Why we write

I was talking to my friend, Stan, the other night about what’s going on in our lives. We hadn’t caught up in a while, and he was telling me about his realization that God is working good things through the very things that are making him miserable. We’ve always been pretty real with each other and were sharing some deep stuff. I’m not sure how we got on the topic of writing or what makes us feel better about getting our thoughts on paper (or computer), but he said something that really stuck with me:

“We write from our brokenness.”

I’d never thought of it that way. But as I look back over the course of my life, I realize that I have always had some sort of writing outlet. When I was a little girl, I kept a diary. It was a silly little-girl diary, with mundane things, wishful thinking, secret crushes, and imaginary conversations I wished I were brave enough to have. I don’t have that diary anymore . . . as I recall, I rediscovered it in my room when I was in high school, read through it, decided it was crap and tossed it in the trash one day.

When I was in high school, I kept an informal journal/diary in a spiral-bound notebook. High school meant writing real things. Worries of not being smart enough (I was), as pretty as most of my friends (I was not), or successful enough (I was, in the areas I was passionate about). Serious pain and heartache borne of the intensity of young “love,” mean people, and parents who didn’t understand that I, as myself, was enough even though I was not a clone of my older sister. I wrote from my brokenness, even though I wouldn’t have put it into those words at the time. Everything inside me was poured into that notebook, which became two notebooks, and then three—until my mother read through them one day and held my private thoughts against me. I waited until I was alone one day shortly after that, took the notebooks to a private area behind our neighborhood playground, and burned them after reading through them one last time. I didn’t dare write from my brokenness again, because that would only provide written proof that could be used as ammunition against me.

As a young adult, a few years after I was married, I was part of a women’s Bible study that required us to journal on a regular, if not daily, basis. So I journaled. In fact, I journaled my butt off. But when I found that particular notebook many years later, I flipped through it and realized it wasn’t about me at all. In fact, I didn’t recognize myself in the writing. My first thought was, Wow. I must have really been deep at the time. This is some profound stuff. As I read further, though, I came to the realization that I had been writing my “private” thoughts in that book with the idea always in the back of my mind that someone else would find it and somehow end up reading it. As a result, I was writing what I thought would be approved. Safe. Not open for judgment.

Basically, I wasn’t journaling anything that would help me at all. And I didn’t write for years. Decades, actually, because life with four children doesn’t allow a lot of time for self-reflection. We’re busy keeping the little people alive and healthy—which is a good thing—and are completely absorbed in the needs of others to the point of ignoring ourselves—which is not a good thing, but it happens all too easily.

When I started writing again, it was on SparkPeople, where people were encouraged to share their fitness-related struggles and achievements. I tossed a little post on my profile page one day and felt as if I’d exercised my brain in a way I hadn’t for years. It was a release and an easy expression of me. I deleted that account after a couple years of use, but it had served its purpose: I caught the writing bug again.

I later began my editing blog to get my name out there and to give writing advice from a copy editor’s viewpoint. Again, I felt at home. The posts ranged from serious advice to author interviews to the completely silly (but such a blast to put out there). That blog has gained me more than clients; it’s provided me with long-term friendships, solid acquaintances, and a sense of community that has nothing to do with politics or anything controversial—only like-minded people with a love of what we do best. When I had to take a break from it due to busyness, it killed me to be away from it. Starting up again put me back where I belonged.

Somehow I ended up with this blog as my personal one. It’s been a good one for me, because I can write like myself once again. Yes, I do filter a bit, but not much. For the most part, I figure I write for me, and if anyone happens to read it and gain something from it, that’s a bonus.

And that brings me back around to my epiphany, courtesy of Stan. We write from our brokenness, he and I. Not everyone does. For me it’s a regular thing. When something happens and I need to process it, I write. Everything that’s on my mind comes through my hands and onto paper, or into a document on my laptop.

It’s kind of funny, because when I’m happy, I tell people all about it. I can’t help but share my joy or excitement about something great. But when I’m sad or hurt or angry, I write. Maybe there’s something in me that says, Don’t scare everyone by telling them how you really feel, because you may say something you’ll regret, and you won’t be able to take it back. When I write out my sadness or frustration, I can reread it and think more clearly. I process what has happened, review it, and figure out how I’m going to respond. Or I process it all in writing because in some cases, there will never be an opportunity for resolution.

Recently, I shared some of my deepest thoughts with a friend in a heartfelt letter, only to have a third person read them (without my permission), misinterpret them, and use them against me. Once again, writing from my brokenness was invaded by someone who took it upon themselves take ownership over something that was my own, intended for another. Believe me, there is not much worse than having our own words used against us by those who don’t have the first clue as to where those words stemmed from, the history and emotion behind them, or why they were written.

And yet, I continue to write. Brokenness leads to healing, and if I write from the former, I trust that it will provide the path to the latter as a result. Writing serves the dual purpose of not only getting it all out, but of providing a way for me to look back and realize how far I’ve come.

And that “looking back” thing? That’s why we write.

 

Are we sharpening one another?

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. —Proverbs 27:17 ESV

When you work every Sunday, a holiday weekend doesn’t really hold the same type of appeal as it does for most. The “woohoo three-day weekend” isn’t really three days in a row, and the Monday holiday observance often only makes the remainder of the week more difficult to catch up with. Still, not too many people I know (myself included) will say they don’t enjoy having an extra day at their discretion, regardless of how it fits in.

I found myself with my own type of holiday this past weekend. I had off Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and for once, none of those days had appointments or outside obligations. So I allowed myself to fill them . . . with friends. Sort of an iron-sharpening few days, you might say.

I think it’s interesting to read what some of the commentaries say about the sharpening process:

  • It can make us/keep us “shiny”—some translations say “sharpens the countenance”—and Ellicot’s Commentary for English Readers says that in essence, the verse is telling us that the “play of wit with wit” will actually brighten up the face.
  • Benson’s Commentary says it “quickens his ingenuity, enlivens his affections, strengthens his judgment, excites him to virtuous and useful actions, and makes him, in all respects, a better man.”
  • Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary reminds us that we are to “take heed whom we converse with,” and tells us that our conversation should have the end goal “to make one another wiser and better.”

Friendships, I think, boil down to two basic types: those that strengthen and fill us so we become sharper and more effective, and those that weaken and drain us. Not that I’m always tossing Bible verses around, but when I think of my friendships, I think of Proverbs 17: 22—”A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”

I’ve often returned from a visit with a good friend, eyes burning from the tears that accompanied some intense bouts of laughter, abdominal muscles more sore than Jillian Michaels could ever hope to make me, saying, “That was EXACTLY what I needed today!” I’m not kidding when I tell you I think I could be really skinny if I only got to spend more time with my better friends. (Never mind the pizza we’re probably eating—we’re focusing on the positive here.) There’s cardio, there’s side cramping, there’s floor work as I roll around, doubled over. And I’m working out those smile muscles like nobody’s business.

THAT is good medicine.

A friend and coworker recently posted her thoughts about iron sharpening iron on Facebook, saying,

“So if that is true, and I believe God’s Word is true, then is the reverse true? Does being dull create dullness in another? Does negativity give birth to more negativity? Have you ever found a rotten potato in your bag of potatoes—that is nasty—and creates a problem for the other potatoes. Are we building one another up or tearing each other down and pulling people in with us? I work in a church—I hear positive and negative comments each week. I hear them at baseball games, at stores, etc. It causes me to examine myself. Am I sharpening others with God’s love and encouraging others or am I spreading viruses with negative words that are not helpful and are not going to change anything? My thoughts on my drive home today . . .”

Just as we have those positive friends, there will always be acquaintances who pull us into a pattern of negativity and complaining. It’s all too easy to slide into and not nearly as easy to climb out of, once a habit has been established. I’m a naturally sarcastic person, so are my kids, and so are many of my friends. However, I’m conscious of not allowing that sarcasm to become mean-spirited (sometimes I fail, but hey, I’m conscious of it), and there are times when I’ve certainly been convicted of being negative. It happens. But I don’t want to live there.

Joy in the Bible is often mentioned in conjunction with strength. I certainly feel stronger after spending any amount of time with my positive-outlook friends. I can conquer the world and then some.

And that’s how I feel on this not-a-three-day-weekend: rejuvenated and ready to conquer the world. Why? Because on Thursday night, I and two of my very close friends (who happen to be authors I work for) made the time for a three-way Skype chat that had me—and various family members as they wandered in and out of the room—laughing for a solid three-plus hours, finally winding down to say goodbye at almost 2 a.m.

On Friday, I got to have a long lunch with another close friend who was in town from North Carolina. This was a total bonus, since I don’t usually get to see her more than once a year; but not only did I see her in November (when we got matching tattoos to celebrate friendship endurance through some really tough seasons), I’ll see her again in July. Three times within a twelve-month period! It means so much to me to see her smiling face, to giggle the moment we are within earshot of each other, and to talk about everything from silly to deep, fitting in as much as we can until the next time.

On Friday night, yet another close friend—my college roommate and still one of my besties—came over to spend the evening hanging out and watching a movie. We know enough about each other to get into some serious trouble, we’ve persevered through thick and thin, we seldom get to see one another though we live less than ten miles apart, and our daughters have somehow managed to become best friends, which we think is super cool. We can follow each other’s tangents and don’t have to explain our dumb jokes to each other.

These friendships, with people who are vastly different from each other, sharpen me. They each have a unique way of encouraging me and yet holding me accountable when I’m not my best self. And if you haven’t noticed by now, I tend to surround myself with people who love to laugh. I can be as serious as I need to be, but not until the very moment I have to be, and not a moment after. There will always be time for tears when they’re needed, so why rush it? Laugh at every opportunity so your strength is built up for those valleys.

I was so buoyed by a simple two days of friend-infilling that my Saturday was incredibly productive. I woke up raring to go. I didn’t get everything checked off my to-do list, but I got little bits of lots of things accomplished, and shared some nice moments with my best friend who just happens to be married to me. In fact, today marks the 30th anniversary of our first kiss, and I will be the first to tell you that a man who still celebrates the kissiversary after thirty years is a an iron-sharpener of the highest quality.

So how about it? Who will YOU sharpen this week?