As you hold this letter to the light, hidden in the trenches, I imagine it is raining. Isn’t that the way of war? Always wet with mud and blood and tears. I imagine as well, that these pages shake in your hands as you read them. From falling shells around you, or your own trembling, trigger-weary fingers? I know not, care not. So long as your eyes can make out the scratchings of my pen, I will have done my duty by you.
I have known men who came back after war. They live with it embedded in their souls, like jagged edges of shrapnel. They take off their uniform, sit to dine with their children, and kiss their wives goodnight, but the pieces of war move silently under their skin. A door slams, and they hear the crack of bullets. Their dreams are riddled with bodies and explosions and bones snapping. They live with the metal shifting and grinding against their soul, and they know, still they know, they’re the lucky ones. But, if you survive the killing, then you must survive the living. Both can be hell, but one lasts longer.
But why do I write you now, you say? What good are these words? They will not ease your present hunger or thirst. They do not wipe the grit from your eyes or the sweat from your brow. They do not restore fallen comrades or comforts of home. What good is this letter when you are in a black hole filled with water and wretchedness?
True. This letter isn’t good for much. It won’t end the war, and it won’t unmake your scars.
But, it will do something else.
If you survive this day, and the one after that, if you survive them all until the killing is over, then you will have the chance for something extraordinary. You see, I’ve enclosed a key in this letter. It is an old and useful key, and few have ever laid eyes on it before you. Though I would wish to tell you more, I may not. Perhaps the curiosity of it all will serve you well, will fill a few empty hours. For now, lay low in the muck and do not collect more holes in your person than you must. Survive. And when you have done that, take this key to the address on the envelope. And if you are brave, Soldier, then turn the key.
I’ve been reading a book about writing for a few days now. It’s not the first one I’ve read, but something about it has really penetrated to the heart of the matter for me. It’s got my wheels turning.
I know a few things about myself, probably things you guys have known all along. When I enjoy something, I go for it. I am an enthusiast. Not only do I want to learn it, I want to teach it. I want to know as much as I can about it, and I want you to learn it and love it, too. I talk about it, research it, I get bumper stickers and business cards and join internet groups about it. It becomes my FAVE.
I have a lot of faves.
Some don’t have a lot of staying power. (You should see my collection of crochet needles, guitar picks, fondant rollers, and framing supplies) Others make the long haul, only to hit a wall. But a few things, they manage to survive the ever growing list of things I love– but they stay in some sort of stasis. I’m still invested, but not producing.
I tell myself, it’s because I don’t have time. Or money. Or energy.
I say, I can’t possibly.
But, something has changed. Something has awoken in me, some part of me that is outraged at the repression, at the “I can’ts.” Something has had enough.
And now I see this carefully constructed shield of excuses I have built. Not having enough time, having five children and homeschooling and being involved in all these other things– all just excuses. All to hide the fact that I am simply, afraid of failing. Afraid I’m not good enough, that I can’t work hard enough, that I can’t handle the pressure of making an actual, physical goal and meeting it. Afraid that if I try, and I can’t or won’t see it through, then I (and everyone else) will know what a big letdown I really am.
But, this book- I don’t know, I just had a light go on.
No more excuses. No more fear. No more I can’ts.
I want to set a goal, and take actual steps right now to meet it. I want to persevere. Even if what I have at the end isn’t perfect or reasonable or marketable or logical to anyone else– I want to know I’ve done it. I need to know I’ve done it. I’m tired of not challenging myself because of fear. Life’s too short. Nobody cares if I do or don’t– nobody else is telling me, “You can’t.” I’ve been telling myself that, which is the shame of it all. I just need to believe in myself, stop sabotaging myself before I even try.
So, I’ve committed to myself, an hour a day, to writing 300 words. It’s the minimum, and the maximum. Such a small sliver of my day, one that is easily lost to t.v. or Words with Friends or extra long soaks in the tub– but it’s also the biggest leap, the riskiest use of my time. It means I’ve asked something of myself, and that’s scary.
Maybe the fear will stick, I don’t know. Maybe that’s a natural part of going after a dream, and this whole time I’ve been waiting for it not to be a frightening thing. Whatever, but I’m done turning away from it. I’ll be brave, and I’ll do this thing. Whatever shape I’m in by the end, it will be such a joy to have that dream in hand, real and solid and mine.
Because the alternative, a life time of never even trying– is not just scary. It’s tragic.
Now, every time I hear myself say, “I can’t,” I will change it to, “I’ll try.” And in a year, when I look back and consider the past twelve months– I know I’ll be content with the effort, the struggle to DO those things, to reach my goals, to try for the dreams– instead of the regret of another year lost, another year waiting, another year hiding.
Let this be the year, I Try.
A writer must know what he wants to say.
Sometimes, that’s harder than it sounds. I’ve been reading about being a better writer, and this is one of the first questions a writer has to answer. What do you want to say?
I sat and thought about that. And these are the things that went through my mind. No vagueness. No moral of the story, no tone or mood to set with pretty words. No subtlety to the craft today. Today, I am going to be literal, and tell you exactly why I write, what messages I attempt to share. You can tell me if I completely miss the objective after you read this.
…It’s hard right now, but you’re going to be okay. Today may hurt. It may confuse, overwhelm. But you will find a tomorrow that is happier, wiser. It will happen.
…You can forgive, you can. It’s in you. And once you do, you are free from a weight you don’t even know that you’re carrying around. Forgiveness can be the beginning of beautiful things.
…Wealth, security, comfort– these are earthly pleasures that aren’t the same thing as happiness. You can have all those things and be happy, but you can have none of them and be just as happy. Don’t let the pursuit of those things steal your time here. It’s just not worth it, because it all, ALL, stays.
…Happiness comes from putting other people first. Put their needs above yours, and you will know the peace that passes understanding. Do it, and it gets easier. You will never make your own self happy- instead, seek the happiness of others. See what happens.
…Nobody is perfect. Nobody. Even the person you most admire and respect- that person you idolize and compare yourself to– they have bad days. They fail miserably. They are selfish and sinful and insecure, too. They are imperfect, flawed, in need of a Savior just like you are.
And now I’ve come to the heart of it. This is what I want to say.
…The reason I write, the story I want my life to tell– is that following Christ will change everything. It will answer that seeking, restless heart of yours. He is It.
In this world, where people are lined up hawking their wares as the “answer”–there is only one genuine article. It’s not knowing yourself better, it’s not traveling, or exposing yourself to different cultures or lifestyles… it’s not expressing yourself, finding your soulmate, having a baby, it’s not in making a mark in this world– none of those things will answer the void.
Just look at it.
Look at the unhappiness of the world.
It has nothing permanent, nothing eternal, nothing soul satisfying to offer. All you will find in it are empty promises, that never deliver. Broken hearts, shattered lives, these are the fruits of the world. Even when you try to fill the hole with good things, with family, with noble acts, with charity– you will not be eased.
But, oh, the joy and contentment and Realness to be found in Jesus. He makes love true. He makes life meaningful. He slakes your thirst, heals your wounds, gives purpose to your steps. He’s done it for me. And He’ll do it for you.
If my writing says anything, if my life says anything, I want it to be that.
Phoebe’s hands were soft, and graceful. They moved about her like pale, twin birds, quiet and fine. Hovering over a tea kettle, alighting gently on piano keys, silently turning the pages of a book. Every motion fascinated me.
I would watch her out of the corner of my eye, careful to avoid the embarrassment of openly staring. I loved her hands, the delicate structure of the long, tapered fingers. I admired their natural elegance and beauty and spirit. She was a creature exquisitely wrought.
No. I must be truthful. What use is a confessional if it is polished into something else? Can I find true absolution if I continue to hide my sin in pretty words? It was more than mere admiration. Or fascination. I envied those hands.
The truth is, I envied everything about Phoebe.
Dear girl. If she had only known, had only seen the jealousy hidden in my eyes, the seeds of discontent growing in my heart. Had my dark and bitter soul been known to her, she would have turned her face away. I was a loathsome and fearful thing. It was in my very bones, and she would have been right to look away. But it wouldn’t be fear that prompted her retreat, no. She’d have done it out of mercy, I am certain. She would spare me from knowing that she knew, that she saw who I was. That’s the kind of good that Phoebe was.
But, I was not.
I was not good, or noble, or selfless. I hid my true nature from her, perhaps in some degree from myself as well. Maybe if her hands hadn’t been birds, and I had been content with my own short, blunted fingers, things would have turned out differently. If I’d been satisfied with my mediocrity, my plain and common existence, then maybe I could have allowed her to continue living in that graceful, serene state. Maybe.
But maybe Mother had been right all along. I always did break the beautiful things.
I am greedy with this extra hour over the weekend. I keep using it to justify staying up just a little later… when really, I should be in bed. But there is that undeniable, inescapable writer’s itch that comes strongest upon me at midnight. And so, I sit here, considering how much of my life I can share with you as the night dies into another day.
I had a perfect moment, Friday afternoon. Baby in the high chair, num-numming his way through a jar of banana and apple. The sound of my three boisterous boys laughing and wrestling drifted down the hallway to me. My beautiful daughter flitted from room to room, looking for a book or a toy or some other bit of happiness to pass her time. John Mayer’s Free Fallin’ played softly on the radio, dinner bubbled on the stove, and my husband walked through the door from work.
And in that moment, I tried as hard as I possibly could to memorize it exactly, with every sense at my disposal. Because I know, this is what I will beg my memory to recall in perfect clarity one day. This is the day I will wish to relive again. This pure, undiluted contentment of my life.
Achingly wonderful. Enchanting. The take-my-breath-away kind of perfect.
But, life is best in layers, don’t you think? So, there’s more.
As focused as I am on my own little hearth, I am also somewhere else these days. I am in the past, I am with my sisters and brother, and my parents. I am reliving, rethinking so many moments over the years. My brother is in rehab, but that’s not what this is about. He’s there, and I’m praying for him. But, God is doing something more than dealing with him. He’s restoring some of what we’ve lost along the way. He’s reknitting the frayed edges. Bitterness and anger and silence are losing their power in my family. We are learning to reclaim one another. It’s not been easy. We have a long way to go. But we’re waking up, and I want to write a song about it, or paint a picture, or hug the world– because it makes me happy to the marrow. I have missed us. What is happening right now, my friends… it is the best kind of magic.
These are special days. I’m looking everywhere at once. Behind me, beside me, beyond. There is so much to see, to remember, to create, to memorize…
I’m not sure what to do with it all just yet. I can feel it there, bubbling within me. I am alert, eager as all these things simmer in my heart. I watch, ready to do what I am supposed to with it, trusting that I’ll know that thing when and if it comes. Where once there was uncertainty, and fear about this need to write– there is now peace and patience. It’s just not about me anymore. I want to do what He wants me to. The end. Nothing else is worth it.
So, darlings, that is it. That is where I am these days, or at least, as close as I can describe it.
But alas, this midnight train must roll on, into another day, saving some things to say for tomorrow. Good night, moonbeams.
“Loose me,” she whispered, her voice a feather drifting through the air. The words floated towards him, but landed like a brick against his chest.
No, he wanted to scream, but it was already too late. He was compelled, her words forming a new reality. A mere thought from her, and she was gone. He scrambled for some trace of her, for the print of her existence anywhere in this world, but it had vanished. She was lost to him.
And she had wanted it that way.
Anger rushed in to fill the void that was left behind. He cursed, flailing his arms out in helpless rage. Earth melted away under the power of his blows, trees bent and exploded into shards. His wrath rolled across the face of the world, breaking mountains and emptying oceans. Forests and deserts shred at his bellows. Great crevices swallowed up the plains and meadows and lakes. The night shook under his fury, stars scattering and moons sinking, leaving a sky black and empty. Until finally, there was silence. His violence spent, the world held its last, ragged breath. Life or death for this reality hung in the balance.
He raised his arms once more, to destroy the final, most painful reminder of her. He stared hard at the debris, then turned away. He could not, or would not, destroy the last remnant. There was nothing left of the place they’d made together but this one monument, this one thing. He would leave this, to remember the bitter grief of a god spurned.
And so he left. Abandoned the broken remains of their love. No stars, no gods, no earth or sea to sustain life. Only a dry, cracked memory.
This was the beginning, or so the elders say. The death of the true world, was the birth of ours. We are the spark of life left in the ruins. We move through the ancient devastation, carving out desperate lives, clinging to the hope that the gods will return.
But they didn’t. Time has stretched on in an agony of existence and our suffering has become unbearable. And so, I made my decision. The elders shudder, but I ignore them. They are fools.
I am not.
It is time to find the runaway gods, and bring them home to the wreckage they’ve left. To end us, or mend us- it matters not.
We will not be forsaken any longer. We will not be the ghosts of their folly.
And so my tale begins.