In tenth grade, my English teacher assigned us a project. She said, “I want you to write your own epitaph. Think about how you want to live your life and what you’d like on your gravestone. Turn it in Wednesday.”
Without hesitation, I proceeded to write, in poorly executed Old English jargon, “An Author’s Epitaph.”
Herein therefore and heretofore lies Scarlet Elizabeth. She utilized her feathered quill to something something something…and etched her mark on something something… shone as a beacon of literary blah blah blah…
I’m barely exaggerating. It was so embarrassing and unfortunate that my mother saved it and gave it to me in a scrap book a few years ago.
I share this to tell you how deeply I wanted the identity of an author. I started pursuing it at nine years old. For long seasons of my life, that goal owned me. It was often idolatry; and like all idols, pursuing publishing was crushing my soul.
So, to the hopeful writers with day jobs and the stay-at-home moms with book ideas, here is what I did wrong, what God did right, and how you can guard your heart while you pursue your dream.
Trying and Failing to Earn My Epitaph
I was a grinder for two decades, hoping one day I would be good enough.
I took creative writing classes. I wrote for everything there was to write for at school. I found Craigslist jobs writing for construction company websites and antiquing blogs. I read publishing books. I sent hundreds of query letters for multiple fiction novels I was writing after school, after work, after my kids went to bed. It was exhausting.
I started out writing because I loved it. It’s always been my one and only hobby, and my favorite thing to do. But, as I chased the dream, I found I didn’t just want to write. I wanted to succeed. I wanted to be published more than I wanted to be satisfied in Jesus. I was working so hard for this identity I thought would make me happy — an identity so much smaller than what I already had in Christ.
Early into my publishing pursuits, my heart was functioning in direct opposition with my call as a Christian. My call was to make much of Jesus, but I was busy trying to make much of me. I had the opportunity to rest in Jesus, but instead I trusted in myself.
God Does the Real Work
“Many plans are in a person’s heart, but the Lord’s decree will prevail.” — Proverbs 19:21
I’d studied and read and pursued and put in the writing hours. That stuff is definitely helpful and important. People who love words and books should study and practice and try. I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if I still wrote in “Old English” about quills.
So, the drive to improve was fine, but my efforts weren’t getting me anywhere because, here’s the thing: We can pursue publishing up and down and all around, but God is the one who decides what gets published and what doesn’t. God makes ways and closes doors and turns hearts however He wishes.
We can hustle till our hearts shut down, but He’ll decide what comes of our efforts.
More importantly, He has already decided what comes from His efforts. Guys, God has already done the work that matters most. He’s already written the words and opened the doors and died the death that gives us success. That gives significance. He’s already handled your epitaph.
Here lies Scarlet Hiltibidal: loved, approved, treasured daughter of God.
Getting Books Published
I just turned in my second book manuscript to my publisher. It’s been a wonderful and exciting process in all the ways I dreamed about in my teens and twenties. But, I’m beyond thankful that God didn’t let it happen when I thought it was what I needed to be happy. If God had let me become an author before I knew He had already spoken better names over me, I would have discovered my dream was a nightmare.
While I was busy getting rejected by literary agents and working odd jobs and having and raising children and learning to be a wife, the Lord was teaching me. The Lord was humbling me. The Lord was leading me to pursue things of eternity. I was learning how to rest in the work of Jesus rather than striving to win love by accomplishing things.
I still loved writing, though.
So somewhere in there, I started a blog about things Jesus was teaching me. After a year or so, it got shared on Facebook by a stay-at-home mom who had a high school friend that grew up to be a book publisher. That lady saw it and hired me to do a freelance project which was then seen by the right person at my publisher, which led to a meeting where I literally pulled two fully formed book proposals out of my bag that I had with me “just in case.”
In my head, I’d been ready for that moment since fourth grade. In my soul, it was years before I knew that a meeting with a publisher could never mean what I wanted it to mean. It could never make me matter. It could never give me peace. I’d been hoping for that moment since I was nine. Thank God I didn’t get it before I understood the Gospel —before I understood that a publisher saying no doesn’t change how God feels about me, and a publisher saying yes doesn’t change how God feels about me either.
Jesus Is Enough
I’m supposed to hold my first book in my hand next week. I know it will be thrilling. I’ll probably cry and squeal. And I also know that five minutes later, I’ll be administering a time-out and walking through the same heartbreaks with my same friends, and I’ll continue feeling the “pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22) that this world carries with it.
And Jesus will be enough.
My hope, my joy, my peace, and my fulfillment have nothing to do with a few pieces of paper I got to type words onto.
I have joy because Jesus has me. That’s completely it.
So, let me leave you with these words…
Therefore, and henceforth God loveth us and nary shall naught come betwixt us, amen.
Or something like that. 🙂