I stumbled into the creative writing class fresh out of cancer treatment, a 48-year-old woman uncertain of her future. I had vague ideas about writing, but I was not even sure who I was anymore.
Cancer had taken all my sentences and scrambled my story.
I didn’t introduce myself as a pastor’s wife. I was Lynne (with an e) on a level playing field with the other college students.
I soon discovered that wearing jeans and a t-shirt like everyone else in the room couldn’t quite cover my wounds. The students wrote of true love and vampires and distant galaxies far, far away and I stared at blank pages. They were 18 and 19. All passion and future.
I was scars. Battle-fatigued. Dried up. Old.
The college professor—a reader of dark stories—disliked pat phrases, cliches, and the status quo. As he stood in front of the class one day, he said:
“The purpose of writing is to put on paper what people cannot say… or are afraid to say.”
Suddenly I discovered I had words. There were lots of things I was afraid to say.
Would the cancer come back? Would I live to see my children grow up? What is the purpose of it all anyway? Where is God?
Maybe that is why I didn’t introduce myself as the pastor’s wife, a careful woman, who would never admit the tumult of doubt, pain, and questions.
So many questions.
I soon realized other students were busy writing too. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with things she was afraid to say.
After writing for ten minutes, we were invited to share what was on our pages.
A heavy-set young man offered to go first and shared about his heroin addiction. A young woman shared about a sexual assault. Another shared about a miscarriage. Another the death of her brother. Another his parents’ divorce.
The readers stepped cautiously into the full noonday sun, all squinty-eyed, with scrunched up faces, unsure, after living in silence for so long, of the reception in the light of day.
As we each emerged, we discovered something unexpected: we were no longer alone.
Writing is not about life in the suburbs and two perfect children and happily ever after. Ho hum. Pass the butter.
Writing—even from a Christian perspective—is about scars. Questions. Pain. Fear. Redemption is there, but not without struggle.
What are you afraid to write?
Lynne Hartke has a memoir coming out with Revell in 2017. She writes about courage, beauty and belonging at http://www.lynnehartke.com.