Most people (well, only the lucky few who get them) take a sabbatical every seven years, but in my case, I've taken a sabbatical for seven years. Not from a job, though, but from what I'm doing right now: blogging.
Seven years ago (maybe even to the day), I signed off what was then known as the God blogosphere. I was part of that first wave of Christian bloggers who started talking aloud and then to each other. We created a larger dialogue that manifested itself in posts and comments and blog carnivals and even a convention - GODBLOGCON. Despite different denominations, backgrounds, ages, genders, and more, there was a kinship between us. That's not to say there wasn't also controversy and tension, but it didn't dominate our interactions.
My first blog was called Proverbial Wife. I started it in late 2003 or early 2004 (I had my first baby at that time, so it's a bit hazy, and I'm too lazy to go look it up). The name was a reference to the Proverbs 31 woman, whom I aspired to be, and it was quite catchy, but despite its popularity, I eventually changed it (felt like to much to live up to), and that - changing blog names - was to become a pattern with me. I can't even remember all the names, but the main ones were Marla Swoffer (as in dot com) and Marla's Musings and Always Thirsty. I also had multiple blogs at various times - notably, Olive Cheeses (food blog), GodBlogRoll (a directory of blogs categorized by bloggers' Myers-Briggs personality types), and Intellectuelle, a group blog of Christian women who won a writing contest I dreamed up - it was hosted by Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost.
I loved connecting with others who shared my faith and were deep thinkers, since it had rarely happened offline after I finished school. It was as close as I would get to being part of something like the Inklings - that group of Christian writers which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, my literary (and in Lewis' case, spiritual as well) heroes. Speaking of the Inklings, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the way my blog got its wings was when it was noticed by Jared Wilson, ringleader of what was then The Thinklings, a group blog, which though all male, I considered kindred spirits. They were the first ones to spread "the conversation" to my fledgling blog. (mind you, when I use that phrase, it has nothing to do with anything "emergent")
After 2+ years of blogging daily (or more), I had a solid readership, but the nagging feeling (conviction) that I needed to change my priorities finally got through to me with the news that I was pregnant with my third (and last) child. I had sensed that I should quit blogging when I was about to have my second child, a year before, but when an amazing and generous couple who read my blog gifted me with my first apple computer (which totally converted me) - a macbook (after I joked that I would blog during my labor if I only had a laptop) - I felt that I couldn't throw in the towel just yet, that with this second baby perhaps I'd finally master time management.
That was not to be. And instead of writing from inspiration, it had become an obligation to perform fueled by my desire for acceptance/affirmation/admiration as well as a more pure motive of wanting to encourage and connect with others. But there I had trouble as well - I was too transparent and vulnerable. I didn't "overshare" by today's blogging standards, but it was too much for my personality type (we INFJs are extremely private) and there were other factors at the time (see I've learned to censor myself) that made keeping certain deep things offline even more important (hint: never work out stuff on the internet that you haven't worked out with people in real life first).
The other problem was that because of being a crusader for truth, I was attracted to controversy, or it to me, but whatever the case, it got ugly. The stuff I alluded to in the aforementioned paragraph got mingled in with the online drama, which caused me major distress...and did I mention I was also in my first trimester of pregnancy? That brings me back to the biggest reason I had to quit blogging: my family. I had three year-old and one year-old daughters, with a son on the way. I wanted my attention to be focused on them - after all, they were the reason I was staying home. I also wanted to guard their privacy. And of course there was my husband, too. My online life definitely detracted from my real life - I simply couldn't spread myself so thin, especially being the slow, methodical, non multi-tasking person that I am. I won't even mention how my daily hours online affected the housework...
So that is why I quietly exited my public writing life seven years ago, feeling both relief and grief, but believing I would one day return to my writing (since I have always known - well, since high school - that it's a calling/vocation) when the kids were all in school and I would have my mornings free. That was supposed to have happened this last fall, but three years after I quit blogging, we unexpectedly became a homeschooling family, and I knew things would never unfold the way I had planned, but I also didn't (and don't) regret being on this path...and adventure really...that God has marked out for us. I also know how much it will enrich my writing.
Somewhere in there, I started blogging again (what can I say, I couldn't stay away), but not with my real name and not with any consistency. Thus I had no readership until a couple of years ago when I adopted the Literary Mom pseudonym. I was already a regular Facebook customer (see, even quitting my day blog couldn't keep me offline...sigh...), so setting up a writerly page really couldn't be helped. Thus, instead of blogging, I was blurting out thoughts and curating information for others (i.e. amassing lots of interesting links that came into my massive news feed caused by an untold number of page likes). That continues to this day, though I have "unplugged" from Facebook for weeks and months at a time (fasting it from it for Advent or Lent usually) to sort of reset myself. The internet is paradoxically a perpetual source of angst and delight for me as a person and a writer. I have a love-hate relationship with it and its social media offspring.
This past Lent, I gave up white flour and sugar and alcohol (except on feast days of course), and found myself blogging a little more frequently, which was what I set out to do, albeit half-heartedly. It felt surprisingly right and good. That got me thinking about how long it had been since I had left the God blogosphere; I realized it was exactly seven years. Through the working out of various circumstances (including a reconciliation I consider miraculous) in recent months, I had felt a gentle nudging to come out of hiding, so to speak, but also a sense of trepidation. Nothing had changed for me to be able to suddenly devote myself to my writing - my kids aren't little, but they're still young - and homeschooling is very consuming. So I really wasn't sure what the point in using my real name now would be, yet I also started to feel bothered about my picture being a face behind a book. While it had been apt for a season, I sensed that keeping it (and continuing to not use my real name) began to reflect a kind of cowardice that didn't apply to me. In fact, overcoming fear continues to be a major theme in my life.
So the seven year timing (I'm big on patterns and symbols and rhythms), feeling free to be myself, and rediscovering the joy of writing all gave me the inspiration to throw off the anonymity that bound me and cautiously start a new chapter in my blogging life, going forward with the lessons learned from my previous one, as well as what I have learned during these past seven years of relative reclusivity.
Here are some of my blogging resolutions:
I will not market myself or network or have giveaways (not really my personality anyway).
I will not blog out of compulsion or obligation or on any kind of timetable.
I will steer clear of controversial subjects, especially pertaining to other bloggers and their views.
I will write to express what matters, not just to me, but to others, and most of all, to God.
I will keep my family my first priority and not let blogging distract me or steal time from them.
I will be careful about what I share, guarding my family's privacy and not getting too personal.
If I am ever unsure, I will pray about what to say. I will not impulsively blog.
I will not compare myself to other bloggers or compete with them.
I will not feel compelled to respond to every comment. In fact, responding to comments will be the exception rather than the rule.
The present moves too quickly for me, like a conveyor belt dumping unsorted words and pictures into the past, the chaos capturing my creativity in a prison of piles, printed and digital. If only I could turn the time machine off for a moment to get caught up. Then I might finally be free to paint the blank canvas the future is always dangling before me.
Dinner is ready - pork tenderloin and sweet potatoes are in the slow cooker; cranberry-mandarin sauce is in the fridge. I should be changing loft bed sheets (my most dreaded monthly task), but I'm going to let my husband help me with that, so that while the kids have their screen time, I can have mine (not that I haven't already been online throughout the day). Yesterday I dumped 9 pages of rambling into my journal (the one pictured above). I felt like there were so many ways and angles to approach expressing the epiphany that came to me, but I had to just pick one, and in so doing, I didn't expand upon its every facet of meaning. To do that would have resulted in not just a very lengthy blog post, but an entire series. And frankly, just the thought of that overwhelms me. Rather than polishing my scrawlings into eloquently articulated prose, I merely transcribed them (okay, I ended up totally reworking it), and hopefully you'll find a diamond in the rough, or at least an intact shell amongst the fragments of my mind.
Sometimes just thinking deep thoughts makes me tired, let alone trying to craft them into something worth sharing with the world. And that brings me to my epiphany...(forgive the inconsistent tenses, as this is both past, present and future, but all at the same time)
For a while now, I have been questioning my calling as a writer, wondering if that's really how God gifted me, and if he did, if it was just for a season. About a decade ago, a major shift occurred both in the world and in my life, and it has intensified with each passing year. Some of you know it as Web 2.0, which interestingly coincides with my own metamorphosis. As the internet entered its next incarnation, now known as social media, I became a wife, mother, and homeschooler. I went from being a person who spent a lot of time alone and a writer whose online interactions were limited to a static website and occasional chatroom to being surrounded by people nearly 24/7 and part of a virtual world where I communicated with multitudes in real time. While I was making the transition in my identity, the thing which had previously defined me the most was being redefined by a new media world without clear distinctions between writing and written communication. I haven't the time or energy to do what I once lived to do (while pining for the life I have now), but my talents (if I have them) are certainly not missed in a world where everyone with a computer (which is everyone) is a writer. So I'm losing [a part of] myself and left wondering if that's who I really am anyway. Okay, I'm being a little dramatic.
There were some other changes too. I used to be something of a crusader, though my voice wasn't as pious as some. I liked to write about controversial ethical issues. My writing was fueled by standing up for what was right, for going against the flow - you know, all the usual cliches of a Christian girl growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area and immersing herself in liberal institutions of education and journalism. Some of my identity was in the facing the challenge of being the odd woman out. I'm still passionate about injustice, but I'm not as black and white or as judgmental (it's the old adage - the more you know, the less you know). So some of that fire that fueled my writing isn't there anymore - I've mellowed as I've been humbled. And I'm also not out there "fighting" because I spend most of my time at home - I'm the keeper and educator of my children now, not the literary Joan of Arc I sort of resembled before.
With this shift in my thinking, so little time to spare for writing and so many words inundating us, I feel even more pressure to say only what is worth saying, that others aren't already saying...and so I have been wondering if I really have a unique voice and meaningful messages that can help others. And if I do, is it even needed? The last thing I want to be is another onscreen distraction from people (including me) living life to the fullest.
It has been humbling to have these thoughts, but it has also brought on an identity crisis of sorts. Suddenly I faced the possibility of not being who I thought I was. And if I wasn't that person, then why did I still have the desire to be her? The compulsion to write wasn't gone - far from it - I'm on the catch and release program with ideas and insights, except that I'm not usually intentionally fishing for them. They come and I let them go. Always with a twinge of guilt. Though I remain convinced that the good ones - if there are any - will return at a time when I can fully grapple with them. So my passion to write has been stifled...or is it just being tempered? My mom (aka my muse) said something today about how when we're held back, God uses that to make it even better when it's fulfilled. But it's natural to also question the whole thing. Which is what I've been doing until now (yes, the epiphany is still coming - you didn't miss it).
On Thursday, I was washing dishes when it dawned on me (and no, I wasn't using that brand of dish soap) that my "identity crisis" was very similar to the crisis of faith I experienced in college. Having grown up in the church for the latter half of my childhood, I began grappling with philosophical questions now that I was out on my own: Was God who I believe he was? Was the Bible really true? There were so many belief systems that seemed to be saying so many of the same things. How was I to know that the religion I had been raised with was the right one? Maybe they were all (or none) valid.
C.S. Lewis to the rescue...I didn't even have to finish reading Mere Christianity before my doubts were assuaged. I continued to read apologetics and other books written by "thinking Christians." Underlying my intellectual struggles with my faith, though, something stronger was there all along. Actually someone. His name is Jesus. He had been with me through a tumultuous childhood (not the churchy one you might have been assuming) and brought me into a flourishing adulthood that would not have been the natural outcome of my upbringing. Prayers answered, provision supplied, path directed, comfort rendered, insights revealed - my life was a series of epiphanies, or theophanies, if you will, of my Creator and Savior walking with me, and carrying me when I most needed him.
That paragraph read like a Christian cliche - from C.S. Lewis to the famous Footprints poem. But there's a reason for cliches. They express universal truths. You can fault them just for being overused.
Jesus in my life and Jesus in the Bible might not always feel real, but he was true. Truer than me to myself or to Him. The thought of living without him was more than I could bear. Why would I feel that way if he were just a figment of my imagination? Losing my religion would mean gaining acceptance in the world in the prime of my life - recognition, praise, admiration and reward for my abilities and appearance. The temptation to turn away was strong, but the knowledge of whom I would be turning my back on was stronger. I could not simply forget what God had done for me, nor could I risk losing the fulfillment I had from following him, even if at times, the way was not clear and the guide was silent. He had proven himself over and over, though not in the scientifically observable ways tangible objects can be tested, so to decide it had all been a delusion would be to deny my identity in Christ...and who would I be without that? Without him?
Therein lies the parallel between my crisis of faith and my crisis of calling. I had been questioning my identity in much the same way I had questioned God's, though on a less fundamental level, but still involving both of us, because who God is, who I am, and what I am called to are inextricably linked. This time around, 20 years later, I am, predictably, much clearer about the fundamentals - I know I am a child of God (not that I don't still go through bouts of doubt), a woman (no doubt about that one!), a wife, and a mother. All of that is more than enough. In fact, the first is sufficient. And yet, there is one more defining part of me - my calling to write. God being Creator is enough, but he is also Savior and Lord, and because he made humans in his image, we, too, need to realize the full expression of him in our lives, so that we can use our passion and dreams to carry out his purposes. We are each an epiphany, a manifestation of his love, grace, and truth to the world. If we can do something, we should do it for his glory, even if we cannot do it as much or in the exact way we think we should.
What I realized about believing in my calling is not that I'll never doubt it again - just as I still have times of questioning who God is - but that I can't measure its validity by the state of the world or even my own life. While who I am is tied to what I do, it is not defined by it. Just as God is not defined by my spiritual experience of him. I am in a season of life where I cannot devote myself to writing or theology or contemplative endeavors. Yet those longings in me don't wither just because I can't fully pursue them. Knowing who I am and who God made me, I can trust that what I am doing now - raising and educating my children - will make me a better writer and help me to know God more, so that when this season shifts to a new one, I can bring my experiences, and my more mature self into the next season when, Lord willing, I can use the other parts of me that have been developing through mere living. That may look nothing like what I imagine now, but that reminds me of how it is with our deeper longings, which cannot be satisfied in this life. We envision their fulfillment in heaven but we do that with our earthly imaginations. There is so much we sense yet cannot grasp, so we must hold tightly to what has been revealed to us - who God is, his great love for us, who we are in Christ, and what he has called us to.
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." ~James 1:17
"For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people." ~Philippians 2:13-15
"But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith." ~Philippians 1:22-25
I remember the first time I was served an amuse bouche. Just when I was trying not to reach for another piece of bread, a tiny plate of fuschia and golden beets sprinkled with smoked sea salt was set in front of me (see picture). Not only was I unaware that beets came in more than one color, but that restaurants (really good ones) sometimes serve a complimentary pre-meal morsel called an "amuse bouche." Literally, it means "mouth pleaser." I'm not big on beets, so my mouth was indeed surprisingly pleased by the delicate and satisfying flavor of this amuse bouche. It also encouraged me that more good things were to come.
I like the quote in the wikipedia entry
"The amuse-bouche is the best way for a great chef to express his ideas in small bites." Spiritually speaking, what if God was the great chef, the gospel was his idea, and your words were the small bites?
Before most people encounter Jesus in a personal way, they will meet his followers - not just in person, but in books and blogs by believers. The old saying "you're the only
Bible someone will ever read" could be more hopefully phrased as "you're the first
Bible someone will ever read" Christians are obviously not perfect representations of who God is or flawless interpreters of his written revelation of himself to us, but that is precisely how he will use us to reach others. His power is made perfect in our weakness
. He has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise
. And at the same time, God made each person in his image. He loves us and reveals himself to us and through us. Our words--spoken and written--can illuminate God's truth.
Let us then be a living fragrance
, so that when people breathe in our words--either aloud or through our pens--it will provoke an irresistible urge to taste and and see
that the Lord is good. May his Holy Spirit in us awaken their spiritual senses and pique their palates like an amouse-bouche, making them hungry for Jesus and thirsty for the water that only he can give, beckoning them to the holy banquet where they can be satisfied with the richness of his grace, in the presence of their Creator who has a unique purpose for each human being in bringing glory to himself.
This is a new blog, but I am currently stuffing the archives with "the best of" from the past six years of my blogging life. I sense that this will be my permanent writing home, so I want it to chronicle my journey from the beginning of this era.
As per usual, life has gotten in the way of blogging, which is as it should be. Being should occupy more space than expression. Doing than thinking. Practice than theory. Living than communicating. This is the mentality I have been trying to live since quitting my former (obsessive-compulsively posted to) blog a few years ago, and more recently. It's a constant challenge and I often fail due to my propensity to all things intangible, chiefly written words, whether my own or others'. My one victory is that I have never texted. But that's mostly because I'm too cheap and lazy.
Really, what it boils down to is that I don't have a sensing preference. I am intuiting with a capital N (iNfj), which means I prefer to operate in the internal world of ideas and ideals, abstractions and concepts, dreams and visions. Extraverted sensing is my inferior function, and I've been developing it ever since I entered my 30s and started having children. Parenthood of young children is a very hands-on role. Physically caring for another human being who needs to be held, fed, clothed, diapered, bathed, wiped (nose, hands, butt), and just generally touched a lot requires the intense use of all five senses, especially tactile.
At the same time I became a mother, I became a homemaker, and that too is largely sensory. I can cook well, but I'm slow, oh so slow, and clean up takes me even longer. But the truth is that I spend more time researching and analyzing recipes than it takes me to make them. And really, this is how I am about everything. School (and I was a professional student my whole life through my 20s) really didn't prepare me for becoming a mom and homemaker. And because of my natural abilities, I didn't learn to manage time well--I crammed and performed well under pressure. Pressure (usually caused my own procrastination) these days results in me being impatient with the kids and yelling. Ack.
...So where am I going with this? I yearn to write, to create, to carry out all sorts of brilliant (or not so) ideas, but I absolutely cannot in good conscience do any of that (including blogging) if my house is not in order. And I don't just mean externally, though that's a big part of it, but not in any Martha Stewart sort of way. Right now our homeschool room is in process, as am I, and I need someone to light a fire under my behind to get me sorting (the story of my unorganized life), arranging, preparing, planning, and just generally getting our little academy ready to open its doors in...oh, just over a week. Already, I feel myself pushing that forward a week, because there's simply no way...
And that, my friends, is the beauty of homeschooling. There is no pressure. And yet there is. Never before have I felt so compelled to get my act together. It may also have to do with a sort of microcosm in our home. This summer I finally got our daughters' room in order. The systems are in place, and with regular checking, it's staying pretty much that way. It was well worth the glazed over eyes and wrecked back I had from strewing a million tiny objects on the rug and figuring out which sparkly speck went with which playset (and we don't even have that many toys!). I also converted our Ikea coffee table (the one with the little sorting slots underneath) into their Calico Critters dollhouse table and toy holder. Whenever I repurpose something (which is pretty frequently), it's like getting a shot of adrenalin.
Systems are key to creativity and productivity. I'll never be a slave to systems, but I intend to master them. First, though, they have to be put in place, which is where I am right now. I've actually been here for years (trying to catch up) but a couple of new things this year are making my dreamy self actually move forward--one is homeschooling and the other is not having any more children. This is the first time in the last seven years that I have not been pregnant or had an infant. My youngest (and my only boy) is totally milking that (no, we're not still breastfeeding!). Much of my daughter's lives at ages 2 and 3 are a blur, because of their siblings entering our lives, so I'm reveling in actually experiencing my son's transition from toddler to preschooler. Speaking of which, he just started going to preschool part-time, three mornings, which is another reason I actually have some hope of not only getting everything in order, but actually doing a decent job homeschooling.
There you have it. The dearth of posts lately and the angst of me having lots of things to say (and the drafts/pictures/recipes to prove it), but absolutely having to abide my conscience and get down and dirty with papers and books and other printed materials which have hindered my life for far too long. I have no intention of going away from this blog, but I don't know how long it will be before I post again, let alone regularly, so pray for me. To follow through. To become fast. To stop reading everything online and crafting emails as if they're novels and looking up 50 too many recipes every night for dinner and all the other zillions of microbial time wasters that keep me from using my gifts, both to bless my family and the great big world my heart aches to somehow give to as well.
Ok, I have no idea what I’m doing…trying to type quietly while my husband sleeps. I just realized that thousands of thoughts…well hundreds, at least a few run through my mind daily, especially when I’m in the car, and now it’s actually trendy to share them with the world. Or at least I think so. I’m a writer so it would be sick and wrong if I didn’t blog, now that I know what it is. Uh-oh, hubbie is stirring…pause over…let me try to think of some of those thoughts I had…so many more useless, boring ones have come and gone since then…should I really be doing this when I still have so many unfinished unpublished writing projects–will this stimulate my creative juices or will it just eat up the precious time I have apart from mothering and housekeeping (like I even clean) and bookkeeping and all the external stuff that hides the running monologue filling my mind in all my waking hours. Oh yeah, this is supposed to be my outlet for all the mindless stuff I wouldn’t try to publish in book form. It’s like the scraps, the ends and pieces, the little stuff…the Seinfeldian material (was that a freudian slip?…no, I think I just like “ian” endings…why, though? A-ha! It’s because I’m a Christian). I seem to be able to ramble on for quite some time. I appreciate not having to edit myself. But will anyone read this stuff? Will they wish they didn’t?