My heart is stirred to pursue God more, as I read the words of Jennifer Dukes Lee at Getting Down with Jesus. She is a beautiful writer, and someone I am able to call, gracious friend. I count her as a gift. She is kind, warm and welcoming. She is lover of God and of people. I am blessed by every correspondence I have with her. I am humble by the privilege of interviewing Jennifer, and I am honored to share her answers with you. Jennifer also shares the most beautiful photos on her Facebook page, and follow her most encouraging tweets on Twitter.
An award-winning journalist, Jennifer Dukes Lee used to cover crime, politics, and natural disasters. Now she uses her reporting skills to chase after the redemptive story of Christ. Jennifer, a former news reporter for several Midwestern metropolitan daily newspapers, serves as an adjunct journalism professor at Dordt College in Iowa. Her husband, Scott, raises crops in northwest Iowa, and together they are raising two girls on the Lee family’s century-old farm. She blogs about faith and family at Getting Down With Jesus. She is currently writing a nonfiction Christian book with Tyndale.
Michele-Lyn: How did Getting Down with Jesus come about?
Jennifer Lee: My blog was an experiment in writing and personal storytelling that began in 2008. I had been writing professionally since I was 16 years old, telling other people’s stories in newspapers and magazines. I had written thousands of stories over two decades of writing, had interviewed politicians, police chiefs and presidential candidates. I was never afraid to ask the tough questions of other people – but cringed at the thought of asking the hard questions of myself.
The blog was a way of doing the very necessary work of asking – and answering – those questions. Maya Angelou once said “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I carried the untold stories for years, and have really only begun the process of birthing them. The blog has been the midwife.
I don’t think I knew that’s what was happening when I published my first post, but very quickly, I realized that this was an important soul-work. I needed to wrestle and struggle and confess and listen and get honest with myself. I didn’t anticipate any of that when I started.
But one day, I sat down to write and was surprised by the joy of this: I had been falling in love again with the Savior, relearning the height and depth of God’s unrelenting grace. It floored me. And it drew me back to the computer keyboard again and again.
Michele-Lyn: Will you describe the moment you first believed you were a writer?
Jennifer Lee: I believed I was a reporter before I ever believed I was a writer. My older sisters tell me my favorite word while growing up was this: “Why?” I wanted to know the answers. To everything.
I carried a Sesame Street notebook with me, recording ideas and stories and questions. I settled on a journalism major at least three years before I stepped foot on a college campus.
But believing I could actually call myself a writer took much, much longer – even with external validation. In 2000 I was given the Gannett Corporation’s Outstanding Achievement Award for “best writing at a Division I newspaper.” When I accepted the award, I thought the judges had made a horrible mistake. I didn’t think I could write, not like the “others.”
Comparison is a writer’s enemy. And so is our need for validation. It shouldn’t take a plaque or an editor or a paycheck or a book contract to affirm us as writers. We don’t really need external validation to write; all we really need are some guts. When I began to believe that, I began to know myself as a writer.
Michele-Lyn: We know the Spirit of God is the source of all God-breathed inspiration, but what or who would you say is your biggest inspiration in your writing or blogging journey? Perhaps your favorite author, and why?
Jennifer Lee: Oh Michele. A great question, but ah … where to begin? Or end? I’ll offer a few.
Early on, I was highly influenced by Larry Fruhling and Ken Fuson, two of the finest journalists I’ve known personally. I read their work as a kid, and nearly fainted the day I found myself in cubicles next to theirs at The Des Moines Register. What made them good? They took risks. They broke rules. They could be milk-shooting-out-of-your-nose funny one day, and dead serious the next. They wrote the best leads. I devoured absolutely everything they wrote. They taught me that the best writers were first of all, very good reporters. That’s a lesson I teach my journalism students at Dordt College. I tell them that they may not use even one-tenth of the material in their notebook, but they need to gather it all anyway. Thorough reporting is the difference between a good story and a great one – even in blog posts. I preach the power of story, and the importance of creating visual scenes that play like movies in the mind.
Other authors have influenced me for difference reasons. For theology, I read as much of Tullian Tchividjian, Tim Keller, A.W. Tozer and Brennan Manning as I can. I think James C. Schaap is one of the finest writers around. And I find myself deeply and repeatedly moved by the poetic prose of Ann Voskamp.
Michele-Lyn: What is most important to you in your writing process and/or your writing journey?
Jennifer Lee: My husband, Scott, has been a gift, both in the process and in the journey. He encourages me to write, and even as I answer your questions now, he is making dinner for the family. He reads my blog, and all of my chapters before I send them to my agent or editor. He is a discerning reader. He has given me courage to write, and then to release those words into the world. He prays for me, and when my self-doubting nature creeps in, he reminds me again and again that “God’s got it.” My girls, ages 8 and 10, are incredible encouragers, too – and budding little writers. My family is proof that God gives ridiculously good gifts.
Michele-Lyn: What is the most important thing you could say to a Christian blogger and/or writer, who is also a wife and mama?
Jennifer Lee: The most important stories are the ones you live. <–Tweetable, eh? So, go laugh and love and cry and dance and plant carrots and pack picnics and rake leaves and write stories on real hearts – not as fodder for the next blog post, but as a way to make a life.
But also, if you are a writer, let go of the guilt. Allow yourself time every day to hone your craft, to work on a blog post, whatever. The dishes can wait.
Michele-Lyn: What would you say to the one who has a dream of seeing their own book published?
Jennifer Lee: Dream big. Reach high. And bow low before our God.
Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and pray for you. While in process, don’t neglect the people who need you or the God who loves you. Try not to be discouraged by everything you read out there, telling you that there’s no way you can get a book deal without a mega-platform. And if you don’t get the contact you had hoped for, it’s never been easier to self-publish a book. If dreams were never meant to come true, we’d stop having them. So dream, and believe.
Dearest Jennifer Lee,
Here is my wholehearted thank you. I am honored that you would joyfully agree to allow me to interview you. I was even more humbled by the answers that you took time to answer with such heart and depth. It was such a joy and pleasure to get to know a bit more. I am looking forward to reading your new book even more now. You are truly a gift to me, and the body of Christ.