Since falling silent in March I have received multiple encouraging and mildly convicting emails from a dead man. Okay, not quite but sort of.
Before Lent I subscribed to a daily email delivering meditations inspired by the writings of Henri Nouwen. I have stopped counting his strangely intimate reflections. Too many have shouted directly at me. “Sweet Elissa! This is what you need to hear today!” God doesn’t always whisper. Sometimes that still small voice is on the loudspeaker. I’m sure He and Henri are having fun toying with me, making me practically peer over my shoulder.
If you’re unfamiliar, Henri Nouwen was one hell of a guy and I think he’d appreciate me for putting it so eloquently. He was a Dutch priest, a professor, a theologian, a writer. He taught at Harvard and Yale and in his later years, he worked in Toronto at L’Arche Daybreak, a community for people living with disabilities.
Here is a handful of the encouraging words I’ve received from our lovable Henri.
“Writing can be a very creative and invigorating way to make our lives available to ourselves and to others. We have to trust that our stories deserve to be told. We may discover that the better we tell our stories the better we will want to live them.”
“One of the most satisfying aspects of writing is that it can open in us deep wells of hidden treasures that are beautiful for us as well as for others to see.”
“Quite often a difficult, painful, or frustrating day can be ‘redeemed’ by writing about it. By writing we can claim what we have lived and thus integrate it more fully into our journeys. Then writing can become lifesaving for us and sometimes for others too.”
I hate to admit it but when I started this project, it was more or less about me. My intent was to slowly build a portfolio that might catapult me back into writing professionally. Funding a PhD from the University of St Andrews is bloody expensive, nevermind the status of the Canadian peso. We have bills to pay so mama needs to eventually get back to work. While I love to write freely, this specific project wasn’t, ironically, purely about the love of writing as its name implies. I had a small agenda.
So I recently took on the task of writing an informal letter to update friends and family on our journey. Things got a little vulnerable and the encouragement that flooded my way the next day was deeply moving. The road we’re on is lonely at times; people often misunderstand our situation. Motherhood can be lonely. Living abroad can be lonely. Making unpopular choices can be lonely. Reverse culture shock will be lonely. I know I’m not alone but I can’t bear the thought of other people feeling disconnected.
So from now on, I’m liberally sharing my stories for the sake of others. Down with disconnection. I am writing to save us from loneliness. It won’t get too heavy, trust me. There will be gin. We will dream and we will look for joy. We will make room to laugh at ourselves and about Mariah Carey’s early work and what not but I will stay the course. This is not a resolution. This is a paradigm shift. Life is too short to go at it alone.