Reclaiming My Voice

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Photo Credit: Nordic Photos/Super Stock

There’s an important thing in writing called “voice.” Different composition scholars define it in different ways, but basically “voice” refers to the unique qualities of the writer’s writing. What distinguishes his or her writing from everyone else’s?

More often than I wish were the case, college English classes discount voice, sacrificing it to academic conventions, or established norms and guidelines, to maintain the “language of scholarship.”

In my master’s thesis, I argued that I lost interest in my English classes, in part, because my voice was not allowed there. I still got A’s, though, because it was easy for me to imitate what teachers wanted—it was easy to “pose” as someone I was not on paper.

While this practice earned me a 4.0 in my major, sadly, it took me away from defining my own role as a writer, and developing my own voice.

As well, maybe I didn’t feel my voice was welcome, either in the classroom or anywhere else. Looking back, writing in non-academic settings should have been a given…but no…I resisted airing my voice in a professional, outward way—squelched it under the covers of my journals. Where else could it go?

My “voice” as I conceived of it at age twenty-one was that of a depressed, deflated victim—a mental basket case. I felt bad enough about myself already. So why should I let the truth out and ruin the cover I was trying to keep?

How to Hide Your Voice

When you want to hide your voice, and if you have some of your wits about you, it’s easy enough to blend in. Perhaps imitating others—whether in academic writing or behavior—isn’t the natural impulse, but when you want to lie low, it’s easy enough to blend. At least, it’s easy enough to “cap” your real voice.

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On our belated honeymoon trip to San Antonio in 2006.

Maybe I’ve never really “blended” as well as I’d like to think I have. But what I have done is to keep quiet. And by some miraculous twist, I’ve been able to project the image of calm and collected.

Many people have told me, and not just in recent years when I’ve actually achieved some inner peace, that they’re impressed by my outward calm. I’ve been called phlegmatic, composed, serene, and someone who never seems ruffled.

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Sailing in Saint Thomas, 2009.

Well. Ahem. Pat myself on the back. What a “good” job I’ve done at concealing my real self.

Apparently I used to think this was something to be proud of, suppressing my voice.

No more. I’ve grown tired of it.

Letting It Out

I used to stifle my voice because I thought it was warped and would get me labeled. What I didn’t realize was that it was okay to have that voice. It wasn’t okay to keep it forever, of course, because indeed it was warped—a warped outgrowth of my God-given identity.

Now I know my voice just needed redirecting. The form could remain, but the content had to change.

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My husband and me posing for a Christmas picture during the first year of our marriage, 2005.

Sometimes I tell my husband I’ve been trying to figure out who I really am since we married eight years ago. I tell him it’s like my personality was gutted after I went through my deep depression and initial college crash. He tells me I’ve always been the same person—I’ve always had my identity. I guess I have. But it just got buried for awhile in shame and self-doubt.

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My husband and me in a less posed setting in 2005. I think I look somewhat depressed here, or maybe I just need makeup.

No more. Starting with this blog, I’m reclaiming my true voice. And it’s not the voice of the popular majority. It’s not that of a detached literary critic. It’s not a silent observer. It’s not an insecure, defeated little girl.

My voice is thoughtful, emotional, yet hopeful. It is often unpopular. But I’m okay with that. It is mine, given by God, and I intend to use it.

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I’m not sure what to say about this picture. It was taken by my husband when no one else was looking.

Fable of a Freelance Writer

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Once upon a time (three months ago, to be exact), a freelance writer developed a blog, some book chapters, and a guilt complex.

You see, this writer started out herself to please—to fulfill a dream, put her heart at ease. No more would she hate herself for putting it off—no longer would her naysayers scoff. 

And so writing a schedule–for she must have a plan–finally, she began:

January

Wake up at 6, breakfast, goodbye.

Then meet with the Lord, at 7 or so.

Eight was for exercise, don’t get flabby!

 Then 9 was for work—let the writing begin!

The plan was to write until 4 or more—

Her memoirs, her art, her triumphant score.

But alas, as soon as she began,

She got the email from the man

Who wanted revisions on his manuscript…

So she said, “Okay, I’ll look at it.”

Then April came…

She’d made no progress

On her own goals…but I digress.

 

April

As the writer looked back on the past three months, she realized she had not stuck to her guns. Besides some blogs and some personal slime, she had nothing to show for her time. Something had happened, but she was not sure what—had she just wasted time, sitting on her duff?

As she searched the memories of her mind, she discovered it was not that she hadn’t tried—it’s just that some stuff had come up inside.

The joy of Jan was followed by blues…somewhere in Feb, kids came up, too. Then, in March, she thought back to home, a topic deserving a fully-fledged tome. So maybe her story isn’t written yet, but perhaps just now its reaching denouement.

What has she learned, this freelancer babe? In three months of blogging, and burbling, and talk? Maybe she just needs to lay off the clock.

  • Sleep in sometimes, and let the mind rest.
  • Talk to a friend, get things off of her chest.
  • Relax, and take the stick out the rear.
  • Go for a run, the fog will clear.
  • Relax, be a wife, and a friend, and a person.
  • Those bad writing days? Well, you win some, you lose some.

As she thought on these lessons she’d learned over time, she decided her life was really quite fine. The dream was not lost, merely delayed—and even if slow going, it still with her stayed. Maybe, she thought, I’ve been under delusion—thinking my story needs a conclusion. Maybe, in fact, I’ve been all wrong—and I’ve been living the dream all along.

 

The Day after Disappointment

What do you do after you pour your heart and soul into something—only to fail?

“I’m confused,” I wrote yesterday to Jim, my former thesis advisor. I had promised to let him know the outcome of my applications, both the MFA and the PhD.

Both outcomes were the same.

“I thought I’d be getting a terminal degree and teaching college for my life’s work,” I wrote. But it seems God has other plans.

So, what do you do the day after disappointment?

Well, after a little weeping and gnashing of teeth, I sat at my computer and got down to business. I have an almost-finished magazine article I’ve been putting off for over a year—and I have known where I can get it published—but I just haven’t finished it. Today I will finish and submit it.

This week I am also going to get back to the “before-thirty” manuscript I’ve been putting off. And lying in bed this morning I was hit with the possibilities of e-publishing some even older work.

It was like some barrier had been removed; some permission given to just do it, damn it—stop waiting for someone to wipe my nose and just move on, already!

A cocoon was what I wanted, I think. Just a few more years before I grew up. But even with the benefit of one night’s sleep, now it seems kinda silly.

I’m almost twenty-nine. I’ve been in school for about six of my eight years of marriage. I already have a book forthcoming with a co-author. I’ve been published in three magazines. And already for several years I’ve been learning about creative writing on my own.

Oh, and just one more thing. Time will tell, but was it a coincidence that yesterday, after opening my mail, and after crying my tears, my queasiness didn’t go away? Was it a coincidence that I also woke up feeling nauseated again this morning, and that I’ve felt that way for the past four days?

If it’s what I think it might be…well, that would be just too clear—and it would carry the kind of poetry this writer delights in—an extra special way for God to tell me that, even in the wake of disappointment, He knows the plans He has for me (Jer. 29:11).

Note: On the day after the day after, I find it was just a false alarm. Oh well. God gave me a distraction to numb the blow. In any case, I still believe He knows the plans He has for me!

Reviving Relationships—Rethinking Goals

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 “The hopes of the godly result in happiness, but the expectations of the wicked are all in vain.” (Proverbs 10:28, NLT)

When I read this verse today, two questions immediately sprang to mind.

1) First, am I godly?

2) Secondly, what are my hopes—in other words, my goals? I have the sense that they have changed in just a few short years—and I’m not sure I’ve really defined them.

You should understand something about me. A few years ago, after my older brother recommended the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I got a little obsessive about my life’s goals. Looking for ways to improve my abysmally ineffective first year of teaching, I lapped up those seven habits, even making my second-year students endure a three-week unit on said habits.

During my third year of teaching, on my own I completed some exercises found in the back of my new 2011 Covey planner. These entailed writing out my roles and goals, my values, and my bucket list. You can find that list here.

On paper, my goals look good, but in retrospect, I think I’ve done badly—at least on the relationship points.

A Few of My Failures

“Conscious steps toward building or maintaining my relationships.” Maybe a few. We did start a weekly small group Bible study after I left teaching. But it took my new Bible-study-buddy, Tasha, to get me out of my comfort zone for social outings–sporadic spa days.

“Avoid overcommitting myself in areas that do not desperately require my attention.” My hubby’s feedback heavily suggests otherwise. In fact, just now I am kicking myself for getting too involved at church, yet again, this year.

“Don’t forget to make and take time for friends.” I’ve forgotten often. I have plenty of relationships that have fallen by the wayside, a topic for another time, but the biggest relationship I’ve neglected by far is my marriage.

This is hard to admit. Suddenly I see that all these years I’ve tried to blame him for our shortcomings as a couple. I’ve deluded myself into thinking I was the one doing most of the giving…he most of the taking…but now I’ll put the question to myself: What have I really done for our marriage?

As I think back on the eight years we’ve been in this union, all I see is a panorama of achievements I’ve chased—degrees and jobs and dreams—that were all selfishly motivated. To this day, I can list lots of things I’ve done for myself, but it’s hard to say what I’ve done for our marriage.

The Undefined Emptiness

Lately, with plenty of quiet time on my hands, I can’t help but reexamine my life, and what keeps coming up is that I have an emptiness inside. None of the degrees or achievements have filled it. God and my husband have done much to soothe it, but after much time on my knees, I feel it will not be enough to keep to myself—just me and my God and my husband and my writing.

There is something else I’m supposed to be doing. I know I need to be less selfish in my marriage, yes–and I’m working on it–but to deal with this maddening quiet when he’s not here—when it’s just me and my writing and my restlessness—is there something else?

So this morning I prayed: “Lord, please: I’d like a breakthrough of some sort. A pregnancy. A job. An acceptance letter [from my MFA program]. Some other place to belong, some other place to get my mind off myself.”

And you know what I heard?

“Lindsey, you are troubled about many things. But only one thing is needful.”

In his sequel to The Seven Habits, entitled First Things First, Stephen Covey uses an illustration involving a ladder and a wall, saying it will do no good to climb a ladder if it is leaning against the wrong wall. He’s right, of course, but only because it was God’s principle, first.

So says God and Stephen Covey: Lindsey, you better focus on question 1) Am I godly? Before you (re)tackle 2) What are my goals (and Where should I go, What should I do)? Because without getting number 1 right, number 2 is a moot point.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things [whatever they are] shall be added unto you.”

Well, okay then. Back to my knees it is.

My Mission and Goals from 2011

Values Clarification

God: God is my Redeemer; he is the reason for my existence and my ultimate destination

  • I put God first every day
  • I use God’s word as my compass for all my life’s decisions
  • I strive to be Christlike and to be a witness to others in the way I conduct myself and live my life
  • I do what is right even in the face of opposition

Family and Friends: My family members and friends are the most precious gifts from God I have on this earth, therefore:

  • I take conscious steps toward building or maintaining my relationships with family members, such as family Bible study or spending quality time with them
  • I avoid doing things that would harm my family relationships, especially with my husband, such as over-committing myself in areas that do not desperately require my attention
  • I don’t forget to make and take time for friends; I keep my friendships in good standing; I do not “hoard” or limit my friendship; I am open to making new friends

Workmanship/Artistry: I have been endowed with specific gifts from my creator which I strive to develop to his glory

  • I write to share the story of what God’s done for me and to bring others to Christ
  • I play to be a service to others (such as in church, at funerals, etc.)
  • I use my talents not to uplift myself but to uplift God

Education: God has given me a wonderful mind to be filled with all that is lovely, pure, and true

  • I continue to learn constructive new things everyday that will benefit my own or others’ quality of life
  • I share what I learn with others
  • I obtain greater education for the purpose of  bettering my life or the lives of others
  • I avoid that which is emotionally harmful, mentally dwarfing, depressing or vulgar

Health and Fitness: My body is the temple of God, to be cared for accordingly

  • I choose to eat as healthily as is possible and realistic in my current lifestyle
  • I learn and implement new healthy recipes as often as I can
  • I exercise regularly to keep my body in good physical shape and to keep my mind clear
  • I choose to be happy with the body God has given me and my own personal “best”
  • I do not measure myself by unrealistic, worldly standards of beauty

Stewardship: I use all that I have to the best of my knowledge and ability to glorify God

  • I use my time constructively
  • I spend my money wisely
  • I treat my body as a vehicle of service for God and input accordingly

Roles

Christian

See Item 1 above

I read and learn what the Bible says, first, to prepare myself to witness, then, to know what and how to share with others

Wife

  • I am supportive
  • I think before speaking
  • I choose my battles wisely
  • I use my energy to encourage rather than nag
  • I find meaningful ways to show and reinforce my love for him everyday

Daughter/Sister

  • I am learning to have normal relationships with my parents and brothers
  • I call on a more regular basis

Teacher

  • To the best of my abilities, I teach the kids what will be most necessary, useful and uplifting to them
  • I am a positive role model
  • I maintain an active interest in their wellbeing and salvation
  • I discipline them when needed, even if it is hard for me to do so

Artist

  • I spend a significant amount of time (or that which is feasible) each week developing or practicing my talents, especially writing
  • I use my writing for a healthy emotional outlet
  • I use my talents to benefit others

What one thing could you accomplish in your professional life that would have the most positive impact?

Get my doctorate

What one thing could you accomplish in your personal life that would have the most positive impact?

I don’t know…

  • Start a small-group Bible study?
  • Have a child and learn how to have a normal, healthy family life?

The kind of person I want to be:

  • Self-confident
  • Loving
  • Wise/Discerning
  • Spiritual

All the things I would like to do (Bucket List):

  • Read through the entire Bible
  • Get my masters
  • Get my doctorate
  • Be an English Professor
  • Publish my writing for significant pay and in the venue that will impact as many people as possible
  • Take aerobics or Pilates classes for fun!
  • Be an aerobics instructor
  • Live in MN again, even if just in the summers
  • Lead a group Bible study for young adults
  • Find and participate in a ministry or service activity that both my husband and I are interested in and can do together
  • Compose music in a preserve-able form (learn how to use a music program to write electronic sheet music)
  • Achieve financial freedom so that money is never an obstacle, say, in taking trips to visit my family
  • Maybe adopt kids or do some kind of foster care or service for children
  • Get over my issues with technology; embrace that technology which is good
  • Become a Women’s Ministries Leader after my children have grown or I decide I’m not having children
  • Learn to see the best in people; never facilitate or further gossip

All the things I would like to have during my lifetime

  • Continual assurance of salvation; every day an open connection with God
  • A healthy, happy marriage every day
  • Maybe kids; don’t know yet
  • A lake house in Minnesota
  • My own study or writing room
  • A grand piano
  • A maid

Note: These prompts and questions come from my Stephen Covey planner from 2011. They spring from the principles of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and I include my responses from 2011 here to help readers make sense of my next blog post, Reviving Relationships–Rethinking Goals.

I’d love to read any goals or bucket list items my readers would like to share! I look forward to your comments!

Is My Writer Seeping Through?

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Since deciding to be a “real” writer, I’ve kept a low profile. Not wanting people to know I’ve embarked on a low-paying (sometimes no-paying) job, I’ve hidden my true profession behind a façade of graduate student and teacher.

I haven’t been a teacher since May 2011, but until last December, I really was a graduate student, putting the finishing touches on my one-hundred-page master’s thesis. Mostly I was done by October, but I still let my classmates offer condolences for “how hard” the writing must be.

It wasn’t hard, really, because my advisor let me write the way I wanted to write: creatively and personally (with a little academic jargon sprinkled in). I guess this “practical” approach worked because the topic was practical: best practices for teaching writing.

When a few of my fellow students heard about my personal [slash] creative [slash] academic project, they seemed intrigued.

“I’d never have thought of that,” some said.

As they scrambled to turn up sources on the databases, scouring search engines and library shelves, giving themselves ulcers looking for an original angle, I just sat back and wrote. I started from the inside—I knew what I wanted to say, and I didn’t much care about citing the scholarly conversation that had come before me, or that would come after.

I know this sounds sort of pompous, and it wouldn’t work in some of the disciplines where original voice is not prized. But thankfully, English departments operate on this truth: If a voice is engaging enough it doesn’t really matter what it’s saying—people will read it for the good writing.

And that’s the truth in the real world, isn’t it?

People who don’t care a lick about golf will watch Tiger Woods because he excels in his sport. Same for most Olympians and Olympic sports. Who watches bobsledding or curling on a regular basis?

But millions watch the Olympics because it’s fun to watch pros do what they do best.

Funny, then, that I feel I’m still hiding in the wings, waiting for permission to “come out” to do what I do best.

Well, not so funny, I guess. I have no doubt that the hiding is due to the overwhelming personal content of my writing. (It’s not really about the money.)

In order for me to write about the things I write about (mental illness, family dysfunction, deepest fears) and be respected, I feel I have to be either a mental health professional or a pastor, or some other authority who can talk on these things at a close, yet safe, distance. That, or I have to make the writing itself attractive. Because the topics just aren’t.

Still, I am convinced that these topics are worth discussion. Worth a master’s thesis, a doctoral dissertation, and many book series. I am convinced that all this painful self-reflection is what more people ought to be doing, but aren’t. But if it’s so worthwhile, why aren’t more people doing it?

Because: Like graduate students fumbling for research topics, we are afraid of ourselves, and we are afraid of what self-examination might reveal. So we look for other voices to latch onto. Let someone else be the guinea pig—or the “straw man,” to use an academic term. Then, if our life thesis fails, we can partially blame the voices on whom we’ve built our own.

Well, I’ll stand behind my own work. To the thesis examiner who said my work got uncomfortably personal at times, I would remind her that everyone else who read it said it was the most memorable thesis they’d ever seen. She was more comfortable in the theoretical realm, and that’s where she encouraged me to return. Toward the end of the defense, we had a more informal discussion about how we felt about publishing—how we felt about others reading our work—and this professor said she felt terrified thinking others would read her academic writing (not to mention any personal stuff).

Just like she couldn’t understand me being so personal in writing, I couldn’t understand her being so guarded (about dry academic prose). Perhaps she is worried that others will smell a rat—that of inauthenticity. And I guess if I were not being true to myself, I might worry about the same thing.

But after denying myself public expression for so long, I think having to live in hiding is far worse than living exposed. After spending time in a theoretically constipated English department, I think living vulnerable is better than living jealous of writers whose real-world topics you only dare poke with a critical stick.

Perhaps my guarded professor would even agree. At the end of the day, she passed my thesis unconditionally. Call my writing what she will, that day she called me a master.

 

 

The Question Every Young Couple Must Answer

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“When are you having kids?” my high school students always used to ask. Why they were so interested in this detail of my life I never understood—much like I didn’t understand when family members or anyone else asked. The question used to come frequently when we were first married, and then, as year after year slid by with no child, but only new feats such as a bachelor’s degree, teaching job, and master’s degree, the question all but went away, and with it, my child consciousness.

But when I got to my first semester of grad school in 2010, I had an epiphany. Sitting in class at that time as both student and teacher, I was to finally understand why students and so many others wonder that question.           

It happened one night in literary theory class, when my professor, trying to explain the infant stages of Freudian development admitted, “Well, the research says this [insert windy explanation of anal and oral stages]; but I don’t have kids, so I don’t really know firsthand.” That’s all. One comment. Then he continued his lecture on Freud. But I was stopped.

Before that night, he’d been Mr. Know-It-All.

Now, he was just a man out of touch with reality…who, perhaps, had never changed a diaper.

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(Photo from giftsfordadtobe.com)

What did my professor have? He had his books and his scholarly journals and his research (and with those, late night library visits while bedecked in baseball caps [to blend with students, he’d told us]), but what, beyond that? He didn’t have a wife. Or kids. Or religion. (Lots of grad students and professors end up losing their religion, I was also to find out.) The closest relationships he had seemed to be with us, his students. And he was great with us, very gentle and caring, and genuinely concerned for our welfare.

But in general…in general, I had to ask myself that night: Is this really the life? And more importantly, is this the life I want for myself? Do I want to be like this professor someday, standing before a class of adults (or high school kids, for that matter), in my forties or above, with no life experience to share with them, besides what I had read in books?

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This was a profound moment for me. I journaled at length about it the very next day. And I talked to my husband. Was I missing something here? Was I about to embark on the wrong path, this path to the PhD? What did it mean that I was having all of these questions?

Mind you, I was hardly ready to toss the birth control, quit teaching, and/or withdraw from my graduate classes. Just then I wouldn’t admit that I wanted kids. Because I wasn’t actually sure I wanted them.

But one thing I now understood: If I had kids, I would become a more interesting professor…and a more interesting person. I would become more credible. More human. And that alone was something worth considering.

 

 

How God Led Me Back to Writing

I think sometimes when a person has a conversion experience, all the old habits become suspect. And if not suspect, they remind you of old times when you lived in darkness. Is it okay to do this? A person wonders. I wondered this about my writing.

Writing—and I mean that personal writing I had done for over a decade with glorious abandon as ink, and often tears, flew across the page—used to bring such relief to me. But sometimes, now, it brought guilt. Maybe I hadn’t realized it before, but I was writing to wallow. Writing in the wrong.

That describes some of my writing history. But not all of it. My reasons were not always wrong, I have to believe. At first, they were just survival reasons, like at age fourteen, when I couldn’t talk to anyone. Or at age nineteen, when the ink substituted for blood. But after that I healed a little. And healed a little more each year, until, in my early twenties, writing was part wallowing, part revenge. By the time I had my conversion in 2010, around age twenty-six, I didn’t know exactly what my writing was. All I knew was that it felt uncomfortable now, didn’t seem to fit the new me, and the thought occurred to me: what if I’m sinning?

For a time I had tried to just forget about it, but early in 2012, I felt the old urge creeping up again. Despite the newly instituted seminar papers and thesis writing for a master’s degree, now it was starting to flow out into magazine articles and opinion pieces for the church newsletter and, of course, as always, my journal. I’m on journal number twenty-five since 1998.

But none of it was enough. None of these outlets was fully satisfying my urge. . . .

Nearing thirty, a realization was starting to sink in: I didn’t have forever to get a PhD, or to have kids, or to finally publish that book I’d always wanted to publish, much less do all three! What was I to make of these conflicting messages, and the confusion in my own heart?

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I was definitely willing to consider that God had planted this recurring dream in me, like a seed that wanted to grow, but I still didn’t know what to do with it. So, God wanted me to write. But what?

As the summer wore on, I desperately wanted to apply to an MFA program [I am choosing not to reveal which one unless I get in!]. But I still felt I needed permission, somehow. I needed some validation that this was what I was supposed to do. I needed to know that writing could be different than it was before, because I was different.

And then, I met Paul Coneff.

To make a long story short, Paul came to my church to facilitate a week of prayer in March, around the time I was feeling desperate [about my career plans]. In five nights, he unfolded a message he calls The Hidden Half of the Gospel, or the message that Christ died not only for our sin—to give us a “happy ever after” in eternity—but that he also died for our suffering—to give us a happy life while on earth. An indispensible part of the message revolves around individuals finding their true, God-intended identities—restoring the identities that Satan strives to pervert, often through traumatic childhood experiences like mine.

Using a plethora of scriptures, Paul unfolded the story of the Suffering Messiah; Jesus had to suffer, die, and rise for our sins to free us. Because he was “tempted in all points like as we are, yet was without sin,” he is able to help us when we are being tempted. Because he has suffered like us—he was mentally, verbally, physically abused, plus he suffered depression and struggled to surrender his will—he can offer us healing for our pain (Heb. 2:17, 18; 4:15, 16). Because he was attacked at the very core of his identity, he is able to restore us to our true identities, replacing lies from Satan, the Father of Lies (John 8:44), with his truth.

When I heard this message, I was being attacked with lies. I was hearing messages like I’m trapped; I will never be able to write; I’m not good enough to write; I don’t deserve to get to follow my dreams. I have to be stuck in a graduate program that I hate for five years, and then it will be too late for me.

But when I heard Paul explain how Jesus had died not only for our sins, but our suffering, to restore us to our God-given identities, to enable us to follow and fulfill our God-given dreams, I began to feel hope.

At the end of the week, Paul announced that he would be holding discipleship and prayer training in our church for three men and three women. This three-month-long training would prepare participants to embrace their God-given identities, enabling them to become disciples who could, through personally testifying to God’s restoration, lead others to Christ.

This sounded hopeful to me. At least, I thought, How could it hurt?

After I began discipleship training with Paul, he mentioned he was writing a book. He said it with a grimace. The writing was coming hard; he was no writer. But he had to get this book done. As a prolific public speaker,[1] he needed a resource to offer listeners.

At hearing this, I felt another glimmer of hope. But I waited, taking this home with me, too. Now it was June, and I was struggling more than ever over my future, my graduate school plans, my teaching plans, my parenthood plans. I couldn’t find peace. Where was there room for the desires of my heart? More importantly, were those desires even valid?

Later in June when I received prayer for the first time—in this ministry, a prerequisite to discipling others is receiving prayer and healing in one’s own life, first—the prayer time revealed that I had not fully surrendered my will. Paul sent me home with a sample prayer and scriptures to pray day after day to further unfold this issue.

And so, in June, July, and August, I prayed. I cried. I read my Bible with fresh eyes. And like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, I learned to pray “Lord, not my will, but yours.” I didn’t know exactly where all this praying, crying, and reading was leading, but I did know that, slowly, layers of remaining hurt were melting off. And within months, I had not only experienced peace to the point of deciding, conclusively, that I wanted kids, but also that I could trust God to make clear my career path in his good time.

By receiving Jesus’ victory over his carnal will, in July I was able lay my burdens at the cross, trusting God to work on my behalf, while I, meanwhile, composed my master’s thesis. Later that month, I had an article accepted by Insight Magazine—a piece I’d sent in over two years ago and had all but kissed goodbye. Because the article was embarrassingly autobiographical (it was actually a Guideposts reject from high school, chronicling my first suicide attempt), I kept it from most friends and family. But since I had five review copies, and since Paul deals with this type of thing all the time and was, moreover, still grimacing over the writing of his book, I figured, What the heck. I would give him one.

The day after he received the article, he called me, excited, saying, “This was really great; this really flowed. I want my book to flow like this.” Would I consider helping him write his book, which tells the stories of other wounded, yet healing, adolescents-turned-adults like myself?

The rest is history. As you read this, The Hidden Half of the Gospel: How His Suffering Can Heal Yours, should be going to press, to be published sometime in 2013. And it’s not about me.

Well, it is a little bit. Paul actually asked me to share part of my testimony in one of the chapters. I was a bit leery at first, wondering the same old question: Would I be writing this for the wrong reasons? But the more time I spent in prayer, both on my own and with our small group, the more peace I found about my career plans, my family plans, and my writing.

A few months ago I picked up one of those Bible verse cards with my name and my name’s meaning on it. This one says “Lindsey—Peaceful Isle,” and it has Psalm 37:4 printed below: “Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” This verse, among others I’ve studied recently, has led me to believe that the more I surrender my will to God, the more I actually can “listen to my heart.”

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Anyway, after finding the card, I set it on my desk at home, where I was writing my master’s thesis, and then Paul’s book, for most of the summer. As the weeks went by, as I continued to look at that card and ponder its message, I could only marvel at what God had done for me. Several years ago I had not been a “peaceful isle.” I had been a suicidal basket case with control and intimacy issues. But as I continued to delight myself in the Lord, he was slowly giving me the desires of my heart: chief most being the published book that would soon bear my name.


[1] You can find more information about Paul’s ministry at www.straight2theheart.com.

Chasing and Embracing Dreams

Dear Readers:

What gets in the way of you chasing your dreams? Crummy life circumstances? Fear of failure, perhaps? Or maybe failed past attempts? (Feel free to let me know in a comment!)

For me, it used to be all of the above, plus one:

I worried that following my dream was a sin.

You know how I wrote about treating tough subjects (both topics and people) appropriately in writing? Well, that’s because I used to not. See, I have this passive aggressive bone that metastasizes sometimes (see my previous post), and for a lot of years that’s mostly what happened in my writing.

Long story short, a few years ago, I was convicted that my motives for writing were all wrong. And I was confused. I didn’t know what to do. So I just quit.

But the writing dream wouldn’t go away.

My “writer’s bug,” as I called it in my MFA application essay, followed me everywhere—from college to career and back to college again, where I finally threw up my hands last spring and cried, “Lord, what am I supposed to do?” This was the same question I put to a campus counselor whom I sought out of sheer career desperation.

Then, after all my agonizing over the possible sinfulness of my writing, would you believe that counselor looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Why do you think you keep having this desire to write? Who do you think put it there?”

Whoa. Bull’s eye. Since that session in April, I’ve had to ask the same question about that providential counselor whose name I can’t even remember.

So God wanted me to write. But how? I still felt I needed permission somehow. For that matter, I needed some new material! If I was a “new creature,” a born-again Christian, but my writing record was stained with blood, ink, and tears (with a passive aggression that not a few times became active) what was I supposed to write about?

In my next post, using part of my MFA application essay, I’ll tell you about the answer/affirmation I got from God last summer.

Although the writing project He dropped in my lap is not the same one I am documenting on this blog, it is what has led me back to my writing roots—definitively, decisively, and defiantly.

It is also the same project I am struggling to finish up this week and, by extension, is keeping this blog painfully short and colloquial. And so, with that cliff-hanger (or choppy ending?), come back on Thursday for the rest of the story—or to read why I’m finally embracing my dreams.

           

            

Time, Space, and Empty Notebooks: My Book-Writing Recipe (for now)

So, I’ve made this goal to write and publish a book before I’m thirty. But how is that going to happen, you may or may not be wondering. (I’m thinking of those friends and family members who have heard me talking about publishing this so-called “book” for years, still with no results to show for all the pretty talk.)

  • First, I’m swallowing my embarrassment at all the talk and failed prior attempts.
  • Second, I’m really going to be serious about this. For the first time ever, it is going to become my “fulltime job.”
  • Third, I’m going to write. Well, that overlaps number two. Of course I’m going to write. How else can a book get written?

But although I’ve always self-identified as a writer, there is something scary about actually saying it is my job. Before, when I was a teacher, or a graduate student, I could blame my other commitments for my lack of production. Now? It’s just my keyboard and me, full days at my disposal in which to make literary things happen.

Now the rubber the meets the road; now is where I prove myself. Do I have what it takes?

Time will tell; however, can I just share one thing that makes me hopeful?

Last October (three months ago), after I had submitted my master’s thesis for review, and when I was on a break from my other book project (more on that later), I produced like crazy.

Prior to October, I had found this great sale on composition books at Target, had snapped up about twenty, and had promised myself I would fill them when I got a chance. So, for the month of October, and a bit of November, I did.

Having nothing more pressing to do each day, I headed off to one of several coffee shops (either to feel like a real writer, or just because it gets lonely at the house) and wrote. And wrote. And wrote. By the end of the month, I’d filled two books’ pages, front and back, and had produced the germ of this nebulous book I’m now blogging about.

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Soon, life interrupted again, as I had to finish my thesis, defend it, and graduate, among other things. So not much writing happened for the rest of the year. But now, a new year stretches before me, days of possibility call me.

Already I can see the challenges: I’m not good at saying no to people, and it could be easy to let my own projects take a backseat when other people or responsibilities come a-callin’. I’ll have train myself to keep to a schedule; I’ll have to learn uncomfortable things like using social media; and most importantly, I’ll need to stop feeling guilty if I have to say no sometimes in order to work.

But after I overcome those issues, I have faith that all will be well. If the past is any indication, I can do it. Given space and time to write, I do—I always have (even if not for an audience)—and I love it. At the end of the day, I have these things going for me: space, time, and love for my work. What more do I need? Only to dedicate all of the above to God (Prov. 16:3). Thanks, God. May you be uplifted in my space, my time, and my writing this year.