I had intended to write about the vast and growing chasm between us–you know who “us” is–and whether some differences are irreconcilable.
But I’ve decided I’m not going to in December.
I need to enjoy Advent. I want to celebrate that Jesus has drawn near a+nd is near. I want to soak up my 13-year-old son’s Christmas spirit and join him in whatever joyful pursuits he devises. Yes, we have decorated the tree with ornaments and lights and painted cookies with colored icing; we’ve also set up mini-golf holes in our living room and used long, plastic candy canes for putters. He is currently the undisputed leader of loving this season in our household. The world is still full of darkness; I have not forgotten. I’m spreading light where I can. But I’m also rejuvenating a bit right now. God knows I need it. In fact, God may have mentioned it to me.
So this will be an old-fashioned blog post, one of those “I’ll bet you’re interested in everything I’m thinking and feeling right now” blog posts from back before the dot com crash, when everyone had a blog (and well before I started mine). Don’t worry, it will still have some point by the end. I hope.
I’m thinking about my writing a lot, of course. I haven’t written much recently because I’ve spent my time and energy trying to sell my books, for which we use the more acceptable term “marketing.” There’s also “hock,” “shill,” and “push.” I don’t love this part. Can you tell?
“Marketing” strikes me as a dirty word–and this from a guy who isn’t so shy about using strong language. I need to get over my hang up. In my heart of hearts, I just want to write great books and have people realize they’re great and buy them. Is that so much to ask?
Turns out yes, it is. I still don’t know what I’m doing and I’m fumbling along. But I’m going to tell you something and in telling you this I’m hoping you have read enough of my blog, books, or social media to know how to take it: I’ve been reading my Advent book, God Enters In, during Advent and I really like it.
Loving yourself as a writer is an interesting process. You face a massive cringe factor that, I believe, is inescapable. I suspect the same applies to any artist. You can’t become a good writer, much less a great one, until you’ve grown through the stage of being the writer that will make Future You cringe. At best, you’ll look at that work fondly, as such a sincere and brave try by Past You. Good job, little Writer. You gave it your all.
It may well be that in 20 years I will look at my Advent book and shudder. But right now, I like it and some of it kind of surprises me, because I wrote it in a twenty-five day blur.* I mean, surprises me like “Wow, I said that? That’s pretty good!”
Here’s the thing: I’m not making it as a writer yet. Yet, he said by faith. But I am proud of the work I’ve done. I wanted to write books that help people and I’m getting consistent feedback that these books are helping people!
“I cannot express myself as well as you can–but please know that your work and writing mean a lot more to me than I can express!”
“I am saying SPECIFICALLY you have captured something timeless and spiritual that transcends the boundaries of the single faith you are in, but is said with the authentic voice OF your faith.”
Now just in case you’re suddenly worried, “What if Mike gets a swelled head from such high praise?” that latter person also went on,
I should also say that you are a grown-ass man who is an accomplished writer (among other things). Of course you need to peddle your book so others will buy it, but in my estimation you have no NEED for affirmation. You are fully vested and not needing mine. You are a Success. Of course, as an actual human being we crave it and ‘need’ it in a different way. Having earned it, I’m happy to share my thoughts.”
I sincerely hope you have people like this in your life, too.
In a perfect world, that success would automatically mean I’m making a living at it. I’m not. I need to get a lot better at that part, and fast. But I am reaching and encouraging some of the people I’d hoped to encourage. I cannot tell you how satisfying that is.
I see this writing gig starting to take some embryonic shape as my ministry.** I have people who don’t ever do church who now refer to me as their pastor. So if you’re the praying type, please pray that I can keep doing these parts while increasing the earning money part. I know this is awkward–we’re not supposed to talk about such things. But again, if you’ve been to my blog, when did that ever stop me? So I’ll indulge in one more exclamation and then move on.
I am so profoundly, gut-level grateful to all of you who root for me and encourage me, pray for me, share my books, and help me believe in and live this calling. Major bonus points to you who have bought copies for others. Writing is an entrenched, daily battle for morale, at least for me. You have meant the world to me in 2020, you are a gift from God, and I could not have done this without you!
I’ve had a paradigm shift in 2020 (or so) and I haven’t quite found the words to express it yet. This has been a hellishly hard year for so many. I keep thinking about how many people have lost family and friends by now, how many have died alone, and how many have survived but haven’t–and may never–recover fully. If you aren’t carrying any of our collective grief from this year, I worry about you.
Our family has had it vastly much better than so many. My complaints are miniscule. I mean, sure, mental health, okay, that’s a big one. It hasn’t been a fun year to be someone who struggles with depression. –Yeah, I do mean as opposed to all those other years when mental health struggles are just a blast. Correct.– This has been a tougher year than whatever average might be because several of the things that help keep me sane are off the table until we can all breathe on one another again with relative safety.
BUT, we are still home and safe, we have running water and electricity, we have food and none of us have gotten COVID-19. I count us more fortunate than a large percentage of the United States, certainly than a larger percentage of Nicaragua, and I am grateful for all we have. I grieve what others have lost. It’s so big, I had to put two different reflections on grief in this last book. I grieve many people’s seeming inability to feel compassion unless they’ve suffered the exact same thing themselves–and sometimes not even then.
I feel this strange contradiction, or maybe paradox, of being less hopeful about humanity yet more hopeful for individual people.
I’ve been taught for a long time that “the good is the enemy of the best.” I’m sure I’ve turned around and taught that more than once.
I’m thinking lately the ideal is the enemy of the actual. My ideal goal of loving someone or of writing the perfect book or being a flawless father can, in practice, stop me from loving or writing or dadding. And often does. As I’ve mentioned, this slowed my writing by…decades. I think we wait until we’ve got it all “right”…and we never do. So I’m learning, day by day, that I’d rather do my feeble okay-est today than wait until I can do my absolutely ideal most perfect…never.
Many years ago, a mentor (RIP, Fr. Brian) told me, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” It took me so long to grasp what that could possibly mean. I’ve been so inordinately concerned with what others think of me that I could not imagine being willing to do something I could only do badly. Of course, then God brought us to Nicaragua where I spoke Spanish badly for seven years and I started to figure it out.
“I’ll do this when I am better at…” is a tip off. Only today can I do anything–there is no doing either yesterday or tomorrow–and if I don’t do it today, it’s even less likely I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m increasingly convinced that following Jesus means I’m at peace with not my best, because I don’t know when I ever do “my best.” If ever. I’m sure I had a best game of ultimate once. If I want to play now (pandemic aside) it won’t be my best, and I have to decide if I can enjoy that or stop playing. I am constantly aware that I’m not a perfect father to my teenager(s) and yet I’m also acutely aware that time passes quickly–the days crawl but the years fly–and I have only this time to be the father I can be…or far too much time later to regret what I didn’t do.**
This is the time. I know, it’s also a terrible time, a time we can’t get enough of memes about how absurdly, ludicrously, unbelievably awful this year has been. Murder hornets and zombie minks and all those ambitious goals we had for 2020 that became not only impossible but (bitterly) laughable. And all that other stuff…
A character in C.S. Lewis’ Great Divorce states, “There is no other day. All days are present now. This moment contains all moments.”
Lewis was describing the moment of decision, of following God or following one’s self-destructive impulses.
Of course we always tell ourselves “Seize the day! You may not have tomorrow,” and then proceed to ignore our own best advice. And yes, I’m saying we have uncertain and limited time, “So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart” (Psalm 90:12), but I’m not saying only that. Absolutely, none of us know the time given us and we need to live what we have. But in addition, God is with me in the now, not in the before nor the later. That’s it. That’s my paradigm shift.
I used to feel badly about myself because I didn’t speak up enough about the things that matter. I was too…well, not quiet, of course, but too muted, too unwilling to speak up for others, too willing to demur and give noncommittal “hmm…” responses. I told myself “Someday I’ll be more assertive.” But the shift came when I finally grasped that “someday” means “never.” I can do a poor, lame job of calling out racist remarks today or I can imagine that someday I’ll be bold and decisive…and keep on saying “hmm.”
God is with us in the now. Jesus has come and God is in us. Don’t wait. Yes, plan, yes prepare, yes train. But don’t put it off. The ideal is the enemy of the actual. Thank you, Past Me, for having the courage to do it poorly. Thank you, horrible year, for driving this lesson home for me.
Thank you, Friends, for having grace for me as I do my okay-est, today. Now.
*I should probably write a book about every 50 days: 25 days of non-stop writing, 25 days to recover and edit. That would be the perfect fit for my temperament. It doesn’t work that way. Or maybe it does…
**A pastor friend wrote literally as I gave this post its final read through to ask, “I’d like to use a section of Day 11 from God Entgers In. To read and give credit. ‘Come all ye faithful. And suicidal. And…’ That part.” Very affirming. Plus, I didn’t even know pastors ever asked permission to
steal use stuff in sermons.
**Yes, perfectionists, God offers grace for both the mistakes and the inaction. I’m talking about preventing the regret portion while I still have a choice.