writing

I am writing a book.

I recently announced on Instagram I have started writing my first book. I waited for months to finally announce it publicly, trying the terror of uttering the words, "I'm writing a book" on for size with my family and friends first. For the record, both saying and writing the words still feels scary.

Suffering has been a larger part of my life than I ever could have imagined. As most of you know, I became ill at 2o years old as a junior in college. Though illness has not been the only thing in my life since then, it has dramatically shaped and formed my experience for nearly nine years. 

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A story about illness sounds depressing, right? But a story about the multiplying joy of Hope in the mire of suffering—that’s a story I cannot keep to myself.

In a culture allergic to grief, we are often loathe to find hope articulated honestly enough to fit the contours of our private suffering. But the longer I live with pain and the comfort of knowing Jesus, the more I know I have to share my story as boldly as I am able. 

I hope to weave together three important narratives to empower others to experience joy in their own suffering: 

  1. My experience of chronic illness illustrates the power of relationships to mediate meaning and hope in the midst of suffering. 
  2. As a therapist, I find my experience of transformative relationships echoed in the insights of interpersonal neurobiology: our brains thrive most in empathic, secure relationships, so much so that our brains retain the ability to heal from trauma and pain in response to relational attunement. 
  3. My story and the insights of interpersonal neurobiology are ultimately brushstrokes of the larger picture of God's mysterious love toward humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. Within God's Story, our stories of suffering gain unparalleled meaning and life-changing hope. 

Suffering can catalyze joy. And it happens through relationships. I hope and pray my story touches your own, bringing possibility alongside your great sorrow. 

Realistically, writing a book on suffering while continuing to suffer with illness and pain means this book could take a long time to write. But I will press on. I'm closer to the beginning than end of this process, but I am glad to have started and to be including you.

Your pain, whatever its source, moves me. And the joy of Christ propels me. I pray we can find and dwell in Joy, and that my writing in some small way might draw us further into the love of the God who is coming again to make all things new.

I have calmed and quieted my soul.

Kathleen Norris writes, “When I stop running from my life, I can return to living it, willing to be present again, in the present moment.” (p. 18, Acedia & me)

Alone in a tunnel of noise, I called out to God. Surrounded by the cacophony of the MRI machine, I prayed. Though I had mentally distanced myself from my illness for months, here I was, still intimately in need of God’s presence in sickness. 

Even eight years into this mess of sickness, I struggle to know where to place illness in relation to myself. I can stop describing it, try to focus my energy elsewhere, and quietly move forward. Yet, it’s part of the atoms that make up my life.

Some spiritual guides of mine and my husband’s have written, “…whatever I disown winds up controlling me.” (Rich Plass & Jim Cofield)

As much as I would like to set illness to the side, it is part of my life.

There is a fine line between being more than your suffering and disowning your story. 

Just as the screeches and beeps of an MRI overwhelm, we are each engulfed in a world of noise.

After a long period of silence publicly on my blog, it has been difficult to find words. At first in the past several months I wanted to distance myself from the noise of the writing world, in silence to say that I didn’t have to speak. It was liberating to acknowledge I have a voice but that I can choose to use it when I want.

But over time, not writing did me a disservice. Writing has long been a means of my integration—a process that brings perspective. Writing grounds my place in this liminal life. In words, I can hold my life with open hands before God. Without the discipline of writing, though, I tend to listen to noise instead of focusing on what matters. 

As I come out of a long period of quiet, I’m reminded of the words of the Psalmist:

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.
— Psalm 131

 

I’ve calmed and quieted my soul. And in the quiet, I’ve learned I need to speak, not to be heard, but to walk the fine line of owning my story. 

How do you own your story? None of us can do it alone, and none of us can do it without work. Perhaps what we need most is a way to listen, discipline that parses the noise from the substance, that allows us to see our one, real life and God as its good Author.

So I will listen, and I will write.