If you asked my mother, she would probably tell you that, as a child, I expressed a desire to be a variety of different things when I grew up. Most kids do, I think. Teacher? Police officer? Olympic gymnast? (My son, Sam, has asked me on multiple occasions how many years he has to go to college to be able to ride on the garbage truck…) But I don’t remember dreaming about any of those professions. I remember wanting to write, and nothing else.
At five, I wrote a “book” in which the main character loses her beloved pet rabbit, Tommy. Oh, Tommy turns up eventually (out from under the girl’s bed), and when the she looks to see if he made any “massis” (messes?), she discovers that Tommy has had babbies. Yup, babbies. I was apparently too young to understand the inner workings of the reproductive system, but they all lived happily ever after regardless. During my middle school years, there existed 100 pages or so in a journal about two kids that escape from an evil orphanage mistress and make for the mountains. And in high school, I attempted to pen the fictional memoir of a teenage girl with schizophrenia. They are definitely rather hysterical to read now, looking back–the amateurish works of a kid with a pen who wanted to be an author. But I keep them because they mean something to me. They remind me of what I wanted to be when I grew up.
That is why this shift in thinking has been difficult. I am having growing pains.
When I was working on early drafts of The Sky We Walk Upon, I tried to make it as clever and literary as possible. I thought an occasional reference to booze or casual sex would make me sound more sophisticated, sell more books to a wider audience, make me more money. ‘So what if it’s supposed to be a story about someone finding her faith? If I write it completely clean, people will think it’s boring. I’ll never get famous that way!’ My plan was to write a story about God AND one that would realize my dream in the most “popular” manner. I wanted it both ways, but I quickly found out the impossibility of that goal.
A dear friend was visiting from out of state around the time I was finishing up an early round of revisions, and late one evening, we were sitting around talking. I was expressing to her my frustrations in trying to find an agent for The Sky We Walk Upon. Having received positive feedback about the actual writing, and the premise for the storyline, I couldn’t understand why I was coming up against so many roadblocks. I had known in my head that it would be hard to find an agent. (Even the great Ted “Dr. Seuss” Geisel was rejected 27 times before his first book, To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street made its debut.) But in my heart, I couldn’t fathom how I could want something so badly and not have it happen. My friend helped clear that up for me, in that loving but painfully honest way that only a dear friend can do.
She said, “Lissa, you can’t glorify God with your novel AND glorify yourself. You have to choose.”
Making the choice to write for God was not easy. It meant letting go of some of the worldly wishes that have lingered and clung to my heart since childhood. It mean reconciling myself to the fact that not everyone was going to like what I have to say. I struggle now, even post-publication, with watching my sales numbers too much, checking my Amazon ranking too often (I’m not even convinced there’s any rhyme or reason to that ranking…), or letting reviews fill my head with an inflated sense of self-satisfaction. Yes, I am proud that I wrote a book. Yes, it feels incredible to hold it in my hand and see my name scrolled across the cover. But I made the decision when I was revising The Sky We Walk Upon that this book is not for me. It’s not so that I can say I became what I always wanted to be when I grew up. It’s not so that I can sell x number of copies or get on this list or that list or make a little extra dough to help support my family.
It is so that someone out there somewhere might pick it up and connect with Hannah Mackenzie in her journey to find her faith. Maybe that person feels afraid to love or be loved, too, just like Hannah–afraid to count on the one Awesome God who will love them forever! And if I don’t make another dime from book sales, fine. A positive difference in the life of one reader is worth more than fame and fortune any day.
And ya know what? The Lord has showed me a lot in my own walk of faith since The Sky We Walk Upon underwent its spiritual face lift. I would like to share those things, too, but I think that is another story for another time…