On 8 July 2005, I started a little blog on Xanga called PoetStyles, my online alias for years.
I always wanted to be a writer, I just didn’t think that blogging was real writing. Blogging, an excessively ugly word that no one understood back then, was just a way to stay in touch with our friends and family, while we moved around the country, chasing our Evangelical Hero Complex in a circle. I yearned to be a writer someday, I read voraciously, I had been writing short stories for years. But these little essays? These reflections? These wonderings and wanderings? Psh. Totally not writing.
In 2008, when I was pregnant with Joseph, Brian sent me to the Festival of Faith and Writing. He researched writer festivals, found one that was a Christian one in Grand Rapids, and, in a grand gesture of love, a gigantic neon sign flashing I BELIEVE IN YOU, DARLING, he booked my ticket, and a hotel, and sent me there for the weekend.
It was awful.
So, so, so painfully awful.
I didn’t know a single soul there. I wasn’t a writer. I was a fan, a reader, a wannabe. And I was crippled by insecurity; introverted by nature, I was by now in powerful retreat mode. I hardly spoke a word for three days. I sat alone in the sessions. I wandered alone through the day. I ate alone. The only bright spot was hearing Luci Shaw perform a reading of her poetry.
Sick unto death of parking lots and air conditioning, I rented a car, and I drove past strip mall after strip mall after strip mall, desperate for some trees. I pulled over at an Applebees, I went inside and begged the wait staff to tell me where to find a nice park. They were baffled. They recommended the exact college where the festival was located. There’s some grass there, I think, they said.
The last day, I attended a session for aspiring writers. There was an agent and two publishers leading the talk. And for the next 45 minutes they pretty much told us all to get over it. They spoke of networking and conferences. They talked about critique groups and pages per day. They cautioned against optimism, warned that publishing was nearly dead, made fun of ebooks and self-publishers. They were insiders, I felt so painfully outside. They cited stats and probabilities, they talked about how no one ever gets published without huge platform, about how none of us would probably ever have a published book.
I believed them. I believed them. I believed them.
I went back the hotel that night, and I sat in the middle of the floor. I laid out all of my dreams for God to look at. I said, God, do you remember in grade two? Do you remember how I wrote my first story about a snow bunny? Do you remember how I used to be excused from penmanship (my handwriting already legendary, thanks to the drills at my kitchen table with my mother), Mrs. Phillips wanted me to read Caldecott award winners. She told me I would be a writer. I believed her. Do you remember that? Do you remember how I filled journal after journal with terrible poetry throughout my teens? Do you remember that? Do you remember how I scored as a writer and an artist on every single career testing thing? Do you remember how I wrote essays and short stories, under the covers, with flashlights? Do you remember that?
I cried. I railed. I raged. I said, I will never be a writer. I am a terrible writer. I have no voice. I have no platform. I have nothing to give. I have no stories. This is never going to happen for me. I had to admit it, it was true. I lay on my back, and I said, I give up this dream. I have spent 25 years of my life, calling myself a writer, and I have nothing to show for it. I couldn’t sell an article if I attached a kidney to it.
I am not a writer, I will never be a writer, there will never be a book with my name on it in any bookstore in the world.
And, I kid you not, I heard God. That has only happened one other time in my life, in a real, feels-audible-look-over-your-shoulder-did-you-hear-that sort of way. But I heard or sensed or felt or received a message from God in my marrow, however you want to think about it, I don’t really care what you call it, I just know I heard God.
He said, “You may never be published but that doesn’t change the way I made you. You’re a writer. Stop caring about the other stuff and just write. I’ll meet you there.”
I came home from Grand Rapids, depleted, and calling-less. The white flame that had existed in my heart, setting me apart as a writer and an artist, had dimmed. I would never be a real writer.
So I just began to write anyway.
I launched Emerging Mummy simply because I wanted to write out my life, I wanted to figure out what I thought about the emerging church, theology, God, my marriage, my miscarriages, breastfeeding, my passions, my interests, my parenting, politics. I wanted to find other people that thought about that stuff. I stumbled across Simple Mom, I think Tsh’s site was brand new in those days. She used to post a list of “top referrers” once a week, and that led me to SortaCrunchy, who lead to me almost every other blogger and friendship I now enjoy, and became a dear heart-friend as well. I found a tribe of men and women that were my own, they were writers, artists, thinkers, world-changers.
And me? I was writing. I wrote almost daily, and finally, after two years, I found my voice.
The biggest transformations of my life had their origins in words. I wrote my way through major faith shifts and doubts and wonderings, as I went from mega-church refugee, bitter and cynical and opinionated, to a broken wandering soul, to the wholeness God has graciously given in and through and outside of the wide glorious Church and the Word and the world, I wrote my way back into the Church and community. I wrote through becoming a mother, again and again and again, through miscarriages, through loss, birth, through the painful realities of mothering, and the ways that God met me and changed me profoundly through this crucible of mothering, this joy, this sacred season, and I loved my tinies more and better because I was writing about us, every day. I began to write about what love looked like for Brian and me. I wrote through my opinions and politics-at-the-time with a carelessness and ridiculousness than positively embarrasses me today. (There are portions of my archives I would like to burn down.) I was set free from people pleasing, approval addiction, I began to tackle my fears, to write more honestly, to be more honest with my own self, to engage my doubts and wonderings.
And crazily, people like you started to show up, to hang out and say, “You, too? Me, too!” You were a gift to me, I didn’t feel so alone anymore. (It still baffles me that anyone reads this site, besides my sister.)
Thank you. Truly. Thank you for being part of my life.
I am not the same person I was in Grand Rapids that day, let alone the woman that I was 7 years ago, before any of this online “writing my life out” thing had begun. Over the past year or two, I began to understand why God told me to keep writing that night at the festival though. After all, I had been healed, set free, and made whole through this discipline. God met me here, and He was enough, always had been, always would be.
I was satisfied, content, I am still, most of the time. I was beginning to call myself a writer again, after all, blogging counts, I reasoned. I did not care about agents. I had zero SEO experience. I did not attend a single blogger conference (still haven’t). I didn’t move with the movers or the shakers, I was pretty unknown, I began to write for a few other sites, but those were born organically of relationship, not because of a well-crafted pitch. I liked my little corner of the Internet, I liked all of the friends I made – like you, of course – and I needed to write like I needed to breathe, so it worked.
And now, I have a book deal. Which is ridiculous, let’s be honest. (I can’t share all the details just yet – not until the official announcements. Hopefully soon.)
I am sensing God’s laughter in this. When I laid it all down, when I said I didn’t care about platforms or networking, about publishing or any of it, when I just wanted to write, when I simply wanted to show up in my own life with gratitude and grace, and God kept meeting me in the most ordinary, most radical, of ways, then, then, then, the release. The best agent in the business took me on. Ideas, words, flowing. Proposal crafting. Pitching (oh, God, rejection suuuuuucks – and oh, yes, I experienced my share). And now, this goodness, with such good, good people I can hardly believe my good fortune.
I’m writing my book now. You’ll hopefully be able to hold a copy in your hands someday. Like, with a real cover on it.
That may be an owl laughing in my forest out back, sure, but it’s a bit too holy and other-worldly, maybe there is a Godly chuckle there, in the darkness, a knowing, an enjoyment perhaps, I feel like shaking my finger at the woods, oh, you, I would say.
I did nothing “right”. Everything that the festival said to do or try, I did not do. I gave up. I buried my dreams and moved on. I opened my hands, no more tight fist clenching for me. And God showed up, made something beautiful out of my dust, restored me, healed me, and then, now, even resurrected a dream, the dry bones began to dance.
Blogging – the practice, the discipline, the community, the people, the medium, the work, the tribe – changed my life. It is still changing my life. It will always be a big part of my story. And I love being part of your story, in some small way, too.
The very first sentence that I wrote on my little Xanga Poetstyles blog in 2005?
“I wonder how open and honest you can be on the Internet.”
Turns out: pretty damn honest.
I’m wide open.