The next in the Series of
Christians with the Heart of a Servant
I met Derek Maul at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference when we shared in a small fiction critique class of eleven participants. Our manuscripts were emailed to the class prior to our arrival at the conference and our instruction was to read the work, critique it, and then bring it with us to the class. Each class member would have their opportunity to share constructive criticism and take it as well. It was a great learning process.
However, when Derek’s shot came to sit in the hot seat, few of us could say little in the line of criticism because his work was …well….as close to perfect as you’d ever hope to see. I’d had an opportunity to talk with him some via email prior to the conference and in the few emails we shared the man impressed me to pieces. He was kind, his demeanor laid back, and his words encouraging.
His work won a number of awards at the conference and I walked away with a valued friendship that I periodically draw on to chat. He seemed to know no strangers and everyone who spoke with him was instantly put as ease -- as though you’d always known him. Such a neat man.
Shortly after the conference, I began receiving his columns that print in the Tampa Tribune. Hum….didn’t know he was a reporter – he never mentioned that. Humble at that! So as the months passed I was increasingly more impressed that this kind and gentle man was able to write, and have printed, some rather pointed Christian values in a regular daily newspaper. God was at work through Derek Maul, for sure. His push “toward the realization of goodness” at his readers is very thought provoking. He’s been very successful with this challenge.
He recently sent me an article he’d written about our military and the depth of pride that swelled from the words touched me. So, I popped Derek an email and asked, “Can I post this on Mountain Breeze?” One thing led to another and I realized this man needs a little pat on the back. God must surely be very proud of his “Servant.” So, let me introduce you to friend, columnist and inspirational author, Derek Maul.
Thanks for talking with the Mountain Breeze readers, Derek. Tell us about your pre-writing years. What did you do for a living?
After I graduated from college (Stetson University and the University of West Florida) God called me to be a teacher. So for around 18 years I worked in the public schools, specializing in severely emotionally disturbed children. Never a dull moment. My other teaching occurred at church and with adults. Likewise, never a dull moment.
What age children did you work with?
Well, I was certified K-12 so it ran the gamut. Pre-school autistic children for a while, then teenagers. After that third and fourth grade, then I worked as a crisis teacher at a mental health center. My last teaching gig was sixth-eighth grade – hard to tell an EH (Emotionally Handicapped) 7th grader from the crowd in most middle-schools!
When did you feel the call to write inspirationally?
I've been writing meditations and devotionals for a long time; partly as a journal of my own spiritual journey and then partly to help other people understand theirs. I got started simply sharing a five-minute meditation at the opening of my adult (Baby-boomer) Sunday-school class. Eventually, several years ago, I felt the tug to write full time. I already had a local Op-Ed column (Brandon News) and was publishing the occasional meditation with The Upper Room, These Days, and a few other magazines.
Tell our readers what an Op-Ed column is?
“Op-Ed” is what the newspapers call the opinion columns that run opposite the "letters to the editor" section on the editorial pages. Sometimes they are more properly labeled “commentary." These columns are widely read, and constitute an amazing opportunity to influence the way thousands of people think about issues.
So what’s happening with you now career wise?
A lot has happened. I’m still free-lance, but I publish three weekly columns in various local segments of the Tampa Tribune (Op-Ed, community profiles, and a Q&A feature that highlights community leaders – I’ve interviewed 250 preachers and counting!). I've also written several feature articles for Christian magazines, I've had the opportunity to place commentaries with national publications (such as USA-Today, Newsweek, Christian Science Monitor) and I'm working on my third manuscript with Upper Room Books.
My Op-Ed column has been the most rewarding. It gives me the chance to engage literally tens of thousands of people in an ongoing conversation about life as it happens. My goal is to provoke readers – especially those who are not Christians – to think differently. I'm interested in shaping the world-view of pretty-much everyone in and around Tampa! (I'd love to have the same conversation with the entire nation via syndication!). I'm able to incorporate scripture, address hard questions, and introduce faith-based ideas. The column is well received – by non-Christians and believers alike - and now runs in anywhere from two to five of the Tribune's local sections, reaching approximately 100,000-200,000 readers.
So, is the Op-Ed column where you feel God is able to use you the most?
It’s certainly where my heart is. But my mission – across the board - is always to tell good news. Every feature or commentary or profile that I write amounts to a possibility that someone, somewhere, will begin to shift their thinking and open their heart.
Did you have a hard time writing this type column? You know, worry about how it would be received?
That’s a good question. But let’s not confuse writing from the heart with street-corner preaching! My approach has always been to simply tell the truth. Remember when the disciples were told to keep quiet about Jesus? They simply said, “We can’t help but tell about what we have seen and heard.” That’s authentic witness. There’s no need to brow-beat or bamboozle (don’t you love that word!) or bully; just share what’s going on. There’s nothing offensive about that. Conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit; my job is to tell the story.
Tell us about your book?
I’m sooooo excited about my first book! "GET REAL: a spiritual journey for men" (Upper Room Books, 2007) emerged from my passion to help "mainline" Christian men become more serious disciples (I've been wrestling for a long time with the difference between "Christian" as a social/cultural label and "Jesus-Follower" as a deliberate spiritual journey). "Cliff-notes" version is this:
1. 2005 - I tell God something big needs to happen by the time I turn 50, or I'm re-thinking the whole free-lance writer gig – too much "free" and not enough "writer."
2. My "Men's room" Bible-study/accountability group becomes a strong component of my church's growing spiritual health.
3. February 2006 - Upper Room publishing team conference declares, "There's
not enough good material out there for main-line Christian men." Their magazine editor suggests someone talk with Derek Maul.
4. I respond to their query with 10 quick bullet points detailing what I think a project like that should look like.
5. I must have struck a chord, because Upper Room gets excited and asks me for a formal proposal ASAP.
6. I turn 50 March 26, 2006. March 27 I get a contract in the mail!
7. May 2007, "GET REAL: a spiritual journey for men" is published.
So how do feel God has blessed you personally, (outside of the blessing of publication)?
Let me count the ways!
First, I live and work in a nation where “the pursuit of happiness” is fundamental to the definition of life together. Following Jesus is all about abundant life, and that’s got very little to do with material wealth (just as well, because I’m a free-lance writer!).
Next, I have a family where mutual love and respect define our relationships. Rebekah and I live and breathe the principle of mutual submission, and that frees us to love unconditionally.
Then, we are part of a community of faith where the goal is authentic Christian Community. What a joy! I could go on, but that’s a good glimpse.
You have a second book on the way? Tell us about that as well?
My second book – working title "In My Heart I Carry a Star" is due out in Aug/Sept 2008 (Upper Room Books). It's an Advent book, designed to be read in preparation for Christmas. It comprises 32 fairly short chapters that read pretty much like my newspaper column in style. I’m very pleased with it, and I believe it will be impossible to read the book and then experience a consumption-oriented secular-style Christmas ever again!
This month – January 2008 – my proposal for a third book (2009) is due. The title is so good and the concept so exciting that I really can't share any details at this point.
So God has rained abundant success on you. That’s awesome. Were you a little hesitant to leave your teaching job and step out on faith to write full time?
Define success? I believe success is living in the light; it’s following Jesus; it’s this: (Philippians 2 – 14-16) “Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”
But, yes, I was nervous to drop an entire salary. Rebekah encouraged me, and she gave me the confidence to try. I earned less than $200 a month the first year. Today I’ve almost replaced half my teacher’s salary. But, the experience has made me undeniably rich.
What does your work day consist of?
I work out of my home near Tampa, writing three columns for the Tribune, picking up other free-lance work as it comes around, developing book-length ideas, and walking my wife's huge labradoodle puppy. Rebekah designed and built my study (she’s so Martha Stewart!). I get out into the community to do interviews, and I'm also doing a lot of traveling and speaking – which is fun and has certainly pushed my comfort zone in new directions! It turns out I’m quite good in front of a crowd.
The challenge is NOT to do routine stuff like housework, even when it’s calling my name.
What do you do in your spare time? (Like you have any!)
Primarily I do as much as possible with my wife, Rebekah. We enjoy being together and we deliberately date at least one night a week. Then I’m involved with a lot of teaching and guitar playing and small-group stuff at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon, where Rebekah is senior pastor. It's an exciting, mission-oriented, full of life, growing congregation with children all over the place and a deep desire to serve God and grow spiritually. I play golf, cook, read, and avoid yard work (we have a huge yard that backs on to a golf course).
Our children have grown and left home to live their own lives. That's a book all of its own!
Thanks, Derek. I appreciate your time sharing with the Mountain Breeze readers. It's always such a pleasure to find a gem like you. We hope you'll post with us from time to time. Best of luck with the 3rd book on the rack.
To me, Derek is the height of humility. He was a bit shy about my bragging so on him but as we say in East Tennessee -- "Facts is Facts!" You can find Derek's book on Amazon.com
Derek's blogsite can be read at Amazon as well. Just click his name here and you'll head in the right direction.