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When It’s Okay To Be A Copycat

June 7, 2017

Did you know that Michelangelo’s first commission was a swindle?

I have a lot going on these days, including writing new material for our FTN Friday Bible Study, and participating in a book launch for author Jeff Goins, whose new book Real Artists Don’t Starve comes out today. These things are very different (so bear with me). Yesterday, however, I found a common thread.

Michelangelo’s first job was to copy another artist, make the sculpture look old, and then sell it as an antique. He was caught in the con, but it worked out in his favor, for the Cardinal who had originally wanted the piece—hired Michelangelo!

Now, I would certainly never condone cheating people with cheap knockoffs. However, this story brings to light a very interesting fact about apprenticing artists during the Renaissance:

“During the Renaissance, apprentices were taught to copy their master’s work so precisely that the copies were indistinguishable from the originals. Being able to reproduce an earlier work was not something to be ashamed of—it was a point of pride. In the words of author Noah Charney, it was ‘a sign of ability, not duplicity’ to be able to copy the work of a master.” — Real Artists Don’t Starve pp. 27 and 28

I have seen the benefits of a similar approach in my own writing. I started writing at a very young age. Among other things, I had finished the first draft of Winter’s Prey, Field of Ashes, and books 3-5 of the series by the time I went to Russia at 19. But if you went back and read those drafts today, well, you’d probably laugh. I was a novice. I had not honed my craft, found my voice, or learned from others. A Russian friend once looked at me compassionately and said, “Rachel, you write like Tolstoy—long sentences.”

Ten years later, I returned to the States. I found myself needing to fill the evenings while my grandparents watched classic movies, so I wrote. But then I started noticing the difference between those classic movies and many contemporary movies. The classic movies truly told stories. They had plots! Character and dialog driven plots! They didn’t have to blow things up, drown the movie in excessive music, or go where they shouldn’t go simply to get ratings—because they knew how to tell a story. So I started watching, but not watching for the sake of entertainment, watching for the sake of study.

I also started reading again, which I hadn’t had a lot of time for in Russia. As I read, I started noticing twists of phrases and how authors I adored built their sentences and paragraphs. The authors I liked best wrote with rhythm, or what I like to call lilt. The more I read their work and listened to it on audiobooks, the more I realized that was the voice I was looking for. No, it wouldn’t be an exact match. My voice would have its own tone, but whatever that tone was, it had to have lilt. So I listened and read and practiced—and it worked.

As I read Real Artists Don’t Starve, Michelangelo’s story got me to thinking about this practice of being a copycat, but it was the story of dancer Twyla Tharp that started to bring things together for me.

“When she started dancing in New York, the dancer dedicated herself to studying every great dancer who was working at the time. She patterned herself after these professionals, learning what she could from them, copying their every move. ‘I would literally stand behind them in class,’ she said, ‘in copying mode, and fall right into their footsteps. Their technique, style, and timing imprinted themselves on my muscles.” — Real Artists Don’t Starve pg. 30

Anything we do often or repetitively (like typing or shifting gears) probably involves some degree of muscle memory. This is what Twyla Tharp was doing. She was copying the movements of the greats, training her own muscles to do what the masters were doing, so that it would flow naturally out of her. The brain and writing work similarly. Many writers copy out the work of great writers in order to learn from them.

This is the point where Jeff’s book and my own work intersected this week.

The material I have been writing touches on the importance of the example we set for others. Before we are required to set an example, however, we are given an example to follow. 1 Peter 2:21 says that Christ left us an example and we are to follow in His steps.

Check out the meaning of the Greek word translated example!

“A writing copy, including all the letters of the alphabet, given to beginners as an aid in learning to draw them.” – Source, BlueLetterBible.com

In other words, if we are to be like Christ, then—just like the writer or sculptor who wants to become like the great artists who have gone before them—we need to sit down and study His work, His words, His actions, His responses, and His attitudes. We need to practice what He practiced until it becomes as much a part of us as those dance moves that flowed out of Twyla Tharp or as that sculpture that came from Michelangelo’s hands. We need to sit as a child with a copy sheet and trace the lines of His life over and over until His grace, kindness, love, righteousness, and forgiveness flow from the pen of our lives onto the paper of our circumstances and relationships, creating a genuine copy of the Master’s work.

It doesn’t stop there. In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul tells Timothy to be an example of the believers. The word translated as example is the Greek word typos. Not typos as in mistakes in typing, but typos as in:

“The mark of a stroke or blow…print.” — Source, BlueLetterBible.com

All the copying we have done of the Master should now flow out in strokes, or be stamped out in images, which can be copied by others. And as the strokes of our example scribe their lines across our circumstances and relationships, they should always point our copiers to the Master.

This is when it’s okay to be a copycat. In fact, it’s more than okay. This is when it’s the preferred course because in being a copycat, we become the real thing.

Have you ever copied another artist’s work? What practices do you maintain in your Christian walk that allow you to copy Christ? Please share in the comments below.

Check Out Real Artists Don’t Starve
Don’t Miss My New Book Field of Ashes

 

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Field of Ashes Life

Some Sweet Thing

May 31, 2017

Often we lose things…or people…we thought we should have. Life could only be right with this wonderful thing in it. And then suddenly, it’s gone. Vanished. Never to be put back in our hands again. Never within our view. A memory. Simply gone.

Our hearts ache and mourn. We cannot see the purpose. We cannot see the plan. We cannot see our Master’s hand…but it is there. Take it and trust. He is not finished yet. This is not the end, only the beginning. This is the inciting event, not the epilogue. Let Him comfort. Seek Him. Follow Him. He has some sweet thing in store.


After losing her fiancé to the wild elements of the Montana Territory, Jessica Bennett is sure the key to her happiness is in leaving Twin Pines. But from the moment she steps foot in the untamed, cowtown of Grassdale, Jess discovers a whole new world of challenges: An unruly superintendent, a ramshackle school, drunken cowboys, and a letter from home that changes everything. When the hidden wounds of her heart are discovered, will one man’s secret past hold the key to her healing?

Easy has never been the path Marcus Bennett sought, but as summer unfolds he comes face to face with the one struggle he has avoided for years. When life takes an unexpected turn, he finds himself torn between his responsibilities, his love for his family, and the promptings of his heart. Would God really ask him to abandon his home and family?

This sequel to Winter’s Prey explores the beauty of God’s amazing grace and astounding love, the freedom of surrender, and the hope of experience, though faith be tried by fire.

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Featured Life

The Danger of Distraction

May 17, 2017

The grown-up in me refused to cry. Not there. Not in the middle of the store. Not where everyone could see that my heart was disappointed and confused in a moment when it was supposed to be rejoicing. But the truth was, I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand how, after pouring hundreds of hours into something I believed so firmly was the direction the Lord was leading, this important moment could come to so little.

(Image courtesy Pablo.buffer. com)

There is a sense in which you could say that writing a book doesn’t cost anything. [This of course doesn’t include blood, sweat, tears, late nights, early mornings, deadline stress, continuing education, writing hours, research hours, editing hours, layout hours, publication hours, or marketing hours.]  You could say that writing a book doesn’t cost anything more than the instruments used to write it.

But writing a book also doesn’t pay anything unless you sell it. That is the stark reality of life.

I have three basic purposes for writing the books I write:

1. To honor the Lord
2. To point people toward Him
3. To help provide for my “family” (My mom and me)

I wish it were possible to write only for the first two reasons, but even writers and missionaries have to eat. We enjoy eating actually, just like everyone else. As this book launch has unfolded, and I have seen money going out and going out and going out and only a little trickling back in here and there, my heart rate has skyrocketed more than once. I’m not usually one to stress over these things, but in this case I had much invested in time, effort, and money—all of which came out of limited stores.

Watching it do so well the first day while it was free and then seeing the activity stop when it went into the paid store was crushing. And then putting enormous effort into planning an event for the book and having a wonderful time, but only seeing 9 books go out the door—I was ready to cry. If it hadn’t been for a friend who met me after the book signing and unwittingly distracted me from the truth, if it hadn’t been for the 12” dandelions in my yard waiting for my attention when I got home, if it hadn’t been for grace—I would have been a mess Saturday night.

Sunday morning, I woke up with a heart crying out to the Lord. “Father,” it said, “how do I walk into my classroom and teach my Sunday School students ‘Take therefore no thought for the morrow’ when my heart is so confused on this matter this morning?”

You see, we’ve been memorizing Matthew 6:24-34 in Sunday School, and it has been awesome watching over the last few months as God has indeed shown that He will provide as we step out and let Him prove Himself. But this moment was not awesome. This moment was overwhelming.

I opened my Bible and began reading through all of the cross-references for the passage. Then I considered the phrase we were going to be starting with that morning: “Take no thought.” What did that really mean? I got out my Strong’s concordance, started digging, and had much to think about by the time I left the house.

Even as the Sunday School hour was starting, my heart was still sorting, still trying to understand, still trying to reconcile where things were. But as we sang the opening song, things started falling into place.

Before I go any farther there are three things, three words, you need to know:

1. μεριμναω (merimnao)– to be anxious about
2. μεριμνα (merimna)– solicitude through the idea of distraction
3. μεριζω (merizo) – to part

Class began with the question, “What does it mean to ‘take no thought’?” Does that mean we aren’t to think about our grocery list? Does that mean we are supposed to get a job but be concerned about doing a good job? Does that mean that we aren’t supposed to look at our children and say, “Oh, you’ve grown out of those clothes, you need new ones”? The children all agreed this wasn’t what this verse was talking about. So what was it talking about?

Well in in it’s simplest form, (merimnao) the phrase “take no thought” means don’t be anxious. This was not a concept the kids had trouble understanding. We’ve all been anxious—anxious about bills, anxious about tests, anxious about work, anxious about whether our friends will like us. And when we become anxious we soon become distracted with care (merimna) because our brains have been “parted” so to speak with all of our worries (merizo).

A dry erase marker was laying on the classroom table. I picked it up, removed the lid, and asked the kids, “What happens if I part this lid from the marker?”
They all just looked at me like, “You’re a teacher and you don’t know that?” And then they said, “It dries out!”

Exactly. It dries out and becomes useless.

At this point,  the chalkboard came into play. I’m not an artist, so in real life the following picture looked like a plum with worms:

God has given us one brain, and He wants it to be focused on Him, His Kingdom, and His Righteousness. When we start “taking thought” distraction starts taking residence in our brains, dividing our attention. “I have a problem,” it says, “I have a big problem. I will never find the answer to this problem. I wish I didn’t have this problem.”

Our heart cries out, “God can fix this problem!”

And then our brain throws in that dangerous word. “BUT…I have a problem!”

At this point, we decided that our brains sort of resemble a dog chasing its tail. This is where we see the danger of distraction. Soon the heart, like that marker missing its lid, begins to tire of having to cry out so loud over all the distractions in the brain. Its voice grows quieter. It dries out and dies away. And WE become useless.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. One SLIGHT change can make all the difference.

This is where it must rest. This is when our confidence in Him must be sure. Do we know Him? Have we seen Him work? Have we seen Him prove Himself? Then this is where we must set aside distraction and walk on in the hope of experience. If we haven’t given Himself a chance to prove Himself, then this is the perfect opportunity to begin, to learn of His promises, His faithfulness, and His supply.

Suddenly time was up, class was over, and my heart was at peace. It is still at peace—two days later. Nothing has changed in my circumstances. My focus has just been adjusted.

Where is your focus? Are you allowing cares to bring anxiety, distraction, and division to your pursuit of God, His Kingdom, and His righteousness? Or are you thinking on those things that will keep your heart fixed on God? Put the cap back on the marker. Listen to the truth the Holy Spirit is speaking to your heart and rest there. God can fix the problem!

Featured Life Winter's Prey

The God Who Catches Us

February 16, 2017

Marc was quiet. He could hear a note of hurt in his brother’s voice. For a while he fiddled with the edge of the quilt that covered him, shame bringing color to his pale cheeks; but then he raised his eyes to meet his brother’s questions with confidence. “I knew the Lord wouldn’t let us starve. I knew He’d never disappoint us. So I just decided to trust Him. …But I’m afraid my eyes started to stray when the roof was damaged. Just like Peter walkin’ on the water, I saw the waves and the ‘wind boisterous’ and began to sink…now look at me.”

Both men were quiet, both contemplating their conversation. Marc, not for the first time since the accident, was realizing how he’d begun to worry and doubt. Jon was realizing how little he’d ever started to trust.

Winter’s Prey – Page 192

This morning, for the third day in a row, I woke up feeling overwhelmed. My to do list, which never actually made it to paper, is so long and confusing that I’m not sure where the beginning or the ending actually are. As usual, after spending some time in prayer, I picked up my phone to see what time it was. My phone greeted me with a long list of notifications, most of which weren’t really that important, but one caught my attention. It was the emailed version of a devotional that I have used off and on for more than two decades.

Normally, I only use the emails when I am traveling and haven’t brought the book along with me or when I’m working on something on the computer and happen to see the email come in. But this morning, the Lord impressed upon me that I should read it. Three verses at the end of the evening reading caught my attention.

“When thou passest through the water, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” Isaiah 43:2

This is one of my favorite verses of comfort and promise. It brings back memories of an evening spent in one of the apartments at the orphanage in Russia, and the testimony of a Russian pastor. He started his story with this verse and then went on to tell how God had kept him and his family through days of persecution.

This morning, it also made me think of someone who has recently come across my path who is going through some pretty deep waters right now. What a promise to know that God will not let those waters overflow her. As I was thinking on this, the second verse caught my attention:

“Peter…walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said to him, O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?” Matthew 14:29-31

What a beautiful thought that God could not only keep the waters from overflowing my new friend but also could enable her to walk on those waters!

But as I reached the part about the wind, my heart grew sad. Instantly, the above scene from Winter’s Prey played through my mind, and I realized that I was doing exactly what Marc had been doing—looking at the storm rather than at the Savior, looking at the to do list, the enormity of each project on it, the interruptions, the unexpected, and forgetting to remember that the same Savior who has given me a work to do is the same Savior who calms storms.

How glad I am that the verse does not say, “And beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord save me. But Jesus let him sink, watching as he disappeared beneath the waves and said to him, O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?”

Grace is a beautiful thing. I am in desperate need of it every day. I know, as do you, that none of us will measure up all of the time. I am so grateful that when I begin to sink, He stretches out His hand and catches me. Think about that for a moment—We serve the God who catches us! How amazing is that!

“When I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” Psalm 56:3

The last of the three verses is the secret to walking through the storm, to facing the fear of the unknown, to pressing on when we don’t know how we will be able to accomplish everything or how long our energies will last, or where to start and when to finish. The secret to it all is this—keep your eyes, your heart, on Him.

My day didn’t get any less busy by reading these verses. Actually, things were even more hectic than I expected. But I had a good reminder each time I was tempted to get overwhelmed, a reminder that I had hope. I could trust the God who would keep me above the waters.

How about you? Do you have a verse that helps you keep your eyes on the Lord when things get overwhelming? Please share in the comments below.

Featured Life Winter's Prey

The Gain of Contentment

February 16, 2017

“Now nearly thirteen years later, the small chamber was not so comfortable. With all five girls in the room, space was non-existent. The chests of drawers were shared: Jess and Elizabeth using one, Mary and Joy splitting the other. Gretel’s few items resided neatly in a small wooden crate, which Mary had carefully placed beside her dresser and lovingly dubbed “The Annex.” Beside the original straw mattress, two more had sprung up, so that the room was all mattress and no floor. But for the most part the quintet was content. They loved one another and did their best to avoid squabbles, though it wasn’t always possible.”

Winter’s Prey – page 56

When I set out to write Winter’s Prey, it wasn’t intended to be a book about contentment, and yet from start to finish that thread has woven itself throughout the book. From the tight conditions of their small home to the overwhelming conditions of their rugged lives, the characters are constantly faced with that choice either to be happy where they are or to miserable. Some of them choose well, for others it is a great struggle.

The same can be said for us. We live in a world that is constantly offering us more. Even as I type this, an advertisement is flashing in the bottom corner of my browser window. It’s telling me about all the great tools and products I can buy to make my home what it ought to be. Not to mention the awesome office products I can purchase to make my home and business more successful. It’s promising me more. But what about what I already have?

It’s easy for us to look at others and say, “Wow, they’ve got it made. I wish my situation was like theirs.” I’m currently on a 4,000 mile trek across the US sharing about the ministry of Forbid Them Not and speaking in ladies’ conferences. Early on in my trip, someone said to me, “I bet you live in a big, beautiful house.”

I almost laughed out loud, but the Lord helped me keep my demeanor. “No,” I replied, “I live in a mobile home—that leaks.” It wasn’t a complaint. It was just the truth.

“Well,” she said, “but at least you have a mobile home. I have a mobile home too.” And she was right. Even though my house was showing its age in the form of a leaky roof and windows, I have a home. Some do not.

As I have driven across Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Missouri, I have often seen what appear to be ancient homesteads. I can’t help but think of the difficulty of the life their people led. Today people live off the land by preference; the homesteaders and pioneers did it by necessity. I have stood in homes in Africa where the primary building materials are mud, cow dung, straw, cardboard, and newspaper. And yet the people living there are some of the happiest, most content people I have ever met.

Scripture tells us that, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Timothy 6:6) The gain of contentment isn’t something you can buy off a shelf or earn on the stock market. Contentment, while not putting something extra in our hand, is both laying up a treasure in heaven and lifting a weight from our lives. When we walk through life contentedly, the pressure to be or do or have is removed. We can look to Christ and say, “Help me to be who You want me to be and to do as You want me to do. I trust You to supply my needs.”

Contentment isn’t easy. I used to think it was some magical state that eluded my every move. Why couldn’t I just be content? I cannot begin to tell you the joy I experienced the day that I discovered the secret the Apostle Paul makes so clear in Philippians. He said, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

I have LEARNED! Contentment will never be a sudden or spontaneous achievement. Contentment is a growing process. It is a discipline. It takes practice! It also requires the choice to intentionally be happy with what I have, where I have it.

I’m happy to report that, even though it is raining in Montana as I write, my house is dry. The leaks seem to have been fixed. But even when our house is leaking, or our car is making its age known, or our clothes are wearing thin, we can learn to be content. And one of the best ways to make that process easier is by choosing gratitude.

Are you content where God has put you? What has He given you that you can be thankful for? I’d love to hear what He has taught you about contentment!

Featured Life Winter's Prey

Declare His Doings

January 31, 2017

Last week, we had a conversation in the Forbid Them Not office about the fact that God does not leave us as we walk through trials. He doesn’t forsake us…ever. Sometimes it may seem that He is far, far away, but He isn’t. He is right there beside us, walking through the storm with us, perhaps, as the poem says, even carrying us.

Over the weekend, I was reading in Psalm 9 and ran across this phrase in verse 10, “for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” It made me think of that conversation. My quiet time was interrupted for a few minutes and when I came back to it again, I was reading through the passage a second time. As I came to that verse I was reminded of a scene in Winter’s Prey when Marc is sharing with Jess just how faithful God has been to him.

I thought about those two conversations, one of them real the other fictional, and the many things that God has done in my life over the years. As I read through the next verse I was blessed once more because I realized the conversations reflected God’s desire. It says, “…Declare among the people His doings.”

I believe each of us has times in our lives when we feel that we are all alone, we don’t know how we’re going to pay a bill, we’re not sure what the next step is, we are experiencing incredible loss or physical pain, and then somehow God reveals His loving hand. Maybe it is through a person, a gift, a verse in Scripture, a heart found in an unexpected place (I have a couple of friends for whom this is particularly special and another friend for whom it has always been roses)—whatever it is, somehow God communicates His love, His presence, and His help to us.

When we share what He has done (declare it) that brings Him glory! It shows His power, His presence, His provision, His protection, and most of all His amazing love and grace. So I would like to invite you to spend a little time with me “declaring His doings.” Leave a comment here, on my Facebook page, or on your own Facebook or Twitter feeds using the hashtag #DeclareHisDoings This is a season to sing His praise, not just for what He has done but also for what He is doing!

Let’s #DeclareHisDoings together!