the time I was counseled in the English department

I am a professional at comparison, so as I write it, I have noted my tendency to down talk myself.

I have a history of down talk (just see my blog from last week, or any blog I have written). For example. I never thought myself to be a talented writer. I became an English major because my professors gave me validating feedback, while my theater professors were pushing me, pushing me with very little affirmation. Because rejection is my greatest fear, and words of affirmation is my weak spot, I switched majors. (It’s ironic because I got into theater in the first place in an act of shame resilience which helped me get through the tumultuous teenage years.)

I was still very much afraid being a creative writing major. I did not like one sentence of anything I wrote. I never have. In high school, my AP Literature teacher put an excerpt of my essay of Native Son on the overhead, and I slumped down in my chair, expecting an example of “How NEVER to Write Any Essay. Ever.” Instead, she hailed it as an example to follow and my classmates ooed and awed asking me if I planned on being an English major. Confused by this response, I was nearly relieved by the criticism I got from one smart girl who questioned my use of vocabulary.

In undergrad, I never thought much of my stories, poems, essays and feature articles. But at graduation, at an English major reception, my parents met my professors for the first time. They all told us that I should continue writing. In each subject– film criticism, journalism, memoirs, and even food writing (“I don’t know where you would get this essay on farming and faith published, but you should try.”)

With each one of them, I would get slightly embarrassed and stutter that I wasn’t that good.

That’s when it happened. My literature professor, Dr. Pollard, looked down on me in great sympathy (he was looking down because he was tall and I am very short.) He said in a very gentle and honest voice that I have a tendency to downplay my abilities. You shouldn’t have to do that, he said something of the sort. You’re very talented and you have a lot of potential.

That day I got a lot of feedback about how I saw myself versus how others saw me. A bit of counseling in the English department– a garden for cynics always making self-deprecating comments.

But after college graduation, I never pursued life as a writer. Not one bit. I spent two and a half years not writing or reading anything. Three years post-undergrad, I had a freelance gig for a local online newspaper. It was not a big thing, but I had pleasure in writing and interviewing local Italian women opening family pizza restaurants, and other quirky finds. It was an easier gig to obtain: I responded to someone I knew who posted on Facebook about needing writers — done and done. My parents tried to encourage me to go further, to extend my “freelancing.” But I couldn’t. There was a block in the road.

Rejection. I have always been scared to write in a competitive market.

High school and college gave me proper cushioning and encouragement. But the real world was vastly different.


I want to write a book.

Just saying that scares me. In saying that, I believe people will think I’m presumptuous. That I could be published, that I could make money from writing. I think my life is interesting or something.

And I have not written one page.

Book writing is my want that I am certain God has planted in me.

I blog but I consider it a lower form of the art of writing (no offense, blog community). There are very little critiques or feedback from a publisher. It’s just me. Writing whatever I want. I don’t go through anyone, I just hit a button to “publish.” To me, blog writing meets some writing need inside of me. But it’s too fast. I am always wanted to state my words in soundbites. Books are like slow food, and blogs are like McDonalds.

And I settle for McDonalds, because I do not want to put in the hard, steady, focused work of a book, just to be rejected.

Warning, Warning. We are about to dive into deeper waters. This could be another blog post, but I resist that today!

Rejection is my most frequent, nagging, self-destructive fear. I am addicted to this fear. It helps me become socialized, and it keeps me from taking freaky risks. It puts me in a “safe bubble.” But it turns out the safe bubble is a lie. It’s not actually safe.

It’s all connected to the lies I have always chosen to believe. The critical narrator inside me tells me untrustworthy things about my past.

I am not even aware of all the lies I believe. I am starting to uncover a few, but I stay in a stubborn haze because I have believed several things for a very long time.

Fear is addictive and it will not go away. It keeps me in belief of the wrong things, that tear me down and cause a kind of spiritual paralysis. I have felt this lately. In the wake of emotional processing and working through my story, my resistance comes in form of depression, where I don’t feel motivated to care or do anything.

I had a long talk with my parents last night. About my past and beliefs I have about it. It’s great that I am working through my story and getting counseling. It’s great that I am gaining shame resilience to share my story with others. But my story processing is missing a few key ingredients.

It’s missing the knowledge of God’s love.
And it’s missing courage.

Even though I am a believer, I am hard-pressed to believe that the God of the universe loves me. I pray almost regularly the prayer of the almost hopeless father– “Lord, I do not believe. Help me to believe!”

I walk every day in extreme doubt. Not that God exists. Not that Jesus died on the Cross for my sins. But that God actually loves me and not as a pity friend.

Several years ago, I went through a big faith crisis. I stopped feeling God’s pleasure and I wanted to walk away from faith completely. But over time, God showed me that I am His. He did this through community and demonstrating His love through people. And He demonstrated that Change Can Happen. But I got discouraged from choosing him. It’s like I knew He wanted me in His family, but I was not his favorite child.

I have gone through life thinking of myself as a black sheep in God’s family.

He chose me, but I need to have the courage to choose Him. Day after day, I don’t choose him because I am afraid that he doesn’t really love me. Fearing His rejection, I listen to the lies and I obey the fears.

My dad is a very wise man. I know about being “strong and courageous.” There is no other scripture I have quoted to myself more this year. But my dad told me that courage is overcoming the lies that we become stuck believing. Courage not only resists the lies, it refutes them completely.

I am not writing a book because I feel stuck. I need courage to follow through. I know that it’s been a process for me. I see examples of how I have taken courage to write some tricky blogs. For me, I know that before I write a book, I need to experience God’s love and acceptance. It is not something that I will likely be zapped with(that would make things sooo easy.)

I am slowly gaining the audacity to pursue Him, because he invites me to relationship with Him. If He simply came to me, it would be forced. But He allows me freedom to respond to His invitation. To be strong and courageous to ask for His help.

Strength does not mean self-sufficiency to choose God, it means being vulnerable to say “Your grace is sufficient for me. Your strength is made perfect in my weakness.”


3 thoughts on “the time I was counseled in the English department

  1. “Fear is addictive and it will not go away. It keeps me in belief of the wrong things, that tear me down and cause a kind of spiritual paralysis.”

    What a powerful way to describe something like that. If nothing else, I think the Holy Spirit used you to put into words something that I have been feeling the past week. Thank you for that.

    I hope and pray that one day God does choose to use you and give you the strength to share your gifts with the world.

  2. Hi Janelle–I saw this blog post come across my FB feed, and given its title I decided to read it. You remain a deeply thoughtful writer, for whom the act of writing is a form of risk-taking, and it is that risk-taking which leads you to explore your incisive insights for the spiritual and material truths you seek.

    • Dr. Pollard,

      Thank you for reading! As you may notice above, your feedback has meant a lot to me! I hope you are still teaching about food and literature. That was my favorite class I ever had to chew on. 🙂

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