Story Sunday salutations!
Can you believe this is already Story Sunday #7? It feels like just yesterday I was first introducing this series. And honestly, guys, I would have to say Story Sundays may just be my favorite series on the blog. It’s so much fun to share my Biblical-fiction-writing journey with you!
I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who votes on the Story Sunday Surveys. You’re awesome! Thank you to everyone who comments on Story Sundays – your enthusiasm for my story really motivates me. And just thank you to everyone who likes my posts, follows my blog, and supports me. I really pray my content blesses you and brightens your day.
The Details on This Week’s Writing
Number of words written: 4,030 words. My goal is still to write 10k words in a week, and this coming week I’m trying again. But I’ve learned, through prayer, that God doesn’t want me to put pressure and stress on myself. He wants me to enjoy glorifying him through my writing. So instead of making word count my big concern, my big concern will be enjoying the gift of writing God has been gracious enough to give to me.
What I did: More character interviews! This week I focused on Temira and got to know her a lot better, which helped me write this week’s diary entry from her perspective. I feel this diary entry turned out a bit more realistic than everything else I’ve written from Temira’s POV. Character interviews do work! They’re definitely worth investing time in – I would even say that they’re absolutely necessary to know your characters. I think you need to spend time with your characters outside of your novel and just get to know them as you’d get to know a new friend.
I worked a bit more on Reuben’s (adult Reuben) interview as well as Temira’s. I’ve discovered that Reuben is one of my characters I do not know so well, and often I’m unsure what he would say/do/think. I need to spend much more time on his arc and development, especially his internal conflict. (Each and every character must have internal conflict!)
I also wrote a poem which I will share on the blog soon. It’s a short piece that I love, because I have so much passion for the subject I wrote about.
Finally, I did an in-depth study on parts of 1 Corinthians, and took several notes. In order to write Biblical fiction, my heart must be connected with and filled with the Bible. Of course, it’s important to read the Bible each day regardless of whether you write or what genre you write. Every Christian’s heart must be connected with and filled with the Bible. But what I mean is this: To write about St. Paul, I must always strive to be close to his heart and, consequently, close to the heart of his God. I can never think that I know Paul so well that I don’t have to study his holy writings anymore. Not at all. The more I study, the more I see what was in Paul’s heart. Not to mention that much of what he wrote is very complex and difficult to understand (book of Romans, I’m looking at you), and it’s important that I study and pray and meditate hard on those things.
Highlights: Of course, character interviews are always fun. And I greatly enjoyed my 1 Corinthians study. People have often asked me, when I tell them St. Paul is my favorite Bible writer, what my favorite writings are of his. That’s always such a tough question to answer – Paul wrote so much incredible stuff! It’s so hard to choose. But I have to say that I love the Corinthian letters for several reasons.
Paul’s relationship with that church was so interesting. It was complicated for sure. (They made it complicated. On Paul’s side it was always love; on theirs it was love-hate.) The Corinthians make me think of immature, rebellious teenagers. Teenagers caught in terrible pride and sexual immorality. It’s so amazing that Paul continued to love them unconditionally and never treated them with revulsion or even impatience, although they deserved that and more. He had to deal with horrible situations – a man sleeping with his stepmother, for one. Still he loved them. Even when they rejected him, bullied him, reviled him, followed his enemies, called him a lunatic, accused him of stealing from them, the list goes on…. He loved them.
Thoughts/experiences: I must admit I’ve been confused and overwhelmed with writing lately, because I honestly don’t know where my story is going. But I’ve been praying and meditating a lot, hoping that God will show me his plan, and clarity is slowly coming. God is beginning to reveal to me where he would have me go next with this story. I will tell you guys all about it once things become clearer. For now, I’m just trusting, just working on my relationship with Christ, just enjoying the writing journey as it progresses.
Today’s diary entry: This week the majority voted on a diary entry from Temira about Paul’s thorn in the flesh. This is definitely an interesting one, and one I’m also a bit nervous about!
I honestly struggle with portraying Paul’s thorn in the flesh in The Apostle’s Sister. It’s such a crucial plot and character element, so there’s a lot of pressure on me to portray it just right. But it’s one of the most difficult parts of the story.
All right, I’ve got to vent a bit here on just how difficult it is. I’m sure a lot of you will relate, since we’ve all got those elements of our stories that just stump us. I promise I won’t rant for too long.
The thorn in the flesh is difficult to portray because of the way it affects Temira. And yes, Temira is obviously affected by everything Paul goes through – that’s the main conflict of the novel. But the thorn in the flesh is different – a different kind of heartbreak for her. It’s not the same as the other kind of stuff in Paul’s life – like the torture and imprisonment. Torture and imprisonment are part of Paul’s life because of the persecution he is destined to endure as a leader of God’s people. And although Temira doesn’t enjoy those things (an understatement, since they’re tragic), it’s a bit easier for her to come to terms with them because she knows it’s inevitable that Paul has many enemies. She knows that kind of suffering is inflicted upon him by the people who hate him, and it is not a curse from God. God is against the perpetrators.
But not so with the thorn in the flesh. Although she might not admit it, deep inside Temira knows that God is the one who caused Paul’s thorn. His enemies didn’t cause it. His loving God did. And that’s very difficult for her to understand and come to terms with. It gives her such heavy doubts that she even wonders for a time whether she and Paul are worshipping the right God.
She even thinks Paul is going not-so-slightly crazy. LOL, I’m not kidding with that one. In the first drafts while writing about Paul’s thorn, Temira immediately believes his very vague explanation about the visit to heaven. But while reading over that, I realized it’s not realistic. I highly doubt she would have believed him so easily right away, perhaps not even for a very long time. We’ve got to remember that Paul’s sister would not have seen him the way we see him today. To us, he’s St. Paul the apostle. To her, he was just her ordinary brother.
The thorn is also difficult to portray because the last thing I want is to write Paul’s character as gloomy, complaining, or wimpy. While I want to avoid each of those three at all cost, wimpy is my greatest fear. Paul was anything and everything but wimpy – that is the last word you could use to describe him. He was the toughest person you could ever get acquainted with, and I really want to write his character that way in my book because that’s how he was. Could a wimpy person be an apostle? Could a wimpy person endure everything that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 11:22-28? I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all.
You guys may have noticed that in my novel, I do not at all emphasize any physical strength on Paul’s part. Instead I constantly emphasize his physical weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7, 10:10, 1 Corinthians 2:3, Galatians 4:13-14). First of all, because it’s biblically accurate, as the verses cited will show you; and second because it will make Paul human and relatable to those struggling with the same thing. Because that’s my goal in writing this novel, after all. But I want readers to notice that the weakness is purely physical. It is not mental or spiritual.
And I don’t know about you, but I get very annoyed when I read a book with wimpy characters. When an author is always saying stuff like, “His face twisted with pain” or “Exhausted, she spent the whole day in bed”… I just get irritated with the character instead of sympathetic as I’m sure the author wanted. Have any of you ever read scenes or a book like that? I sure have, and I want to avoid the same mistake.
One reason I so dearly love Jean Valjean (from Les Misérables) is because he is not a wimpy character. For goodness’ sake, he even tortures himself with a red-hot chisel at one point in the book, and guess what the narrator says while it’s happening? “The face of the wonderful old man hardly contracted… suffering was swallowed up in a serene majesty” (Hugo 194). Now that is the kind of character I want to cheer for, and the kind of character I want to write.
Anyway, enough chatter. I apologize for going on about my writing troubles, y’all. Time to get to the diary entry!
I could not feel anything but exhaustion and relief when my little one was declared out of danger. The endless nights were over – the endless nights of fearing Seth would not see the dawn.
The second thing I did, after murmuring thanks, was to seek my brother with eyes hungry for his reassurance. He said not a word; his lips did not even move in silent prayer. He hung limply over Seth’s cradle, with an expression akin to an urge to faint. Starting in panic, I went to him and looked in the cradle, where Seth’s tiny fingers clung to his uncle’s hardened ones. I touched Paul’s hand; it burned, and I immediately withdrew.
I recognized his expression and bearing – it is all too familiar to me – and the familiar cold fear gripped me. I knew what it meant. I always know, but during Seth’s long illness I had forgotten Paul and felt deeply ashamed for it now. He had done nothing but stood vigil at his nephew’s side all these weeks, and I finally wakened up to the fact he had done it while severely ill himself. I wanted to cover my face in anguish – wasn’t that too much to ask of him?
I begged him to stop but knew I had no power. He insisted upon bathing Seth and rocking him to sleep, as if the exhausted child was not already sleeping soundly enough. After this Paul sat down for the first time in weeks. He had not eaten or slept. Neither had I, but I don’t suffer from any such cruel thorn. I turned my back for one moment, and when I turned round again, he had fainted.
Oh, God. It would start again. Luke revived Paul, only to promptly lacerate his flesh and send him once more into a state of unconsciousness for an entire day and night. I was convinced he was dying, and sat by his pallet too grieved even for tears. Seth’s breathing grew steadier. Paul’s grew fainter. Had I gained one only to lose the other?
He woke, but in severe delirium. Luke bled him a second time, although I pleaded with him not to. Calmly the physician explained, as he had done numerous times before, that such fever is caused by an excess of blood. Without bloodletting, there was no doubt in Luke’s mind that the patient would die. In my mind, Paul was already dead. He didn’t know me anymore.
After bleeding, Luke purged. Anyone else would tell you an apostle’s sister must have a strong stomach, but I was purged as well. Still I couldn’t bring myself to leave. When Seth, who recovers hourly, cries for his uncle, I place him on Paul’s chest.
Thus began the weeks all over again, and thus began the memories all over again. It would be impossible for me to count the times I cried to God to relieve my brother of his thorn, but I never got an answer. Still I cry, and still I don’t get an answer. Jahveh, whom Paul describes to me as merciful, hasn’t been so.
I remember the first time Paul lay weak from the fever, having barely recovered enough to speak to me a little. He told me the following story: Christ had caught him up to the third heaven, to paradise; and that was all he would say. He pleaded that he could not possibly tell me anything more, as he had seen glory unlawful to describe. Not even to his own sister. He had simply told me so I would know the reason for the illness: Christ sent it to him as a messenger from Satan to torment him for the rest of his life, so he would not become conceited on account of the visions. This he only told me because I dragged it out of him – a skill in which all sisters are adept – and he swore me to secrecy. I was forbidden to say a word even to Luke.
I must be honest, and honesty is to say that I didn’t believe him. And I still don’t. It’s not that I believe he lies – my brother could never lie. I believe he is very confused, and I ache sharply for him. It is just the terrible effects of the illness – in the delirium of fever he says and sees things that are nothing but delusions. And when he wakes he believes they really happened, and will not be persuaded otherwise.
Even now, I still try to reason with him.
This time, after weeks passed and he grew aware of me – able to listen but in too much pain to speak – I went on my knees and begged him to let go of his story. I would be dishonest if I denied taking advantage of Paul’s excruciating state, since he could only hear me and not defend himself. I really don’t care at this point if I am harsh, if the fever will just leave him forever.
“Paul,” I begged him first, “if you’re being punished for something, you can tell me. I promise I won’t be angry, if you’ll only tell me.”
Paul merely shook his head, and I told him bluntly that his story was impossible. “It’s a dream you had during the fever, or something you told me while you were delirious, and now you really believe it. Please trust me, it’s impossible for one to see heaven. It isn’t true.”
At that he closed his eyes, clearly indicating he wanted to rest and be left alone. I let him, but later tried in vain to convince him he was suffering because God was angered at his claims. “I understand,” I said, my vision blurred with tears, “I understand you’re not to blame. You believe this by mistake because you aren’t well. But the Lord doesn’t understand. He is making you suffer because you say he brought you up to heaven. Please stop insisting on it. Please, Paul.”
He shook his head again and managed to whisper, his chest shuddering with the effort: “It happened.”
He still refuses to listen. He refuses healing. Yet that night, when he became so much worse that each breath strangled him and his face flamed with pain, he looked me miserably in the eyes, and I saw he was imploring me. I couldn’t help it; I had to comfort him somehow, as he was even too delirious to recognize Seth.
So I gently smoothed his graying hair away from his sweating temples and said to him, very gently: “I was wrong. God cannot possibly strike you.”
I felt horrible after I said it – to blatantly lie that way. But I just couldn’t help it. After thinking I now believed him, he seemed calmer, and he eventually slept.
I don’t know what to do now.
All I know is that Paul suffers enough. Isn’t starvation enough? Aren’t crippled back and limbs – inflicted by torture for the gospel – enough? Aren’t chains enough? Isn’t it all enough? Why can’t God give him mercy? He doesn’t know any better, being so sick. I, his sinful sister – who was once unspeakably cruel to him – am far more merciful than the God he still calls love.
I am furious with God.
I hope you enjoyed the diary entry! Let me know all your thoughts and if there’s anything I can improve on in my portrayal of the thorn. Also, I want to hear how your writing week went!
You can complete Story Sunday Survey #7 HERE.
Discussion Question: What is one piece of advice you would give Temira regarding her brother’s thorn in the flesh? It can be anything!
You know the drill – eat, pray, write, repeat!