The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 3: How an Accidental Love for Teaching Snowballed into the Unexpected

It was Sunday morning. I had been going over the Sunday School lesson since early that morning, and nearly had the whole thing memorized. I ran through it with my husband just to make sure I didn’t sound too monotone and boring.

My husband gently reminded me that they’re only second graders, that they’re not a ravenous pack of wolves, and that I would be fine.

I felt happy that I was helping my friend Allison, the associate children’s minister at my church. I was simultaneously fearful that she would secretly vow to never ask me to teach again.

I stood at the front of the Sunday School room, paper in hand, greeting the kids as they came in. It was immediately awkward. The Shepherd (the patient heart who takes prayer requests and keeps the kids on track) kept trying to do her usual routine, but I kept thinking she was finished, and so I inadvertently interrupted her, then apologized, no less than 14 times.

Then I began the lesson.

About thirty seconds into the thing, I was surprised … I mean, really surprised. I was enjoying myself. I was enjoying the kids, and the lesson, and … shocker … the kids were attentive the ENTIRE TIME.

I think they actually enjoyed it.

by Ben White

They laughed at my jokes. They asked questions. And at the end, when I playfully quizzed them, they remembered what they’d learned! When it was all over and the last kid had been picked up, I ran up to Allison and said, “Oh my goodness! That was so much fun! Can I do it again?”

Allison’s eyes went wide and she scrambled for a pencil and pointed at the calendar. “Um, yes, actually. How about here? And here?”

For the next month, I taught Sunday School for kids, made a loving new friend named Barb, and enjoyed it so much, I forgot about writing completely. I was certain this must be my new calling. Yet somehow it still wasn’t enough.

I had the grand idea of substitute teaching at our local elementary school where the boys would soon be starting third grade and kindergarten. The process of applying to be a substitute teacher was tedious and time-consuming. I had visions of lovingly guiding brilliant, thirsty little minds and hearts. We would laugh together. We would discover new, exciting things. We would bond.

This was it. I had found my new passion: teaching.

It was still spring, the school year had not ended yet, and I was anxious to start subbing right away. I applied at Caleb’s preschool, and was soon hired. I began the work of subbing with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. It was so much fun, and I couldn’t believe how much I was enjoying it! How had I not discovered this sooner?

From the extra funds of subbing, I decided to try something fun. I started a podcast.

by Sai Kiran Anagani

I called it The Simple Word, and the intention was to dig deep into biblical concepts in less than ten minutes per episode, geared toward kids. I scripted out the episodes, recorded six, uploaded three, and was humbled by the positive response.

Wait a minute … in the middle of all the teaching enthusiasm, I had discovered yet another passion.

Writing the script was a blast, and I desperately wished I had more time to sit saturated in the Word. I had so much fun comparing versions, researching timelines and cultural references.

I learned SO MUCH.

Using NIV, ESV, ICB and NLT versions of the Bible, I dug and read and compared and cross-referenced. And that wasn’t the only fun part! I was fascinated with the editing process, and would spend hours after everyone went to bed playing with the different vocal effects. Ideas for more content flooded my head and heart. I had started something that I never wanted to end, and it filled my heart up to overflowing. Better yet, my kids loved it, and it resonated with their little souls. It somehow fueled the excitement over subbing at the elementary school, because I was anxious to spend time with more kids within the age group that the podcast would be created for.

I absolutely couldn’t wait until the fall when I could start teaching elementary kids!

Little did I know, however, that I would never get that opportunity.

Again, God had other plans.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 1: What I Lost, and What I Gained

I was sick of it.

I’d had my sights set on the “next step” for years, but yet, nothing was happening.

My next step was fiction novel-writing. I’d already had a few fiction short stories published, won a couple of awards with them. But I wanted more. I wanted to reach higher.

I wanted it so bad, I could taste it.

by Plush Design Studio

I wanted book signings where I could answer questions and help people who were struggling just like I’d been for so long. I could just see it all. I would be asked questions to which I could give wise and helpful answers.

“So, how did you manage to write novels with being a mom of young kids?”

Would my answer be like one author: “I wrote three novels with one hand on the keyboard and a ten-month-old on my knee.”

Gulp. I tried that once, and ended up with something that looked like this:

The trees towered fjjsbrjqh over her, like giants dnsnkfnnh shouting down their disapproval, dbsjkdfjhehhw but djdhshha she scrambled to her feet and trudged on. Fnabgqgehbdkakhh

Nope. Not for me.

Another author said: “I waited until my kids were in school, and spent a few hours each day working while they were gone and the house was quiet.”

Hm … While Wesley was in elementary and Caleb was in preschool, I somehow wrote far less than I did at midnight when they were babies. Now that we homeschool, our school days look verrrrry different than ever before.

Then there’s Melanie Dickerson, one of the most gentle-spirited women I’ve ever encountered. When I asked that question, she shugged and said simply, “I really don’t know. I just wrote.”

The clock is ticking. I’d always said I wanted a full-time novel-writing career by age 30. As Diana Gabaldon says regarding her start to The Outlander series, “I was 35. Mozart was dead by 36, so I knew I’d better get started!”

I’m 36 now. I’ve written four novels, none of which have seen the light of day. I decided that I was missing something. Something I didn’t KNOW that I needed to know.

I went on retreats. I went to conferences. I invested in workshops. I took online courses. I bought *more* books on writing, the ones that all the “experts” say you’ll need or else you’ll never know what to do. (Word of advice: read what you want. Not what you should. Because obligatory reading is … Well, exactly as boring as it sounds.)

As you can imagine, all of this took MONEY. I felt so guilty as I dropped dollar signs into a bucket labeled “novel-writing investment”. I built an impressive website. I did all the right things to drive traffic to it. I played the social media game exactly as the experts suggested. None of it worked, and I’m sure the my-heart’s-not-in-this spirit showed through. (Some writer friends reading this will be nodding their heads now).

by Marc Schaefer

Now, in all my hot persuit of finding that key I seemed to be missing, I lost something else …

My love for writing.

by Matthew Henry

I’d become sick of it. Actually, totally sick of it. I hated to even say the word “writing” because it had become connected with frustration and negativity. It wasn’t fun. I hated it. To my heart it tasted like bits of cardboard in a bowl, eaten like cereal with a paper spoon.

When it came time to turn in our taxes for 2018, I added up all the writing expenses (minus the meager freelance writing income I’d intended to fund my “self-investment”). I wept. I wept and wept. Because for years I had convinced myself that what I needed was to educate myself … To learn how to write. I obviously didn’t know how, because I’m 36, and no published novel to my name.

I felt embarrassed. And ashamed. And in all honesty, I felt burdened.

I mean, hadn’t God called me to write? I can answer that whole-heartedly without hesitation: YES. Then why, for Heaven’s sake, had I failed to do so?

The answer, in short: I have no idea. But yet I know exactly why.

Let me explain. I thought I was doing the right thing by making moves to reach my “next step”. It wasn’t a waste, necessarily. Because God uses ALL things for good (Romans 8:28). But every single move I made was with the goal of my own career in mind. I believe that works for most people, most of the time, but it didn’t work for me.

Because that’s not what God intended when He called me.

When God calls you, it doesn’t always make sense. In fact, it rarely does. Because God’s calling is strategic to His High Plan. Tony Evans says, “If God showed us the whole journey, we’d never take the first step.”

What I had essentially done is this: I had taken God’s calling, packed up His equipment (because when God calls us, He also equips us (2 Corinthians 9:8 and Hebrews 13:21)), and went in my own direction. I ended up with a shiny website that no one visited. I had a million shiny words that no one read. And I had a shiny, prideful view of my own capability that wasn’t serving any purpose at all.

I prayed about it. I repented of my own selfishness. Then God got real with me.

I committed to a zero-expense year of writing, having no idea exactly how much I would be giving up, and what I would gain in the end.

What happened next is something I never thought I would ever do.

Ever.

The Early Bird Gets the Word

I have found The Way.

Writing is a very, VERY hard dream to chase, especially in the midst of life.

Ideally, time would pause long enough to allow some rest, let my imagination wander, and pound out an impressive word count without being absent from my family.

But let’s be real. Time is elusive. Continue reading “The Early Bird Gets the Word”