I’ve been working on a single blog post for two weeks. It’s on a topic that’s very important to me, something central to my understanding of God, the church and the world. It’s also a pretty vulnerable piece, so I’ve been working and reworking my words, trying to articulate myself well. I’m growing more frustrated by the day because I have something important to say, but I can’t seem to spit it out.
I took a creative writing course in graduate school. Each week we had to submit a 500 word piece and share it with a small group of classmates for critique. My peers often said that they liked what I wrote. They complimented my sentence structure and my use of imagery and metaphor, but they always seemed to withhold something in their feedback. I didn’t know what it was then, but I do now.
I was missing substance.
I wrote a piece about a fly for that creative writing class. I wrote long and eloquently about an ordinary fly that landed on my desk during an afternoon lecture. The fly was uncommonly still, so I studied it closely. This was somehow fascinating to me, and noteworthy enough, I felt, to share with others. I described the fly’s antenna, the translucent beauty of its wings, its large onyx eyes, and its knees. Its knees! I’d noticed for the first time that flies have “legs” that seem to bend in the middle, and I wrote an entire page about this phenomena. (That’s so embarrassing.) I think the fly would have been satisfied with my attentiveness and awe-inspired descriptions, but my professor certainly wasn’t. She too complimented my writing ability and then gave me a B. That whole semester, she only ever gave me a B.
My professor clearly wanted more from me. She wanted me to move beyond my ability to use words to shape images. She wanted to know me through my words. She wanted to hear my voice slash across the page, impassioned. She wanted me to stop playing in the verbal sandbox, to gather up all of my words and my creativity with my soul, and build something solid and true.
She was right to want that from me, I just wasn’t ready.
When I started seminary, I was 22 and the youngest student at the school. I was competent, I loved learning, and I was engaged in the classroom, but I also held back. I didn’t speak up too often in class. I had big questions and well-formed opinions, but I didn’t share them in public, only in small groups of trusted friends. I had a voice, but I wasn’t ready to use it. I had substance, but I didn’t feel safe sharing it.
Over the years people kept telling me that I had a gift for writing. They encouraged me to write more and to share it with them. In the fall of 2009, I started this blog, which I called “The Purse” because of a funny, teenage anecdote involving my mother. It was an experiment in using my gift to use my voice. I thought if I told a few friends and family about the blog, that would keep me accountable. A familiar and caring audience would be the gentle pressure I needed to spit myself out on paper. I hoped to be clear and honest. To write well and to grow as a writer. To talk about things that mattered and ask important questions. But most of all, I wanted to take up my voice and have the courage to share it with the world.
Five and a half years later, I know I’ve accomplished all of that (though my use of punctuation still needs improvement). My little experiment in voice development is now a vital place of personal reflection. I’m a verbal processor, but I hate journaling. This blog is my forum. It’s where I talk out my thoughts and questions until they line up into something life-giving. Gradually, it’s become a place safe enough for me to share my pain, doubts, and struggles.
I’ve put my soul in these posts, and it’s out there for the world to see. I now have over 700 subscribers, most of whom are strangers. That’s a modest number in the world of blogging, but I’m not hoping to quit my day-job. I’m just astounded that 700 people want to hear what I have to say on whatever topic I choose.
Despite my expanded audience, this blog continues to be something profound for me. I’m shaping, sharpening and sharing my thoughts, beliefs, and my faith with every word I write. Some posts are better than others, but I think my voice is coming through, confident and clear.
I know myself better than I did in 2009. The name change from “The Purse” to “Pastor with a Purse” is evidence of my growing self-awareness and a clarity of purpose. I know who I am. I’m using my voice. And I’m offering substance from my soul to the world. Now I have a new problem. I have important things to share and in my head I know what I want to say, but I can’t seem to harness my words.
That’s all I wanted to say, really. I just needed to set aside my angst over the post that I can’t seem to get out, and just write. Now, I also want to say how grateful I am to God for this blog. What an incredible adventure this has been, to open myself up to more than just a few trusted friends and share my soul with anyone who wants to listen.
Thanks too, to my original twenty readers, those friends who encouraged me to write in the first place. You’ve helped me grow up and keep growing.
And I guess, while I’m at it, I should also thank my creative writing professor for all of the B’s she gave me. She showed me that I wasn’t using my greatest tool in writing — myself. I think if she could see how far I’ve come from that fly piece, she would be proud. She may even give me an A for all this substance.