My heart is a bit heavy today. I got news that the publisher who had been evaluating my manuscript for the past seven months–and who gave me reason to believe they wanted it–doesn’t actually want it.
My heart is not heavy because this specific publisher rejected me. It’s heavy because I got my hopes up…and because I don’t have anything left to give this project right now.
I know the typical course of action would be to reread, revise, and re-submit. And I’m sure I’ll do that eventually. But right now, as a stay-at-home mom of a very active toddler, that thought exhausts me. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually.
There are also a number of signs telling me my time for a published memoir has not yet come. Chief most, I’ve realized I’m “stupid in love”–stupid in motherhood and wifehood and homemaking (I will post on that next time–and maybe write a second memoir about that one day)–and I don’t have the time and energy both to correct those faults and to build a platform, an audience, a website, and otherwise handle the activity that a published book demands.
Did I mention that we’re trying for a second baby?
Yes, my cup runneth over with good and challenging things right now; I don’t need a published memoir to add more to-do’s.
I just have to get over the disappointment of this rejection, which was a very nice rejection, by the way. (The editor who notified me said the editorial board liked my manuscript, but they just weren’t sure it would sell.)
So, given my exhaustion and my full plate, my strategy right now is not to rush revisions, but to rest and pray until I next feel God telling me to move. In the meantime, I will tend to other good things on my plate, like The Love Dare, a planned family picture wall (so Sam doesn’t forget his relatives), and a stack of books on raising toddlers. But first, if you’ll excuse me, I might just cry for awhile.
I believe humans thrive on patterns and plans, because we were created for them. When we don’t plan how to spend our time, we open a door for Satan to run amuck in our lives. Like when I went off to college, failed to implement a study schedule, and found myself floundering in all areas of life. (More on that in a minute.)
The Bible says God is not a God of disorder, but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33).
He created a six-day workweek and commanded us to rest on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2, 3; Ex. 20:8-11). Through the example of Jesus, God showed us that it is good to start our day with solitude and prayer (Mark 1:35). Proverbs gives us many principles about using our time wisely, including these:
“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty” (14:23, NLT).
[A wife of noble character] “works with eager hands,” “gets up while it is still night,” “provides food for her family,” “sets about her work vigorously,” and “does not eat the bread of idleness” (31:15, NIV).
Indeed, one of the most important lessons we can learn in life, and teach our children, is to use our time wisely.
“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).
Here’s a personal example that shows the dire effects of not having a plan in place.
For years before I got to college my home life was falling apart, yet I was able to hold myself together enough to maintain straight A’s and participate in sports, music, and drama. The rhythm of high school and a part-time job and scheduled activities gave me predictability, a pattern to follow. They gave me something to count on when everything else was up in the air.
But when I was loosed on the college scene, with huge chunks of free time gaping at me each day, I fell apart. I needed to set up a study routine, and times to practice my music each day (I was pursuing piano at the time), but instead I found myself sleeping away my afternoons. It didn’t help that I was recently off depression meds.
Before three months of my freshman year had elapsed, I dropped out, suicidal. Now, having routines and schedules may not have fixed my depression, but I think they could have kept me from the drastic actions I took.
The Need for Routines
“Fly Lady” and organizational expert Marla Cilley maintains that routines are lifelines. Before she got super organized, she suffered depression and rock bottom self-esteem.
Now she encourages other women to get up and put on shoes every morning, get dressed, and put makeup on or whatever you do to get ready. Doing these simple actions start your day with intention. Then she gives ideas for routines to houseclean a little every day until it becomes second nature. One of her readers gave a testimonial to this effect (I’m paraphrasing to the best of my memory, as I’ve returned Cilley’s book to my friend):
After my hubby died I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself if I hadn’t had my cleaning routines in place. They gave me something to do. They gave me purpose in my day.
Purpose is key. Setting routines forces us to define a purpose–no matter how lofty or low. It’s possible to have “routines” that don’t buoy us in the long run—TV time, drinking—but those are addictions, not routines, because they control us, we don’t control them.
Flash forward a few years to my third try at college. I was married now, and we lived in married student housing, and my hubby worked nights. I was still covertly battling depression, but the stability of being married to a working man who very much likes his routines finally helped me implement some routines of my own.
My days had structure once again. When I was not in class, I was at work, cashiering or stocking shelves at a nutrition center. In the evenings Buc was gone, so I studied. I had little time for much else. To be sure, I didn’t really have hobbies at that time, and I didn’t really want them. I didn’t enjoy my life then, but I was feeling some stability. And that stability is largely what kept me from self-harm.
This was a better way to live, but still not a good way to live. With those routines during that period, I can truthfully say my purpose was to keep so busy I wouldn’t have time to be actively depressed, or rather, to act on my depression.
The Need for Purpose
Routines with a dismal purpose like this can only last so long. Humans need a better ultimate purpose than “to stay alive because I’m supposed to.” That purpose is to give glory to God.
But it takes time to get there. My journey to this point was slow and painful. It wouldn’t be until two years after completing my college degree that I would actually claim the purpose of glorifying God in my life. And then I would actually take joy in my days. My purpose would become not just to survive the day, but to thrive so that others might see something in me that pointed them to God.
As I wrote my memoir in 2012 and 2013, I had the insight that God gave me stability in my early twenties so I could learn to trust him again. Through the writing of that project, I realized that sometimes it takes having your physical needs met, and perhaps one person you are safe with (for me, my hubby), to free your mind of some temporal concerns so you can seek God.
When we come to that point, or when God enters our lives in a significant way, it’s time to set new routines: routines that are even more life-giving than basic routines that merely keep us moving.
Here are two big lessons my first year of motherhood taught me: Number one: I am impatient. Number two: if I wait on the Lord, asking for his help where I am weak, he will answer.
No Rest for Mommy
Nowhere was my impatience more evident than when I was waiting for Sam to sleep through the night. Throughout Sam’s first year, I was not the loving, adoring mother so often pictured in movies. No. I was resentful, frustrated, anxious, and impatient. But not just impatient with Sam and his erratic sleeping. I was impatient with God.
Night after night of interrupted sleep, and day after day of droopy eyes, I moped; I complained; I acted like God wouldn’t ever work this out. I said things to friends and family, like, “Oh, Sam’ll eventually get there,” and “God is helping me.” But more often, I grumbled. I spoke words of despair. I acted like I didn’t really trust God.
Finally, Sam’s sleep improved, and I got some rest. And, surprise surprise, that’s when I looked back at the past nine months and realized that God had heard my prayers—slow to answer though he seemed.
I learned something then: that even when we feel weak and helpless in our prayers, and even when we keep repeating ourselves with no apparent results, we are doing an important thing. It’s the only thing we can do sometimes, and it’s a thing God commands us to do. We are “waiting on him” (Isa. 40:31). Eventually, he will renew our strength.
But boy, the waiting can be hard. Especially when we are waiting against our wills.
Three Stages of Waiting
In hindsight, I see three levels of waiting I did concerning Sam’s sleep.
First, I waited unwillingly, without peace. This level of waiting happens when you don’t agree to wait, but circumstances force you to. This happened for so many days and nights when I pleaded, bleary-eyed and bedraggled, “God, just let him sleep!” but Sam didn’t sleep (or not when or for as long as I wanted him to).
Second, I waited willingly, but not yet with peace. This level of waiting happens when you give up your plans and choose to trust God on faith, even while results tarry.
At this stage I changed my prayers from “Lord, help him sleep” to “Lord, give me the grace to deal with whatever this night brings.”
During this stage, improvements in Sam’s sleep came; but we had also started the distasteful process of sleep training. (We chose the Ferber method, which had us checking on Sam at ten-minute intervals while he cried–after we had tended to all his known needs, of course.) This stage of waiting was necessary, but it sure wasn’t comfortable, or very peaceful.
During those nights of “Ferberizing,” I had to get on my knees so I wouldn’t go into Sam’s room while he cried. I had to pray for strength to do not what felt right to me (soothing him at the first whimper), but to do what was right for Sam (letting him learn to soothe himself). I cried as Sam cried. It took every ounce of strength in me not to go in to him before ten minutes was up. It was HARD. But improvements came.
And then the third stage of waiting came—the stage where the situation wasn’t quite sewn up yet, but I could see God working—and I could feel his peace.
One evening during this stage, I realized I had come to a place of calm about the whole sleep situation. I remember putting down a fussy and crying Sam (a now fairly uncommon state at bedtime), and then calmly walking to the kitchen to begin my nightly cleanup routine.
“Lord, please help him to settle down,” I prayed, hands submerged in soapsuds. “But thank you that you are here to help me even if he doesn’t settle quickly. I know that eventually he will sleep, and I will survive. Even if I have to get up with him in the night.”
As we went through our sleep training program, Sam progressed from going down peacefully for naps, to crying less in the night, to consistently sleeping through the night—hallelujah! And as I saw God working, slowly moving Sam to more consistent sleep patterns, I found more and more peace. Now, on the occasional nights when he woke, I could handle the situation with thanksgiving.
If I were write a memoir of my first year of motherhood, this milestone would be the turning point in the book—the climax, the major lesson. Not a lesson on surviving a baby’s erratic sleep, but a lesson about waiting on the Lord. A lesson about how, if we get on our knees and petition him, and surrender our wills, and ask for his to be done, and ask for his help where we are weak (like I was weak in carrying out a consistent sleep routine), he will answer. Maybe not as quickly or in the way we want him to, but he will answer.
Here We Go Again
As a funny coda (funny only in hindsight), Sam’s sleep derailed once again after our move to St. Louis; and I, sleep deprived and stressed from the move, derailed again, too…for a few days. But then I started the stages of waiting again…and Sam started sleeping better again…and I found some peace again. Sam’s sleep is not quite back to where it was before the move, but I am at the waiting stage where I believe we will get there.
It helps to realize that this cycle of waiting on the Lord repeats itself. Though it’s hard passing through the first two stages, it’s a relief to realize stage three will eventually come. And so we head into the next year, the next stage, the next growth opportunity.
But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isa. 40:31)
Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord! (Ps. 27:14)
Truly my soul silently waits for God; From Him comes my salvation. (Ps. 62:1)
My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning— Yes, more than those who watch for the morning. (Ps. 130:6) (How appropriate for new moms!)
Here’s something a little fun and different. Fellow blogger and author Luanne Castle nominated me to participate in the Work in Progress Blog Tour, so today I have an excuse to give you a preview of my memoir.
The rules of the blog tour are:
Link back to the nominating writer
Post the first few lines of the first three chapters of the work in progress (I included my prologue, as well)
Nominate a few other writers to do the same
Luanne began her blog, writersite.org, a few months before I began blogging in January 2013, and we have been following each other’s blogs for about that long. Not only does she blog, but she has a PhD and an MFA and has taught writing for fifteen years. Most recently, she published her first book, Doll God, which is a book of poetry. Luanne has been a delightful blogging colleague, and I look forward to one day reading her current work in progress, a memoir called Scrap.
My Work in Progress: All Things New: My Journey to Rebirth, Recovery, and a Relevant Faith
As for my own memoir, or work in progress, I have been resting from it since last August, when I queried a publisher who immediately asked to see the entire manuscript. In January, that publisher emailed to tell me they were still evaluating the work, and that “no news is good news in this case.” So I am hopefully awaiting more news!
From a young age, I decided that for faith to make sense, it had to make a difference in my life—a good difference. But when my childhood home gave way to an affair and other family secrets, our Christian beliefs had little to offer me. I fled to college desperate to shed my sad, secretive self. Unfortunately, at college my sadness only intensified; my thoughts turned suicidal. A college dropout, failed suicide attempt, and forty days in a mental hospital were my devastating launch pads into adulthood. They were also the beginnings of a decade-long search for a relevant God. Beginning with a blind date in Texas with a “nice Adventist boy,” a new family, and a secondary teaching job, and culminating with a life-changing prayer ministry, I finally found a Savior who suffered in every way I did, and then I shared him with other women who desperately needed a relevant faith, too.
I can never tell, I thought from the back pew of a Texas church. What would they think of me if they knew what I was really like? A few months ago, I was the mysterious Minnesota girl who had showed up on Buc’s arm one Sabbath. Next, I became “Buc’s wife” and “Pastor Gendke’s daughter-in-law.” Buc and I had married in the quiet of my in-laws’ living room, with his father, the retired pastor of my new church, officiating. But we had not invited anyone. I had no wedding shower. There were no formal introductions.
Playing the Game
Bass notes, synthesizers, and Amy Grant’s alto voice drifted through the sheet that covered my doorway. I winced, pulled my blankets over my head, and rolled over. It was starting again. This was how every Saturday morning started. Just like light after complete blackness hurts the eyes, the drums from the cassette tape hurt my ears, drove me deeper beneath the four-deep pile of covers that substituted for central heating. Dad’s Sabbath music.
I smelled coffee, turkey bacon, and waffles. Dad’s cooking.
Suddenly I remembered: Mom was gone.
Mom’s bare feet made a sucking sound as she peeled them, one after the other, off the blood-red linoleum, muffin pan in hand. That morning she wore her gray cargo pants and Dad’s blue flannel coat as she served breakfast. We thought the paint would be dry this morning, but it hadn’t dried over night.
I had big dreams the year my life crumbled. Days before I turned fourteen, my family moved into a newer, nicer house just outside of town. I thought life could only get better from here.
C.C. Yager–a fellow blogger and author who recently published a novel, Perceval’s Secret, the first installment in a developing series. Cinda has been a great online writing “colleague,” faithfully following and commenting on my blog and posting quality articles on the craft, process, and business of writing.
Trish Ryan–a favorite memoirist whom I hired as my book consultant and who helped me through two drafts of my project. I first discovered Trish and her memoir, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, in my local library. Hers was one of the first quality Christian memoirs I had read, and her book and her feedback proved invaluable to me as I revised my manuscript.
Addie Zierman–another memoirist who has challenged Christians to overcome the many cliches we cling to. An MFA graduate and fellow Minnesotan, Addie has just finished her first draft of her second memoir, which follows up her debut When We Were on Fire. I read her memoir to get another example of a Christian memoir, and I have continued to read her blog for her beautiful prose, bare honesty, and unique perspective.
Good luck to these writers, and all of you, who have a work in progress!
We memoirists might look like gluttons for punishment, because writing about real life hurts, and no one makes us write but ourselves. But for many of us, writing about real life is just an extension of our “Perfect Melancholy” personalities; we write about our lives because we have to do something with all that self-analysis happening in our heads.
I’ve been reading Personality Plus by Florence Littauer, and the author’s description of my Melancholy personality hits home more than other personality tests or training I’ve taken. Other tests labeled my personality in less negative terms— Analyzer or Empathizer, for instance. But Melancholy cuts right to the chase. It describes me to an M.
The evidence is overwhelming—I am introspective, moody, artistic, and depression prone—and the personality test was indisputable. I am Melancholy through and through. True to Littauer’s description, I have been saddened by a small thing to which other personalities wouldn’t give a thought (the label of my personality); and more introspection is the result. I want another personality. I don’t want to have to work so hard to be happy. I don’t want to be Melancholy.
People who study personalities have long observed that artists and writers are commonly Melancholies, as opposed to Sanguines, Cholerics, or Phlegmatics, and this could be good or bad, depending on where you stand.
If you’re the one consuming the art, Perfect Melancholy is great: its existence enriches our culture by providing life-enriching and thought-provoking art.
If you’re the one providing the art, or struggling with “genius” tendencies (Littauer’s word, not mine) that you have trouble harnessing, Perfect Melancholy can be excruciating. Littauer notes that while Melancholies have the highest potential for achievement, they also experience the “highest highs and the lowest lows.” To my Melancholy-colored glasses, this data forces me into a dilemma that’s definitely false, but that seems so real: Would I rather be a “genius” (in writing), or be happy?
The Misery of Memoir
For much of my life, pursuing my art meant misery. All I could write about was my life; and my life, for a good chunk, was sad. Why didn’t I pick another topic, a happier topic, to write about? I go back to the personalities. Melancholy couldn’t get its mind off itself. I was trying to process hard things in my life, and as a writer, I naturally processed through writing.
Because it didn’t yet feel safe to talk about some of those sad things, I especially needed writing as an outlet. I had a strange relationship with writing, though. On the one hand, I felt like I needed to write to survive. On the other hand, what came out of my pen felt like it might kill me.
For almost ten years I would waffle on writing my story—I mean writing it for an audience as opposed to venting in journals. Typically here’s how it would go: I get the desire to write, I pull out old journals for inspiration, I spend a few hours working with the material, and I end up in a pool of tears because it hurts so much, followed by a crumpled heap in my husband’s arms because I am not ready to confront all the emotions these memories bring up. Then, I stuff the emotions, the memories, and my writing aspirations for another few months or years, only to repeat the process again and again.
Melancholies Can Write Happy Endings Too
This blog has borne witness to some of the healing process that finally got me writing again…and writing not only with sadness, but with gladness. God gave my story a happy ending. He not only redirected some of my worst circumstances, but he redirected my mind.
Now, even when more bad circumstances arise—which they inevitably do from time to time—I don’t have to give in to Melancholy. I don’t have to collapse in despair because “that’s just the way things are, and that’s just the way I am.”
God’s Word gives me a more accurate measure of how things really are, and how I really am. You might say he gives me a better personality test, or the ultimate Truth meter:
Though outwardly I am wasting away, yet inwardly I am being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).
The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in me (Rom. 8:18).
If I wait on the Lord, he will strengthen me (Ps. 27:14); Isa. 40:31).
I can learn to be content in whatever state I’m in, knowing that God will supply all my needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:11, 19).
He will keep me in perfect peace if my mind is fixed on him (Isa. 26:3).
I can remember that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5).
And I can be confident that, even when progress seems slow, he who began a good work in me will keep working on me until Jesus comes back (Phil. 1:6).
Yes, this world is sad and often hard to navigate—especially, I think, for us over-analytical Melancholies. But this world is not the end, it is temporary and passing away, and that is life-giving knowledge I can cling to.
Yes, I am sinful and fallible and moody and depression prone. But Jesus didn’t come to this world to suffer and die to leave me that way. He came to pull me out of the pits, physical and mental; to retrain my mind on him; and to change me, from glory glory to glory, as I behold him.
And so the story continues. Many mornings I wake feeling unhappy by default. My Melancholy personality (and Satan) doesn’t want me to be happy. But as I make the choice, day by day, to seek God’s face, he gives me strength for what’s in front of me. So I keep praying through it, keep writing through it, and keep moving forward, little by little. A lot of my days end better than they start, because throughout the day I exercise my faith and allow God to smooth out the bumps. These are small rewards, little happy endings, that point me on to the day when Jesus comes to take me home, and give me my ultimate happy ending.
In this post I review the precious few “New Mommy Memoirs” I have found, with some comments on the dearth of such books.
If you’re a new mom, love to read, and need some support, you’re in luck…sort of…depending on what you’re looking for. If it’s advice or quick snapshots of daily life you seek, “How-to” tomes and mommy blogs abound. If, on the other hand, you just want a girlfriend with whom to commiserate and cuddle up with (perhaps your baby has failed to respond to the wisdom of Ezzo, Ferber, Pantley, or Sears), the pickings are slim. Nonetheless, here’s what I’ve found–the good with the mediocre–because sometimes “how-to” books just don’t cut it.
Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, Brooke Shields
This high-profile account of post-partum depression probably got published more for its author’s celebrity than her writing prowess, still, it’s a fascinating read to a first-time mom, or a first-time pregnant lady. (I read it about halfway through my pregnancy and was hooked.) If you want to know some of the emotional risks that motherhood brings, or if you are struggling with post-partum depression, this is a good read for you. Most memorable for me was Shields’s description of visualizing her baby flying through the air, hitting the wall, and sliding to the floor–yikes! I had some hard days with Sam, but thankfully never anything as drastic as Shields describes. I appreciate her honest admission of how she fantasized not only about her baby’s death, but her own. I hope you never deal with this serious malady, but if you do, read this book. And after you finish this depressing read…
Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay (and Other Things I Had to Learn as a New Mom), Stephanie Wilder-Taylor
Some humor for you! I stumbled upon this humorous collection of essays at a used book sale while three months pregnant, read it within the month, and recently reread certain chapters when my sleep deprivation was making me cry. If you, too, need to come up for a laugh from the never-ending demands of your baby, this book is a good choice. But Christian readers, beware. Like almost every secular comedian I know of, Taylor relies on some profanity and crassness to make her jokes. I wish I knew of a funny, clean, book on motherhood to recommend, but since I don’t, and you might really need comic relief, I offer this one. An interesting side note: Taylor makes numerous references to drinking in this 2006 book, and in the past year, I saw her featured on the Today Show for admitting she actually had a drinking problem. Sad, but good comedy always has an element of reality, doesn’t it? (Her second book on motherhood, which I will probably read at some point, is called Naptime Is the New Happy Hour.)
Signs of Life, Natalie Taylor
Maybe I shouldn’t include this book on a list of motherhood memoirs, because the top story here is a young widow grieving her dead husband…but the sub story is a young widow adjusting to new motherhood…so here you go. I actually picked this one up in 2011, before I planned on becoming a mother, to read about a young English teacher (which I was at the time) dealing with the freak accident death of her husband (which is one of my bigger fears in life). Then, I enjoyed Taylor’s strong writing voice and her many literary references (she derives comfort from literature like Christians derive comfort from the Bible)…but more recently, when I reread this book, I picked up on the common struggles of new motherhood. My favorite image from the book: she mentions a glob of jelly on her kitchen floor that she just can’t find time or energy to wipe up (no doubt due to both the exhaustion of grief and the exhaustion of new motherhood.) So true! If you are a mom who appreciates literature reflecting real life, you will appreciate Natalie Taylor’s take.
Double Time: How I Survived–and Mostly Thrived–the First Three Years of Mothering Twins, Jane Roper
This is the most forgettable memoir in the list, but if you are a new mother, and especially a mother of twins, you might still enjoy it. Unlike Shields’s life-threatening depression, Wilder-Taylor’s comic slant, or Taylor’s added challenge of being a single mother, Roper doesn’t bring anything new to the table, except for having to do double duty on feeding, diapering, and everything else mom-related. Roper is a writer a by trade, and no doubt thought she could get a book out of her twins, which is fine, because we all have a story to tell (and hey, I probably would’ve done the same). On a side note, Roper throws in her story of depression, which is purely clinical and responds well to medication, so not that interesting, but I appreciate this alternate, less serious description of the disease. My fun takeaway from the book: “twin-yang,” or the phenomenon of one twin acting great while the other one is a terror. My next-door neighbor with twin babies confirmed that this is a real condition:)
The Second Nine Months: One Woman Tells the Real Truth about Becoming a Mom. Finally. Vicki Glembocki
My favorite, by far! This is the book that new moms will relate to the most (I think). This is for the mom who is not suffering true post-partum depression, but who wonders, in those early months, if she made a mistake by having a baby. I wish I would’ve discovered this book back then, and not nine months into motherhood, but since Glembocki ends her story at her baby’s tenth month, I was right there with her on the back-end of her story, as her “devil baby,” Blair, becomes more human and lovable, and as Glembocki finally settles into her new role and finds rhythm in her new life.
I knew I had found the right book from one of her first scenes: she is strolling her new, three-week-young, screaming baby down the street, exploding at her husband over the phone that she needs help–please come home! She is trying to accomplish one thing that day–dry clean a comforter–just ONE THING, dang it, because nothing gets done anymore; but the baby is screaming and she is alone and has no help and no idea how to comfort her baby. I related to so many moments in this book, and I’m sure many other new moms will, too. I give this book my highest recommendation and urge you to buy it for yourself or a new mom in your life.
Unfortunately, the “New Mommy Memoir” looks to be a largely untapped market, probably because new moms don’t have time, energy, or ambition to write more than a blog post here and there…and by the time they do, they’ve forgotten the “bad old days.” That’s why all of the books above, though they may not be “great” literary works, are important.
Though some are not very memorable, and a couple are not particularly well written, they might be invaluable to a new mom who doesn’t need more advice, but who just needs a girlfriend who’s gone before her. The best part about finding this girlfriend in a book? She’s available anytime, anywhere, no matter if you’re stuck in the house or your baby is stuck to your breast.
Yes, I’ve decided that anytime a writer-mom contributes to this genre, she gives a gift to other new moms. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve found a new writing project to work on.
(Note: please don’t look for my “New Mommy Memoir” until Sam is in college. Just kidding. Maybe high school:)
Most people agree that “Honesty is the best policy.” But as a writer and ministry leader who has made honesty her central message and MO, I wonder if it’s possible to sometimes be “too honest.” Not a few times as I’ve posted unflattering, embarrassing, content, I’ve wondered: am I hurting my influence by being so raw and real? After people read this, will they still look up to me?
I’ve found that honesty, at the level I go, can be hard to find in Christian writers, teachers, and leaders. Many I’ve observed in this group like to use honest illustrations and anecdotes…of other people’s struggles. Or, if the stories are first-person, they tend to remain on a safe, surface level. I once read an article by a Christian who used the analogy of scrubbing her floor to illustrate the filthiness in her heart. But she made no mention of what, exactly, was in her heart. “Scrubbing my dirty floor made me think of how God has to scrub my heart clean of sin. I thought, how much better if I kept it clean daily, instead of letting it all pile up?”
Illustrations of the gospel like this one don’t resonate with me. It’s not that they’re bad or untrue, it’s just that they’re so general, so vague so b-o-o-o-o-ring. Worst of all, illustrations like these are generally unhelpful when it comes to making real changes to behavior.
At the risk of assuming other humans think like I do, I would submit that humans long for authenticity. Especially when we’re talking about faith. If our sources of inspiration don’t hit close to home, addressing real issues we battle daily, they will be perceived as impotent, laughable, and even painful (because they minimize our struggles)—and they will be quickly abandoned.
That’s why I chose to be vulnerable in the memoir I wrote about discovering my new life in Christ.
It’s why I choose to be vulnerable almost every time I post on this blog.
I believe people are hungry for other people to relate to them—to say “I’ve been there, too. Look how screwed up I used to be, and how I still struggle sometimes. And yet, look what God was able to do with that mess!” I believe messages like this bring hope.
But what if I’m wrong? What if messages like this do the opposite? What if brutal honesty breeds distrust in God and disaffection for his “honest, messed-up followers?”
When leaders decide to be honest, this is a very real risk we take—the risk of our followers unsubscribing because we are not perfect.
I am willing to take this risk, not only for the reasons I listed above, but because a genuine Christian faith should not hinge on the words and deeds of any human being. (In other words, no one’s faith should hinge on me.) It should hinge on the person and words of Christ.
When Leaders Disappoint
A few years ago I was deeply disappointed when I learned that one of my spiritual heroes, Leo Schreven, committed suicide. Honestly, I felt betrayed and somewhat deceived by this man who previously appeared to “have it all together.” But I was able to weather this bad news by clinging to the truth that God is not, and never will be, totally represented by those claiming to be his followers. When we see good in Christians, that is from God. But when we see bad, that is from the enemy. We can’t lay every quality at Christ’s doorstep, because not every quality is from him.
One quality I do believe is of God is the quality of honestly engaging our struggles as we seek His healing. I think I would have still respected my deceased spiritual hero if, in life, he had openly admitted his struggles. Perhaps I would have respected him even more for choosing bravery, rather than bravado—even though his brave sharing would have painted him as a fallible, sinful, wounded human being.
I have to add something here, to be fair. A family member of Leo Schreven’s contacted me after reading my blog post about Leo’s suicide, to tell me that my “hero” had struggled with psychological problems the public knew nothing about. This family member wanted me to have a fair, truthful view of Leo. The truth included mental illness, and as a former sufferer of mental illness, I empathized with that. I understood that I had put Leo on a pedestal. I also understood that his mental state may have precluded him from the type of honesty to which I am calling spiritual leaders.
Given the state of Leo’s mental health, it’s actually amazing that he enjoyed the long and successful career as evangelist and motivational speaker that he did. I have had similar thoughts, of course, about the late Robin Williams. Leo and Robin show us that there are exceptions to the standard of honesty I am putting forth. The exception applies to those who are not able to help themselves, or not able to let God help them, because of mental illness, or a genuine medical problem. Maybe they keep up the façade for the public for awhile, but in the end, we find out they are not the leaders we wished them to be. But then again, no one in whom we place our trust is immune to struggles, and to sin.
The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, so we know every person, Christian or non, ministry leader or not, has a mix of good and bad.
No matter what we know to be true about our leaders, hopefully we can sift the good from the bad, and remember and respect them for their good qualities. Hopefully we can go on learning from them, no matter what their lives reveal. Sometimes we may observe the right course, other times the non-example. As long as we are looking up to human beings, we should expect both. And if we are the ones being looked up to, we must trust Christ to be the one shining example our audiences need; we must be okay with being imperfect representations of him.
That said, I believe that we in positions of trust—ministry leaders, Christian writers, etc.—should do our best to represent Christ, and this includes being honest about how God is working in our lives and transforming our sinful patterns. We should also be honest about “wilderness” times, times when we struggle with our faith…but we should do it wisely.
Guidelines for Christian Leaders
Here are two guidelines I’ve found helpful in my own writing and ministry that can help Christian leaders determine when, where, and how much to share.
1) First, we should consider timing. You can read various sins and struggles of mine on this blog that occurred at various stages in my life. I blog about problems long past and problems of last week.
The safer type of post is the one about problems past. These problems are ones I have likely had victory over. They are problems that have yielded personal lessons I can use to teach others. These types of posts, and this type of sharing, should be an absolute “yes” for all ministry leaders. Why wouldn’t we use our stories of redemption as teaching tools? What better examples of the gospel could we present than the ones that have played out in our own lives?
The murky area is problems of the present. How much should Christian leaders share about present problems? Here, we have to be wise about audience.
2) Audience is the second consideration. Consider who will be reading or hearing your message. If you are a preacher and it is your job to inspire hope, then it may not be the best time to insert a struggle that you do not have victory over, or at least cannot yet talk about in a positive way.
Sure, there are times when you are on the upside of a struggle—you can see the end in sight, and you are pressing through for victory. That might be material for an inspiring message, and if you are comfortable exposing that yet-unresolved pain, go ahead.
But other times, pain and sin is too raw to project to a large, or public, audience. That’s when you need a small, confidential audience. I’m talking a few trusted friends or advisors who can help talk and pray you through your problems. When you have worked through those problems, then they may become appropriate large-group material. But don’t rush it. Getting outside voices mixed up in your current personal problems could hurt the healing process, and you need to get healthy first so you can go back to being your motivational self.
One caveat for leaders working through personal problems: if your challenge handicaps your ability to do ministry, whether because the emotions involved take too much energy, or because a sin you are fighting “disqualifies” you to be a role model at the time, then it’s probably the right time to step out of ministry, at least for awhile. In the case of Leo Schreven, I would have much preferred hearing the news that he had stepped out of leadership for awhile to tackle some personal problems to hearing that he had committed suicide. We are ultimately the most helpful to others when we get the help we need, first.
On This Blog, What You See Is What You Get
To apply my guidelines to myself, I routinely post about my current struggles, but many times I have chosen to remain silent until I have prayed over them and exposed them to Scripture and the wisdom and counsel of a few trusted others. By the time I post on an issue, I want it to be, if not totally resolved, at least on the path to resolution. I want others to look up to me, yes, but I am happy to admit that sometimes the best example I can give is: “Look, I’m broken here, but I’m looking to Christ. And if you feel the same way, you need to do the same.”
By posting my struggles, past or present, I risk losing my readers’ respect, but I also keep myself accountable to Christ for resolution. I put a problem out there (such as my sleep-deprived, desperate, witchy state), and I say, “Okay, this is the mess this sinful world, or sinful me, has created today. But now, how am I going to find Christ in the middle of it?” My mission is to find out how Christ will come through for me, and then to share my victory with my readers.
Indeed, if “Superwoman Christian” is the role model you want, look somewhere else. Because on this blog you’ll just encounter a broken girl trying to depend on Christ, and trying to work out her faith, in all things big and little. After all, as so many examples in the Bible show (Kind David and the 51st Psalm come right to mind), a Christian leader worth listening to is not someone who claims to be above sins and struggles, but someone who fully admits their weaknesses; has learned how to let Christ lead in the hard times; and can discern which, of all their life experiences, will be helpful for lifting others up.
This post may be my last for the rest of July. I need to take care of those neglected areas of life that I referenced in my last post. But I wanted to say goodbye; I will miss connecting with my readers until I get back. Here’s what I’ll be doing the rest of the month.
Facing my Fears of Technology
I’ve put off two things I need to do, just because I don’t really know how to do them: making prints of Sam’s first six months so I can start photo albums and give relatives baby pictures, and turning this blog into a website. The longer I wait, the bigger, hairier, and scarier these things seem, and it’s ridiculous.
I’m a bit embarrassed, especially of my failure to print baby pictures. Shouldn’t I know how to do this? (The issue is getting them from my iphone—which I don’t know how to use very well—to the computer, to Wal-mart’s printing center, then deciding which ones I want to frame and give away. It would have been a lot easier with only one or two months of photos—six months is burying me). I’ve often said I would have fit in a lot better in Victorian culture—you know, the Jane Austen picture of women sitting around reading books, playing piano, writing letters. I would be awesome at this life! But alas, I live in the twenty-first century, and I must adapt.
As for my website, I’m going to start by purchasing the domain name “Lindsey Gendke” from WordPress. Beyond that, I have sketched out what I want my website to look like, but I don’t know how to get there yet. This will require some hours spent studying the resources put out by the friendly WordPress staff. It’s a very doable task, judging by the wealth of resources available, and I’m a pretty good student; I just don’t like doing research of this nature. However, as an author, it will be a good investment of my time now to be able to maintain my site later, hopefully when I have a book or two published. On that note…
Wrapping up My Book Projects
In anticipation of the soon release of The Hidden Half of the Gospel: How His Suffering Can Heal Yours, I am helping Paul Coneff write promotional material, like our author bios (for the book website) and a “super article” conveying the book’s thesis. I have been working with this project for two years and am more than eager to see The Hidden Half in its final form—as is Paul. This is definitely a priority right now!
Now that I’ve proposed my own book, my memoir, to a certain publisher God led me to, I want to ready the rest of the manuscript, should they ask to see it. Whether or not this publisher buys the thing, I’m determined to place it somewhere, so it needs to get done one way or the other. I know my husband, for one, wants me to finally get this book out of my bones, because I’ve been “talking his ears off” about it for years! I’m ready to release it, too.
Celebrating Thirty Years
This month I am celebrating thirty years of life, an accomplishment I am pretty proud of, considering I tried to depart this life round about a decade ago. Five years ago I made it a personal goal to do two, maybe three, things before I turned thirty: I wanted to get my master’s degree—check; I wanted to publish a book—my hopes are on the Hidden Half making the cutoff; and I maybe, kinda, sorta, considered having a kid—check! All in all, it has been a successful past half decade, and I am very happy with my life overall. I continue to marvel everyday at the “spacious place” into which God has brought me, and I look forward to telling others about that for the rest of my life.
To celebrate my thirty years, we have planned a birthday party at my church that will include playing volleyball and eating a Dairy Queen cake—two good memories from childhood. Yippee! I also, with mixed emotions, lined up my mother-in-law to babysit Sam for three days while my hubby and I get away to a little cabin in the woods. I will miss the little squirt, but I know I will REALLY enjoy the down time, and the quiet time.
So that’s what’s in the works for me this month. It’s probably enough to do without trying to maintain a blog. Please wish me luck with my technology goals, and please send up a prayer for my book projects if you’re into those sorts of things (prayer and books starring God, I mean). Thanks so much, and happy July!
The last two weeks have hosted a flurry of creative work…during naptimes and on the days my sister-in-law watches Sam (thanks so much, Joanna!). I’m hesitant to publish my high hopes, lest I’m getting too confident…but, of course, here I go.
In the last two weeks, I’ve basically rewritten the last third of my book, or created 80 new pages. This is my first big change since I rewrote the first third of my book last fall. So, now I have a different book from what I had last August. Same story, different book.
I’m not all that sad to have hacked up the first draft. That draft was very repetitious and wallowing. I see it as having cleared the pipes for what really needed to come out. Plus, I’ve saved all that cut material in a word document, and I envision it fueling numerous short articles. This new third, which still needs some organization and editing, focuses much more on Jesus and my healing. It explains the prayer process that changed my life, and shows those changes through new scenes of me reaching out to and praying with other women.
Now that I have the scenes in place that I want in the final draft (meaning I have a reliable outline), I will proceed with writing a book proposal and polishing the first three chapters. I’m not going to set a hard date for sending out the proposal, but I’m hoping for within a month. (I will only be sending to one publisher for now—a press within my faith community which God has laid upon my heart.) While the proposal is being reviewed (or sitting in a slush pile), I will polish up the rest of the book, and possibly get one more edit from my excellent book consultant, Trish Ryan.
I have prayed long over this memoir, and I feel God has delayed its progress so that I could make the recent changes. Now, I believe my book goes beyond telling a sad story women can identify with to showing how Jesus can bring beauty from ashes.
Since Sam’s birth fifteen weeks ago, a constant dilemma has been finding time to write. Last week I found an unprecedented ten hours, postpartum, to work on my memoir. Yippee! I felt fulfilled and accomplished; I was finally balancing writing and motherhood. Finally, I thought, this memoir is again making progress toward publication. But then…I realized there is a price to this progress.
How did I get so much writing done? I let Sam nap for almost three hours in a row on several days (good boy!). You can imagine how excited I was—Sam was getting rest, I was getting writing—until I realized that those long-nap days resulted in broken nights of sleep for Sam—and me. Sigh.
On other days when Sam is out of routine (his mom’s routine)—say, when he spends the day with his aunt, or on weekends—he takes shorter naps and sleeps a good nine to eleven hours at night, usually from 7 p.m. to 5 or 6 a.m. Yay again! But boo for my writing.
So, my current dilemma is whether to write or to sleep—in other words, do I let baby Sam take a nice long nap in the afternoon and use the time to write, or do I keep him awake during the day so we’ll both sleep through the night?
What a dilemma, huh? I feel bad for mentioning it, because I have a great baby, and I could have both writing and sleep if I wanted them badly enough. I could write from 7 p.m. until my bedtime, between 9 or 10—but that would also mean resorting to microwave dinners or takeout and giving up the fight with my leftover pregnancy weight.
That’s the tough thing about parenting, and really adulthood. You must make tough choices with your time.
As I sat writing this post yesterday (stealing a few minutes from my shopping trip for temporary “fat” pants—dear mother-in-law watched Sam), I decided writing is usually not going to come first—at least not anytime soon, and here’s why: In order to write as much as I want, I’d have to neglect my family’s and my own health. Much as writing feels like a necessity to my mental health, some things just have to come first, like sleep, nutrition, and exercise—my physical health. So I guess I’m choosing sleep.
Being an adult is tough. Lord, help me to put first things first, and also find some moments to write when time away from it becomes too painful. And thank you, thank you, thank you, for a baby boy who sleeps through the night!