~Creatives on the Journey~
When we pursue our passions—life opens up in magical ways.
Featuring Joanne Sher
Joanne is a Freelance Editor and Inspirational Writer
Faithwriters Writing Challenge Coordinator
My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer. Psalm 45:1
Joanne Sher was born and raised in Southern California but now lives in West Michigan with her husband Marc and their two young adult children. Both Joanne and Marc were raised in the Jewish faith and came to Christ in their early 30s. In addition to editing and writing, Joanne volunteers in various children’s ministries at her church, and is an avid studier of God’s Word.
Early in your career, you were a newspaper reporter. What inspired you to choose writing?
I have pretty much always loved to write - it was my creative outlet as a child and teenager. I studied to be an English teacher in college, but also worked as a reporter for my college newspaper and enjoyed it. When my English teaching stint ended up being less than wonderful, I turned to my journalism experiences and worked in that field for several years, both at a weekly paper and later at a daily one.
Most of my articles weren’t the “hard news” - they were about suburban city council and/or school board meetings, along with covering community and school-related events. I enjoyed both the writing portion and the opportunity to get to know people in the community I covered - which, in the case of the daily newspaper, was just a few miles from my home.
While covering a women’s convention, God opened your heart in a new way. Will you share that story with us?
Let me start with the fact that I was raised Jewish in the Los Angeles area, which has a fair-sized Jewish population (though certainly not the majority). Still, when I married my husband, we moved to his home state of Michigan, where the percentage of Jews was quite a bit smaller. In fact, in Grand Rapids, where we have lived for the past 20 plus years, Jews make up substantially less than one percent of the population.
So - when I started writing for the daily paper, I was the ONLY Jew on staff. There was a story to cover about one of the synagogues in the area, and the religion editor thought I might be a good one to assign. And he did - and he liked my story, so he kept me writing - and not, of course, only about Judaism (if he had stuck to those stories, I might have had maybe two bylines a year :D).
The assignment that changed my life was one where I was assigned to cover a local Christian women’s conference - a kind of mini-Women of Faith. I went in, to be completely honest, expecting a bunch of sappy, fake women singing hallelujah for their wonderful lives. What I found, however, was authenticity, speakers I could actually relate to, and a feeling of peace I had never experienced before. And when I left to write my story (which I had NO desire to do - I just wanted to stay there and soak it in!), the peace left me. And I wanted it back.
After much thought, and a conversation with a Christian friend, I decided I needed to look into my own religion first. Maybe what those women had - what I had had - was just a matter of being more religious. So, I decided to read through the Jewish Bible - what I now refer to as the Old Testament. I read it, from front to back, in two weeks, and took twenty single-spaced typed pages of notes about it. I found, to my surprise, that, despite my Jewish background, there were parts of it I had never read. I also found the God in it to be cruel, fickle, and obsessed with war, and my people to be stubborn and bullheaded.
With much trepidation, I decided my next step had to be reading the New Testament - so I did, in a week, with another dozen pages of notes added. I found there the answers to many of my questions - and the calming of my fears. As a Jew, however, I wasn’t sure I was ready to accept Christ as my Savior. God being one had been pounded into my head since I was a child. Was I ready to accept that Jesus WAS God?
Regardless, I started rereading the Old Testament (more slowly this time). When I got to Isaiah 53, the story of the Suffering Servant, I could deny it no longer.
4 Surely he took up our pain
And bore our suffering
Yet we considered him punished by God
Stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The punishment that brought us peace was on him,
And by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to our own way;
And the Lord has laid on him
The iniquity of us all.
There, in the Hebrew Bible, was Christ dying for my sins. I accepted Christ that day, and was baptized in my own backyard pond, one year to the day after that Christian women’s conference.
How did this change your writing?
I actually didn’t write a whole lot - at least not for a living - after I got saved. I worked at the paper another year or so, then took a job doing communications and public relations for a school district. Once our first child was born (two years after I got saved) I switched to “full-time mother” as a career.
But a few years later, after a health issue with my husband (that’s a whole OTHER story), I found a Christian writing site called FaithWriters, which became a kind of home away from home for me. I mostly wrote flash-fiction (750 words or less), and soon, I was helping with the site and encouraging other writers. I had stints where I wanted to write a full-length novel about King David’s first wife, Michal, and I dabbled in picture books for a while - and I DID manage to write a nonfiction book (unpublished - and in need of WAY more work than I am willing to put in at the moment) about God’s working in my husband’s health issues. Eventually, I discovered that encouraging others - whether through editing their writing, doing critiques, connecting with them through common interests, sharing thoughts on what God is teaching me, or inviting them to share their thoughts, feelings, and struggles in a safe place - was what God wants me to do.
You’ve also started two Facebook groups: 365 Days of Thanksgiving and Psalms: Life from God’s Heart. Tell us about your motivation in starting these groups?
My thanksgiving group was birthed in my mind toward the end of 2017. Several people were posting on Facebook what they were thankful for daily in November of that year, using the hashtag #30daysofThanksgiving. I participated personally, and felt God leading me to realize that thanksgiving wasn’t just for November - that we should be thankful daily. So, I decided to share one thing I was thankful for each day every day in 2018, and to invite friends to join me. So I created the group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/100560827398977 - join me if you’re interested!) - we’re not huge (41 members last time I checked), and we don’t all post every day, but it’s a great reminder to praise God with like-minded folks.
My Psalms group is newer, and actually started with a completely different purpose. Late last year, I was watching a video series about C. S. Lewis, and one statement stuck with me - Lewis’ brilliant satire, The Screwtape Letters, included 31 letters total. I knew some people who read through Proverbs every month - 31 chapters, one a day, for a month. Why not do this very same thing with The Screwtape Letters? And why not have folks join me? So, in March of this year, that’s exactly what I did, and it was an amazing experience - so fascinating and eye-opening reading this work, and sharing insights. When we finished, we decided we wanted to continue doing something similar, so after a vote, we decided to work through the Psalms, one each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We started last month, and we’ve made it through a bit over a dozen so far - again, it is wonderful to discuss them with others and share our insights into God’s Word. This group is a bit bigger - about twice as big as my Thanksgiving group - but always eager for new members (https://www.facebook.com/groups/222883452698729 )
I love the way Facebook can keep us connected to each other - as divisive as it CAN be, if used with discernment and God’s direction, it can help build wonderful communities with people near and far.
Please tell us about your editing/proofreading services and where to contact you.
I have loved editing and proofreading for almost as long as I have loved writing - in college, I used to walk the halls of my dorm looking for papers to proofread during study breaks, because it helped me relax. Not only do I love to fix and improve others’ writing - but I adore helping writers communicate their messages more clearly, effectively, and powerfully.
I have edited everything from short devotionals or essays to full-length fiction or nonfiction manuscripts - even an online course. If you are looking for an editor for your work, just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can discuss prices and timing.
Visit Joanne Sher online:
I continue to write “little things” - my own thoughts on my Bible reading/quiet time, book reviews and recommendations, and other things like that. If you want to read those types of things, following me on Instagram or Facebook would be your best bet. My main focus, though, is coordinating the FaithWriters Writing Challenge (where I got my Christian writing start), editing for friends and clients (anything from short devotionals to full-length manuscripts), and spreading encouragement all over the internet - and my life. It’s pretty amazing to think about how God has brought me to where I am today.
And If you are looking for an editor for your work, contact Joanne at email@example.com
Joanne, thank you for sharing your Journey. And thank you for encouraging others. You are an inspiration.
Thanks for stopping by. May you find the magic in your own journey.
Rita Garcia writes Stories that Warm the Heart. Romance is a big part of her novels—hope is an even larger element of her contemporary women's fiction.
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