Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story will grab your heart and not let go. Sarah Lynn Phillips does a phenomenal job of mixing vivid personal narrative that fiction writers will envy, with personal parables, scriptural insights, and deep, spiritual lessons for the reader. Your comment will enter you to win a signed print copy. Sign in on the Rafflecopter at the bottom for even more chances to win!
Penned Without Ink
Welcome, Sarah! Please tell us something about yourself and how you started writing.
Thank you, Norma. I appreciate the opportunity to share my story.
I’m from the Buffalo, New York area, went to college in Tennessee, and married a teacher/educator from Michigan. Barry’s work led us to a school near Rochester, NY (eight years) and a college in Northeast PA (twenty years). God has given us three wonderful daughters and all these years later, two little grandsons. My husband unexpectedly passed away in May 2015. I’m still adjusting . . . grateful for God’s grace every single day.
As a young student, I loved to stretch out on the floor with the latest library book but struggled to “write” until a high school English teacher assigned a character sketch every week. Because of her line-by-line patience, I did well in college—writing papers that helped me make the Dean’s List.
Fast forward almost twenty years when I took a community poetry class. I enjoyed it and soon found the courage to submit some of my work to small houses, and to my delight, had a few poems published. Little by little I crossed over into prose and found some success writing devotionals and articles. My mom introduced me to an annual local writers’ conference, and I later joined a critique group. My themes often began with real life events, leading to come-along-side encouragement and hope. This has become the pattern in much of my work.
Who was the first author who inspired you to write?
Although I enjoy a variety of genres, I’ve been drawn to authors like Elisabeth Elliot, Joni Eareckson Tada, Ken Gire, Gracia Burnham, and others who often have a story to share yet readers like me walk away with hope for our own lives and circumstances. These authors’ writings help me think outside my limited frame of reference and direct my attention to a great big God who is in control yet loves me personally.
Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story is a very personal story. Share with our readers the events that led you to write your book.
After our family suffered the trauma and repercussions of a fiery car crash in 2003 and after months of recovery and years of adjusting to our new normal, I wondered if perhaps our story could encourage others. God opened doors for me to submit short pieces about our experience. I never dreamed of writing a book until later, but I needed these years to learn the craft of writing and publishing. More importantly, I needed time to fully process what had happened to us and then be able to write about God’s grace through our suffering in a personal and realistic way that would lift others up.
After speaking at a Christmas tea on the topic of “story,” I seriously considered sharing our story in book format. I brought my idea to a writers’ conference only to be told my book didn’t have much of a chance to succeed. I needed a platform, and in addition to the story, a practical or spiritual takeaway. The next year I brought a Bible study with the themes of God’s Story, My Story, and Your Story. A wonderful idea, some said, but each Bible study publisher already has a format in place; use your themes in a non-fiction work. They even gave me a word count. But culture and markets change. It had taken about two years to expand my platform and offer a takeaway, but now the book was too long.
I chose an inspirational genre and took the next year to rework each chapter, and finally in July 2015, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas offered me a contract. I didn’t need to think twice!
What do you want your readers to gain by reading Penned Without Ink? Life is often hard. We all benefit from the stories of others who have weathered the storms, didn’t always get it right, and watched God redeem it all. The apostle Paul, in Romans 15:4, brings to light the value of the written page to bring instruction, endurance, and hope. My goal through Penned Without Ink is to link arms with those who are hurting. I don’t want to be “plastic” or “preachy” but with vulnerability come alongside readers with compassion and grace as, together, we walk forward, transformed by hope.
Throughout the book, I not only tell “My Story,” but weave into each chapter “God’s Story,” scriptural principles and biographies that show His character and faithful involvement in our lives. I also offer opportunities for the reader to consider “Your Story” through a few reflective questions spaced throughout the book that relate to the subject of the chapters. This offers options for individual journaling or small group discussion.
Do you have a favorite or signature Bible verse that played a major role in carrying you through not only the trauma to your family but writing the book?
The theme verse I chose for the book is Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (italics added). I wrote the allegory in Chapter 8 while still wearing a neckbrace, so these are the Scriptures that held me up during those dark days. I paraphrased John 11:4 this way (page 42): Barry’s injuries did not end in death. No, it was for God’s glory so that God’s Son would be glorified through it.” James 4:14 has become meaningful to me, especially after Barry passed away: “If the Lord is willing, we shall live . . .”
And if I could slip in my inspiration for writing from Ecclesiastes 12:9, 10: “Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.” These are my writing aspirations . . . so eloquently expressed.
What was your greatest roadblock in writing Penned Without Ink, and how did you overcome it?
One of the hardest hurdles for me was to include appropriate emotion in how I told our story. I tended toward writing with an approach that was too academic. My wonderful writer friends helped me see that I needed to reveal more of my feelings, both positive and negative. I re-wrote a few of the chapters several times before they—and I—were satisfied. This meant I had to re-live the story in a deep, comprehensive way. Often I typed with my journals open, tears streaming down my face. I grieved our losses and savored God’s grace all over again.
This is a very emotional book, what was the most difficult section for you to write?
The Epilogue. Barry passed away in May, and I had only a few months to submit my book document to the publisher, so my grief was fresh and overwhelming. Yet “as I polished my manuscript yet one more time, the comfort and hope I wrote about once again began to shine healing into my aching heart. Even with this latest blow, the truths I myself had written within these pages rang true. As I’ve tried to work it all out, I’ve been drawn to trust the Master Writer at an even deeper level” (pages 135, 136). These were the hardest three pages to write but the Scriptures I shared are some of the most meaningful to me right now.
Do you have any idea what lies ahead in your writing career?
In the immediate future, I will continue to market Penned Without Ink and speak to groups as opportunities arise. I’m considering writing a short leaders’ guide as a help to those who would like to lead a group study using the book. (I have recently led a group using Penned which was very fruitful, and a couple of other groups are doing the same.) I would also like to write more articles . . . and maybe author another book in the future . . . ?
Please share the first scene of Penned Without Ink.
CHAPTER ONE April 5, 2003: Accident or Providence?
Dense fog engulfed us as we strained to see past the front end of our car on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The unexpected, eerie haze on a fair day spiked my pulse and revved up my every nerve. I coached our seventeen-year-old daughter, Sharon, at the wheel. “Slow way down, hon. Put your flashers on.”
My apprehensions grew when we tapped what must have been a car ahead of us. Even then, I hung on to hope. If this is all we hit, we’ll be okay.
I turned to check on five-year-old Elisabeth in the back seat. In that instant, a crushing blow from behind convulsed us back and forth like rag dolls. Elisabeth’s legs flew up. My husband, Barry, in the seat beside her, clutched his sides as if in agony. Sickening terror seized me as the life-shattering impact snuffed out hope like a gust of wind chokes a flame on a moonless night.
Fire. Explosions. Screams. Scraping metal. There were the terrifying sounds that pierced the murky mist around us. Only one thought beat like a drum in my mind: We have to get out of the car. Out of the car. Out . . .
With a near-fatal car crash resulting in trauma, uncertainty, and life-long limitations, Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story will draw you into the true story of one family’s journey of faith. The experiences shared within the pages of this book will lead you to sit by hushed bedsides, observe delicate operations, and feel the angst of many life-and-death decisions. In the midst of multiple layers of pain and loss, you will witness quiet miracles, as well as sure and certain lights that pierce through the darkness. With pictures of both present-day individuals and biblical characters, Sarah Lynn Phillips captures the essence of hope born through her struggle to trust and relay on God. Between the lines, you will also uncover your own journey of trust. A faithful and loving God desires to write your life story—no matter what happens.
Sarah Lynn Phillips is a freelance writer from Northeast Pennsylvania and has authored numerous articles, devotionals, and poems for both online and print publications. Her life story has many wonderful chapters, but it has also taken some unexpected turns, including her family’s near-death experience resulting from a car crash. Sarah offers a vision of hope in the hard times through her writing and speaking. She has three daughters and two grandsons. Visit her blog, Penned Without Ink at www.sarahlynnphillips.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Penned Without Ink is the winner of the Bronze Award in the 2017 Feathered Quill Book Awards Program for the Best Inspirational Category.
Connect with Sarah:
Book Trailer: https://youtube.com/watch?v=FryrDFsS73Y
Facebook Author Page: www.facebook.com/sarahlynnphillips3