I hate country music. Yes, even (more accurately--especially) Taylor Swift. So you can imagine how dismaying it is to me that I have a certain 'country' quality to my singing voice. If I'd ever wanted to pursue singing professionally my best bet would've been in the twangy genre of my middle American heritage. That was not an option.
My country girl pipes emerge most often when I'm around my little brother, who also has a natural country sound and a perplexing affection for this style of music. Its like an irresistible force when we sing together. One minute I'm a perfectly reasonable person and the next I'm slapping my knee and sliding into every note.
But most of the time my voice expresses itself best with a melodic ballad or soulful hymn. And on really special occasions its belting out Bach with a chorus of voices.
So what is my true voice?
Who Am I? (and other fluffy questions)
This is what I've been asking myself for the last year. Not about my singing voice, but about my writing voice. My speaking voice. In essence, I've been analyzing again "Who am I, what do I have to say, and what is the most authentic way to say it?"
This is proving more difficult than I expected because, as with my singing voice, I can authentically express myself in a number of ways. In any given week I'm likely to be writing management tips in the morning, creating Bible Study tools in the afternoon and blogging about parenting in the evening. Some days I feel compelled to write about whats wrong with the church and other days I just want to tell you how much I love Jesus. And there are seasons when I feel ready to share the successes in my journey and others when I'm laying bare my failures. So, how in the hell do I figure out what to say and how to say it? (And, yes, some of my voices include mild profanity--sorry mom!)
Truth be known, this is largely a result of being told my writing was 'complainy' and 'demoralizing' by a large publishing company. In case you are wondering--that was definitely not the voice I was going for.
I'm much more likely to be criticized for being Pollyanna-ish than pessimistic so I was forced to rethink my strategy. As I reviewed my writing of late I came to the conclusion that its possible I'm confusing my voices. You know--trying to sing country using my choir voice.
As a woman, I am quite adept at exhibiting the behaviors I believe are expected from me and that makes clarifying my unique and authentic voice a bit more complicated. At different times I've had a fair amount of peace around this and I wish I could just settle it, once and for all. But apparently, this must be done in stages. Bleh!
Prayer and Process of Elimination
As with any situation involving lots of choices, I find it easiest to start with crossing off some of the less ideal ones. So I have eliminated some potential 'voices' from the running. I know I'm not a cultural activist (Rachel Held Evans) or spiritual giant (Beth Moore) or Christian lifestyle leader (Jen Hatmaker) or researcher (Brene' Brown) or poet and political activist (Anne Lamont) or sweet, creative encourager (Ann Voskamp).
But now that I know who I'm not, I'm going to have to do the work of clarifying who I am. And that is freaking me out a bit. What I do know is my story involves no great tragedy or social issue. It is supremely ordinary. And I don't want to whine about it!
So I'm praying as I write and working harder at finding my voice for this season. The one God gave me for such a time as this. And I've promised him I'll sing as loudly as I can or as softly as he asks--even if he suggests I add some twang.
How about you? Do you know your voice? How did you find it?
In my next blog I'll share a few principles that are helping me clarify my voice in this new season. Hope you'll stay tuned.
This week we dropped Caleb off at his new life. Without us. But, frankly, its better that way.
Here are the top ten reasons why:
10. He was starting to like country music so we were going to have to kick him out eventually anyway
9. Cade no longer complains about how long it takes Caleb to get ready for school each morning
8. A gallon of milk goes farther (further?)
7. No wet, smelly towels left in the van after surfing
6. No more lengthy discussions about what college will be like
5. Those bulky surfboards are finally out of our garage
4. More hot water is available for showers in the morning
3. I only have to pay for one band trip this year (not sure we break even on that one)
2. The drums are silent
And the number one reason its better that he's gone is...(drum roll please)
No need to plan a birthday party for him this year.
And that's why I haven't gone a day without crying.
In our family, we love to watch the first weeks of American Idol. The train wreck portion of the show. We know its all staged, but we can't look away as person after person sings their heart out--poorly. We're left asking, "Where are her friends? Who let her believe she could carry a tune? Why didn't her parents protect her from this delusion?" Of course, that's all part of the drama.
I often fear I'm deluded. So, to insure that I don't make the same mistake as thousands of American Idol hopefuls , I study people's reaction to me very closely. I've learned to read when their words don't match their body language and I've placed a high value on the opinion of others. When I ask Richard "Do I look fat in these jeans?" He knows its a setup. I can tell what he thinks before he even speaks.
This pathology isn't all bad. I'm open to feedback and it allows me to grow. I surround myself with good counsel and it helps me make better decisions.
But what about when the judges disagree?
If you've ever seen the show, or one of the many knock-offs, you know that sometimes the judges have different opinions about the contestant's talent or potential. For a person like me, this is a conundrum. I like unanimous affirmation. Some people like the challenge of proving people wrong, of overcoming their objections. I think that sounds like a lot of work that could potentially end up in failure.
But nothing of value comes from so little effort.
The Journey or the Prize?
Many of you know I have a book proposal making the rounds at publishing houses around the country. Earlier this year, one of the smaller publishers made an offer on it. However, in the meantime I'd decided that wasn't the book I wanted to write and we withdrew the proposal so I could make some changes. A few weeks ago we resubmitted the proposal. I was pretty excited about the changes and we received some very positive feedback from the initial query. Photo Cred
Sure enough, one of the big publishers was quick to get back with some feedback. I was in a conversation with my son when I saw the email notification from my agent. My insides started to churn. I couldn't keep myself from hope. This might be it!
I paused Caleb in mid-sentence and went to my inbox. Yes, I was talking to Caleb with my computer in front of me. In my defense, I was working when he came in to talk. Plus, he was going to be very proud of his mom in just a few seconds so this faux pas would be forgiven.
As I skimmed the email looking for the words "loved your proposal" and "made an offer", I became aware that I wasn't breathing. My brain seemed to be floating away from my body and the room started to spin. "False alarm." I stammered to Caleb. "They don't want my book."
But that was an understatement. I finished the conversation with Caleb and went back to the email. This publisher didn't just pass on my book, they seemed intent on dissuading me from the whole writing game. My first thought was, "How did I miss the signs? I must have been delusional to think I could do this."
I toyed with the idea of sharing this rejection with you only after I was sitting comfortably with an actual offer. How dramatic that would be. And, inspirational.
But this is reality. I may never get an offer. And, I'm learning that a book deal may not be the primary reason God had me in the process in the first place. (Although, I'm really hoping it is a by-product.)
Something is different and God used this event to show me what he's doing in me.
The first hours were tough. I wondered if I'd ever feel good about myself again. Or, at least, my writing. But I decided to let myself experience the hurt and the pain. Not push it down or pretend that "sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me." On the contrary, I was acutely aware of the power of words. I made a couple of attempts to read my proposal; to see if I could fix it and make these people like me. But I was too anxious, too wounded to view it objectively. So I went for a run, hung out with my kids, played a game on my iPad. I talked with God and cried with my husband and then went to bed.
I woke up feeling less anxious, but hardly back to normal. I have a morning routine that involves writing three pages of longhand ideas and thoughts each day. I didn't feel like writing. I stared at the blank pages for a long while, silently justifying a pass for this daily discipline. I picked up the pen and wrote a paragraph. I stopped to feel sorry for myself. I picked up the pen and started writing again. But this time I'd decided to suck it up and keep going. What is a discipline for if not for the days you don't feel like it? By the end of the exercise I had processed through my next steps. And the anxiety was gone.
I called my agent (who confirmed that the feedback was unusually harsh) and shared my potential modifications. She agreed and I got to work.
And it was done. A miracle. I was at peace. Not defined by someone else's opinion of me or my work and still able to learn from it.
This must be what it feels like to be a grown up.
Whales leave a trail of chaos. And... It. Is. Awesome!
Today when Richard and I arrived at the beach so our old and stubborn dog could chase a ball, we were greeted by hundreds and hundreds of birds in the water. It was a little unsettling. I felt like the odds of getting pooped on were very high.
Both of us wondered what all the commotion was about, but only Richard was willing to stop another spectator and ask what was going on. I don't know why I have such an averse reaction to his inquisitiveness--it was a perfectly acceptable response, but I hate bothering strangers. I prefer to stand quietly behind a group of bystanders, hoping they're talking about the thing I'm questioning so I can gather the necessary information without having to speak to anyone. That's not creepy at all.
Anyway...thankfully Richard asked the right person and we got a short marine biology lesson in the process. First of all,--there were whales in the bay. Jackpot! I was going to see whales today. More on that later. Apparently when whales travel through the bay this near the shore, they disturb the kelp beds in a rather violent fashion. This brings all sorts of debris, fish, bugs, crustaceans (a.k.a food) to the surface, creating a feeding frenzy. Yum! And it wasn't just birds. There were seals everywhere. One so near the shore that our aforementioned old and stupid, er...stubborn, dog tried to swim after it. Very sad to watch her swim in circles after the seal disappeared under the surface.
But back to the kelp beds. Just yesterday I had been out stand up paddle boarding with Caleb and commented on the smoothness of the water in the middle of large kelp beds. As soon as we navigated through one of these areas, the water became less choppy and the current seemed less forceful. Perfect for a calm day of paddle boarding. But today, not so much. Today the kelp beds were teeming with life. What was not good for a recreational cruise was a huge celebration for marine life.
And, sure enough, within minutes there were whales. A couple of them straight ahead. Their long, shimmering backs cresting just above the water line, then gracefully disappearing before the final show of power--the tail rising and descending like a conductor's baton eliciting a dramatic crescendo.
Over and over. More chaos. More beauty. More awe.
I really like a calm kelp bed. I usually prefer to sit on the beach and watch when there are disturbances of this size occurring. But today I found myself drawn in. Wishing I were closer. Less afraid of turbulent waters and more open to the new life that follows in its wake. Because, while it is terrifying and messy and more than I can control, the beauty it displays and the transformation it produces are not to be missed.
Here's to more beautiful disturbances!
Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner. I Peter 4:12,13 (MSG)
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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