So excited about my new covers! Thank you to Aki. God bless you! You are so talented!
by: Staci Stallings
In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have named the book “A Work in Progress.” Maybe that was my first clue of how long this particular book would take to write.
The planting of the seed happened over a message board about 10 years ago. Remember message boards? You posted something, then other people responded, and you had a nice little conversation about a certain topic. Well, I started posting about this show that I really liked on TV at the time. Another young lady was posting as well, and we got into this big (but good-natured) argument about which guy on the show was our favorite.
She liked one of the guys that I would never in a million years have ever thought about dating. In the midst of this conversation, I wrote two different books featuring the guy I liked from the show. Then she emailed one day (after the message boards had shut down and we had remained friends despite our different tastes in guys) and said she thought I should write one about the guy she liked.
That sparked a long conversation with myself about why anyone would like this guy. Strangely, the more I asked the question, the more I realized how much he had to offer the right girl. I realized there were things about him that no one probably knew because although part of him was the comedy guy often claiming the center of attention, there was a lot about the other sides of who he really was that got looked over and even sometimes trampled upon.
So I started this story “A Work in Progress” about Rebecca Avery, a college student who would never be one of the popular kids. She watches them, envies them, and hates them. Then one day she literally runs into Eric Barnett in one of the all-time classic scenes I have ever been given the honor of writing. In fact, one of my problems over the seven years it took to write this one was that each time I pulled it up, I thought I just had to start reading it from the beginning to know where I was again.
I read that first scene countless times and it never got old. Each time I read through it, I would think, “Wow, this is really, really good. Why haven’t I finished this yet?” Then I would get to the last page I had written and start writing more. Five pages, ten, sometimes even 20 or 30. But time and again, I got stopped either by life or by being like that dog on “Up” going, “Squirrel!” before chasing off in another direction after another great story idea.
The pieces of this one came VERY slowly, but I’m so glad they did. Here’s why. When I started this book, I was one person. By the time I finished it, I had literally become someone very different. I started it wanting to be this successful, bestselling author. I read every book on marketing and did my level best to become the success I thought God required me to be. (“Performance Christians, please raise your hands!” I would’ve had to raise both of mine.)
However, somewhere between 31-years-old and 38-years-old, God–the real God–finally got a hold of my life and showed me that it wasn’t about my performance. It wasn’t about anything I had ever done or could ever do. My worth was set by Him. Period. As a child of the God of the Universe, I was already a success. I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody. I could be me and not apology or rationalize or justify that to anyone. And, oh, the freedom and relief that flowed from finally understanding that!
Strangely enough, that’s exactly what Rebecca learns in the book. She finally realizes that life is less about gaining friends to be popular and more about letting people into your soft spots. Yes, sometimes that hurts. Sometimes it hurts really, really badly. But that’s the only way to really live. It’s the only way to truly be friends. Otherwise, you’re just acquaintances who just happen to know one another’s phone number, address, and favorite food.
As for Eric, I finally did learn to have almost as much admiration for him as my friend did. She was right–he is a very cool guy when you give him a chance.
Oh, and you’ll be glad to know that the second and third books in The Faith Series didn’t take nearly so long to write as this one. In fact, they were finished within nine months of “A Work in Progress” being finished. It was like seven years of learning all came pouring out of me. Lessons about how to be a friend and how to let yourself be open enough to let others in. Lessons about not judging others for their denomination and looking instead at their hearts. Lessons about being true to yourself and standing in the gap for one another.
Those seven years turned out to be worth every second they took to get here. The truth is, I’m still “A Work in Progress” as I think we all are. The more we remember that and stop trying to be perfect–and stop require each other to be perfect–the more wonderful life gets because it’s only then that we actually learn to live rather than breaking our necks trying to impress everyone else who are breaking their own necks trying to impress us!
Fictional Interview with Ashton & Beth Raines from “Cowboy” and Kalin & Danae Lane from “Lucky”
News From Nashville & Beyond
(Transcribed from a television interview with “The Music Plays… World Tour” featuring opening solo artist Kalin Lane and headliner Ashton Raines, both accompanied by their wives, Beth Raines and Danae Lane.)
NFNB: First of all, welcome to you all. Thanks for sitting down with us.
Ashton: Thank you for having us.
NFNB: Let’s start with what it’s like to be on a world tour. What cities? What are the crowds like?
Kalin: Well, for me it’s been an absolute dream come true. I mean, getting invited to be here with Ashton who, let’s face it is the King of Country music right now. Standing on that stage every night, hearing the fans singing my songs, cheering, in all these different countries…. it’s truly amazing.
Ashton: I have to agree. I stand down there as Kalin’s playing, and there’s just this incredible energy that sweeps through the whole place, no matter if we’re playing for 20,000 or 60,000. To hear those fans, to get to connect with them. It’s what I came here to do, it’s why I started singing in the first place, and to get to do it night after night has been such a blessing.
NFNB: How’s it been working together? The two of you play country music, but it’s really not quite the same kind of country.
Ashton (laughing): Yeah. I could never pull off the hair! (Reaches over and ruffles Kalin’s famously stringy blond mane then shrugs.) But it works, you know? I play the more traditional stuff, Kalin rocks the house, it works.
Kalin: I have to agree. I think it has really come together because we’re not two performers who happen to get on the same stage every night. We really understand each other and respect each other for what life has thrown at us and the hard knocks it’s taken us to be able to play from the heart so to speak. So it doesn’t matter that he plays the acoustic and piano, and I’ve got more electric and keyboards to my style of music because I think deep down we both really see that we’re doing what we love to do, making the kind of music we love to make. When you do that, somehow the synthesis of what comes out of it just works even if on the outside it doesn’t look like it should.
NFNB: You mentioned what life has thrown at you. Would you call the road to get here bumpy or smooth?
(Ashton looks to Beth who smiles back, and Kalin grins at Danae who brushes her brown locks from her forehead and shakes her head with a soft laugh.)
Ashton: Definitely bumpy. (Beth nods, her eyes filled with respect and love as she looks at her husband, and the two of them share a moment. When he turns back to the camera, Ashton seems to drift into another world.) After my first wife died of cancer, there was a long stretch in there that honestly I didn’t even want to be here. I mean here as in making music here, but even here as in on the planet. Then one night I wound up in this little diner in the middle of nowhere (He looks over to Beth.) And an angel from Heaven pulled me back and gave me a reason to keep on living. (As if no one else is watching, he leans over and kisses her.) Thank you, babe (he whispers so the camera barely catches the words. Then he turns back.) To be real honest, I’m not even sure I’d be here without her.
NFNB: So Beth, what was it like? I mean, he is Ashton Raines. It’s like every girl’s dream to have the king of music walk in and sweep you off your feet. That must have been surreal.
(They glance at each other.)
Beth: Well, to be honest with you, I didn’t even know who he was that night.
NFNB: You didn’t?
Beth: No, really I didn’t. It’s a long story, but let’s just say I fell in love with a man, not a music star.
NFNB: Okay. Well… (Turning to the other couple.) Kalin, you also said bumpy. Now we know a little about your career’s early fits and starts what with having to go back to your home country the first time around. What was that like?
Kalin: Rough. Really, really rough. To be honest with you, that first time I let the fame and the money and the adulation of all the people around me go straight to my head. I fell in with a lifestyle I thought was great at first, but it caught up with me real fast. When I lost everything–the dream, my meal ticket in Nashville and almost my life–I thought it was all over, you know? Back then, there was no way I could have seen the amazing grace God was waiting to give me and the joy and the mercy and the grace He gives me every day now. Getting to be here now, like this, with the Raines family, and my beautiful wife. (He turns to Danae and smiles. She smiles back.) I’m telling you it’s more than a dream come true. In fact, it’s the reason I sing “Lucky” every night out there on stage.
That line about, “And it’s not fate, it’s not luck, it’s a gift from God above, that I found you, you found me, and we found love”? Those aren’t just nice, pretty words. I really believe that, you know? Because if it was not for God and the love of this wonderful, strong woman sitting next to me, I can almost guarantee I would not be sitting here today. It’s more grace and love than I’ve ever deserved or imagined, I’ll tell you that.
NFNB: Well, it’s almost time to wrap this up. Closing thoughts, anyone?
Ashton: The tour’s been amazing. The fans, the cities, the experiences. All out amazing.
Kalin: Come out and see the show!
NFNB: That’s it for now from News from Nashville & Beyond. Now back to you in the studio.