Yesterday I drove across the great Kansas plain, over and down through the Flinthills, to meet someone, Elizabeth Trotter—a fellow writer, that I’ve only ever known on-line. It wasn’t a very long drive, I think it took me maybe an hour and a half, but it felt much longer. Truth be told, I was nervous. I admitted as much to my friend Marilyn in a gasping text message an hour before I left the house, “Here’s a stupid thing: can you pray? I’m meeting Elizabeth Trotter for lunch and I’m having all these second thoughts and insecurities and misgivings. And I think I might have been the one to initiate… which I never do! What was I thinking?!”
It’s a little daunting to meet someone face to face that has only known you through your writing. I write my heart. She’s read my heart. I write my pain and problems. She’s read my problems and my pain. It’s one thing to think of the ‘reader’ as a nameless, faceless thing out there—it’s another to imagine your expression as my words are ingested by your eyes and taken into your brains. You’ll either spit out those words as irrelevant or meaningless or quite frankly wrong, or the words will land inside you. They’ll settle on your souls. An expression, a turn of phrase, a metaphor, enters and springs to life in you and takes up residence. It’s risky to write. It’s risky to write to readers. It’s riskiest of all to meet one of those readers, who has only known me through my writing, face to face.
I wondered if I had a headache yesterday morning. I didn’t. I wondered if my mother-in-law, who had woken unusually early, was well. Maybe I needed to stay home with her? She was and I didn’t. I wondered if the car, which did seem very shaky and who’s muffler must surely have a hole in it for the noise it made as I rattled along the I-70 highway, was safe enough. Perhaps I should turn back? I didn’t.
Instead I bravely went to meet Elizabeth Trotter.
There’s this thing that happens when two writers meet. So much ground had been covered by our writing and reading of each other’s lives, we jumped into conversations half way through. It’s like we’d been talking for years, we were mid-sentence in each other’s stories. We simply loaded up our plates with delectable Indian food, filled our mini-mugs with hot spicy chai, sat down and continued where we’d left off, transitioning without hesitation from the written words we’d read, to spoken words with voice.
Having shared written pains, spoken heartaches were easier to articulate. I found myself confiding in Elizabeth the stuff of blog posts I’ll never be able to publish. Those things landed safely on her. Elizabeth never flinched or gasped. She received with grace my various confessions.
Jonathon and Elizabeth Trotter are on home assignment. It’s a nebulous, often misunderstood, role. It’s hard work. There are joys of reunions and dreads of departures. Their time is consumed with connecting with people long known, reporting to churches and donors, attending to administrative details. I remember the ‘mixed-bag’ of emotions associated with home assignment and they have my sympathy. I also know how very busy and exhausting home assignments can be. I was deeply honoured that Elizabeth carved out time to meet me, a friend she hadn’t ever met. I was thankful to Jonathon for sacrificing the time to allow it to happen.
And I’m thankful for the graces embedded in our conversation. Elizabeth affirmed me as a writer. I often struggle to think this is real for me. I’m married to a real writer, I write with a real writer. But Elizabeth looked me in the eye and blessed the gift I’ve been given. We talked about being writers. We talked about being married to writers. She empathized and laughed a little at some of the writing arguments Lowell and I’ve had over the years. Elizabeth gave space to my current pains. She didn’t rush into fix them, or talk me out of them. She heard my heart and she let the pain come to the table and join us. She taught me some American Church history and it’s relevance to today. We reiterated the central role of Jesus in all of that—and in our own lives. We talked about mothering a little, the stages we’ve loved, the stages we’ve struggled through—all the while drinking masala chai from the lunch buffet.
I felt very brave, in the midst of my anxieties, driving down the highway toward Elizabeth. I felt deeply blessed afterwards driving toward home. Although the chai cups had been emptied many times, or maybe in part because they had, my heart was full. Whether a reader or a writer, it didn’t matter in the end. I had met a friend.