Monday, April 14, 2008

Some Positives on a Monday Morning

Last time, I talked a bit about things I’ve been “aiming” to do, but am not doing so hot at…to which a couple of you responded, quite kindly, about things I do do right. (Thank you.) It was also pointed out to me during that same period of time that, in true editor fashion, I may in fact be my own harshest critic. They say most of us are, so that’s not too surprising.

But anyone who knows me well also knows that one of the principal controlling threads of my life is “fairness.” I like balance. Very few things will send me off the handle faster than perceiving that something is “rigged,” “stacked,” or otherwise tilted one way or the other. More than practically anything else, I crave an even playing field. So despite feeling like there are more ways that I screw up than ways I fulfill expectations, in the interests of fairness, here’s some of the feedback I get from the “universe” on things I’m doing right:

1. Apparently, I write really, really good query letters. In at least two instances, I wrote query letters that were too good; I wrote them before manuscripts were half done, to houses known for loooooong delays in responding, figuring I had time to finish a book before said house would even send me a form request of any kind.

Well, you know what happened. Ten days later, when I’m three chapters and barely a fourth into a book, I get a letter back from said Tortoise-Paced Publisher saying, “This book sounds intriguing. Please send the entire manuscript as soon as it is convenient.” (!) So, yeah, I think I probably write reeeeeealllly good query letters. And I’ve learned to query carefully since then. (!!) Querying skills: A. Timing skills: B, working toward an A.

2. People tell me I am an extremely supportive friend. I don’t see it that way, but I truly appreciate the fact that in this case, I may just be wrong. After all, who knows if they’ve been supported better than the friend saying so? So, as a friend, apparently I rate higher than the D or so I’ve been giving myself. I’d give myself an A-, based on the compliments I’ve received. Yeah, it’s a jump, but when you get a good critique, you’re entitled to go with it. (!)

3. The great majority of the time, I’m really organized. This hasn’t happened by accident, of course; “organization” and “just happens” are pretty much incompatible concepts. :-) I’ve always been a great fan of checklists, and once I discovered FlyLady and realized that yes, one didn’t have to clean one’s entire house in one marathon session once a week—that it would actually look “pretty good” and fit for company for days on end with a slightly different approach—I have had a fairly strict housecleaning and chore routine that has worked very well. It’s had to be amended at times, like when the Three-Day Flu flattened me in February (alliteration notwithstanding)…and sometimes, if the weather is just too nice or I just have too many reasons to do things other than what’s on the list for that day, the house doesn’t always look company-ready. But it’s getting there, most of the time, and that makes me happy…because everything in me functions way better in cleanliness and order. Despite the occasional rolled-eyes from my friends about a woman who actually enjoys cleaning, I’ve discovered I’m in some very good intellectual and spiritual company when it comes to needing order, cleanliness, and organization around me in order to be at my best creatively. So there’s validation on more than one front for the attitude of “cleaning = instant gratification.” Grade at housework organization? A-. Not perfect, but darned close. :-)

4. I have a whale of a good vocabulary. I know this because even in everyday conversation, I occasionally have to define a word I’ve just used for someone. (I still can’t get over this, at times. Didn’t everybody spend her childhood doing the “increase your word power” quizzes in Reader’s Digest?) In commercial fiction writing, unfortunately, this is somewhat of a handicap; I’m not writing “literary” work aimed at an audience that would appreciate a phrase like “the discomfiting cacophony behind her eyes” to describe a heroine whose thoughts are frazzled. :-) (Never mind that the first time someone told me, “Write this to a sixth-grade level,” I almost said, “In sixth grade, I knew what cacophony was.”) Slowly, it’s been brought home to me that no, people don’t read dictionaries for fun, and my writing style has adapted accordingly. If sometimes I find it constricting to trim a “five-dollar word” from my text, I can bear it for the sake of good storytelling and good communication. So it’s a mixed bag on this one: A for the sheer word power, B for the ability to find a simpler, yet still vivid, way to communicate!

5. I know that putting spirituality last on a list can say either that it’s an afterthought or that it’s the most important aspect of all…but I’m putting my transformed relationship with the Lord in this spot anyway. :-P

For years, I’ve been sincerely trying to commit everything to the Lord, which is really, really hard to do. I was always striving for this, but I also became increasingly aware that I wasn’t really doing it. For awhile, I was willing to buy into the preaching we’ve all heard that the only reason we hold anything back from the Lord is some kind of “selfishness” or “pigheadedness” or “pride.” Yeah, and that sure made me feel better about my intentions. (NOT.) Only recently, when I’ve hit several levels of bottom on several fronts, did I realize I hadn’t been holding back from the Lord out of selfishness or wanting to do things my way…but out of fear. And just between us, I think that’s true of a lot more of us than any nonsense about “pride” or “pigheadedness.”

What do we have to fear when we commit our entire lives to the Lord? Well, I know what I feared. I’ve been a Catholic long enough to be familiar with lots of saints’ lives; lots of them no sooner committed themselves totally to the Lord but they were hit with horrible, painful, nasty diseases. Or soul-searing tragedies. Or both. Yeah, like I wanted that to happen? I’d had quite enough challenges in my life, thank you very much. I didn’t know how I’d cope with any more. I certainly wasn’t going to be stupid enough to ask for them—and to me, that total surrender was in effect asking for trouble.

But then, one day when I was broke, scared, and out of any other options, I encountered writing about the Divine Mercy…and everything changed. I realized that the people who’d preached all those years to me about what a vile, selfish thing it was not to “give it all to Jesus” had completely missed the point—as had the souls (well-intentioned though they were) who deliberately asked for only the worst from the Lord. Noble as self-sacrifice may be, that’s not what surrender to Jesus is all about. It’s not something He’s waiting for, impatiently tapping His foot. It’s not a bargaining chip whereby we give Him something, and then, and only then, does He dispense grace. Unlike me, Jesus doesn’t see everything in terms of balance sheets. He doesn’t see everything in terms of a level playing field. It’s not level—it’s tilted toward Him, and that’s the way He wants it to be…because He wants me tucked into His arms even more than I want to be there. And that's amazing.

Once I saw that, once I really got that, I understood. For the first time, really grasped it. And for the first time, really surrendered. Everything. My life. My health. My husband. My kids. My money. My career. My house. My writing. My everything. It was a heck of a session in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but when I was done with that…I was done with a lot of other things as well.

Yeah, I’ll freely admit that part of the surrender was founded on “Hey, it can’t be any worse than what I’m up against now. I’m already miserable.” :-) And a generous part of the prayer was, “I’m scared to do this. I’m scared to death to do this. But I’m going to do it anyway.” The surrender still has to happen every day when I simply say, “Jesus, I trust in You. I’m still scared, but I still trust in You.” The great news? Our Lord told St. Faustina that the mere act of saying, “Jesus, I trust in You” is good enough for Him; the very act of saying those words, in His eyes, manifests the trust He is looking for out of us. Even if we say the words hesitantly, even if we have to confess being scared…it’s still enough. He’ll honor it immediately. He’ll take us to His heart, drown us in His mercy, and we’ll never be the same again.

And I’m not. Already. In a lot of ways that have “come along” and “happened out of the blue.” I’ll talk more about those on future days; just suffice to say that if you have not discovered St. Faustina’s writings about the Divine Mercy, do yourself a favor and read some of them.
The book that helped me more than I can ever say happened to be this one,
so I highly recommend it, for starters. If this whets your appetitite, you’ll be led to where to find more. I hope you do—because it’s sure worth it.

No, I’m not even going to give myself a “grade” on this one. (!) It’s way beyond that. But I needed to proclaim Jesus’ mercy this morning—another thing He asked St. Faustina to do—so that’s our closing thought this morning. May your Monday be drenched in mercy…because that’s all you’ll need, for this week and any week to come!

Thoughts?

Janny

1 comment:

Deb said...

It's by Christ's mercy we exist at all. I see this every day. Each day it's more real to me.

And don't "grade" yourself on this--please do not. He doesn't.