Passing the Faith Along – Part 1

Passing the Faith Along

by: S.C. Mathisen


We get to go to spend a whole month this summer with Gram Susie & Grampa Johnny! In Millville? Wow! That’s great mom & dad!” Susie was so excited that her entire face lit up and she grinned her widest grin as the family finished their dinner one evening in late June. Her father, Pastor Tom Johnson, responded, “We thought that it would be a good time for a visit since we have that pastor’s conference in Chicago in July and then we’ll come back to the farm for a month while I work on my book.”

While Susie began to discuss with her mother what clothes she should bring on the trip, since it was only a week away, Stanley began to ask his father what Millville was like. He could not remember much about it. He had only been there once and that was when he very little. At the same time, he started trying to finish his dinner in big gulps. After trying to swallow a particularly big bite, he began to hiccup. “Whoa, there sport,” his father said, scooting his chair over closer to his young son. He put his hand on his back and offered him some water. “Here drink this water Stanley, it should help to get that big bite down and stop your hiccups.” Stanley took the glass and slowly began to drink it. After a couple of swallows, he handed it back to his dad, leaned back in his chair and took a couple of deep breaths. “Hiccup,” he went again. His father smiled at his son and said, “maybe we’ll just sit still here for a couple of minutes and wait for this to pass.”

Susie and Mrs. Johnson, still talking about what to pack for the trip, rose and began clearing away the dinner dishes and putting them into the dishwasher.

That evening Susie called her friend Andrea, “I’m so excited that we get to go to Millville. You’d love it there, I wish that you could come too. It’s where my grandparents both grew up in the Midwest, near the Canadian border. There are lots of lakes and trees there and my grandparents have a small farm. We’ll be able to help out with the farm animals and other chores around the farm. And, you’d just love my Gram Susie and Grampa Johnny. They are some of the neatest Christians you’ll ever get to meet. They were missionaries in Africa for the longest time and when they retired from Africa they moved back to my great-grandparents farm in Millville. We’re gonna have so much fun!” “I think you will too, Susie. I’ve never been to a real live farm” said Andrea. Susie said quickly, “Do you know what I want to learn? I want to learn how to milk a cow and collect eggs and…and…well, I don’t know, just everything!” Andrea laughed and said, “Yeah, it all sounds so exciting. I wish that I could go with you too, but my Mom & I are planning a trip to the ocean while you are gone. That will be fun too.”

The day of the trip to Millville arrived and found the Johnson family boarding the train at the Crescent City train station, getting settled into their compartment and watching the scenery pass by. Pastor Johnson kept Stanley busy with walking tours of the train. There was even a car with a playroom that Stanley could play in while his father enjoyed being able to sit for a minute. That evening they had a marvelous meal in the dining car and then settled snugly into their bunks to sleep while the train rolled on toward Millville.

The next morning, after breakfast, there was plenty of time for reading, sightseeing on the train and watching the scenery change.

After lunch, Susie went up to sit up in the observation car and look out the window at the hilly pastures dotted with cows and horses rolling by. She was wondering what it would be like to be on one of those farms when someone sat down in the seat opposite her. It was a girl that didn’t look much older than her and Andrea but, something was different about her. She seemed kind of lonely. Susie wondered what to say to her.


My First Writers Conference – A Report

The 2014 Northwest Christian Writers Renewal Conference

I almost didn’t go. Fear of the unknown and noisy crowds of people that I didn’t know nearly kept me home. But, I had volunteered to help out with a couple of things and they had gifted me with a scholarship…so, I was on the hook. I couldn’t back out without leaving someone with volunteer spots to fill or seeming not to be appreciative of the scholarship. So, Friday morning, I bit the bullet, stuffed my anxiety level, packed up my stuff and headed out into the unknown.

The conference was entitled “2014 Northwest Christian Renewal Conference” and it was being held at a monster sized Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, Washington. I had been there before (several years ago) for an AWANA conference. That helped with some aspects of my nervousness. I stopped for some coffee at Starbucks and then I slogged through a small part of the late Friday morning traffic rush. Google map navigation guided me safely to the church (I didn’t say I remembered how to get there).

When I walked into the building, I was immediately greeted with friendly smiles and hellos from people I knew from my small fiction writers group. Anxiety began to loosen its iron grip on me. I got my name tag and syllabus and went to find a place to sit so that I could figure out where to go and what to do. I was greeted by more people that knew me from my Facebook interactions with the larger Northwest Christian Writers group. Anxiety began to melt some more.

One of the big things for me was being able to check in with a Facebook friend of mine that had recently moved back from Texas to start a new publishing company. I had not lain eyes on her for a long time and wanted to congratulate her on her recent engagement. That was a nice moment, I began to feel more like I belonged.

I arrived late on purpose so that I could skip the large group sessions. I have issues with the noise levels of large group meetings.

My first session wasn’t until 11:00am so I had some time to wander around a bit and get myself settled in the environment. I got to visit with some other friends and was feeling pretty comfortable by the start of my first session. I also need to say that I am really comfortable in most classroom situations. It’s one place where know what the focus is and love interacting with whoever the teacher might be.

My first session was hearing Vanessa Brannen speak about Writing for an Audience of Two: The Importance of Personal Writing. She focused on how this type of writing is between you and God. It is written without the intent of sharing it with others.

Some topics included:

  • Why should you journal?

○       An interesting note here was that journaling actually has health benefits.

○       It helps with decision making, increased mental clarity and improves your relationships with others by providing you with a constructive outlet for your daily frustrations.

  • How should you journal?

○       Diary

○       Morning pages

○       Personal devotions

  • Tools and references

○       Notebook and pen

○       A number of apps, programs and web based journaling sites.

 My takeaway from this session was that there are benefits to regular, structured writing that I am not reaping. I need to work out a strategy that incorporates it into my daily schedule.

Then I went to hear Diana Savage teach about Self-Editing Tips and Tricks. She has spent years in the writing and editing business and I could tell that she was teaching from the heart of that experience. Some topics included:

  • Types of Editing.
  • Info on Copyright law
  • Style Manuals
  • Books on Grammar and Editing
  • Finding an editor

She emphasized the importance of using strong action verbs and avoiding the use of adverbs that end in -ly. Good advice. She also stressed the importance of using active rather than passive voice and careful proofreading. She also pointed out that the gold standard for dictionaries is the Merriam Webster as is the Chicago Manual of Style for other things.

My takeaway from this session was reinforcement of the need for excellent editing. You can avoid a lot of editing issues by taking care while you write.

I was also blessed to be able to take in the session on Perseverance and Providence in the Writer’s Journey with Darlene Panzera. I have had the good fortune to hear this speaker before and enjoyed her more this time. Her points included definitions of her title words:

  • Perseverance:

○       persist

○       continue

○       keep at it

○       keep trying

○       stick with it

○       carry on

  • Providence

○       God

○       God’s guidance

Then she asks some very cogent questions:

  • What do you love to do?
  • What are you gifted to do?
  • How do you find time to write?
  • How bad do you want it?
  • What are the things that discourage you and keep you from pursuing your goals?
  • In what ways can you eliminate the distractions?

She accompanied these areas of discussion with the story of her own path to publication and how she has persisted in keeping that going for the last few years. She was inspiring and encouraging.

My takeaway from this session was hang in there and just keep doing what God has called you to do. Persevere, persist and honor the gift He gave you.

I mentioned earlier that I had volunteered for some tasks. They were being a room host for two speakers. My first one was Starting Your Writing Journey with Diana Savage. Her topics included:

  • Identifying Your Choices – Deciding what you want to write.
  • Develop the Craft – Turning your talent and desire into a marketable skill.
  • Approach the Market – Tips on getting your foot in the door.
  • Creating a Platform.
  • Becoming a money making writer.

My takeaway from this session was working with intentionality. Being smart and thinking about the direction you are headed as a writer can yield great benefits down the road.

I did not stay for the dinner and dessert Friday night, even though it was included in the conference package. After really enjoying the first day of the conference, I did not want to cap the day with the unpleasantness of having to face a large, crowded noisy room. I had also run out of insulin after taking my lunch shot, am not supposed to be driving after dark and needed to go home to feed my cat. You see, I had my quiver full of valid reasons to avoid what I feared.

I arrived in time on Saturday morning to catch Sally Apokedak talk about Weaving in Your World View (aka Christianity without Clobbering). She is a delightful speaker and came equipped with numerous examples of  MG & YA novels that were able to weave faith into the work without being preachy. She came prepared with excerpts to read with a discussion of what did and did not work well.

My takeaway from this session was a reinforcement that excellent books can contain Christian messages without beating people over the head. That is something to work for in my writing.

Next on my agenda was a fun workshop with Kathleen Kerr entitled Voice: What You Can’t Learn from a Workshop. Armed with excerpts from a variety of excellent and unique writers, Kathleen had us guess who wrote which excerpt so that we could compare and contrast some completely different and effective voices of successful authors. She had a unique exercise in which she presented us with two different translations of the twenty third psalm that had completely different voices. Her topics included:

  • Pay attention to what you read.
  • Stop writing for your tenth grade English teacher.
  • Write a million words.

○       For an example of how continuing to write will improve your voice and help it become unique, she showed us two paintings by the same very famous (and unique) painter. Picasso. Google images of his work from his “Blue” period and compare them with his more famous later works. There was a lot of work that happened between the two works and only doing that work could have caused the artist to grow into his own and completely unique style.

 My takeaway from this session was write, write, write. Don’t spend time copying others. Be yourself as you write, write, write.

Next was lunch and the panel of experts. I found the lunch to be very good but, as the room filled with people and becoming noisier, I found my anxiety level rising so I retreated to an area of the hallway the had tables on which I could setup my Chromebook and listen to some quieting music. I am grateful that area was available and that Overlake provides an excellent wifi hookup. That allowed my to get back into a good place and set me up to enjoy the final workshop for the day.

For my final session I was assigned to be room host for Mark Cutshall speaking on The Four Keys to Co-Authoring. I was conflicted because I also really wanted to attend part of the workshop put on by my friends Lynnette Bonner and Lesley Ann McDaniel. Fortunately, the rooms were very close together, so I got the recorder to Mark Cutshall and grabbed a seat in the workshop entitled Indie Publishing – Market and Distribute Like a Pro handled by Lynnette.

My takeaway from this session was how knowledgeable and helpful Christian writers are with one another. It is always so refreshing to know that, in this community of writers, there is a genuine sense of pulling each other along rather than scrambling over one another in some mad competition for sales.

I could not have predicted how much I would enjoy and be blessed by this conference. I could not believe how generous and helpful and friendly everyone was. I appreciate the scholarship so much more now than I did before because I can see the benefits so much more clearly now. Thank you to the leadership of the Northwest Christian Writer’s Association for the gift of the scholarship. I plan to put all I learned to work this year in my writing. I am glad I went.