119 – Writing Fearless Truth with Guest Leslie Leyland Fields

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Writing Fearless Truth with Guest Leslie Leyland Fields on the Write from the Deep PodcastAs our country continues to face the pandemic, one emotion is at an almost epidemic level: fear. We’re afraid to go anywhere, be with anyone, say the wrong things. But fear has no place in writing. Guest Leslie Leyland Fields shares how God has taught her to be fearless and to speak His truth.

About Leslie Leyland Fields

Leslie Leyland Fields is an award-winning author of twelve books, an international speaker, a popular radio guest, and the founder of the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop. Her newest book, Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life (NavPress, April 2020), presents the fruit of her 30+ years of writing, editing, and teaching story-making around the world.

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

Karen: Hi, everyone. Thanks for coming and spending some time with us today, at Write from the Deep. We have a guest today: Leslie Leyland Fields, and Erin is going to introduce her.

Erin: Yes. I’m so excited. I get to introduce her today! Leslie Leyland Fields is a multi award-winning author of twelve books. She’s an international speaker, a popular radio guest, and the founder of the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop. Her writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Books and Culture, and all kinds of other places. And she’s earned four Evangelical Press awards, among other awards and nominations.

She has three graduate degrees and was a founding faculty member of Seattle Pacific University’s MFA program. If that’s not enough, she’s also been a commercial fisherwoman for four decades, working with her husband and six children in a salmon fishing operation on a remote island in Alaska. And yes, guys, we’re going to talk about that. So, Leslie, welcome.

Leslie: Thank you. I’m so excited to be with you, Erin and Karen, and your names are so easy. I love that they rhyme.

Karen: We tell people all you have to do is say Karen, and that covers both of them.

Erin: Well, she tells people that.

Karen: Yes, yes. I tell people that.

So Leslie, as we do with all of our guests, we talk about the deep and about the deep side, the spiritual side, of writing. So why don’t you tell us what the deep means to you.

Leslie: You know, I hope this is not a depressing answer. For me, the deep is the place of struggle. It’s the hard places, and that’s what forces you to go deep.

You have to go deep with God. You have to go deep with yourself. To be honest about the sorrow that you’re feeling, the hurt, the wounding. So it’s this place of honesty with yourself, acknowledging the pain that you’re feeling, and also then crying out to God from that place.

Erin: Right. The Psalms, they’re so good about that. David is so good about baring his soul, his guts there.

Karen: I like David because he’s a whiner, and I can really relate to that.

Erin: So here’s the thing, you guys, when we started talking with Leslie a little bit before this, we were talking about the fishing, and she said that she and her husband and kids, they head off to a remote island, and she’s not kidding.

Nobody else lives on the island but her, and they’re there for four months. Right away I’m thinking: island in Alaska, this is scary. I’m thinking scary.

And she said the total opposite. She said, “My kids have grown up and they’re fearless.”

And I’m like, “Wow, how did that happen? How do they go from fearful to fearless?”

Leslie: Yeah, that’s a great question. Because they were there since infants, I don’t know that they ever saw it as a scary place. And even, you know, we brought our kids out onto the boat with us as we fished for salmon. They’ve been out in storms. So they’ve experienced the fierceness of nature, the power of nature, the awesomeness of God’s power on the ocean.

Yes, there’ve been times of great fear. But also we experienced God’s presence in that fear, and we’ve come through it. We’ve come through those storms many times. So we developed this confidence. “Okay, I’m facing this storm and these waves are way too big, but you know what? We’ve made it through other storms, so I know we’re going to make it through this storm as well.”

Erin: Wow. I like that. It’s like God’s past performance is there always, like the Bible is always talking about that: tell what God has done to future generations, and they have experienced it firsthand, and they have never forgotten, so now they can rely on him. I love that.

Leslie: Yeah. And I’m so thankful that my kids were able to grow up in that. As they’ve gone out into the world, they’ve taken that fearlessness. This is one thing that I encourage college students and young people. They ask all the time, “I want to be a writer. What can I do to be a better writer?”

And I say all the usual things, you know, read really good writing, all that. But the other thing I say to them is, “Do hard things. Do hard things and allow yourself to be pushed beyond what you think you can do.” And again, that takes us to the deep. That takes us to those places of struggle, and that’s where we need God. That’s when we see how great his power is and how near he is in those deep places.

Erin: Right.

Karen: When you talk about being out in the ocean and the waves being so big and so much bigger than anything you can deal with, it makes me think of how so many writers—which is kind of a poor comparison, but accurate, all the same—how so many writers feel about publishing: “All of this that they want me to do! They want me to do marketing. They want me to do this and that, and it’s all just so big and I can never do it all.”

And we get our focus on those things that do tend to instill fear and insecurity in us instead of getting our focus on the one who gave us this task to begin with. We can know just as God commands the waves in the ocean and all of that, that he is in control. Yes, it’s true even of the publishing industry. Yes. God can control the publishing industry. We do not have to be afraid, and he has his purposes for what he’s called us to in this publishing industry, but I think his first purpose is that we learn to be fearless in him.

Regardless of what we come across. We learn to trust him so intimately and so immediately that we don’t have to be afraid of anything. And when things happen, like your book’s about to launch and suddenly the world is shut down with a coronavirus, we’re not afraid because the same God who controlled the waters in the ocean and got you through those massive waves is the same God who is looking down and is not surprised by one single thing that’s happened.

Leslie: Yeah, I’m glad you said that. I have to share this with you because this is an incredible example of God being in charge and God using these circumstances for his good.

So, yeah, that was me. My book launch, my release date, was April 7th. In the middle of this pandemic. I had all of these book tour events, launch things, everything canceled. I was kind of crying out to God and grieving and lamenting. “God, this is, like this book is my life’s work. And now, like, you’re taking it away from me.”

But you know what’s happened is I’m teaching a free live zoom class online through my book. I have almost a thousand people from all around the world working with me through the book.

And you know that never would have happened without the pandemic. God is moving. The incredible thing is, I never thought I could teach a writing class online, and I never would have tried. But here’s the fearless thing, right? God just really encouraged me and basically said, “Go for it.” So I am, and he’s doing the rest.

Erin: Let’s make sure our listeners know the name of the book. Guys, you’ll find this interesting, it’s called Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of your Life.

Leslie, one of the things I wanted to ask you is why do you think the world needs our stories?

Leslie: Well, I have a hundred answers for that.

Erin: I love it.

Leslie: Which one do I choose? The world needs our stories because we all know the kind of world that we’re living in. It’s a divided world. You know, when this pandemic started, the world seemed to sort of come together in this time of unity, and it was beautiful, and it was very short lived.

Karen: Yeah. For about two minutes.

Leslie: Yeah, two minutes we were united. Then in our nation, the United States, we started dividing again along party lines. So we are still in this politically divided, hostile world. I think back to Jesus and what kind of world he lived in.

You know, we think it’s terrible now, and it is terrible. But you know what? This is nothing new. This is exactly the kind of world that Jesus was born into. You have the Roman Empire, which is oppressing the Hebrews, and within the Jewish community itself, you have all these divisions. Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, the elders, the Sanhedrin.

The incredible thing is that Jesus, you know, he was confronted a lot of times with challenges and questions, and people were trying to trick him. And you know what Jesus did in this hostile divided world? He didn’t stand up and hand out bullet proof vests. He didn’t stand up and hand out guns. He stood up and he told stories.

That was the weapon that he used to bring people together and to show them what the kingdom of God looked like. If we can just think about the good Samaritan, that story. Jesus was challenged, “Who’s my neighbor?” by a very cynical man, who expected Jesus to say, “Well, your neighbor is the guy just like you.”

Karen: That’s right.

Leslie: Instead, Jesus tells this story. It’s really kind of a scary story where the bad guy—they think the Samaritan is a bad guy—but he’s actually the hero. Jesus completely disrupts their whole framework for understanding who’s good and who’s bad and how do you show love.

That’s our role, too. It’s to tell stories in such a way that they remove labels. That they illustrate what God’s love really looks like. We have been charged with the same thing, and we’ve got to take off those labels. Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative. Our stories can do that, and our stories can bring healing. Our stories can bring love to a loveless world. And so I would say the world needs our stories now more than ever.

Karen: Yeah. Amen.

Erin: Amen is right. So, even just looking at the subtitle of your book, Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life, how do you find the truth of your life?

You know how people today might be of the opinion that their truth might not be anyone else’s. So as Christian writers, how are we sure that that truth is even God’s truth? Do you know what I’m saying?

Leslie: Oh yes. I’m so glad you asked that question. You really tuned in to what is unique about my book and my approach and what I think makes it truly biblical, and what sets it apart from non-Christian writers. Because we do live in this postmodern world, when, you know, your truth is your truth. My truth is mine.

Karen: Right.

Leslie: We all hold our own truths and we define our truth, right? But if you are a God follower, our truth has to be bigger than our own experience. So I really encourage people, yes, first of all, just like the lament Psalms, write from the truth of your experience.

That might be lament. That might be to write into the hard things. The woundings, the hurts. Yes, that is the truth of your experience, but you can’t stop there because there is the truth of other people’s experiences.

So our truth needs to be enlarged. If we’re really after truth, it needs to be bigger than our own truth. Let me give you an example. One of my books is about forgiving my father. So I wrote first out of my own hurt and wounding from my father, who was mentally ill and whom I was estranged from. But God’s Word—the good Samaritan story is a great story that illustrates this—God’s Word encourages me to look into the truth of their life.

What kind of hurts and woundings did that person experience? I needed to do that if I really wanted to understand what the truth was. It’s not just my experience that matters, but his experience. Hurt people hurt people. So what kind of woundings did he experience? And you know that brought such compassion.

I think as Christian writers, that’s the next step that we make beyond our own experience. These other people that have hurt us, or whatever, what was the truth of their life? What did they experience? That expands our compassion. That invokes pity, and that enlarges our own story.

Secondly, the most important level of truth is what does God’s truth say about this?

Karen: Amen.

Leslie: God does encourage, invite, and even command us to forgive those who have sinned against us. So that’s part of our story, and whatever we’re writing is that movement toward forgiveness.

God does encourage, invite, and even command us to forgive those who have sinned against us. So that's part of our story, and whatever we're writing is that movement toward forgiveness. #am writing @karenball1 @leslielfields Click To Tweet

This is what’s unique about a Christian approach. We’re writing to not only discover the truth of my own experience, but we’re writing to discover what God says about that experience. And it’s going to lead us to a greater understanding of others in our lives, and it’s going to lead us to a greater understanding of God himself and his plans and purposes for our lives.

Karen: I think it also gives us a greater understanding of ourselves in those places where we’ve grown hard. Those places where we’ve allowed ourselves to hold on to things that we shouldn’t be holding on to. My husband comes from a background of horrific physical, mental, and emotional abuse from his alcoholic father, and it almost destroyed our marriage.

We were in counseling for 20 years. Don was emotionally abusive, not in an intentional way, but it’s what he had been trained with, and so I suffered a great deal in the midst of that. My focus for my anger, yes, it was Don, but even more than Don, it was his father. Because it was what his father had done to Don that then came into our relationship and almost destroyed it.

I was telling Don at one point, “I hate your father. I hate him.”

Don sat down and he just started telling me this story about his father, and how his father, when he was five and his older brother was seven, their dad took them out into the woods and left them in a cabin for a week with a knife so that they could learn to be men. Left them alone in this cabin.

His dad was beat every day of his life. His father’s father. I mean, this was passed down from generation to generation. I had to go to God and I had to say, “What am I supposed to do with this? It’s his fault.” And he said, “Well, what about his father’s father?”

“Well, it’s his fault.” And finally the place I came to was, it’s brokenness’s fault. It sin’s fault. They are just as much victims. I had to address the anger and the hardness in my heart toward them because their pain and their sorrow and their brokenness, how it affected my life and how dare they. And then I had to fall on my face in front of God and say, “Oh gosh, oh, wretched woman.”

Leslie: Wow. That’s a beautiful illustration. Thank you for sharing that.

Erin: In this time, you know, where people are probably discouraged with things going on with the pandemic and all kinds of other things, do you have anything that would be specific encouragement for writers who are feeling discouraged, maybe it feels overwhelming to go into these truth places? Or maybe they just, they’re tired or they have too much uncertainty. What kind of encouragement would you want to give them?

Leslie: Yeah. Thank you for asking that. You know, this may not, I’ve talked about going into the deep, going into the hard places, but because we’re living difficult lives right now, maybe this is a time to go into some other kinds of places and save those deep places, perhaps for another time.

In my class right now, we wrote this week about encounters with nature. That has led to moments of joy and recognition and wonder. So I would encourage people, if your emotional load is already really heavy because of your day-to-day life in this pandemic, write toward the good.

Write toward joy. Write toward the graces of God in your past life. Then we are reminded about the goodness of God and the ways that he has revealed himself through nature, through friends, through acts of love. This may be the time for that.

Karen: I love that. I love the idea of getting your focus off of our circumstances and onto God’s goodness. All you have to do is walk outside and see the flowers and the birds and how he supplies for all of them, just as he’ll supply for us.

Well, Leslie, this has been delightful to have you here. We’ve so appreciated everything that you’ve shared with us and with our listeners. Thank you for taking the time and coming to be with us.

Leslie: Thank you so much, Erin and Karen. It’s fabulous to meet you, so thank you.

Erin: It’s been fun. She’s coming all the way from Alaska, y’all. The wonders of technology.

Karen: Yeah! So friends, when you struggle, when you find yourself in those places where you wondering if the world will ever be normal again, when you start feeling as though there’s just no point to your story, why even try?

Remember what Leslie has shared with us today. Get your focus on the one who gave you this task. Go outside. Look at God’s goodness, his creation. Feel his presence and savor it, and then come back and share the story he’s given you to share.

Erin: Amen.

Karen: Amen.

We want to hear from you!

What helps you write fearlessly?

Leslie’s book mentioned in the podcast

Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life by Leslie Leyland Fields

Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life by Leslie Leyland Fields

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