How I decide what to write

Some of you reached out to check on us after my spate of candid posts about things we’re struggling with. I get it. It’s not typical to see this sort of honesty on the internet these days, especially in circumstances like ours where it would be possible to create an alternative reality online, painting our story in Instagram filters of happily-ever-after perfection.

I don’t do that. But we’re fine. I promise.

I’ve been doing this public disclosure thing for a while. I started blogging back in 2006. My books, both filled with some big shares, came out a few years after that. I had great guidance from an early editor about how to tell the difference between what WILL BE a good story later down the road, and what IS a good story to share now.

Here’s my litmus test: if I’m typing furiously, angrily, with a specific person or group in mind, I will always hit a dead end and abandon the post or page before it’s published, because I can’t find a good place to wrap up. If I can’t stick the landing, it’s not a good story yet. A good story has elements: Your world is shaken, you respond and figure it out, and then eventually move forward again in a new way, helped by this experience and what you learned.  Things don’t have to be perfect for a story to be ready to tell. But there has to be some new discovery, some small, good way you’re changed or improved by what’s happened that leaves the reader feeling satisfied in what they’ve read, and maybe even curious to discover what will happen next.

So a lot of posts don’t get published. And there are many stories yet to be told. For example, I haven’t said much about our church experiences since I returned to blogging. I have to find a way to honestly stick the landing, without it being edgy or weird. I’m close, but not quite there. If I’m sharing something, it means I’ve found a way to stick the landing, even if things aren’t perfect yet. This is the kind of writing I respect and admire.

In his story development book, To Be Told, Dan Allender describes what he calls The 4 Stages of Shalom, a narrative framework I’ve adapted & taught in pretty much every workshop and retreat I’ve led in the past six years. Shalom is a Hebrew word that means peace, wholeness, tranquility – all the things we want in life, and the things that are at risk in compelling stories. If you think of the movie, Marley & Me (and you should, often), here’s what this looks like:

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The story starts with Shalom: All is right with the world. In Marley & Me, You have a happy couple sitting a table eating breakfast. The sun shines, they are in love, and there is an adorable puppy laying at their feet, exuding contented puppy cuteness. It’s like being in a dream.

You know what happens next, right?  That Shalom needs to be Shattered. There’s no movie unless something wrecks that idyllic scene and gives us something to wonder about. So guess what? The adorable puppy is an absolute terror that takes off from the table and drags everything behind him, wrecking everything in his path, setting up the shape of this poor couple’s new reality. Marley gets bigger and wilder every single day. They can hardly remember that happy breakfast as they’re consumed with the struggle with this ridiculous dog.

This takes us to the meat of the story: where the couple is Seeking Shalom – How do they right what’s gone wrong and get back to normal? How do they get the dog to calm down and be the lovely addition to their original lives they imagined when they got him? And when that fails, how can they find a new normal that will work under these changed conditions? There’s a lot of trial & error in finding a new normal. The best part of any story is watching characters who’ve been thrown (or jumped) into chaos search for a new normal. This is the part that is relatable, where we think, Wait, it’s not just me?

Eventually we get to what most of us think of as the best part of the story: Shalom Restored. We’re relieved as the dog grows older and takes great care of the kids. He’s still bonkers, but they understand him and he’s part of the family, and they cannot imagine life without him.

In real life, we’re always tempted to skip the Shalom Shattered part of our stories. We believe the lie that we’d all be happier if life was all Shalom, all the time. But breakfast in the sunshine gets dull. You want the puppy to DO something. And so God makes sure he does :)

This is why I blog the way I do.

Keeping conversations mostly shalom-y makes sense in casual relationships. But online, when people are claiming to be “vulnerable & authentic,” but everything they show is either Shalom or Shalom Restored? When it’s all, We’re perfectly happy, OR Oops, had a tiny glitch but look how beautifully we figured it out!???

It BUGS me. And it’s really, really DULL.

One specific example:

I am bothered by the way the adoption bloggers who posted such helpful stuff when I was early in the process JUST DISAPPEARED when things got hard with their new families. They erased all their posts and stopped talking about how any of it was going for them, except to be glib and/or faux-perfect. A few of them sometimes throw out vague posts like, “Adoption is so hard, y’all…” but never say how they’re coping or what they’re learning, or what they’d do differently now.

And since many of them were super-duper, “Let’s all do this together!” in the beginning, I think it really stinks that they’ve gone underground now that it’s turned out to be hard.

I am BOTHERED by the influencer with perfect hair and makeup who brought home a special needs toddler from China and only posts the beautiful pictures of this little girl bonding with her new family and learning new things, with no mention of the stuff that anyone in the know knows is also happening: night terrors, food fury, numbing out from the stress of being taken from everyone and everything she’s ever known. To follow this on IG, you’d think transferring a four year old with Down’s Syndrome from a Chinese orphanage to a home in the American heartland is all birthday parties and opportunities to play dress up. I hope it’s like that for them, but I kind of doubt it.

I don’t do that here. I talk about the ways our Shalom has been Shattered, and the ways we’ve inadvertently Shattered our kids’ Shalom. And how we’re Seeking Shalom every single day.

But…I didn’t blog about any of this until I’d found some pockets of Shalom Restored that I could share.

Our story isn’t Look how perfect we are. And it’s not Oh crap, we hate our lives. (I used that phrasing as a joke last week and I don’t think it translated the way I’d hoped. Lesson learned.) Our story is Wow this is more difficult and so much more complicated than we ever imagined. But we can learn and grow, and we have what it takes to navigate challenges.

Almost everyone is in some version of this same situation.

Here’s us at our most Shalom-y, last December:

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Here’s to being honest about how hard we’re working, sharing what we learn about finding a new normal, and recognizing moments of Shalom :)

 

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