Security within Obscurity

You have to keep living your story. You have to keep living faithfully, seeking God, praying, caring for those things you know are critically important and you have to keep writing about them.

A Kind Friend

Since 2012, at the beginning of every year I’ve gone through a mini writing crisis. 2012 marked a milestone: A year of writing publicly every day. In 2011 I set out on the journey to communicate across boundaries through writing. As 2012 rolled around I was both proud and apprehensive. Now what? I had done what I set out to do, but was I beginning to be a loud noise in a louder world? Was there a place for me to write and an audience for me to write to and for?

Every writer asks themselves the same questions at different points of their journey. Self-doubt is a faithful, all be it depressing, companion to writers, artists, musicians, scientists, doctors, priests, monks and any other vocations that involve the heart.

About a year and a half ago a dear friend of mine who had published a successful book was featured on a podcast. Toward the end of the interview, she was asked a question about writers who meant a lot to her or inspired her. She named two writers who are fairly well known, and then she went on to talk about a writer friend she had who inspired her but wrote largely “in obscurity.” She talked about how much she valued her words and friendship. The writer friend was me. It was incredibly kind. I heard it and I began to cry. My friend was so kind and also, the word obscurity stung.

Obscurity – the state of being unknown, inconspicuous, or unimportant.

I was unknown, inconspicuous, unimportant. My words didn’t matter.

Of course, my friend didn’t mean that at all. She was giving me praise. She was saying I inspired her. She was honoring me in a public forum. But I didn’t hear that part. All I heard was the part about obscurity.

It is a humbling journey being faced with your own desires and weaknesses within those desires. Because here’s the truth – I would love for my words to journey across the hearts and minds of millions. There are times when I fantasize about walking up to an airport bookstore and standing with sunglasses on looking at my own book, just grinning. I’d love to stand to the side and watch others walk up and peruse the stand, finally landing on my books saying, “I love this writer!” There are times when I dream about an agent taking calls about interviews on public radio and speaking at events across the country.

It’s about then that I hear my alarm and know that it’s time to get up and face my day job, where I grab time to write before work and after work and not much in between.

Despite the obscurity, every time I think I’m going to quit putting my fingers on this keyboard, every time I get discouraged and think my words don’t matter, I get a message like the one at the top of this page. And even when I don’t, I remember how much I love writing; how much I love the craft, the ideas that flow or don’t flow. The words and descriptions, the stories and how they are birthed onto the page, the staring into the distance at a coffee shop when suddenly a phrase comes to me. The feeling of hitting “publish” on my own blog, or “send” in an email submission and then waiting to hear if my essay was accepted for publication, the utter joy of seeing my words on the printed or online page…or not, because whether published or not there is deep joy in creating.

It’s during those moments that I know I will never quit. I may go through sabbaticals of quiet, I may take time out to not write publicly, but I’ll keep writing every day.

But I also know another truth that overrides all of this – and that is that my identity cannot be found in writing alone. My security cannot be rooted in who reads or doesn’t read my words. That would be a fickle identity indeed. My security doesn’t lie in my ability to create words, sentences, paragraphs, and stories but as one who is created and beloved by God.

In these 12 years of writing, I’ve learned much about myself and about the human condition. I’ve learned more about what it is to live well in places that are hard, in places where you don’t feel you fully belong. I’ve heard from people who are displaced or in transition, who are struggling to find their place. I’ve received messages from teenagers in France and retirees in the United Kingdom. I’ve connected in ways I could never have imagined. I’ve gone through public and private crises, and asked readers to come along with me in the grief. I’ve learned more of what it is to give both identity and desire to God, to invite him into my writing space, and pray for words. And I’ve come to see that it’s a big world out there and within it there is a place for small writers in small spaces.

Who’s Robynn?

I am delighted to announce today a change at Communicating Across Boundaries. Robynn Bliss, reader and frequent guest poster has agreed to write and post every Friday. This partnership will allow me to focus on some other writing projects that have come my way while still keeping the mission and spirit of the blog.

Canadian by birth, Robynn was raised in Pakistan and gets this between world’s thing. She is someone who works out her faith with fear and trembling and knows that doubt is part of the faith journey; someone who is not afraid to be vulnerable and give of herself. This is a gift not only to me, but to you as readers… today as an official start to the plan we get to hear Robynn in her own words on who she is! Enjoy!

The worst question in the world, in my mind, is: “So…. Where are you from?”

I especially hate that question when I’m trapped in a chair for a limited amount of time—the hair dressers, the dentist office, a waiting room. How can I ever begin to tell where I’m from, in a short amount of time, to a person who doesn’t really care but who feigns interest as part of their professional habit?

The question that I’m beginning to hate almost as much is: “Who are you?” But it’s a question that no one asks. The only person asking the question is me, “So Robynn, who are you? Who are you really?” And I’m not even sure it can be answered.

I can tell you what I like. I like a good cup of coffee. I love deep conversations about things that matter—soul things. I love my children.  I love summer time tomatoes.  I love clean sheets on my bed. I love chicken curry and pierogies; hummus and Pad Thai. I love laughing out loud. I love bangles. I love airports. I love foreign-to-me countries. I love watching my girls dance. I love my fifteen year old’s passion and sincerity. I love liturgical prayer. I love miracles. I love autumn. I love my Lowell man: his convictions, his wisdom, his humour, his companionship. I love it that God meets me in these places!

I could tell you what I hate. I cannot stand the endlessness and monotony of laundry.  I cannot understand hatred in the hearts of those who claim to be loving. I hate a dirty kitchen floor. I hate changing the kitty litter. I hate arguing with Lowell.  I hate to see my children hurt by the cruelty of others. I hate injustice. I hate things to be unfair.

I can tell you what I do. I work enthusiastically for Eden Vigil. I volunteer frequently at our local church and at our youngest daughter’s school. I follow my children into their activities: I make costumes for their plays, I make cookies for their parties. I track down the things they need for school projects (Connor’s making an edible diorama of the Battle of Stalingrad!?!). I taxi children to play practice, to the school newspaper office, to track meets, to home again. I try to love my neighbours. I meet regularly with women for coffee.

I can tell you my fears, my dreads, my sorrows (rats, our planned camping trip, not living in Asia anymore). I can tell you some of my story, what I’ve been through. You’d see pictures of friends and children, of death and grief, of hope and despair, of burnout and brokenness. You’d see the Ganges River, the Thal desert, the Himalayan mountains. You’d also catch sightings of the Rockies and the Prairies, of Benares, of Manhattan.  It’s a patch work life; a collage of colour and chaos, of joy, of glory, of sweat, tears and giggles. But it’s my life… and I love it!

This is me. Robynn Joy Bliss. Honoured to be married to Lowell for 18 years. Mother of three intense thinkers who articulate constantly their agonies and joys. I’m pleased to have a Canadian passport. I’m privileged to have a US Green Card. My childhood in Pakistan remembers Holy Trinity Church and boarding school, parents who loved me, a community who cheered me on. My adulthood recalls expectations disappointed and hopes dashed but a God who has been faithful throughout. I am more real than I’ve ever been. I’m more honest. I try to live inside out now. I’m committed to vulnerability and True Living.

It may be impossible to answer that horrendous question, “who am I?” but it’s a worthy thing to think about. Who are you? Who are you really?

Come along…. Let’s journey together… deeper into who we are… deeper into who we were made to be.