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Endure, How Spiritual Assets Build Resilience

Dan Maurer, my Minnesota writing friend (we met way back when we were both writing fiction), wrote his fourth book. Four. Books. And this one is my favorite yet. Dan has a gift for taking hard stories and highlighting the hopeful aspects of them, something we all so desperately need. From a graphic novel on addiction recovery to a nonfiction book of a young boy who was trafficked in the US, his work is always about transformation.

Endure, Dan’s latest book, explores how spiritual assets contribute to resiliency. He tells the stories of several people who endured intense trauma (domestic abuse, war, refugee life) and weaves his own story of recovery into the book. The people he highlights are incredibly vulnerable and brave in sharing their stories, I am amazed at how much empathy Dan showed in listening to, probing into, and sharing them.

The book has moments of horror, surprise, grief, and tenderness. And while I appreciated the stories people shared, as a wanna-be psychologist who loves learning about what makes human beings behave certain ways, my favorite parts of the book were when Dan examined specific spiritual assets and how they helped people overcome their personal traumas.

Hope, love, forgiveness, honesty, these are some of the assets the book highlights. Dan describes spiritual assets like this:

…spiritual assets become the transforming spark that undergirds a resilient response in many life situations, even yours.

Heavy on anecdote, but with research and Dan’s theological training as a Lutheran pastor sprinkled throughout, Endure is a book that is a pleasure read and that offers practical tools for a resilient response to trauma.

Endure would be a great book club pick or community read. Read a chapter and then discuss as a group how you have experienced the highlighted spiritual asset in your own life or how you could develop it in the future.

I don’t believe our world is any more broken now than it was in the past, but I do think we hear about pain and suffering much more. What we also need to hear about is hope, strength, character, and beauty. This is a book full of these kinds of stories. And, it is a book that can help readers live those kinds of stories.

Find Endure on Dan’s blog and on Amazon.

Dan has written several times for Djibouti Jones:

Strong in the Broken: Living While Recovering

On Writing, 7 Steps to Finding Your Niche

A Little Piece of Fiction (bonus: a photo of Dan playing the bagpipes in my Minneapolis backyard when we lived there in 2012!)

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Strong in the Broken: Living While Recovering

Today’s Strong in the Broken post is by the talented and prolific Daniel Maurer. Check out his books and website (links in the bio below). Dan is the only person who has ever played a bagpipe for me, in my yard. It was awesome. Enjoy!

My Broken Doesn’t Define Me, But Without It, I’m Missing a Great Gift

Don’t worry—I’m not going to take you to rehab.

I know how tiresome reading another account of addiction-and-depression-to-recovery can be, because I share them all the time on my blog. In fact, recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol has become my non-fiction brand as a freelance writer, whether I like it or not. Some days it feels like I eat, sleep, do jumping jacks, play Scrabble, and poop recovery.

My real passions dwell in my family, my faith, reading, walking or jogging with my wife and our dog, writing science-fiction, planting my garden, and exploring the vastly more interesting realms of topics that pique my curiosity. For example, one book I’m currently reading on the history and fascinating development of the periodic table has me enchanted like a beaker bubbling along, perched in a science lab filled with flaming Bunsen burners.

Being a pro writer is amazing too. What’s great is I have connected with other writers all over the world, like Rachel. Visiting her blog and reading her work is—technically—part of my weekly agenda. How cool is that?! I love my life and I wouldn’t trade being a writer for anything. I feel more whole today than I ever have in my life.

But I gotta be honest . . . I wouldn’t truly be whole without first being broken.

The thirty-second version of my little tale is that I served as an ELCA (progressive Lutheran) minister in western North Dakota for eleven years. I was a good pastor. I enjoyed studying scripture and proclaiming the Word. I loved my people. But I was also depressed. I was frequently bored. To combat the gnawing worms of ennui and melancholy eroding the foundations of my soul, I drank and I took pills, mostly painkillers. Of course, this only made things worse in the long run.

One of the reasons I get tired of reading and hearing other addiction-recovery stories is that they all end the same way. There’s never a magical twist in the plot. The details might be different, but yup—all of them don’t end well.

Just over six years ago, I was arrested for felony trespassing while I was in a blackout.

Then I finally got sober (I’d already done several “rodeos” in rehab prior to my decisive arrest). I moved from the country to a large city. I developed my new vocation as a writer and reconnected with my family, myself, and God. I strive to never seem “in your face” with my spirituality, but the fact is it’s extremely important to me. The big surprise for me came when I was standing in the basement jail cell wearing an anti-suicide smock.

I asked myself, “How the hell did I get here? Where is God now?”

I didn’t immediately receive a reply to those questions, but they came soon enough. I think an appropriate one-word summary to the answer I got was . . . submit.

A longer answer I discovered in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (12:10):

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

One of the best real-world allegories for this concept of strength-within-weakness you can see in the Japanese art of kintsugi. The artists who create such works first begin with the broken pieces of pottery or ceramic.

Whereas most potters or ceramic workers would likely curse their rotten luck of having dropped their work—then undoubtedly had to haul out the broom, pan, and garbage bin to dispose of any evidence of their clumsiness—some ingenious Japanese craftsman in about the 15th century got an idea:

Why not put the pieces back together and create something beautiful?

The gorgeous creation that first bloomed from the once-destroyed piece of lacquerware most likely came as a delightful shock for that brave medieval craftsman who first experimented. Today, instead of striving to hide the cracks and breaks, kintsugi artists accentuate and aggrandize the damage with gold, platinum or silver lacquer.

The result stuns and dazzles, just as much as it shows us that the brokenness can be more than simply useful, but also elegant and transcendent.

“Living while recovering” is a daily process for me. I need to apply continued effort to stay sober because addiction is a brain illness. I don’t dwell on the past, but I never shut the door on it. I regularly attend Twelve Step meetings. God has taken my cracks and my shattered past to make a difference for others, not just with the work I do, but also simply being there for others who are hurting. With a problem as serious as addiction has become in this country (worldwide really), it’s a gift to let my broken past be a gift for others.

I am strong, because I am first broken and weak.

Daniel D. Maurer is an author, a freelance writer, a public speaker and a blogger. He has four published books: Sobriety: A Graphic Novel (Hazelden Publishing, 2014), Faraway: A Suburban Boy’s Story as a Victim of Sex Trafficking (Two Harbors Press, 2015), Papa Luther (Augsburg Fortress, 2016), and Endure: The Power of Spiritual Assets for Resilience to Trauma & Stress (Mount Curve Press, forthcoming—fall 2017). He lives with his family in Saint Paul, Minnesota. For more info, please visit his blog at Transformation is Real.

The Bookshelf: Djibouti Jones Contributors

This week the Bookshelf features writers who have written for Djibouti Jones. I’m really excited to share their extended works.

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by Daniel D. Maurer. Daniel wrote On Writing: 7 Easy Tips to Find Your Niche and quite possibly the only fiction piece on Djibouti Jones. We met at The Loft writing center in Minneapolis a few years ago and Dan has since gone on to publish two excellent, powerful, and unique books. A graphic novel about recovery and a co-authored memoir about teenage male sex trafficking.

by Marilyn Gardner. Marilyn wrote Red Hot Rage, A Third Culture Kids Talks about Raising Third Culture Kids, and Let’s Talk about Hijab: Rethinking the Veil. She is the author of the book Between Worlds, a beautiful series of essays about growing up in Pakistan.

by Heather Caliri. Heather wrote Living With the Empty Spaces and The Hospitality of Greetings. She is the author of Unquiet Time: A Devotional for the Rest of Us and The Word Made Art: 52 projects for a spiritual encounter. The Word Made Art is available via her blog.

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by Ruth Van Reken. Ruth wrote the opening essay in the series on Third Culture Kids, Who Are Third Culture Kids? She is the c0-author of the seminal book Third Culture Kids and Letters Never Sent, a moving memoir of her boarding school kid experiences.

by Rhett Burns. Rhett wrote Time is Relational in Turkey and is the author of a book with the fantastic subtitle: how American football explains Turkey.

D.L. Mayfield has a book in the works as do a number of other contributors. I’m sure I have missed some of you. If so, please leave a comment and I’ll add your books to the list or do another post in the future to promote them.

What I’m reading this week

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
by Erik Larson. Yup, still reading this. Love it. Need to finish so I can move on to his new one and to Thunderstruck, which I haven’t read yet. Larson was the guest on the Longform podcast this week too so if you are a longform fan or an Erik Larson fan or if you’d like to become one, I highly recommend the podcast. It is what motivates me to get u pat 5:30 a.m. and pound out 13 miles in dusty, muggy Djibouti. I think that about says it all.

 

 

Faraway: A Suburban Boy’s Story as a Victim of Sex Trafficking
by Daniel D. Maurer and R.K. Kline. Yup, this is the one I mentioned above. Dan is a Djibouti Jones contributor. You can read my review on Amazon. I read this in two quick night-time reading bursts and the second night should have gotten to bed earlier because I had that darn 5:30 a.m. wake up call but couldn’t sleep until I finished it.

 

 

 

The Tiger’s Wife: A Novel
by Tea Obrecht. I know. I mentioned this one before and my slow progress has little to do with the quality of the book. Its a great book and I wish I loved fiction more. I think reading more fiction would help my mind think more creatively. But…I struggle to get into fiction. Convince me otherwise! Recommend some great fiction.

 

 

 

What are you reading this week? What fiction do I need to read? Which Djibouti Jones contributors have I missed?

 *this post includes amazon affiliate links

On Writing: 7 Easy Tips to Find Your Niche

Today it is my pleasure and honor to present the words of Daniel D. Maurer. Dan is a fellow writer from Minnesota. He is passionate about spirituality, recovery, writing, and transformation, all of which is reflected in his work. Dan is also a speaker and his story is a powerful one. I have been blessed by his words, encouragements, and his life, in particular by seeing the way he and his family have walked through fire and come out stronger together. 

He is the author of the newly released Sobriety, a graphic novel, which recently got an excellent review in the Huffington Post. He also wrote Faraway: a suburban kid’s story as a victim of sex trafficking, which he co-wrote with that kid, now a man bravely sharing his story.

Warning: the following piece is a little longer than my general blog posts but well worth the read. For the lazy among us, I suppose it is okay to skip down to the 7 tips but I urge you not to. You’ll appreciate them so much more if you first soak up Dan’s style and perspective. Enjoy!

Before I went to college in 1990 I had a cool summer job. It was with the Minnesota Historical Society at one of the state’s historical sites, the Oliver H. Kelley Farm. Oliver H. Kelley (1826-1913) was a farmer and a labor organizer who lived in what then was the frontier of the United States. Mr. Kelley’s agricultural acumen was marginal at best, but what earned him a place in history books was his founding of the grange movement, a sort of farmer’s union. My job at the homestead was to play farmer and teach visitors about the technological achievements in farm machinery in the latter 19th-century and the importance of the farm-labor movement. I wore 1860s clothing in the oppressive midwest summer humidity and worked with oxen, horses, pigs, sheep, chickens and cows. It was living history. Yeah, you know it … it’s where the experience is supposed to magically transport visitors through time back to that day.

What was great about our site is that we didn’t have to “get into character” and act as if we were people living in 1860s in frontier Minnesota. I’ve always thought that was a bit silly anyway, especially when a person can see jet contrails in the sky and hear road noise from the highway. Lucky for me, ours was third-person historical interpretation and that meant that I could still be Dan Maurer from 1990 and talk about the past as the past. Thing is, we still had to do the work, which at times was grueling. I remember hoeing a field of rutabagas to the beat of my pulse in my ear and sweat-soaked wool clothing tossing moisture into the air like a broken lawn sprinkler.

There was one idea that stuck with me from that experience: farmers living on the frontier needed to have exceptional ingenuity, a creative mind, and a tenacious grit and perseverance. Nearly every day we ran into problems trying to operate the farm with vintage farm implements and meet visitors all in between. One day the wooden hay rake’s tines are busted and we have to construct new ones; the next day we’re building a new wood housing for the ancient corn sheller which some school kid bumped and cracked; yet then another rainy day finds us shuffling wide-eyed, scurrying kindergarteners into the basement of the barn to witness a milking and I need to adjust my teaching to K-level without watering it down too much.

The job was stimulating for me, not only because we had a wide variety of activities, but also because the guests visiting the site were of all ages and backgrounds. I had to use both sides of my brain to communicate and teach simply without being overly simplistic, all while simultaneously striving to creatively interpret history. I was the conductor for a mystical train ride back in time. I loved every minute of it.

Twenty-five years later, I’m a freelance writer. What’s surprising is not much has changed.

Any writer can relate to what writing really is: it’s an almost god-like power to create from nothing. With writing there is an order and process, as well as rules. But at its core is a dreamy, wild—and sometimes frenetic desperation—to create, to communicate-by-telepathy the thoughts in a writer’s head to other heads out there. Writers are artists. Sometimes we’re like musicians, riffing and plucking emotions out of thin air. Sometimes we’re painters. However, writing is the only art where the canvas stands ready for the brush and paint in the mind of your reader.

With my own writing, I’m part freelancer, part non-fiction memoir author, part curriculum developer; I’ve even conducted a ragtag orchestra of artists, editors, letterers and wordsmiths to produce a graphic novel. Fiction is still my first love, and fantasy worlds are more often more real to me than the real McCoy.

I’ve assembled a list of things I’ve noticed about my own writing process. Even though I’m still relatively a beginner at this thing, I also take heed of Papa Hemingway’s words that, “[w]e are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

7 writing tips

1) The basics: Love words. Love reading and writing. Read lots of different things from lots of different authors. Read poetry, especially. There’s nothing like a poem to compress and mix emotion and meaning. Here’s a poem that in my opinion nears perfection. Read fiction and nonfiction. Read historical fiction. Explore genre. Science fiction, especially. It’s not just some story out in space, it’s something that gets you thinking differently! Read fantasy, horror, erotica. Short pieces and long ones too. Read lots of humor. The Onion is genius. So is Kurt Vonnegut. Read political essays. Explore the world of comics and dig up obscure graphic novels. But whatever you do, read! Good writing is forged on an anvil compressed of millions of words in infinite diversity. If you don’t read, you don’t write. This I know is the one unbreakable law.

2) Have a natural curiosity & the ability to wonder. Writers are noticers. The great thing about our job is that we’re always working. Really. I mean that. Need to pick up your friend at the Greyhound station and don’t have a book? Strike up a conversation and listen. Notice. Too much the introvert to do that? Well, then just look and notice. Make up fantastical histories for people. Make yourself laugh at the plotlines you create. Look at the building and feel the walls. Notice smells. Describe them. Are the smells too unique to describe? Too bad, that’s your job. You have to write it or readers don’t get to read it. Look up etymologies of words online. Ever wonder why “lb.” stands for “pound?” I did. Curiosity is the mother of time-wasters and frivolous dreamers. In other words, writers. The biggest part of planning a book is “wandering around” and sticking our noses in places where others haven’t. For me, it’s also the most enjoyable.

3) At nearly every class, writing conference, or lecture I hear the advice many successful writers give to beginners: just write. My response the first time I heard it is the same as when I hear it now: well, duh. Thing is, it’s helpful to hear. I make all sorts of excuses why I can’t write—there’s not enough time; I can’t write on an empty stomach; I have gardening to do; I’d rather read this book; I’d rather Facebook and Twitter (surely the path to a most painful perdition), and; I’m scared I’ll create crap (by far my favorite). If I listened to any of these excuses at any length. . .well, it wouldn’t be good. Things can’t always be perfect. Just write.

4) Motivation and Editing: My motivation is the purpose and meaning I find in telling stories for their own sake. Yours might be different. Just don’t let it be fame and fortune. That road leads to depression and emptiness, I guarantee it. If you get to be famous you can deal with fame then. Dealing with rejection is the gift that keeps on giving. Know that editors will be editors, and criticism is their tool. If a helpful little phrasing critique (or a giant, chapter slash) is akin to a hammer, please know that the only thing an editor hammers are loose nails in your flimsy frame of a manuscript. Get over yourself and write on. After all, even The Great Gatsby had versions. For every F. Scott there is a Maxwell A. Perkins making him a better writer. Editors are your friends.

5) Use tricks to stimulate creativity and urge yourself to write – be creative with what works. When I wrote Sobriety: A Graphic Novel, I often listened to particular songs to get into the mood I wanted to convey. For example, in one chapter I was writing instructions for our illustrator. The chapter had a gay man of African descent who grew up in south London. He had a hard life growing up. For some reason, Terry Callier’s song You’re Goin’ Miss Your Candyman got me into the scene and let me feel what life was like for Alex (the character). I listened to the song on repeat for several afternoons and went into a trance while I wrote. It was flow. Everyone can’t do this, I know, but I’m not the first to listen to music while I write. For me, it’s part of my process. Find what works for you and do it.

5) Editor & Creator Hats: We’ve got two hats when we write—one is the creator, the other the (self) editor. You can’t wear one too tightly or the other one falls off. Find your balance!

6) Beta Readers: I generally find it unhelpful to show my nonfiction work to too many people before it’s published. This is especially so for some of my theological reflections and devotions I’ve written. For fiction, beta readers are helpful in that they can keep you focused and on task, a sort of accountability factor—when I tell someone I’m working on something, I feel it necessary to follow up with my promise. I suppose a corollary to these folks are other readers in general, either pre- or post publication. I found there are three basic types of readers: editors, critics, and cheerleaders. Personally, I need all three to function. Especially good cheerleaders. If I feel no one is listening, I don’t even want to start. Find the mix that works for you, but that doesn’t feed your ego too much. Humility is part of writing too.

7) Lastly, mix it up! I work best when I take on lots of projects. Other writers need to focus on one project at a time. Me, though, I like the postproduction marketing and hobnobbing almost as much as writing itself. I’m a bit of a weirdo in writers’ circles though, since I’m such an extrovert. Find what works for you and do it. I’ve taken on two rather unique and really interesting projects that have been enormously fulfilling. My freelance work and curriculum development with Sparkhouse and Amicus keep me grounded with a very different type of writing (and they bring home a little bacon). Enjoy writing and good luck!

Daniel D. Maurer used to be an ordained Lutheran minister living in North Dakota. Now, he’s a freelance writer openly living in recovery and writing stuff. Daniel attended a class with Rachel at the Loft Literary Center and enjoys reading her work. He lives with his family in Saint Paul, Minnesota. For more information, see www.danthestoryman.com.

Purchase Sobriety here.

Read more about Faraway here.

*image via Pixabay

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