a writing update

In the time since I last posted, some things have happened.

  1. I completed all four drafts of my first novel. I wrote it, rewrote it, edited it close in (grammar and syntax), then a final edit to fix all the inconsistencies and awkward parts and weak dialogue and dangling bits. That fourth one was a pain in the ass, let me tell you. But it helped a lot. For a first attempt, I feel that I didn’t do too badly, process-wise. Currently the final draft is out with my beta readers. Once I get their input, I’ll adjust things that need to be adjusted (like the first chapter, which has changed quite a bit with each edit, ugh first chapters are so hard) and then pass it on to the AMAZING person who has volunteered to copy edit it. After that, it’s rejection time! I’ve already started working on a query letter. It’s 15% exciting and 85% terrifying.
  2. I started a different writing project with my dear friends Jan and Steph. It’s called Widdershire and it’s an online repository of short writings. We’re having fun and if you didn’t already know about it, you should check it out.
  3. This past week I started my second novel. I am planning a trilogy, in fact, so book 2 is now underway. I have a general outline, which is a better place to start than a terrible twelve-year-old draft. I have new characters and a new setting. My plan is for the first book to be a somewhat upside down Chosen One story, the second to be an urban fantasy with a bit more edge to it, and the third to be postapocalyptic. I’m quite pleased with the ideas.
  4. I have finally found (well, actually Sam found) a babysitter so I have more writing and sanity time. There is no relief like the relief of a burnt out mom getting a break at last.
  5. I’ve been reading so much. Maybe I’ll do a roundup.
  6. I’ve been knitting a lot too, but with less to show for it. Everything I do seems to be fingering weight. It takes 5ever. I will never finish anything.
  7. Starbucks is definitely benefitting from my writing. What is it about coffee shops that makes it so much easier to concentrate? Unless, of course, a creepy-ass dude sits down beside you and stares at you for a couple of hours until you leave. That was so weird.
  8. The spring has been quite nice but the bugs and humidity and heat have started and I am coming to terms with the fact that I’m a weather princess, so I’ll go outside again in the fall. It’s easier to write indoors anyway.

mary longs

Mary comes in soaked, cold, and, exhausted.

She wants things to be made right, because they are so wrong. It feels wrong to be alive, and alone, with no sense of when that will change. She doesn’t understand how she is supposed to keep on living day after day. She doesn’t understand God’s time, how everything can be transformed in an instant and yet continue along in ordinary time.
She has been ruined for ordinary time.

Jesus understood how to marry God’s time and ordinary time, how to work in this world but keep a connection to God’s sacred time. But Jesus is gone, whisked back into that sacred time. He said he would return, but she has been waiting for a long time. She longs for the wait to end.

Stop this, she tells herself. You have been down this path before. It’s the path into despair and bitterness, and just because Mary means bitter does not mean that you must become bitter.

But the longing, longing for Jesus, for the angel, for understanding, for the end of hurt and confusion and doubt and so much tiredness, is overwhelming. More than anything, she wants to see the big picture like she did once before, when she knew that the Lord’s mercy lasts from generation to generation. She longs for that mercy.

The words burst out. Lord, you came into this world and promised to turn it around. You showed me that there is no one too insignificant or overlooked or unimportant to be a part of your plan. You embodied love. You transformed me entirely, body, mind, and spirit, and now I don’t know what to do! I have lost so much and in this long silence, I feel that I have lost you too. Show me that I am wrong, Lord.

Mary pours out the deepest desires of her heart until the rain on her face made salty by her tears has dried, and the storm in her heart has settled once more. She can carry on in ordinary time for now.

mary waits

This year I am writing a reflection for each Sunday of Advent. After I read them in church, I’m posting them here.

Mary waits.

Her life has been long, and full, and difficult. To be chosen by God to bear the saviour of the nations is to be shaken, tossed, filled to overflowing and wrung out into nothing, over and over again.

She misses her son, and her husband.

She waits, stuck in ordinary time, each minute moving slowly. She has seen bits and pieces of the story from God’s time – the angel’s visit, her son’s miracles and transformations, the way everything she knew and understood about life and death, God and humans, sin and redemption turned upside down and rewritten.

Mostly, she sees the story in human time, slow and confusing and full of mistakes.

It should be time to sweep everything away and bring in the new kingdom that her son started. It’s been years since he left, and he said he would return soon. His birthday is coming up, and she always feels the pull of his message more strongly at this time of year. Love, he said. Love is the foundation of all things. Is love the foundation of waiting? Where is love in this painful wait, filled with the desire to be made whole?

There are shining, glorious moments when she feels to her core the truth that she is blessed, she was the vehicle through whom the Lord burst into creation and rewrote life, death, and time forever. She is reinvigorated to continue waiting for the fruition of her son’s work across the world. She feels once more the transcendent peace that allowed her to hear herself say “let it be with me according to your word” during the angel’s timeless visit.

There are other moments when the pain of loss and loneliness overwhelm her and she weeps. The waiting is interminable at those times.

Lord, she cries, the days are dark and long. Please, please tell me why I am waiting. Please give me the courage to wait one more day. Please give me the strength to wait for your return.

Mary walks out to share her son’s message of love yet one more time.

lent sharing 2014

Since I started my doula work three years ago, my understanding of God has been blown wide open. I used to have a pretty clean idea of God – a sense of lots of edicts from on high and having his people keep out of trouble. Once I had spent a few nights in the labour and delivery ward with birthing mothers I had to reject that theory because it just doesn’t reflect the full truth of God.

My encounters with God had been mostly cognitive with a side of emotion: for example, the epiphany that Aslan represented Jesus when I was a child, or being bowled over by John Donne’s religious imagery in university. Those were amazing experiences.

But when I spent hours rubbing a labouring mother’s back while my own back ached to death, reminding her to slow down and breathe, when I was entrenched in the astounding miracle of new life while face to face with tears and sweat and blood and pain, then everything changed. God isn’t clean and thoughtful. Aslan is not a tame lion. Women are made in the image of God, and the work to bring babies into the world is holy, mystical work even while it’s smelly and gross and awful.

Before I became a doula, I didn’t understand the biblical references to God as mother. Even when Lucy was born, and I was smacked with the reality that I had birthed a living, breathing piece of my heart, I still didn’t understand. Holding the hand of a woman while she is in the grip of contractions so strong they feel like they will rip her in two, hearing her say “I can’t do this, it’s too hard, make it stop” while she does it, stares her pain and fear in the face and pushes through it, has shown me the power of the love of God. This isn’t the tender moment of rocking peacefully. This isn’t Silent Night. This is the love of God that roars like a lioness and lets herself be turned inside out to bring life to this world.

These women have given me the most awesome gift – while they pour their life into birthing their babies, they have shown me the wild, fierce, powerful mothering God.

wilderness

This is the piece I wrote for the Lent series at our church. They asked me to write a testimony based around the ideas of wilderness and coming home. 

 

For my English degree, I had to read a book called Descent into Hell. I almost couldn’t do it. The sentences dragged on for over a page apiece, there were several complex storylines, and it was bristling with theological allegory. I didn’t know it at the time, but the book that has made the strongest impression on me is one that I can’t bear to re-read.

The part that burned itself into my life was the theology of sharing burdens versus the soul-destroying power of isolation. One character is able to bear an impossible amount of suffering because another character has physically shouldered most of it, and for her, the weight is easy because it doesn’t belong to her. Meanwhile, a third character falls into a hell of his own making because he gradually cuts off all his relationships until he is completely alone.

When I was in the hospital for Lucy’s birth, I spent a whole night waiting for the induction to start working, but I couldn’t get much sleep. Instead I sat with my doula and listened to the other women on the high-risk ward having their babies. One in particular had come in at the same time as me; she was a diabetic single mother who had received no prenatal care. I never saw her face. I listened to her yell that she didn’t want to do this while the nurse tried to calm her down and prepare for her crowning baby. I was strapped to monitors and my IV but my heart was breaking for her. I wanted so badly to cross the hall and hold her hand.

Later, in the recovery ward, I saw a mother all alone staring at her baby crying in its bassinet. I don’t know if it was her, but I still wonder.

My experience of pregnancy and parenting has been far from amazing. In addition to the brilliant, shining moments and the everyday managing, I’ve never felt so isolated, anxious, and frustrated in my life. But I have a supportive husband, family, friend base, and church community. I may be too proud to ask for help, but at least there are people I can ask, and I know that I take this gift far too lightly.

Where is that mother now? Is she still alone? How much darker are her dark days than mine? I did my doula training because of her. I walk through pregnancy and birth and early infancy with other women because of her. I picked up a burden of emotional investment and sleeplessness because of a passion that was born just before my daughter.

Our culture does not celebrate weakness, or asking for help. We value pride and self-sufficiency to the point of condemning ourselves to crushing isolation. We refuse to acknowledge that by asking someone to share our burden, we are turning our back on hell. Even though I gladly stay up all night in a hospital room with mothers and fathers as I support them through childbirth, I don’t want to confess that my day-to-day life drags me down until I feel like shouting that I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to be stuck in an ordinary life anymore.

It stings to think that the theology that fuels my passion for doula work doesn’t extend to the rest of my life. It compounds my sense of inadequacy and guilt that I just don’t measure up, I’m not good enough, I’m not strong enough to live without help. I can pick up others’ burdens but it’s too scary to share mine, so I’m stuck between heaven and hell. The thing is, when I have let them out, the relief is mutual. My struggles aren’t unique.The weight of them is a lie.

I wish I could tell that labouring woman that she isn’t alone. I wish I could tell her how she changed me. I can’t. I can only move forward, awkward and clumsy, picking up the burdens around me while I try to learn how to share my own.