I miss Helen Atwood. Whether you know Helen or not doesn’t matter. I hope you’re blessed to know someone with her gift. Um … talent? Skill?
I should back up a bit.
I’ve been a bit angst-y lately. (Yes, I know that’s not a word.) A bit discouraged. Wondering about this writing thing. About ever getting published. About ever getting someone to even look at my work. All that. Now don’t get me wrong, I know all the right answers. I know them because I’m constantly telling everyone else all those right answers. I know I just have to keep writing, keep pitching, keep putting myself out there. As we said in our first KPC Writers Group challenge: Write what brings you joy, trusting God to use it for His glory.
Easier said than done.
Sometimes the truth that’s in your head has a hard time sinking into your heart. And discouragement follows. Am I really supposed to be doing this? Maybe I’m just supposed to encourage other writers and let myself off easy. But the thought of giving up hurts like a meat hook lodged in my chest.
So I misquote Thoreau: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation … and go to the grave with their song still in them.” And I’m confident that’s not what I want for myself … a life of quiet desperation … going to the grave with my song still in me. (Though if you’ve ever heard me sing, you might prefer that I do.)
But back to Helen and one reason (there are many) I miss her.
Whenever this sweet woman asks how you’re doing … she truly wants to know. And for those moments when you have her attention, you feel as if you’re the only person in her world. You see, whether she’s learned this or she’s gifted with the ability, she knows how to listen. Really listen.
And I’ve needed someone like that lately. Please don’t get me wrong. I have an amazing husband and wonderful friends and family who would patiently listen. They’d all encourage me–and they’d truly mean all those nice things. But it’s hard bucketing out all that torment to those who are closest to you. They worry. And they don’t know what to do to help.
How does someone really listen? Tim Keller, in The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, says, “The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”
I think he wrote that about Helen. She knows how to do that.
Not long ago, I was having one of “those days.” I met a writer friend for lunch. We talked about lots of things. And somewhere in the middle of it all, I cracked open a bit and squeaked out a little of my discouragement … then we went on to other things … and I left, carrying my anguish with me. And missing Helen.
Then I received an email from my friend. She felt she had failed me as a sister-writer, because she had rattled off a few words without waiting to listen long enough to see if that was what I truly needed to hear. And then she said, “So let’s try this again … What I’d say to you, if we had more nachos (which I could totally go for right now) and more time together, is more like this … “ And then she wrote of hurting hearts and how life with a creative gift never gets easy … She reminded me of Elijah who curled up under a juniper tree and wanted to die—right after he had called down rain and outrun chariots. She reminded me of Moses who got his calling directly from God—and still believed he couldn’t do it.
And then she talked about the fire in our bones and how no matter how we try to shut our mouths (or still our pens?), it will roar louder and louder. She talked about the panic and the terror … and the aches … oh, the aches … how the ache of “waiting” is a worthy ache … but the ache that is NOT born of waiting-in-hope but from fear that I won’t ever be satisfied, that I won’t be whole, that I’ll crave and suffer and long for no reason at all … well, that’s a devilish ache. It’s the voice that, “… tells you that you were crazy/foolish/wrong to ever think He’d choose you for this, that at this point the only thing to do is stick your writing desires in a suitcase under the bed. Go back to what is comfortable, what doesn’t gnaw on your soul, what you know you can do easily and well. Go now and you could mitigate the damage …”
There was more … all of it a balm to my soul. I came away refreshed, recharged. Yes, a lot of that had to do with the fact that she was totally on the money. She started off apologizing, and yet it was so obvious that she had listened beyond my words, and she cared enough to give a thoughtful response overflowing from her heart.
I knew I had been heard. And it meant everything.
Is it a gift, a talent, a learned skill … or maybe a fruit? I can learn a lot from Helen Atwood and my sister-writer.
So … how are you today?