This Spring I went through an online writing mentorship with Lore Wilbert, one of my favorite writers. It was a momentous, unforgettable and tremendously helpful experience. I wish it had lasted a year! I hope (true to the heart of mentorship) I came to resemble her in a small way during those twelve weeks. I think she plans to do another one in the Fall, so if you would like to improve in your writing, have an honest editor, and gain a friend, look out for the application on Sayable.
My sister and her husband are living next door to us just now, and sometimes I join them for dinner. (Sometimes I am even canny enough to catch dinner at both houses.)
“Do you think the roast is tough, darling?” she asked him tonight.
“No,” he said, then- “Well, what sort of animal is it?”
And I guess the writing life has taken me for sure, gentle reader, as I didn’t remain mentally present for her reply, for thinking what an excellent intro this would be.
These last twelve weeks, I’ve had the surreal experience of having a stranger look into an aspect of my life, an area where she has wisdom and expertise, and speak into it. I expected her to strip me down one side and up the next. And she did, in a way, but not how I imagined. What she did was as intimidating, but more memorable, and certainly more life-giving.
She named me. She said, “You are a Writer.”
There was joy in this moment. There was a leaping up to answer the call. There was belief, finally, for this woman with a well-tuned ear could have no motive to flatter me. But these at-long-last-gifts were quickly surpassed by sobriety. My own: Will I look back and think: I wasted this? And hers: Will you bury your talent in fear? Do you think God is a harsh master like the man in Matthew’s parable? What has He ever done to you to deserve such a thought? Who told you you were a bad writer? Who lied to you? she said.
I had read her piece on asking Jesus-like questions, penetrating deeper, searing cleaner than straight facts, but I wasn’t ready for them. Who lied to me? No one, I said quickly. But in long sad after-thoughts, I knew. It was me.
The lies are born of fear and distrust. Fear of humility, distrust of God.
I fear committing the thoughts of my heart to paper. There is some health in this fear. One thing that happens when you become a woman is you get invited to congregate with women. I have a quick wit and a much quicker tongue. I get in trouble- if not obviously and before all, then in my heart and in secret. I’ve learned that I cannot even go to breakfast with an old friend without praying over my words beforehand. But still, the spoken word doesn’t scare me so much. I can always end an awkward sentence with- you know?- and then shut up to hear if she does or not.
But the written word is something else. It feels arrogant, even in approaching it. Or maybe the deeper truth is that it feels like it might be perceived as arrogant. There are so many good and worthy writers. This girl just likes the sound of her own voice, they will say. Who does she think she is? The self-love in me cowers from this. The sound of my own voice says to myself: Shut up.
Is God a harsh taskmaster? These twelve weeks, I have been distant from him. Such a strange thing to do, after being given something so kind, like a name. But I’ve been nursing a bitterroot of hurt in me. Names given implies names withheld. The unspeakable comfort found in God’s sovereignty is unspeakably painful sometimes. The writing life means criticism. It means conflict. All I wanted was to be loved. But in my name was a cross, a call to come and die. Sitting across from a beautiful and dynamic young woman at breakfast this morning, speaking friendly to her with no regrets, I spoke roughly to myself. Suddenly I was aware of my weathered age as if it were an actual old woman at the table with us. You were Beloved and now you are Useful. One day you will be Not So Useful, that voice I love and protect so carefully said.
But work, it has a way of keeping deep thinkers from digging a pit to bury themselves in. The breakfast meeting was over and the needs came bearing down, as they mercifully do. The day laid itself down for me to walk through. After dinner, I bathed my toddler niece and helped her into pajamas. She asked for a tea party, so quickly on the floor, we congregated as women, with the little cups and saucers. She handed me a wooden piece of cake and said gently, “This is my body, given for you, Sarie.” A harsh taskmaster? No. Not my Jesus.
Who told me I was a bad writer? Why am I ashamed? Why do I long for a veil to cover my face again? This is not gospel living. Our ministry ought to be a wide-open and many-splendored thing. With unveiled face I was made to reflect the glory of the Lord. Yes, I will mess up. Yes, my faults will be evident. That’s the whole point. I will decrease. Until my dying breath, I will go lower still. But He will increase, and in his expanse, in his fullness, I find my courage.
I am finding it even now, in my willingness to write these lines, though I left the gate open and the goats into the garden, though I forgot to do what I was told, though I frustrate those I love and spell words miserably wrong, though I am seen clean through for exactly what sort of animal I am, I will live like I believe the Lord is good. He has made me well. He calls me by name. He compels me to pray, “May I write truth as I live truth.” And wonder of wonders, he can even make it so.
Who lied to you? As I walked back to my house in the dark, with the clouds covering the moon, Lore’s question came to me once more. This woman spoke to me, into me, because she first wrote bravely, initiating, communicating, reaching out and down, planting trees for me to eat from, this woman I know and don’t know, who calls herself “Lowly”, who hurts as I do, who in all these things reflects Christ, she speaks truth. She spoke it in my name. Yes, I am small. Yes, I still think I’m too hasty to write a book and too bashful to be a blogger. But I will live as I am written, and speak as I am called. I will trade my talents in humility and courage, grateful to the Giver, copying the Creator, as she has taught me. I will go lower than I have ever gone, but I will not be afraid.
Oh Worm Jacob, Oh little Israel, Beloved. Go and write.