And I am feeling tired, and sad, and proud, and insecure. I could have done a better job. I have a message I want to communicate. No, I’m just telling my own story. I’m so confused, and you might be too. You came looking for a window into another world but all I had to offer was a mirror.
I’ve heard from a few of you, my people in the trenches, my lovely folks with the do-gooder hearts and the sin (both individual and generational) that threatens to curdle everything. I keep your words close to my heart, because we are all on this journey together, and you never really do stop unlearning.
I’ve felt sorry for myself, a bit. The “perks” of writing are so few and far between. Being visible in an age of the hot take is miserable for several reasons. You get to hear what everyone is saying about you, including the bad. You get puffed up and punched down, and you deserve all of it and yet none of it should touch the core of who you are in Christ Jesus. If you wrote something vulnerable, if you strayed into dangerous territory—talking about communities where you are an outsider, for instance—you can get your heart walked all over. I got paid very little money and it is very stressful and time consuming to try and be good at being a visible person. Did I say something social-justice-y on Twitter today? Was I nice enough to the person who was trying to score points off of taking me down? Did I tweet about other people enough, do I feel less lonely now, do you understand me and my world even a little bit, did I communicate how good I was, and does everyone believe me yet?
See? I haven’t really changed at all.
In my real life, it has been a very hard summer. I cannot write about some of the reasons why, but the ones that I can are enough. People are struggling, everywhere. There is fear and hatred in the air, in our news and in our hearts. We keep hearing the bad news, so we try to keep celebrating the good. We make cupcakes for homework club, we harvest the cherry tomatoes we planted, we drink tea in the homes of people who have survived far more than us and we let the gratefulness rub off on our skins. We say goodbye to people who move due to sickness and lack of money and no one to care for them. We walk past the memorial for the young man who was killed across the street from us, a black teenager was run down and murdered by a white man with hatred in his heart. My daughter asks what the balloons and the writing scrawled on the wall of the 7-11 means and I don’t want to tell her but I have to. I have to because this is where we all live, this country in where this happens.
I love the process of writing, I really do. It’s natural for me—a constant whirl of thoughts inside my head, getting them down and trying to find the common threads within. This is a joy and a gift that I never knew I would need so badly. I also like the thrill of getting picked for publication. The moment the editor writes you back and says “yes, we want this.” That feels good for a few moments, and I exult in front of my computer screen, affirmed that what I do is accessible to others. But the other parts—the publication, the waiting for people to respond, building a platform, the constant dance of keeping a thick skin and a thin heart—it wears on me so. I used to approach social media with the idea that I wanted to connect with others, that I wanted to be less lonely. Now, I am trying to sell books. Now, I am trying to sell you a version of myself. I feel the pressure to tone it down and kick it up a notch. Communicate the mystery of the kingdom of God and do it in 144 characters. Speak up and be quiet. Pick your lane and run in it, run as fast as you can. But the lane I find myself in now is one I never envisioned for myself. I am surrounded by refugees, by people experiencing poverty, by a neighborhood in the throes of gentrification, in a city stuck in a moral dilemma. And I have tried and tried and tried, but I can’t help but notice everything. I can’t help but pay attention, and want you to see it all too.
The day my book released I felt very calm and detached, very zen. That lasted for three whole days (and they were great days!). So many people said nice things, I felt so supported. Then came the inevitable after-Christmas feeling, the letdown. Then the crippling insecurity, the anxiety attacks, the trouble sleeping at night, the paralyzing fear of moving forward, the vows to never write again. Oh my word I am sounding like a freaking Anne Lamott version 2.0 over here but I have to be honest: all that neurotic stuff is totally, completely true. Luckily for me, life moves on. I am dealing with myself. I pray over my children at night, that we would learn to be kind to others and kind to ourselves.
Change is in the air, I can feel it. We are buying a house around the corner from our apartment complex. My daughter starts first grade at the local elementary school tomorrow. I am writing a few things again. I am trying to help get a refugee welcome center off the ground. People are moving away, and new people will move in. The stories will continue to pile their way inside my heart. I will never not pay attention.
And yet the days will continue on as they are. I will go to the library and a woman will turn to me, bursting with pride at all the books her son is checking out “can you believe how much he reads? Always has his nose in a book, this one.” And the boy will hold up two plastic bags full of books, proudly telling me he got most of them from the shelter where they are staying. And together the boy and his mother will walk out of the library, back into the real world, which is so cruel and so punishing to those who aren’t at the top. And I will be left standing in the library with my soft heart and my wet eyes, wondering what I ever did to deserve this ministry of rubbing shoulders with another world, this ministry of trying to explain just the tiniest bit to those who want to sit down and listen with me.
Thank you so much to everyone who has emailed, tweeted, commented on instagram . . . all of your feedback means the world to me. I love hearing from you!
(For those who are new to this space . . . here's a link to the book I was talking about).