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.

The Illusion of the Abyss

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This week has been a tough one so far. I don’t like to admit it, but I’ve battled some depression—at least, some depressive feelings. (But don’t mistake me—these are nothing like the suicidal thoughts of yesteryear). I finished my part on round two of my co-writing book project, handed it back to my co-writer, and then sank into a bit of an abyss that looks kinda like so:

The Rough Morning

Scene: Morning comes, time for hubby to wake up. It’s 6 a.m. and dark.

Crap. [my thoughts—bad angel]

“I should get up and make him breakfast.” [my other thoughts—good angel]

But why? He gobbles it down in five minutes, then leaves. [bad angel again]

“But when we decided on this arrangement, it was understood: This was part of my job.” [good angel—you get the point]

Exposition: Then I feel guilt because I’ve been sleeping in more and more lately. [Not sure which angel.]

What is there to get up for? I have ten hours of aloneness stretching in front of me. And I can’t even stand to write for more than five.

“I could clean the house.”

Who even cares anymore? We stopped our Bible study at our house a couple months back. And it doesn’t make a difference to hubby. All he needs is a clear spot on the couch, where he will come home to sit all evening barely talking to me anyway… [definitely bad angel—I understand that my hubby is just tired at the end of the day; I would be, too.]

…And my family is all 1,000 miles or more out of reach. Can’t go visit mom or dad down the street. Can’t see little bro, and big bro is halfway around the world in a mission field. [stupid bad angel won’t shut up]

So why get up?

(I’d like to thank my blogging friend, Harper Faulkner, for inspiring this bit of internal dialogue, although it’s not what I had in mind when I told him I’d try to be more humorous in my posts, like he is. Oh well. Baby steps.)

Starting the Day

At 7 a.m., or 7:30, or 8, or 8:30, the day is brighter, and I can finally stand to face it. So I hoist myself out of bed, trying to brush away the cobwebs in my brain.

I debate how to start the day.

I will pray. I always pray. But maybe I will try to exercise first, because I’m still not thinking too clearly. Maybe exercise will clear out some of the cobwebs.

So I pop in P90X and accomplish thirty minutes of a sixty-minute-long DVD—I didn’t know when I selected it that Plyo-X was the “mother” of all P90X videos—before exclaiming, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

There’s no way I can do another set of these squats.

Click.

Fast forward through a shower and breakfast.

Now it’s 9:30 or 10. I sit down at my dining room table-slash-workspace, and try to pray.

The Prayer Session

“Lord, I’ll just be honest. I don’t wanna face this day. I know you are big and great and all powerful. I know that you offer me “glorious, unlimited resources” [says the New Living Translation of Ephesians]. I just don’t feel them right now. I feel depressed, and I think I shouldn’t, because you have been so good to me this past year. And I am so thankful I’m able to write instead of teach bratty high school kids this year (oh, am I thankful!).

But I’m so lonely.

And I don’t know why, if I’m so blessed, I’m having these feelings.

Lord, do you have anything to say to me?”

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Asking God actual questions that I expect Him to answer is a new thing for me. It’s all due to Paul Coneff and Straight 2 the Heart, or the prayer ministry I have been working with since last July, both learning to pray for myself and with others, and helping to write The Hidden Half of the Gospel with Paul.

Silence.

“Lord, what’s up? I’d like to hear from you right now, because I feel a bit lost. It’s like I’m starting over again.”

I mean lost in my career at the moment. I recognize this feeling from January, right after I finished my master’s degree and before starting this blog. Around that time, I applied to an MFA and a PhD program, and currently [in March] I am still waiting to hear from both. I canceled my birth control in January, too, and am still waiting to see if we’re fertile. I’m almost done helping Paul with his book, and am now waiting to see if he wants to really make me part of his ministry (which I love), or if I’m just to be on call when he has a writing project. I also have this “Before Thirty Project”—my memoir—roughly handwritten in about three notebooks, but the task of polishing and marketing it seems too huge when my life could take a drastic turn any day. And then I have this blog, which I can easily pour all my time into, but I don’t feel that would be very wise.

Notice my mind—see how it races! It does this a lot. I get to thinking about things so frenetically that I can hardly choose one single activity to start my “work” day. Like on a day like today.

“Lord, I don’t even know where to start. What to work on? Can you help me? What should I even blog about? I can’t even decide that.

Since learning to pray dialogically (yep, that’s another grad school word [meaning two-way]), usually I do hear from God. Usually the answers materialize almost as soon as I formulate the question, or I get an impression.

Now, I don’t hear words, but I feel my eyes gliding to rest on my prayer journal.

It occurs to me (and let’s not discount Who is making it occur) that I have been trying so hard to make something happen today, to reinvent the wheel, to even figure out what to pray for—and I’m probably repeating myself. I’ve forgotten something.

Maybe all I need to do is look again at what God’s already told me. (This is the benefit of keeping a prayer journal).

So I open it up and read what I’ve written for the past three months.

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Lessons from Prayers Past

Surprise, surprise. I’ve already prayed about all this stuff and more. Common themes in my prayers since January:

  • Loneliness, the sense of loneliness from being alone in this big house all day.
  • Anger that I’m alone. [This usually comes around Christmastime, where I see it in my journal now, and I know it was exacerbated this year because I didn’t get to see my family for the holidays, and I haven’t seen them now since last June.]
  • A sense of being Overwhelmed. [I ended last year at a sprint, having gotten super-involved in ministry for the past year, including this prayer ministry I love, and starting a church choir, and running an in-home Bible study with my husband.]
  • Resentment that I was doing so much for others and yet feeling so little being done for me. My blog readers have a better idea of my feelings than most of my friends, because I hide them (my feelings, I mean).

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As I reread these woes, I feel discouraged at first. Gosh darn, and I thought I’d done so much growing over the past year with Straight 2 the Heart!

But as I read, I also see another pattern emerging. For each whiny problem, God’s booming voice answers. I’m alone, angry, overwhelmed, and resentful, but through it all, represented in my messy scrawl, is God’s much bigger voice—His promises, His care.

And to that end, I see something else in these journal entries.

I couldn’t see them while going through the past few months, but now that I look back, I read the following string of answered prayers:

  • For my stress in ministry, God has brought more people to help, such as a new friend at church who has taken the choir idea and run with it. He has also taken away the burden of our Bible study by moving it to a young adult class at our church, which our church desperately needed!
  • For my loneliness, God has added some people to my life, like a niece who comes over sometimes to get tutoring during the week; a Groupon-shopping friend who invites me for spa days periodically; and this blog, where I am meeting more like-minded people all the time.
  • For my loss of family time, God moved my hubby just a week ago to decide (on his own) to buy me a plane ticket so I can take part in a cousin’s wedding in Minnesota next week. Oh, thank you, Lord—how I have missed family!

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As I look at all these blessings, I am again overwhelmed, but now in a good way.

“Wow God. Thanks. I know you’re here. And you’ve been here. I just can’t really hear you very well right now, for whatever reason.”

And now I remember something else that Paul told my prayer group and me when we began our training last July:

“When you really start giving your life to God and praying for victory, expect Satan’s attacks to increase. Now that he sees you’re going with God, he will try to stop you any way he can.”

Huh. Actually, for the first few months of prayer ministry, I felt great. Wondered where Satan was. Thought I was getting off easy when all my group mates reported greater attacks from the enemy.

Oh, but he is a master deceiver. And maybe he was just waiting…waiting…to throw me off his trail. So that I wouldn’t recognize his attacks for what they were when they finally came.

Well, they’ve arrived. And each morning this week I’ve had to fend them off on my knees. And I’m still not hearing God like I want to. But I also remember that lots of God’s people went through wilderness experiences. And it didn’t mean God wasn’t there (remember the poem “Footprints”?).

I know he’s here. Though it may take me a little extra time to get out of bed these days, I won’t give up praying. I will hold on—knowing God and I will ride out this storm together—knowing this abyss is just one of Satan’s many illusions—and it, too, shall pass.

This week I will also remember that God has a plan, and that I don’t have to have all the particulars right now. When I look back in a few months or years, hindsight will be clear enough.

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