Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Writing Journal I

March 5, 2007

The contents of this journal are the ruminations of three days in April 2006. I was over halfway through After the Leaves Fall and nearly paralyzed with fear, insecurity, and doubt. Some of the uncertainties that attacked my heart and mind may be familiar to you.

I can’t do this. I am going to fail.
Am I really doing God’s will for my life?
I’m not good enough.
I’m not strong enough.
I’m not smart enough, talented enough, disciplined enough…
I don’t even know what it means to be a Christian,
much less a Christian writer.
What exactly is a Christian writer?
What does God want from me and how do I do it?

Right about that time, a dear friend of mine handed me a copy of Madeleine L’ Engle’s Walking on Water. I was drowning. A little water walking sounded pretty darn good. Hey, I would have been happy with some water wings.

Fortunately, I was about to leave on a quick trip to Vancouver, British Columbia for my Canadian citizenship exam. I halfheartedly grabbed the book--frankly, not expecting much--and boarded my plane.

What happened was (at the risk of sounding melodramatic) life changing for me. I devoured Madeleine’s words, leaning and growing and most of all finding a voice for many things that my soul had known all along. I found that I absolutely needed to dialogue with the book--I had to experience it with my pen. What resulted was part conversation with myself, part prayer, part essay, and at the very root, essential to my concept of what it means to be an artist who is also a Christian. I’m sharing those musings with you.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am no intellectual. I am no philosopher, theologian or even anyone that you should take advice from. I am a fellow sojourner, an explorer who found a rare gem and was somehow transformed by unexpected beauty. If you find any wisdom here, I take no credit for it. You can thank Madeleine, Rob Bell, Donald Miller, C.S. Lewis, Brennan Manning, my father, my husband, my mother, my friends, my professors… basically anyone who has ever influenced my thinking. By the way, read their books. You won’t be disappointed.

But back to the journal… For the sake of brevity, I have organized and titled my thoughts. Only the very odd word has been changed, erased, or added (and only because in my haste I occasionally neglected to make sense). I tried to leave everything exactly as I felt it those three days in early spring. If you do end up reading these words, I hope that they lead you to wrestle with the indescribable presence of the Almighty God in your own life. He longs to use you. Your life is filled with meaning and purpose and he just plain adores you. How’s that for awesome?

As for me, I don’t have it all figured out. I never will. I still ask myself those painful questions and I sometimes find myself frozen in fear. But I have taken a step towards understanding and it has been nothing less than thrilling.

Thanks for joining me.

A Writing Journal II

April 4, 2006
On my way to Vancouver for my Canadian citizenship exam. In the Minneapolis airport.

I’ve devoured the first third of “Walking on Water” by Madeleine L’ Engle and was so filled to overflowing that I all but ran off the plane in Minneapolis and scooped up the first journal I could find. Sigh. An outlet. I want, I need, a place to respond as I read through this book--it is articulating things that have been taking slow shape in my mind for a very long time.

Why God? Why have you given me this ache to write? Why have you orchestrated an opening to publication? Why me? Why now? Or, more accurately, maybe I should ask: What do you want from me? And, oh Loving Eternal, how do I do it?

Lord, I want to be faithful, I want to be a reflection of you. Of truth. How can I do that? And, how can I do that without falling prey to my own selfish ambitions? Oh I am so weak and human! But I want to be more than I am, I want to be a servant to the gift that I have been given. Prayer, reflection, introspection, times of quiet… I hope to clear a path.

Listen to the silence.
Stay open to the voice of the Spirit.
Slow me down, Lord.

A Writing Journal III

April 4, 2006
In the air between Minneapolis and Seattle.

Cosmos in Chaos

According to Madeleine, my job as a Christian artist is to point to the “cosmos in chaos”--the truth, beauty, and undeniable reality of a God who inexplicably loves and orders his creation.

Oh to be a truth-teller. Of course I want to be a purveyor of beauty. A clear reflection of the God I love as a portrait in shining glass. But above all I long to speak the truth. To take a knife to some of the ropes we weak-minded humans have bound ourselves with.

Truth resonates. Aaron has said that to me so many times. “Speak the truth, Niki, and even if your words make people angry, if what you say is true, it will echo.” And so it is. When you hear truth it strikes a note deep in your soul and makes one more piece of this universal puzzle of life fall satisfyingly into place. I want my writing to be like that: a deep, contented sigh. A feeling of, “Oh yes--that is so real. That is so true.”

I long to be a source of truth--not as I see it, but as God has seen fit to reveal it through me. I don’t say “to me” because I believe God’s truth--in what I do when I am acting in obedience to the call he has placed on my life--will far surpass any wisdom or truth that only I can perceive in it. Isn’t it so with any work of art, no matter how grand or small? God whispers, often shouts, his truth to his children, and sometimes he singles out each child and draws back the curtain on what he has been waiting to say to them. I love those moments.


As a Christian artist, I need to be obedient and open, ready to listen. It is not about me, it is about God in me. It’s about being faithful to the work that he is waiting to do in me and through me. I need to be a servant to the work, for when I truly am, the work far surpasses me and my feeble attempts to capture truth and beauty.

God is constantly creating in us, through us, with us, and to co-create with God is our calling. No wonder I feel lost and depressed when I’m not creating. Responding to my call is an act of obedience to him. It’s okay, no, necessary--imperative--for me to take time out of cleaning, cooking, mothering, and all my other daily duties to find time to create with God.

“I must work through myself in order to be enabled to get out of the way.”

A Living Mystery

“To be a witness does not consist in engaging propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.” Cardinal Suhard

Oh that I could be a living mystery! Oh that the world would look at me and ask, “Why?” so that I may respond, “Because of him.” And isn’t that they very point of my writing? To stir up something in people that makes them wriggle with wonder. Isn’t that infinitely more effective than trying to tell them what they should do and how they should feel? Weak, wicked woman that I am, I hate it when someone tells me what I should do. How then, can I presume to preach at my audience?

A Writing Journal IV

April 4, 2006
At Mom and Dad Baart’s house in Surrey.


“Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of the mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God and not in God himself.” Unamuno

Herein lies the freedom to question, doubt, and wrestle in my writing (and in my life). “Christian” art need not be perfect, easy, likable, or even always beautiful. It must be, above all, real and true--revealing cosmos in chaos, not ignoring the chaos. And yet, unlike so much of postmodern fiction (art, life in general), certainly not ignoring the cosmos. The end result is always beauty when you recognize a loving Lord who orders his creation. Though I do think sometimes that our definition of beauty is sadly skewed. Our fairytale ending is secured in heaven, not necessarily on earth.


“There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest meanings of the incarnation. Secular = God, Sacred = God, All = God” Madeleine

I’ve always known this. I am, after all, a Calvinist, aren’t I? Gotta love that Reformed theology!

And yet, sometimes I fear the secular in my writing. Why? Fear of what Christians may think? Fear that maybe we’re wrong, that maybe some things are unredeemably secular and incapable of being made sacred? Or maybe I’m afraid to let God be alive, vibrant, unexpected? What if he refuses to fit into my nice box? Is that where I want him to be in spite of my assertions otherwise?

Can every area of life be unapologetically sacred? It was, all of it, created by the mighty hand of God. And it was, and still is, good.

A Writing Journal V

April 5, 2006
Waiting to take my citizenship test at the Canadian Immigration offices in Surrey.


“An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith.” Madeleine

My writing has so often been faithless. I believed that the ability to write was a gift that was wholly mine--I owned it and controlled it, any success or failure rested with my skill (or lack thereof) to manipulate it. What a pathetic delusion. And truly, who wants that kind of burden?

What a blessing to know, to really know, that each word I write is an act of faith in a creator who began a good work in me. Not only that, he has promised to carry it on to completion!

That said, I have always been (and will forever continue to be) pathetically unqualified for the work he has called me. I am small and weak, proud and posturing, insecure and cowering. My lack of qualification can numb me into fear, uncertainty, and utter inaction. Writer’s block. Or worse, I will intentionally run from what I know he is asking me to do.

The reverse: I believe it is about me. Equally destructive.

Keep me humble, Lord. Keep me focused on what you want to do in me and through me. Keep me believing that writing is an act of faith. That if I believe, make humble your servant, you will use me as you see fit and my life will be beautiful to you.

A Writing Journal VI

April 5, 2006
At Earl’s in Langley.


“… {belief} is the willing suspension of disbelief…” Coleridge

How these words make perfect sense to me! How I long to believe in things that don’t make sense--to ignore what I think I know to be true and allow God to reveal to me his perfect, mysterious truth.

And how remarkable (and surprisingly obvious) that I do exactly that every single day in loving a God that defies all explanation and reason. How perfectly lovely, how like God, to make that creative, yearning, aching part of me--that dangerous, artsy (read: four-letter word), maybe even “un-Christian” part--a reflection of his very essence. There is no need for me to fear it, be ashamed of it, or suppress it. It is beautiful. It is of God. There is no part of me that is whole without it. And he made me that way.


Best of all, he promises that all things are possible--even the things I thought were impossible--through him. I can hold a burning coal in my hand. I can be more than I ever imagined. I can write my soul as living reflection of my deep love for him… through and with and in God and God alone.

A Writing Journal VII

April 6, 2006
On my way home from Vancouver. In the air somewhere over Montana, I think.

Winding Watches

“We must daily keep wound: that is, we must pray when prayer seems dry as dust; we must write when we are physically tired, when our hearts are heavy, when our bodies are in pain.” Madeleine

I find it amazing how quickly the devil can turn your mind from Christ and bog it down with the bustle and go of daily life. He convinces us (or maybe we convince ourselves) that there simply are not enough hours in the day and we must prioritize: emptying the dishwasher and getting supper on the table take precedence over the “luxuries” of reading, writing, and even devotion.

Okay, I’ve made this all generic, but who I am really talking about is myself, of course. Why am I so terrible at putting first things first? Why am I so quick to break the promises I make to God? Oh I am small and immature and undisciplined! What manner of childish, little girl am I if I immediately stop doing those things that have lost a little bit of their glimmer? “I’m not inspired right now--writer’s block.” “I’m feeling far from God right now--what good is prayer?” Madeleine is so right--it’s about discipline, about keeping my watch wound even when it’s not working properly.

I am called to obedience even in the dry spells when I am feeling anything but obedient. I pray I have the depth of character to do even those things I don’t feel inspired to do. I pray I have the integrity to walk a long, hard road in the same direction with my Master--even when I am unsure that he is by my side.

A Writing Journal VIII

April 6, 2006
Delayed in the Minneapolis airport due to severe thunderstorms. It’s been 12 hours of travel, 10 hours without food (why didn’t I get something to eat???), 2 hours trapped on the tarmac in the middle of a hailstorm, and 1 massive headache.


“To name is to love. To be named is to be loved. So in a very true sense the great works which help us to be more named also love us and help us to love.” Madeleine

Though I long to speak truth, my greatest calling as a writer is not to present a meaningless snapshot of what is “real” or “true”. Rather, as an artist who is a Christian, my highest purpose, my calling, is to find God’s hand in every reality. Because it’s there. Because it’s what the world so longs to hear. Cosmos in chaos. Beauty in suffering. His deep, deep love for us over all and in all. Pain in the offering and yet, blessed be your name.

Praise the Lord, that doesn’t mean I have to pepper my writing with melodramatic conversions, emotional prayers, or even scripture. Not that those things aren’t also a very big part of reality--I’ve experienced more than my share, it seems, of passionate encounters with God. But I believe we are at risk sometimes of becoming condescending--or worse, condemning--instead of loving. We articulate what should happen, leaving little room for what often does happen: a small step instead of a giant leap. Or, we prescribe Christianity as if the same pill will work for everyone. As if my relationship with God must look exactly like yours.

I believe God is bigger than our need to make him understandable, manageable. He is in all and through all. He is the great Namer. Oh how I love that title. Naming is really about God’s hand in us, isn’t it? It’s his mark on our foreheads, his tender touch along our brow. That is our reality: that our great God has named each and every one of us. He calls us by that beautiful, inexpressible name. He whispers it in our ears.

I hope beyond all hope that I may be considered worthy enough to let people remember the name which they have been lovingly given. I hope that if my book ever sees the light of day, someone will pick it up and hear their sweet, given name--maybe for the very first time.


Well, I’ve finished reading the book and Madeleine has been nothing less than inspiring. I quit writing halfway through to simply read and let the full effect of her magical words wash over me. I’m a discerning reader--I don’t agree with everything she has to say--but the wisdom of much that she wrote has changed everything. My writing will never, never be the same. Praise God. I believe that there is more that he wants from me than what I have already done.

Use me, Lord.

God is over all things,
under all things,
outside all,
within, but not enclosed,
without, but not excluded,
above, but not raised up,
below, but not depressed,
wholly above, presiding,
wholly without, embracing,
wholly within, filling.
-Hildevert of Lavardin