After a break for half term, and then enforced rest due to flu, I am finally getting back to posting the usual Friday blog – Unmasked: stories of authenticity. I am delighted to welcome Annmarie Miles onto it this week. (NB Do please get in touch if you have your own story that you would like to share – the entries are slowing down so this blog series may become monthly from now on…)
I remember clearly the moment I first read that Richard Branson quote:
“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”
It was around the time that I started writing, and I was looking for permission to go for it. Why I looked to Mr Branson, I’m not sure. But I read those words and I went for it. I was asked to speak at seminars, teach classes, lead groups, write for writing websites, you name it – I did it. I asked questions, got advice, learned as much as I could from as many as I could and took every opportunity that came my way. A lot of the time I was in panic mode, but I did as he said, learning as I went.
I never stopped feeling like an imposter though. Richard Branson’s quote, though empowering, turned out, for me, to be little more than, ‘fake it til you make it’. Problem is, I never made it. I always felt I was revving in the neutral of pretend mode. I moved from Ireland to the UK, losing all tangible contacts and opportunities (online connections are great, but it was not the same). I never really got going again. Surely if I’d made it, I’d have been snapped up, discovered, heard of even…?
On reflection (of which there has been much), I am soothed by God’s process of taking those who make themselves ‘available’ and making them ‘able’. From day one I applied the verse in Psalm 127 to my writing – unless the Lord builds the house… So when opportunities dried up I accepted it, but made the error of believing that I had dried up.
CONFESSING MY SECRET FEAR
At the Association of Christian Writers’ day in London last year, I confessed it out loud; the secret fear. What if I’m just no good at writing? What if my fears are grounded, and I just don’t cut the mustard!? I was grateful for the encouragement and the gentle slap on the wrist I got in response. In short it was basically: if you believe God has given you something to say, then go say it. When Moses complained to God in Exodus 3 that he was no good with words, God said, ‘Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.’
I left the event with those words ringing in my ear and, in response to that, I spent November working on the first draft of the most painful thing I’ve ever written. An exploration of the how and why I ended up weighing nearly 24 stone. I believe it’s something God wanted me to explore in my writing, but there were no lies allowed. No little deceptions, no excuses, no plaumausing (as we say in Ireland). It had to be honest, or what would be the point.
TAKING THE RISK
So I wrote it. With many tears I raked though painful memories and regrets, I fought the urge to wallpaper over the ugly stuff and just poured it all out. By the end of it I felt like I’d been skinned. I was raw, embarrassed, ashamed, afraid and relieved. It reminded me of reading about Eustace in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when he had been turned into a dragon, and only Aslan could remove the tough dragon skin. Eustace describes how the pain of removal was worse than any pain he had ever felt, but that the relief and freedom from the dragon skin made it bearable. I could relate to that.
The truth is, authenticity is a huge risk. The scaly skin might be ugly and uncomfortable but taking it off hurts, a lot. And when it’s gone, all that’s left is…well…me. I’ll be honest, I’m still not sure I’m ready for that. The manuscript however will soon be in the hands of an editor. No more cover ups.
My consolation, my soothing balm, is that it is honest. It’s as real as I am. If it helps one person, it will have done its work.
I dare to wonder what it will achieve and where it might take me.
I may not make it – but I sure as heaven didn’t fake it.
Annmarie Miles is from Dublin, Ireland. She lives with her husband Richard who is a pastor in the Eastern Valley of Gwent, in South Wales. She writes short stories, magazine articles, devotional pieces for Christian radio, and blogs about her faith at www.auntyamo.com