December 2005 - Volume 10, Issue 5

A Different Point Of View

Janice Alonso

Humming Bird

In the mornings, after I read my Bible or a devotional piece, I practice listening to God. It isn't easy for me. My thoughts flit like the humming birds outside my office window, hovering in one spot for a few seconds and then quickly buzzing off to another subject that has a different nectar to savor. I plan my day thinking about what I need to get at the grocery store or whose call I need to return. Not much listening going on there. But often I get thoughts I know originate from God. One morning, while drinking coffee and sitting on my back porch I had a revelation that changed my writing perspective.

For years I aspired to be a writer, but not just any kind of a writer. I wanted to be a fiction writer. From the time I was a little girl, I'd browse through the stacks in the public library dreaming about what it would be like to have a book sitting alongside my favorite authors. It was only natural that when I began college, I studied English and Grammar, becoming a teacher after I graduated.

Later I wrote for different volunteer groups, even doing some fictional writing in the form of skits and poems. In my spare time I tried my hand at short stories and began a novel. I submitted a few of the stories to magazines, but received only form rejections. As my family grew, so did my responsibilities. These jobs, while satisfying and worthy of my efforts, nibbled away at my writing time.

When my sons grew older and started school and joined extracurricular activities. I began to accept positions that demanded I spend more time at church, school or community locations. I loved the challenges the jobs asked, but each new project required more of my quickly diminishing time. Soon I found myself so booked that I wrote nothing at all. Often I became frustrated because I couldn't say "no." I thought it would be selfish to turn my friends down and do what I wanted. Besides, I felt good about the work and the accomplishments, as well as the people I encountered and the projects I shared with others.

After my last child began college, my commitments lessened. I used this newfound time to write. Even though I'd taught composition for years, I attended writing classes, beginning with a Fiction Level One. I created short stories and inspirational pieces. I had little success with the short stories, but the inspirational pieces, based for the most part on my volunteer work, were quickly accepted. I was overwhelmed at seeing my work appear in print. Still, in my heart I longed to see my fiction published.

Before I write, I begin with a prayer and ask God for His guidance. On this particular morning I thanked Him for using my writing in the inspirational market, but then I asked if He could find a way to use me in a fictional realm, too. I promised I would continue with my writing routine: working on a devotional piece first, then working on a short story or my book afterward. As clear as a bell a thought rang through my head. I'd been seeing my writing in two parts. I'd viewed the two styles as separate entities and vying for my attention and creative energies.

The experiences I'd had while doing volunteer work and that I'd been using for my inspirational writing could be used in fiction. Those years of not writing had actually been time spent gathering ideas and material that could be used in short stories and novels.

On that morning I'd read the parable of the Fruit and the Vine. The following verse played in my mind:

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (NIV: John 19: 1-4)"

In those years of volunteering, God had been filling my basket with plots, settings, characters and themes… the elements of fiction writing. I've witnessed countless stories of people who have butted life head-on. From my involvement with projects on my church's Outreach Committee, I heard stories about and saw people who'd faced and overcome alcoholism, divorce, death of loved ones and unwanted pregnancies. I met characters who tried my patience, tickled my funny bone and made my chest swell with admiration. Individuals who were equipped with no more than hope in their hearts and determination in their souls had defeated homelessness, illiteracy and illness. And I've lived the heartache when someone I "assisted" failed. My heart sinks when I think of the woman who returned to her abusive husband, the man who died of cancer even though I prayed fervently for him and the young girl who wouldn't take the test for her GED, even though I knew she'd pass with flying colors, because her boyfriend didn't want her to have a better education than he had. Through my journeys I've visited halfway houses, domestic violence shelters, nursing homes and soup kitchens. I've been in places I would never have come across had I remained in my "little comer of the world."

Once I saw nonfiction as the only way to write an inspirational story. God has made me understand that people and their stories can unfold in any time frame and be set in any place. I would not have experienced these things without God's intervention in my life. He was preparing me when I didn't even have a clue that He was at work in my life. Real life stories are what fiction is cobbled: from: the themes remain the same. A message is a message regardless of the format in which it is told. After all, didn't Jesus use parables when speaking to His followers? That morning; on my own back porch and right before my very eyes, while everything remained the same, God changed everything.