Professing—My Unexpected Blessing

With my manuscript deadline at hand, I knew this week would be busy. Before I got the job offer last Thursday, I didn’t know how busy. Suddenly, in addition to finishing my book manuscript in one week, I am becoming an adjunct professor, too!

I got the call last Thursday (six days before my first class—yikes!), and five days later, I am still in awe at God’s goodness. This past year has been all about me learning that when I humble myself in the sight of the Lord, He lifts me up (James 4:10). Repeatedly broken to knee-point this past year, I have found peace in the surrender to Jesus and His plans for me. I gave up certain plans I thought would not pan out (such as a PhD and professing at my alma mater) to follow new directions in which I felt called: authorship and parenthood. (By the way, we are supposedly finding out the baby’s sex this week, too!)

It was when I surrendered the professing idea that we got pregnant and the book really started taking shape. I thought: “This is okay; God’s really got this.” I haven’t been making any serious money for two years, but I’ve been faithfully sowing seeds in hopes that they will grow into a money tree (er, some kind of career), however small.

By sowing seeds I mean writing my memoir, which goes out to a professional author/editor this week for a consultation. The book is not in its final form, by any means, but at 256 pages, it is a complete draft that says, more or less, what I want it to say. There’s a part of me that wants to keep polishing it, but mostly, especially after faced with having to prepare a semester’s syllabus in a couple days, I think it wise to give the book (and my brain) a break while other eyes ponder it. It will be good to focus on something else for awhile and then come back refreshed to revise in a month or so.

The one-class professing gig on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (which happens to be right down the road) will be the perfect vehicle for me to do just that.

And I was just starting to miss the classroom a bit.

Today I can only shake my head and marvel at the wisdom of God’s plans and His timing. Maybe this turn of events doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but for me, it is. I used to have such issues with needing to be in control of my future. I didn’t handle unknowns well. I got physically sick from anxiety. But since learning to let go (and please know that sometimes I still need remediation), life has become a joy, full of surprises and good gifts from the hand of God. Now, instead of being just a professor, or just a writer, or just a parent, I am suddenly all three! Daily I am reminded that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).

If you’re struggling today over the plans for your future, or if you feel physically or emotionally sick from not knowing what’s to come, why not ask God to take the reigns and pave the path for you? He might not make things clear right away, but if you earnestly pray, you can rest in the knowledge that even when we don’t know what to pray for, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:26, 28). Finally, when we put God first, we can rest in the promises that “there is no want to those who fear the Lord” (Ps. 34:9), and God shall supply “all” our needs “according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Amen!

For some inspiration today, check out the song “When I Let It Go” by Sierra. This is a throwback to one of my dad’s favorite Christian groups from the 90s, and lately it has brought me to tears (in a good way!).

This time I’ve got to trust You
I’ve got to accept Your plan
I have tried to guide my circumstance
But there’s just no way I can
When will I learn this lesson
Your ways are not like mine
Lord, help me to surrender
The control I try to have on my life
When I let it go
You take my hand and gently lead me
Then You let me know
Just how peaceful my life can be
When I let it go
Your never-ending blessings
Like a river start to flow
When I let it go
Too many times I’m searching
For the things I think I need
When I try to look for more
I always seem to give You less of me
Lord, help me gain this wisdom
My foolish mind still lacks
‘Til I find a way to let go
Of the part of me I’m holding back

Is My Writer Seeping Through?

Image

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

Image

“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.

Image

 

(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?

Image

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.