In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy interview Lynne Castelijn, who writes stories about life in a Philippine jungle for social media. Lynne reveals her unique style and format, and how vulnerability, though terrifying, has created deep connections with other people.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, writing and publishing blogger at smallbluedog.com, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of the Armour of Light urban fantasy series
- Lynne Castelijn, missionary and Instagram mini-blogger.
Topics covered in this episode:
- The fear of being vulnerable on social media, but the joy of seeing God use it in special ways.
- Lynne’s unique approach to storytelling and formatting for Instagram.
- The value of continually learning and improving as a writer.
- The importance of backing up our writing, and how to cope when we neglected to do so.
Connect with Lynne
- Lynne microblogs on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sunshine_epiphanies/
- And you can find her at her website: https://lynnecastelijn.com/
Please use the sharing buttons at top and bottom of this post to share on social media or directly with Christian writers you know.
Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Hit subscribe on your favourite podcast player so you never miss an episode and find show notes, useful links and a full transcript at gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, Missionary Blogger and Instagrammer, Lynne Castelijn.
I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and publishing consultant with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my books, blogs and online courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a former early childhood teacher. I live in south-east Queensland. I have four adult children. I write romance under the pen name, Alison Joy and you can find all my information at alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy. For the past 20 years, I’ve been using my theology degree to underpin my preaching and, more recently, to inspire my young-adult, urban fantasy series, Armour of Light. You can find out more about this and my other projects at donitabundy.com.
Alison Joy: Lynne Castelijn has spent 28 years working with a minority people group and raising a family in a remote Philippine jungle. When a satellite dish arrived on the tin roof of their jungle house, and thus the internet, Lynne’s writing journey became a bit more public with stories of their lives and adventures on social media.
Welcome to the podcast, Lynne.
Donita Bundy: Lynne, it’s great to have your company, today, but before we get digging a bit deeper, we were wondering if you would be willing to answer our rapid-fire five?
Lynne Castelijn: Go for it!
Donita Bundy: Number one, who is your target audience?
Lynne Castelijn: Well, at this point in my writing stage, basically, anyone who is barely literate! No, seriously. Actually, no, I do have a bit more to answer on that. My target audience really is basically a Christian population. People who love biographical writing or just a good story but most of all those in need of encouragement.
Donita Bundy: What would your main genre be, Lynne?
Lynne Castelijn: My goal genre is in the form of stories and memoir.
Donita Bundy: Okay. And when is your optimum time for writing?
Lynne Castelijn: Definitely, the mornings. It seems the later in the day it becomes, the slower my brain gets and the foggier my brain becomes. So, mornings are the go!
Donita Bundy: Alright! Where is your favourite place to write?
Lynne Castelijn: Well, I have to tell you about my favourite place in all the world which is back in the village in the Philippines in the middle of the Jolly Green Jungle, as we like to call it, and our house there is a wooden house made of timber cut from the jungle and I have my own office there because we didn’t have to get a building permit to build. Just checked with the local chiefs that it was all clear and so, I have a desk and a big window that’s screened so the jungle bugs can’t get out and I look out on to the glorious bush. So, all the greenery and I just love it.
But now that we’re back in Australia, I don’t have a favourite place to write, yet. I don’t really have any specific place to write. Most of the time I sit here at my dining desk after I’ve cleared my son’s engineering studies project off and my husband’s puzzle and whatnot.
So, I’m thinking of maybe trying the local library!
Donita Bundy: Sounds like a good idea! Lynne, how did you get into writing? How did it all begin?
Lynne Castelijn: I always did well at writing in high school and so I knew I was interested in it. Maths, numbers, uh-uh. Anything sciency, it all just whirls my brain so words were my thing. Loved reading. Then my husband and I actually co-authored a book when we were in mission training and it was called, By Him and For Him, and it was kind of an inhouse publication for our mission and it was the story of our mission in Australia and New Zealand so we learnt quite a lot about the journey of writing then but you won’t find it, if you google it, because it’s out of print. But I have spare copies if anyone wants one! I’ll send it for free!
After that, of course, I’ve had 28 years of writing newsletters and in the last 10 years or so, my main writing has been in my personal journaling and, increasingly so, social media. My stories on there.
Alison Joy: Obviously, you’ve got your personal journal of life and you’ve been sharing bits and pieces of your journey on social media. What encouraged you to start?
Lynne Castelijn: Well, I went to the Philippines when I was mid-twenties and in my early-thirties I went through a really deep personal and spiritual crisis. I was buried in life and I was not the super missionary, super mother, super wife that I thought I’d be.
So, all of these parcels in the air that I had of what I thought I should be, came tumbling down and for about 10 years, actually, a long, long time, it was very, very deep waters but you just trudge through. And then, coming through the other side realising that God has actually grown you, grown me, and taught me an awful lot. And I started to share it, one on one with people, and I found the more open I was, the more other people were struggling, surprise, surprise! So, openness bred openness.
That turning point was really integral for me because there’s some wonderful verses in 1 and 2 Corinthians and then chapter 12, as well, where it talks about how God deliberately chooses the weak and foolish things of the world to confound the wise things. And so, that was definitely me.
So, I wanted to share this that anything that I accomplished had to be because of Christ and it was so liberating for me, unbelievably liberating, that as I started to share with other people and see that they had similar struggles, the desire grew to share on a broader basis. The whole thing about encouraging people with this that, “Hey, if He can use silly, little old me, He can use anybody, as well.” He’s got a plan for everybody so, that’s when I started sharing it through the medium of social media and thinking maybe I could share this more broadly through writing.
Belinda Pollard: I follow you on Instagram, Lynne, and I love what you post there because you’re combining photos. Instagram is a visual social media platform. It was initially designed so people could share their own photographs with other people who find photography interesting. But you’re storytelling with words as well as pictures, and I’ve been really challenged and inspired and interested in the way that you are doing it because I don’t see anyone else doing it exactly the way that you have been doing it.
Lynne’s posts are often quite long. They’re not just a photo with a short caption. The caption is quite long. It’s like a mini-blog post. A little mini memoir, each one, and I like the fact that when you’ve got a longer post, I like the fact that you’re using punctuation. A lot of social media stuff does not have punction but in a longer post that can be quite exhausting to read so, I like the fact that you’re doing that and that you’re taking advantage of those little, short paragraphs so it’s not like a whole wall of words.
So, as an editor and a publishing consultant and whatever, I’m looking at what you’re doing and I’m thinking, “Oh, this is interesting.” I’m evaluating it and I’m thinking, “How can I make use of these great ideas that Lynne is coming up with.” Not only with what she’s writing but with the way she’s presenting it.
So, I’m curious as to how you arrived at that way of doing it. Did you think carefully about it or did you stumble into it? How did it work?
Lynne Castelijn: Well, first of all, thank you Belinda, you have no idea how encouraging that is for me. I might be sitting here demurely but inside I’m turning cartwheels because I know it’s quite different. I think things, generally, in the writing world are getting a little bit more relaxed. There’s a lot more freedom to use, what do you call them, the ellipsis… the little dots…
Belinda Pollard: Yes.
Lynne Castelijn: …you told me the right word for them and the little dots and the dashes and I do tone them down a bit because otherwise my writing is so full of them you wouldn’t know what the main point was! It’s been a long journey of reading about writing. How to do it properly so that I do understand things like not using too many adverbs and adjectives. Using strong verbs, as well. So, continuing to grow in the process of learning with writing.
It is a good question and there is definitely a story behind it – me! It’s all part of the journey so I was mentioning how I wanted to share one on one with people my journey and then how that’s branched out. I think, maybe more people would be interested. And tied in with that, I don’t really feel our newsletters are the place to be deeply personal. And wanting to help encourage people and realise that missionaries are normal people, as well.
Believe me, I did a long and mighty battle with the Lord over this over a few years. I knew He wanted me to share the journey but I am, actually, a very private person and the thought of getting that out there to people would just send me into a cold sweat.
God’s so gracious. He nudged me into social media by encouraging me that you don’t have to write the best seller now, you just have to do the next little step and for me, that was getting myself out there a little bit more on Facebook and then Instagram, kind of breaking me in, a little bit. And so, I thought, “Okay. I can do that,” but I tell you what, the first month, maybe even up to a year, when I’d share something more personal on social media, oh my word, that night I would sweat and toss and turn and I felt like I’d just laid myself bare before the world for all of them to see.
It was horrible but I knew it was the right thing to do. And it’s so interesting because over time, having done that, you do get used to it. I can’t think, even right now, what the right words are to harden yourself to it.
Belinda Pollard: You because a bit of a thrillseeker, I think! You think, “Oh, I’ve shared a bit of myself and I’ve survived so maybe I’ll do it again tomorrow.”
Lynne Castelijn: Yes, definitely!
Belinda Pollard: But I do like the way that you share some of the emotional implications and consequences of this stuff that you’re doing because you’re not hitting us over the head with it but there is a nice, gentle, delicate honesty about it that is very winsome. It draws the reader in.
You also use your selection of language. I find the fact that you’re thinking carefully about how you’re going to construct this piece; about which are the words that you’re going to bring in and use for it and you’re thinking, as you said, about the strong verbs and you’re using descriptive language in really interesting ways. I think it’s so effective.
I think it’s something that anybody writing a mission newsletter, even, could come and look at your stuff and pick up some ideas but also those who are writing other memoir style of things can find inspiration in that. So, I’m really excited by what you’re doing with it, Lynne. I know that it’s just these little posts that you’re putting out day after day. Has it gotten easier over time? Do you find that your writing muscle has strengthened because you’re constantly putting these posts out?
Lynne Castelijn: Definitely. Yes, definitely. And anything you read on writing, or anything really, says that, doesn’t it? The more you do it, the more used to it you become. I mean, starting is always the hardest thing. Sitting down, whether it’s a short Facebook/Instagram post or a longer story, it’s just sitting down and facing that blank page and thinking, “Alright. Just put it on paper.”
For me, it’s even personal emails. Just do it. Just start doing it. But it definitely has become easier and also seeing the feedback. That really does encourage me when somebody writes something encouraging. It’s like, “Okay.”
I’ve learnt to throw it out there and say, “Lord, you do with it as you want,” and that’s all been part of the journey, as well.
Belinda Pollard: Do you think you might use some of these posts, collect them together and repurpose them?
Lynne Castelijn: Yes, definitely. So, part of the whole social media thing, as well, is wanting to encourage people now and just share more about our life and totally encourage people. Look, everybody struggles. We all tend to want to put on this face and I know social media has been accused of that. You can put on the face that you want people to see. But if we, as Christians, can be real about our struggles, it can be a mighty tool to encourage others.
So, aside from the practice side of it all, some of the stories, I’m sure, will surface again, maybe in book form. I’ve had a couple of people suggest that I take those, just the more popular posts with some of the photos and make a book out of it. So, that might be, maybe a step towards writing or maybe something later on. I don’t know.
Donita Bundy: Lynne, can you tell us about your Footprints in the Mud blog? What it was about and why you stopped?
Lynne Castelijn: This was way back at the start of the writing journey just thinking, “I’d like to share a bit more about what’s happening in the village.” So, more than what I’ve got in the newsletters. This is before I was so much into the social media. So, maybe we’ll start a blog! That’s a great idea and I can share the stories in more detail and what should we call it. We tossed around different ideas and Albert came up, almost instantly after my feeble attempts, with, “How about Footprints in the Mud?”
Yeah! That’s a good one! It plays off the Footprints in the Sand and, believe me, in the rainforest we have a lot of rain which equals a lot of acres of mud and with four children, mud played a big part in my life. I have some great photos I could share with kids covered in mud!
I did start that blog and I started sharing some more stories about it and learnt I’m not a very technical person but I thought I can learn this. If anybody can learn this, I can learn this. So, it’s a long journey of getting a WordPress blog up and it was staring to go okay but then, I can’t give all of the details, but in a nutshell, about six years ago, certain things happened and some bad guys were after us and we were targeted and it was rather a scary, rather exciting story where we were evacuated by our mission helicopter within hours of being kidnapped by these bad guys.
So, I started to get a little bit fearful about maybe they looked up our blog and that’s how they found us because at this stage I was being little miss business lady as well, and I had little cards that I was giving out to people with the blog. I thought, “Oh my goodness! It was like an open invitation!”
So, I shut it down and I stopped it. So, you won’t find it but I have kept the name. I still pay to have the name because we’re thinking enough time has passed and once we clear things through our contingency team, we’d actually like to get that back up and going again.
Donita Bundy: So, Belinda has been talking a lot about your style of writing and you’ve told us that you’ve been at this for quite some time, have you noticed your style of writing has changed, not only through your study of learning how to write and good writing. Has your personal style changed over the years?
Lynne Castelijn: Yes, certainly. I think in the early years of writing I was extremely self-conscious about it because it was all about me. My writing was about me and I obsessed about what people would think about me and was my writing good enough or wasn’t or whatnot. But one of the beautiful things I found in this journey and with ageing, getting older, it’s one of the potential benefits one can have which I love, along with the lessons that God’s taught me, is that I really don’t care as much what other people think. Because I’ve grown in my confidence of who I am in God, who He’s made me to be, it’s freed me up tremendously.
So, I feel that my writing has become more free and most of the time when I write, it’s like a love gift to Him because I can write it in obedience and send it out into the world and say, “Lord, you do with it as you want.”
I’ve travelled the typical writer’s journey of like, I talked about sweating when I sent it out into the world and being worried about what people would think. And that typical writers of journeys, “How can I bear my heart to the world and my deeper inner self to strangers, or worse, friends and family! They’ll know what I’m thinking!”
Even my mum has said, “I didn’t know you were thinking that. You were struggling with all of that.” Because I can write, it’s so much better. I’m an introvert. I’m not going to, necessarily, just blurt out everything straightaway.
So, then it was the journey of, “What if no one reads it; how humiliating.” Again, all of them found me and then, “What’s if lots of people read it and I become famous like Naomi Reed or something?” And that petrified me even more!
So, going through that whole journey and, actually, the Lord brought across a secular book or maybe it’s sort of spiritual, kind of, is Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, and written about morning pages and that was what released me to write more freely. I feel like my writing before style was way more stilted and just cautious and careful but writing the morning pages, and even initially, because my journaling had been more like, “Yes, I’ll write a lot but now I have to be careful because one day, when I’m dead, maybe somebody will want my journals and want to publish them all!” I mean, the arrogance is shocking! And I’m sure God has a little chuckle.
Belinda Pollard: It’s just optimism. It’s not arrogance.
Lynne Castelijn: Well, God is so gracious and kind to us and I’m sure He had a good old chuckle but he just kept nudging me on.
So, writing the morning pages really freed me just to write. Sometimes I would start it with, “I have no idea what I’m going to write today,” and then, oof, lo and behold, out comes all this stuff and it usually ends up in a thought to God and a prayer to God and just chatting with Him and that, I feel, has carried over into my writing style making it far less about me and more about what He’s teaching me and growing me through even if it is my feelings, etc.
Alison Joy: Now, Lynne, we understand that you had started writing a memoir but the process was interrupted, somewhat, so we just wondered if you could tell us more about this and then where you are in the process now?
Lynne Castelijn: No! No, I don’t want to talk about it, but I will!
So, what happened was I did start writing because God challenged me and to get this out into more in to book form and memoir form so I started writing more of that. And then during the Covid years we were stuck in the Jolly Jungle and my goal is to write a series of memoirs, smaller books, and I had written 100,000 words which I thought, “This is great! Thank you, Lord. I’m finally getting there. This is probably two books.”
I’d been in touch with Belinda about it and got some vision and guidance on that and was really heading towards it. One of the books is about those early dark days and the spiritual journey and the other book is more about my childhood, growing up in Africa and moving to America and then to Australia as a teenager. Really, it’s about the spiritual journey I was on.
I was aware I needed to backup but day went into day and eventually I did. I thought, “Yep. No, I’ve got to do this.” I was working on Scrivener and I copied from Scrivener into a Word document and two big files, one with each of the books and I got my external hard drive and I got a folder ready titled, Books I’d written, etc, or whatever it was, and then just as I was about to transfer it across Albert called out, “Hey, Lynne, where’s lunch.” Because he had a meeting he had to go to and I get lunch ready and stuff like that.
Oh, man. Okay. I’ll do that after lunch.
Belinda Pollard: For writers out there who are hearing, dun-dunn dun-dunn! [Jaws theme]
Lynne Castelijn: Exactly! So, something must have happened. I can’t remember. We have people coming on the porch for different things all the time over there and my son was doing his year 11 work and so something distracted me but in my head I thought I’d done it.
So, fast forward a bit to we were in Manila in September last year waiting at our mission guest home for our visa to be able to return to Australian and one horrible night the mission guest home was broken into and we were robbed and my laptop went and I thought, “Well, that’s okay. The most important thing is my book and that’s on the external hard drive.”
Well, a few days later I got to my external hard drive and opened up the folder and it’s like, “Oh, no! There’s nothing in there.” And I just couldn’t understand it. It was only later, actually, that I remembered really what had happened, being called to do lunch and never getting back to it. So, it was actually a couple of months later that I actually really grieved for the loss of that.
Belinda Pollard: And we grieve with you, Lynne. It’s just awful. Is there a way out of it?
Lynne Castelijn: Well, it’s interesting, there’s several things. I keep remembering, a) God allowed it but so many times in my life God’s prompted me to do something. Wow! Thank you, Lord! So, He could have prompted me to just back it up. So, for whatever reason He’s allowed this to happen and I just have to trust Him with that. Trust Him in the bad as well as the good.
And, secondly, the stories are all still in there. They’re in my head. They are in my heart. So, I can do this again and I’m not the first person this has happened to. I mentioned, Naomi Reed, the Christian missionary author, the Australian one, she had a very similar thing happen where her computer and hardcopy manuscripts were stolen and destroyed and so, others have survived so I can deal with this, as well.
Belinda Pollard: And you may find that as you sit down to write it again, this story may be richer, it may take on a slightly different shape and tone. You’ve grown as a writer since you first began writing it. But, as you say, the stories do still live in you. So, be encouraged! We care!
Lynne Castelijn: Thank you.
Belinda Pollard: And we look forward to reading them.
Lynne Castelijn: That’s a huge encouragement. I actually thought it might help give me some more structure, especially now that we’re back in Australia, things are settling down and I can really think it through. Whereas before I just had to try and get the stories out and I was going all over the place. So, maybe that’s part of the purpose that it will have some more structure.
Alison Joy: So, Lynne, the Gracewriters slogan is Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture; how does this challenge you?
Lynne Castelijn: I love the slogan and I’m going to put in a plug for Gracewriters here because one day when I was back home in the village and trying to keep going with this writing journey and I thought, “I’m all by myself here and I need a community of writers,” because that seemed to come up a lot in my research. You need to get with a writer’s group. And I thought, “Ha ha, how do I find a writer’s group in the middle of the Jolly Jungle?” And then it’s like, “Well, duh, you’ve got the internet!”
I have tried several American groups, not joining them, but looking into them but it just didn’t fit or gel. And so, one day I just googled, in slight desperation, Australian Christian writer’s group and ‘boom’ the first one to come up was the Gracewriters! That’s interesting. I didn’t actually know you were Australian even though I had that in my search bar. And I was thrilled because your whole ethos of the community just really resonated with me.
First of all, you’re Australians who spoke my language! I didn’t have to worry about you understanding my accent but I will say that the Gracewriters community is now happily expanding and has international members, as well, so, that’s wonderful.
And second, I really appreciated your value of: you aim for excellence and professionalism. It’s something that’s really important. If we’re going to do something, do it well, because we have the best boss in the world who is the King of Kings and we should be aiming for absolute excellence with Him.
And then, also, I absolutely love the slogan of gracenotes which you talk about. Our faith affecting our writing and affecting popular culture. To let faith spill into every area of our lives. I might be a missionary overseas but, really, all of us as Christians are missionaries in our own world no matter what we do. And if it’s through our writing, that’s what we’re called to and our faith should spill through it.
Like me, I’m going to be talking explicitly about my faith in my writing but for others it might be different genres but that can still have those gracenotes in them.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you, Lynne. Thank you for those encouraging words about Gracewriters. We, obviously, really believe in it and in the gathering together. Like we gather around the Throne as fellow believers and we also gather together and encourage and inspire and equip one another.
Lynne, how can people find you online?
Lynne Castelijn: So, probably the best way is actually through my Instagram account which is public and that’s sunshine_epiphanies. The sunshine_epiphanies and anybody can access that. [Lynne’s website is up now too: lynnecastelijn.com]
Belinda Pollard: That’s lovely. Thank you so much, Lynne, for all that you’ve contributed today. How about I pray for you before we finish?
Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for Lynne. We thank you for the countless different ways that you have cared for her, encouraged her, led her through dark days, given her joy and peace, as well, for the ministry that she’s had and particularly for the way that you’ve grown her as a writer. That’s something that we, as fellow writers, just are overjoyed to see.
We pray that you will continue to strengthen and sustain her. To give her wisdom. To give her your words for the people that you know will be reading them in whatever days to come. Whether it’s soon or later or further on in time.
Please give her wisdom about those beautiful manuscripts that were lost and what your plan is for that and how you would like her to rebuild from that and which direction you’d like her to go.
And we pray for all the other Gracewriters out there, too, that you might strengthen and sustain them through tough times, give them encouragement if they’ve lost work and give them courage to show their real selves in whatever ways you are calling them to have that openness and transparency in their writing.
And we commit it to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Lynne Castelijn: Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Lynne Castelijn, thank you so much for joining us today and for all those insights. Thank you, Donita Bundy and Alison Joy.
I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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