Guest post from writer Heather Caliri.
The email slipped into my inbox with no fanfare last March. A name I didn’t recognize, a cryptic subject. Curious, I opened it, but it took me a minute to figure out what the woman who sent it was asking.
Basically: I like your work. Have you ever thought of publishing a book? If so, will you send me a proposal?
I glanced at her email address: a publishing house even I, with no knowledge of the marketplace, recognized.
My heart dropped.
This. This is what I had been dreaming about ever since I’d picked up Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott almost twenty years before. This was the beginning of everything I had hoped for coming true.
It felt amazing. At first.
After I’d run upstairs to show my husband, after I sent off a few giddy emails to friends, I opened up a blank document on my computer, stilled my heart, and asked myself a question.
What should I write about?
But when I stared at the blinking cursor, I started to feel panicky. Because the question of what I would write brought to mind all of the things I was too frightened to mention.
Basically, anything to do with my family of origin. In other words, stay away from the first twenty-two years of my life.
I write memoir. Scuttling any mention of my childhood was ridiculous.
I had thought the editor’s note was tremendously good news. I thought it was the beginning of a dream come true. Instead, it was a kind of nightmare. I realized I had a choice: I could upend my relationship with my family. Or, I could blow up my dream of writing books. There wasn’t any middle ground.
What I realized, staring at the email, was that I had been putting off this choice ever since I’d realized that God had called me to write. I had always hedged, trying to hold onto safety, normalcy, and being a good girl. I had said yes to a calling while trying also to keep from making people I loved uncomfortable.
There was no way to say the things God has put on my heart without explaining why my heart is the shape it is.
I felt so tired looking at my computer. I have been a writer for fifteen years, and this fear has been riding my back the whole time.
All of a sudden, I couldn’t take it anymore. Screw it, I thought, looking at the blank page. I’m done staying quiet. I started to write—for the first time in my life—without looking over my shoulder.
Not long after, I called a therapist.
I had known writing the book would be hard, but what I hadn’t realized was that keeping quiet had kept me from healing. Scales fell from my eyes with every word I typed. I needed serious help to navigate the fallout.
Processing my pain on the page and in counseling, I realized something for the very first time: Putting a lid on my calling meant cutting off God’s shalom in my life. I had put off really finding peace with my family. I had put off being honest and asking hard questions of the people I love. I had allowed myself to prop up dysfunction instead of advocating for health.
Being a good girl had hamstrung my calling and my life because all of it belongs to Jesus. When we stay boxed into a corner in one area, we stay small everywhere. When we refuse to use our voices, how can we testify of Christ’s power?
It’s more than a year later, and I’m still struggling to put together a book proposal. I’ve had false starts, a few rejections, and a bucketful of tears. I am dogged and committed to taking my calling seriously. I will approach it with grit, professionalism, and whatever skill I can muster.
But I have tasted victory, even before I publish a book. The day I made the choice to upend my family was the day that I started to heal. The day I decided to make everyone I loved uncomfortable was the day I stepped onto a path of forgiveness. The day I stopped being quiet and safe was the day I started living without terror.
It was a nightmare to realize how much of a stranglehold fear had over my dreams. But it was worth it.