A Little Girl Named Liberty

I recently mentioned in passing to my students that when I was young in the sixties and seventies, we didn’t have twenty-four-hour programming on TV, and of course there were no videos. We just had to watch whatever the TV people decided to put on the air. And there were only thirteen channels that we could get in our town. My students were shocked and horrified. It certainly does seem primitive now, but we didn’t know anything different then and therefore didn’t miss what no one had thought of yet. But God used that old technology to impact my life when I was a girl of fourteen or so. I was home sick for several days in a row.  I think it must have been in December because there were lots of excellent old movies on in the afternoon. Then, as now, the networks reserved some of their best stock for holidays. One day I saw The Sound of Music, and the next I saw Shenandoah. Both of these films were highly regarded in their day for any number of things from thematic content to quality of production to high caliber acting. But what I took away from those films on those two days was something entirely different.

We’re told in Psalm 37:4 that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, then He will give us the desires of our heart. Usually this is interpreted to mean that if we focus on God and put Him first, then He will reciprocate by giving us things that we want. I see nothing wrong with this interpretation of the verse. The verse before it tells us to “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.” Verse 5 says, “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall being it to pass.” The part about God giving us the desires of our heart is sandwiched in between the verses that tell us to trust in the Lord and let Him bring things to pass. However, another interpretation of verse 4 is that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, then He will give us the desires He wants us to have. While we’re focusing on Him and trusting in Him to lead us and take care of us, He will deposit the things in us that we need to have for the life He wants us to have. Most likely, if a person doesn’t have a desire to go to Africa, then that’s  because God doesn’t have it in His mind for that person to go to Africa. So while I was home sick at the age of fourteen, God put a particular desire in my heart through the watching of The Sound of Music and Shenandoah.

While these two films do have some obvious similarities about war, and a father protecting his family in the context of war, the thing that God used on me was the fact that both these men had large families. Captain von Trapp and Charlie Anderson both had seven children. I was particularly impressed with the scene in Shenandoah when the family went to church and filled an entire pew all by themselves. As it so often does when the Holy Spirit is depositing something in me, it felt as if I was physically hit in the chest by something. I wanted a large family. Somehow, the number seven seemed too large for me, but five seemed just right. As it says of Mary, I “kept those things and pondered them” in my heart because being an intelligent girl, I knew that proclaiming I wanted to have five children would only worsen my social problems at school. I proceeded with my life, quietly confident that I would one day have my large family.

I met my husband on move-in day of my first year of college. We started dating soon after. We got engaged about half a year later and married sixteen months after our first date. We were  compatible in so many ways: we both loved good movies, we were both musicians (we met at band practice), we were both Spirit-filled and considered our relationship with God the single most important thing in life, we were both pursuing a college education. It never occurred to either of us that with all that compatibility, we might have different ideas about the family we would have together. I assumed that because God put me with him, then he must have the same desires that I did about having a large family and my being a stay-at-home mom, and he assumed that because I was pursuing higher education that I wanted to be a working mom who had the standard American two children. We were both appalled when, a few years into the marriage, we learned what the other was planning. To his credit, my husband said, “Well, let’s have three.” I recognized even then that was a big step for him, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I didn’t want to force unwanted children on my husband, for his sake and for theirs, but I felt like I had been robbed of something that was mine, and it was something IMPORTANT. I was supposed to get five.

When we started our family, we had three stair-step children, each twenty-two months apart from the next. When I was in the hospital with Number One, the Holy Spirit dropped it into my soul that Number Two would be another daughter, and Three would be a son. That’s exactly how it happened. I was a stay-at-home mom, which was challenging financially because my husband, like me, is a teacher, but I wouldn’t have traded being at home with my babies for all the money in the world. I don’t condemn working mothers, but staying at home with my children was one of my heart’s desires, and I will always be grateful that I was able to do it. I mourned the loss of the others, though. I seriously did mourn for those other children, for about two and a half years.

Mourning never lasts forever, and eventually I came out on the other side of it. I looked around at my life and realized that it was ridiculous to hang onto all the baby paraphernalia that I was never going to need again (we were living in a two-bedroom house), so I decided to have a garage sale. The garage sale was both to get rid of stuff I didn’t have room for and to move on with my life; it was about being grateful for the wonderful children God had blessed me with rather than focusing on the ones I didn’t get to have. I sold it all. And then, three months later, I got pregnant while using an OTC form of birth control.

I was in awe that God had done that for me. Something I had wanted so badly that it was a physical yearning, that I had had to lay aside and had shed tears over, God gave to me out of the blue. But I was afraid to tell my husband. I was terrified that he would be unhappy about it, and I couldn’t bear for him to be unhappy about the existence of our child, even for one second. We had been down the pregnancy road before, though, and he figured it out without my saying anything. And he was thrilled. Number Four was a beautiful and perfect addition to our family.

When she was little, I had taken her to the pediatrician, and there was a brand-new mother in line in front of me. She told the girl at the window, “I have Liberty _____” to see the doctor. Just as it did when God put a desire for a large family in my heart, that name hit me forcefully. I thought, “Oh what an amazing name for a little girl. If get to have another daughter, that’s what I’m going to name her. And we could call her Libby!”

Time passed, and I never got another child. Eventually, somewhere in my forties, I realized I no longer had the desire for another baby. I will probably always wish that I could have had Number Five when I was young enough for it to make sense, but I got over feeling sad about it long ago. I now have grandchildren, so there are little ones in my life again. Last summer, my oldest daughter announced that they were expecting a third child, much to their surprise. I could relate to that. When my daughter announced the baby’s name, I was astonished. You see, I never told anyone, no human being, that I had decided to name my future daughter Liberty and call her Libby. So when my daughter chose the name Liberty, with nickname Libby, for the new baby, it brought me to tears.

God, looking at the entirety of my life, put it in my heart that day at the pediatrician’s office what the name of the next baby girl in my life would be. She was just going to be my granddaughter instead of my daughter. Someday when Libby is old enough for the conversation, I’ll tell her about all of these things. She’ll have a hard time conceiving of her grandmother ever being fourteen years old, but that will be the best thing about it. I can tell her that even when I was a girl, in the days when we just had to wait for what came on TV, God looked ahead and saw her and put the two of us together. I didn’t get to be her mom, but I do get to be her Mimi, and that’s just as wonderful.

God is serious about blessing us. He wants to give us things that will make us happy. Jesus said in Matthew 21:22 “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” The word “whatever” means “whatever.” Jesus also said in Matthew 7:11 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” So we can ask in confidence that our loving Father wants to give us good things. But, even better, we can also rest in the knowledge that God Himself will put desires in our hearts for things that He knows will give us a fulfilling and rich life. And best of all, if there is no desire in our hearts to do a certain thing, even if it’s a thing that is highly esteemed in Christian society,  then we don’t need to feel any condemnation over the lack of desire. God will send us in the direction He wants us to go through the desires He plants in us sovereignly. We sometimes might not be able to see what He’s up to until a bit of time has passed, but when we do understand, it’s a beautiful moment. My granddaughter Libby is three months old today. She’s amazing and wonderful, and my life is full.

 

No Longer Hiding

 

“What do you want to be someday?”

“I’m not sure. What do you want to be?”

“I want to be a writer.”

“Really? That’s cool.”

Although I don’t remember the conversation verbatim after all these years, the altogether uninspiring conversation above was what began the process of getting me to the place where I am today. Unfortunately, I was the one who said “I’m not sure,” and my friend was the one who said she wanted to be a writer. Until that moment, it had never entered my mind that I might want to be a writer. It was only when she said it that I realized that being a writer was the unarticulated desire of my heart. As a mature Christian, I now understand that it was the Holy Spirit using the opportunity to guide me into what He wanted me to pursue.

Oh, I loved to read. For my eighth birthday, my father sent me a copy of the Black Stallion. I knew it was a book for children older than I was, and I was flattered that my father thought I was capable of reading it. So I plunged in and started reading. I understood very little of what I read. The vocabulary was over my head, as were the sentences that were more complex than the ones I was accustomed to from my school readers. So, desperate to not fail to live up to my father’s expectations, I immediately read it again. The second time through, everything made perfect sense. I promptly proceeded to read every book that Walter Farley wrote and then progressed to other authors who wrote for children older than I was. In the sixth grade I tested at twelfth-grade reading level on a standardized test. When I was in the seventh grade, my friend who would later tell me she wanted to be a writer decided to read Oliver Twist. Not to be outdone by her, I read Great Expectations. Again, I understood very little of it and had to read it a second time before I was able to conquer Dickens. For a few years, I read nothing but the classics. By the end of the ninth grade, I was reading on the post-college-graduate level. But in all of that reading, it had never occurred to me that I might be able to create literature.

In college, I took a creative writing class as one of my English credits, and I probably learned a little about writing fiction. But the main thing I learned was that I was almost paralyzed by self-consciousness about putting my writing out in the world for others to see. What I learned in that class was that it’s one thing to dream of being a writer and being respected by the public for my talent, but the reality is that putting my writing out in the world is for me a terrifying exercise in vulnerability. It’s inescapable that whatever topic I write about, whatever opinions I express, whatever plot choices I make, a part of my innermost thoughts and experiences and emotions is exposed. It’s as if a piece of my soul were placed on my shoulder for all the world to stare at and comment upon. And of course, the world can be brutal, especially when critiquing art.

I wasn’t like everybody else as a teen (obviously—nobody but me and my friend were reading The Last of the Mohicans and A Tale of two Cities and Les Miserables for fun), and I was persecuted for it. Nowadays we would call it bullying. Back then, we just called it being mean. It amazed me at one point to learn that some people really don’t much care what others think of them, but it was excruciatingly important to me. As other kids laughed at me in the hallways at school, I learned to keep my thoughts to myself, to try to melt into the wallpaper, to be inoffensive. I was trying to hide in plain sight. At some point in adulthood, I realized that I was employing the same tactic with Satan. I’ve had my share of heartache in life, some of which I could have avoided, but most times I was bushwhacked and had my legs cut out from underneath me by an enemy that is determined, sadistic, and creative. As I had learned to do in public school, I was living like a rabbit that only ventures out of its burrow cautiously when it appears that the coast is clear. I held in and held back and dreamed of the day when I would be praised for my beautiful writing.

When I started writing in earnest I was thirty, with no training other than the class in college. I was too self-conscious even to tell my husband what I was up to at first. We had no computer then, so I wrote by hand in a spiral notebook. I spent so many hours hunched over that notebook that I gave myself a pinched nerve in the neck that required a trip to the emergency room. I had to divulge my dark secret then. Over the years, I divulged it to an individual here and there, but only when the Holy Spirit made me. “Miserable” is the only word that does justice as a descriptor of the complex frustrations that roiled inside me. A few years ago, I realized that I had the cart before the horse, as some of us still say. I wanted for God to make me unafraid. I wanted Him to miraculously pair me with someone who would recognize my calling and make everything work out for me painlessly. But then I heard Joyce Meyer say that I should “do it scared.” In all honesty, I can say that it had never occurred to me that I could do such a thing. My fears were too big in my own mind to even contemplate audacity on such a scale.

God told me to publish my books free on the internet, but I wanted someone who knows good writing to assure me that my writing was good. God told me to publish my writing free on the internet, but I wanted to know what the next step was. God still tells me to publish my writing free on the internet. I am well aware that publishing my writing free on the internet without knowing what the next step is sounds ludicrous by any human standard, and there is no part of me that wants to look foolish in that way. I work with intelligent people who are not Spirit-filled who will undoubtedly not understand what I’m doing. I don’t look forward to the scrutiny and puzzlement. The only part of me that isn’t terrified is the part of me where the Holy Spirit lives, and He’s a fire shut up in my bones. I don’t know what the end result of all this will be, but I had a story printed and gave it away at our Easter service this morning. It’s a much-improved rewrite of the story I wrote in that creative writing class in college. I bought the domain for this blog and will probably have to spend money to create a website on which to publish my first book. I think I’m starting to understand how Noah must have felt (not really—building a huge boat for that new thing called “rain” was far crazier than what I’m doing). I never wanted to know how Noah must have felt, but God rarely calls anyone to a life of feeling comfortable.

To this day, I have never been able to get any usable feedback on my writing. Once in a while I have asked someone who seems literate to read some of my things. One friend told me that my writing was too graphic for Christian consumption and I should consider writing secular fiction, and it would seem really clean by their standards. Nobody else ever gave me any comments. Finally, I realized that God wanted me to trust Him and do what He told me to do. I was still trying to minimize the likelihood of looking foolish by trying to get some sort of validation beforehand. I still really wish I knew if my writing was good. Sometimes I think it’s pretty good, and sometimes I think it’s pretty bad. But today, Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016, I’m crawling out of the hole and staying out. As the song says, “I’m no longer a slave to fear.”

I have a time-consuming and demanding job that I can’t quit at this point in time, so I don’t know how frequently I’ll post on this blog. My goal is once a week. I’m stepping out in faith and trusting God to do something for me. Please at least tell me what the next step is, Sir. But no matter what happens with my writing or this blog, I’m no longer hiding.