On Monday, October 28, 2019, I wrote about writing –how considering purpose and audience impact what we write. Today, I’m re-visiting a post from July 2019 where I closely examined the power of the writing process. Many truths about writing can be applied to life in general.
Every week I feel a hum of anxiety around Wednesday or Thursday….”what am I going to write about this week?” Usually by Friday an idea is forming — an image, a topic, or the sharing of an experience. On Saturday I put words on the page. Sunday is for revising, slashing, and rewriting in order to form a cohesive draft before I fine-tune on Monday morning and finally click “publish”.
Last weekend, I dug out a months-old draft and decided to carry it to completion. I wrote most of the day Saturday — drafting and deleting, writing and revising. By Sunday morning, I…
For quite a few years, I’ve been teaching students how to write, coaching writers through the writing process, and providing editing support to writers at all phases of maturity and ability.
No matter what project we are working on or where we are in the process, I find myself returning to two critical questions:
What is your purpose?
Who is your audience?
These questions matter. They direct all of our writing.
What message is our message? Who are we conveying that message to?
Sometimes, beginning writers say to me, “I have to write a five-page paper about [insert topic here],” and I reply, “What do you want to convey? Are you trying to inform? persuade? entertain?” They often don’t know, so we spend time in that realm for a bit. Next, I ask, “Who is your audience? Do they have background knowledge of your topic or are they strangers to it? Are they adults? children? How does knowledge of your audience shape what you plan to say?”
These questions are clarifying. They help the writer start to shape her message, to choose vocabulary, to select anecdotes. When she has a group of people in the seats of her mental auditorium and she can picture their backgrounds and level of expertise, when she understands the reason she is writing and the message she hopes to convey, she can begin to frame her message.
I have been having conversations like this for a very long time, so this morning, when I was preparing to draft this week’s blog and I had, as I often have, a crisis of identity, I asked myself the same questions.
It went something like this.
What am I even going to write about this week? Why do I think anyone will want to read it? Do I have anything valid to say?
I was sounding like one of my students. So, I replied to myself:
“Ok, ok, come back off the ledge…breathe…think…what is your purpose? why are you still writing this blog after five years? What compels you? What are you hoping to accomplish? Who is reading your writing? What do they hope to hear? How will you convey that message? What is your message?”
Wow. Thanks for asking. I think I need to spend some time on this. I often write about healing — physical, emotional, and spiritual. I write about writing. I write about recovering from a life of soldiering. I write about finding rest. I write about creating space. I write about my faith. I write about my failures.
“That’s a good start. Who do you picture as your audience?”
That is more difficult. I have 170 followers, and a typical post gets about 40 views. I imagine most of my readers resonate with something I have to say about faith, autoimmune disease, or living intentionally. I guess that a chunk of my readers are friends and family. And the most important, and surely most critical, member of my audience is myself.
“And how does that inform your writing?”
Whatever my topic is has to originate with something I am processing on my own — a current autoimmune flare, a family transition, something I am learning in my spiritual life. I think what I try to do in my blog is to narrate the inner workings of my mind — first to help myself process, but also to allow others to see that process because I am, and always will be, a teacher. I did this in the classroom — I worked through every assignment my students did, walked them through my process, explaining it as I went. And I just can’t stop my think aloud protocol.
“See how clarifying this conversation can be? Do you ever wonder if you might expand your audience?”
From time to time, I wonder if I should take one more step in my writing. Should I be intentional about promoting my blog? Should I put some of my blog posts together in a book and publish it? Should I start from scratch and write my story of soldiering, crashing, and finding life in the next chapter? Who would read it? Who would even publish it? Who am I kidding? I need to just stay in my lane.
“This is your lane, dear. Writing has always been your lane. It’s as natural to you as breathing. When your fingers aren’t clicking on keys or scrawling out notes on a page, you begin to wither. You must — you must — keep writing. You said it yourself, primarily it is for you, but because you are also a teacher, it’s natural to explore the opportunity of allowing others to watch your process. They may just observe for a while and then quietly walk away. But you might inspire someone to try something new — homeopathy, yoga, openly grieving, or dramatically changing the way that they live out their days. Who’s to know?”
But I’m scared! I don’t know where I would even start. It’ll be so much work! And what if it’s all for nothing.
“The writing itself is the gift. You already know that. The power is in the process.”
It’s true. And that’s what I’ve always wanted my students — my friends, my family — to know more than anything. Often we don’t [I don’t] know our purpose or our audience before we step into the process and start putting words on the page. And it is in putting the words on the page that we discover our purpose, our audience, ourselves.
Yes, I know that not everyone is compelled to spend an hour or more every day putting words on the page. I know that that not every single person would feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with an audience that might just include family and friends but also might include someone sitting at a laptop in her kitchen in India.
But I am compelled. And I am, oddly, comfortable.
So I continue. Because this is my purpose, and you, apparently, are my audience.
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
This post was written in April 2016 — after the first period on the couch and before the second. I was in motion, and I chose to reduce the amount of time I spent on the phone to put more margin into my life. However, my recent stay on the couch may have returned me to some old habits, so I am re-visiting this post in October 2019 to inspire a return to that practice as get back of the couch.
Sometimes when God nudges us to make a change, we make that change and then slowly over time notice the benefits. Other times, we get an immediate indicator that we are heading in the right direction. That happened for me this week.
If you read my recent post, Margin, you know that I decidedto turn off my phone from 8pm to 8am every day. I…
As we prepare to pack up our things and move a few miles away from our little house by the river, I am indulging in some reminiscing. This little place has held us and born witness to deep grief and miraculous healing; we have loved our years on this idyllic campus. Watching students transform from intimidated freshmen to courageous seniors has reminded us that life is a continuous series of transformations. We have had our own metamorphosis here. This post, written in October 2019, chronicles some stages of that healing.
Five years ago, when I moved into the little house by the river, I was exhausted and physically ill. For the first time probably since my childhood, I gave myself permission to plop on the couch and be unproductive. I didn’t come to this on my own — my medical team had advised it, and my husband had supported it. I needed some time to let my body recover from years of hard work. I needed to exit crisis mode and hit ‘reset’.
This is no news to you if you’ve read my blog — in fact, one of the reasons I began to write was that I was, for the first time in over thirty years, not going to be working or caring for children. I had no idea what I would do with myself if I didn’t come up with a daily task. And, writing proved, as you might have guessed, one of the means for healing.
The pouring out of thoughts onto a page allows them to be seen and felt. In the seeing and feeling, the healing begins.
The first layer of healing began with time on the couch and a commitment to writing. I spent a lot of time on the couch (and in bed, and in a chair, and on the floor). I drank countless cups of tea and have now written over 400 blog posts in addition to the countless pages that I have written in spiral notebooks and journals in the past few years.
That decision to spend some time on the couch and writing every day laid the foundation for a much more thorough mental and spiritual healing that would follow the initial physical healing. I didn’t know it at the time, but the first six months in the little house by the river was a dress rehearsal for the next several years.
In addition to the physical fatigue and illness that I brought with me to Ann Arbor, our whole family also carried with us some deep wounds from years of dysfunction. Some of that dysfunction was not too atypical — a family doing too much, trying too hard, and overlooking critical moments and emotions in the frenzy of day-to-day living. However, some larger issues were less than typical– eating disorder, depression, alcoholism, and sexual assault. And even writing the words, I realize that though these were devastating, they are not as atypical as I would like to believe.
And I think that’s part of the reason I keep writing about them. Sure, it is hard to admit that our family — the one for which I had high hopes for perfection — suffered in ways that we had never expected, but just as surely, pain happens to everyone. Every one of us suffer.
And so, when, a couple years into life in this house by the river, we looked our pain full in the face and crawled back onto the couch and cried and cried and cried. I didn’t stop writing. I didn’t retreat into my room, as I had in the past, to “close the door and draw the blinds”. I didn’t want to air each of our private pains publicly, but I also didn’t want to hide the fact that we were indeed hurting. I am not sure it was a conscious choice at the time — after all, I was lying on the couch in the fetal position, sobbing; how much clarity could I have? However, I believe I instinctively knew that my recovery was dependent on my writing — writing that was honest and transparent and public.
I didn’t write the details — I guess each of us can fill in our own. We can all find ourselves on the couch, immobilized, hurting, and in need of a re-set.
And I am here to tell you that re-sets happen. People get off couches. They start walking. They begin to smile. They feel hope again.
It doesn’t come quickly. Some people find themselves plunked in a great big sectional sofa for a couple of years or more. In fact, they’ve been there so long that the sofa itself takes on an appearance of grief, anguish, and decay, and they hardly notice. They sink into dilapidation, and it feels like home. So they stay there, watching Netflix night after night after night.
But slowly, gradually, light starts peeking in from behind the blinds, and they start to notice that the couch is visibly tired of performing this service.
It’s served its term.
So they stand up. They start taking walks, dreaming dreams, and envisioning a world where every day isn’t laden with grief. They start picturing places that exist away from the couch — places inhabited by people and experiences and opportunities. Venturing out seems a little daunting at first, so they proceed with caution — a coffee date here, a shopping trip there.
Soon they realize they are meeting in groups outside of their home, not only to gather support to sustain them in their long hours on the couch, but also to share support, love, and friendship. They discover they have energy for a walk before dinner, shopping in the afternoon, and rearranging the furniture.
But that sectional takes up so much space — what with the grief lying all over it, spilling over the edges.
It’s got to go.
It’s all part of the re-set. Room must be made for the new — new experiences, new dreams, new life.
So out it goes.
And just like that, a weight is lifted. A corner is turned. A brightness is felt.
Imagine the possibilities of life away from the couch. A life of dinners at the table, of walking in the park, of meeting up with friends. Of laughter, of joy.
I am here to tell you that re-sets happen.
I am here to tell you that I am off the couch.
Now — if you are at this moment slunk down in the cushions, chest sprinkled with potato chip crumbs, staring at a television playing mindless shows with laugh tracks, I have not one ounce of judgment for you. I only offer this: when you have cried countless tears and lain awake long nights, when you have thought that you will never feel joy again, hold on.
It may be a while, but the light will peek in from behind the blinds, and you, too, will find yourself rising from the couch. You’ll start walking. You’ll find yourself smiling. You will again begin to feel hope.
I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
Epilogue: Replacing that sectional was so liberating. My husband and a coworker heaved the pieces into a dumpster, and we made the room ready for a sofa, a loveseat, a chair, and an ottoman. Just in time for the pandemic, we had a fresh space in which to shelter and begin to dream of what changes we would make next. We started by purchasing a new vehicle, then we took a deep breath and started looking at houses. It wasn’t too long before we found a little space full of surprises — an office, a second bathroom, two guest rooms, and an enormous garden — where we can continue to grow.
This one goes way back to April of 2015, whew! I had no idea of the lessons I would be learning in this next chapter…but four and a half years later, the children are still leading me toward learning.
This morning I sat across from a six-year old boy who is learning to read. He has memorized many rules and exceptions to rules over the past couple of months. This morning he had so much confidence when reading some words — in fact he helped me ‘learn’ how to break some words into syllables and how to play some games. At those moments his eyes were bright and his smile was wide. But the same six-year old boy had moments of frustration where his eyes were focused on the words, his brows were knit together, and he just couldn’t make sense of the message. He could persist in trying to…
I wrote this in October of 2019, in the before time —before 2020 and its pandemic, its racial unrest, its political polarization. If this is not a wilderness, I’m not sure there is one. I wonder if you agree that this is one more opportunity for our us to grow, to be shaped by the One who loves us, and to turn from our wandering back to Him.
It was an extraordinary day that I’ve been thinking about for a week.
It started when my child called at 7 am to admit a failure at work. Some words had been spouted toward a coworker — the kind that aren’t easily called back. Supervisors had gotten involved and, rather than meting out punishment, had normalized the situation saying something like, “We are all learning. We want to support you as you grow through this.”
As I hung up that phone call, a nurse arrived at my door. I’ve agreed to be part of a study in which I set some goals to improve my health or quality of life, I track my progress, and this nurse follows my path, provides coaching and encouragement, and we see what happens.
Perfectionist that I tend to be — I immediately confessed a few habits that I am ashamed of and stated my intention of eliminating them. The nurse, fellow human that she is, reminded me that we are just setting goals — some days we will meet them, some days we won’t. That’s how life is.
We are all learning. Not one of us has it all together. .
When the nurse left, I started listening to a sermon I’d missed a few days prior. We’ve been in a series on Exodus for several weeks, hearing about the Israelites’ journey through slavery, the plagues God used against Pharoah, and — this week — the miraculous rescue of the Israelites.
They’d been suffering in slavery for four hundred years and just like that, h=He swoops in with shock and awe and delivers them out of slavery.
You have to ask yourself why? Why did He wait so long?
And then, once he had parted the Red Sea and delivered them from the Egyptians, why did He allow them to wander in the wilderness for an additional 40 years? Couldn’t He have spared them so much pain? Didn’t He see their difficulty? Couldn’t He tell they were lost?
And questions like that lead me to ask “why did you let me continue in my soldiering for so. damn. long. Why didn’t you send a messenger much earlier? Wouldn’t you have spared us all so much pain? Didn’t you see the difficulty? Didn’t you see the looming consequences? Couldn’t you tell we were lost?”
And I hear our pastor say, “In the difficulty of the wilderness, God shapes His people…God will place us in difficult circumstances, in challenging situations, in order to shape and form our character…and to strengthen our faith.”
We are all learning. None of us has it all figured out, and God wants to support us as we grow through our wildnerness.
I can see it. I can. I can see how through difficulty my character has been formed. The most desperate of situations have pressed me to make new choices, live differently, and see clearly. They have, indeed, strengthened my faith.
I was lying on the table of my physical therapist the other morning, chatting about some recent developments in the long journey we are on, when she said, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
As the Israelites stood next to the not-yet-parted Red Sea, the Egyptian army bearing down upon them, Moses said, “Fear not. Stand firm. And see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today. The Lord will fight for you; you have only to be silent.”
I have only to be silent.
I was sitting in an instructional meeting at work — me, an educator for the last thirty years — and I found myself being challenged to consider how my tone, my energy, and my language can motivate or demotivate my students. How the nuance of my voice, its inflection, and my message can make or break a lesson. The presenter said that we should use language that is calm, neutral, and assertive to direct our students toward their tasks. We should use messages like, “Read this paragraph, starting here,” in a calm tone, as we point to the page and then wait expectantly. When we give a clear direction and the space to respond, we provide safety — a secure spot for our students to step into.
Safety is everything!
Knowing I am safe, emboldens me to take a chance — to try reading the words or to even make a mistake. If I feel safe, I can try, because I don’t fear judgment or punishment or embarrassment. When I’m given direction from a calm, neutral, assertive voice, I don’t feel bribed, used, or threatened. I feel free.
The nurse from the study did that. She spoke in a calm, neutral voice, offering reassurance as we wrote out my goals. She showed me how to record my progress and scheduled our visits over the next eight weeks during which she will check in and offer support.
I breathe easily; I know I’ll be ok whether I meet my goals or not — whether I walk more, watch less television, or sit on the couch all day.
Moses (perhaps in a calm, neutral voice) said, “Fear not. Stand firm. And see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today. The Lord will fight for you; you have only to be silent.” The Israelites bravely stood there; the Red Sea was parted, and they walked through on dry ground to safety. When their pursuers followed, the sea un-parted and swallowed them up.
Now, long story short, the Israelites didn’t immediately apply all the lessons they’d learned from their time in slavery or from this amazing rescue, so they ended up wandering around in the wilderness for an additional 40 years, so that God could continue to shape them and turn their hearts back to Him.
And, coincidentally, after my rescue from the soldiering years, I did not immediately apply all the lessons I learned. Instead I ended up walking through some additional challenges through which God has continued to shape me and turn my heart back to Him.
Just yesterday, our pastor delivered the truth that I’ve been clinging to — the words that let me know I’m safe and that I can step into this learning day after day: “God in His sovereignty is in control of whatever situation I am in.” He, the one who has been with me through the soldiering, through every difficulty, through every rescue, through every lesson, is in control.
He keeps showing up because He wants me to know that He is the Lord my God. He knows I’m just learning, and He wants to support me as I grow through this.
He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
This post, written in October 2015, gets dusted off in October 2019 — I needed a reminder of my role.
The other day I was trying to explain the term ‘juxtaposition’ to a student. I think I said something like, “when we juxtapose two items, we set them side by side in an attempt to highlight their differences.”
I’m sitting here examining the glaring differences when I juxtapose my life with the life of Christ. It’s embarrassing, really. Especially when I consider myself to be not only a Christian, but a leader in the church. It’s humbling, and sobering, to think that others look to my husband and I as examples of what Christians should be. In a perfect world, we would be mirrors that merely reflect the love and grace of God to all those around us. In reality, this mirror is warped, cracked, and positioned in such a way…
A weekend rich with family kept me away from my laptop, as it should have. When everyone had left, I scrolled through pictures of the weekend and reflected on how lovely it had been to have so many that are precious to us together in one place. Instead of coming right to the keys, I basked in the moments for a bit. So, this morning, I bring you a piece from August 2016, dusted off on this October day in 2019. What a blessing it is to reflect.
After long absences from my blog, I never know what is going to come out of my fingers when I finally make the time to sit down. Will I start writing about why I haven’t written sooner? what we have been doing with our time? what kind of students I am working with? How my health is (or is not) progressing? Or…