The pattern of learning a thematic lesson is especially true in ShotgunMarriage, which is out this month. When I was writing The Lawman's Redemption (July 2015), I wrote about Emma Jane Logan, an unpopular, prickly girl no one liked. Except Mary Stone, who looked deeper and offered kindness to someone undeserving but in desperate need. I'd written it to show off Mary's heart, and Mary's character, but what I found was that I couldn't forget Emma Jane. We all know an Emma Jane. Maybe parts of us have been Emma Jane. I know I’ve had my own experiences where I can relate to the torment she experienced.
What changed Emma Jane from girl no one liked to someone who deserved to have her own story told?
The answer is simple: Mary’s kindness to her. I believe that the reason people were so unkind to Emma Jane is that somehow, they hoped their words would encourage her to change. Think about how many times we issue a criticism of something in hopes that it will bring about the change we desire. I know what it’s liked to be bullied. One time, a girl pulled me aside and said, “look, I know we’re hard on you, but we’re only doing it for your own good. If you’d just change these things about yourself, everything would be fine.” Ouch. However, none of that made me change. It just gave me reason to spend hours crying, wondering why I had to turn into the equivalent of a Stepford wife to be acceptable to my peers. Did I have flaws needing attention? Yes. Were some of her criticisms valid? Yes. But the sheer unkindness of her words and actions didn’t give me a safe place to make those changes. What finally brought about change in my life was having genuine friends come around me, loving me as I was, so that when I needed redirection, I knew it came from a loving place and I felt safe in considering their words.
It’s tempting, when we see flaws in others or in their work, to reach out and offer our “guidance” on the issue. But before we do so, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves a few questions based on lessons I learned from writing about Emma Jane.
What is my motivation behind the criticism?Am I angry, self-righteous, or offended at something the person said or did, and think I need to show my superior position? Maybe it’s time to take a step back and not say something, even if that other person is wrong. It’s not okay to prove your point at the expense of someone else. Like Jesus says, before we can take a speck out of someone else’s eye, we must first take the plank out of our own. The women who teased Emma Jane did so to make themselves feel better, to prove their higher social standing, and later, to get back at her for “stealing” the town’s most eligible bachelor. Maybe there was some truth in the criticism, but it was so tainted with bad motivation, no one could see it.
Did that person ask for my opinion?I think about all the times we’re offered unsolicited advice. Looking at all the unsolicited advice I’ve been given, I can tell you that it’s probably only been helpful or useful about 1% of the time. Mostly, it’s not what I needed. In terms of what Emma Jane went through, she never asked the women around her what they thought of her fashion sense. She knew her clothes weren’t fashionable, but also didn’t have the means to change it. It would have been a different situation had Emma Jane gone to the more fashionable women and asked, “hey, what can I do to be more fashionable,” but she was so ashamed of her reduced status and had faced so many barbs, it didn’t feel safe for her to do so.
Is my criticism rooted in love? Do I have a deep and genuine love for the person I’m criticizing and my words stem from that love?
It’s so easy to criticize someone we don’t like. Giving that criticism sometimes justifies our dislike of someone else. After all, if that person didn’t do x, we’d like that person more. But ask yourself, would you say it to your best friend? If Jesus was sitting next to you, would you still offer that criticism? It’s so easy to overlook the mistakes of people we love, so give some grace to the people you don’t. In the Lawman’s Redemption, when Emma Jane was sobbing and a mess, Mary didn’t just say, “hey, you look terrible,” but she very lovingly helped Emma Jane pull herself together.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but as I look at Emma Jane’s transformation, these are the biggest keys to that transformation. Mostly, though, her life changed because others were willing to build her up instead of tearing her down. We all have that same power to change lives. But the most profound change comes from building others up instead of tearing them down. We live in an ugly world full of criticism and attacks from all sides. So let’s use the power we all have within us to help others in loving way.
I’m giving away two sets of The Lawman’s Redemption and Shotgun Marriage so you and a friend can fully experience Emma Jane’s transformation. Because there is so much value in friendship, I want you to be able to give a friend the same encouragement. To enter, tell me about the friend you’d give the second set of books to. For a bonus entry, I’d love to hear your suggestions for ways we can build up those around us who need it. I’m booked with conferences and events over the next week or so, so you have two weeks! I’ll draw a winner on April 20th.
About the book:
Forced to wed to protect their reputations after being trapped overnight in a mine, Emma Jane and Jasper Jackson's marriage is one in name only. Resenting the choices taken from him, Jasper's determined not to lose his heart. But it's not so easy to stay distanced from his new bride when a gang of bandits abducts them both.
Other young women might be ecstatic to land Leadville's wealthiest bachelor. But Emma Jane would rather have Jasper's love than his family's money. A true bond with her handsome husband seems impossible…until their ordeal leaves Emma Jane caring for an orphaned baby. In reach now is the one thing neither expected—the chance to turn a convenient marriage into a forever family.