My daughter and I sometimes play a word game as we drive the gloriously winding stretches of road leading to her classes, her job, and horseback riding. It is rapid fire:
Three pet peeves. Go.
So I answer:
Clowns, small planes, and ice-breakers.
She laughs, unruffled, and her eyes are so blue. Oh Mom, you are the most predictable.
I like to imagine this is part of my staying power. In an ever-changing world, I enjoy not surprising people. And if you paid attention to my pet peeves, this might not surprise you, either.
I began this type of game when our children were quite small. It was a slower volley back then, with me asking their favorite color, favorite books, favorite animals, and favorite foods? I already knew the answers, from paying attention to those four little beauties. I treasured their opinions and preferences; I wanted them to not only be known, but to know that they were known; beloved. And then, their little voices from the backseat would return the favor, peppering me with questions. They especially enjoyed posing the same ones, time and again. It felt like a test: Is Mom really listening? Will she tell the truth?
I remember one day, driving home from the park, the heat oppressive. My iced lemonade sat perched, perspiring in the minivan’s cupholder, and even with the AC cranked full blast, we were sweltering. The boys had guzzled their juice boxes, ballcaps all crooked, cheeks crimson. They had even peeled off their socks in a desperate attempt to cool down. To pass time, Jacob began the question game: Mommy, what is your favorite season?
Mentally I thought: Well, not this one, sweet pea.
As I prepared to answer aloud, I first took a sip of my cold drink.
This must have taken a bit too long, because I heard Caleb’s gravelly voice:
Remember, Jacob? Her favorite season is fall. It’s always fall.
Oh, to be known.
The pure sweetness of those long days and flashing years echoes deep. I see now the gift of those hours stacked upon hours, a long string of days with my children; the character-forming and shaping, the consistency built without shortcuts. Time and work and repetition paving the quotidian path for trust and security to take root. I made so many mistakes, but God saw fit to work through my lack.
Children are onions, made up of thin layers. As their mother, it was my joy to gently peel layer by layer; learning them; understanding that they, too, are image-bearers of God, unique and quite separate from me. Children begging for both boundaries and freedom, but ultimately requiring freedom within boundaries to flourish.
The mother and child relationship is tender. A baby is carried and slowly formed for the better part of a year, and there is a knowing of that tiny person. And then, with the birthing, comes a sudden severing of the oneness. The baby cries, disoriented by the bright lights and cold air; the harsh separation. The mother cries out with pain, followed by swift joy and a holy fear at the weight of her treasure. I remember for weeks after the birth of each of our babies, awakening from snippets of sleep in a flooding panic, realizing all over again that they were no longer safely growing within, but were separated from me, an arm’s length away in their bassinette, which might as well have been oceans away in my sleep-deprived stupor. The cord had been cut.
Thus began the lifelong ebb and flow: the pulling in and nurturing, the sending off in independence, the pulling in of loving and training, the sending out to leave and make their own way, the pulling in of please come home anytime, coupled with the willingness to step outside, barefoot on the porch, waving goodbye with a full, aching heart, genuinely happy for their adulthood, while utterly missing the olden days when every little stairstep was tucked safely into bed by eight o’clock.
Writing is not so different.
Each story grows and flutters within, and is held safely until it is born. And then once it is out there in the big wide world, I am relieved yet left wondering what ever possessed me to let it go. I hold a loving attachment to each piece: a longing to serve my reader well, yet pondering if the words might have missed the mark. Every story is as unique as each of my children, yet there is a resemblance, a solidarity of voice, just as each of my children holds a portrait of familial likeness. Separate yet similar and uniquely cherished.
Ultimately I do my best and let the story go. The baby has been prayed over and birthed, and I have already asked God to please make it true and beautiful and read by those of his choosing. The story sprouts wings and is gone. After a few days, I begin stitching together the next one.
My stories are born from paying attention to tiny details; threads pulled and woven. Snippets of conversation, observing beauty in the great outdoors, hearing a string of words that sparks a memory, wrangling goodness in life’s hard crevices. I keep a notebook of things I see and words that dance and stories I remember, hoping to eventually mix them together to awaken something in my reader. Most of my notes are yet untapped. These things take time.
I think of writing in this space as the onion approach: the gentle pulling back of layers, inviting the reader to figure it out.
Instead of writing this:
I prefer cold weather. I like to exercise outside. I enjoy when our whole family is at home together for dinner.
I bid you to understand with this:
Three Favorite things. Go.
Soft hoodies, long trail walks, a crowded family table with elbows bumping, dishes passed, laughter and clinking silverware.
How to write? Sit down and do the work, no matter what. Attention, time, labor, repeat. There are many days I write for an hour or more and ultimately scrap the entire mess. This is not a waste of time. It is part of the process that yields the finished piece. Also, take a break and go live. Take a walk, clean the kitchen, read books formed by another, enjoy coffee with a friend, wash the car. Words often come when you are not drumming your fingers impatiently.
The work of writing is costly for the author: born of heart and soul and stretches of time.
The reader is the recipient of the final draft only; he will never know the dreadful beginnings, the bleeding out, the middle parts of despair, the jagged margins, nor should he. The finished work is his gift.
This morning I drove our daughter to work in the early morning, and coming home, it was still dark. As I accelerated over a hill, I was astonished to see the moon hanging low in front of me: swollen, massive, buttery bright and breathtaking. I felt as though I could stretch and touch it; as though it might swallow me up. What joy to be alone with God and his magnificent moon.
Yet there was a twin longing: to share this early morning beauty with someone, to bring others inside the goodness of God, to be surprised with me by the Creator and all of his masterpieces.
So I write.
(This week’s post is my response to Abigail who so kindly nominated me for the Liebster Award.)