Dalene [D]: Can I just tell you how excited I am to have Jen Hand here as the guest on today’s episode?
I’m so thrilled to have you, Jenn. I’ve gotten to know you a little bit from the Inkwell writing sessions that I’ve been hosting, but I wanted to just dive in and get to know you a little bit better and let our listeners get to know you as well. I know you’re gonna provide some encouragement too for our writers.
You are the director of a nonprofit organization and that is called Coming Alive Ministries; tell me a little bit about what made you start that ministry.
Jenn [J]: Well, it’s such an honor to be here, Dalene. I love you and your ministry and your Ink and Impact podcast; I listen to it. Your spirit is so encouraging. So what an honor to be with you.
Coming Alive Ministries started … you know how you think you’re saying to God “it’s a one and done” thing. And mine was, “I’m gonna be a missionary. I’m gonna live in Nepal.” So I sold everything. I didn’t really have anything – it was after college, you know, but that sounds dramatic – and went and lived in Nepal as a missionary. I thought, “I’m going to live and die there.”
But while there, God began to say, “I don’t have just one place or people for you.” And interestingly enough, that whole time I had a dream, since I was like eight years old, to teach the Bible and to write about the Bible.
So I came home from Nepal, not really sure what God had for me, and started the ministry Coming Alive Ministries to provide an invitation for people to come alive in Christ if they don’t know him, and then live fully alive in Christ. I do a mixture of counseling, trauma counseling after natural disasters and in war, which takes me around the world.
It’s also led to me writing and speaking. So the dreams I had when I was eight, I’m getting to live out now. I’m not eight anymore; a little bit older. Eight at heart, but 41 in body.
[D]: So did God impress on your heart that whole theme of coming alive?
[J]: He did. I came from living in Nepal where people were worshiping dead gods all around me. Idols that could not speak back to them, couldn’t have relationship with them.
And then I came back to the Bible Belt of the South and was speaking at churches and finding that people said they knew the living God, but they were just as dead inside as the people that were worshiping the not-living gods.
It was so convicting to me. I realized that first, Jen, you need to live a life in such a way that people want to know that God that’s alive in you. And then let’s call people to live and come alive in Christ. Other people want to know we have a God who’s alive. He’s alive. So that’s where Coming Alive started.
[D]: I love that. I didn’t get a calling that early in life; mine’s more recent, but He has placed on my heart the impression to call his writers to be bold, to share the gospel message, but also to encourage other believers. And it’s similar … for me, it was walking into a bookstore and just seeing all the death that is put front and center on all the end caps.
It’s not hope and life that is being promoted in bookstores. And that’s where we as writers have this opportunity to step out as Christians and meet that goal.
[J]: I just love that. I love that. And I love that your ministry, because the enemy is always trying to silence us and discourage and defeat and so, but we have a calling, and I love that you’re encouraging writers to say yes and to stay steadfast in their calling no matter what.
Let God’s light pierce the darkness because we have Him, His hope, that we shouldn’t keep inside.
[D]: That’s right. But you know, it’s easy to say that, but then once you start putting together … I’m sure when you started your ministry that it wasn’t all rainbows and roses along the way, right?
[J]: Oh, yeah. All the time it’s that fear of failure. I mean, my book is, the subtitle is Moving from Fear to Faith. Well, I can answer the question. I want to say yes to God, but in my writing I’m afraid of failure, rejection, hard work. Sometimes I just really would like to not have to do the hard work, you know? I could list many fears that I’m sure the listeners have struggled with as well.
It sounds so easy to say yes, but fear can stop us. And that’s where I have begun the journey. I will constantly be learning, okay, instead of fear that’s paralyzing me, how can faith propel me? And the first step is acknowledging I’m afraid.
Because if we don’t acknowledge it, then we aren’t running to God with our fears. We’re just trying to stop them with other things.
I think that has been a key for me is to learn, “yeah, I’ve got some fears here, and what am I gonna do with them?”
[D]: You’ve recently published My Yes Is On the Table, and I’m gonna talk more about that with you in just a few minutes, but I didn’t realize how many other books you have written. Tell us a little bit about them.
[J]: Four are devotionals and then I have two that are chapter books. One that I hardly ever talk about. It’s called Dateless Not Dead: Living Fully Alive in This Single Life. And the other one is Confessions of a Coffee Cup Collector, which is just stories of my adventures of faith.
And here’s what I want to encourage the listeners with that. So I had a dream to traditionally publish a book, and I believe God planted that dream in me and told me to keep going. So for 11 years I did all the things to pursue that.
I learned at conferences; I was constantly learning. I had no idea what I was doing when I took my first book proposal and met someone at a writer’s conference. No idea. But I just kept learning, kept trying.
It was 11 years of getting “no,” but believing in God for the dream of “yes.” But in the meantime, I learned that just because you’re in a waiting for one dream doesn’t mean you can’t work behind the scenes and let God show up.
So while I was waiting, I kept working and publishing these other books, and so my six other books are self-published.
And then in 2020, I was offered a book contract with Moody Publishing.
But here’s the thing: all of the books were just obedience to God because I believed he had a message. I’m a speaker who writes, and my heart was for people to not just leave a conference having heard a message from me, but leave and interact with the God who speaks to them.
[D]: That is so encouraging for many of us because some people are thinking, “Well, I have to self-publish because I got turned down” or “They’ll never accept me” and not even try to submit a pitch or anything. So I love that you did that, and that self-publishing then led to traditional publishing. I know others who have traditionally published first and then later self-published.
There is no right or wrong, it’s all dependent on what God leads you to. Seek what his goal is for you.
[J]: And to encourage your listeners. I think sometimes we think one is lesser than the other. But when God is doing the work, it’s His and oh my, I have learned so much about myself and the pressures of publishing and the pressures of numbers and platforms and how we can easily get sucked into that.
After I released this book, the first thing people asked me was, “How many books have you sold?” It’s so fascinating. I just would shrink back from that answer. 1) I didn’t know, and 2) I automatically felt like my answer would not be enough. God showed me one day after really struggling through that, He said, “I want you to answer back to them: You know what? I don’t know how many books I’ve sold. But I know that this book has changed a life and it was mine.”
[D]: That right there. That’s a good word.
[J]: Well, I had to learn it through the struggles of, “I don’t feel like enough,” you know?
[D]: Yes. So you said you’re a speaker-turned-writer, and I have a feeling there are several other listeners out there in the same way. So I’m just thinking, did you come to writing a book with a fear of not being good enough of a writer? [
[J]: Yes, a hundred percent. Because I am not into the commas, the details. I mean, I enjoy conveying the message of truth and being myself in a book and asking God to show up. I took all the English classes and all the things, but I just don’t really major in details.
[D]: I think that’s very true of not just speakers. I have a college degree in English, but not in creative writing. So as I’m writing a novel, there’s that doubt of, “Oh, you’re not good enough. You didn’t study creative writing. You don’t know how to write the plot twists” and all that kind of stuff, but that’s the enemy.
If God has caught us to write these books, He will provide and enable us to be ourselves. And that’s what really sells a book, especially in the non-fiction world.
People want to hear you and your voice, and they want to hear the truth that God has given you and laid on your heart.
And so whatever those stories are, whatever those messages are, to just be faithful in sharing those and not let fear rule us. Like you said, there are so many different fears that we as writers write, and so the next fear that I hear a lot of from writers is the fear of promoting their book. Especially as Christian writers because they’re afraid someone might think that promoting themselves is wrong.
And that’s where I’m like, “Well, yes, promoting yourself is wrong, but promoting the message is not.” Would you agree?
[J]: That was the thing I was thinking as you were talking about the fear of not being good enough. I’m like, the next fear is the marketing and all the details that come with that and what will people think and should I shrink back?
It is a constant balance because then there’s the fear, “What if I get successful?” I have to ground myself or it becomes all about me; just finding that balance of surrender. “Okay, Lord, you gave me this message.” I have to tell myself that all the time. “What do you want to do with it? Here is my hands, my mouth, my ears, my eyes. Here it is. Now you show me how you want me to share it.”
And the truth is, if I really believe in it from the Lord, then I have to tell people about it. Otherwise, they’re not going to know. And it’s amazing how many times you have to tell people about it – even your closest people. Just don’t give up.
Don’t give up because it’s worth it for the lives that are changed; because you’ve moved past that fear. It’s just like it says in Matthew when Jesus is talking about don’t hide your light. Put it on a hill; you’re a city on a hill. If your message is hope and something God has given you, then you can’t hide it.
Now, this is easier said than done. Of course, I have to give myself pep talks from the truth. Same time here next week, I celebrate the one-year anniversary of My Yes Is on the Table coming out. And I’ve just been doing a lot of soul searching because I’ve learned a lot through this too, about the difference between expectancy of what God will do and my own expectations.
My own expectations leave me disappointed. My expectation of what God can do is very different, and I’m learning that along the way. We can lean confidently in that.
[D]: That’s what I think a lot of writers are missing, especially first-time writers, is confidence. And again, not in ourselves, but in Christ.
It’s not wrong to be confident in the message that you’re sharing. It is not wrong to promote that book that God has laid on your heart. It is what readers are waiting for, what they need to hear.
And so we need to be faithful and obedient to step out and put that book out there and to speak it. When we speak God’s word, powerful things happen.
[J]: Right. Yeah. He says His word does not return void.
So I just want to encourage everyone listening, if that’s something that you’re struggling with, just rely on what God is telling you to do, take it to prayer, and just follow in obedience what he is sharing with you.
[D]: Yeah, it is not easy and it is a constant. I think of the tightrope walkers, you know; you’re constantly having to balance. It’s so easy – so easy for me – to get sucked into all of it on social media.
But just always stay in God’s word. I try to stay in His word daily and just be attuned to him.
[J]: Yes, you have to like prepare yourself because it’s a war raging out there; a spiritual battle. And the enemy wants to silence you. He wants you to shrink back.
[D]: He doesn’t want those books out there.
[J]: No, he doesn’t. And I go back to Hebrews it says in Hebrews 11, I believe, “Do not throw away your confidence for it is of great reward. The righteous will walk by faith, do not shrink back.” I have to go back to that over and over again because it’s so easy to want to shrink back from marketing or shrink back from typing the words because you’re scared.
I want to be one who says, “Do not throw away your confidence. Do not.” And so if I’m gonna do that, I have to really ground myself in truth.
[D]: Absolutely. And you know, our books can make a true impact on our readers. Hence the name of this podcast, Ink and Impact. So I always like to ask my guests, “What was a book that impacted you in your life?”
[J]: It’s so fun because I’m a podcaster, so all the current books get mailed to my house and I get to read them. It’s so fun. I had no idea God would let me do that. And I get to interview these authors. So there are so many books I could pick from now that are impacting me, but I am choosing this really old book called Come Away My Beloved.
This is the old version of it that someone got me from a used bookstore, but it’s updated now; this is from 1970. It’s a book of devotional poems. I’m not a poet and I don’t normally read poetry, but it has been a thing that connects my heart in my devotional time. It’s based on scripture and I just flip it open and read one. And it’s just been a sweet way for the Lord to speak to me over the years.
[D]: I love that. And He uses poetry in the Bible, but you don’t see a lot of poetry, especially in Christian books.
[J]: Even if you feel like, “Oh, but my thing is different than most people’s thing,” know that God wants to use your thing. It’s okay to stand out and be different. So the author is Francis J. Roberts.
[D]: Assuming we’ve overcome one aspect of fear and we’re making those forward motions, they also require sacrifice, don’t they? I’m wondering with your latest book, My Yes Is On the Table, and you have a thriving ministry, and you’re traveling a lot with the trauma counseling, what kind of sacrifice did it take for you to write that book?
[J]: Well, I’ll be honest. The writing of the book was so fun. The pre-release and post-release were the sacrifice for me because of all the details. I am not a detailed person. I am learning to be better, but there’s so many details that go into marketing a book. I mean, just pages and pages and pages of details.
So for me it was just really having to focus in on that. And then I released my book and then God said, “Now go live it.” I already had been living it, but I mean, literally right after I released my book, I was called to go to the middle of the war in Ukraine and offer trauma counseling in the middle of an active war.
My book is all about saying yes to God no matter what he asks you to do or where he calls you. This is what I want to encourage you with: God is going to ask you to live out what you write about. And so for me that, I mean, I already thought I was living with my yes on the table. And then this past year since that book release, God has called me to things that I never would’ve dreamed, like going to an active war and traveling to Turkey to do earthquake relief. God has said, “Okay, now I want you to demonstrate that you believe this, that you’re gonna live with your Yes.”
It has been an amazing adventure, wild one.
[D]: I think for me, I’ve learned you have to really believe what you write. That’s where a lot of the confidence comes from – when you can stand firm on what you’re writing about.
In your book, My Yes Is On the Table, I love how you share about “turning fear stops into faith steps.”
That’s so clever. Do you have one or two tips that you could share with writers of how they can overcome their fear or step into that sacrificial role that they find themselves in?
[J]: Yes. I think it, it goes with … I mean, the book is not specifically written for writers, but it goes through the chapters of Joshua, as they’re going into the Promised Land.
In the opening, they’re standing on the edge and then they have to take that first step into the Jordan River. The priests go first, the people follow, and then the water parts and they get into the Promised Land.
I believe the promised land is obedience. So for writers, if God has called you to be a writer, then the Promised Land is writing.
So I would encourage you first, you have to run to God with the fear. Just like God told Joshua, “be strong and courageous.” And then he said, “for I am with you.” Well, if we’re not acknowledging the fear, we’re missing the I Am with you. Because when we run to God with the fear, He meets us there. Like the priest, you have to take a risk and take that first step.
So in other words, for someone writing a book, take that brave first step, which leads to another step, which leads to another step.
Then the thing I noticed is once they got in the Promised Land, they weren’t done. It wasn’t like they walked in and they were done At one point, they settled in the northern parts or the southern, I can’t remember; I think the southern was done and they needed to move north. And that’s why I want to encourage you writers: just because you’ve taken that first step doesn’t mean you stop.
Sometimes we’re like, “Oh, I did that part.” Okay, ask God, “what is the next part of your promised land?” And sometimes that’s the marketing journey where you’re to the point of “no one wants to hear about my book again” and keep saying, “Yes, I’m gonna talk about it.”
So my encouragement is to take that step and then say, okay, what is the next step and the next, and keep going. Don’t give up.
Yes, I agree. God is so good and He has a purpose for us, which isn’t necessarily just one plan, right? There might be, like you said, multiple steps.
I had a podcast episode previously about writers being leaders. We need to be willing to step first and share our story so that we can help the others behind us, our readers, through whatever they’re going through.
[J]: But what was cool about that is the priests were actually told to follow the Ark of the Covenant. And the Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God. So as a writer, you’re actually not stepping in first because God’s already gone before you.
You’re just following Him, which is so encouraging to me. I don’t know about you, but I’m like, “Okay, I’ll just follow the presence of God because when I do it, I’m gonna sink.” It reminds me of Peter. He stepped out onto the water and then he had the moment where he did sink and Jesus was like, “Look back at Me.”
So if you are in that sinking stage, it doesn’t mean you have to get out of the water. It just means look back at Him. Look, find His eyes again. Look at Jesus again. Refocus. And then he told Peter, “Take courage.” And that’s what I want to say to you writers: If you want to give up, take courage.
[D]: Yes. Thank you for correcting me on that. Absolutely, God should go first. That is such a good word.
We’ve shared a lot of great stuff and I think that you’re such a great encourager. How can people touch base with you? I have a feeling a lot of people are going to want to follow you and get their hands on a copy of My Yes Is On the Table book.
[J]: Oh, thank you. I would love to keep up with my new friends. Writer friends are … we’re all like family, right? We need to be cheering each other on.
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