As I wrote the highlights of my reading from 2016, every part of me wanted to defend my reading choices, explain what I learned. Particularly choices I thought may be controversial. As the word count for the draft scaled 1,500 words after book four of twelve, something had to give.
Nobody wants to read that. Not even me. Probably not even J, who likes to read everything I write (God bless him for his enthusiastic support! How I love that man and the way he loves me!).
The words my friend Lo gave me from Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” came rushing into my brain. I don’t have to be perfect. I can be quirky and strange, as I actually am. I don’t need to hang my head as though the books filling my sails with air and faith and hope last year needed to be explained. I am allowed to celebrate the books God used to mold me.
So I chopped and simplified the post, largely leaving the books unqualified and unexplained — minus two with disclaimers from the authors themselves. Perhaps it’s mysterious, perhaps not quite persuasive enough. Perhaps it leaves more questions than answers.
What matters most about that post is not the actual book list, but the vital lesson I learned about me as a writer.
Waking to my blind spot
I write defensively. All. The. Time. I twirl around subjects on tiptoe like a ballerina on warp speed. I don’t want to accidentally offend or shame. I dodge and parry imaginary oppositions, afraid of being perceived ignorant. All the while, the dance dilutes the impact.
You faithful readers probably noticed this already. Thank you for your graciousness — especially my Facebook followers, who keep coming back faithfully. Y’all keep me at this thing. And I’m so tremendously grateful for you!
I knew my tendencies. What I didn’t see until recently: how severely they hobbled my writing or how the fear was spilling into the rest of life.
That’s how fear works. It trickles in slowly drip by drip, at first in the guise of help and wisdom. Then one day I blink, realizing how small and cramped my life has become.
A few things happened last year, and I’d been writing scared ever since. And instead of holding hands with the fear as I took risks, I let fear drag me back into small, dark corners.
As fear rules, it leaves a bitter taste behind. I was failing, seemingly everywhere, but I couldn’t understand why. I resented the smallness, but didn’t see how I created it. Meanwhile, the whack-a-mole game to stifle comparison and self-loathing hijacked my ability to function normally. Managing unruly emotions left minuscule space for anything else.
Why post to the writer’s groups I’m part of on Facebook– what if they tell me I’m dumb or hopeless or I don’t belong? Why ask if people would share a post they love — what if they think this space is akin to selling snake oil? What if they think I’m a fake? Why ask loyal readers for feedback on what they loved or why they keep coming back — what if they think I’m insecure (I am. I know this. I just don’t like to broadcast it, even if it is already obvious to everyone else.) or that I think this pipe dream is the center of the universe?
I hide my writing away where a person has to look hard to find it, as though blogging about faith, heartbreak and theology is something nasty to hide under a rug when company comes. I find myself apologizing for blogging — as though I need to be sorry for existing and taking up internet space. As though this space is shameful. Or worse, that I’m shameful or embarrassing because I write (unsuccessfully).
Why do I do this hard thing anyway?
I write because I cannot help myself. Writing is like breathing. I am alive, thus I write. I write; thus, I live. Blogging generates accountability and discipline for writing.
The only way to be a writer is to write. It is crafting. Slogging. Learning. Sharing. Risking. Failing. Gulp.
Trying again: learning, drafting, risking, failing.
All until something clicks. Then, start over. Do it again.
More than anything else, I want to write. Words on a page molded my faith. Books were my mentors in my teens and twenties before I learned to trust real flesh-and-blood people in my thirties. The pages twinkled like stars on the darkest of my nights. Reading makes me feel vibrant and engaged with all of my senses standing to attention as time blurs.
I want to create work that impacts someone the way other writers change me. I long to create something that bubbles up effervescent hope in someone else and makes him or her realize, “I’m not alone. Me, too.”
There’s no way forward without heartbreaks. This is true for all of us, writers or not. Life abounds with risk and sorrow, no matter your vocation. This aficionado of safety hates that.
Still, you and I can leap and soar — even if some of those efforts have us landing face first. We can stand up and try again.
Resting in love
2017 demands changes in my writing and marketing. Those changes begin in my self-talk. Love needs to be privileged over fear when it comes to the voices in my head.
I can do hard things, even while I’m scared. I don’t have to shame the fear. It’s okay to be scared, and I don’t have to patronize or reason the feelings into disappearing. That trick doesn’t work for me anyway.
What does work? Love.
Today I’m not waiting for someone else to love me or validate me, in order to feel secure or “enough.” Instead I rest in the love that is always with me: God’s love for me.
God’s love, which has taught me so much about loving others, is teaching me how to love myself. If it wasn’t already obvious, I am terrible at this. When I look at myself, I have laser focus on the imperfections and blindness to the good in me. I take inventory of the broken parts, the things I wish I was but aren’t, the failures.
I don’t see “the smarty panda with a big heart” as my sister described me last summer.
For now, I’m pressing pause on the self-critical striving while I adjust my warped lens. My current unfiltered self-portrait is a distorted mash-up: Picasso painting of a grotesque horror villain.
I’m allowing God’s love for me to overflow into love and acceptance of my whole self. Not just the beautiful parts, but the broken and embarrassing parts, too. Instead of shaking my finger at myself (while expecting everyone else to do the same), I’m making room at my interior table for the parts of me I can’t stand.
Insecure. Indecisive. Infertile. Sweet Tooth. Sensitive. Safety Queen. Anxious Over-Thinker. Perfectionist.
Come on in. Have some tea. Wherever we go, we’re going there together. Because, well, truth. Wherever I go, there I am: insecurities, idiosyncrasies and all.
For so long I resented the broken parts of me, and kept trying to punish or silence them into submission. Then promptly felt shame when the striving didn’t work.
What if God’s grace was actually sufficient? What if God shines most in the places I’d prefer to be magically fixed? What if the weaknesses, the failures and the not “enough” worries are actually places where God’s love breaks through?
Something about accepting those broken parts with warmth and grace mutes their power and sting. (The cynic admits, “At least for today. Tomorrow may be a different story.”).
Is this what grace does in us?
If it is, maybe that’s why God told Paul grace is sufficient.
I am here. I’m facing and writing the hard things. I celebrate the big risks I took in the last couple of weeks. And it’s enough. I’m okay.
Because for today, grace is, miraculously, enough.