writing

This is day one.

You are going to have to give and give and give, or there's no reason for you to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward. There is no cosmic importance to your getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver.
ANNE LAMOTT

Beware, these thoughts are trickling in at 9pm on a Saturday evening. I'm giving myself 30 minutes to write, the typical time it takes to craft three sentences at best.

This morning, I meant to sleep in. No plans are rare, not needing an alarm even rarer. Instead of lingering in my dreams or the weekend quietude, I bolted out of bed early and almost automatically, landing in front of the laptop. I opened my drafts, intending to write. Thoughts had woken themselves up and there would be no rest till they found themselves worked out on a page. Eventually, I lost myself to the internet abyss where I continued on in my usual way—ditching writing and clicking dozens of new tabs to inhale others' words and thoughts and creations. 

A few hours, gone. No contributions made. Not even a simple thank you given to this generous bunch—the writers and thinkers and creators before me. I have a digital stockpile of information and little to show for it. I've been taking in and not giving back.

After accomplishing nothing and dragging myself to make a fried egg, I pulled Bird by Bird off the dresser where covers are sorted in rainbow hues. Sometimes I forget they're more than decoration. When I do remember to read, I often get my hiney kicked... like today, by Anne Lamott.

Turns out, I'm darn selfish. 

I've done little with the skill or passion I have in writing. It's not been maintained through practice or challenged through discipline. To deviate from my old, attention-seeking days, I've overcorrected by deliberately keeping words and ideas to myself. Yet here I am, benefitting from what people give to the world, feeling connected and understood by them. Something is wrong here.

The books I adore only exist because their writers were generous. People who risked rejection and gave their time, honesty, resources, and whole hearts to write because that's what they were made to do. People who believed the act of writing was its own reward. I'm not like that, but I want to be. 

Today, September 1st, I'm aiming to write daily for 30 days. I'm curious to see why I'm drawn to certain content—specifically of those internet tabs lined in a row. I'll be asking myself, how will I respond to such and such compelling essay? Why does this art move me? What emotions are evoked? Whose work should I celebrate, thank, or promote today? And how might I learn to be a better giver, through words, and on here? 

That was more like 90 minutes, but hey, the words arrived before midnight. I'll see you tomorrow for day two. Now, I set my alarm for church and rest.

Green peas & the truth they help tell.

Green peas and the truth they help tell.

Wednesday evening, I chanced dinner with a new recipe involving peas—one of the few foods I've always firmly disliked. I was on a time crunch to get this dish prepared before Bible class and couldn't think of an adequately swappable vegetable before marching out of Publix. Plus, I'd polled my housemates over text and they all liked peas, so it was decided. Half an hour later and I'm in the kitchen, slicing an enormous amount of mushrooms and microwaving the spherical veggies in question. Y'all wouldn't believe it. I am now perfectly pleased by peas.

For maybe a week now, I've been rethinking the role of writing in my life. Before work, during church, past bedtime. All that evaluation and here I am, with 96 words on the serendipity of green peas. Try the recipe and thank me later?

Truly, though. I'd like to give some notes on my writing lest you think I've suddenly become a food blogger transforming Picky Nickys of the world.

Another person tells me I'm inspiring. They've clicked a link and read my words. After decomposing dozens of sentences, it's those words I've chosen to make public and with them, I've aimed to be truthful. Please God, I don't want to be inspiring. Not anymore.

I entered vocational ministry when I was 18, writing newsletters and Facebook posts chronicling my stay in Mozambican villages and beyond. I traded the traditional route of college for it and my friends back home began to say...

I could never do what you're doing. 
It takes a special kind of person to do that.
Only 18? I wish I was like you at that age.
You're so brave!
So inspiring.

They had elevated my choices and I'll admit, it made me feel good for a few years. In 2015, I left the missions organization and returned to the U.S. mainland. Since then, God has thrown out and ironed flat many wrong beliefs—as he does with all his growing children. I can see how this expectation to be only inspiring or spiritual began to develop 7 years back and an ocean away. I'd unconsciously made a god of myself. Many areas have been touched by this faulty expectation, writing included. I wish I could easily crumple up that darn lie.

When in its proper role, writing aids the life I'm living off paper and screen. It helps me call to mind what God has done and challenges me to make better observations of his gifts around me. I know something is whacky when I write to resemble someone I'm not. That's not hard to do, you know. I decided about a year ago if I'm not experiencing or interacting with God and the world apart from parchment and pixels, there's nothing to say. I'm here for sincerity, not make believe.

Here's the truth: my day to day life is not reserved to only depth or passion or grief, though they are present. It's more ordinary, practical, and amusing (the stories are endless!) than it appears. And I love those parts, too. If my writing is an extension of all I'm learning from God and his creation, then I want to do so more freely. 

I've done you a disservice by writing from an obligation to remain "inspiring." It might've been a self-imposed expectation, but I'm through with it. Bob Goff wrote this brilliant line in Love Does, "I used to think rules were made by someone else, but now I know we get to make some of our own." 

These are 5 new rules I'm giving myself on this little patch of internet-land:

01. I will write when moved by passion, brokenness, discomfort, and joy. But sometimes I will feel none of those things, and yet God will still lead me here, to the screen and to the keyboard, to keep up with the practice of writing faithfully even when I'd rather not. I will write even then. 

02. I will write to collect and share memories. This means I can celebrate sometimes, mourn other times, and delight often in the ordinariness of life without feeling shame.

03. I will write earnestly about what I'm learning. As an outcome, I hope readers might actively join me in seeking God and his upside down ways. I hope they don't sit and think, "Inspiring. Could never do it." 

04. I will write as a way of exploration. With words, with topics, with humor, with art, with my voice. It's okay to not get it right. It's okay to merge my altruistic personality and quirkiness and inner dork together here. 

05. I will write and welcome others to come along. And I will also always give permission for someone to click away, to stop reading, and to choose to spend time elsewhere. 

There you have it. Accidental rules on writing because somehow I formed a mantra on peas when I meant to have an essay on loneliness. (now that's a mouthful!) I won't feel poorly over it, either. Rule 02 exists because I need reminding even our most ordinary days have something to delight in. I could've been inspiring but today, I chose sincerity instead. 

I'll write onward—with those rules like lampposts lighting my way.

Why write?

A mishmash of thoughts shuffle left, then right.

I've been sitting behind this laptop for too many hours, pressing the delete key too many times. I want, so badly, to tell you about life as of now. Yet unlike Noah's animals in the ark, it seems neither thoughts nor words can find their match. Blaming cognitive impairment would be easy, but illness is not at fault for everything. Maybe it's my addiction to perfection? Honest paragraphs tumble out and—delete, delete, delete.

Life in real-time is a rough draft; conclusions are few and mistakes are abundant. I'm not ready to show this. So I press save on two sentences and return to my reading.

Friday night I finished a biography on Amy Carmichael, a beloved missionary in India. I saw how she was utterly committed to God, steadfast in her convictions, and often misunderstood because of it. When it came to truth-telling, Amy Carmichael was unswerving. She wrote, "We are so afraid to offend, so afraid of stark truth, that we write delicately, not honestly." I scribbled the quote by lamplight and thought, this is me.

I am afraid. 

As you might've noticed, my writing here is not frequent. I come with summaries not because it's what I enjoy, but because it's easier. I've carefully considered not only my words but your possible opinion of me for so long.

Please hear me, I'm not advocating sloppiness or haphazard writing. I take great responsibility for what I say. Everything could be shared, but not everything should be. And for that reason, there have been times (especially in the last year) where I stepped back to sort through emotions and events privately. 

But, this blog was never meant to be a heavily-edited publication or a museum. It's not a holding place for shiny thoughts and polished words.

My aim here is to give something that is true, meaningful, and in real-time—like the letters or care packages I send friends. Think smaller, simpler narratives. I want to share resources with you, write updates on health, jot thoughts on life lately, talk about uncomfortable topics, and chronicle the challenges (and joys) of staying put or one day, if God wills, my going elsewhere.

I don't know that those are the best reasons to show up and write. But as you see my weakness and know my humanness, I hope, somehow, these thoughts and words might point you towards God. Always, towards Him—the One whose ways are perfect and promises true.

Why write?

Behind-the-scenes of a perfectionist writer.

I am allowing myself an hour to write before I hit publish.

Only a handful of people know the following confession: it takes me three hours to write one paragraph on here. My desire for superiority irks me.

I've never attempted to write a book aside from "Esther's Extraordinary Life" in 4th grade, but I imagine if I did, then perhaps 180 minutes per paragraph would be acceptable.

But I'm not writing a book, and even if I was, I would hope to not make every sentence a rigorous case for perfection. If that happened, there would be no joy in writing and I might as well quit the task altogether.

And I'm not ready to quit.

From an early age, I have tried to make life look as effortless as possible.

Being in the arts industry, it was second nature to me—this performing and masking. As a ballet dancer, the goal is to move with such grace, ease, and strength that the long-rehearsed steps would appear painless and simple to an audience. The more we practiced, the easier they could be convinced. Sadly, this belief did not just remain in the realm of ballet for me.

My last performance onstage was in 2010, but the critiquing and rehearsing on some studio version of myself has not ceased.

I learned a lot about determination, craft, and team work in those years, but one thing I wish to unlearn is the fear of being myself.

If you know me, hopefully you know I am an advocate for honesty, truth, confession, and repentance. I don't set out to hide who I am—but I do need direction on how to be myself, unabashedly.

We all want to be ourselves.

We want to know those selves will be accepted, loved, and welcomed in. 

Our lives are not painless or simple. They are complex, profound, painstakingly beautiful, and worth something good.

They will not fit into 90 minutes of choreography or be illumined with soundtracks and bouquets and applause. As long as we are here on earth, these lives will not be devoid of glitches. Sin, hurt, and brokenness have been part of the deal since Genesis 3. At some point, we have got to get honest with ourselves, our people, and most importantly, God.

We cannot make it our goal to prove how our practicing finally attained perfection.

We'll never achieve it.

I don't know about you, but I am so tired, friend. I am tired of carefully curating struggles, tweaking and editing words, withholding thoughts and opinions due to fear, and being ashamed with what goes on behind-the-scenes.

During that final 2010 performance, I was in intense amounts of pain. I sobbed backstage and skipped warm-up because of the injuries. Once the music began and I got to the stage, I put on a smile and played the part.

Isn't it so easy to do that in our lives? We play the part, because that's what we believe is both expected and accepted.

Writing and sharing about living with sickness is not difficult for me. It seems brave, and I like that feeling. But it's not.

The day I get brave is the day I confront my unhealthy attachment to food. My struggles with body image and weight. The crippling fears I have of loved ones taking their lives or being sexually abused. My thoughts on the church or theology. My desperate pleas for the world. Or that "d" word called depression.

I still desire perfection. I don't like mistakes.

There are certain sins, insecurities, and lies I am tempted to make you think I never wrestle with. But here's the thing—I am not always going to get it right. I cannot hold a pose forever.

As the Holy Spirit guides and exposes, I am taking stock of wrong belief systems, thought patterns, and heart idols. I am going to believe, every day, that although God could have made someone else, it's us that He chose.  

My "hour" finished up awhile ago, so I will finish here.

I want to walk away from this staged way of living, and live well behind-the-scenes. If that means brokenness, questions, or doing the hard things, so be it.

I want to be myself. I want to be bent and spent for the glory of God.

Will you join me there?