Trusting God with your dreams (a book update)
Some of you have kindly asked how the book is going. Here’s my response.
I’ve always wanted to write a book. I can’t remember a time when that wasn’t one of my biggest dreams.
After my conversion my vision for what mattered in life changed drastically (as I wrote about here), and I found great peace with letting go of the specifics of my “life goals” list. I began to focus more on just serving God right here, right now, learning to be willing to follow his path without a roadmap to show me where I was going. Specifically, one of the things involved with that was to make a conscious effort to trust God with my writing.
Starting about the time I graduated from college, each New Year the top of my resolutions list always had something like “Get article published” or “Start working on book.” For various reasons, it never happened. Then, in 2008, I decided to just turn it over to God. I resolved not to bang my head against this particular door anymore: I would keep my ear to the ground for opportunities and maybe submit some things for publication if an opportunity presented itself, but I wouldn’t stress and stay up too late and shirk my daily household duties to make it happen. If it were God’s will, I would be able to do it peacefully, calmly, within the boundaries of my vocation.
That year I had five paid articles published (including a cover piece in a national magazine), and all of the opportunities just fell into my lap. In every case but one the editors contacted me.
At the same time, I had also prayed that God let me know if/when it was the right time for me to write a book. I wanted to write something about my conversion, but once again resolved that I wouldn’t force it. I trusted that God would let me know when it was the right time. Within the next few months a random seating mixup at a wedding left me sitting next to the nonfiction acquisitions editor at one of the major publishing houses, who happened to work a lot with the religion market and had shared some critical advice with me about writing a religious memoir; then I was contacted by an acquisitions editor at a small publisher about possibly writing a book for them; then I had a literary agent (from a great secular agency) suggest enthusiastically that I write a memoir about my conversion.
All that is to say, it really seemed like God was giving me a big, huge green light in the book writing department.
But, ironically, all this confirmation temped me to fall back into my controlling, untrusting ways. My mentality was something like, “Thanks for letting me know that you’re going to hook up a book deal for me, Lord! I’ll take it from here. I’ll get back to you when it’s time to start talking advances. See ya later!”
I signed a contract with the agent, set deadlines for myself that were aggressive yet doable (according to my plans, anyway), and got right to work. When I sent the agent the first few chapters he said they were “very good” (yes, I stared at the word “very” on my monitor until it was burned into my retina). Boy, trusting in the Lord sure did lead to great times!
And then I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant.
All my writing deadlines had hinged on a tight little system I’d come up with where I’d get up two hours earlier than the kids every day to work on the book. The increased sleep needs that came with pregnancy demolished that time; I could no longer get up even ten minutes before the kids, let alone two hours. Then weeks and weeks of morning sickness ensued. Writing in rushed spurts here and there through a nauseated, exhausted haze was a whole lot different than my original vision of long, quiet mornings spent typing and pausing for reflection while sipping coffee.
Then Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas rolled around, the pregnancy fatigue got worse, and I barely had the energy to do the bare minimum to make it a special season for my family. The closest I came to writing was to glance at the untouched memoir.doc icon on my computer and sigh. If I were to put my vocation as wife and mother first, I simply did not have the time or the energy to get anything done on the book*.
Over the past few weeks I’ve watched all the deadlines I set for myself fly by. “I have to get the first draft finished by January first!” I announced dramatically this fall.
Then, as it became clear that that was impossible, I said in my most grave voice (as if using a really serious voice this time would make it more likely to actually happen), “OK, but seriously, I totally have to get it done before the new baby gets here!”
It’s recently become clear that that won’t be possible either. And once the new baby arrives, I can’t imagine how I’ll make much progress with a newborn in addition to three other children, all under age five, three of them in diapers. Maybe I won’t.
I struggled with this a lot recently. Of course new life is always a blessing; it’s just that after three babies in four years and some exciting plans all laid out for the coming year, I was planning to, umm, wait a little while longer to be blessed again. And normally I might be more easygoing about letting go of my vision for the future in order to accommodate a new pregnancy, but this is a dream I’ve had since elementary school, and it really seemed like I was on the fast track to seeing it come true in the near future. For a while I had a lot of mixed feelings: one the one hand I was, of course, deeply grateful for the gift of a new child; on the other hand, it was just hard to get peace about the timing of it all, about all my nice, neat little plans getting thrown so far off track.
But what I’ve learned is this:
I’ve learned that God sometimes does send us signposts to give us confirmation to go down a certain path — as I believe he did with all those “coincidences” that led to big breaks with my writing last year — but they’re just that: signposts. They’re not maps. They tell us nothing more than to take a few more steps this direction, for now. I fell into the temptation to mix up my own desires for the final destination with the simple message to just keep stepping down this one path for this moment.
I’ve learned that just because we might receive all sorts of great consolations and lucky breaks and positive feelings to help us get started on some work God wants us to do, we have to ultimately want to do the work because it comes from God, and not because it’s fun and it feels good. The consolations don’t always last. But, like Mary in the months and weeks and years after the Annunciation, we have to proceed in faith and love, even when the angel doesn’t stick around to give us a pat on the back every time the going gets rough.
I’ve learned that this is where the rubber meets the road in terms of all my big talk about it being some kind of “call” from God for me to write the story of my conversion. If I truly believe that writing this book is in God’s plan for me, what else do I really need to know? I think the Creator of the universe could find a way to make it happen, even if his timetables look nothing like mine. And I know that I am called to be a wife and mother first and foremost, and that any authentic plan from God’s always has room for new life, however unexpected.
I’ve learned that all my angst about missed deadlines and fear of losing my agent and not ever being able to finish this work ultimately can only stem from one of two things: either I don’t really believe that God called me to do it, or I’m just not willing to truly trust and relinquish control and admit that it might not play out the exact way I wanted it to. I’ve realized recently that it’s the latter.
So there is my book update. I don’t know when it will be done. Honestly, I don’t see how it possibly could get done. And I have no guarantee that it will ever be published. But after a lot of prayer (and, OK, whining and complaining and melodramatic woe-is-me proclamations), the Holy Spirit has finally dragged me kicking and screaming to a place where I have a surprising amount of peace with placing my unfinished manuscript at the feet of the Lord, and finally meaning it when I say, “Thy will be done.”
* In case anyone is noting that I blogged through all this and wondering why I didn’t use blogging time for book writing time, the answer is that, oddly, they’re two totally different activities for me: book writing is hard work, whereas blogging is not. Unlike writing for the book, when I finish a blog post I’m actually more energized and relaxed than before I started, so it’s very easy to keep up with even when I’m tired and busy.
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