Miracles in My Life, Part 6: Unlocking My Writing

I really wanted to write stories. But I had zero inspiration. It’s hard to write a story when you have nothing to write a story about.

I believe that God has called me to be a filmmaker. To tell moving stories on the screen (pun intended). But one has to start with a script.

A script has to start with a story idea.

And I had no good story ideas.

Never mind that I started writing my first book when I was six, participated in a writer’s circle by mail for years, read numerous books on writing, and have blogged for nearly ten years. I had written almost zero fiction since my early teens, and I seemed to have lost my inspiration.

Shortly after God healed me of depression, He did another amazing work: He provided a mentor to speak some amazing truth into my life. Karen is a wonderful, older Godly woman who God brought into my life. The things she shared helped to bring more healing, hope, and life to me. I realized that I was not broken and all messed up, but simply someone who God has been preparing to do His work.

One thing she shared was a testimony about how her son had asked God to unlock his imagination, and had subsequently had conceived a very innovative invention. I began asking God to unlock my imagination, and to unlock His imagination in me.

About a week later, I came home from work one afternoon. I had nothing in particular to do that day, and I sensed God telling me: “Hey, why don’t you just have some fun and go sit down and write a story for an hour?”

I liked the idea. A phrase popped into my head—something about a red Chevy Impala winding through the woods. I sat down at the computer and started writing. An hour later, I had written over 800 words and was already getting excited about this story.

A couple days later, I shared it with Karen and one or two of my siblings. I heard: “I want to read the rest of it!” I was already thinking that it would become a book. That afternoon, I wrote another thousand words. I was really getting excited.

I knew that it was going to be a story about identity—a story of a guy fighting to find his identity. But on May 23, almost a week after the initial inspiration, I was sitting in my truck, driving back from Pennsylvania and praying about the book. I sensed God telling me that it needed to be an exciting story, not just about Chad (the main character) finding his identity. I had already mentioned, in passing, that two other characters worked for an anti-human-trafficking organization. I suddenly realized that this could be a great framework for the story.

And then God told me something else:

“I want you to have it done by August 23rd.

I immediately recognized two significant things about that date. For one, it was exactly three months in the future. It was also the release date for the Kendrick Brothers’ latest film, Overcomer, which is about—identity.

I asked God what “done” meant. He just said, “You’ll know when you get there.” (I could sense a smile behind those words.)

For the next three months, I pounded the keyboard. Time and time again, I sat down after a 10-12 hour workday and the words poured out of my fingers. It wasn’t always that easy. Sometimes, I struggled to know what to write. God kept giving me inspiration, though. At one point, I was stuck on how to proceed. God brought along a video on Facebook about a group of ex-Navy SEALs and law enforcement officers working together to stop traffickers. It gave me a great plot idea, and I plowed ahead.

By early August, I had finished Chad’s story line. I still had another story line: Lisa. A girl who is trafficked. It was a difficult story to tell, because sex trafficking, if described in all its awful detail, would be an XXX-rated story. I was trying to stay at the PG-13 level.

And I had less than three weeks to finish.

Not to mention that work was getting crazy. We had just bought out another company and were starting to ship their products. My workdays were suddenly getting longer.

I wrote at 4 am before going to work. I wrote on my iPad while sitting in the office, waiting for paperwork that should have been ready a couple hours earlier. I wrote on my phone, sitting on a pallet jack, waiting to pickup a shipment. I wrote at 8 pm, when I needed to get to bed so I could get up at 3 the next morning.

And I was loving it.

At 8:45 PM on August 22, I tapped the keys for the last words in the book. The words of a song that someone sings early on, about what happens when “the hopeless meet the Hope.”

I was finished.

Joel smiling and giving a thumbs-up with a guitar
My “victory pose”, August 22

There’s still a lot of work to do. Before anyone else reads the manuscript, I need to do a bunch of editing to bring together a storyline that wandered here and there. (For example, Chad’s job changes at least twice during the story.) I would love your prayers for grace and guidance as I proceed.

Also, if anyone is interested in being a beta reader (reading an advance copy and giving feedback prior to publication), please contact me.

To wrap up, I will share with you my writings from that very first day—the first words of real fiction in years that poured out of my fingers—the eventual beginning to Chapter 1. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

The red Chevy Impala wound its way through the thick woods. Unlike the roads that Chad usually traversed, this one was barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass, and no line down the center. Chad rolled down his window and breathed deeply. The smell of wet, composting leaves filled his nostrils. Memories flooded through his brain—weekends at the cabin with Grandpa; fishing from the little pond; hikes in the mountains; trips to see the caverns all around; Randy’s sudden and untimely death. That last memory jolted his happy reverie, and he quickly shut the window.

“It was all an accident,” Grandpa had assured him. “You could never have helped Randy.” But what if he knew what Chad had known? Would he still call it an accident?

He drove into a patch of sunlight and squinted in the sudden brightness. It had rained earlier that morning, and now the green leaves all around were dripping with a million sparkling diamonds. Chad shook off the unpleasant memories and tried to enjoy the beauty around him.

Bev had told him that the house was a long way back off the main road. She wasn’t kidding. It felt like he’d been winding up this narrow road for miles, but a glance at the map on his phone showed that it had really only been one or two. He shook his head. Who would have thought that anything this unpopulated existed within an hour of the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan center?

Chad crossed a small creek that tumbled over the rocks as it cascaded down the hillside, went through another stretch of woods, and came out into a clearing. The road leveled off, and he could see rolling pastures stretching out on both sides of the road.

“In one-quarter mile, arriving at destination on the right,” said the electronic voice of his phone. Chad shut off the Matthew West song that was playing at low volume and looked down the road. Through a clump of trees, he saw a glimpse of bright blue siding. Almost there!

As his phone proclaimed that he had arrived, Chad turned into the driveway and pulled to a stop in front of a two-car garage. Bev’s Toyota Camry blocked the garage door on his right, and he could see Luke’s pickup through the windows of the door in front of him.

The screen door banged against the side of the house, and two small boys came running toward him. “Uncle Chad!” David squealed as Chad climbed out of the car. He and his smaller brother Benjamin grabbed hold of his jeans and looked up at him. “Up!”

Chad laughed. He swung first Benjamin, then David high in the air and then set them gently on the ground. They giggled with delight. “Again!” said Benjamin.

As Chad swung him off the ground, Bev stepped out the door. Her chestnut waves were gathered into a neat ponytail, and her t-shirt proclaimed, “Life is better in the country”. She smiled at Chad with her gentle, vivacious smile as he started toward the house, hand-in-hand with her sons. “Welcome!”

“Thanks.” Chad smiled back as he climbed the freshly painted porch steps. She looked so much like Emily, but that was where the resemblance stopped. If his disastrous relationship with Emily had taught him anything, it was that he needed someone who was truly kind, honest—and Godly. At 32 years old, he felt like his chances of finding that someone kept getting slimmer.

The doorway behind Bev filled with a large figure. “Brother! So good to see you!” Luke said, walking out and wrapping Chad in a bear hug. “How you been?”

“Doing well,” said Chad. “Life has its ups and downs, but God has been good. How about you?”

“He’s running like a machine,” said Bev, looking up at Luke with a grin. “This guy just doesn’t slow down.”

“I can’t,” Luke said. “When we’re preparing to go to Hawaii for a year, I have to make all my preparations before we leave. Bro, thanks for taking us up on the house-sitting offer. You don’t know how much that takes off my shoulders.”

“He hasn’t even said he’ll do it for sure,” Bev retorted, poking her husband playfully. “Don’t presume on him—you might scare him away!”

Chad laughed. “Don’t worry,” he said, slapping Luke on the back. “I’m not scared yet.”

“Come on in,” said Bev, turning and starting back into the house. “Dinner will be ready soon.”

Luke followed his wife through the door. The couple was different in many respects. Luke was tall, dark-skinned, and more on the introverted side; Bev was fair-skinned, bubbly, and not an inch over five feet. Yet their strengths meshed together into a dynamic duo—a team worthy of going to Hawaii to breathe life into the struggling outreach there. Chad’s pastor had told him that if everyone in their church were like Luke and Bev, the walls would probably blow out with the love of God. With Benjamin riding on his shoulders, Chad walked into the house and looked around.


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