would you like to maximize your positive impact on the world? What steps can you take to help make that happen?


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

Thanks so much to our January sponsor of the month, Bobbi Updegraff! You can find out more about another important cause she sponsors at friendsofrenacer.com. It’s a wonderful organization that’s impacting the lives of children in Honduras.

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


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108 – Who Wrote our Christmas Carols…and Why?

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Who Wrote the Christmas Carols on Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungWe love our Christmas carols, don’t we? There’s just something about them that touches us, warms our hearts, and draws our focus back to God. So who are the writers who penned these songs? Listen in to these behind-the-scenes stories and see!

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

One of the things many of us look forward to at Christmas time is singing or listening to our favorite Christmas carols. Many start listening to them as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey is put away in the fridge. Some of us––even some who are sitting here talking to you––listen to them all year long. So who are the writers who wrote these songs? And what inspired them to do so?

We’ve got stories behind three of the most loved Christmas carols. Our source for this podcast is a book called Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins.

The first Carol is one Karen’s dad loved to sing: I Wonder as I Wander.

For years, John Jacob Niles wandered around the Appalachian Mountains in search of the origins of songs. A composer and singer, Niles was born in Louisville Kentucky, on April 28, 1892. As an adult, though he longed to start his quest for music, John worked for an adding machine company to make ends meet. He then served as a pilot during World War I. It was during his days in Europe that he first put together an impressive catalog of American folk songs.

Begging every soldier he met to share a song, Niles wrote down the lyrics and memorized the music of each one. After the war, armed with the suitcase filled with folk music, Niles returned home and continued his education at the Cincinnati Conservatory. When he graduated, he moved to Chicago, where he sang with the lyric Opera and performed on Westinghouse radio.

In 1925 Niles moved to New York, where he not only sang on radio and stage, but began to publish music collections of both his original songs and the folksongs he had gathered during the war. By 1940 he was a recording artist on the RCA label and was recognized as one of the nation’s top opera singers. His two most successful original works were “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” and “Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head.”

Money and fame made Niles the toast of New York. Yet even as he received standing ovations for his performances, and was dressed in the finest clothing, backstage the man sang folk ditties. There was something about simple American music that wouldn’t leave him alone. He finally decided he was more historian than performer, and moved back to Kentucky.

In his beloved Appalachian Mountains, Niles traveled from town to town, looking for undiscovered folk songs. The library of work he uncovered is still one of the most important in music history. One song in particular would become a monument to Niles’s years of hard work and a testament to the power of inspired creativity.

On a cold December day in North Carolina, Niles was visiting a poor community going about their daily lives. Just a few hundred miles away in New York, the chaos that was Christmas in the big city was in full force. Niles had seen it many times.

Yet in this village, Niles could hear snow crunching under feet and saw children in ragged clothes looking longingly into windows where a few small toys were displayed. Clearly, the modern world had never touched this unspoiled place. While Niles took in the simple beauty around him, a soft voice reached him. He scanned the street, and spotted a small girl sitting by herself on a bench, quietly singing a song Niles had never heard.

When she finished, Niles pulled out a pencil and tablet and went to ask the little girl about the song. All she knew was that her mother had taught it to her, like her grandmother had taught it to her mother before her. Niles asked her to please sing it again, and she smiled and quietly repeated the ballad’s short verses. The song, which the girl called “I Wonder as I Wander,” haunted Niles.

Long after the child disappeared into the evening, Niles continued to study the words. They were deeply spiritual, incredibly thoughtful. They embraced the joy and wonder of Christmas, but also lingered on the sacrifice of the babe, grown into a man, who died on the cross.

Both the words and music were perfect, simple, direct, and inspired. Even a master songwriter like Niles couldn’t imagine improving on them.

When Niles brought the song to prominence just before the beginning of World War II, he tried to capture the spirit of the child who had first shared the song with him. Even as he awed audiences with his discovery, the humble singer recognized that his version was not nearly as powerful as the original.

For the rest of his life, Niles tried to discover the origins of the song, but he could never trace it back farther than the girl in North Carolina, a child he never found again. It was as if she had been an angel sent to deliver a message, a message that embraced the wonder of the Savior’s birth and sacrifice. Because of a chance meeting between an unknown child and a man who spent his life wandering America in search of music, the world gained an unforgettable Christmas ballad that has never ceased to cause those who hear it to wonder.


I Wonder as I Wander

I wonder as I wander out under the sky

How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die

For poor on’ry people like you and like I;

I wonder as I wander out under the sky

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall

With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all

But high from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall

And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing

A star in the sky or a bird on the wing

Or all of God’s angels in heaven for to sing

He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King

Cause He was the King.


Our next carol is one of the oldest and most beloved: O Come, All Ye Faithful.

John Francis Wade was a man of God caught in a holy war. In 1745, at the age of 35, Wade’s life was on the line. Strife between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church was at an all-time high. Many practicing Catholics were forced to take their faith underground.

To avoid prison or death, many priests fled Britain, including John Wade. He made his way to France where, in a city inundated by English Catholics and those who oppose the British royal family, he was given an important job: research and identify historical church music––which the Church of England was trying to erase from the world––then carefully record and preserve it for future generations.

Wade reclaimed old pieces but was also inspired to write new hymns. As a Catholic cleric, it was only natural that he composed new works in Latin. In or around 1750, Wade put the finishing touches on what would become his most famous tune, “Adeste de fidelis.”

It wouldn’t be until a decade later that he put lyrics to his melody and it was published. Yet, something strange happened. Though the carol was published at least two different times with John Wade credited as being the composer, credit for writing the Carol became––and remained––a mystery. Frederick Oakley translated the original lyrics into English in 1841, but the authorship of the song had spawned numerous legends as to its writer. None of which named John Wade.

Many of the world’s most famous singing groups and stars recorded the song, making it famous worldwide. But no credit was given to the man who had written it. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” was America’s favorite Christmas carol until Bing Crosby cut “White Christmas.” On that same album, though, Crosby included his version of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

And that is when a music historian finally sifted through all the legends and uncovered the song’s real writer, finally granting John Francis Wade the credit he so richly deserved. Wade lived in a time of great conflict between various branches of the Christian church. He’d been forced to give up the country he loved as a sacrifice of faith, and made to work long hours trying to preserve church records others were attempting to erase for all time.

Even so, Wade revelled in his role as a servant of his Lord. In every word and verse of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” the composer’s faith is not just verified, it is magnified. At a time when the church was literally at war, only someone who truly believed in the holiness of Christ could have written the carol that would bring all Christians together to the same place each Christmas bowing before Christ the Lord!

Here are the lyrics, some of which we’d never heard.


O Come All Ye Faithful

O come all ye faithful joyful and triumphant,

O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.

Come and behold him, born the King of angels;


O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him,

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.


True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,

lo, he shuns not the Virgin’s womb;

Son of the Father, begotten not created;


Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;

O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!

Glory to God, all glory in the highest;


See how the shepherds, summoned to his cradle,

leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze;

we too will thither bend our joyful footsteps;


Child for us sinners, poor and in the manger,

we would embrace thee with love and awe.

Who would not love thee,  loving us so dearly?


Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning,

Jesus, to thee be all glory given.

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing:


O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him,

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.


Our last carol is one Karen loves to sing: O Little Town of Bethlehem.

On Dec 24, 1805, Phillips Brooks was a half a world away from home and feeling a lot older than 30. Already recognized as one of the most dynamic Christian speakers in America, it was Brooks, only six years into his ministry who had been called upon in May to give the funeral message over President Abraham Lincoln.

That solemn honor, in tandem with leading the congregation of Philadelphia’s Holy Trinity Church through the bloody years of the Civil War, took its toll. Worn out and in need of spiritual rebirth, Brooks took a sabbatical and left the United States to tour the Middle East.

On Christmas Eve in Jerusalem, the American felt an urge to get away from the hundreds of other pilgrims who had journeyed to the Holy Land for the holidays.

Though warned that he might encounter thieves, the preacher borrowed a horse and set out across the desolate and unforgiving countryside. For many peaceful hours he was alone with his thoughts as he studied a land that had changed little since the days of Paul and Timothy. For the minister, December 24th was a wonderful time of prayer and meditation.

At dusk, a sudden sense of awe fell over Brooks. Under a clear sky, the first stars just beginning to emerge, he rode into the still-tiny and remote village of Bethlehem. He recalled the story of the birth of his Savior, and by being present in the place in which Jesus was born, was able to add vivid detail to the familiar tale in Scripture.

The great speaker was all but speechless as he considered the heavenly King, born in such modest surroundings. There, on the streets almost unchanged since biblical times, Brooks felt as if he were surrounded by the spirit of the first Christmas. He would later tell his family and friends that the experience was so overpowering that it would forever be ”singing in my soul.”

Like the path from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, Phillips Brooks’s own life had often been rocky and winding. At the age of 22, the Harvard graduate was a struggling teacher at Boston Latin school. Frustrated that his students wouldn’t put in the time he felt was necessary to do the coursework, Brooks finally gave up. He turned to prayer and Bible study to find his place in the world. Still unsure of his future, Brooks entered the Episcopal Theological Seminary and began pastoral studies. After graduating in 1859, he began his ministry in Philadelphia.

What he lacked in the classroom, he made up for in the pulpit. His messages were powerful and dynamic. In 1861 he was called to lead the congregation of the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia. Yet even as Holy Trinity grew, and Brooks’s fame spread far and wide, he was growing physically and spiritually tired.

By 1863, the national spirit was dying almost as quickly as the soldiers on the Civil War battlefields. Everyone knew someone who had been killed or gravely injured. Scores of women in the church wore black, mourning the loss of a husband or son.

Darkness fell over every facet of the services. Brooks’s congregation wanted him to be inspirational, to help them believe that the good things in life they had once known would someday be theirs again. They wanted an end to the war. Yet though Brooks made a valiant effort, the preacher couldn’t give his flock with they needed most: peace.

When the war finally ended, Brooks believed that the sweetness of life and soul would soon return to his flock. But the pain only intensified when President Lincoln was assassinated. Although Brooks was not Lincoln’s pastor, He was asked to speak at Lincoln’s funeral because of his reputation as an orator. Digging deep, he found words to fill the moment––but seeing a great leader senselessly slain, and the exhaustion of the effort itself, left him void of everything he needed as a pastor. And so he decided to take a sabbatical.

He kept a journal while in the Holy Land, and added this account of his visit in Bethlehem:

“I was standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with the splendid hymns of praise to God…. Again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I know well, telling each other of the Savior’s birth.”

Back in Philadelphia, Brooks longed to share those amazing moments with his flock, but he could not find the words to express all he’d seen and felt. In the holiday season of 1868, Brooks again thought of when he rode into Bethlehem at dusk, and the church service that had followed.

This time, he didn’t force the words out. He simply relived the experience and jotted down the lines that seemed to float in his head. His thoughts soon took the form of a poem.

When he finished writing, he hurried to share it with the church organist, Luis Redner. Redner spent hours at the piano trying to find a tune to fit the poem. Finally on December 24, as Redner went to bed, he was forced to admit he had failed.

Just as Brooks had been unable to find dynamic oratory to fully describe what he had experienced in Bethlehem, Redner was unable to compose a majestic Rhapsody to carry the preacher’s simple words.

It was only in his bed, long after he had given up, that the organist found an unadorned and straightforward tune. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Redner discovered the tune given to him in slumber perfectly fit Phillips Brooks’s words. As if blessed by God himself, on Christmas morning, ”O Little Town of Bethlehem” was complete.

Phillips Brooks is now recognized as the greatest American preacher of the 19th-century. His first published volume of sermons sold over 200 thousand copies when released in 1878, and it’s still read and studied today. Yet it is Brooks the songwriter, not the preacher, whose work millions now know and cherish. It is the simple language of the common traveler in search of spiritual renewal that continues to touch lives around the world.

How very appropriate these words are for us in this broken, angry world today.


O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem

How still we see thee lie

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting Light

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary

And gathered all above

While mortals sleep, the angels keep

Their watch of wondering love

O morning stars together

Proclaim the holy birth

And praises sing to God the King

And peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently

The wondrous gift is given!

So God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of His heaven.

No ear may hear His coming,

But in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive Him still,

The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem

Descend to us, we pray

Cast out our sin and enter in

Be born to us today

We hear the Christmas angels

The great glad tidings tell

O come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel


We want to hear from you!

What’s your favorite Christmas carol?

Behind-the-scenes stories about the people God used to share His story in Christmas carols. #amwriting @karenball1 Click To Tweet

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

Thanks so much to our December sponsor of the month, Wendy L. MacDonald. Not only is Wendy a writer, she also produces a weekly, short, inspirational podcast called Walking with Hope for HopeStreamRadio.com. Check it out!

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


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107 – Sharing the Hardest Stories with Guest Elizabeth Ludwig

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

About Elizabeth Ludwig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she goes, “Lisa Gracia.”

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

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

Elizabeth: Still is, let me just tell you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just didn’t want to do that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen: You need to know how serious this is.

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

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

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

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

Can I tell you about those a little bit?

Erin: Please do.

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

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

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

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

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

Karen: Yeah.

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

Erin: Right.

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

Both of my children are suffering. Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erin: Very true.

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

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

Karen: Right.

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

Karen: I love that show.

Elizabeth: Everything always turns out right in the end.

Karen: It’s so campy, but I love it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen: Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erin: Yeah.

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

Erin: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erin: Amen.

We want to hear from you!

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

Books by Elizabeth Ludwig

Tide and Tempest, Edge of Freedom Series, book 3

Tide and Tempest by Elizabeth Ludwig
(Affiliate Link)

Garage Sale Secret

A Tempting Taste of Mystery


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

Thanks so much to our December sponsor of the month, Wendy L. MacDonald. Not only is Wendy a writer, she also produces a weekly, short, inspirational podcast called Walking with Hope for HopeStreamRadio.com. Check it out!

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


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106 – Discernment: Why Writers HAVE to Have It

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Discernment Why Writers HAVE to Have It Write from the Deep Podcast Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungYou don’t hear much about discernment these days, but there are few things more important to your writing journey. And, in today’s belligerent world, to your life. So what is discernment and how do you develop it? Come listen in to find out.

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

What is Discernment?

Definitions from Webster:

  • To discern: “to detect with the eyes; to detect with senses other than vision; to come to know or recognize mentally; to recognize or identify as separate and distinct.”
  • Also: “to see or understand the difference.”
  • Discernment is the ability to discern, or the act of discerning.
  • “Discernment stresses accuracy.”
What Is Opposite of Discernment?
  • Dullness – Not seeing, not hearing. It’s like trying to prepare food with a dull knife, it can’t make sharp cuts, or sharp lines. Everything is mushy. Cutting with dull knives can even be dangerous.
  • Folly/Foolishness – To make bad decisions, dumb decisions, hurtful decisions, or to act foolishly. You make decisions on a false understanding, or you simply can’t recognize that it’s a bad idea.
  • Mindlessness – All three of these (dullness, foolishness, mindlessness) can be summed up by simply not thinking, seeing, heeding, knowing, or paying attention.
  • Making Decisions Based on Emotion Rather Than Thought – to make a decision without thought, but rather based on a feeling we have.
Types of Discernment

1. Discernment Based on God’s Word

Wisdom, decisions, understanding all need to be based on God’s Word. Anything that goes against God’s Word should send off warning signals in our minds. An example is the documentary on Jim Jones that Karen watched. The kinds of things Jones was saying didn’t add up. It blatantly went against what Scripture teaches. Yet his followers didn’t discern the falsehoods he was saying and the things he was doing that violated Scripture. They bought into his teachings and his lies.

But deception can be subtle too. Satan is a master of twisting, of giving just enough legitimacy to something that it sounds true. Scripture taken out of context or one verse proportionally over-weighted can become deceptive teaching. Satan used Scripture to try to tempt Jesus. So our sense of discernment needs to be fine-tuned. Details matter.

2. Discernment Based on Leading from the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit lives within each believer and prompts us in various ways. He guides us, warns us, and enlightens us, so we can steer clear of danger or perceive when something “isn’t right.” It’s not something we can rationally know from facts. Instead, it’s something the Holy Spirit works in our hearts, minds, and spirits.

3. Discernment Based on Personal Experience

This type of discernment involves recognizing something you’ve seen, something you’ve experienced, AND something you’ve learned from. It has to be all three in combination. You can be trained to recognize something others won’t because of your personal experience. But this is a process and takes time, patience, and a willingness to keep working at it.

Why do Writers Need Discernment?

1. Your Job as a Writer is to Speak and Write God’s Truth

  • You need to both have and understand truth in order to speak and write it. That means you have to be well acquainted with God’s truth to recognize it––and its counterfeits. If you don’t have truth, then what do you have to say?
  • You need to speak truth correctly and accurately.

2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

James 3:1 has a warning for us too: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” If you’re a writer, you’re a teacher whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.

  • You need to speak against falsehood. Many believers are afraid to speak against falsehood because they’re afraid they’re going to come under attack. Well friends, you will come under attack. 1 Timothy 4:1 says, “Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.” We are watchmen to speak truth, and we’ll be held accountable if God is telling us to speak and we don’t.

2. You Need Discernment to Make Good Decisions Regarding Your Career

  • Will you focus on indie publishing or traditional publishing? What about picking an agent? Picking a publisher? What genre suits your gifts? What are you passionate about? How will you choose your timing and strategy for marketing? You need discernment to make good decisions about all those things.
  • You need to be able to rely on that discernment even when things don’t go as expected. And they often don’t. But second-guessing isn’t helpful. Confidence in God’s leadership helps you move forward with a mind set on the things of God rather than the things of this world.

3. You Need Discernment to Avoid Temptation of all Kinds

Satan is called the father of lies. His greatest weapon is deception. Some temptations writers face:

  • Thinking too highly (or too lowly) of yourself, chasing the wrong thing (money over calling perhaps), temptation to sell out, pad numbers, put writing first (over family obligations), etc.
  • Over-committing or committing to the wrong things. Having discernment helps you understand that just because you can, just because you’re able, and even if it’s something good, none of that means it’s what God wants you to do. You have to rely on discernment to decide where to spend your time, energy, and giftedness.
How do You Develop Discernment?

1. Understand That Developing Discernment is a Process

Like we said before, you need to be so familiar with God’s truth, and with God, that you can tell His voice from the false voices seeking to derail you. That doesn’t happen overnight.

2. Know and Study God’s Word

Really study. Not, “Gee I have to do my Bible reading today…” But dig in. Ask questions. Interact with God’s Word. Ask, “What does this mean today? What is this speaking into my culture and my world right now?”

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

You can’t be equipped without the Word of God.

3. Then APPLY God’s Word Everyday

Applying God’s Word gives you experience. It proves itself. For example: What does it mean to love someone––your spouse, your reader, your parents? You can find that in God’s Word, and you can put that into practice.

4. Ask God for Discernment

Solomon asked for discernment in 1 Kings 3:9. “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” God was pleased that Solomon asked for discernment, and He’ll be pleased when you ask as well. And He’ll give it to you.

5. Experience Things, Listen to Others with Experience, and Pay Attention to What You Learn

Don’t make excuses when mistakes happen, dig in and learn from them.

Hebrews 5:14 talks about training ourselves to discern good from evil. That’s a dig-in process, which typically comes with mistakes. Embrace that education.

6. How Do You Grow in Discernment Specifically from the Holy Spirit?

  • First, Listen! Stop dismissing nudges and sensations. Second, pay attention. The Spirit speaks in so many different ways, from gentle nudges to what can feel like a hammer to your chest. Don’t just dismiss the inner voice or urging when it comes.
  • Test everything:

1 John 4:1 says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” It’s not a sin to test.

1 Thessalonians 5:20  tells us, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good.”  So some “prophecies” won’t be good. We have to recognize that. Again, test everything.

  • We not only test by looking at it based on Scripture, but also by praying about it. Pray about your decisions, choices, activities, and inner nudges. Offer everything up on the alter, and don’t hold on to anything tightly. Learn to identify the Holy Spirit’s leading, His voice, which is easier when we don’t already know what answer we want.
How do You Keep Discernment?

1. Maintain Your Skills

Keep practicing discernment. You can’t take a day off because “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The enemy keeps practicing, keeps refining his ability to get into your mind and heart, so you need to keep practicing as well.

2. Avoid Activities that Lure you into Complacency

Avoid things that dull your senses. Things that––especially in our culture––lure you to believe there is no truth. Or no need to be so “judgmental.” Be careful, because truth is still truth even if our culture refuses to acknowledge that.

3. Avoid People that Lure you into Complacency

It’s not that you shouldn’t have friends to whom you’re being a witness, but you can’t do it lightly. Go in with protection, with deliberateness.

Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” So we need to be careful about who we’re spending time with and why.

Final Words

Gain discernment. Continue to work on those skills. Continue to work on recognizing God’s voice and God’s leading in a way that you can’t be fooled by deceivers. There are a lot of them. Discernment isn’t just Christian-ese. Discernment is a reality and it will save you in times when nothing else will. So continue to refine that ability and may God bless you as you do so!

We want to hear from you

What ways have you learned discernment? How has it helped you in your writing journey?

Discernment is vital to your writing journey! Here’s why. #amwriting @KarenBall1 Click To Tweet

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

Special thanks to our November sponsor of the month, Priscilla Sharrow! She’s working on her memoir, Bonked! Life, Love, and Laughter with Traumatic Brain Injury, which will be published by Redemption Press. You can find out more about Priscilla and the blog she writes for the TBI/PTSD community at her website: priscillasharrow.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.