This is a post about how a 5 word email turned into a 55,000 word book. I usually keep my posts under 500 words so today is a stretch for me – but it’s also a celebration of sorts. I feel compelled to warn you this is the longest post in the history of the world – or at least in the history of this blog. If you don’t have time to read now – well, come back after that meeting or once the kids are asleep, grab a steaming cup, and settle in with me.
I’ve been sitting here for thirty minutes trying to write this post. Instead, I’ve successfully twirled my damp hair into ringlets and memorized every drop of water on the bushes outside my kitchen window. Don’t you wish you could be as productive as I am?
I am the so the boss of today.
On Monday I wrote a post called how to brush your teeth like a revolutionary. It took me about 20 minutes to write and after I re-read it, I realized those 201 words pretty much summarize what I’ve learned these past two years – basically that Christ’s pursuit of me is more important than my pursuit of anything else.
It’s possible to begin to believe that only the revolutionary pursuits require bravery.
But being brave also means waking up to your today responsibilities (no matter what they are) and then moving into them as the person you most fully are – with all of your unique desire, personality, and creativity.
Sometimes today will mean doing something risky or new.
Most times it just means doing the same thing I did yesterday.
Either way, the point is my life with Christ and his life in me.
Over the past two years, I’ve been slowly uncovering what it means for me to have courage in big and small ways – and that the difference between the two isn’t as distinct as I once thought.
I started writing about art after getting an email from Annie Downs on New Years Eve 2010. I wrote a post about that email if you want to read it, but the main thing you need to know is I was feeling afraid about 2011 because I was preparing for a year of doing things I had never done before. Annie spoke into my fear as I was feeling it.
She didn’t tell me to run from my fear and for the love of all things good, she didn’t try to give me advice. Instead, she said something that changed my life and the way I’m choosing to live it.
This is what her email said:
2011. We will make art.
Though Annie was referring to writing, the concept of making art had bigger implications for me. Somehow those simple words woke something up inside me – something of hope and courage I believe God puts in all of us. Instead of spending New Years Eve making a list of resolutions, I considered what it would mean to make art in 2011.
I began to work that out in words here on the blog. I didn’t have a plan when I started, I just wrote. What happened next surprised me more than anyone – it was you. You responded with nodding heads, craned necks and shaky hands raised up in the back. You pulled me aside at conferences and whispered notes in my inbox, more, please?
For several months, I explored the idea of embracing your own art – what you have to offer to the world – here on the blog. I wrote in spurts when inspiration hit me. People would say things like, “I’m enjoying your series on art” and I was always a little confused by that statement.
Am I writing a series on art?
A series, to me, implies intention, planning, a beginning and end, maybe even some kind of title or fun graphic. But this writing was just me, finally beginning to embrace my own unique design and wanting to encourage others in theirs.
The more I wrote, the more I started to focus on dreaming big and daring greatly. Quotes like this one motivated me: If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough!
The only problem was, I wasn’t sure I agreed with that.
For a while, I backed off from the art talk. Not because I didn’t still believe it was important, more because I didn’t fully understand what was so compelling about it for me. I knew my words about art were resonating with people, but I never want to write inspiring things just to be inspiring. I don’t know any other way to explain this except to say I wanted to be sure the words had substance behind them. The art was still there, but I muted it for a while.
Besides, I had other things on my mind.
In May of that year, I went to the Philippines with Compassion.
Two months later, my father in law died.
Six weeks after that, my first book came out on the same day I turned in my manuscript for my second book.
By now I had lived through all the stages of the book writing process – from the beginnings of a stubborn idea to the releasing of a book, as well as all the writing, editing, marketing and promotion that comes with it. I saw what it took to write a book from beginning to end and I was preparing to do it all over again with this second book.
I was not eager to write a third. I assumed after the second one released, I would be finished writing books for a while, if not forever.
Through all that time, a question followed me around: Is it possible to apply the word “art” to the way I live my life and not just the work I produce with my hands? And if it is possible, what would that look like for me?
After a year of thinking, reading, praying, and lots of conversation with my husband, close friends and other family members, I had to honestly admit this art message wasn’t going away and I had to decide what on earth I was going to do about it.
After putting it out of my mind for a while, I could no longer deny Annie’s words on the last day of 2010 meant something to me, not because I’m creative but because I’m human.
In the end (or the beginning, depending on how you look at it) I talked with a literary agent about this idea. I told her I didn’t really know if I wanted to write another book. But through several conversations with her and a lot of time alone, I decided it was time to sit down and figure out if this art stuff could be shaped into a book proposal.
That was January 2012.
My first two books took me about nine months each to write. But the truth is, I was preparing for them for ten years before they became books though I didn’t realize it at the time. I read a ton of books, listened to more sermons and lectures on tape than I can remember, studied huge passages of scripture, and even spent an entire summer taking a full-time course devoted to discovering more about the grace life and the gospel.
My research for those books was spread out over so many years and so much living that when someone asked me how I was planning to research my book, I remember not really having an answer.
But this art stuff? This was new. I had to take serious time to reconcile a spirit-level instinct that God had something to say to me about art with a flesh-level temptation to run for the hills.
I finally decided I had to write this art book even though I knew it might not work. I managed to write a compelling proposal for it and my now-agent, Esther, pitched it to my publisher who we eventually decided to go with. That was in April of 2012.
I used to think that writers of books took years and years to write out their ideas and only when they had it perfectly figured out did they decide they might like to get it published. That’s not how it’s been for me.
I felt like I had a couple of certain pieces for this book. But I had no guarantee I would be able to figure the whole puzzle out. Not only that, I also wasn’t completely convinced it was a puzzle at all.
What if it was a beach ball? Or a high-heeled shoe? And all this time I’m looking for a puzzle?
Oh the humanity.
I spent this past summer and fall fighting with myself, struggling with courage, feeling brave then getting scared. I finally turned in the manuscript in December and the first week of January, I got it back from Andrea with a message that basically said this:
You’re close, but you haven’t found it yet. Keep going.
By this time, we had a title and a cover for a book I hadn’t finished. And when I say “by this time” I mean January 2013. That was just two months ago – a full two years after I first started exploring this topic here on the blog.
After spending some time with my edits in the early weeks of this year, I got to a point where I just couldn’t fight alone any more. I had a few close friends and my husband in the ring with me, but this felt too big and the voices of discouragement were too loud for me to find the courage I so desperately needed to finish.
I did something I have never really done before – I asked for prayer on my Facebook page on January 17:
Something clicked after that. Having you speak into my fear reminded me who I was writing this book for. I realized I had been writing to the critics more than I was writing to the reader.
I realized I was afraid to say some things with conviction for fear of changing my mind in five years.
I also realized there is a time to be silent and keep your art a secret, but there is also a time to admit you need help.
That time had come for me.
We don’t just accept our callings once and for all. We have to continue to admit what we are called to do and move with courage toward that calling in different degrees throughout our lives. This was one of those moments for me – I finally opened my arms up fully to my calling, wider than I have before. I agreed that for all the things this book might be, at least it wasn’t going to be wimpy.
It’s as if I had to go through the entire experience in order to come back around to where I started – but this time I wasn’t just talking about the importance of uncovering your art and releasing it into the world.
I was living it.
Two weeks ago, I turned in my manuscript (for the second time) for what we have affectionately been calling The Art Book. I was proud of my work and hopeful Andrea would be, too.
She wrote me back just last week and confirmed what I desperately hoped was true: I finally found this art book.
a million little ways . . .
The first thing we know about God is that he made art. The first the we know about people is we were made in the image of an art-making God.
Now when I read quotes like this: If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough! I am still inspired, but I also now know the size of our dreaming isn’t the point.
The size of our God is.
Christ’s pursuit of me is more important than my pursuit of anything else.
I don’t care if you’re the President or the janitor – your ability to bring glory to God by simply being the person you fully are and embracing the job you’ve been given to do is a uniquely human privilege.
Christ is in you and he wants to come out through you in a way he won’t come out through anyone else. You have been given your two hands, your sick parents, your rotting back door. You have been given your extra deadlines, your diagnosis, the children at your table.
But you have also been given your sense of humor, your skill for writing, your passion to bring light to dark places. You have been given a heart for orphans, for animals, for food or for the poor.
You have been given your life, what you hold in your hands, the ground beneath your feet. You have been asked to show up. How do I know? Because you were born. Show up as you are, not as you think you ought to be.
Don’t run from your calling, no matter what it is.
If you don’t know what it is? Maybe this book will help you uncover it.
There isn’t one great thing you were made to do. There is one great God you were made to glorify.
Throughout your life, you’ll do that in a million little ways.
And with that, I confess to you that this post has been the hardest post in the history of Chatting at the Sky for me to write. I never want to assume you want to know all these kinds of details and to write this much about the process feels a little self-indulgent. But if I refused to share this part, then it wouldn’t be fully honest or fully me.
I don’t write as an expert – I’m not sure there is such a thing in deep matters of the soul. I write as a fellow image bearer, an intuitive observer and participant in the art of God.
I see artistic potential in not only those pursuits the world would label artistic like painting and singing and dance, but also in small gestures done with great faith, like listening, waiting, and showing up.
There is an art alive within you and you don’t have to go anywhere to find it. Because the art alive within you was woven into the fabric of your soul when you were made in the secret place. Doubt, discouragement and distraction may be covering it up, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. When believers embrace the unique shape of their soul and move into the world as the person we most fully are, art comes out.
Thank you for being such a kind and encouraging community of readers.
I know this post is so insanely long, but it was important for me to let you know that the art series will continue in book form!
And the series I didn’t even mean to write finally has a name: A Million Little Ways.
If I had my way, I would wait until the end of the summer or early fall to tell you about this book, but publishing and catalogs and sales reps wait for no man (or woman)
It’s been listed on Amazon for a few weeks now so I figured I needed to go ahead and tell you the story.
And one last thing . . . If you ever get an email from Annie Downs, don’t open it unless you are prepared to write a book.
UPDATE: A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live is now available wherever books are sold.