Real Life Characters: Melissa Levi and The Mustard Seed
I love being around people who encourage and inspire me. People who make a difference in their communities and the lives of those they touch. Melissa Levi is certainly one of those people.
I met Melissa about seven years ago when she enrolled as student at the small Bible college where I taught. Smart and quick-witted, she excelled in her courses, and it didn't take long for me to discover she was a writer. I asked if she would be willing to come up with and write a weekly piece we could use on the college's website...maybe a short, inspirational read. She graciously accepted, made it her own, and The Mustard Seed was born.
Fast forward several years. The Mustard Seed is a regular hit, serving up bite sized nuggets of encouragement and Godly wisdom...the perfect, "middle of the day- I need a break from the world," read. Her writing made a real difference in people's lives.
Sometime in early 2016, I asked if she would take a look at a story I'd been working on. Read through it, let me know what she thought. Suggestions? Ideas? Should I just throw it away...quit? I was terrified to let a stranger's eyes peruse my first serious attempt at a full novel. She graciously agreed, read through it, and made thoughtful comments, suggestions, and observations. Then, despite the many problems with that early manuscript, she encouraged me to keep going.
Now, here we are almost four years later, and I ask her for another favor. Could I interview her for my website? She has a new book coming out in January, and I just released the first four short stories in A Piper's Song collection, so the timing seemed right. Plus, we've worked well together in the past and are both Christian writers who want to share the gospel with as many people as possible. Despite her extremely busy schedule, Melissa, once again, graciously agreed.
We emailed and messaged back and forth over the course of several weeks. I'd send questions, and she'd answer. I'd request pictures, and she'd send. I know she's busy; book release coming up, regular Mustard Seed blogs, family, home...real life, ya know? But instead of complaining about my random, sometimes multiple, late night requests, she handled them graciously, even encouraging me (once again) when I told her, only half joking, I was about to throw-up from nerves because of my own new release.
God knew I needed this time with Melissa, just like I needed the encouragement and wisdom she gave me during that early Darkness Watches manuscript. God knew I needed reminded that even during stressful times, it is possible to be kind and gracious. She has a way of doing that, all while steadfastly pointing you to the Truth.
If you've never read The Mustard Seed, check it out. Follow her on Facebook or her blog (links at bottom). Some Seeds are funny, others encouraging, but they all have a message and will make your day a little better.
Jason: Tell me a little about your writing journey.
Melissa: "I have been writing my entire life. My parents gave me a word processor for Christmas when I was 13. It was so exciting to be able to see my words typed out. I wrote all through high school and my young adult life. Unfortunately, life got in the way and I ended up getting distracted from my writing, but I never stopped making notes about story ideas. When I decided to go to school at Old Bethel College of the Bible, I found my desire to write rekindled, however this time it had a new direction. I was asked to write a devotional for the college website. I was not thrilled. I never wanted to be a devotional writer. I wanted to write fiction and thrillers. I wanted to make people’s skin crawl and spine’s tingle. How could devotional writing do that? Now 7 years later, I get emails and have conversations with people that tell me the devotionals touched their hearts and sometimes open their eyes."
Jason: What's the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
Melissa: Throughout my writing, challenges have arisen. As you grow closer to God and in your desire to serve Him, you will find many challenges come up. One of the biggest challenges for me has been confidence. If I do not get positive feedback I allow it to discourage me. If someone challenges what I have written, I get upset and let it affect me personally. The thing to remember is that it is not personal. These people are not attacking me, but Jesus. I am continuing to learn to not allow negativity to make me lose focus.
Jason: Biggest challenges as a Christian writer?
Melissa: I have had some brutal exchanges with people over Biblical principles and my faith. Being steadfast, committed and focused is paramount.
Jason: Sometimes your devotionals are personal, how often do you find yourself going through a trial knowing that it's going to end up as a Mustard Seed?
Melissa: There are times I know that it is Seed. I love those moments because I know that this experience is for one purpose there is someone that is about to go through the same and my experience will help them. It makes the situation easier to deal with because I know that everything will be okay because God has a plan and purpose. Everything we face is to build faith, give us a testimony and reminds us God has it all under control. When I get an email, phone call or just someone walking up to me and saying, "I read the Mustard Seed and I am going through the same thing right now. It gave me so much encouragement." That encouragement and redirecting their focus in such situations, facilitate victory through Christ.
Jason: What advice would you give new writers?
Melissa: "Be confident. Learn to be thick skinned. Never lose focus. Writing is like standing on the field in a sold out stadium in your underwear. Like it or not, when you write you are sharing part of your personal beliefs, your prejudices, your life point of view, and inevitably it will not match everyone else’s. You must believe in what you write about. Be bold and do not shrink back from sharing what you are compelled to write. Not everyone will like it, but if you are obedient then God will use it to touch lives in ways you could never imagine. Writing is not as passive as some would like to believe. It takes courage and boldness."
Jason: Any fiction ideas in the works?
Melissa: "Yes, I do have a book currently simmering on the back burner. I have the outline and most of the character profiles completed. It is fiction but based on the people that Jesus touched during his ministry. I write about the Mustard Seed and I believe that everyday we plant seeds. Sometimes good seed, sometimes bad. Jesus planted seeds as well with each person he touched. The book tells their individual stories."
Jason: Final thoughts?
Melissa: "There are two things about writing the Mustard Seed that I love most. First, over the course this past 7 years, I have seen God's hand work in some extraordinary ways and I see Him so much clearer in day to day life and situations. Secondly, when I get an idea and I think I know how it is to be written out. I make an outline, get my Bible correlation and begin to type. Then I get to the end and suddenly it is completely different because He dictated and I typed and I get so excited because I know that He wrote it and I was the instrument to share it. There is NO greater satisfaction in writing for Jesus than to have that experience."
Keep planting Seeds, Melissa. We need them.
Be on the lookout in January for her devotional book, Mustard Seeds: Modern Parables, a collection of the first 250 Seeds. I'll post updates on my Facebook Page, but to make sure you don't miss anything, here are her Facebook and blog links.