Little by little I have been turning my manuscript over. Over to an editor and a copy editor. Over to a designer and a printer. Over to my family who lets me share their story in order that I might more fully share mine. Over to friends whose grace, humor and compassion ebb through the stories that fill the pages. I turn it over.
I have been in the public arena for long enough that I know what comes next. Scrutiny, opinions, criticism, praise and litmus tests by those in the industry who want to predict whether I have created a product that is commercially viable or not. It's not personal, it's business. And if I had any business acumen I am quite sure I would run a company the same way. In any case, I have learned over the years that I cannot let the praise or criticism sway me. I must continue to be who I am and do what I am compelled to do. That's the best gift I can offer.
So when an industry person recently commented to their colleagues that in their opinion, my manuscript felt like, "Wow, my life is really hard," there were no hard feelings. It is their opinion and they are completely entitled to it. Not having spoken to the person personally- or even knowing them for that matter- I can't say for certain why that is the only thing they walked away with. But I do know that the conversation that followed prompted that particular group of people to reach out to me and ask if I would consider revising the end of my story to make it a little more palatable by giving my story more "resolution" and giving the reader a few more "benefits" "take away points" or "inspiration."
They said their intention wasn't to coerce a watered down, trite or cheesy ending. Just less of the Wow- life is really hard business and more of the Wow-God's gonna fix it! business. A little less tension. A little less reality. A little more inspiration.
And hear me: I believe God is a healer and a fixer. He has healed and fixed before and God will heal and fix again. I think you and I are always, ever invited to the table to be made well. But I believe many things aren't physically restored- the way we hope they will be- this side of heaven. Not because God is withholding healing from us, but because it's a broken place we live in and for every ounce of beauty we encounter, there is suffering- remnants of evil among us. The hard reality of life is that some things, this side of heaven, remain broken. Still, there are many brave people among us who daily choose to live in the tension of being a person of FAITH and HOPE whether their earthly situations are ever fully restored or not. They live in that hope because they know this isn't the end of the story; the story already has its ending and it is magnificent.
So I've thought a lot about the industry people sitting around their table here in Nashville. Discussing whether my manuscript might be made into a more inspirational book, debating whether readers really want to read a book laced with humor, love, insane life stories and yes, tension in the not-yet-arrived happily-ever-after. Wondering whether they could market a "no solutions" book from a Christian. Wondering whether my story shouldn't end a little more happily-ever-after versus the way it currently ends, all Isaiah 43ish. But on my best days, Isaiah 43 is all I've got.
"But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned."
That is all I need from the gospel. Emmanuel is with me. That is enough.
My grandpa passed away last night and gosh did I adore him. I can't think of a major event in my life that he wasn't there to witness. He and Grandma made the drive from Mississippi to Texas to be with my sisters and I more times than I can count. I can't think of a time I said good-bye where he didn't say, "Okay baby I love you." I don't know what life is like without a loud, funny, brilliant, kind, arguing-with-the-TV Grandpa. He has fought for his life the past six months as his legs slowly became infected, then his blood became infected, then his lungs filled with fluid...then life support, his Priest, last rites and leaving earth for eternity with his daughters holding his hands.
We do a whole lot of living and dying between life and death. This is the tension in our humanity. And the great tension of our faith.
This week alone we celebrated with friends whose baby lived when she was supposed to die and mourned with those whose children did not make it. We told our 5-year-old that she was going to her second funeral in four months. I went to the asthma doctor, the psychiatrist and the dermatologist; places for those of us who are not yet whole. We picked carpet, waited on a house appraisal, had two picnics, went swimming and gathered at the table to cry with a friend who found out devastating family secrets. This week alone planes were shot down, children were herded like animals into filthy holding cells on our American borders and entire people groups continue to bomb and devour each other...
and I haven't had a chance to respond to the well-meaning, industry people sitting around the table here in Nashville who wonder if I might make my manuscript a little less, "life is so hard, " but the answer is no.
The answer is no BECAUSE IT IS.
Life is hard. All hard? No. All bad? No. All suffering? No. But hard? Absolutely. And for some people- cruelly hard.
If we acknowledge that life is laced with beauty, joy and celebrations without acknowledging that life is also complicated, confusing and often times painful beyond words, then we are deceiving ourselves and shortchanging the depths of what it is to be fully human- people of joy and sorrow. We also miss a beautiful connection with God that is most often found in the unknowing, unraveling and unbecoming moments of our journeys.
Truth is- life is short on answers, long on grace. Short on neat bows, long on unraveling. Short on happily-ever-afters, long on God showing up in raging rivers and scorching fires. Short on perfectly curated plans, long on re-dreaming and re-building and re-dreaming and re-building. Short on "Life is perfect!" and long "Life is really hard right now."
What I am learning along the way is this: My life is short on "God will intervene and fix it" and long on "God will be with me as I walk through it."
Might you get to the end of my book and think life is hard? I sure hope so. To deny the frailty and pain of our condition as humans is to also deny the beautiful scope of our redemptive existence. Robert Benson says that in heaven there may well be no grace or mercy because all will be well and whole- there will be no need for grace and mercy.*
But here? Now?
We laugh, we celebrate, we dance, we cheer each other on, we gather at the table and we most fully experience God's rich gifts of companionship, grace, peace, mercy, community, selflessness, bravery, random acts of kindness and deep abiding love for one another because it is hard.
Our stories are the stories of grace and mercy because we are people who live in the tension of earth and eternity.
And to me--- that is inspiration enough.
Between the Dreaming and the Coming True: The Road Home to God (one of the most influential books I have ever read)