Sunday, September 28, 2008

Vocation, surrender and writing

Jennifer at Conversion Diary had a great post about discovering and embracing one's vocation and specifically, about her own acceptance of her vocation to marriage and motherhood, and its relationship to writing. Jen wrote:
I found that when I was finally willing to admit that my personal goals like writing or getting published were a lower priority than my call to marriage and motherhood (not unimportant, just a lower priority), that's actually when God really began to bless my efforts in those departments. Though I had less time for it, the time I did spend on it bore fruit like never before.
And it's this particular aspect I want to explore just a little bit more, because this could have been me talking.

When I first began looking into Christianity (because I wasn't actually converting, you know ... I was just investigating), one of the things I had the greatest aversion to was this odd, Christian idea of self-surrender. It was antithetical to my independent ideals, and I feared "losing myself" if I embraced religion. Surrendering my self sounded suspiciously like losing everything that was important to me, everything that was me -- the belief system I'd carefully crafted over the years, my tastes and opinions, my very personality. My core. How do you give that up and not feel like a pod person or a Stepford wife?

I could not see, in any way, that "losing myself" could be a blessing. I thought of that as Christian-ese for "Take what we dish up and like it." Of course, now I know that it's been an enormous blessing to let go of the self-centered nature of my old life, but I couldn't fathom that at the time.

I could not see, as C.S. Lewis said in The Problem of Pain:

"We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are... rebels who must lay down their arms."

I didn't want to lay down my arms. But, clearly, at some point, my arms slipped or were wrenched from me (a bit of each, at various stages) because here I am. I surrendered, first of all, to a "mere Christianity," and later to the Catholic Church. And in laying down my arms and waving those white flags, in asking God to let me die so that I might rise again, in accepting that I might become a new creation in Him, I have found a peace the depth of which I couldn't have conceived in my atheist days.

In the midst of that peace is the knowledge that while I did " lose" myself I have paradoxically also become a truer version of myself. In surrendering everything (from my time, my marriage, my fertility, my writing, and my cherished sleep, oh, sleep) to God, He has shown me that He will lead me, wisely and well, in all things and that I will inch closer to becoming the person He intends me to be. He's proven to me that He knows better than my best-laid plans.

In striving to practice obedience and self-surrender, I've been granted the greatest freedom I've ever known.

There are dozens of stories in my life (literally dozens -- His fingerprints are all over the meandering paths of our lives) that illustrate that point, but Jennifer reminded me that I've wanted to post about how my writing "career" (such as it is) developed. I still don't think of it as a career, but rather as something that happens.

When I was young, I imagined that someday I would be a writer. I wrote stories, poems and essays and dutifully sent them off to magazines. They returned with rejection slips. Occasionally, I'd find a handwritten note, encouraging me to persevere. An editor at "Seventeen" magazine (a glossy which I haven't seen for twenty years, and fear I wouldn't even let my daughters peek into these days, sigh ....) said she loved a couple of my descriptions, but, "sorry, this isn't quite right for us." Another editor at a small literary quarterly was my personal hero for a long time, because he wrote me an entire letter with his rejection. I loved him.

But, still, nothing was published.

So, somewhere along the way, I gave up on writing because I'd begun to follow my real dream, which was to find out the meaning of life, and specifically the meaning of my life. That dream led me to surrender many things: where we lived, what jobs I took, old prejudices, my personal ideas about having children, misconceptions about what it meant to be a wife and mother, and the idea that I would always work outside the home and take my children to daycare. Somehow, I had become everything I'd previously mocked in life: a Catholic stay-at-home mom.

And, I still wasn't thinking, "Get published," when my priest suggested to me that I send my conversion story to one of his favorite magazines. I did it only because he thought I should. Left to my own devices, I was afraid that seeking publication at that point in my life would be "all about me." I feared it would appear I was seeking some glory, when I knew all the glory of my story belonged to God. But, in the spirit of surrender and obedience to my confessor, I sent the article off. It became my first published piece.

God was just waiting for me to write about Him, I think. He's tricky that way.

But this is not my cue to say, "And it all took off from there!" Yes and no. I was still learning what it meant to be a fully committed, homeschooling, stay-at-home mom, what sacrifices were necessary, where my focus needed to be. But, the more that fell into place, the more fully I surrendered to and embraced my true vocation, the more the writing fell into place, too.

Since then, other writing opportunities have come my way. I haven't usually been able to predict them (though some of them were again at the suggestion of that same priest -- perhaps I should call him my agent .... ) and most of them have greatly surprised me. On top of that, when I've planned or tried to predict too much, God has dismantled my plan and all but said, "No ... try this instead." When I surrender control of the craft, He proves Himself the best of all possible navigators.

Not that I've sat passively doing nothing. Having a "navigator" implies that He's mapping the course, but I still have to do the driving. After all, someone has to sit at the keyboard and compose the stuff. But, publication has happened on God's terms, not mine.

Last summer (the summer of 2007, that is ... I just realized that Summer '08 can now also be called "last" summer), it happened again.

Though I'd been thinking I'd like to try writing some kind of book, and had even promised myself to set aside writing time that summer, I could not have predicted that a review I wrote of Mike Aquilina's Love in the Little Things would lead to conversations with his editor, which would lead to my writing a book, for Servant Books, about praying the Rosary. (It's on track to be published in the spring of 2009.)

But, back to the point. (Hopefully my book does not wander as much as my blog posts do.)

This is all in God's hands. We've come full circle, back to that surrender business.

If, in the future, God wants me to write more books, I will. If he wants me to do an article here and there, I'll do it. If my writing negatively affects my family and He wants me to turn my back on it all, I will. If he wants me, instead of writing about spirituality, to craft instruction manuals for that assemble-it-yourself furniture (because, really now, couldn't anyone do that better than the people who do it?) then I'll earn a little paycheck for our family in that way rather than in Catholic publishing. And, if He wants me to quit writing altogether and learn to be a better cook, I'm in (though I don't really see that that's where He deposited "natural talent and desire" in me.)

You get the picture. Where He leads, I will follow.

I pray for the grace to hear His voice, accept and follow His lead, and to keep myself out of the way. My fear of "losing myself" is gone, for I know that in surrendering "me" I haven't lost my core. I've found it. I have gained life with Him.

God, who doesn't send rejection slips, is my real personal hero. And life is so much better with His deft editing Hand at work.


sarah said...

What a wonderful, radiant post! And congratulations on your book. That is such great news :-)

Sarah Reinhard said...

Great post, Karen! I'm with you on so much of that, and I nodded along with Jen's post too (just as I nodded along with yours). For me, writing has come about because of God, and you're so on track...HE has to lead.

Thanks for sharing this!

J.C. said...

Excellent post! Congratulations on the publishing of your book.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful story! And I'm so excited about your book. It will be a high point of 2009.

Sarah said...

Beautiful post! I know I'm a better mother and wife when I surrender to my vocation but my control freak nature makes me forget about the joy of surrender and I have to keep relearning over and over again.

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Wow, what a beautiful post!

Anonymous said...

That is beautiful, Karen.
I'm praying for you and all that God desires of you.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful reflection, Karen. Thank you for sharing it.

And I would be very interested to read a book by you on the rosary! Now that's something to look forward to! :)

Colleen said...

What a wonderful post about God's great wisdom! You illustrate so well that I should remember that He always knows better than I do. There are a few things in my life right now that I need to work on surrendering to His wisdom as well...

I look forward to your book!

Leonie said...

I find it so hard to "lay down arms" and so I appreciate your sharing. Thank you!

Kate Wicker said...

I love this, especially your last lines: "God, who doesn't send rejection slips, is my real personal hero. And life is so much better with His deft editing Hand at work."

I have had a different journey. I'm a cradle Catholic who also happened to be a journalism major. I wrote for a living in secular media before becoming a mom. All the while a little voice in my head was encouraging me to approach Catholic/Christian media. I ignored that voice for a long time. I'd found my groove, and I was happy in it - until I welcomed our first child into my arms. Suddenly, looming deadlines weren't exciting, they were stressful. I had to take a break. And I did. But I missed writing; yet, I wondered how I could balance parenting with writing. They both required so much of ME.

Then I started reading more Catholic/Christian media and I realized that this was where I could write about my life. I wouldn't have to balance or surrender anything. I could still write, but I wouldn't have to worry about not putting my family's needs first. On the contrary, I could actually write about doing this very thing.

I've also found that when I push myself to write something or to send out pitches (mainly because of my pride) it backfires now. I have to let the Lord lead me. Words are like babies; they come in God's time, which is always, always the right time.

Congratulations on the book deal.


Sarah said...

Love it! Several years later and recently stumbling upon this blog thanks to "Style Sex & Substance", I wanted to share that the "arms surrenduring" part of this blog reminds me of "Weapons" and in general, "Small Rebellions" by Jars of Clay. I think our lives are filled with tiny rebellions against our more selfish desires each day, and each choice we make towards our true vocation is a small victory in becoming who we were created to be. :)

Karen, thanks for being a source of wisdom and experience. I've recently entered adulthood and the workforce, and am encouraged when i find writings by ladies truly, happily, joyfully, honestly seeking life in Christ.

Karen Edmisten said...

Sarah, welcome and thanks for seeking out the blog after reading Hallie's book! All the best to you in the joyful years to come. :)