“The art of writing is applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”
– Mary Heaton Vorse
The theme of my new book, Unearthing Heaven, is finding life motivation by imagining ourselves standing before Jesus at a coming event in heaven known as the “Judgment Seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). This is a day of honor for believers and not punishment, much like a proud coach on awards banquet night is looking to reward his hard-working players and not bring up their failures. Orienting our lives toward the smile of Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and even meditating on our coming reward in heaven, is supposed to deeply motivate and stir us. Honor from God feels awkward for us, and this treasure chest of life motivation has been lost in recent church history, but it is still the highest-octane way to run life’s race. This teaching gripped me way back in my college days, and I wanted to “unearth” it, recapturing that holy awe and painting a more vivid and rewarding picture of eternity.
You can read a free sample to get a fuller sense of where the book is going in the introduction: Missing Treasure Chest.
So that’s the motivation behind the book. Getting to the finish line—turning that motivation into an actual book—is another story.
On my old blog, Faith Activators, I found myself over the years returning again and again to the theme of the “bema” (Greek word for Judgment Seat). Probably one out of every five blog posts went there.
In the summer of 2018, I was in a writers’ group in Austin made up of some friends who were working on their manuscripts and needed a little encouragement along the way. Each writer got the hot-seat focus once a month, and when it was my turn I stitched some of those blog posts together and made a sample first chapter. They were very encouraging, which is what I really need to hear. (Writers struggle a lot with insecurity, as it feels so vulnerable to turn over your poured-out soul on pages to outside eyes.) They cheered me on and I thought, huh, maybe I will keep working and get this message out.
A few months later, we moved back to Indonesia and I kept poking around with the manuscript here and there, but wasn’t getting much headway beyond that sample first chapter. That December, our two older kids came out to visit us for Christmas vacation, and our family of six took a trip to Bali, just a one-day drive away from where we lived on the island of Java.
During one part of that family vacation, Stephanie and I got away for a night at a cute little hotel right on the beach, while our kids (now old enough to be left on their own) stayed back at a more inland hotel. Our beach had gorgeous island paradise views and it was a nice and relaxing getaway for us. It was also a popular spot for surfers, and we enjoyed watching them dare large waves from our cottage balcony.
Early the next morning, I took a long walk down the beach, enjoying a gentle island sunrise and cool mist from waves crashing against large rocks. After walking for a while, I came upon a two-story unfinished house right on a desolate stretch of the beach, tucked behind some beautiful rock formations. The elements had definitely taken their toll on this unfinished structure. It looked sort of a like an open doll house, each room visible without the covering of a front wall.
I felt a strong urge to climb inside and take a peek, wondering what the ocean view would be like from the house’s higher vantage point. It didn’t feel like trespassing to me, as no one obviously lived there and the owners seemed to have abandoned it long ago. There was no easy path to get to the house, no sidewalk or even stairs to climb up to the first floor, conveniences that I assumed were meant to be put in later. I navigated my way around piles of wood and tried to be careful not to cut my feet on broken concrete pieces or rusty nails. Hoisting myself up to the first floor, I tested the damp plywood with a tentative step and it felt like the landing would support my weight. Safe to explore, I decided.
The rooms were not much to see, mostly frames and half-done walls…but that view.
Wow, that view.
Such a gorgeous vista of pounding surf and tropical paradise. I sat for a while and took in the view, thanking God for the treat of enjoying His colorful and spectacular creation.
It also made me a little sad somehow. This beautiful view would probably not be enjoyed by the people who were meant to live here, because their house had never been finished. Their vision started well, I could see, but they likely would miss out on enjoying this unbroken ocean view.
I sensed an internal whisper: This is your book.
It felt to me like the Lord’s voice, a gentle challenge. My manuscript was like this house, off to a good start but never finished. Some flooring, a few half-made walls, an incomplete roof, but not really livable for anyone else.
If anyone were to enjoy this house, the builder would have to finish. This subjective metaphor to me meant I would have to do the hard work, room-by-room, wall-by-wall, and floor-by-floor to finish my manuscript. I felt God had invested something precious in me a long time ago—a view of eternity—and I would have to keep plodding along for that beautiful view to ever see the light of day. My end goal would be to make it easier for the next visitor to come on in and enjoy an inviting house, complete with a trimmed sidewalk and a welcoming staircase.
I took a little seashell from the beach as a reminder of this metaphor, and vowed to start plugging away. Just get words down on the page. My mantra became a sentence is better than no sentence. Celebrate progress, even if it’s just a little bit.
I started keeping track of my word count, which was key for me to chart progress. My stitched-together chapter of blog posts was about 10,000 words, and I vowed to start making a little progress when I could, usually in the mornings. It wasn’t easy with all our transition. A few months after that Bali vacation, we moved from Indonesia back to the U.S. for a few months, and then six months later to a different country in Southeast Asia for four months. We planned to be there longer, but a worldwide pandemic had other plans, and as of this writing we are still trying to get back. All of that transition has equaled 22 moves since we left our home in Indonesia in the summer of 2019. We are weary with transition, for sure, but the writing has given me a nice little thread of joy to hold on to through the long journey.
10,000 words slowly became 12,000 words. Starts and stops. 12,000 words slowly became 18,000 words. A little here, a little there. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, to quote Finding Nemo. Just keep building, just keep roofing, just keep writing.
18,000 words to 25,000 words. Rooms taking shape. Window put in.
I got to the halfway mark (the final word count came to 53,000 words), and I could start to see the end. It was like a massive jigsaw puzzle, after you turn all the pieces right-side up, make the borders, and start filling in major chunks, and then you finally start seeing the end. That’s how it’s felt for the last several months.
I finished the first draft in November and my family took me out to a fun restaurant in Austin to celebrate. Gotta mark those milestones.
Editing. Feedback. Revising. More Editing. More feedback. More revising. Formatting. I have so appreciated the many people who have given input, both theological and editorial.
Days ago I put the final touches of paint on the shutters and trimmed the hedges out front along the sidewalk. Wow, that was a good feeling.
Sitting and resting and looking over the ocean now. Excited for you to come in and enjoy this view with me.
P.S. Contact me if you would be willing to join my book launch team, which would mean reading it and posting a review on Amazon before the major launch date of June 25. Also, to help me get the word out, if you post on social media about how it impacted you, using the hashtag #UnearthingHeaven between now and then, I’ll send you the Kindle versions of my first two books for free as a thank you!
More here: Facebook Group Book Launch Team