Chasing a Dream in the Midst and in the Afters


A_SarahI have a confession for you: sometimes I used to get so mad at the Inklings. I have felt resentful because C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and all these other writers, real writers, had luxuries like housekeepers and pubs and colleagues and writing cabins and a way to pay their bills, they had creature comforts and every time the Muse arrived, they didn’t have to shush her, plead with her to come back later because, right now, Muse, can’t you see? Preschool, supper, diapers, bath times, and everything wonderful in my life needs my attention.

I’m not someone who has pursued a very traditional path to becoming a writer. Even now, my life doesn’t resemble the Great Writers and their habits.

Instead, I imagined my little yellow book while I was a full time working mum with another one on the way. And then I actually wrote most of it while I was on maternity leave with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a newborn.  I remember once crying in self-pity, “Hell, anyone could have written the Narnia books if they had a housekeeper and sustained silence. Even I could construct Middle Earth if I had a full night’s sleep!

Instead, I wrote most of my book at my kitchen table during naptimes or sitting on the bathroom floor while a kid was in the bathtub or at the public library with earphones on so that the study groups of teenagers wouldn’t distract me.

This is the season of chasing my dream in the Midst of my life and in the Afters of my life: in the midst of raising tinies, after supper, after bath times, after stories, after kitchen dance parties, in the midst of Saturday morning cartoons, after bills are paid, after work, after groceries are put away, after laundry is folded.

If it wasn’t like this, I don’t know what I would write about anyway. Our lives are always content. I remember hearing once that all theology has its roots in autobiography.

My book grew so organically out of my life, out of my work, that it was begging me to be born. Madeline L’Engle wrote in her book “Walking on Water”—which is probably my absolute favourite book about writing—that “the artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver.”

About six years ago when I was pregnant with our son, my husband sent me to writing conference. In a grand gesture of love, he researched writer festivals, found one that was a Christian one, and he booked my ticket and a hotel, and sent me there for the weekend.

It was awful.

So, so, so painfully awful.

On the last day, I attended a session for aspiring writers. There was an agent and two publishers leading the talk. And for the next 45 minutes they pretty much told us all to get over it.  They spoke of networking and conferences. They talked about critique groups and pages per day. They spelled out the strategic steps to publishing with black and white Powerpoints. They cautioned against optimism, warned that publishing was nearly dead, made fun of ebooks and self-publishers and bloggers. They were insiders, they were the gatekeepers. I felt so painfully outside. They cited stats and probabilities, they talked about how no one ever gets published without huge platform–like “mega church platform” big, about how none of us would probably ever have a published book. If we didn’t have a big platform, we needed a unique voice. And to develop a unique voice, you need so much time and focus and practice. Who are you to write a book? they asked nicely.

I believed them. Of course, I believed them. So if this was the path to becoming a writer, now I knew the truth: I couldn’t walk that path.

I went back the hotel that night, and I sat in the middle of the floor. I laid out all of my dreams for God to look at. I said, God, do you remember in grade two? Do you remember how I wrote my first story about a snow bunny? Do you remember Mrs. Phillips? She told me I would be a writer. I believed her. Do you remember that? Do you remember how I filled journal after journal with terrible poetry throughout my teens? Do you remember how I scored as a writer and an artist on every single career testing thing? Do you remember how I wrote essays and short stories, under the covers, with flashlights? Do you remember that? And now I know I have been wasting my time. I will never be a writer, will I? I will never be a writer. This is not going to happen for me.

That night in that hotel room, I admitted it at last: my dream of being a writer was dead.

And, I kid you not, I heard God. That has only happened one other time in my life, in a real, feels-audible-look-over-your-shoulder-did-you-hear-that sort of way. But I heard (or sensed or felt or received a message from God, however you want to think about it, I don’t really care what you call it, I just know I heard God.), “You may never be published but that doesn’t change the way I made you. You’re a writer. Stop caring about the other stuff—platform, publishing, voice, approval of others—and just write. I’ll meet you there.

I came home from that conference  depleted, and calling-less. The white flame that had existed in my heart, setting me apart as a writer and an artist, had disappeared. I would never be a real writer.

So I just began to write anyway.

Soon after I buried my dreams of being a writer, I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount when I read a few words from Jesus that felt new to me—this wasn’t really possible: I’d read them dozens of times, no doubt. But the Holy Spirit has a way of illuminating the words I need to know or live into at that moment. The words were spoken by Jesus in Luke 6:43: You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.”

Some people have found that God asked them to lay down their gifts during seasons of great change or growth in their life. For me,

 Not only did I read Scripture like it was a lifeline—because for me, it was—but I found other writers as companions for the journey, too. I wrote my way right through and into another soul-birth. I wrote my way through loss and miscarriages, through birth and recovery and the transformation of motherhood. I wrote my way through Scripture and tension, through the building of my foundation in the wilderness, through my wandering and unsteady discipleship, my passions for social justice and women’s issues, through my anger and my frustrations, my indignities and even my sacred rhythms of the right-now life.

I began to practice living my life, as it stood, right now, in the way of Christ—often with mixed results—and then, as always, I wrote my way through it.

The decision to quit writing with an agenda gave me the freedom to write.

Now, I had no expectation, no strategy. I could—without motive or aspiration—simply write what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted. I could write about prayer, about motherhood, about discipleship, about feminism, about marriage, about Church, and even about knitting or my geekery over the television shows Doctor Who and Call the Midwife.

And so I found my voice, hiding in the midst of a life-giving life, just as Jesus said. He goes on in that 6th chapter of Luke to say that his “words aren’t mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.”

And me? I was writing. I wrote almost daily, and finally, after about three years of daily blogging in almost complete obscurity, I found my voice. Every opportunity came organically through relationships, not through a well-crafted pitch.

I began to understand why God told me to keep writing that night at the writing-conference-where-I-quit-writing though. After all, I had been healed, set free, and made whole through this discipline. God met me here, and He was enough, always had been, always would be.

If you feel like your dream cannot come true because your life doesn’t match the one-two-three steps to success of the experts, don’t despair.

Our God makes a way in the wilderness.

And for me, an organic, spirit-led, sure-why-not path of writing in the Midst and in the Afters lead me right where I had always wanted to be.

I am sensing God’s laughter in this story. When I laid it all down, when I said I didn’t care about platforms or networking, about publishing or any of it, when I just wanted to write, when I simply wanted to show up in my own life with gratitude and grace, when I was clacking at the laptop during naptime and scribbling in notebooks at lunch breaks, and God kept meeting me in the most ordinary, most radical, seemingly inconsequential and seed-like of ways, then, then, then, the dream came true.

There isn’t one way to be a writer. A lot of us write in the Midst and in the Afters.

There isn’t one way to see your dream flourish. A lot of us live into a dream-come-true in the Midst and in the Afters.

The experts tell us we can’t flourish like this, but we’re doing it anyway.

Now this season is very dear to me.  It feeds my creativity. The more full my life becomes, the more words rise up for me and the more dreams take shape. I’m working on a new book, oh, yes, I am. I’m still the mother of three tinies whose needs have become more complex as they begin to grow up. I still type in coffee shops and public libraries and in my pink kitchen. I’m still passionate about stuff above my pay grade.

I’m still writing in the Midst and in the Afters. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.