I'm so excited to tell you today that there will be a new book with my name on coming your way in 2020.
So many of you felt the ending of Birthed didn't fully satisfy your curiosity for what came next in the Hagan family. You had so many questions about the ends and outs of adoption, the birth story of my daughter and what marriage looks like after sharing some of roughest moments for all the world to see.
I've been working on another memoir about all things unsaid in Birthed about family and adoption and mothering. I started drafting it even before Birthed had a publication date!
I'm half-way to a completed draft and even attended a 10-day workshop last summer, hoping to hone my craft with this book front and center.
However, it is the time for another project!
A couple of weeks ago, I signed a contract with Upper Room Books-- a publisher with a great history of putting spiritual formation resources in to the hands of congregations all around the world-- for a book that I feel is timely.
This book will contain teaching sections, encouraging examples of those who are having hard conversations well and discussion questions.
My hope is that small groups of all sorts will choose to study it together.
While I was in the process of marketing Birthed-- a story about long journey with infertility-- I faced challenges I never anticipated.
I was so excited to share Birthed. I felt so happy to be the first pastor knew exploring her own infertility journey in a publication. But, no one (ok, I don't mean to be overly dramatic, some people did, just maybe not as many people as I would have liked) wanted to talk about infertility.
Though these folks might have liked me. Or might have wanted to celebrate the fact that I wrote a book. But the average church person did not want to talk about infertility, especially my infertility. Too weird.
The longer I marketed Birthed, the more I felt like my topic was a cocktail of all the worst things: sexuality, shame, anger, grief, and loss. And my message was the only way you can real heal from pain is to go deeper into your pain so you can birth yourself. A light read, huh?
Folks didn't want to talk about:
and on and on.
And in our current political state where everything automatically goes to "are you on my team or not?" I couldn't sit on this idea any longer. I knew I needed to create a resource that helped church folk talk about stuff with each other that was a part of their daily lives including but not limited to infertility.
I am writing this book now and teaching it as I write this summer with my congregation, the Palisades Community Church in Washington, DC.
I am writing for all of you out there with a gay son that you love but can't talk openly about in your Sunday School class.
I am writing for all you who attend a church where most of the members are a race that is not yours and nobody speaks of discrimination.
I am writing for all of you who know someone who walks in the doors on Sunday mornings with bruises on their faces but will not say why.
I'm so excited that Upper Room was excited about this project too and is helping me craft it in its best possible form for you or your church group to use soon.
I can't wait to share further updates with you and plan opportunities to come to your church or small group and talk about in 2020 and beyond.
Most of all, I'm doing a happy dance over here because a new book is coming soon!
Before we brought our baby home almost two years ago, I thought I had my life pace figured out.
I was in the process of re-defining parenthood as mother without children in her home, but a mother nonetheless. I founded Our Courageous Kids to help me (and others) empower children around the world.
My writing felt like it was in the flow.
My best creative hours of the day were from 3-7 pm (weird, I know). I used the mornings for appointments, errands, and phone calls. The afternoons opened up rich space for me to get lost in the writing zone.
Trusted friends way ahead of me in the mom journey had warned me ahead of time, "Getting married is easy. Having a child changes everything."
I heeded their words. Thanks to infertility I had a long time to imagine what I might become. And then when 1st day of motherhood came, I expected to be magically transported into another mystical planet where I'd meet: "Elizabeth, the mom."
Because, that's what happens right?
Sure, I didn't sleep as much or eat out like I used to or leave the house without a plan first. (No more traveling on a whim!)
Yet, I still wanted to be creative. I still wanted to type out long first drafts of stories I hoped someone would read. I still wanted to soulfully abide in a community of thoughtful people even though I was now "Elizabeth, the mom."
But, how? How could I do both well especially as I took on a part-time pastorate last year too?
For when it came to my personal projects . . .
No longer could I count on my 3-7 pm hours as writing time-- for any parent can tell you that this is the heart of the child care zone of dinner, bath and bedtime.
No longer could I organize as I felt the creative wind-- for the working mom life is all about "I have this block of time to get this done before my child care is over" and then you're done. NO second chances.
No longer could I dance with words as my vocation for the day-- for my first attention went to church work and suppertime.
All I know is this: in the past year especially, there have been pockets of grace where my schedule suddenly clears I know it's God saying, "Just write." And I try to pay attention.
Or a guest speaker comes to church, and I use my regularly scheduled sermon time on Friday afternoon for creative prose.
Or there is that blog post that I must write even when I don't have the time to write it.
And then there are gifts like the week I'm currently experiencing as I'm a resident at The Collegeville Institute for the next 9 days in this beautiful place. The teacher has given us every morning to just write, write, write. Oh, Minnesota summer I am savoring you (and time to write this post!)
In my case, parenthood changed me of course. I know all the words to Goodnight Moon and all the most annoying Elmo jokes for starters. And I love another person more than I thought was possible.
But as Mary Oliver says, I still have my "place in the family of things."
My place finds me as I write.
I am a cradle Christian.
My name was on the Sunday School roll in the church nursery before I was born.
The stories of scriptures and words of the Bible have always been readily accessible to me when I was just a toddler (as seen in this picture).
I could recite the books of the Bible by the time I was 7 and could name the fruits of the spirit from the book of Galatians by age 9. The Christian school my parents sent me to in junior high challenged me to read the Bible through in the 7th grade (and I did!). I had a working knowledge of church history high school. I really don't know another way, for good or the bad.
But, the older I get, I realize, my story is an anomaly.
We don't teach our kids Bible stories, Bible facts or even stories of faith like I was taught in the height of Southern Baptist evangelicalism of the 1990s. As stiff structure surrounding the institutional church dies, fewer and fewer kids are growing up as I did including my own daughter.
Instead, the folks that fill the church pews of the congregations I'm most drawn to pastor aren't people who would call themselves cradle Christians. Or if they do, they'd say they are "recovering from it." I also hear a lot of "I'm a Christian but not that kind . . . "
Maybe cradle Christians are a dying bred?
If this is true, then how then do people arrive at faith, then, if not by osmosis from childhood? Isn't that how most people chose a religious tradition?
Recently, while I attended Wild Goose Festival in Hot Spring, NC I had the opportunity to meet a fellow author with a story that answers such a question. Kate Rademacher is a recent convert to Christianity is the author of a new memoir called, Following the Red Bird: First Steps into a Life of Faith.
In her book, she describes how after years of living in a social conscious, yet secular home and marrying a practicing Buddhist husband, she finds herself hearing the voice of God for the first time.
Though her childhood idea of the Trinity was "reduce, reuse and recycle" she found herself saying "Hello" (literally just like that) to God. The conversation took off from there (how amazing!). Within months, Kate found herself on a Christian path learning more about Jesus then seeking baptism in the Episcopal Church several years later.
Kate's prose was refreshingly honest and engaging. You never feel like Kate is telling you what you want to hear but what actually is her experience of God. Once I started reading Following the Red bird, I couldn't put it down. I finished it the next day.
When I got to the last page, I felt grateful for the way that Kate calls out cradle Christians like me for our privilege (even if that was not the main focus of her story).
Seeing the world through Kate's lens, we, cradle Christians, have no idea how scary it is to walk into a study group with no working knowledge on the Bible.
We have no idea what it feels like to be drawn to a life of prayer without what to say.
We have no idea how discernment feels like without any spiritual tools to know if you're a helpful track or not.
So, as a pastor, I'm so thankful to have Kate's story as a resource for spiritual seekers who find their way to my inbox or office.
But even more than this, I'm grateful for how Following the Red Bird opened up my spiritual imagination.
We, as cradle Christians or even as professional ministers, can get so stressed out on God's behalf (or so we say).
We invest in lives, hoping for spiritual growth, but nothing changes. We preach our hearts out and it feels like no one is listening. We expect a particular trajectory for the spiritual formation of our children or grandchildren. And we feel sad when it doesn't happen.
I even saw that with the baptism of my daughter several months ago. Several well wishers remarked on social media that they wish she grows up to be a "God-fearing woman who takes to the teachings of the faith early." While I know it came from a loving place, my first reaction was "What pressure! Don't put that on her."
Here's the thing I believe about spiritual journeys (which Kate's story helped to me to see all over again): we can't control them.
The best conditions for spiritual instruction can't make a person find a personal conviction. Nor can lack of religious education keep a person from God when it's the right time for the journey to begin.
Openness is really the best gift we can give each other, especially to our children.
Isn't that what faith is about in the first place? Letting go and trusting in a power beyond what we can see?
I'm glad, as a cradle Christian, for the gift that Kate's faith story is to the world.
(Check out Kate's book on Amazon if you're looking for a faith memoir!)
In my childhood church in Chattanooga, TN, I was raised by many teachers. One of them was a woman who ran the children's choir program. Though she was active in the church in almost every way, never did you hear her sing in church. One day I asked why.
“I used to sing a lot in public,” she offered my questioning.
“You did?” I was shocked.
“Well, it was about 10 years ago. I sang my heart out one Sunday night. I really felt good about what I sang and the way I sang it. But then somebody in the congregation came up to me afterwards and told me all the ways I could have improved my song closing with ‘You should really leave the singing up to others.’”
My jaw dropped as she went on, “So I decided then and there at that moment that I would never sing again in church. I’d teach kids to sing. I’d sing in a group. But, never would I sing alone.”
I still remember this conversation because of how sad I felt afterwards. Here, this friend and mentor of mine was so swayed by one person’s criticism of her musical gifts that she vowed NEVER to sing again in public. What a tragedy that her gifts could not be shared with the larger community.
Though this might seem like somebody else’s tale, we know it’s not. So many of us share this same story!
Though as children we showed an inclination toward singing or drawing or gardening or cooking or building or countless other creative tasks, so many of us find ourselves in adulthood saying, “I’m not a creative person.”
And we look to other people to be that. Somebody else can write the stories. Somebody else can paint the paintings. Somebody can cook at the dinner parties. We’ve long given up the work of the right side of our brains in exchange for spreadsheets, structured schedules and paint-by-number lives without room for creativity to take us where it may.
In fact, in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear author Elizabeth Gilbert offers some of the best excuses we give for our lack of creativity.
We’re afraid we don’t have talent.
We’re afraid somebody else did it better.
We’re afraid we don’t have the right type of discipline.
We’re afraid we don’t have the right type of training or degree.
We’re afraid we’re too fat. (Gilbert goes on to add… I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.)
We’re afraid our best work is behind us.
We’re afraid we’re too old to start, too young to start . . .
You get the picture, don’t you? When it comes to calling ourselves creative… it’s so easy to say that we’re not.
But then, what do we do when we arrive at texts of scripture like Genesis chapter one that say:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. . . “
What do we do when we realized that the very first verb used to describe God in all of scripture is this one—God created . . .
This past Sunday I was preaching at St. Matthew's Presbyterian Church in Silver Spring, MD and I posed to them this question:
What then, does the creation story say about us?
As we keep reading the rest of Genesis 1, what we read is a full-on, detailed description of all of the creative activities of our God. The world, we are told, comes to be through God’s creative self: weaving together light and dark, sound and quiet, gathering and scattering, planting and harvesting as well as multiplying and ceasing. We read about how our God created something that was never imagined, conceived or seen before “In the beginning.”
There’s no way we can get around understand who God is without talking about God’s creativity!
And then God takes the creative process one step further saying in verse 26: “Let us make humankind in our image . . . And God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created he created [us] male and female.”
Human beings come to form, creations specifically made in the image of the Creator.
And what’s the expectation, then of us who are born of this creative God?
Creativity, of course. We are welcomed as active participants into the ongoing creation as God continues to bring forth beauty, love and connection between all the creators of this world. Simply put: we aren’t off the hook when it comes to creativity.
Just as God is creative, we who are created as the image bearers of our Creator are to create.
No exceptions. No “someone told me I’m not good enough.” “No “I don’t have time.” No “I’m too young to be taken seriously.” No, “I’m too old to start.”
The God we meet in Genesis chapter 1 is the God who moves in creative steps and asks us to do the same.
But this seems like a daunting task doesn’t? How is this even possible?
If you’ve ever poured yourself into a long endeavor of writing a story, or spend a long afternoon re-planting flowers in the yard, or tried something new like a cooking or computer class at a local community center—you know how you feel afterwards--- pooped. Brain fried. Ready for a nap. A break. A time out among something or someone who restores your soul.
Rest, you see, is a natural rhythm of true creativity.
We are not made to produce all the time. We not made to listen to all the voices surrounding us all the time. We are not made for the busyness of what it means to be a citizen on this earth all the time.
We are made to rest too.
Maybe this is why scripture tells us that after God created humankind, God “rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”
Even Almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing God took a nap.
So why do we think our lives would be any different?
You see, I’m thinking today that all our resistance to our Creator’s invitation to create alongside, is not just about comparison of talents or that time that so and so told us that we were no good, but it’s about our inability to embrace a life of Sabbath: time set-apart in our weeks for listening, not doing, sitting still, not rushing on, and reflecting on what’ve we done, calling it “good” too.
Without a practice of Sabbath, our inclination to creativity, as our God has gifted us, simply doesn’t happen.
Many of you know that a large part of my ministry is writing. I’ve written a book. I write op-eds for Christian publications. I write sermons. I spend a lot of time during the week in front of my computer. A question I’m often asked is:
How do I not run out of things to say?
Well, there’s one thing I’ve learned as I’ve leaned into my creativity and said yes to God’s calling on my life to write it is that my best ideas and strongest motivations to follow through come when I’ve rested. Both literally in the night but also rested by taking time off from work.
I have to tell you that sometimes it’s annoying! Laying on my pillow at night with ideas flowing on something at 11 pm when I wish I could just sleep. Or getting a great idea for a sermon when I’m in a week when I’m not preaching the following Sunday.
Rest and Sabbath keeping is what gives me the courage to be creative. Without Sabbath keeping, the creative life dies. At least it's what I know for sure.
So when are you going to stop and rest? It might just lead you to do something creative. . . . something beautiful.
My book, Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility has been out for over a month now. It's hard to believe that so many of you have had the opportunity to read the words that I labored over for so long!
Do you have your copy yet?
It's been fun to read what others are saying and thinking about the story as they've shared their reviews, comments and even selfies with the book. If you've been thinking of buying it (or reading it if it's on your nightstand), here's three reasons recent reviewers who think you'll love it.
" Birthed isn’t your typical book. Rather than coddling the reader with niceties and pretty theological bows on top of life’s complex sufferings, Elizabeth invites us into the layered and difficult details of her story of infertility. I once heard Nadia Bolz-Weber say that it’s the “jagged edges of our humanity” that allow us to see God in each other, and this is exactly what Elizabeth does through her writing."
"I sat down to read Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility convinced I would have nothing in common with author Elizabeth Hagan. After all, both my children were conceived after three stress-less months of trying, practically on schedule. . . God’s grace, on the other hand, is something I’m infinitely familiar with (even though I often forget about it in the middle of my temper tantrums). And the way He likes to wrap it up with big red bows and drop it off as a big surprise is something that’s happened to me more than once. And that’s what this book is actually about — it’s about those little love notes from God that can set our lives on a completely different path than the one we’d imagined, the one we’d planned for, the one — dare I say it — we idolized."
"Elizabeth is telling the truth. . . . It is more than an attitude or an aspiration. It’s not enough to tell each other to try harder in prayer or sheer will, but true hope is more than the promise of something good. It isn’t always a song that we sing but might be more clearly understood by our protests. It’s a testimony I need to hear this year and so I’m adding Birthed to my [list]."
Have they inspired you? Before midnight today-- January 26th, Chalice Press is offering 30% off if you order it from their site with the code Dream17.
As always, feel free to ask a question or leave a comment. I'm glad to keep chatting on or offline with you!
It's National Pregnancy/ Child Loss Month. And I have been invited to guest blog over at Project Pomegranate for the next several weeks about my experiences and writing #Birthed. Recently I offered this post that I'd like to also share with you today:
Since folks have heard that I wrote a memoir about my struggle with infertility, many ask: “How could you write something so painful, so personal?”
The answer I give is “How could I not?”
When my husband, Kevin and I were in the throes (and I really mean the throes) of our deepest pain of miscarriage and failed fertility treatments in 2009, I searched and searched for resources.
Not being the type of person who liked support groups and avid reader . . .
I looked for comfort in books because I could read books at home without having to go anywhere or talk to anyone about my infertility (and at my privacy was a key at that time). In the books I kept buying (and buying) from Amazon each week, I craved good, honest stories like:
I wanted someone to tell me what it felt like to visit the doctor every single morning at 7:30 am.
I wanted someone to tell me what it felt like hear via email that one of your best friends is pregnant the 3rd time without really trying (sigh).
Or, to find that an IVF cycle didn’t work for the 4th time as savings accounts sat drained.
For, when these things happened to me, I crumbled and crumbled hard. Many weeks I didn’t get out of my pajamas for days and some nights I drank too much too. I felt shame for not being able to cope with the loss appropriately (as if not being able to carry a baby successfully was a failure enough!)
Yet most of the books I read at that time fell into one of two categories (in my opinion).
To my frustration, neither of these approaches seemed congruent with our experiences.
They left me feeling judged for my choices and often feeling more isolated. While sure, it was nice to find solidarity with those who had walked in similar shoes, I hated getting to the end of the book only feeling like there’d been little to no movement on the part of the author.
I wanted a deeper, more reflective memoir.
I wanted someone to tell me how they found God in the mess of so much loss and so much pain.
I wanted to know how I could move from the angry and obsessive cries of “must have baby now” to “there’s hope for me no matter what.” I wanted to know that God hadn’t forgotten me and was just as loved as my “with child” friends.
So, when I sat down to begin to tell our story in Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility (which will be released by Chalice Press on December 6th) . . .
I sought to create the memoir I was looking for but never found: a story of hope, a story of wrestling with God, and a story of moving toward healing even when our journey kept not turning out like we expected.
I can’t wait for you to read it and tell me what you think.
If you live in West Virginia, Oklahoma or North Carolina I am coming to you soon. Visit my schedule page to learn more.
Let me let you in on a secret. I may seem cool and calm in person. But, when I'm launching something new, I'm a nervous wreck on the inside. For there's nothing scarier than putting yourself out there, putting all your energy or weight behind something and hoping people show up, participate and gain from the experience what you hoped they would.
I believe such fear is a normal part of the world of church ministry.
Pastors are often the movers and shakers of the church, aren't they?
We are the ones who start new things. We are the ones who say to other church leaders: "Trust me. We just need to do this." We are the ones who often plan the sermon series that ruffles some feathers.
And so every Advent or Lent when I've offered a new book study or worship series . . .
Or, every summer that I've thrown out the normal worship practices in exchange for a Sabbatical of sorts . . .
Or every church council meeting, I've offered a new way of thinking about church leadership . . .
I've had a pit in my stomach. That pit that reflects back: "What if ___ is a terrible idea? What is no one shows up? What if I'm the only one who really cares about ____?"
Of course, I could listen to the fear and stop all plans. But, I'm a firm believer that we can't let fear control us, can we? So, with my brave face on, I've set out chairs. I've make flyers. I've invited people to a meeting.
And when all is said and done, usually I'm delightfully surprised.
All is usually well. Or at least I get through the experience (so I can cry about its failure alone at home).
Life is lived well when we put our ideas, our heart on the line, isn't it?
I'm soon offering the world something new, something I've been working on for a long time. Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility will soon be available for sale. And I have a PIT in my stomach about it too.
Though I know it's the best writing I could offer readers at the moment it went to print. . .
Though I know it was a writing project God called me to complete . . .
Though I know it has the potential to help readers who've walked through a similar season of pain find hope . .
And there's part of me that wants to hide out and not come out till the book launch is over.
Because I want you to like it (and I know not everyone will).
Because I want to keep doing this kind of work: living stories, writing stories and sharing them with you (and the number of copies sold of Birthed will have a lot to say about whether or not I can easily keep doing this).
Because my heart is on every page (and it feels so vulnerable to offer the ENTIRE public my heart).
But, my prayer is MAY NOT MY FEAR HOLD ME BACK.
So in faith, I've spent the past weeks planning, organizing and dreaming about book launch events trusting that some of you might want to come. And hoping these events will help me get this book in the hands of those who need it the most.
For the truth is this: the only job I have is to trust the Spirit-- the Spirit who nudged me long ago to write this-- will help Birthed be what it needs to be. All will be well. It really will!
And would you like to read a preview? Head over to my publisher's website, Chalice Press and read what some earlier readers have to say about it and one chapter! Thanks, friends, for being along for the ride.
Such is the start of several conversations I've had lately with folks who wonder why I'm not serving one particular church, full-time.
"But you're good at it. Why would you not?"
"The church needs you. Why are you keeping your gifts from it by not applying for ___ job?"
"Did you really go to seminary just to supply preach?"
I know that folks don't mean to be rude or insulting with these questions. What they're saying in a round about way, "You're good at this. Why don't you do more of it?"
For it's often the struggling preachers, or the new to ministry preachers or even the older retired ministers who engage in intentional short-term ministry. (And I don't think I fall into any of these categories).
So I get it. From the outside looking in, it might appear like I'm wasting my education, ordination or even time. For it's true: I don't know many 30 something female ministers who have chosen interim ministry as a way of life or even really enjoy supply preaching.
But I do! And here's the thing, I'm not wasting time. I'm exactly in the place of life I need to be.
I'm creating what doesn't exist.
It's great ministry to have one foot partly in the church and another foot somewhere else.
For me that somewhere else includes as much time as I can muster together thinking, writing and writing some more. It's the place where my book Birthed came from-- squirreling away hours of the day to loose myself in words with hopes that one day they would be of encouragement to someone else. And I would like to write more books.
That somewhere else includes dreaming, planning and working on the administrative details of a foundation I began last year. I've been quiet about it for a while waiting on my 501(c)3 status to come through before I mentioned it to you. But three weeks ago I finally got my paperwork!
Our Courageous Kids was born!
Our Courageous Kids is something you'll hear a lot more about in the future. But for now, this what I most want you to know: orphan care has become a great passion of our family. And out of this passion, my hope is that Our Courageous Kids will become a collective voice of empowerment for children that you'll consider partnering with!
It's mission is to come alongside orphanages around the world to provide grants for life and enrichment opportunities as well as scholarships for secondary education and college tuition. I want Our Courageous Kids to say to brave, brave children, you are not alone: you belong to us all and we want you to have the best future possible!
And that somewhere else includes being present with my family. Kevin, my husband, has a very fast paced schedule over at the American Diabetes Association as their CEO. I want to be as supportive to him as I can and available to travel to uplift him and those who are living with diabetes, a horrific disease. I want to have time with the children who are important in our lives. And I want to keep the bonds strong with friends who have become our family in places all over the world. I want all of these things because I know these special people make me more human. They know and love me unconditionally. And I love every minute I get to spend with them.
While there will always be large membership congregations that require full-time staff, such I think, will become more and more rare.
When I think about where the church will be in the next generation and then the next, I think that more of us will become part-time, embodied in the world ministers than full-time staff members with health and pension benefits.
Sure, financially it can be awkward at times to piece together different kinds of work and pay the bills, but as we as ministers become less dependent on the institutions to support us, we re-gain our prophetic voices.
We can say and do things that the Church needs to hear without fearing we'll not eat if we do. And we might just find ourselves becoming more human in the process. I know this has been my path. And I'm loving it.
What do you need to create that doesn't exist?
What am I up to these days? Writing, writing and more writing!
My publication date of this memoir project is only months away now. And we have title! Watch for Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility coming October 2016! The planning stage for marketing is in full force now, and it's excited to see the years of working on this coming together.
And just like parents who've birthed their first child, people are already asking me what about another? Am I going to write a second book?
And the answer is YES! (I hope).
I've got an idea brewing in me related to orphan care and already some fire in me that's got me drafting like crazy these past couple of weeks.
Being at the starting gate again is frightening (like I've never written a word in my life), comforting (like hey I did this once and survived so maybe I could do it again) and equally annoying (like oh, my goodness I'm going to go through this LONG writing and re-writing process over and over. What am I thinking?).
Thanks to a wonderful workshop sponsored by the great folks at Collegeville Institute and Austin Presbyterian Seminary that I attended a couple of weeks ago, my drafting of late has come with these questions on my mind.
But, most of all I think a lot about what makes writing good?
Like most writers, I always have the fear in the back of my head that says, "What if I am not good enough at this? What if what I put together flops? (Especially since I have no idea if you liked the first book yet . . . )"
In my fears, though, I know I'm not alone. Because the more I have conversations with those of you who are considering writing for the first time, you tell me: "Who am I to think that anything of my life would be interesting to someone else?"
I want to say this because I believe we as artists (musicians, painters, dancers, gardeners, etc.) waste so much time that we could spend producing JUDGING ourselves. And in this, the world misses out on the best contributions we might have to offer. (A great book by Elizabeth Gilbert has a lot to say about this which I highly recommend).
The more I sit with the question of makes writing good (or any creative offering for that matter) my opinion is this: good writing tells the truth. Good writing offers a piece of our common story of being on planet earth as a human being that we all can relate to.
Sure, in the writing world, grammar and proper use of metaphors within a chapter are important but "good writing" is not all about technical details, I told a young friend recently.
I read a lot. And I can usually tell pretty quickly if I am going to stick with a book or discard it from the pile of books on my nightstand or in my Kindle. For I'm easily annoyed by writers who try to sound like someone else. Or are so full of ego or lost in fantasy that they don't admit what is really troubling them.
You see, the thing is like you, I love stories. I love stories that make me feel less alone. I love wise stories that speak wisdom on the page that I'm not ready to say aloud, but want to. I love stories that give me new insight into those I think I hate, and stories that leave me convicted about how little I know.
This is why I have the words BE BRAVE on the home screen of my computer. I look at them every day.
So what is it like writing a memoir? It's growing comfortable telling the truth-- the best you can.
For years I've hung around friends who write books. I've observed them. I've admired them. I've taken notes.
Maybe for the reason that before I even said the words aloud, "I want to write a book one day" I knew this would be my journey.
And in sticking close to my book writing friends, I'd observed that those who both write books and maintain blogs (like this one) always took a complete time out when their deadline to their editor neared. (Like mine is now!)
These friends would post messages saying: "Shut down. Coming back in 3 months."
As I'd read these posts (as devoted readers of their work), I wondered why all the drama? How can you not do both? Why aren't you disciplined enough to allocate time for all the unique parts of their writing life?
I boasted internally that when I neared the completion of my manuscript, I'd also have the ability to keep all the wheels going in the air including a blog. Mostly because I'd been working my manuscript it for so long. . .
And I have to confess to you:
I was so wrong.
I can barely find energy to write sermons for Sunday.
As I've been editing like crazy, really like crazy (you can ask Kevin, poor Kevin) there's been nothing left to give Preacher on the Plaza.
It's not because I'm lazy.
It's not because I suddenly care less about the normal things I muse about.
And it's not because I don't want to write weekly updates (or even have my normal put my head on the pillow ideas for posts on a nightly basis).
I can only produce so many words or good sentences in a particular amount of time, even if I wanted to give more. I can't.
And right now I need to devote my brightest times of the day to this book manuscript and the sermons that are asked of me on Sundays.
It's killing me because I can't wait to get back to the normal pace of my life.
I can't wait to share with you some of the big picture lessons I've learned about my own story as I've sifted through in an intense sort of way these past weeks.
I can't wait to blog about politics, liturgy, the preaching life or anything really that isn't infertility related.
But for now and for the sake of the quality of words that I hope you one day will want to read, I'm going to get back over there to that other document on my screen and stay at it.
So, in the meantime, you know where I am . . . drinking of the deeper wisdom that in life we might be able to "do it all" but most certainly not all at the same time!
Courage comes in steps, you know?
No one does a hard thing all at once. Life's big dreams are rarely fulfilled in giant leaps.
A hard thing. A seemingly impossible thing. Me, an author? Who would believe that?
I wasn't so sure I had the discipline to pound out all those words on the screen. I wasn't sure I had the savvy to convince a publisher to take me, a young pastor, on. Or, even that I had the guts to tell the truth the way I admired it in the works of others.
Not only this but . . .
Through the lens of "Elizabeth the infertile" pastor, I knew I wanted to tell the truth about the intense physical and emotional pain of miscarriage, child loss all while being a solo pastor.
I knew I wanted to tell the truth about all of the unwanted side effects of such a struggle: depression, loss of friendships and ugly marriage moments.
I knew I wanted to tell the truth about the great mysteries of God, how hope finds us through friendship, second chances and prayer.
Most of all, I wanted to be a resource for other women, other couples or other spiritual seekers who like me faced their "dark night of the soul" by telling my story-- that even when the worst possible things happened (and kept happening) to us I was still ok. And maybe even more than ok sometimes too.
In the wisdom of Anne Lamott this was my plan: "Keep your butt in the chair." (Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.) And I did! But, life is often more complicated than our intentions.
And the best things, I believe take time to unfold, especially when it comes to writing and even more when you're writing about your own life!
I completed the manuscript for this infertility memoir back in April 2013.
80,000 words on a page. My goodness, I was proud!
I thought that 2013 was my time to show it to the world. But it wasn't. And this fact was SO difficult to accept on top of so many other failures. "Jesus, you're killing me . . ." was my prayer back then. (And maybe he was but that's another story for later!)
Yet, in the early months of 2014 with new inspiration, I decided I needed to re-write the draft from scratch. Yes, THE. WHOLE. THING! I even blogged about why here. I'll tell you it's no small thing to start over, but I did and loved the new framework.
But then, life got hard. Real hard. My courage went away. Infertility and adoption failure came to bite my husband and me in the ass (again).
So the manuscript goes to live on a shelf to live for 15 months. I could not bear to look at it. It was all I could do to get out of bed each morning and try to connect with other meaningful work and people.
I might not even complete this project after all . . .
But, thank goodness for stones of help along the way. Voices who said, "Don't give up!"
Thank goodness for friends who read a draft last April and told me "The world needs your story. You must share it."
And most of all thank goodness for this good news I have to share with you today.
I couldn't be happier to have found a publishing home with Chalice: a respected and forward thinking press committed to giving the church and spiritual seekers resources for the joys and sorrows of real life (my kind of people!).
I would be lying if I didn't say there's a part of me still nervous to be sharing such a personal story with the world, but I couldn't be more excited either. I'm tired of this manuscript being a computer file on my computer.
Stay tuned for updates about publication but for now, join me in saying "Thanks be to God!" that such a joyous day has come.
January 13, 2016 goes down in our household as a very good day! Let the editing begin.
I'm a fan of courageous people who are also writers. And I'd say that Elizabeth Gilbert is one of them.
Many of you know her from her 2006 bestseller, Eat Pray Love which chronicled her healing journey from divorce while visiting Italy, India and Bali.
(I also loved Gilbert's not as widely read follow-up memoir, Committed: A Love Story. I've even used this collection of essays on marriage in my pre-marital counseling sessions!)
And this is what I want to tell you today . . .
As I continue to navigate the ups and downs of my relationship to the creative, I feel I couldn't have discovered this book at a better time.
For from the first couple of chapters, it's clear that Gilbert is serious.
You’re afraid you have no talent. You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored. You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it. You’re afraid somebody else already did it better. You’re afraid everybody else already did it better. You’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark. You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline.
The bottom line is all of these excuses are fear-based.
So not giving into fear, we do something about that essay, that book project, that painting, that garden, that wood carving, or that song that is in us and longing to get out and bless the world!
On page 89 she writes, "Are you considering becoming a creative person? Too late, you already are one. To even call someone 'a creative person' is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species. . . . If you are alive, you're a creative person."
So this is the word:
Write: even if your book never gets published.
Cook fancy dinners: even if your family is the only ones to taste it.
Plant flowers: even if no one else appreciates it.
Do the creative work for the love of the work itself, Gilbert says.
Throw out the idea that you don't have time.
Drawing upon the metaphor of being in love for the first time-- remembering how two lovers steal away any moment they can get to be together-- Gilbert says honor your creative soul in the same way. We all have little pockets in our day. Indulge ourselves. Create!
The real answer is simple. I just do it.
I can't not write. I can't not blog. I can't not share what I experience with you, my beloved audience. So because it's this important to me, then I always have time to write.
I hoard moments on airplanes. I hoard moments right before I go to bed. I hoard moments when I'm in between appointments. Sometimes Kevin looks over at me on the computer with that focused stare and asks, "Are you blogging again?" Of course, I am!
Even if I wasn't the best writer in a line-up. Even if I hit publish on a post full of typos sometimes (or maybe a lot). Even if nobody ever read what I offered. When inspiration came, I would do something about it.
It was a scary decision, yes. It has changed my daily patterns, yes. But it's a choice I've never regretted. Because I am a creative person. And I must create. And my SOUL THANKS ME every day.
So what are you working on? I'd love to hear. Post a comment or send me an email. We've got to encourage each other.