Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I’ve carried journals and pens and reams of loose-leaf paper with me everywhere, always. The results are strewn around my house. Any stack of books or mail inevitably contains a spiral-bound notebook or a handful of sheets of paper filled with my handwriting, angular and hurried. Language is how I make sense of my world and my God.
Because I process things with words, my own voice is the most familiar sound I know. When my mind gets a moment free of the regular demands of a day, I hear myself telling stories, piecing together recent experiences with memories and scripture and nature and literature to make something new and uniquely mine. I hear a sentence or an image I like and I keep listening to this new story, eager to learn what comes next. Or maybe I hear a word that is out of place and I back up a little to ask the storyteller to try again. I like this voice of mine. It is compassionate and tender, honest and funny. It is true.
I hear it with such regularity that I have never felt like my voice was something I needed to find. My struggle has always been believing that I should use it in a broader context, that other people might want to hear it, too. Those ink-stained reams of paper were not ever meant for public consumption. My experiences of the love and absence and miracle of God feel too intimate to share. Writing them down, turning the chaos of grief or uncertainty or joy into a steady stream of words, fills me with purpose and hope. Sharing them fills me with anxiety. Just knowing that you, BWIM blog reader, will see these words gives me palpitations.
As I live into a call to ministry, I’m learning to trust that this writer’s voice—my voice—is one that God wants me to share. The more I let my words out into the wild, the more convinced I am that this voice I’ve been hearing my whole life is the foundation of my ministerial identity. Every opportunity to teach or preach gives me the confidence to turn up the volume on my voice another notch. Every response to a personal story I share on my blog reminds me how important the words of other women have been to me. Each time I use it, I believe with a little more conviction that, in my voice, the story of God’s love might come out in just the way someone needs to hear it.
So I keep writing and pushing past the doubt that rises in my gut every time I hit “publish.”
Maybe your voice also speaks in a familiar and comforting whisper. I hope you’ll join me in trying to crank up the volume. A noisy and confusing world needs our voices to sing out over the din.
Bonnie Chappell is an ordained minister living in Huntsville, Alabama.