Tuesday, March 21, 2017

It wasn't about me (but it kind of was)

Have you ever stared at something so long it becomes difficult to see it clearly?  

That's happened to me, and today I feel like things have come into focus today for the first time in a long time.

First, I'm going to let you into the underside of a writer's life. Beyond writing what we love, writers these days have to worry about building a platform. It's their online persona, their message, the way they connect with their readers. Most of us writers don't love this part. We love our readers, for sure! But most writers don't like draw attention to themselves in the form of blog and Facebook posts, tweets, Instagram, etc. Long gone are the days when a writer could be successful simply on the merits of their writing. These days, sad to say, traditional publishers look at our platforms with as much weight as our prose. They want writers to bring their readers with them.

It is even more so in my world, the world of inspirational nonfiction writing.

Two cases in point:

1. Last year I was asked by a publisher to write a book about Jesus and motherhood. I created an outline per their request and, after receiving the green light by the committee, I wrote the book. It was turned in a week before the deadline. However, as the book came before the committee--the same committee that gave me the go-ahead to write it--it was rejected without a single member reading it. The reason: my platform wasn't big enough.

2. I submitted this same book to a New York Christian literary agent last week.I received a lovely email yesterday with compliments like, "the writing is great," and "there is a place for this in the market." But, they couldn't represent it at this time because, you guessed it, my platform wasn't big enough.

It gave me reason to reflect yesterday on my platform and why I have such a hard time feeling comfortable with it. Perhaps it was my content. I talk and write about God, and it seemed strange to say, "Hey, I wrote this thing about God. You should buy it," almost as though I was selling Him.

And then there was this thing I have with being in the spotlight. I don't mind it, but I don't crave it. I don't plan for it. I don't love saying, "Look at me. Look what I did." I simply struggled with the notion of building "my" platform when all that I wrote and did was to glorify God, not me.

Then yesterday, in a conversation with some wonderful women trying to figure out the source of my platform issues, I had two realizations:

1. Hurtful words can stick.

 A week before I was to go on a publicity tour for my first book three years ago, I received a surprising call from an old friend. She shot painful words through the phone. How could I, such a terrible person, write things about God? I was a mentally troubled woman whose words meant nothing to her. I needed therapy because I was "messed up," and more. It was devastating. The pain of her words brought me to tears. They also ignited fear and doubt deep inside. What if she was right? What if I really was a horrible person? It took some time to let the grace of God heal the wounds caused by her sharp words, and for me to choose not to believe them.

Then, a year ago someone very close to me shared his feelings with me about my writing and speaking endeavors. He said he didn't understand why I wrote what I did and didn't think any good came from it. And he said he wasn't the only one who thought so. I was told I have no original ideas in my writing. And, that when I was young he saw a girl who would do anything for attention, and all he could see now was that same girl desperately seeking to be seen. 

These words hurt even more. They were personal. They were venomous. And they were false.

But, as hurtful words tend to do, they stuck. Even if they aren't true.

I've tried hard to forgive him, to harbor no ill-feelings towards him for the things he had said. And I believe I have done so. I assumed that with that forgiveness all hurt would be gone, too. But I was wrong.

I realized yesterday that, though I have forgiven him and my old friend of their deeds, the seeds of the deeds remained. The hurt hasn't yet completely healed. The words have stuck, like barnacles on the bottom of  boat, unseen until I turned it over for a better look.

Yesterday as I pondered why I have been so hesitant about this platform thing, I realized his words, their words, were still planted  deep inside, silently festering, covertly steering in part my perspective and my feelings on certain things. Which leads me to epiphany number 2:

2. Hurtful words can change our perspective, and even ourselves. My ah-hah moment came yesterday when I was discussing my hesitancy to put myself out there more, platform-wise. I said, 

"I focus everything that's good on Him. That's never been a problem. But I'm realizing what I've done is let other people's negative comments allow me to focus negativity on myself. And, in that respect, it wasn't 100% about Him then. I let fear and doubt sneak it, and I didn't recognize what they were."

In that moment, the light came on, things came into focus, and I could see clearly for the first time in a while. Yes, my writing and speaking have always been about God. But, when these hurtful words were thrown at me, they stuck. And when they stuck, I gave them the ability to fuel fear and doubt. Instead of freely and boldly reaching out to as many as would listen about God, I pulled back, not wanting to look as though I was drawing attention to myself. I didn't want what they said to be true, so I held back.

I let hurtful words change my perspective and myself.

I let fear and doubt make reaching out not about Him, but about me.

But, here is the good news, because with God there is always good news: I can see now.

I have no fear in building a platform, not my platform, but His, because like Paul, I want to "boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall to do me" (Hebrews 13:5). Or say to me. Or think of me.

I will happily and bold blog, post, write, teach, twitter, and whatever else I can do because it isn't about me being seen. It's about God being seen. And if He can use me, despite my sins and weaknesses, to draw others to Him, to find deeper joy in their lives, to see themselves and Him more clearly, then I will gladly shed the barnacles of hurtful--and false--words to do so.

Because it's not about me at all. It's about Him. It's always about Him.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The assist

See this machine. It's a chin pull-up assist machine.

I just discovered it this morning. It's looks wicked, right?

But it is the total opposite.

Let me slide a little backstory in here.

We have a pull-up bar in our walk-in closet. For years I've seen my husband do chin pull-ups with ease. I've tried it before, but my bingo arms have never had the strength to hoist up my girth. So, I gave up trying long ago.

But then, today at the gym, I noticed this machine. At first I was intimidated. It looked strange and hard.

But I kinda wanted to try it.

But then, I worried I would look stupid in front of the more experienced gym rats.

But I still kinda wanted to try it.

So, I awkwardly climbed on board and tried it. And I did twelve pull-ups. Assisted, yes, but, I did them!

I became excited at the idea that with help I could do what I didn't have strength to do on my own. (Can you see where I'm going with this here?)

After I climbed off the machine I stood back and had to take a picture of it, of this thing that helped me do something really hard. And, my mind turned to the spiritual.

It turned to my Savior.

You see, I'm pretty independent. I feel like I have a lot of capabilities, and I know I have a lot of weaknesses. And I have this stubborn drive to do things on my own. (Maybe there is some pride mixed in there too. . . )

When I do things on my own, I often come across things that are too hard for me, things that are intimidating, maybe even things I shy away from because I don't want to look stupid if I fail (or maybe even succeed.)

So, sometimes I give up on certain things. I stop trying. I feel guilt, regret, shame, insecurity. I feel like I'm weak--not enough. All because there are things that are too heavy for me to lift or do on my own, things I think I should be be able to.

But, we aren't supposed to be able to do all things, lift all things, handle all things on our own. Life is about improving. If there aren't opportunities to improve, grow, and strengthen, then why are we here?

Luckily, we have help in the form of our Savior. As we push and pull ourselves through the joys and sorrows of life, He can be there, lifting us higher, lending us His arm and breath, if we let Him.

He can make our burdens lighter. He can ease our pain. He can lesson our sorrows.

He can also magnify the joy. He can sharpen our vision. He can lead us along the way He knows will make us happy.
He can help us do those good things we want to do but aren't able to on our own. But, we need set our doubts aside and get on board. We need to want it more than we don't want to look stupid to others.

We need to do our part. This machine can't help lift me if I don't pull myself up. It's the same with the Savior. As we pull ourselves up, then His power-the enabling power of grace- can work in our lives. And together, we can do really hard and wonderful things. Things that will make us stronger, happier, and better.

I need to do that more in my life- get on board. I spend too much time worrying and not enough time joyfully pushing and pulling.

So, I leave the gym today with two lessons learned and one large smile on my face, excited for the possibilities, physically and spiritually, that lie ahead, with the right help.

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