About ten years ago I decided I wanted to live the second half of my life differently than the way I had lived the first half. During my school years and well into my twenties, I had lived my life largely driven by fear. I stuttered as a child and young adult, and fears of rejection, failure, and shame were my daily companions. For the most part, I avoided situations that caused me anxiety, and I said no to things I was afraid of.
My moment of clarity happened on a zip line. My husband and I had taken our daughters to Spring Hill Family Camp in Michigan, and we decided a zip line would be fun. It wasn't until I began strapping on my helmet and my harness, until I began to ascend the several flights of wooden stairs leading me up to the platform where I would have to JUMP OFF (I obviously had not thought this through), until I saw my precious daughters and my adventurous husband sitting on their perches looking at me as if to say, "Come on already--let's do this!", that I was confronted with my lifelong pattern of letting fear call the shots. Because of my panic, I said, "I don't really want to do this, so I'll just go back down the stairs and watch you guys from the ground." I don't know if it was the looks of disappointment on my daughters' faces, or the camp counselor talking me through my scary imaginations, or the fact that God had been preparing my heart for this moment, but I realized that as much as I wanted to say no, there was this other part of me that didn't want that to be the way the story played out. There was this other part of me that wanted to say yes, that was tired of being afraid and so wanted to be free. So I jumped. I said yes and I found that it wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. I said yes and experienced something new and exciting with people I love. And when I said yes, my daughters saw me be brave.
In the couple of years leading up to my zip line moment, I had begun saying yes to things that scared me: a volunteer position at church that made me editor and contributor for a marriage workshop newsletter, submitting some of my articles for consideration at newspapers and magazines, attending a writers' conference and meeting one-on-one with editors and publishers to pitch my work, and then deciding that I would give public speaking a try (after several people at the conference told me I should give it a go.)
I still feared rejection and failure, but because of the work that God was doing in my life--mostly through small groups and bible studies and the people in them who showed me acceptance and grace--God's love was reshaping my identity. In I John 4 we read that God's perfect love drives out fear, and as we experience His love (largely through loving one another), we come to know and rely on His love. I began to think differently., and instead of avoiding everything I was afraid of, I began to take some risks. I'd think, "OK, I may fail. I may be rejected. But even if that happens, God totally loves and accepts me as I am." I was getting used to this strange combination of anxiety and excitement, of fear and hope, and one decision at a time, I was saying yes to some things that scared me -- things I thought I could never do.
I've been surprised by how much I enjoy some of the things I feared so much. Not the zip line--that was not my thing. Didn't love it. But speaking to groups about topics I am passionate about? I LOVE doing that. Who knew? Well, actually, God knew. I felt Him gently nudging me, inviting me to try new things, and after I spoke in front of my first group and shared my story, I swear I heard Him whisper to my heart, "See! I knew you'd love it.""
On our recent trip to México to visit my husband's family, we rode in a hot air balloon over the pyramids of Teotihuacan. I was terrified all week leading up to this excursion, and it may seem like it was a brave thing for me to do. (I'm afraid of heights. And hot balloons.) But here's the truth...I went in the balloon because I was afraid not to. The thought of watching the people I love most get into a wicker basket that is tethered to a balloon with giant balls of fire inside and float up into the sky without me scared me way more than actually riding in the balloon itself. If something catastrophic were going to happen, I didn't want to watch it from the ground. But I have to tell you--I loved it. I mean I was totally freaked out and scared out of my mind, but it was incredibly beautiful and peaceful at the same time, And seeing about twenty other balloons on flights all around us was breathtaking.
As far as fear goes, I'm always struggling with some kind of anxiety. I think it's sort of hard-wired into me. It's something I learned and practiced for so many years that it's hard to not think anxiety-inducing thoughts. I always have something on my calendar that scares me. And I'm always making up catastrophic things in my head that most likely will never happen.
When my Mom was diagnosed with incurable, inoperable, terminal cancer, I felt fear like I had never felt before. I wanted to find a clinic or a hospital, a treatment or a doctor, anything that would save her. It was the worst news ever. And over the eight heart-wrenching months that followed, as I tried my best to come to terms with my impending loss, I saw my Mom say no to fear. Everyday. I saw her hold on to Jesus, everyday. I saw her trust God's wisdom and His plan for her life. She became a conduit of peace to those around her because she allowed God's love to drive out her fears. She believed that no matter what happened, God was with her. He loved her. And she was secure in His love.
I am learning to rely on God's love. Hard things are going to happen. I am going to fail and feel rejection. Unexpected losses will occur, and at times I will hurt. But God's love is knowable and reliable. It is steadfast and ever-lasting, and it is powerful enough to free us from all of our fears. Perfect love drives out fear. Because of His amazing love for us, we really do not have to be afraid. What is keeping you from living freely in God's love? #cancerfaithandunextpectedjoy #fear #courage #perfectlovedrivesoutfear #godslove #anxiety #freedom
It has been four years since I said my final goodbye to my irreplaceable mom.
I still think about her every single day. It's not that I haven't grieved. I have. It's not that I'm stuck and can't move forward. On the contrary, I have grown and made discoveries about God, myself and life after loss. It's just that when you lose someone who is a core person in your life, someone who helped shape and mold you, someone whose voice lives inside your head and your heart, you don't forget. You don't ever stop remembering and calling to mind the words and the tone and the warmth of who this person was.
It has been two years since I drove roundtrip for four consecutive days to Wheaton College--thirty miles from my home--for the Write to Publish conference. I was prepared. I had spent months writing and editing my book proposal. I had my one-sheet and my elevator pitch. (The elevator pitch is what you would say to a publisher if the two of you happened to get on the elevator at the same time and you only had 30 seconds to explain why he/she absolutely had to publish your book. I wrote my pitch and then avoided the elevators completely.)
Over the course of those four glorious days I immersed myself in the world of writing. I listened to faculty members teach on how to write a hook that gets you published, how to craft successful titles and market your work, how to write a non-fiction book, and how to jump-start your speaking career. I overdosed on words, written and spoken.
I made several ten-minute appointments with as many editors, agents, and publishers as was allowed, and then I mustered all the courage I had and pitched my book. I wanted to write about my mom and what she taught me about living and dying. how she showed me that I don't have to be afraid. I wanted to write about my grief journey and my faith and the messy way my heart was healing.
I left the conference with a handful of publishers and editors that wanted to see my proposal. So I spent the next several weeks sending it out, crafting cover letters and waiting for responses.
I hate waiting.
When responses came in, they were often similar in their wording. "Your writing is good. You tell your story in a compelling way. But this book would be hard to market." In other words,...memoirs are a hard sell and as a first time author, no one knows who you are. Or, "we already have a similar project in the works. We hope you find a home for your manuscript."
We hope you find a home for your manuscript. My manuscript was homeless. And I began to lose hope that my book would ever get picked up by a publisher. My dream of publishing my book was beginning to feel like a burden--a constant reminder of my failure--and I came to the point where I decided to give up my dream. I should have done it from the beginning--given my dream up to God. If He wanted my book to be published, He would open a door. If not, that was OK, too. I surrendered it and wrote about it in a blog post called, "When it's time to give up your dreams."
It was my friend Steph who finally asked me, "But you wrote it, right? You wrote the book? Because you can publish it yourself, you know, just for your family and friends."
Um, no, I haven't written it yet. I mean, I've written a few sample chapters, and I have an outline. And I've started several chapters, but no, I've been too busy writing my proposal and pitching my book. I haven't had the time (or the courage) to actually write it. What if no one wants to read it?
"You're right. I just need to write it."
So I hunkered down and wrote it. I woke up early and stayed up late. I wrote it in my head during the day when I was working and I wrote down notes on a pad of paper I kept on my nightstand just before I turned out the light. For about six weeks, I poured over my journal and I poured out my heart. And as I did, healing came. Sometimes I couldn't read the words on my computer screen through my tears. I felt as if I was turning my heart inside out, and the healing and comfort I experienced went just as deep.
I sent every chapter to Steph, and she read it all--more than once. I sent chapters to family and friends, and the book came together. Paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, it assembled itself into a story of love and loss, healing and hope.
I followed up on one last lead--a small publisher out of Colorado, and the editor said, "Send me the book when it's done." So I did.
And they gave me a contract. Just like that. And then, as I was working my way through the contract, I heard back from one of the editors I met at Write to Publish nine months earlier, asking me if I was still working on the book. I told him I had just finished it, and he said he wanted to see it.
They sent me a contract also. I ended up going with the second publisher, Kregel, out of Grand Rapids, and over the course of the last year my book has gone through a transformation. They had me double the original length, which seemed like an impossible task. But in the end they were right--there was more story to tell. I just had to dig deeper and find it. They changed the title from Holding On, Letting Go to Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy--which I wasn't happy about at first, but again, they were right. The new title made sense, would let people immediately know what the book is about, and has key words so it's easy to find. Each editor I worked with was amazing, and I learned to trust them with my story. They took what I gave them and made it so much better.
I am profoundly grateful. I'll be sharing quotes and posts over the next several weeks leading up to the book's release on September 26. I warmly invite you to come along on this journey with me. All of us have experienced loss, and I'm praying that together we can heal and find joy in the most unexpected places.