Happy new year, new semester, new season, and new decade, friends!
I hope this finds each of you well and that you’ve had a restful holiday. Our little family mostly stayed in over the holidays, fought a few cold viruses, and celebrated one of our favorite times of year. We had some sweet time with friends and family, participated in each of our main holiday traditions, and focused on slowing down to a pace that would allow our souls to catch up from a busy year.
In fact, yesterday was Callie’s first day back to school and Oliver’s is today. Usually we all are ready to get back to our individual routines by this point, but this year, it seems we each felt a bit stuck between wanting to go back and also wanting to stay home together. I didn’t really understand it until Cory mentioned the other day just how hard 2019 was for us. He was right, it was. (I tend to be overly focused on the present moment and the things I have to do that I don’t always reflect back as thoroughly as he does.) There was a lot of good, growth, memories, joy, and new opportunities. But there was also a lot of heartache, grief, frustration, overwhelm, and feeling like things were happening so far beyond our control. The hard reset over the holiday was desperately needed in our home, with a particular focus on decluttering, reorganizing, and resting.
It wasn’t until Monday that I booted up my computer for the first time in a little over two weeks to return to writing and my morning ritual: wake up early (5-6a), read some of Henri Nouwen’s words, sit for 20 mins of centering prayer, make my cup of coffee, and then tap away at my computer to write and watch the sun rise. (The photo above is from my morning view on Monday.)
This daily practice is holy for me, grounding me in the present moment, and creating space for a sense of deep gratitude for a new day. Since 2016, when Oliver was born and (thankfully!) threw my whole sleep schedule off, I shifted from stay-up-til-2a-writing …to… up-by-6a-to-write. Especially over the last two years, this shift has grounded me as I continue to write my academic articles while also learning how to better steward this research by translating it into a book for a wider audience.
I started working on this book about two years ago, and after roughly 20 versions of trying to write into it on the computer (yes, I would write, feel unsettled with the direction, scratch it, and start a new word document), and one solid effort of writing it in a notebook, I took a step back. My family and I went on vacation last summer and on the 16-hour drive back, after finishing Lisa Gungor’s The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen, I opened my journal and started thinking about the book again. It quickly took shape with clarity as I listened to some quiet music in the passenger seat with the kids asleep in the back. I could no longer not write this book.
And so, I started mapping it out, building on some of what I had written before, but orienting in a way that felt… just right… like the outline had finally fallen into place. I wrote almost every day over the summer, while learning how to craft a book proposal (which felt vaguely familiar to writing a grant proposal), and by December 2019, I signed with a literary agent.
What I’m learning is that this type of writing, this process of excavating the everyday and integrating it with research, is oddly new and foreign to me, even as someone who writes almost daily and journals weekly. This new type of writing demands careful attention, deep curiosity, bold creativity, and an awakening courage that I don’t typically experience in the calculated, formulated, structured papers I typically write. The research articles, grant proposals, and academic presentations I’ve written and prepared have certainly served an important purpose. Honestly, I love bringing them to life to serve others and advance our understanding of complex issues around faith and mental health. But this act of translating the research while loosely holding an autoethnographic approach alongside it is far more adventurous and unknown. (Cue: Frozen 2’s “Into the Unknown” getting stuck in my head… Callie and I went and saw Frozen 2 Monday – for the second time! – and I admit that it has moved to the top as my favorite Disney movie.) While I had a skeleton of the book from the summer drive, what’s filling in are threads of research in accessible language, memories I’ve held for a long time, and perspectives on current experiences that, without this space to write, wouldn’t surface.
This writing process is so… different. It’s connecting the tissue of ideas, experiences, and feelings in ways I couldn’t anticipate along with research. And it is stirring something new in my research and deep within me.
Perhaps you’ve just started following me after I announced that I’m working on this book on social media. Perhaps you’ve been following me for a while. Either way, you are welcome and I’m so glad you’re here.
I cannot wait to tell you the ins and outs of the book, and hope to do that soon. What I most want to tell you at this point is this: I am really proud of this work and how it’s taking form. That’s not easy for me to write, and neither is this content, but it’s absolutely true. And the content is growing me, stretching me, and awakening me. And its purpose will be to awaken something in you, too.
I pray that as you move into 2020, you will listen to that still, small voice inside that nudges you toward the next, uncharted step. I pray that you will know deep in your being how loved you are, as you are. I pray that you extend grace to yourself and others. And I pray that you get curious about what hurts within and move toward healing rather than passing along the hurt to others.
I also realize that I’ve shared my word of the year each year on this blog. For 2020, I chose light for two reasons: 1) as a reminder that the light will never overcome the dark and 2) that I have permission to lighten my load and to not constantly carry as much as I do. Finally, I’ll close with a quote from one of Kelly Rae Roberts’ paintings that weaves together both this word of the year and a bit about this book…
“She was learning the most beautiful thing of all: by letting her light shine brightly she was giving other permission to do the same.”
May each of you shine brightly in 2020.