Thursday, February 26, 2015

Writing with Hope: Part 1

"'Hope' is the thing with feathers- that perches in the soul- and sings the tune without the words- and never stops- at all-"
 Emily Dickinson

Once, there lived a girl going about her normal life when God gave her a dream. A big one. So she sat down at a computer with a giddy heart and a mind bursting with story ideas, and she set to work. She wrote and wrote and wrote at every opportunity until she got the story out. She reread it, and polished, and edited, until with a contended sigh, she considered it done. She was so proud of her story, so sure of her calling, that she submitted it to agents and publishers and immediately started to work on another book.

She was a writer now.

She had a calling.

And she loved it.

She went to conferences, and studied craft books, and kept writing and rewriting.

Yet, the roadblocks began to come. Rejections. Life distractions. Discouragement.

Until eventually, she learned to protect herself. She still believed in her calling. Well, sort of. She believed enough to keep writing, which was something. But truth be told, with each new project she began, she wasn't so sure anymore that someone else would read it. She wasn't so sure that anyone else would really even care. These sorts of questions entered her mind:

  • Will I ever be published?
  • Will anyone else ever be encouraged and challenged by the stories God has put in my heart?
  • Will I write another book for another round of rejections?
  • Will the discouraging numbers of traditional fiction publishing take their toll on my story?
  • Did I mishear God all along? Did I ever truly have this calling, or did I make it up?
  • Does all this energy, time, and emotional investment even really matter at all?
And gradually, she stopped writing at every available moment. She stopped dreaming of what the next steps may look like and instead began dreading the inevitable disappointments. She hesitated to tell people about her manuscript and began keeping it closer and closer inside her own heart.

Her hope began to fail. Her heart began to grow hard.

Sound familiar?

Last week, I began to realize that at some point along this writing journey, I'd grown skeptical about whether the "dream" would really happen to me.  I absolutely believed God could do it. I'd seen Him open miraculous doors for other people, and I'd had so many God-moments along the writing journey. And I absolutely believed He'd called me... to something. But--probably as a means of protecting my heart--I'd begun to doubt the link between the God-sized dream and my own life.

You should know I'm not the kind of person to lose hope easily. I'm generally confident and persistent. I generally keep believing and keep pushing on until I see things through. But writing had wormed itself so deeply into my heart, I put up some emotional walls to keep from further disappointment.

So last week, I asked God to renew my vision and re-establish the "big dream" in my life. I'd been to a Bethel show, and one of their pastors had said, "If you can accomplish your dream on your own, it's probably not big enough." So I prayed for the God-sized dream, and I prayed God would re-establish my hope in that dream.

Well. Several days later, I walked into a room full of Alley Cats who had come from all over the country to throw me a surprise baby shower and to have a writing retreat. Talk about an answer to prayer, right? I sensed the presence of God so deeply and His affirmation of my calling. 

He hadn't forgotten me. He hadn't forgotten my stories. He was still at work in them, and in me. Perhaps more than ever before.

At one point over the weekend, I sat down at a table outside overlooking the beach, and I found one word written in shells.

I've come to realize this past week that hope (as well as the dwindling of it) affects everything. When we try to carry on without hope, we hobble along. But when we do hope in the Lord's dreams for us, we find supernatural strength.

We mustn't guard our hearts against our calling. While that may feel safe, it's actually quite the opposite-- that guard will eventually strangle our dreams. We mustn't stop believing God is for us, trusting He won't forget us.

As I spent some time letting this idea stir in my spirit, I realized a few things about hope and why it's so important:
  • Hope translates faith to our individual hearts. Maybe you believe God is working in other people's journeys. But do you believe He's working intimately in your own? Hope has a way of translating faith to make it personal. Faith becomes natural when we hold on to God-rooted hope.
  • Hope helps us trust. When we hold to hope, we can face the day with expectation of God's control. We naturally rest in Him and His goodness to us, instead of trying to protect ourselves from disappointing outcomes.
  • Hope casts out fear. Because when we hope we also trust, we then find no reason to fear when we rest in God's calling for us. Even if the timeline doesn't match up with our own or things don't go as expected, we still have reason to hope.
  • Hope in the Lord renews our strength. "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." - Isaiah 40:31
  • Hope leads to praise. "Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God." - Psalm 43:5

If you've found yourself discouraged lately about your calling, or maybe even downright skeptical, I want to encourage you to pray and ask God to reaffirm your dreams. Ask Him for fresh vision and renewed hope. And then remember that hoping in the Lord is a choice. It's active. It's a decision every day to look at struggles and challenges and remind yourself God is good, and He is working at an intimate level in your life. We have a reason to praise Him, and a reason to write good stories.


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Angie Dicken said...

So true, Ashley. Isn't it funny how we can be miles apart but traveling the same road? So, that Psalm 43:5 is one that sticks out in my mind every time I listen to that cd I gave you. :)
Sooooo good to see you! I am so thankful to have you on this journey with me...and to be a part of yours!

Ashley Clark said...

Ang, I can't wait to listen to that cd! I love that verse! And I miss you already!!! :)

Rachelle Rea Cobb said...

Thank you for this, Ashley. I read it, practically hanging on every word. Just what I needed to hear today. It's funny how, even after one signs a contract, hope still carries you through.

Hoping for you, Ashley! Congratulations on your little one. :)

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you so much, Rachelle! :) And I agree-- I think hope is so important at every stage of the journey! Thanks for coming by today!

Gina Conroy said...

Oh what a challenge. I've given up on all my dreams because I thought that's what God wanted. Given up in the sense that I'm not "striving" like I used to and it's freeing, but yes, in several areas of my life my hope has become weak. Barely pulsing, but I hear your words and my hope is that I can embrace them in my own life. It just seems like the bigger the hurts and losses, the harder it is to hope for better things ahead.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Love this! So so much!!!!!