Archive for category: Recovery Room

Recovery Room: I Hear The Voices

Shawn Smucker is a friend and author who self-published the incredible Young Adult novel, The Day the Angels Fell, in 2014. Over the past several months, we’ve discussed the writing life, shared some of its ups and downs. What’s more, we’ve discussed the subtle addictions of career and “The Voices” that distract us from connection with God. I’ve asked Shawn if he’d agree to answer a few questions about career, self-doubt, and spirituality, and he graciously agreed. 

Perhaps you’re not a writer. Perhaps you’re a doctor, or lawyer, or restaurant owner, or homemaker. No matter what your occupation, I think there’s something here for you. Welcome Shawn to the Recovery Room, and after you read here, visit his website.

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1. Shawn, tell us about your occupation, what you do and how you came into it.

I make a living co-writing and ghost-writing books for individuals and publishing houses. The emphasis on personal platform has led to many publishers seeking out the stories of people who are not necessarily book writers, but who have large followings. This has created a need for co-writers and ghost-writers to help these folks tell their stories well.

In 2006, my aunt was approached by a literary agent to tell her story, so after much work and many sample chapters, the publisher hired me to be her co-writer. One book led to another, and by 2009 I left my painting business to write full time. Seven years and 20 books later, here we are.

2. We’ve had conversations about the struggles of your occupation, the highs and lows. Can you share a little about that?

I always thought it would be emotionally difficult to write someone else’s book and then watch them take it out into the world, sort of like a surrogate mother who gives birth and then has to hand over the baby. (I hope that’s not an insensitive comparison.) It turns out, for me, that’s not the case. I’ve always seen the books I co-write as the other person’s book from the beginning, and I really don’t feel any kind of separation anxiety. I think I’ve realized that I’m more like a midwife than a surrogate. I coax others’ stories into existence and celebrate with them when they take the newborn home. That’s one of the real highs, helping someone tell their story in a way that later makes a huge difference in the life of a reader.

The real struggle for me has been more practical–how does one navigate a life when your income fluctuates so severely from one year to the next, one month to the next? During good years I make more money than I ever thought I would make, but during difficult years we have occasionally (twice) gone 6 – 8 months without making anything. My wife and I have five children (almost six). Not making money for that long can be scary and annoying and stressful. It can quickly lead to voices of self-doubt and judgment.

Nothing has influenced my relationship with God more than my current vocation, precisely because of the ups and downs. One word makes itself known to me during those difficult patches: Trust. And as Brennan Manning wrote, “The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future.” And this as well: “The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”

3. You recently self-published an extraordinary YA novel, The Day the Angels Fell. Can you tell me about that book, about your expectations for it? Can you share how those expectations affected you emotionally and spiritually?

Writing and self-publishing my own work suddenly opened up a whole new world for me, a world of self-doubt and insecurity. I realized I had (have?) a deep, deep desire to be liked. Not just liked, but adored for my writing. (Man, it’s really hard to admit this!)

I guess I’m a little bit like Michael from The Office when he says, “Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I HAVE to be liked. But it’s not like this compulsive need to be liked. Like my need to be praised.”

All of that to say, leading up to the release of The Day the Angels Fell, I started to confront a lot of inner dialogue (I refer to this as “The Voices”) that, at the end of the day, tried to keep me from publishing this book. The Voices said “You’re not good enough at writing fiction,” or “No one will like this,” or “No one will care about it,” or “Why are you taking this risk?”

I pressed ahead, raised the money through Kickstarter, and I published the book, but even then I had to come to terms with Seth’s favorite saying: “This book will not do for me what I want this book to do for me.” I wasn’t going to suddenly win a ton of awards or become famous or find financial freedom through the publication of this book. I wasn’t invited to speak with Oprah, and people didn’t stop me in the street to thank me for this beautiful work of art I had created.

But here’s the thing. There were beautiful things happening even though the book didn’t do for me what I thought I wanted the book to do for me. I DID get wonderful emails from parents thanking me for the book, explaining to me what an important story it turned out to be for their child, and videos of kids thanking me for the book. I also had a chance to read the book at libraries and in people’s homes and I realized that these people cared about the book and the characters as much as I did! What an incredible feeling!

Writing and publishing this book taught me that the most beautiful part of writing is not in the fame or the fortune but in the small, everyday exchanges that happen between reader and writer. What an exquisite lesson to learn. This reminds me of what John Steinbeck said about his remarkable novel East of Eden while he was writing it: “Even if I knew that nothing would emerge from this book, I would still write it.” This is the mindset I am constantly trying to come back to, this mindset of creating without expectation.

4. From a spiritual perspective, what do you find to be the most difficult part of your occupation? Are there practices you’ve found to deal with these challenges?

I’ve already talked about the difficulty of trusting through hard financial times, but as I spend more and more time on my own writing, I have to tell you, one of the toughest parts of this occupation is shopping a book proposal to publishers. Waiting is a spiritual muscle, and mine is very weak. Compound that with the fact that the waiting is also tied up in someone else’s view and opinion of my creative work, and it’s basically a perfect storm for me.

My go-to spiritual practice in recent years has been silence. Deliberate, regularly practiced, intentional silence. I take into that silence a phrase or a verse that applies to my situation, and I soak in it for five minutes or ten minutes or twenty minutes, and in the silence God somehow gives me what I need to disable the voices, to let the stress drift past me. Silence has taught me so much in the last few years. Our world is so noisy. I don’t know how people live without silence.

Also, I don’t know if this is a spiritual practice or not, but it has become one for me, and that would the spiritual practice of taking the next step. Moving forward. Waiting is good and important but there is also a lot of freedom to be found in movement, physical and emotional. So, as I wait to hear about whether publishers are interested in taking my once self-published book and making it a traditionally published book, I move forward. I work on the sequels to The Day the Angels Fell, and in that movement I find freedom from The Voices.

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Recovery Room: Professional Performance Addiction

I had the privilege of meeting Ashley Hales in Portland, where a few of us gathered at Warner Pacific College and discussed faith, writing, and the carpet of cherry blossoms on the WPC parking lot. Ashley is a gem. I can attest.

In addition to being an accomplished writer, Ashley holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She spends most of her time running after her 4 children and helping her husband plant a church.  You can find her work at aahales.com, and The Mudroom. She loves to make friends on Twitter.

Welcome Ashley to the Recovery Room. (For more Recovery Room pieces, CLICK HERE).

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I do not often believe that God is good. Instead I picture God with a frown in heaven, not quite pleased that I haven’t got my act together yet. For all my Bible answers, all my understanding of a theology of grace, I choose hustle to prove that I am loved and seen. Do you?

When I sat in a little red plastic chair and “prayed the prayer” at a Get-Your-Salvation pop-up tent, I wanted to make the lady manning the booth feel good by sitting down and following Jesus. Even at 4 years old. As an only child, I’d quickly learned that pleasing people not only made both parties happy, but also endeared me to them. I was special as long as I was perfect. And salvation groaned under weight of duty.

I’d check off Bible studies and small groups. I’d travel on mission trips to Mexico and invite my friends to youth group. My love for Jesus and his church was mixed up with my own need to be seen as a model Christian. This was my addiction, my sanitized way to hold off what Brennan Manning calls “the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.”

Duty is a terrible god. It does not motivate, release, or encourage. There is no freedom, just an obsessive turning-inward, where I’d never do enough to wipe the frown from God’s face.

On the other side of adulthood, the list shifted to parenting choices, political affiliation, what brand of theology you sold. It was easier to sort others into columns of “acceptable” or “non-acceptable” based on their answers. This was easier than the hard journey of love – where truth and grace dance and no one knows exactly how the steps will go.

Rule keeping was easier than believing the children’s song: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. A song I thought I’d outgrown, but one I’m just now learning.

Underneath all the frantic hustle, there are burning questions. What might happen if I lost myself in the love of God? What could happen if I loosened my grip on all the ways I was sure I was right? What might happen if I loved others by sacrificing myself? I feared I would become invisible. I would lose myself.

This recovery is not a neat and tidy story of upward mobility, where the power of people pleasing and rule following fall off like chains and I’m forever free. For as many times as I’m moved towards a love that embraced death for me, I crawl back to my chains. I plan church events and get sucked into all the “doing,” all the fretting about my children’s behavior, and I’m stuck in a world of “me.”

Seth writes, this is not a clean story. It’s true. This is not a story of tabulating performance to land on top. This is not a story of just getting my act together to please a frowning deity. This is a story of a grace that shatters. I’m shattered again and again and lovingly put back together by hands that are not mine.

Most days, honestly, I still prefer a safe, tame God. I resist opening my dry bones to a God whose love is so bent on the object of his desire that it is a consuming fire. I fear I will be burned up. But I’m learning that instead of backing away from the fire, to use borrowed words. I repeat creeds and prayers and “Jesus Loves Me.” I have no shiny words, no jargon or religious activity to make God happy. His eyes have always smiled at me simply because I am his child.

I’m beloved. That is worth getting caught up in.

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Ashley Hales profile picture

 

Ashley Hales holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She spends most of her time running after her 4 children and helping her husband plant a church.  She writes at aahales.com, The Mudroom, and loves to make friends onTwitter.

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Recovery Room: A Trippy Experience (an Interview with Steve Wiens)

On Thursdays, I welcome all comers into the Recovery Room, a place where we unpack issues of dependency, pain, and addiction. Today, I’m in the hot seat, and I hope you’ll join in listening to this candid interview with Steve Wiens. It’s just one little click. Go. Really. Go. (And while you’re there, consider subscribing to Steve’s podcast.)

Before you go, though, please know how grateful I am that you keep reading along (or listening along, as the case may be). I cannot say how much I appreciate you.

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Recovery Room: The Bible as an Instrument of Self-Harm

In Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, I explore how theology or Scripture can serve as its own sort of addiction, how we might use either to numb or soothe pain without communing with God. Even good things can play tricks on us; yes? 

Today, Heather Caliri explores the flip side of that coin. What happens when we use Scripture as a weapon against ourselves, when we use it as a torture tool that causes pain? Do you know this bag of tricks, this way of using Scripture for shame instead of freedom?

This is, perhaps, one of the most honest pieces that’s been submitted to the Recovery Room. Please take the time to read it, and then visit Heather’s website at heathercaliri.com.

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The stack of books glared at me from my nightstand. Nearly 2 p.m., time to go to class, and yet I hadn’t picked up my Bible that day.

Lazy, I said to myself. When will you start making God’s Word a priority?

I sighed. If I hurried, I could get in fifteen minutes.

Cross-legged on my single bed, I set my notebook in my lap, and my Bible and quiet time idea book by my knees on the mattress.

Hosea again. I glanced at the Bible study prompts. Another two days, and I’d be done, finally.

I read: Do not rejoice, O Israel; do not be jubilant like the other nations. For you have been unfaithful to your God; you love the wages of a prostitute.

Oh, God.

I was so tired of verses about unfaithful prostitutes. Sure, I knew I was unfaithful to God—just look at my laziness this morning. I was sure the verses were talking about me. I was the unfaithful prostitute. I was the ugly sinner.

But I was desperate to read something else.

I sighed. Surely even this wish showed my unfaithfulness.

I forced myself to keep reading. I forced myself to see myself in the Bible’s harshest words that day, just like I’d done the day before, and the day before that.

I thought this was what God expected of me.

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Twenty years later, I came across that notebook in a box in my garage. I’d saved it through a dozen moves, but had never looked inside. I’d never been brave enough.

It didn’t look very scary: an unlined drawing notebook, a magazine photo of a sunset taped to the front, with a verse from the Psalms layered over it: Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desire of your heart.

I wondered, with a quickened heartbeat, if I was ready to read it.

No time like the present, I thought, and opened the cover, bracing myself as if it concealed shards of glass.

I squinted at pages crowded with the tiniest cursive. The tiny, smashed-together words shouted out the desire of my heart back then: a desire to do more, be more.

I had longed for God’s word to set me free. I had hoped it would fix me, scrub my insides, and cleanse me.

And don’t get me wrong—I believe God’s Word can do those things. It is a transformative book; reading its words can bring life.

But it’s also described as a double-edged sword, isn’t it?

What I realized, re-reading that notebook, is that I had used God’s powerful Word to cut myself.

I sat down on the floor of my garage, reading entries filled with shame instead of God’s grace. I was astonished at how my self-loathing shone through each page.

I’d always identified with the worst character in each prophecy, always assuming I was the evildoer, the harlot, the beast. In my naiveté about the Bible, I’d missed that the prophets were almost always speaking to communities, not individuals, the powerful, not the broken-hearted.

I missed that things others had done to me—abuse, trauma, loss—were crying out for justice. I missed that God preached freedom for me, not condemnation.

In page after page, laser-focused on my own shortcomings, I had missed God’s relentless, overwhelming grace. Instead, I had taken His powerful Word and used it as a weapon to punish myself. I am still recovering from reading the Bible that way.

After college, long after I finished reading the book of Hosea, I stopped reading the Bible altogether, my heart a despairing, cooling cinder. I loved God, but I couldn’t keep going.

Ever since then, I’ve struggled to pick it up the Bible at all. Every time I did, I’d be met by waves of anxiety.

This baffled me. Why couldn’t I read it like everyone else could?

Now, on the floor of my garage, I realized why. My heart was crying out: No more.

For me, recovery from self-harm means affirming that though God’s Word is good, it is also powerful. It means letting go of the idea that I have to read it every day to be a “good Christian.” It means changing how I read it, and finding other ways to connect to God. It means putting my soul’s safety over any to-do list.

But most of all, it means paying attention to how my time with God feels—whether I anticipate Him, or dread Him. It means listening to what my heart has to say about my faith.

It means trusting the verse I ignored so many years before: that while delighting in God, my heart will find its deepest desires.

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Heather Caliri is writes at HeatherCaliri.com. You can find her on Twitter @HeatherCaliri. Follow along with her work. You won’t regret it.

 

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Recovery Room: The Fast

It’s Thursday, which means we’re walking into the Recovery Room. It’s also Lent, which means many of us are walking into an intentional penitential season, a season to turn back into a fresh work of recovery. Some are fasting. (If you’d like to join our community fast, follow this link.)

Have you considered your Lenten fast this year? Have you considered the reasons behind it? I’ve posted this here before, but it’ll be new for some. Give a listen, get alone, and consider how you’ll fast this Lent. Come along?

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