...and that's where I left it. Nearly two weeks ago.
Struggling to come here and struggling to talk to you and then clearly it's no surprise that I've got nothing to say. So, because I have nothing, I don't come here and I don't talk to you and the whole thing goes over and over and gets bigger and bigger. I become more and more self-conscious and more and more inhibited and I wonder if it's worth it at all.
Lord, I've got myself in a mess.
I know that you're with me always. I know that you're with me through thick and thin and I know that any progress I make comes from you. I know that you have given me gifts, and that you want me to use them. I know that you have a Plan for me and I know that your timing is perfect.
So, I reckon that you're used to me panicking when things go wrong; I moan and I complain and I cling onto you harder. I am there every time you turn round and when you do, you trip over me, I'm so clingy. I need you and I know it. But what's surprised me recently is how I panic when things go right.
It's only a little thing. Only small, and for some people I know who are way past where I am in this little journey of ours, it must seem tiny. Here it is (and I'm cringing as I write it):
I come and spend time with you, and for a couple of years now it's been my habit to have a waffle with you and then press a small orange button that says 'publish' and let other people in on my meanderings. Sometimes people tell me they liked what I shared. Sometimes there's a deafening silence. Sometimes it makes my heart swell when people tell me that you moved them to tears or to laughter through the words I tapped out. The best thing of all is when someone says, 'Oh, me too!' Then - that's when I know that you are smiling. There's nothing you like more than to see your children reach for each other in encouragement and love. That's when I know that there is nothing else that I want to do, other than this.
So over the last few months I've known that you were smiling. I've felt it, and so have others. People are joining in our conversations and maybe - who knows but you? - my dream is starting to come true and they are seeing you, hearing you, and joining their voices with mine, their prayer and praise with mine. It's wonderful.
People are so kind with words of encouragement, and then occasionally someone is unkind because the things I say about you make them angry and offended and they hit back with hurtful criticism. You don't leave me alone to handle it; you're there when they're mean as well as when they're nice. I have read it, worried about it, debated what to do with it and moved on past it a few times now. I know full well that not everyone will agree with me. I know that not everyone accepts what I know about you. Some people might some day; some never will.
It's the way it works.
But what I'm not used to is a growing audience. I'm not used to writing guest posts for other people's websites and then seeing visits here from a whole new set of people; family from around the world.
I don't mean that I'm off doing my thing, basking in the sweetness of success, thinking that I can do it all alone; no. It's not that. It's as if it was so much easier when there were only a few people listening, and I knew almost all of them. I remember when I pressed the 'publish' button for the very first time. I wrote in my journal, 'Will anyone read what I've written? Why should anyone care?' and it was such a quiet, intimate thing. It was just me and you.
Nothing has changed. No, nothing. It's still just me and you. But in my head, I'm all self-conscious again. What on earth do people think?
In that first post-publish journal entry I said that it was up to you, Lord. Up to you whether anyone came by or not. Up to you whatever happened.
Nothing has changed.
I once had a friend who was always there for me when my life was in a mess. Broken up with a boyfriend? There she was with tissues and a bottle of wine. Struggling with exams or poorly or lamenting about the failure of the latest diet? She was there with sympathy and a listening ear and a bag of marshmallows.
But when things were going right? Nowhere to be seen.
She was my rainy-weather-friend and she didn't like to see me when I was happy. She didn't like things to be going well. I never really got to the bottom of why, as we drifted apart during a phase of my life when I was doing ok. She didn't return my calls and didn't come to drink coffee when there were no tears involved.
I feel as if I'm a bit like that right now. When it's you and me against the world (or when it feels like that) I am here all the time and I stay close, but when things start to go right; when you start to give me a little of what I've so badly wanted - I am off like a rat up a drainpipe. Off. Maybe it's safer to stay where things are familiar, anonymous.
What do I want, if not for people to read what I write? I firmly believe that if you have given me a gift, I should use it. If you want me to write, then you must want people to read what I write. So I should be pleased when people do, shouldn't I? Instead of panicking and going into a flat spin before running off and hiding. I should be happy instead of filled with anxiety. Encouraged and enthused instead of oppressed by it.
People come to see what you and I talk about. So... if I don't talk to you, then they won't come any longer. All subconscious, you know, but horribly effective. If there's nothing to see, they don't come. Why would they?
I've tried to work out what to do about this, and the only thing I can do is the same as I've always done. I lay it all in front of you.
Here it is. Here am I, with all my strange neuroses and unpredictable panics. It would be funny, if it wasn't so discouraging. I am used to failure, but give me something that goes right instead and I don't know what to do with it.
The amazing thing is that I laid this all in front of you and you smiled that slightly amused, indulgent smile that you smiled and you said, 'It's alright'. You found a handful of your best encouragers and you placed them where I'd find them. You linked me up with a few people that I may never meet in this life, who have become friends in the most meaningful sense of the word. Wise people whose words lift up, not destroy. People who are open and honest about the ups and downs of life and don't try to preach but just tell it like it is.
The Internet is a strange place. Some people criticise it for being shallow and trivial but I have found it exactly the reverse. There are people around the world who have helped me when I needed helping in just the right way. Other people who write who know how insecure it can make you feel. People who know that a word or two of encouragement - even when limited to 140 characters or a comments box - can change someone's day. Stop someone from giving up. Assure someone that they're not alone. Raise a smile when tears have been the order of the day.
I've said, 'I'm struggling,' and people said, 'Me too.'
I've said, 'This is hard,' and people said, 'It is. But you can do it.'
I've said, 'I don't know if I can do this,' and people said, 'Me neither, but He helped me, and He'll help you too'.
I've said, 'I worry that I'm not good enough,' and people said, 'We're not, but He is.'
Who'd have thought it? I've learned that if I stick my head above the parapet, the things that have hit and hurt the most haven't been thrown by anyone else but me. I can talk myself out of the wonder and pleasure of any experience and find that it's easier to stay crouched down low, hiding, than risk going somewhere where the air might be cleaner and the view so much better.
CS Lewis once said:
'It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about ... when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea. We are far too easily pleased.'Maybe I'm too easily pleased. I told you that it was alright if only half a dozen people read what I write, and it was ok if lots of people read it. Then when you move me away from a) towards b) I scuttle off back to my mud pies. I know where I am with mud pies. What do you mean, the seaside? That sounds very open and exposed to me...think I'll stay where I am...if you don't mind...
But no. That's not how it's going to be.
I just want to say, once again, that I am along for the ride. I just want to keep doing what we do together, Lord, you and me.
I want to notice you in my life, I want to tell people about what you're doing and I want to encourage and inspire.
I want people to see you and see how wonderful you are.
I want to be honest enough that people say, 'Me too,' because that connection is invaluable. I don't feel anywhere near such a failure when someone says, 'I feel that way too,' and I have such hope when someone says, 'I felt that way - and things are better now'. That's the power of connecting with people. Little words on a screen can pack such a punch.
I'm sorry that I've been all over the place lately. I'm sorry for the uncertainty and doubt and anxiety when you have always looked after me and you have always been the one who gives me words and there's no reason for that to change now.
It isn't about me. It isn't about me.
Thank you, Father, for your gentleness and compassion in this latest strange lesson in my life. Thank you for the honesty and vulnerability of those people whose struggles they've shared with me this past week. Thank you that you have introduced me to family scattered all over the world who are so different and yet all love you and are willing to reach out and be reached by brothers and sisters who need encouragement.
Thank you that you are a God who has no problem moving with the times and working as powerfully through twenty-first century social media as you do through the pulpit and the printing press.
Thank you for every person who visits here and reads about you and about my limping, imperfect journey. Thank you (gulp) for stats and comments and guest blogs and 'Me too,' moments.
And, Lord, thank you for the words.