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January 10, 2020
Reach out your hand. (From Love Notes No. 3)
“IF YOU BRING FORTH WHAT IS WITHIN YOU,
WHAT YOU BRING FORTH WILL SAVE YOU.
IF YOU DO NOT BRING FORTH WHAT IS WITHIN YOU,
WHAT YOU DO NOT BRING FORTH WILL DESTROY YOU.”

The Gospel of Thomas
I have been in the process of testing these words from the Gospel of Thomas, kicking the tires, for the last few years.    

It all started with the decision to write a book, that morphed into another version of the book, which became a new book altogether, a memoir. It’s too long a story to bore you with and honestly, I am too exhausted from living the drama of attempted book-writing to retell it all, but here’s the CliffsNotes: I decided to write a book about life with my youngest son. I realized I instead needed to write a book about my life with me. Then I realized that book had to include some of the darkest stories I never wanted to tell anyone, let alone put down on paper and into a book for others to read.     

My story doesn’t go down easy like syrup-soaked pancakes. Some very hard things have happened in my life. Some of these things have scarred my body and left my spirit for dead (I don’t mean to speak in code here, but I also don’t want to tell the story in a format where it doesn’t fit. That’s what the book is for). As I wrote the first and second attempts at the book, I kept hitting a wall. I was trying to paint scenes of hope and lightness and beauty for myself and my reader, without realizing that almost all of the rich goodness of my life came from, or has been hitched to, deep pain, shame, violence, illness, and terror. I forgot the ironic dancesteps of hard-earned wisdom: I can only see the path towards the light because I’ve been an expert at crawling in the dark.     

Over the last three years I have really wanted a book-writing hack, some kind of easy button I could press that would help me avoid writing the most painful scenes of my life. But that’s the thing about writing, and the reason why most writers give up on their book before completion: Writing takes a kind of willingness to be naked, to sit with yourself and listen to what the soul within you has lived through.

   My dear, this requires a raw and ruthless brand of courage I have never had to muster for any other creative project. It is such hard work. It’s childbirth without pain meds and a high risk that the baby may not survive. It is solitary work, thankless work, and body-wearying work. In a world of saccharine-y pinned quotes, tweets, limited characters and fast scrolls, it’s even harder to do the brave work of saying no to the easy likes and yes to the relentless spelunking into my own story. But what lasts longer? What contribution can I make, in this small and fast little life of mine, that will run deeper than junk-food media or the elusive number of “enough” followers or likes?    

When I stumbled on the above quote from the Gospel of Thomas almost two years ago, I felt that kind of soul dejavu when I am found by something that is capital T-True. I had spent years writing one half-truth chapter after another, trying to exclude the scariest monsters under my story’s bed. The most treacherous parts of the journey were withheld in hopes of happier poolside readers and an easier publishing contract. Although, if I’m totally honest, the real reason is much more human: I just didn’t want to go there again. I didn’t want to feel the pain, the darkness in my own story, didn’t want to risk that it might pull me back down into its caves and catacombs. After all, the part of me that’s been hiding the darkness is terrified of its power, as it has been slowly destroying me for decades, it’s chains rubbing my wrists and ankles raw. Surely looking at it would only feel worse, right?    

What I’ve found instead, in doing the slow and faithful work of writing the truest truth of my story, is salvation. In telling and retelling not just the beauty but the terror of what I’ve lived through and what has lived through me, I am shining a headlamp on the darkest corners of myself. I am setting that trapped little soul free. Dark and terrifying as they may be, the worst parts of my story can no longer hold me hostage. As I put them down on paper, they are reshaped in my vernacular, like wet clay being lovingly reformed. I bring that trembling soul forth from the darkest places, pulling her out of the cave with a gentle and resolute courage I didn’t know I had.     

The beautiful bonus I didn’t see coming? As I travel back in time through my life, I am meeting young Ashley again and again. I see what she sees when she opens her round blue eyes in the morning. I taste her supper, grip onto the hands she holds, and care for her as she struggles to understand and not understand the world. I am growing in love for her every day in new ways and giving her a graceful compassion I wasn’t able to exercise back when I was trapped in her limited understanding. In a way, I have been able to love her and care for her Divinely for the first time.     

I don’t know what is within you. I don’t know what bits and pieces of your history are locked in closets and caves, stuffed under the bedskirt like a monster you pretend isn’t your ever-present roommate. Maybe you have sat in a therapist’s office, forgiven your captors, made peace with God or your mom or your dad or your own shadowy self and all you are capable of. Maybe you’ve done the deep work of bringing forth what is within you and experiencing a salvation of sorts.

   If not, what are you waiting for, darling? I ask out of a heart filled with love for my story and yours. I can tell you, from one cave-dweller to another, there is a whole world outside of that darkness. We are waiting for the part of you that was buried and left for dead to come back to life. May I urge you to sit naked with your soul self and ask, what small quiet part of me is still hiding, cowering, waiting to be brought forth? May I invite you..
Reach out your hand.
Invite this one into the light.

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