Tag Archives: heart

What Doesn’t Happen When You Sign a Book Deal

I’m telling my publishing story in five parts until next Friday (the 18th.) You can read the previous posts here: Pt. 1 (The Art of Backwards Book-Writing), Pt. 2 (Agents, Platforms and Gifts in Disguise), and Pt. 3 (Faith is an Empty Room).

pubjourney

The contract will come in the mail with the publisher’s name on it, and for a few minutes or hours or days, you’ll feel on top of the world.

Here you are, at the beginning of a dream come true, at the precipice of all you’ve been waiting for.

You’ll sit down at the kitchen table. You’ll lift your pen to sign the papers.

You’ll be trying to have a moment, but your kids will be screaming at you from the living room. “Mom! I don’t want this show!” or “Dad! Get me a granola bar!” Because to them, you’re not an author, you’re their parent, and nothing here has really changed.

*

Although you’ve always been a writer, the book deal will make you feel legitimized in some ways – like someone else actually sees it too. It will be nice to be able to tell people that you have a book coming out, and for a moment, their eyes will widen, and they’ll give you a look of awe-tinged admiration.

But then. Then they’ll ask what you’re book is about.

You’ll stumble awkwardly through your memorized synopsis, and it will feel entirely inadequate to get at the heart of the thing you’ve written. It will never feel totally natural to summarize your book in this way, and even though you’ll get plenty of practice, you’ll hem and haw a little bit every time. Because what your book is really about is not the plot that forms its backbone or the life events that make up its context. Really it’s about love and hope and fear and the shared human experience. Really it’s about everything.

But you won’t be able to find a way to communicate any of this in an airplane seat or at a cocktail party, and your inability to do so will make you feel inadequate all over again.

“So anything like 50 Shades of Gray?” The stranger you’re talking to will ask. Or they’ll ask if you’ve read the latest New York Times bestseller and begin to summarize its compelling plot. And you’ll just nod and sip your drink and nod some more.

*

There will still be only twenty-four hours in the day, and it still won’t feel like enough. Especially now that you have a book deal, which means you have deadlines and accountability and people who can’t do their jobs until you do yours.

You’ll still struggle to put the words together into sentences. You’ll still delete a lot. You’ll cross out entire pages of text in your notebook, throw the thing across the living room, feel absolutely sure that they’ve made a mistake. That you’re not really a writer at all.

At some point, you’ll sit in the dark in front of the blank screen, the cursor mocking you with its steady tapping, and you’ll wish you’d chosen some other work.

when we were on fire - landscape 2 - smaller

Although you have a book deal, you’ll still forget at least one thing at Target every time you go. The laundry will still pile up and so will the dishes. People will cut you off in traffic. You’ll still, inevitably, find yourself waiting in the longest line.

Few people, if anyone, will recognize you in public. Your relationships with bookstores will change ever-so-slightly, and you’ll be a little jealous whenever someone else comes up with a really great book title.

Your publishers will be great, but their world will not revolve around you. There will be other books to promote, other deals to sign, other things to get done, and so you will have to adjust your expectations. You’ll have to learn to do new things, to play different roles in regard to your work. It will feel uncomfortable and new and you’ll hate the sound of your voice promoting your work, but you’ll do it anyway. Because along with the book deal comes a deep, haunting desire to have your book fly far, to have your words find readers who will love them.

*

At night, the moon will come out, and you’ll lie there, looking up at it. And if you didn’t know who you were before you got the book deal, you definitely won’t know now. Because it doesn’t really change much. It doesn’t catapult you into some higher tier of humanity or toward a better version of yourself. It doesn’t fix whatever was broken inside of you before.

You’re still the same person.

And yes, it’s a dream come true, but when dreams crash into reality, they take the full weight of the mundane. They have to. And so a book deal means paperwork and marketing, promotion and editing, self-depreciation and insecurity…just as much as it means joy, excitement, and hope.

You’ll get the book deal, and don’t get me wrong – it’ll be wonderful. But it won’t beat a summer sunrise, a sloppy toddler kiss, a walk through the apple orchard in the late afternoon light with the people you love. And it will be so hard to remember this sometimes. It’ll be tempting to believe that numbers will make you happy. Endorsements. Great reviews from prestigious sources.

But really, they won’t. As my friend Glennon says, there is no there there. It’s the moments that you walk away from your computer, back into the wild of your own life, that will do it.

It’s these average, precious moments – not the book contract – that keep you rooted to your own heart. They will save you. They will keep you at it – this whole exhausting, beautiful business of publishing your book.

They will give you the courage to continue living the mundane beauty of your dream….one ordinary step at a time.

Church Home

Church Home: The church you attend regularly. The one you belong to.

Church Home: On finding the place where your particular heart can receive Good News

I chose Jesus in junior high for a lot of reasons, but at the top of the list was the fact that two girls in youth group chose me.

I was a little awkward, a little lonely, a little unsure of who I was. I hadn’t quite figured out how to pluck my eyebrows or do my hair yet. And they sat down next to me and took me in.

I chose that amped-up, on-fire kind of faith because I loved God, yes…but maybe moreso because they loved me.

During those years, youth group became a place where I fit. I couldn’t kick a soccer ball or throw a basketball. I didn’t make the spring musical; I sat ninth chair violin in orchestra. But church gave me an identity. A sense of belonging. It gave me cross-country trips in a double-decker bus. It gave me Sunday night youth group and Tuesday night Beach Nights and Christian ska concerts where I danced like mad.

And I’m grateful for that time and the way it formed me.

But also, I am becoming more and more aware of how enmeshed faith and that feeling of belonging are in my mind. I’m aware of the role that played in our long, soul-sucking church hunt (which I wrote about a while ago in a three-part mini-series here and here and here).

I’d walk into those buildings week after week, and I wasn’t looking for God so much as I was looking for My People. The ones who would see me, lonely and awkward, stilted in my Depression. The ones who would sit down next to me and take me in.

One of the longest, most painful parts of my journey has been the prying apart of expectations and reality. It’s been separating individual, broken churches from The Church, that wide, deep, uncontainable thing. It’s been realizing that no church can heal me…that it’s only ever Jesus. That when the Church People are barbed or absent or toxic, he is still enough.

*

Six Sundays ago, we got up and drove to a different church.

We’ve attended the same one ever since we moved into our house nearly four years ago. We kind of crashed there. We’d just been through a particularly difficult season, and we needed something, needed it now, and we ended up somehow at this big, lively community church in the northern suburbs of Minnesota.

It was not the kind of church that I wanted, but it was what I needed. During our first small group there, we sat around and told our stories – the true, messy versions – and I saw for the first time that we are all a little broken.

The loneliness started to ebb, and it wasn’t because I found a perfect group of friends, a community, but rather because I began to see the small, intricate ways that we are all connected.

I learned to stop seeing them as one nebulous whole – the Church People. I began to see faces. Learn names. There were things that continued to hook my cynical places, but also, I become more and more aware of the beautiful things that were happening. Their methods of outreach rubbed me the wrong way, but God, did they know how to love the poor.

 It took us a long time to decide to leave. But we did.

And it wasn’t because God wasn’t there. It wasn’t because they’re not our people. I am aware now more than ever that God is at work even when I can’t see him. I am aware that they are all my people in some way or another.

We left because it was time to leave. Because God had done things in us in that place, and we both felt the gentle pull forward to something different.

*

We walked into a new church that Sunday morning, and in many ways, it was like any other church. There was the foyer and the coffee and all the greeters. Small talk and introductions and so much smiling.

But I could feel my heart expanding, and it was almost inexplicable to me, the suddenness of it. The pastor spoke, and he wasn’t saying anything all that new to me, but, Lord, I could hear it. For so long, I’ve sat guarded in church chairs, arms crossed, daring them to impress me, but all at once, I found myself unguarded. The tiny worship band bid me to praise the Lord, and I did.

And I think that we’re using the wrong language. It’s not church shopping or church hunting. You’re not looking for the right church, as if there could be one. As if there’s a magical place where everyone will love you immediately…where they will know exactly how to take you in. Where you’ll feel complete.

It may not be even about looking for a place where “God is working,” because, really, God is always working. He’s always among us – Immanuel – his ways so much bigger than our ways. His plans so much more complex than ours. Who can see what is really happening among so many miles of surface?

Maybe, in the end, it’s about looking for yourself. Not in some narcissistic way, but in that deep, true sense that we’re all created different and beautiful.

Maybe it’s about finding a place where your specific beautiful heart can hear Good News and take it all the way in.  A place where they talk about God in a language you understand. Maybe it’s about finding place where you can serve with your whole, broken heart and be healed in all that giving.

I don’t know, really. All I know is that we landed in this tiny church one Sunday morning, and I felt entirely myself.

And after all, isn’t that what we mean when we say home – that place where you flourish into your truest self? Where you come down the stairs in your sweats and your ratty bedhead, and still, you’re exactly perfectly enough?

The Daily Work of Wonder

Originally published at A Deeper Story.

photo credit: Joris_Louwes via photopin cc
photo credit: Joris_Louwes via photopin cc

“The world of dew
is the world of dew
And yet, and yet –”
~ Issa

I confess that most days, my heart is like a bratty 15-year old: arms crossed, chin raised, daring you to impress me.

I was born at the far edge of the age-group they call Generation Me…narcissistic and entitled and easily bored. I bristle at this language. I am not like that, I think. But it I’m honest, I’ll tell you that I wake up thinking about myself. I choose my acts of love or service or kindness mostly based on how much they will rock the equilibrium of my personal comfort. I am fuzzy on the line between self-care and self-absorbed.

Once I went to Bible college, and I aced my pop quiz on the Gospels and my paper on evangelicalism and my final on Theology. I’ve read the Bible, beginning and then back again. In my 29 years, I have sat through 1500 sermons – give or take – so don’t think you can tell an anecdote I haven’t heard, a statistic I don’t know.

That scripture you’re reading aloud from the podium? I’ve heard it a hundred times. Memorized it in AWANA Sparks. Earned myself a ruby-red jewel for my plastic, pinned-on crown. So I’m gonna need you to spin it new, get into the Greek of it, the etymology, the history. Surprise me with your insight.

I dare you to impress me.

We changes jobs frequently, apparently – people in this generation. That’s what the sociologists say. They say we have too great of expectations, little patience for anything that seems to lack meaning. And I haven’t changed jobs all that much, but I have been nomadic in my spirituality. I have wandered aimlessly from church to church to church, looking for something that I cannot name. Leaving when it’s not there.

I keep waiting for that one big thing that will take my breath away. That will leave me standing rooted to the spot, looking up.

In the box office, I watch movies with 150-million-dollar budgets and critique the special effects. In worship services, the music circles higher and louder, and the fog machine blasts and the lights change color, and I confuse entertainment with awe.

I have believed the lie that wonder is something that is given to me by someone else. That it is fire and flurry, the crashing of might and might, the explosion of flame. Dazzle and daring and the fluorescent spectacular.

But the truth is that none of this is wonder. Not really. There is nothing passive about true wonder. It is not dependent on bigness or limited by smallness; it is not the response to entertainment or to spectacle.

Wonder is a choice. It comes only when I choose to stay.

It’s that thing that happens when doubt and astonishment and mystery converge. It happens when I stand in one place long enough. When I stare out at the broken cattails or the winter-bare branches or a dew drop until it stops being about me. Starts being about the branch. And then about more than the branch. And then about God.

And it doesn’t always feel like epiphany or the climax of a hit movie. Sometimes it comes and goes so quickly that you almost can’t believe that it was there.

But in that moment, something in your heart reaches towards God. And for a small span of space, you believe Him to be all he says he is, and you know it is enough…and this is the true heart of worship.

And all these years, my angsty, selffocused heart has been making the wrong statement.

It’s not I dare you to impress me. Rather, it’s I will dare to be impressed. 

There is work to all this wonder. I can choose to be moved, even when it does not feel holy or wild or amazing. I can decide to stay long enough to see the whole thing ignite like a bush burning. Because God is here: in this tiny church, this broken family, this song, this wintering state…this moment.

The ground spreads wide and uneven beneath me, and all of it is holy.

The dew drop is suspended at the edge of the railing. Wonder is the choice to look closer and closer. To stay until the dew becomes a universe, and your heart lurches when you recognize the holy center: the wild love of God.

Awana and the Art of Memorization

Awana: A para-church organization founded in the 1950s, still popular in evangelical churches across the nation today. Their mission is to raise children who know and love Christ. Their main tool for this is an evening program that is built around the memorization of Scripture.

When you are an Awana Spark in the 1980s, you wear a red vest pinned with plastic crowns: bronze, silver, gold.

You have a spiral Sparks book filled with verses to learn by heart.  When you can say a certain number of these verses satisfactorily to your Sparks table leader, you get a jewel, a shiny brad in red or blue or green or gold, and you stick it into one of those holes in your crown.

You can tell from these glimmering crowns who is smart, driven, motivated. You can tell who is not by the threadbare look of their red, undecorated vests.

You will repeat dozens (hundreds?) of verses in your Awana years, but you will actually remember very few of them. John 3:16 – that quintessential salvation verse. The Sparks theme song and the Books-of-the-Bible songs, which you sing every night in a room of raucous elementary school kids. (To this day, when you want to find the book of Hosea, you have to sing through the whole song to remember where it is.)

Mostly you’ll remember winning Crazy Hat Night – that King Sized Hershey bar prize and all the accompanying glory. You’ll remember your sweet table leader, Barb, who loved you, who smiled big whenever you came in.

Years from now, what will remain are not the verses, but that sinking you felt when the girl across the table was an entire book ahead of you, and there was no way you could ever catch up.

When you are an Awana Spark in the 80s, you are repeating Scripture every week. Certainly those truths, those words, are forming the soft clay of your heart. Creating a backdrop for your life.

But so are the crowns, the rewards. The jewels. The lack of jewels.

*

In high school, I fell in love with the Bible: the words, the beauty. It was the beginning of the On Fire days. I was underlining and circling and starring words. They were sparking new things in me, and I was writing them out in curly cursive.

I collected these verses like found treasure. I kept them everywhere: pinned to my walls, stuck in my textbooks, scattered on my desk. They’d gather at the bottom of my backpack, worn and crumpled.

Then I went to Christian College, and it got weird. We were a thousand Christian kids, many of us used to being the most spiritual. The leader of the Bible study, lead vocal on the worship team.

It was like the Sparks vests were back on, and we were comparing crowns. Who has the most jewels? The most patches? The most awards? Who loves God best?

And somewhere in there, I quit playing. I stopped comparing and started judging those who did. I grew a little cynical, a little bitter. I threw away my notecards.

*

These days, my mind is a black hole.

No matter how detailed a grocery list I make, I’m always running back to the store in the middle of my dinner preparations for avocados (because I swear they were not in the recipe the first time I read it) or a block of cheese (because I know I just bought one and it cannot possibly be gone already).

I walk to another floor of the house and forget why I’m there. I leave the load of wet clothes sitting in the washer overnight.

When I got pregnant with Dane, my doctor assured me that there was a medical reason for all of my forgetting. That “Pregnancy Brain” was a proven phenomenon, that the mind was actually pulling back, withdrawing, totally reorganizing. I shouldn’t worry – it would come back stronger when the baby was born.

But the other day my husband found the bag of soggy frozen French fries that I’d stuffed in the fridge. So there’s that.

My mother-mind is always whirring. So much time is spent remembering forward – did I remember to grab the diapers? The wipes? The sunscreen? My brain is racing through the day, down rabbit-trails of potential disasters, cutting them off. Remember the fruit snacks to bribe the tantruming child back into the car; remember the extra set of clothes for the inevitable poop blowout. Think, think, think. Remember, remember, remember.

Sometimes I feel like I cannot possibly stuff another thing into my brain. Like the whole thing might just shut down mid-email.

I’ve started, tentatively, with the notecards again. I’ve started with the verses.

There are only a couple, written carefully, propped in my kitchen where I can see them. Short ones; beautiful ones. Ones that remind me to breathe. Ones that remind me of the beautiful, ocean-depth of God.

I’ve read them over and over again for weeks now. At the kitchen sink, scrubbing the pans. Sitting at the kitchen table, answering emails. I’ve read them hundreds of times, and I still couldn’t say them back to you, could not earn a jewel.

My mind is a black hole; the words disappear almost as soon as I read them.

And it’s okay.

It has taken me this long to understand that there are no crowns in this learning; no jewels. Only God, only my own heart, my whirring mind, the quiet morning.

It has taken me this long to understand that memorization and learning by heart are two completely different things, and that there is value in this reading and forgetting, reading and forgetting.

It’s like walking the same invisible path again and again, wearing it deep into the earth. Teaching my feet to move toward Living Water; teaching my heart to remember the way.

^
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