Lynn D. Morrissey Answers The Faithful Fifteen
Lynn D. Morrissey is a popular author, communicator and soloist who facilitates Bible studies at her home church in St. Louis, Missouri. Here Lynn reflects on her dramatic conversion to Christianity and an emotional encounter she had with a reader at a Christian bookstore.
1. What kind of testimony to your faith are you demonstrating in this book? If you are writing fiction, do you write fiction that is based upon your faith, or that has a message for the reader? Is your goal to demonstrate your faith in your writing?
LM: My hope is always to demonstrate my faith both in my writing and in my living. Only with God's grace can I do that. The Lord is everything to me. I love Ps. 42, and this verse especially holds true in my life: "He lifted me out of the slimy pit...and set my feet on a rock. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God." I pray that the words in my books are a hymn of praise to God, a testimony of His power and grace in my life.
When I received Jesus as my Savior, the Holy Spirit dramatically and indelibly changed me. Especially in my new book, LOVE LETTERS TO GOD: Deeper Intimacy through Written Prayer, each chapter testifies to God's transforming power in my life through a series of personal (and sometimes poetic) reflections. I write about how He has used prayer-journaling as His vehicle to heal me from suicidal depression, the pain of a past abortion, alcoholism, fear and worry, and to help me overcome a host of other trials. God has strengthened my faith to know that with Him all things are possible and that through Him, I can overcome whatever obstacles life presents.
I feel so blessed that my publisher, Multnomah, allowed me to write about deep issues in a beautiful gift book --- issues with which other women grapple as well. I write about how God's amazing grace has triumphed in my life --- about how I know He will give women victory as well. Without the Lord, I would not have the ability to write, to speak publicly, to pray, or to live a life of meaning. (Frankly, I would probably be dead because of my former alcoholism). God is everything to me. How can I not write about His love? How can I not testify to His fathomless grace? In LOVE LETTERS TO GOD, I attempt to do that very transparently in a way so that women can see the real me --- a person who is completely and utterly dependent upon the Lord.
2. When did you come to a saving knowledge of Jesus? Where are you today in your walk? Is your faith an important part of what you do?
LM: I became a Christian when I was around twenty-five years old in a rather dramatic conversion. I had been suicidally depressed from my mid-teens to mid-twenties. I never actually made an attempt to take my life, but I woke up every single day for ten years absolutely despondent and longing to die.
Although I had been raised in a Christian home and attended church regularly, I realize now that I was not really a Christian. I had no genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I had no idea who He truly was or later even if He was! I questioned God's existence, and I withdrew into a lonely shell --- into a terrible time of doubt and despair. Surely, I must have heard the true Gospel message somewhere during my childhood, but somehow it eluded me. I really had no idea how to be saved.
For the first time that I can remember, I heard the Gospel presented clearly through a parachurch organization called Bible Study Fellowship. I realized that I was a sinner, in need of a Savior. I had made a mess of my life. I cried out to God, asking Him to save me and for Jesus to come into my life. That overwhelming suicidal depression lifted almost immediately. I began to know joy for the very first time. I will not say that I have never suffered depression since, but never that oppressive, life-threatening kind. God has always met me in His word to comfort and guide me and to give me hope. The Lord and His Word are my very life. Yes, my faith is extremely important to me, as I have demonstrated in the previous question.
3. Tell us about your church experiences, how you grew up (or maybe didn't grow up) in the church. Where do you attend services now? What is your involvement in your local assembly?
LM: My father, Bill, says that we are Methobapterians! This is his own unique (and he thinks clever!) way of saying that he was raised Methodist and that later, he and my mother joined a Baptist church. There they were married and raised us children. My parents moved when I was eleven, and we began attending a Presbyterian church in our new neighborhood.
I attended there until my husband, Michael, and I were married. As newlyweds, Michael and I attended a Methodist church, and now we are both members of Central Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Clayton, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis). Although, as I mentioned earlier, I do not believe I was a Christian as a youth, I still have very fond memories of growing up in the church. I loved attending Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, where I listened to stories about Jesus and other men and women of the Bible. I also memorized Scripture. I especially loved attending church with my parents and singing the beautiful hymns. (I particularly enjoyed singing next to my father, who has a gorgeous bass voice!) Once I was old enough, I was always a member of the choir.
Now, besides attending our home church, my husband Michael, our eleven-year-old daughter Sheridan, and I also worship with a small nondenominational congregation in the country at Harmonie Church, when we stay at our cozy cabin in the woods. It feels as if we are going to "the little brown church in the wild wood" (only it's white!) --- reminiscent of the beloved hymn. We love singing wonderful old hymns at Harmonie, and occasionally I sing solos (and if Sheridan is brave, she'll join me in a duet).
Our fellowship with this congregation is especially sweet. The pastor loves Jesus and gives stirring, Christ-centered sermons. It's our "home away from home." Yet Central is our true home, and we feel like family there. I facilitate a night-time Bible study for wonderful working women, am involved in women's ministries, occasionally teach seminars (usually for women), and occasionally sing solos during the worship service. It was a real treat for me to perform a recital of "old" songs from the twenties for a group of octo- and nonagenarians for their annual banquet. They were the most appreciative audience for whom I've sung in a long time.
4. Tell us about your current church family/fellowship. How does it influence your work?
LM: My church family at Central Presbyterian Church is a very important and vital part of my life. I love worshiping with them on Sunday mornings and being fed God's Word from our wonderful, spirit-filled pastor, Dr. Dan Doriani, who is also a seminary professor. I am close to many women at Central, and they have been particularly instrumental in praying for my writing and speaking ministry. They lift up my concerns, and they also keep me accountable. They likewise celebrate with me when the Lord presents me with writing and speaking opportunities. These sisters in the Lord have been invaluable contributors to my ministry, both inside and outside the church.
5. Who are your spiritual mentors? Your professional mentors?
LM: I have been fortunate to have had many mentors since becoming a Christian more than 25 years ago. First and foremost is my mother, Fern Morrissey. She has "tutored" me mostly by her godly example, but she also spent a lot of time with me when I was a child, reading Scripture, singing hymns, and praying with and for me. Both my grandmothers were godly influencers as well. Their love for the Lord was abundantly evident through their worship, prayers, Bible reading, and in the exemplary way in which they lived.
I have many older women friends who have mentored by example and who have prayed for, encouraged and counseled me. Personal professional mentors include authors and speakers Florence and Marita Littauer, Emilie Barnes, Carol Kent, Mary Whelchel, Kathy Collard Miller, Jennifer Kennedy Dean, Becky Freeman, Gail MacDonald, and Susan Titus Osborn. Emilie gave me my first break into Christian print with an interview that I wrote about her for The Christian Communicator. Florence gave me my second interview. All these women have been as generous with their time as they have with their counsel, whether in person, by phone, by post, or by email.
I literally would not be where I am today in my writing and speaking without their gracious influence. I am especially excited that I will be going to visit with author/speaker Anne Ortlund this July for two days of intense, personal mentoring. I read Anne's book, DISCIPLINES OF THE BEAUTIFUL WOMAN, as a new Christian, and it changed my life. It is from her that I got the idea of writing my prayers, my love letters to God. My life has never been the same. I am indebted to Anne. For about seven years, I have been praying for the possibility for Anne to personally disciple me. Through the most extraordinary circumstances, God has arranged this divine appointment. I encourage your readers to ask people to mentor them professionally. Amazingly, those we ask will often say yes! It is my hope to emulate my mentors' example by being a ready "resource" and voice of encouragement to writers who are just getting started in their ministries.
6. Discuss your calling/mission --- as a writer and as a Christian.
LM: My calling is "to inspire noteworthy living" --- in myself, my family, my friends, and those whom my ministry touches. I reach others through my mission of writing, speaking, and teaching God's Word. Noteworthy Living is the name of my ministry, and my teaching trademark is, "A life worth living is worth recording." For so long, I wasted my life on unworthy pursuits. Now I want to live a life worthy of my calling.
Through my relationship with Christ, the Lord has given my life great value. We all receive our worth through Him. I want to share that truth with others and also encourage them to put aside anything that does not honor the Lord. I believe that one of the most important uses of our time is literally to note life's significance by recording our spiritual walks and our prayers in our journals. Prayer-journaling is a unique means of enjoying intimacy with God, noting life's significance, and experiencing spiritual transformation. I believe that writing touches hearts and transforms lives, whether we are writing to God or to others. Additionally, I teach people about how they can reach others for Christ through their correspondence.
7. What are your Scripture reading habits?
LM: I have rarely missed a day of Bible reading since becoming a Christian twenty-five years ago. The Bible and prayer are my lifelines to God ---- like breathing! After I awake and become "presentable," I sit down with a cup of tea and begin my day by reading God's Word (no news, no TV, etc. first). I started reading the Bible for the first time as a young woman when I was a member of Bible Study Fellowship. I completed their eight-year program and took some of the courses a second time when I became a BSF leader.
Several years ago, I began reading the Bible completely through in a year. I have enjoyed using the various "One Year" Bibles on the market for this purpose. Additionally, I always do some sort of in-depth study. My favorites are those by Kay Arthur, Beth Moore and Jennifer Kennedy Dean, many of which I have led at my church. Additionally, I enjoy reading from a devotional book each day. My all-time favorite is STREAMS IN THE DESERT. Though the language is sometimes archaic, the spiritual depth is always fresh and relevant. I've also enjoyed devotionals by Kay Arthur and Jennifer Kennedy Dean. Oswald Chamber's MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST is excellent as well. Sometimes I will read a good Christian book devotionally --- i.e., I will read a chapter per day after I have read my Bible. I find that the insights of fellow spiritual pilgrims help me apply God's truth to my own life in a relevant and meaningful way. I keep a Bible on my nightstand and often read God's Word just before going to bed.
8. What books have most influenced your work?
LM: I love the writings of Elisabeth Elliot, Luci Shaw, Madeleine L'Engle, Judith Couchman, Jean Fleming, Catherine Marshall, Sue Monk Kidd, Mark Buchanan, Ken Gire, CS Lewis, Brennan Manning, A. W. Tozer, Richard Foster, Robert Benson, Calvin Miller, Thomas Kelly, and a new discovery is the lyrical pen of Cindy Crosby. Wow, are these all great authors!
These writers have influenced my life and my writing through their profound perceptions, accurate handling of God's Word, and insightful applications of truth to life. I have also been enriched as an author by their expansive vocabularies and excellent writing technique.
Though I don't read much humor, I have laughed aloud at the writings of Becky Freeman, Laura Jensen Walker and Debi Stack. A brand-new humorist whose quirky sense of humor I adore is Beck F's sister, Rachel St. John-Gilbert. I recently had the privilege of helping to edit her first book, WAKE UP LAUGHING, and laughed hysterically my whole way through the project! Writing, though a joy, is an arduous discipline, so we could use some comic relief. We authors all would do well to laugh more and lighten up a little!
And yet, I also love the serious, classic writings of authors like Madame Jeanne Guyon and Hannah Whitall Smith. I have a library of hundreds and hundreds of books! Although my husband wasn't thrilled about loading all those boxes of books in our recent move, he knows I am a happier person when I am feeding my spirit on great Christian truths.
As an author, I also need to have a plethora of literature at my fingertips from which to derive quotes and to help generate my own creative juices. I might add that I love good poetry as well, such as that by William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, May Sarton, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, etc. My hands-down favorite Christian poets are Christina Rosetti, George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and the contemporary Luci Shaw. Gosh, I guess I didn't exactly answer your question because I have read so many books by these authors, it would be impossible to mention them all; I just love their works, generally, so it is difficult to name just a few.
9. Do you read secular fiction at all? If so, who are your favorite authors and why?
LM: I don't read a lot of fiction, and interestingly it is mostly all secular, but not often contemporary. I love the works of Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Daphne du Maurier, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mark Twain. I particularly love the novels JANE EYRE, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, DAVID COPPERFIELD, DR. JEKYL AND MR. HYDE, and any of the Sherlock Holmes stories. These authors' masterful works have withstood the test of time. They boast incredible vocabularies, intricate plots, intriguing character sketches, creative descriptions, and they often are laced with honorable moral principles. I would add that I love GONE WITH THE WIND, though I don't necessarily feel that the writing is as powerful. It's just a wonderful story. Who doesn't love Rhett and Scarlett? Well, I won't worry about that now. I'll think about that tomorrow. I also think that a lot of secular fiction is either fluffy or smutty.
10. What are your other media habits --- television, movies, music, etc.?
LM: I try not to watch too much TV. In fact, we purposely do not have cable television because we would end up watching it! When I was younger, I was really addicted to one soap opera (The Young and the Restless!), but God convicted me of how immoral that was (Read Ps. 101 for insight). So I might watch PBS news and some of their educational specials or British screenplays or movies. I love all things British! Two of my favorite British TV series are the various Sherlock Holmes cases, starring Jeremy Brett and the Miss Marple mysteries, starring Joan Hickson.
And as far as TV goes, my daughter would chastise me if I didn't mention liking the world's best kid series Arthur. Of course, I have encouraged her to watch I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, and the old Dick van Dyke Show reruns! One of my favorite (relatively) recent movies is Sense and Sensibility. Marvelous! My family and I also love watching old classics like Rebecca, You Can't Take It with You, It Happened One Night, It's a Wonderful Life, The Quiet Man, Gaslight...you get the picture --- the older, the better. To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind are favorites, too. Please tell me why Clark Gable didn't win the Academy Award as best actor?!
I love classical music, mostly Baroque, some Renaissance and some Romantic. My favorite composers are Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. My mother thinks there is something seriously wrong with me for thinking that Beethoven is boring!! I don't prefer contemporary music or praise songs, though I like singing them in church occasionally. But I think, overall, that they lack some depth, whether in the meaning of the words or in the intricacy of the melodies and harmony. As for worship music, how can one surpass Handel's Messiah or Bach's Mass in B-minor? There is just so much rich, classical sacred music from which to choose. I also come from a musical family, and we like nothing better than joining in sing-alongs around the piano. We have sung everything from hymns to Broadway show tunes to patriotic music to American folk songs. Singing truly lifts the spirit.
11. Do you and your family have any special faith-based traditions?
LM: My husband and I love entertaining our extended family for big dinner parties (about 35 people) for holidays like St. Patrick's Day, July 4th (Independence Day), Mother's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. Of course, our eleven-year-old daughter, Sheridan, insists on hosting a major extravaganza on her birthday. Not all our family are Christian, but we don't change the way we live for company. We pray at meals and talk about the Lord in our natural conversation. At Christmas we love gathering around the grand piano to sing Christmas carols. And my husband always reads the Christmas story from Matthew. He also reads Truman Capote's A CHRISTMAS MEMORY, and there isn't a dry eye in the house. It is not a Christian story, but it is extremely poignant and poetically written.
Our daughter has a little Advent calendar with tiny removable books with attached strings. Each little book contains Scripture and part of the Christmas story. My husband, daughter and I alternate reading them each day of Advent. After we finish, we hang the books on Sheridan's tiny Advent tree. Then we sing a Christmas carol or two that corresponds with each message. At Thanksgiving, each family member enjoys sharing God's blessing for which he is most grateful. At Easter time, my daughter enjoys opening a "Resurrection egg" over a succession of twelve days. For the symbol hiding in each egg, Michael and I read the associated Scripture passages to her.
Most of our religious Holiday traditions revolve around our church's celebrations. We particularly love the candlelight Christmas Eve service, various Christmas concerts, and the Easter service that always concludes with the Hallelujah Chorus. Members of the congregation are invited to join the choir, and I always leave my pew and race to the choir loft!
12. Tell us about your prayer life and habits.
LM: When I first became a Christian, I was prayerless and, therefore, powerless. I couldn't string two sentences together to the Lord without losing my train of thought or falling asleep. I found prayer to be very awkward. I tried to emulate the flowery prayers of my pastor or the expressive prayers of my friends, and simply fell short. I literally just stopped praying! That may seem incongruent or impossible for a real Christian to admit, but it's the truth.
Though Anne Ortlund's book, DISCIPLINES OF THE BEAUTIFUL WOMAN, had certainly encouraged me to pray, I wasn't very consistent. When I found myself in a crisis situation at work, one day I began venting my frustrations onto paper. The more I wrote, the better I felt. And without my even realizing it, I began crying out to God in this desperate situation. Without actually intending to, I was praying! I was writing about a real-life situation in my own words --- and my words simply flowed. I who could not pray now couldn't stop praying!
That was over twenty-five years ago, and I have countless prayer journals that chronicle my walk with the Lord. Journaling has absolutely revolutionized my prayer life --- in fact, my life, period! I write what I call my "love letters to God" every day in a black, bound 8 1/2 x 11 artist's sketchbook. I have dozens of these books, which I will someday leave to my daughter, Sheridan, as a legacy of God's love and faithfulness in my life.
13. Describe what you believe the role of writing in religion is.
LM: God, Himself, demonstrates the importance of the written word in passing down His truth through the generations in the Bible. God could have only given us His commands orally. But I believe that He knew that writing would be necessary to give His message permanency and accuracy. His own finger wrote the Ten Commandments. And He inspired men to write Scripture. Because God's truth is etched in writing, we have no question as to God's intent.
Writing helps make religion tangible and more easily understood. Of course, the Bible itself is God's holy, inerrant Word, relevant and applicable to all aspects of life and godliness. But I believe that God has also given Christian writers the great privilege of sharing His truth through fiction, nonfiction, poetry, Bible studies, etc. Writing helps spread God's truths to far-flung places around the globe --- places where many of us would not be able to travel otherwise.
14. Tell us about one or more of your favorite encounters with readers.
LM: Recently, as I stood in the checkout line at a Christian bookstore, I noticed a woman thumbing through my new book, LOVE LETTERS TO GOD. I told her that I was the author and asked her if I could be of help. She seemed pleased and asked if I could tell her a little about the contents. Apparently, she was very interested in journaling.
As she flipped through it, she immediately landed on the "Oceans of Mercy, Oceans of Love" chapter in which I write about both my pain and healing from an abortion. She said, "I can't believe you wrote about this in a gift book." I was devastated. I thought that she was being critical. I had wrestled intensely about revealing this sin from my past --- this sin that I had committed so long ago and that had haunted me for over 25 years.
But I soon learned that she was not being critical at all. She went on to share how a friend of hers had had an abortion 30 years ago, and still could not find healing and forgiveness. The strangest thing happened. The more she talked about her friend, I knew intuitively that she was actually talking about herself. I asked her to clarify, and she nodded with her eyes downcast. Tears streamed from her eyes, as they did from mine. For that moment, time stood still and we were oblivious to all the other customers around us. I gently drew her aside and told her that I knew that this was God's divinely ordained meeting. The more we talked, the more I was able to infuse her with hope --- the hope that God would forgive her. She said for the first time, though she had been a Christian for many years, she knew that God was going to heal her. She couldn't wait to read the book.
Even though LOVE LETTERS TO GOD has only been in print for a couple of months, I have already heard from readers who have said that if the book was written for no other purpose, they know it was meant to include this chapter! I am amazed that some of these post-abortive women are in their sixties, and some women have had multiple abortions! How I praise God that He can use the pain and sin from my past for His redemptive purposes --- that He can bring beauty from ashes.
15. Would you share a story about someone you've brought to Christ or share how your writing has helped someone?
LM: I have had the incredible privilege of being involved in praying for and helping to lead four people to the Lord. I honestly do not think we know how many lives we really touch and the "ripple effect" that our lives can have; only heaven will reveal how God uses each of us to influence others. But God has granted me the enormous blessing of knowing about four.
One is my brother, Brian; another my great aunt Martha, who received the Lord on her death bed as she was dying from colon cancer (I write about her in LOVE LETTERS); one was my long-time friend and Sheridan's piano teacher, Frank, who died of pancreatic cancer while I was writing my book; and the last was my stylist, Ann. It would honestly take too long to detail these salvation stories for you here, but rest assured, they are miraculous! Salvation always is!
But let me say this: Never give up witnessing to people or praying for them. My great aunt was 82 when she died, and she literally received Christ on her deathbed. I had nearly given up hope that she would ever reach out to Jesus. Another thing I find important: Witness naturally. By that I mean incorporate Jesus into your natural conversation with people. Don't be afraid to tell them about your relationship with Him. After all, if you really love Him, it's only right that you would talk about Him and how He meets your needs and guides your life. This does not involve preaching. People will notice and realize that you are sincere. Sometimes they will ask questions, and sometimes they won't. But just maybe, after years of observing, they will ask you the most important question of all: "Will you show me how to pray to receive Christ?" That's what my stylist did recently (after many years of my praying for her), and it was the thrill of my life!
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