My writing and speaking career began with a Christmas letter. About ten years ago, I wrote a piece about our Christmas tree and included it with our family Christmas card. I received a lot of positive feedback on what I'd written (from people other than my mother), and someone even recommended that I start writing articles at church for a marriage newsletter. When I was asked to edit and contribute original articles to this newsletter which went out to about three hundred marriage workshop participants, my first thought was No, thank you. I don't know how to do that. But then came this other thought, brave and vulnerable...But I'd like to try. What's the worst that can happen? That I'm terrible at it and I get fired from volunteering?
I wrote an original article for one of the issues, and another leader (who was an editor at Chicago's Daily Herald newspaper) asked if she could rework the article and run it in a brand new parenting magazine the paper was launching. With my name in the byline.
Then I thought of a couple more article ideas for the parenting section, and after getting approval to write them I googled "how to write a feature article for a newspaper." We did this ping-pong thing for a few months, her asking me to write about a certain topic, and me throwing out more ideas, and then she said, "Why don't we just make this a regular column? We'll call it 'A Mom's Point of View.'"
I cut my writing teeth on that column, which ran for five years, and I also took a writing class at a local college. I honed my skills. I opened myself up to critique (which is so very painful, and the best way to grow). I learned from other writers. I registered for a writer's conference, which led to more articles published in various magazines. Several people told me I needed to start speaking as well, because speaking and writing go together, and my first thought was No! I stuttered as a child into adulthood. I want to be a writer. I could never be a speaker! And then my brave voice from somewhere deep inside...but I sure would like to try. What's the worst that can happen? That I'm terrible and no one ever asks me to speak again?
After attending my second writer's conference and pitching my book idea to more than a dozen publishers (and getting rejected by those who responded) I finally got two yeses. I chose Kregel Publishers, and my book, Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy, What My Mother Taught Me About How to Live and How to Die was released in 2017.
I have been speaking and writing to women for ten years, and I love it. I don't know where this journey goes from here, and that's OK. I'm learning to trust God's timing. He knows what is best and is preparing me for what is next. I'm learning to not let fear call the shots. I'm reminded to not despise small beginnings.
As with Mary, all God is asking of me is a willing, surrendered heart. That my YES comes from a place of trusting that He is good, He is with me, and He has a plan. I don't have to figure everything out on my own or know all the details in advance.
And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord;
let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38)
Thanks for following along on my journey. You can read my ten-year-old Christmas letter below. Every word of it still rings true. Merry Christmas to you and yours <3
One of the things I love most about the Christmas season is putting up our tree. Every ornament takes me back to a particular time or place, a memory attached to each one. Many memories are joy-filled, and some carry painful reminders of a difficult season or time of loss. Yet when the tree is complete I find that it speaks of God’s goodness and faithfulness in my life, and I am able to see how my story echoes His greater story-the one we celebrate at Christmas.
Some of my favorite ornaments are from different places we’ve lived, like London, Mexico, and Austin, as well as from here at home in Illinois. Some we’ve picked up during our travels, like on our honeymoon, at our favorite bed and breakfast on the shore of Lake Michigan, and from the Wisconsin Dells. I love watching our three daughters dig through the boxes to find their “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments, along with dozens that they have made over the years. We have ornaments given to us by friends and family, as well as a few I fought for at white elephant exchanges.
Packed in these same boxes are ornaments we bought the year my husband, Bernie, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and a Hallmark globe from 2002 that simply says, “Emmanuel, God with us”. We bought it for our friends who buried their precious baby daughter right before Christmas, and then we bought one for ourselves because we needed those words of comfort as well.
We have two Crayola crayon ornaments that say “Oasis” which is where our children spent some time being cared for while Bernie and I found help and healing at our church’s marriage workshop.
Even my nativity set tells a story. I purchased it while shopping with my aunt on vacation. We had no idea that my uncle would go home to be with Jesus that very morning.
Some people would rather not be reminded of such painful memories. And I have to admit, that first year, it was hard to set up my new nativity. But with each passing year, I have come to realize just how significant all these treasures are. Together they paint a picture that is symbolic of our lives: the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows, the highs and the lows.
Often during the holidays, we work overtime trying to make everything seem perfect. We sing about our troubles being miles away and miss the invitation to come just as we are – troubles and all – and worship the One who came to be with us, to be our Emmanuel.