Jen Stephen’s first book, The Heart’s Journey Home was published in February 2010 from Sheaf House. The sequel, The Heart’s Lullaby will be released in May 2011. To find out more about Jen and her books visit: http://www.jenstephens.net/. Jen is also a wife, mother, and teacher living in Nashville, TN.
Writing as A Ministry Interview with Jen Stephens
Hi, Julia! Thank you so much for having me on your blog today! What an honor it is to talk about how writing has become a ministry in my life!
1. When and how did you feel God’s calling to write?
I’ve never NOT written. For as long as I could string words together it was my way of expressing myself, dealing with certain situations, and just being creative. It wasn’t until I completed the first draft of The Heart’s Journey Home for the secular market that I felt the Holy Spirit urge me to rewrite it for the Christian market.
2. Is there anything you have learned about your relationship with God through writing?
I’ve learned that everything I have and do belongs to Him. He’ll gladly share it with me, but I can be selfish. When I try to take control of it, I slam into a writer’s block every time. When I let Him tell me when and what to write it takes on a life of its own. Really. Sometimes I write something and I’m like, “Wow. I didn’t know that would happen.” I’ll add to this question in when I discuss ministry.
3. Do you have any word to encourage writers new to the craft?
The very best thing a new writer can do is join a writer’s group – either online or “live”. I’m a member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). Even though there are chapters of this group that hold “live” meetings, I don’t have any near me so I’m active online only. I’m also a member of MTCW (Middle Tennessee Christian Writers) which meets “live” twice a month. No, I don’t make every meeting. Sometimes, depending on the season and what my girls are involved in I can go a few months and not make it to a meeting, but the support from the other writers is constant and has been a huge help in developing my craft.
4. Has writing ministered to you?
I grew up a product of divorced parents. I had a tough time with it and I often felt like I didn't have a place where I really belonged. My self esteem was basically nonexistent. It was sad and lonely to feel like a nobody. I began writing as an escape. In my fiction worlds, I could be anywhere and anyone I wanted to be. It definitely helped me cope. As I matured in my faith, I came to the understanding that I always have a place to belong in the arms of my Savior and I am someone very special to Him.
Ten years ago my faith was really put to the test as my daddy died and 6 months later I had our firstborn, a beautiful baby girl with a special need. She was born with a cleft palate. She underwent several surgeries and years of speech therapy. Thankfully, I had several godly women mentoring me and my dwindling faith became more than it was before. During this time, I was writing The Heart’s Journey Home for the secular market. When I finished it and didn’t feel very satisfied, the Holy Spirit prompted me to rewrite it for the Christian market. I did not realizing that the Lord wanted me to write it for myself as much as other hurting people. It was very healing for me also as it deals with living after loss and finding one's faith again.
5. Do you have any suggestions as to how we can encourage authors?
Two things: First, very simply tell an author how their book(s) touched your heart. It’s why we do what we do. To hear that a reader identified with a character, that reading how the character dealt with the given situation really helped her figure out how to get through her trial, is confirmation that we ARE doing what the Lord would have us to do. Second, TELL OTHERS! That is with any product, in any area of life. It’s so encouraging to hear someone tell you how much you mean to them, but to hear someone tell you, “My best friend, Julia, told me how much your book (or CD or photography or meal that you cooked for them or just simple conversation) meant to her so I decided to try it for myself.”, now that’s extra special!
6. How can we allow our writing to be used as a ministry?
First, you have to really BELIEVE that the Lord can use you through the ability and talent He instilled in you as He knit you together in the womb. Mind blowing, isn’t it? The truth I’ve come to realize is that the Lord wants to be able to count on all of His children to plant seeds for Him. Doesn’t seem too hard, does it? Just plant the seed. He will nurture the seed – feed it and water it, tend to it as it sprouts. And He will gather up the harvest. But if we don’t go out and do His foot work – soften up the soil and plant the seed, there would be no harvest. Understand that when you write for God, your story belongs to Him. Man will reject it. EVERY writer has rejection letters, and every rejection hurts. I can’t sugar coat that. Think of it this way: Jesus Himself was rejected. Now, don’t take that out of context. I’m not by any means saying that my writing or your writing comes anywhere close to paralleling what Jesus Christ did for us. What I’m saying is simply that every good thing that comes from God WILL face adversaries. Above anything else, spend time in the Word. Develop a personal relationship with the Lord. (I’m working on this right now.) Have you ever written something and said, “That sounds just like (insert name of spouse, best friend, or child)!” When you know Him like you know your spouse, your best friend, or your child you’ll find yourself writing something that “sounds like Him”. Then others will get to know Him better through your writing/ministry.
Did that make sense, Julia? I’m really focusing on doing this myself. I’m a relationship person. That’s how I minister best, by creating a relationship with people. The Lord helped me do that with The Heart’s Journey Home. The Heart’s Lullaby is turning out to be a more emotionally intense book so He’s showing me that I have to focus more on my relationship with Him now in order to reach out to others later.
7. Do you have any Scripture verses that have encouraged you in your writing life?
My favorite verse in the whole Bible is Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” I meditate on this verse taking turns stressing different words. For example: “But those who WAIT on the Lord . . .”, “But those who wait on the LORD . . .” This verse has ministered to me in not just my writing life but in all aspects of my life.
8. Do you have any special stories to share about readers, encouragement, and A Heart’s Journey Home?
I love hearing from my readers because they truly become my friends. I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe that each one of my readers was led to or received The Heart’s Journey Home for a specific reason that they may not even know yet. And I believe they were brought into my life for a special reason. I know that sounds corny, but it’s true.
One of the most rewarding parts of writing The Heart’s Journey Home was including Dan Olien and Cassie Ground. I held a contest – The “What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life” Contest. They were nominated by their family members and I just happened to draw their names out of a hat. During the process of creating their characters I became friends with Cassie’s mom and aunt and Dan’s wife. How wonderful it was when I actually got to meet hem and hug their necks at a book signing I had in Ohio in March! They’ve shared with me that Cassie’s sister, recently married is now expecting! And Brenda has just recently begun to see a very special gentleman!
Here’s another story: I’d reached a point that I had to write a scene I didn’t want to write involving one of my favorite characters. (I was vague for the sake of those who have not read the book.) It was a medical scene so I did what I do for all medical scenes and I called my sister who’s a nurse. She was telling me what would happen in this case and I just started crying. She said, “Are you crying?” I said, “I just don’t want this to happen!” in between boo hooing. She paused for a minute and then said, “Well it is your book.” Ha! Isn’t that funny? I could’ve changed that scene, but it wasn’t what the Lord wanted. It wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without it. But it was hard because I just love my characters so much. They become like my family - a special part of me. I hope all of your readers come to love them, too, Julia!
9. I know you also love teaching. I know several of our readers are teachers and at least a few of us (including myself) homeschool, and many others are called to teach through Bible study or in another way. Can you share some encouragement for teachers?
Know that teaching is also a gift. Ephesians 4:7, 11-12 says, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”. Believe me I know that you don’t get the credit you deserve – the preparation and planning, racking your brain to figure out how to best get a concept through to your students. Then there’s the classroom management and some of you may have issues with parents. Know that the most important One is well aware of your hard work and you will see eternal rewards. Really, what could possibly be better than that???
10. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Well . . . Okay, I’m going to admit something that scares the pants off of me. I’m feeling the Lord leading me toward public speaking – in schools, women’s conferences, that sort of thing. This is an another area, in addition to being a wife, mama, teacher, and writer, where I’m just trying to seek the Lord first. My first speaking engagement is at the Southern Festival of Books, Friday, October 8th from 3:30-5pm in Nashville, Tennessee and I’m speaking on the topic of The Passion, Strength, and Wisdom of Women. If you’d be interested in having me come to your school, women’s conference, or other event to speak on any topic but especially following the Lord on YOUR heart’s journey home, please contact me: email@example.com. Regardless, please pray for me in this endeavor and I will pray for all of you, Julia’s readers, in your ministries and as you follow where ever the Lord leads you. Romans 5:3-4 tells us that we should “. . . glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, HOPE.” Through that hope the Lord will use you in marvelous ways! Best wishes and blessings on your journey!
Thank you so much for joining us today, Jen, and for your words of encouragement.
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