When The Internet Stares Back

Want to know how to win friends and influence people? Write on the internet.

Want to know how to isolate yourself and acquire a collection of nationwide haters convinced you're an undercover rep for a multi-million dollar pharmaceutical company disguised as a mom with postpartum anxiety? Write on the internet. 

If you would have told me a year ago I'd be writing for the likes of Huffington Post and Scary Mommy, I'd laugh in your face and then go home and Google how to get in with Huffington Post and Scary Mommy. Then I'd email them until they offered me login credentials.

True to my impatience, that's basically what I did--and it worked. Sort of. A few months ago, a glass of wine or two deep and likely deflated by a few Instagram unfollows (no, I don't have an app, but yes, I sometimes notice), I emailed Arianna Huffington an excerpt from an article I had written on epidurals (big crowd pleaser). And by the hilarious grace of God, Arianna Huffington emailed me back and said we'd like to feature your voice on our parenting page.

To say I lost my mind would do that moment no justice. The publication at the very top of my list--the one I was sure would make me a viral sensation, the sleeper hit of 2016--said yes to me. My voice, my words, my ideas. My bad jokes. My story. 

And then, I lost my mind again. This time when I read the comments on that article. The one I thought would change the world. You just want attention, they said. Why do you need our approval so bad? they asked. If you really don't care what people think why do you need to write about this online? I mean, they had good points. I did want attention, a little bit. And HuffPost didn't even pick me-- I pushed.

As it turns out, the only big break I'd have online that go-round came in the form of a breaking point. It was like dancing on stage in my underwear in front of a million strangers. I shared something vulnerable, something I hoped would leak a little freedom into someone's life. Then, the internet cracked me open, and I got a pretty good look at what was inside. A girl who pushes to be picked, and sometimes aims her life at the people and things most likely to celebrate her. But wedged somewhere beneath that self-serving motive is a real desire to use what I've been given to help others.

So, what's next? Do I quit because there's some bad mixed in with my good? Do I resist the gritty work of platform building because there's a chance I might make much of myself? Sure, that'd be easy. But not without a price. When I resist the mess, I save myself some trouble, but I also miss out on the breakthrough that makes the story.

Here's what you'll learn when the internet stares back--if there's any story worth telling, it's hidden in that sliver of space where darkness becomes light. And it goes a little something like this: 

Encounter hope. Lay it all out there for someone to find. Question your motives. Hit publish anyway. Acquire haters. Learn to trust yourself. Keep writing. Get big, maybe. Get small, no question. Grow your platform. 

Grow your heart. 

What If It's Work?

As a writing coach and editor, I often get questions from my clients about establishing a routine within a chaotic schedule. What if our inspired times don’t overlap with our calendars? How do we press on and remain faithful to the call to create, even when we may not feel like it?

That’s the paradox: we are moms and wives and full-time employees and volunteers and business owners, and the time we get to create just may not be the inspired time. The one hour you set aside to create may be a frustrating Tuesday morning after you lock your keys in your car. It may be an evening when Netflix and a glass of wine look ten times better than pounding away at your laptop. Or, if you are lucky, the edges of your schedule and that stir to create may overlap just enough to make something and enjoy the process.

On the other hand, what about the times we feel flooded by inspiration but just don’t have time to take our ideas for a spin? It happens to me frequently--just as I am dozing off in bed, the most cadent, meaningful sentence floats into my brain, assaulting me until I dart out of bed to write it down. (That’s why I tell all my clients to keep a bedside notebook--those midnight hankerings don’t mess around. And your morning self may not forgive your midnight self for letting that idea go. Trust me on that one.)

The truth is, inspiration slips in and out of our creative lives as it pleases, frustrating as often as it elates. But if we frame it just right, that’s a beautiful truth, because it reminds us we are human, and we aren’t in control. It schools us in the art of discipline, or engaging with our craft even when we don’t feel like it. And if we are willing to dig for it, I think we will find some very powerful material resides in that place. Perhaps the words that will change the world are hidden beneath the parts of ourselves we haven’t explored yet.

That exploring takes discipline. Think of it this way: if you have a gym membership, how many mornings do you actually feel like going to the gym in any average week? If you’re like me, the answer is a boldface, all-caps ZERO. But the mornings I tear the covers off, get dressed, and drive to the Y as the sun rises--those mornings are special. I would even argue they are holy. Because I’ve chosen to deny myself, my comfort and my emotions, for the sake of tending to something much more lasting than that cozy, underneath-the-covers haze I face every morning.

My workouts on those days may be slower or even begrudging, but that’s not the point. It’s my mind I’ve really invested in. In physically moving when it’s actually the last thing I want to do, I’m training myself to believe I can do it. And more than that, that I get to. Every time we surprise ourselves with our own endurance and capability, we carry that with us into the next day, setting ourselves in a new and healthy rhythm.

For us makers and creators, I think the discipline is similar. Sure, the amped-up, inspired times are romantic, but they’re not reliable. They’re euphoric, but they’re also elusive. They’re stimulating, but they’re not sustainable. How do we achieve balance? Where’s the sweet spot?

Maybe the answer is in the self denial. What if the act of creating, and writing in particular, isn’t about inspiration at all, but about the choice to dig into ourselves until we uncover beauty? What if art-making is more about soul-mining than serendipity? What if it’s the mundane, physical act of putting pen to paper until truth outweighs deceit, and light outshines darkness? What if it’s work?

When we begin to reframe the creative life, inviting grit to work alongside inspiration, we get to grasp a new degree of glory. Because the act of creating mimics sanctification, and I think that’s no mistake. God, coy and clever like always, designed hard work to be part of the plan. Just like the spiritual-mountaintop seasons don’t and can’t carry us through our Jesus-following lives, the inspired moments that punctuate our art-making aren’t a steady foundation for our creative lives.

Inspiration may invigorate, but discipline integrates, uniting our inner and outer lives until we look like Jesus. When we create without the corresponding emotions and say “yes,” however faint, to the call to write or sculpt or paint or photograph, our flawed, human selves encounter the selves Heaven longs to adorn. And in that tension, beauty flickers into being.

Keep writing. Keep creating.  Because when you are pressed for time and for inspiration, when you tap diligently, rhythmically into the core of who you are, the God-hid beauty inside you will flood out and into a thirsty world.


Take Shape: Becoming in the Creative Process

For five years, I didn’t write.

I thought I had better things to do than focus on the creative process, and by the world’s standards, I guess I did: graduating, moving across the country, grieving the loss of a parent, getting married, and settling into life as a wife. Figuring myself out. Figuring the world out. You know, growing up.Mostly, I felt I needed to get my act together before I could spend precious margin time on a hobby. After all, how could my voice shape the world before the world had shaped me? My writing professors had told me most renowned authors didn’t publish their great works until the second half of their lives, anyway.

Let life happen to you, they said, then you’ll have something to write about. Then you’ll know something worth telling. So I resigned from the art that had lived inside me for so long, tucking away the pen and story for a more buttoned-up season. Onward and upward to taxes and resumes and craft cocktails, I thought.

Since then, I’ve had a lot of jobs in a lot of places: college campus minister, third wave coffeehouse barista, downtown executive assistant, nursing home activities director. And in each of these roles, behind every counter and in every cubicle, writing found me.When life pressed up against me, folding me in on myself and turning me toward the mess of light and darkness inside, words spilled out. But they had nowhere to go.

Without writing, I lived on the shores of my own life, confined to my own very limited definition of adulthood and maturity. But for me, living safe also meant compromising the very thing I had expected to magically happen to me. Life couldn’t sculpt or beautify me until I actually went inside it to face my own depths. Colors and songs and tastes and prayers just couldn’t truly happen to me until I wrote.

It took the jolt of a surprise pregnancy to push me back into the creative process. I started a blog as a way to process impending motherhood, and little by little, as I engaged with myself and my words, I changed. I started to see things differently: darkness as opportunity for light, emptiness as grounds for imagining, difficulties as roundabout paths toward beauty.


This piece was originally published with Ruminate Magazine. Click here to read the whole article. 

5 Things: Writing as Soul Care

Since graduating with my English degree, I’ve noticed myself dropping the craft of writing in favor of my spiritual to-do list, as if the two are mutually exclusive.  In those seasons when the pragmatic prevails over the luxury of art, I categorize writing as an ad hoc part of me and dismiss the urge to put pen to paper as selfish, a hobby reserved for a more seasoned, elegant version of myself. I focus all my attention and emotional energy on getting my act together, when what I really need is to just get my craft together. My act, as it turns out, will politely follow.

Writing, like any other creative act, is a form of sowing, and it sows seeds into our souls. Planting anything requires equal parts practice and patience, so it should be no surprise we don’t see a harvest straightaway. What matters is we’re planting something, and at just the right time, when we’re ripe for it and when we need it most, we will explode into harvest. Wielding words, for me, is an integrative practice, a steep and winding road leading me to the version of myself I’d been waiting around for all along. Here’s what I mean.

1. Writing summons emotion, giving us permission to break.

You know how the professionals warn us not to stuff our emotions, lest they seep out of us in some undesirable way later on in life? When we take our hands and write, we remind our hearts it’s okay to feel. I wrote a line in a poem once in about benching my emotions, blaming whatever melodramatic college season I was in at the time. The line was something pithy about building dams to redirect my pain until a time “better suited for breaking.” Ironically, I employed poetry to process an emotion about non-emotion, which, in retrospect, would have lent some texture to my poem had I mentioned it. All that to say, the act of writing, whether or not we like it or even know it, guides us through our own emotion, the deeper places of our souls. Putting pen to paper is like a memo from our outer lives to our inner lives: “you can come out now, old friend, there’s a safe place for you out here.”

2. Writing calls forth hope, reminding us of what could be.

In practicing our art, we feed our souls the hope they crave. Sometimes the only thing to sustain us in the dark pit is the little glimpse of light we see through the cracks, reminding us we’re not there yet, but almost. Words do that, too, because writing down our stories not only tells us what was and what is, but also what could be. In this way, an ad lib journal entry poured out in the thick of things can be about as spiritual as a psalm-- a symbol of our humanity, a song we sing to woo the light back in.

3. Writing creates space, showing us what we believe.

I’m not Buddhist, and I think you know that, but a friend I sat down with recently told me about a Buddhist retreat she attended at a Franciscan convent. What she observed about herself resonated with me, and it’s something I want to try. She said she noticed thoughts she normally wouldn’t have in the intentional time of quiet. For me, writing cultivates a similar mindfulness. I heard a metaphor once that writing is like dipping your brain in ink and stamping it on paper. How visceral is that? Pardon the new age adage, but noticing things happening in our brains is a stepping stone to change. Again, but in Christian-ese: we are transformed by the renewal of our minds. 

4. Writing releases energy, guarding us from spending it on anxiety.

Just like exercise is a release of pent-up physical energy, art releases emotional energy. When we’re anxious or frustrated or heartbroken our bodies physiologically respond to protect us, creating energy can either well up into something unproductive or into something fruitful.  We could impulse spend that energy on further anxiety, or we can revisit our crap and work it out of us. I usually choose the former, but when I choose to engage and look my life in the eye through writing, things move forward.

5. Writing redeems our pain, shaping it into beauty.

I really believe writing, and all art, mimics redemption. We take our pain, our messes, through the chrysalis of our craft, and it emerges in an altogether different form. Something almost unrecognizable. Something that infuses our lives with meaning. Like a kiln, our writing seals the trial, turning raw material into art-- a piece of art we can hold up to the world as a sign that we are here, we are alive, we are enough.


Stop Trying to Fix Your Friends // RELEVANT

I once had a bad habit of setting up all my single friends on dates with each other. (If you were one of them, consider this my public apology). Spinning a web of my social circles was fun—until a close friend approached me and asked me to be more careful with her heart.

Playing matchmaker seemed innocent. But for me, it was a sign of something swelling beneath the surface. I sought to be understood without seeking to understand. I wanted more overlap, more easy access points and a clever way to find a place into others’ lives without the work.

What I packaged as my signature strengths of “woo” and “empathy” twisted into my signature weakness. My desperate need for instantly gratifying, mutually understanding friendships began to raid other people’s lives.

As we get older, community gets harder. Friendships came easy in college, when nearly every thread of our lives were woven together by place and life phase. But as we step into the rest of life, the Venn Diagrams of our lives intersect less and less. As we mature in our understanding of who God is, we can’t help but change. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18, God’s glory is always fine-tuning us: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/stop-trying-fix-your-friends