Friday, October 5, 2012

Define Your Motivation

If my post today borders on the morbid, it's only because Latayne's post on near-death experiences on Wednesday started the juices flowing.  It's amazing how many water-related mishaps readers have in common, and I can completely relate. I remember swimming in the Chesapeake Bay and getting just a bit too far from shore, clutching my friend's inner tube and her screaming "Help!" because I was pulling her under with me.  I felt both desperate fear and humiliation, wishing she would stop calling attention to us, which is, or course, what saved us both.

Later, as an adult, I faced not just the possibility of death, but ran the whole gamut of 'what-ifs,' 'whys' and 'why me-s' when a routine mammogram revealed a suspicious shadow that turned out to be cancer.  That was 14 years ago. I'm grateful that I had the presence of mind to journal my experience.  That, and hindsight, have helped me to sort things out a bit.

I never really questioned why I should be the one to get sick.  Rain falls on the just and the unjust and I'm nobody special. My 'why me' concern was more of a 'why me now.'  My kids were in elementary school.  It was rotten timing.  But that fact in itself was incentive to stay positive and keep things as normal as possible at home while facing treatment. 

It's interesting that when people find out you've been diagnosed, they feel compelled to share all the negative things they know about cancer.  I don't know why. Everyone knows somebody whose experience was off the charts.  It can be pretty disheartening.  But the Lord spoke to me through my sister-in-law, who called me out of the blue and said, "Don't take everyone's horror stories as your own. Your experience can be very different."  Her husband's story was different.  As it turned out, mine was, too.

On the positive side, the experience resulted in my first by-line.  Because of that nugget of wisdom she shared with me, and of what I learned about God's great love, I was able to write an upbeat personal experience article for Coping With Cancer magazine and saw my name in print for the first time.  Later, I was able to share about my experience with women who were facing challenges in their lives, and not necessarily cancer. 

So I'm finally getting to the point of this post.  In my journal during that time, there is a raw observation of how I felt when the realization finally hit me that my future was uncertain.  I wrote that I felt like I was standing in a long hallway and all the doors were shut to me.  I was completely alone with no way out.  I knew that my family could support and encourage me, but they could not experience my illness for me.   (This is the morbid part, but stay with me)  At that point, I fully realized that we come into the world alone and when we go out, we stand alone before God. 

We don't like to think about that.  At least, I don't.  I think most of us largely define ourselves by the relationships we have with others.  I'm Don's wife and the mother of  Zephr and Galadriel (fake names so I won't hear about it later).  I could tell you about my  90-year-old mother and my sisters and on and on, and the people I work and worship with.  We find comfort in associations, safety in numbers and all that.  When we're faced with the realization that we alone will answer for our actions and inactions, it can scare the heck out of us or light a fire under us.  Maybe both.

I'm not suggesting that we get to heaven by what we do or don't do.  The Bible is clear that Jesus paid the price for my sin and I am grateful.  But I sure don't want to embarrass myself or let Him down, or shuffle my feet and stare at the ground when He asks what I've done with my talents.

So, whatever we feel God has given us to do, are we doing it?  As writers, if we feel called to write and have received confirmation that we're on the right track, are we seriously applying ourselves?  Some say they have a passion to write, but passion burns out.  What then? We each must clearly define our motivation in order to stick with it through the dry spells and the occasional disappointing review and the poor sales figure, and it doesn't take a near-death experience. If it's clearly a calling, it can't be treated as a hobby.  I need to be reminded of my motivation from time to time in order to stay on track.  What is your motivation for writing, or for whatever God has called you to do?  We'd love to hear.

P.S. This is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Go get a mammogram ;-)


Patti Hill said...

Debbie, I had no idea you had lived my worst fear. Cancer of the life-sucking variety was the fear of my younger days. I'm so glad your story had a happy ending. Very, very glad because I'm the richer for knowing you.

As for my motivation for writing--I'd flitted from one creative pursuit to another until I finally listened to God, sometimes through others and sometimes a still small voice, and put pen to paper. It hasn't been easy. To complete a novel, I have to be alone more than I like and sit more than I like. And success for me has had to be measured differently because "bestseller" has never been attached to my name. Motivation is at times obedience, gleeful joy over a story idea, or because I can't think of anything else I would rather do. I'm a storyteller.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Thanks Debbie! This helps. At the end of the summer my story was flying high. Inspiration flowed like Greek honey, thick, dark and healing. With the recent trauma I haven't looked at it. Last night I had a little time to myself and I promised I would just read it, just let it settle. And wouldn't you know, I was immediately into the groove again.
The union with God is my motivation. Writing is praying, communing, intertwining with the Lover of my soul. He is so sweet and gentle and humourous and gracious. He remembers that I am dust. I remember that He is All.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Patti: Yes - 'sitting alone longer than you'd like'. To that I would add putting on weight. Ugh! The sedentary life of a writer + the stress of a deadline + anxiety of getting it right = craving sweets for me.
Henrietta: Union with God is a great motivator. Sweet!

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Oh, Debbie, I hear ya about the weight. Ugh, indeed! I'm thinking about getting a treadmill desk!

What keeps me going in the writing life? Oh, people. I really believe that I have the best support in the whole world. Friends and family who cheer for me. Readers who have quickly become friends. A publisher and editor who believe in me (enough to take a huge risk with me). Kids who need to see their mama living her dream (even if success is measured differently than the world sees it). And my Jeff. He is amazing. God gave me a great gift in that man. He pushes me. Believes in me without question.

I write because I love it and it is my calling. I keep going, even when the pump is sucking mud, because I have a really great cheerleading squad.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Susie, it is wonderful to have support from those close to you when you're trying to carve out time to write. I love what you said about kids needing to see you living your dream. What a great example of perseverance we moms and dads can be to our kids!

Amelia said...

Debbie, I've been wrestling through this whole what's my motivation and why do I write and is it my calling for a few months now. Thank you for sharing your story and your perspective. It moved me deeply. I'm so thankful your story ended well. Not long ago I was having this conversation with my husband moaning about how sometimes I wish I didn't "have" to write and how some people don't have this compulsion. And then he clarified, "compulsion" or "calling." I had to admit, yes, calling. Then my 5 yo son said, "You mean some people stay at home and don't go out and fight?" It was a random statement, and Kedron and I looked at each other and I knew. I knew I'd been called to fight for God's truths and His words. Humbling.

Megan Sayer said...

Wow Debbie. Wow.
Latayne's post made me think along very similar lines the other day, that reminder that I AM alive, and I may very well not be, and that life is a gift and I need to use it to the best of my ability, because there may not ever be a "next time" in this life.
My own breast cancer experience was probably a year before yours. I was 23. I didn't have kids yet, but I had to face the possibility that treatment would leave me unable to have them at all. I went through a lot of the same emotions that you describe here, all the horror stories, and all the people who say "but you'll be fine!" when in reality there's no way, with cancer, of knowing whether you will be or not.
The thing for me though, the amazing thing, is this: I only discovered the lump in my breast because I checked them for the first time this one day, and the only reason I checked them was because I was doing research for my first novel in which a character died of cancer. I can say completely truthfully and with a good deal of awe at the grace of God, if I hadn't written that first novel I probably would be either dead or dying by now. The lump had metastasised by the time they'd finished diagnosing me. I didn't know that women under the age of 40 needed to check their breasts. I'm still not 40. If it wasn't for that I still wouldn't have checked.

I guess that's kind of a near-death experience. I do feel like I've been given my life back, and that I have a responsibility that goes along with that, not to simply be motivated and write stories, but to tell the hard stories, the ones that I'd really rather stay safe and not tell - because that's what God's put on my heart. Ouch. But you don't get many second chances in life, and when I see beautiful women around me who do die because they weren't diagnosed in time I'm reminded again that everything, EVERYTHING I have is a gift, and I need to use it wisely.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Amelia: I believe God speaks through our kids sometimes. A comment by my daughter got me back on track early on when I didn't really believe I had what it took to write. I think we need both the compulsion and the calling. The calling by itself is hard!
Megan: Wow - that's a great story. What a gracious God we have! I'm so glad your experience had a positive ending and I hope you have opportunities to help other women through it.

Samantha Bennett said...

So much to love about this. It is so easy for me to define myself through relationships, and I like how you sift through all that here. Motivational indeed. Gracias!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

I'm squirming just a little. Been hearing a very similar message from a few different sources lately. Could God be trying to tell me something? I know I need to hear it. Very challenging - thanks, Debbie.

And I've loved reading all the stories. Megan, not too many people can say that writing literally saved them. I love that. Wow!

Kathleen Popa said...

Wonderful stories here. Karen, you and me both.

S. F. Foxfire said...

Whoa. That's amazing, Debbie. Good for you, girl! :D You're a survivor, tried and true.

I would have to say my motivation has a couple of parts to it. One reason would be that I find words within my blood and I can't help but bleed them onto the page, because I've been given so many confirmations about my gift of language that I took it as God shining a big neon sign in front of me: WRITE.

The other reason would have to be curiosity. I can't wait to see how stories pan out and how characters will surprise me. Which romances bloom where--not always foreseen--and how plot twists, and how the mundane, obscure details can be so symbolic and have such powerful meaning in the end. I can't help myself: To quote Dorothy Parker, "There is no cure for curiosity."

I'm praying for all you ladies here at Novel Matters. Thank you for encouraging me in the dry spells and reigniting my writing flame at times when the coal sputtered near death.