Earlier this year, I participated in an online writing workshop. It was led by the team of writers over at Coffee + Crumbs, one of my absolute favorite blogs. We were divided into writing groups of five or six, and each group was led by one of the C+C writers.
I was lucky enough to have Ashlee Gadd, the founder of C+C, as my group leader. Ashlee is as kind as they come, and she will be your biggest champion and cheerleader in the writing process. She’s also an excellent writer who makes a tough-as-nails editor. When given permission (again, she’s nice, so she always asks permission to be blunt first), she’ll slice right through your wobbly prose and half-assed ending, prodding you to unearth your best work. It was exactly what I signed up for.
One week, a question popped up on the group message board about how to write with vulnerability. I quickly pecked out a reply and patted myself on the back — I’d been blogging for awhile now and had even been published by other sites, I TOTALLY had vulnerability down. Hopefully I could offer some encouragement to these other timid souls who were afraid to dip their toes into writing for an audience.
Come on in! my ego was shouting. The water feels fine.
Then Ashlee called shenanigans on me. Nicely, of course, and with great grace. She told me my writing was beautiful, but safe. Sweet, but not always relatable, because sometimes it felt like I was sanitizing reality. And suddenly, I felt like a fraud.
She was right, of course. It’s tempting to only write the happy stories. I like the ones where I look like a good mom. Oh sure, sometimes I might dance along the edges of the hard stuff, but only if I can tie it up nicely with a “life lesson” bow. It’s hard to write honestly, and harder still to write with uncertainty. What happens when I admit that I don’t really know what I’m doing most of the time? If you know me, then you know one of my trademark characteristics is that I appear to be brimming with confidence. The secret lies in that sneaky word: appear. Truthfully, I’m a hot mess over here and it’s scary to be brave with my words, because what if you don’t like them? They’re my words, after all … so doesn’t that mean that you don’t like me?
There it is: the crux of my problem. It’s equal parts pride and insecurity, a paradox of paranoia.
That’s not why God made me a writer. He didn’t give me a burning desire to put pen to paper for my own edification or glory. He didn’t do it so that people could read my words, nod and think, Wow, that Jenn has really got it all together. She’s great. When I write, it’s not about me at all. He gifts us all with talents that are to be used for His glory. HIS, not ours.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m under no misconceptions that I’m a terribly talented writer. I am, and always will be, a work in progress, at best. Imperfections aside though, writing is what I love; it makes me come alive and demands to be tended to. That alone makes it my gift; not greatness or ease (because it’s certainly not easy), but sheer need. After 33 years, I’ve finally drawn the conclusion that I was born to write, simply because I can’t imagine my life without it. It completes my trifecta title: Wife. Mom. Writer. The three pieces that make me … me.
I also believe that the path of my life should lead others to seeing a need for God’s grace. And I’ve realized that an inauthentic story doesn’t do that. I have to include the shadows, and not just the light. In our glossy, veneered, Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat world, that’s more than daunting. I won’t post a picture where my arms look fat; why in the world would I let my real flaws hang out for all to see?
But the world doesn’t need my perfection. It needs my vulnerability. With everything I write, my prayer is that somewhere, someone is nodding and thinking “me too.” If I can step out on the ledge and talk about the way things really are, maybe someone will join me there, and we’ll both feel less alone.
Maybe the purpose of vulnerability — the holes in my story and the chinks in my armor — is to allow a place for His grace to shine through.