Pulpit to word processor
Louise Lankford-Dunlap writes to help others, to show her faith and to be a blessing.
“I feel like this is my ministry,” said the McMinnville woman, whose stories can be found in various publications, notably Christian magazines.
Actually, writing is merely Dunlap’s current ministry. She’s been ministering in one form or another for about seven decades.
When Louise was an 11-year-old school girl in Oklahoma, she already knew she would become a preacher. “I was at our family altar and I felt the call,” she said.
Her mother and aunt were both in the ministry in the 1930s. Her father-in-law was a minister in the Assembly of God church.
Both she and her husband, World War II veteran Hershel Dunlap, earned Assembly of God preaching credentials.
Married right after the war ended, they moved from Oklahoma to Hot Springs, Ark., and he used the GI Bill to go to Bible college.There wasn’t enough money for both of them to officially enroll, but she studied alongside him on her own.
The Dunlaps came to Yamhill County in 1969 to pastor the Dayton Assembly of God Church. During their 10 years there, they fell in love with the area.
After retiring from a church in Northern California, they returned to Dayton. His father and her parents moved to Dayton, as well, and the Dunlaps cared for them during the last years of their lives.
“We changed our ministry,” said the mother of three daughters. “After more 50 years with the church, the Lord wanted us to look after our families.”
She also worked as a Head Start teacher at the McMinnville preschool for 15 years.
The Dunlaps later moved to McMinnville, and she began attending the Nazarene Church on the Hill.
Herschel died in July 2009, leaving Louise a widow after almost 63 years of marriage. As she sat beside her husband during his last illness, Dunlap began working on her writing — something she could do while staying close to him. After he died, she began to put more focus on getting her stories published.
Dunlap has been writing most of her life. Following her mother’s example, she said, she began writing poems, stories and songs when she was still a youngster.
She tries to write every day, but if a day passes without a word, that’s fine. “I don’t feel I have to write,” she said.
She’s completed more than 100 songs. She writes the lyrics and comes up with the tune, although someone else has to transcribe it into musical notation.
“The Lord just drops songs into my mind, or I take an idea from scripture,” she said. For instance, “Carry On Children When I’m Gone” comes from the Biblical story of Elijah.
Some of her songs have been published, including the “3 Songs of Decision” collection, which features “The Last Prayer,” “Valley of Decision” and “What is Your Life.” She, her husband and one of their daughters appear on the front cover of the 1960 sheet music.
A gospel group is working on some of the other songs. She’s looking forward to receiving a recording of their efforts.
She wrote an Easter drama, “Silent Witnesses,” told from the perspective of the inanimate objects that witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. She’s written some satire, too, including a humorous poem called “A Hoarder’s Lament,” which tells the story of being burdened by possessions.
She has hundreds of pages of sermon notes, accumulated over many years.
But the mainstay of her writing these days is stories, of which there are too many too count. They’ve been printed in a variety of publications, including Christian magazines like “Live.”
Her pieces cover a variety of subjects, from adopting her dog, Daisy, to dealing with the death of a grandchild to adjusting to widowhood.
Dunlap finishes and submits stories via computer, but she still starts each by hand.
“I keep pencils and paper wherever I go,” she said. She has a notebook next to her bed, as well.
“I’ll wake up and write down ideas,” she said. She said she doesn’t want them to get away.
“I’m not sure where every idea comes from,” she said. “From the Lord, I hope!”
In many cases, she adds a moral or a Bible message to her stories. For instance, losing her way on a church trip once inspired her to write “Know Where You’re Going,” a piece that talks about making sure you find the way to salvation by reading and following the Bible.
Some subjects are difficult to write about, Dunlap said, but she believes it’s important to share her experiences and feelings.
“I want to be transparent,” she said. That way, she said, she can be of the most help to others.
She gets paid, but not a lot, she said. But she doesn’t write to get rich.
“I’m in it to be a blessing, to let people see me,” she said. “God gave me a gift, and I’m obligated to use it.”
Although the ability to write is a gift, she said, it’s something she’s always had to work at. She studied writing when she and her husband lived near the California-Oregon border, and she writes and rewrites extensively. She has trusted readers look at her work. Her daughters help with editing.
One of her daughters writes a column for the Seattle Times. One of her cousins, who lives in Oklahoma, writes children’s stories. The three family writers talk often about their craft.
Dunlap also started a writing group locally. Members from McMinnville, Newberg, Dayton and other nearby cities meet monthly. They read to one another and make suggestions, accentuating the positive but providing important critiques, as well.
“Getting together with other writers keeps you fired,” she said.
Dunlap also is a frequently participant at the monthly Band of Brothers meetings for veterans and their widows. She attends in honor of her late husband, who was stationed in Alaska with the Army.
She also attends the Yamhill County Christian Women’s Fellowship, an ecumenical group that meets for lunch on the second Wednesday of each month at Jake’s Deli. She’ll be the group’s speaker next April.
“I love to get involved,” she said.
By paying careful attention to detail, taking advice from other writers and being selective in her submissions, Dunlap has avoided accumulating a stack of rejection letters.
“I do my stories over and over and over before I submit them,” she said. “They never will be perfect, but I want them to be the best I can do.”
She monitors markets for her stories, looking for topics she can address. And she keeps copies of Writer’s Market and Christian Writer’s Market next to her computer so she can submit articles to the right places.
She belongs to the Oregon Christian Writers and Northwest Christian Writers organizations.
Joining other Christian writers at these organizations’ conventions is inspiring, she said; “like going to church.” It’s also a great way to meet and contact editors and publishers.
At any particular time, Dunlap is awaiting publication of several of her pieces and waiting to see if several others will be accepted.
One of her stories will be in “Live” during the Christmas season. The magazine is considering another piece for early in 2013.
Her healing testimony will be part of a soon-to-be published book that compiles inspirational writings. In this piece, she tells the story of being severely burned when her washing machine blew up; by grace, she said, she was healed in three days.
She is submitting another story, this one of a near-death experience, for a future compilation.
And she’s getting started on a book of her own. She said it will contrast the way things were done when she was young with the way things are done today.
She’s finished a book already, but this one wasn’t for publication: her autobiography.
A few years before her mother died, Dunlap asked the older woman to write an autobiography. “I treasure that so much,” she said.
She knew she had to do the same thing for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The book is filled with examples of Dunlap’s good sense of humor, as well as details of her life. In the introduction, she notes that she wanted to write down her story “while I’m still in control of most of my faculties.”
Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.