Why I Write

They come from all over the country, with their iPads and their scarves and their equestrian boots, their business cards and blogs and their book deals, and they all look so polished, so put together.

And then there’s me.

I show up with a pen and some paper, my annoying habit of talking too much when I’m nervous, and the new scarf and matching earrings I bought last night in a hopelessly vain and last-minute attempt at being fashionable.

“You look like a writer,” my daughter assured me when I tried on my new outfit in front of the mirror. She isn’t the one who needs convincing.

But when I walk into that crowded conference the next morning, I feel so incredibly uncomfortable, like if this is supposed to be my comfort zone, I somehow took a wrong turn and ended up on Mars. Just with perfectly coordinated accessories.

But despite my omnipresent insecurity, this nagging sense that I don’t belong, I keep my head and heart open in that Hilton hotel, being careful not to shut out God’s voice and what He might say to me through these conference speakers and the other super-trendy attendees.

And for 48 hours, He doesn’t shut up.

He tells me to be myself and follow my passion, to use my time online to bless others, to make sure I’m a better mother than blogger, and to put people before things. He encourages me to go to Jesus first and find my identity and security in Him, to allow this writing life to bring me to my knees. He even suggests I eat mudcake without a fork.

Before this weekend, I felt unsure of myself and my talent, but afterward, I walk away with a fresh sense of who I am, as a woman and as a writer, and how He wants to use me. I also leave with a few new friends, and, believe it or not, another new scarf.

Allume

High from this mountaintop experience, I come home and finish a piece I’ve been working on for a while, a piece that reveals more of me than I care to admit. And a few days later, when I suffer from writer’s remorse, I text my mom and ask her to pray for me.

“How do you feel after you’ve written one of your stories?” she asks, her concern obvious over fiberoptics.

“Like I’m standing buck naked at the state fair,” I text back.

“Maybe you should write about that,” she suggests.

And, like most of her advice, I decide to take it.

And so, I offer these reasons, mostly as a pep talk to myself, on why I write these stories:

Reason #1: I write because it’s how I express my feelings.

I never could cry easily. Not when I was ten and landed in the hospital with a life-threatening infection. Not when I was twenty and discovered my parents were splitting up. And not this summer, in my thirties, when I stood at the graveside of my brother’s baby.

Sure, I had a job to do. My sister-in-law asked me to sing a few songs at the memorial service, so I had to hold it together. But afterward I wondered why I had not had the emotional reaction so many other family members and friends did. Most of them were wrecked, and rightfully so, but I didn’t shed a tear.

And it made me feel awful.

Early in her pregnancy, my sister-in-law received the heartbreaking diagnosis of her unborn baby, that it was incompatible with life, and for more than twenty weeks, she courageously carried her child knowing that, even if she made it to full gestation, the baby had a zero percent chance of surviving. And honestly, after my non-reaction at the funeral, I felt the same way, like my failure to emote appropriately was also incompatible with life. To me, people who cry easily show an immense capacity to love, and because I lack that sensitivity, I figure it automatically makes me less loving, less living.

So I browbeat myself the whole way home, and when I got back to my little office, the place where I hide when I want to write, I immediately described the service in my journal: the solemn sound of us singing mixed with sobs in the cemetery, the sight of that tiny – too tiny – white casket and a sister kneeling in the freshly cut grass to kiss it, the warmth of the sun dampening our skin, the pastor’s small sermon penetrating our hearts.

After scribbling down my initial thoughts, it dawned on me that words are how I express my deepest emotions. I cry words. For whatever reason, tears don’t come naturally to me, but words do, and by His grace, God allows me to use them to do the work of tears. They help me to let down my guard and drop my defenses, to tap into the places that may be hurting inside.

What crying is to some, writing is to me, and though my words may not always be pretty, I always feel better after I shed them.

Reason #2: I write to feel less alone.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said that part of the beauty of writing is that “you discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”

Donald Miller, a more contemporary writer, and another one of my favorites, agrees:

“What we want most is to not feel alone, to allow somebody to rummage inside our minds and souls and point out all the ways we are alike.”

A few years ago a close friend asked if I’d write a letter to her cousin whom I’d never met. He’d been going through some difficult times, and knowing that I, too, had faced some similar challenges, she wondered if I’d be willing to reach out and encourage him.

This is a portion of the letter I wrote to him:

I lived in what seemed to be a perpetual state of humiliation, heartache, and shame.  I had no idea how to move forward with my life, and I barely had the strength or the will to do it.  But…I now woke up each day with only one choice: to follow Christ…

I don’t know the details of your situation or the specifics of your struggle.  But as a fellow prodigal who has tasted and seen the goodness of God in the midst of some very, very dark days, I encourage you to stand strong in whatever it is you’re facing, to stay with the Lord and embrace your brokenness as a means by which He can show off His glory.

I am praying and believing God will work a miracle in your life as He has in mine.

Whatever I write – whether it’s a blog post or a letter to a stranger – I want it to connect with someone’s heart. Connection, after all, is why we’re here.

I don’t know what became of my letter, but if sharing a piece of my own story made my friend’s cousin feel a little less lonely in this terribly lonely world, then my words did their job.

Reason #3: Words are my weapon of choice.

When I was about five years old, a young neighbor refused to let me swing on her swingset. So I made a mudpie and tried to convince her it was a chocolate cupcake. Later, in high school, when I found out my boyfriend had cheated on me at a New Year’s Eve party while I was stuck at home throwing up, I staged a showdown between the three of us behind the bleachers during half-time at a basketball game. Both situations left me with more than just a little mud on my face.

These days when someone hurts my feelings my first instinct is still to seek revenge. But instead of slashing tires or spreading nasty rumors, I wield my words like a sword.

When someone betrays me, I write this. When someone bullies my daughter, I write that. I have to be careful, though. Whenever I aim at someone specifically in a story, I can sometimes sound like I did when I was younger: whiny, self-righteous, or both.

Besides, people are not my Enemy. People are worthy of respect, dignity, even forgiveness and love.  My Enemy is not flesh and blood, and exposing the lies that he spreads is far more important to me than getting even with another human being. That’s why I tell these stories with my whole heart, even at the risk of revealing more of it than I care to admit, because shame gets its power in silence, and I refuse to be silent anymore.

Writing with such excruciating vulnerability is dangerous, reckless some might even say. But it’s also a great source of joy, creativity, and belonging for me. Sometimes I have to dip from the same well.

I’ll never forget what my friend and writing mentor, Martha, said to me many years ago when I was suffering from another bout with writer’s remorse. She told me, “your vulnerability is what makes you beautiful.”

And I can’t think of a better reason to write than that.

Comments

  1. I love the metaphor of you shedding words like I shed tears. It’s so perfect, and makes so much sense!

    • And I owe that new scarf and pair of earrings all to you, my friend. Thanks for helping me with my fashion crisis, among other things. I love you.

  2. I am sorry for wearing my boots :). I thought you looked great and polished the whole time. I found the ipads and computers to be nothing short of annoying, I mean, after all, we were at a writing conference. They should have been actually writing their notes. Ha! Thank you for your honesty and for also spurring me on with encouragement. Great post and I’m looking forward to more. Thank you again for inviting me to go with you to that conference.

    • Dude, your boots were smokin’! And one of my fondest memories from that weekend was you complaining about how your wrist hurt from all that writing. 🙂 So glad we had a chance to go together. You definitely kept me from whipping myself into a frenzy.

  3. Oh my, they just keep getting better! Your writing is like a garden full of an ecclecatic variety of flowers and very nutritious vegetables. Beautiful to read and delicious to feast upon. This is by far the best among so many other best’. For God’s sake, please keep writing. I love you Honey!

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