Lucinda Secrest McDowell is a storyteller, an author, a speaker, and a seasoned mentor, who loves to encourage other women. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University. She is the author of thirteen books, including the award-winning Dwelling Places and Ordinary Graces. Lucinda is known for conveying deep truth in practical and winsome ways.

She is the co-director of the reNEW writer’s retreat (Retreat for New England Writing & Speaking) and writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England.

What started you on your writing and speaking journey?

As a child growing up in small town South Georgia, I lived in books and explored life through writing stories. My first job out of college was as a writer for Carolina Countrmagazine, and I have pretty much spent my entire life as a writer and speaker. I also noticed in childhood that I was right at home in front of a microphone and that speaking stories that held promises of truth, values, and faith was my sweet spot. 

In my younger years some of my jobs also were those of serving others — such as a teacher for the blind. What I eventually realized was that God wanted to bring together twin passions — communication and compassion. After getting a seminary degree in the late 1970’s, I walked through many open doors which included both writing and speaking, words and worldwide work. 

While still in my early twenties, author/speaker Elisabeth Elliot once told me, “Cindy you have a gift for writing and it is your duty to God to write for Him.” Many other people have spoken into my life and confirmed this calling. I love the way the Message puts it in Psalm 119.129-130 “Every word you give me is a miracle word — how could I help but obey? Break open your words, let the light shine out, let ordinary people see the meaning.”

The Author and Creator of our lives often writes in a detour that ultimately blesses us more than our original plan. Have you ever experienced such a “Divine Detour”?

Absolutely! Several, in fact. And I definitely believe that God guides through both opened doors and closed doors. 

One of my biggest “detours” professionally came in my early thirties when I finally got married. Woo Hoo! I had been serving as one of the pastors at a very large church in Silicon Valley, California in the mid 1980’s — a very significant time. I was writing widely for many magazines, and teaching both nationally and internationally. 

Marriage for me included moving 1000 miles north to Seattle, going to court and adopting 3 children ages 9, 7, and 4, and joining in international student ministry with my new husband. I was on a very high learning curve as a new mama and wife in a whole new geographic region. There was no time or emotional strength to write and speak. 

I struggled with my new identity and frankly, I made lots of mistakes during those early years of following a calling which was simultaneously delightful and daunting. But during those years God brought me to the end of myself as I grasped hold of His grace and began to climb out on the other side a transformed person. When the writing and speaking eventually resumed, it was rich and real. It’s no wonder my first book released 25 years ago was entitled Amazed by Grace (B & H Publishing).

Let’s talk about your new book, Soul Strong: 7 Keys to a Vibrant Life (New Hope Publishers, February 2020). Please tell us about it.

Soul Strong is the message of my life and my heart. It is an interactive lifeguide — an atypical discipling tool — that helps the reader understand and live what I believe are seven essentials to a life filled with strength, perseverance, joy, hope, grace and purpose. 

I spent a long time tracing the fingerprints of God on my own life and kept seeing certain themes through all the lessons I had learned the hard way. It occurred to me that these had been entrusted to me in order to pass them along to others. I speak widely and would often have conversations with younger women who would ask me, “How do you do it?” At first, I didn’t realize what they meant, but over and over again it became clear that somehow in all my failures and faltering I was continuing to live a life of faith and fortitude. Imperfectly, but intentionally.

THAT was what people were hungry for. So, I told God I wasn’t qualified to write such an instructional book — that certainly there were holier and more famous better writers out there to do this. And you know what He said? “Of course, there are — many sisters — but that doesn’t release you from obeying what I am asking you to do.”

So, I wrote Soul Strong and my deepest prayer is that many will not only read this book, but work through it and that it may change their lives in the process. Only through God. Soul Strong is not just a non-fiction teaching book — it sometimes looks like a Bible Study, sometimes a prayer book, and sometimes a story book. I love that it is interactive. Many have told me they read it straight through once, then moved into the process of working through it.

How did you decide on the seven key points in the book? 

I clearly remember asking God to give me the words. And one day, whilst in solitude and prayer, I was prompted to ask myself, “If your own two daughters asked you what was most important to living a life of strength, courage, and purpose, what would you say to Fiona and Maggie?” 

My pen immediately wrote in my journal these seven couplets: Live Loved. Be Authentic. Dwell Deep. Pray Always. Overcome Pain. Extend Kindness. Share Stories. Each of these is presented through stories, biblical examples, theological teaching, and mostly stories! And along the way, the reader is asked (to) make application in sections “Becoming Soul Strong.”

  1. I begin with Live loved.” Because people need to fully grasp how much God loves them —- not because of anything they have or have not done, but because they are His idea, His creation. When we are already loved, already accepted, already chosen and equipped, we are free to live loved. From that starting place we then begin to flesh out the other six keys.
  2. “Be authentic” speaks to our deep desire to be fully known and used to change the world. As we are. But also, to be encouraged to know ourselves and develop our passions and gifts.
  3. “Dwell deep” offers the practical steps anyone can take for much-needed soul care — spiritual practices that strengthen us within and without. I loved seeking to make such things approachable and attainable.
  4. “Pray always” sounds impossible, but not if we see prayer as a way of life, not just a certain task. I help guide the reader through many different aspects of communication with God, including some of the best prayers over time and history.
  5. “Overcome pain” is perhaps the hardest and most encouraging chapter of all, as we witness those who have suffered and survived, those who were transformed from their trials. We find hope as we make choices to allow our pain to enlarge our lives.
  6. “Extend kindness” asks the hard questions of how we are responding and reacting to the needy world that surrounds us. As we explore themes of compassion, civility, and conversation, we realize kindness can be expressed in many life-giving ways.
  7. “Share stories” is where it all comes together as I vulnerably share some of my hardest lessons and call each of us to spend the rest of our lives as messengers of light and faith, that others might be drawn to God.

These descriptions are very simplistic, of course, but give the basic flow of how the book works. In my prologue I feature the question “How do you do it?” and conclude in my epilogue with “Why do you do it?”

How does Soul Strength play out in your own day-to-day experiences?

I am simply trying to live the words I wrote moment by moment. The message of Soul Strong is the simple (but not easy) “long obedience in the same direction” — loving God, obeying God, trusting God, worshipping God, and serving others in His Name. This is a message I will write and speak for the rest of my life. In this season I am finding great joy in being a Spiritual Mama to those who want to know more about soul care, writing, speaking, living…

A few fun questions…

When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?

Every afternoon I have Tea Time. This ritual includes a hot pot of strong Earl Grey Tea (loose leaves of course) and English biscuits. I sit and think in silence (if at all possible.) Sometimes my thinking leads to prayer, sometimes to ideas which I jot down in a journal. I try to do what Lettie Coleman said in my very first devotional book as a young girl Streams in the Desert — “allow my soul to catch up with my body.” By the way I am also a coffee drinker especially in the mornings, in fact, because I am married to a Seattle native, I have become somewhat of a coffee snob. 

What Bible passage or story best describes your journey of faith?

Back in 1970 when the Jesus Movement was in full swing juxtaposed to the Vietnam War and desegregation, I was a college freshman discovering the joy of not only having Jesus as my Savior, but embracing Him as Lord of my Life! I asked for a life verse at the time and adopted Isaiah 58.10-11 “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

I think back over the almost half century since I first embraced those words, and indeed God has helped me live those verses. I see so clearly now the crux of this Scripture is the great exchange. First to spend myself by offering all that I am, all that I have, and all my experiences that others might be fed and satisfied. Obviously, this can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit. The result is my own night will become like noonday. 

I’ve experienced dark times and seemingly endless nights, but the light has always risen upon me. God has indeed satisfied my needs in a sun-scorched land. He continues to strengthen my frame — though now I’m more soul strong than body strong. And what is perhaps the greatest fulfillment of this verse? When I get to the end of myself and feel as though my strength is drying up completely and I have nothing left to give… I am miraculously filled like a well-watered garden!

In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?

Oh, definitely the “girl next door!” I spent my early years thinking that I could only be effective for the Kingdom as the “female lead.” I felt I needed to be perfect, polished and public. The continual striving for such a platform and persona almost destroyed me.

But through my divine detour and grace awakening, I discovered God had created me to be an ordinary vessel that His extraordinary power would shine through. Obviously just like everyone else except totally dependent on the power of God within me to accomplish amazing things without. Many of my readers say that as they study my books they feel as though I’m just sitting with them over a cup of coffee, sharing about life. What greater calling than to be an imperfect someone who is approachable? Everything I say about my own journey gives the hope that if God faithfulness can show up through someone like me, then there is hope for us all. 

Thank you, Lucinda! It’s great to have you as a guest at Divine Detour.

Kathy, I have so enjoyed our conversation and so appreciate your kind hospitality in this space!

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For more information about Lucinda Secrest McDowell, visit her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or read her weekly blog.

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