Stories, not arguments.

I’ve been thinking about my book for over two years, quietly walking through the maze of the concept. It’s been a private space in my life for so long, and now that I’m talking about it and inviting people into it and even asking people to pay money for it, it’s scary. I feel like the weird girl who brought her diary to read into the microphone without being asked. I feel exposed. I feel nervous. I feel low-key nauseous, actually.  And the question that makes me most uncomfortable, the one that makes my hands shake and my voice raise in pitch, is such a simple one.

“What’s your book about?”

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That should be easy to answer. I should have an “elevator speech” answer, a quick synopsis that makes people want more. It’s a hallmark skill required of writers, because no one cares about everything you’re writing- they want the postcard version. And I have a postcard version, sort of, but I know it’s not the right one, because when I say it, people don’t want more: They want less. They glaze over. They have no idea what I’m talking about.
You know why my answer is inadequate? Because my real answer seems like too much for people to hear, so I tiptoe around it. I invent simplified answers that don’t leave room for immediate opinions, because the real answer is that God showed me something, and it changed my life, and I’m telling that story because I think it will change your life too.

But when I’m at a party or on a phone call with my cousin or in casual conversation with a friend I haven’t seen in a while, it is a strange notion to say that God spoke to me. And that I think He’s asking me to share what I heard. And that He spoke to me about gender. And that I happen to be the person who has a curious message about gender and faith, directly from the God of the Universe, and now I’m writing it down for everyone to read.

Not exactly the quick answer you want to give about the book you’re writing. Or at least, not the answer I want to give. And also, not the kind of answer that invites an easy response.

Let me tell you a little secret: It took me over two years, and half of a finished book, to realize that I needed a new way to answer the question, “Hey, what’s your book about?”

The answer isn’t, “It’s about gender.”

The answer is, “It’s about what God showed me and how it changed my life.”

This book is deadly honest. Like, I might need to find a new church and friends and change my identity, kind of honest. Not because people will be mad (although some definitely will) but because I’m sharing things about myself and about God that are intimate, difficult, squirmy. And while I feel called to do so, I’m moving forward with the understanding that it will change relationships for me. Which I think is why I’ve avoided this particular direction of writing. Since the beginning, I’d been writing the book like an argument, a logical proof text that leads the reader towards the same conclusions I reached. It read like an academic paper, like a thesis in a dusty library. It didn’t sound like me at all, because I’d been asking myself the wrong question. Then, in a moment of enormous relief, it was my own dad who opened my imagination for how to write this thing. As I told him my fears of inadequacy to write something so heavy, and how lost I felt in the process, he reminded me who I am and who I am not.

“Jessie,” he said, “people don’t read you because you try to teach them. They read you because you give them words to their own experiences. This book isn’t for telling us something to believe, it’s for showing us what you’ve seen. Interpreting a story for us. You’re a translator. Tell us your stories, that’s what we love to hear.”

I cried when he said it. The weight of what I’d been attempting with this book suddenly lifted, and I could breathe again. Tell a story? I can tell a story! That’s my gift! So now, instead of wondering, “How can I convince people to see what I see?” all I  need to ask is, “How can I offer my story with truth and freedom for my reader?”

I know now. I will press into the story with my heart, my voice, my gifts and my shortcomings, my past and my future. I will press into the story of who I am and who God is, holding it out as an invitation for everyone else to take the same journey. This is my story, presented with humility and hope, because I believe that stories shape the world.

This book is not a manifesto.

This book is a memoir. From me. To you.

And I can’t wait to get it into your hands.

 

 

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