Why I “Took Out” My Ex-Boyfriends

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Photo Credit: “Cutting” by Lusi

This title’s a little misleading. I’m not talking about violence here, or the raging emotions of a woman scorned; rather, I mean making cuts to my memoir. You see, last week I inadvertently axed my ex-boyfriends from my manuscript when I deleted a chapter by mistake. Oops. While I was initially ticked, turns out this was one of the best things that could’ve happened.

You see, I was falling into that writer’s trap of wanting to put every “interesting” detail about my life into my story—but not every “interesting” detail belongs there.

At first it’s a hard reality to swallow. You’ve heard that analogy that likens cutting one’s writing to severing a limb. It’s true. But I’ve got good news: the more time and distance you put between yourself and your writing, the easier it gets. After awhile it becomes easier to see what really stinks and what doesn’t, or what actually fits and what are merely rabbit trails.

Accidentally cutting out my boyfriends, whom I’d slapped into a “junk” chapter that wasn’t quite fitting anywhere, freed me up to clarify the real players in my story: that’d be myself (obviously), my hubby, my family, and my immediate in-laws (I’m not sure they know this yet!). The story I’m telling is far advanced beyond the twenty-year-old version I imagined, when I was still hurting from love gone wrong with those unsuspecting exes. It picks up with my wedding day and the violent emotions that ceremony stirred up, and follows me through my twenties to unravel just what was so traumatizing about entering marriage.

The story’s not about my past dating failures; it’s about finding peace within myself, with, God, and with family. The only relevance the exes have to this story is that they became unfortunate pitfalls on my way to searching for the right kind of love, which I eventually found in my hubby, then in God, and finally, with other loved ones around me. Now I realize, thankfully, that a couple paragraphs is more than sufficient to treat those unfortunate detours in this journey.

However, that doesn’t mean I’m not saving those memories for a future story, or maybe even a piece of fiction! As I explained these manuscript developments to my hubby last night, along with how a memoirist sometimes must rearrange or compress events for narrative efficacy, we had fun laughing over what a composite of my past lovers would look like. Ready for this? I think I can protect identities here by squeezing them all into one. Macho, yet effeminate, hunter under house arrest for drug possession and Dad of three who likes to collage…who ultimately turns out to be gay. See? Interesting. But way too distracting for the story I’m trying to tell!

If you’re working on your memoirs, remember: focus, focus, focus! Keep the main story the main story, and don’t let yourself get distracted by every “interesting” detail. And now I’m back to work, excited to see what today’s writing session reveals!

 

 

Finding “My People”

Do you feel like you’ve found “your people?” Once in graduate school, one of my professors took offense to some writer who had bashed Christians, saying, “Hey, those are my people!”

I heard her use this phrase almost two years ago and didn’t think much of it then (Christians gets bashed all the time in graduate school), but it came back to me this past Sunday as I sat in a circle with five other women, all writers, all of whom were sharing fragments of their memoir with the group.

This was my first time meeting with this particular writers’ group—or any writers’ group, for that matter—but soon it became clear to me that the group was about much more than just moving our careers forward. It was about sharing stories we’d been bottling for years, it was about giving one another permission to be real, and it was about being validated for said scary task.

During those two hours, I listened to one woman’s struggle to make sense of the sexual abuse in her family; another’s decision to move forward with her education after years of being squelched by a verbally abusive parent; still another’s first attempt at writing the “good memories” for a wounded daughter; and another’s chronicle of life after leaving her third husband. The piece I brought that day was the (rough) first scene of my memoir: the day I emerged from the mental hospital, numb to joy, resigned to life, yet stripped of all expectation and desire.

Some of the feedback I got: “I can feel your numbness.” “The stripping of humanity that comes from staying in a place like this is clear.” “Your point about emotional pain and invisibility hits home.” “I can identify.”

I liked the last comment best, because it came from every single woman at the table. As, one by one, the women admitted that they, too, had found themselves at this place in life before (either literally or figuratively), I felt a sense of relief washing over me. Although I’d known these women less than two hours, it was a relief that they already knew more about me than so many of my acquaintances. That day I also gained strength to continue with what is sometimes an emotionally difficult project, and validation that my project actually matters. Best of all, by the end of the session, I felt I could finally say, “I’ve found my people.”

Of course, like my graduate professor, I could certainly say the same of my church family. I could also truthfully say it of my family family. But somehow, connecting with people because of shared religious convictions or shared bloodlines isn’t the same as connecting to people emotionally. Because rather than falling by default into a category, this type of writing, and this type of realness, is a choice we make—even a dream we share.

Why did I ever wait to join a writers’ group?

 

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.