Charlotte and Our Coming of Age

I’ve not really been honest with myself about Charlotte’s Web; it is one of my favorites in all the libraries of the world, and I wanted to share it with my children. But I just didn’t want Charlotte to die ever again.  Not on my watch.

So just before the Zuckermans and Arables took the trip to the county fair, I stopped reading aloud. I set it aside, and we started reading something else. And I silently apologized to them, knowing someday they would have to know how Charlotte’s story ends.

Tonight, we were just going to watch something short, simple, and measured to end the day. But then I saw that we could watch Charlotte’s Web, the live version with Dakota Fanning at her finest and Julia Roberts as the most demure voice over.  Suddenly, I was okay with stretching the bedtime rule.

Now as we sat, piled under one blanket, my younger son could sense an unhappy ending, straight away. “Mommy, is the spider going to die? Charlotte? You have to tell me. You’ve read the whole book. I have to know.”

I debated, and then decided that if I couldn’t be brave enough to read the truth to him, I could at least brace him for the truth to come in the next 118 minutes. “She does, buddy.”

He stiffened. “How?”

“She just dies. It’s the end of her life.”

“But who kills her?”

“Nobody’s going to kill her. But at the end, she’s going to die.”

He worried for most of the movie, checking in with me every few minutes to see if this is the scene when Charlotte will go away. It’s just that he knows what this means. He knows on a grander, greater scale.

Then he started to ask more specific, careful questions, and I realized what he really needed to know: “Will Templeton be kind later? Will Wilbur get to keep all of Charlotte’s babies? I have to know, Mommy – who will be Wilbur’s friend when Charlotte dies?”

When the moment came, when we watched Charlotte close her eyes, I confess this to you, here and now: I watched my children instead of the movie. Because if there’s a moment when books come to life, it’s when a child realizes how much he has come to love Charlotte.

Then all of Charlotte’s babies are born, and they drift away into the sky, they catch the breeze and go wherever the please, and Wilbur stands with his front two feet in the slop trough, and he says, “But, wait. Wait. There’s so much I wanted to tell you. And someone I wanted to tell you about.” And my heart felt so swollen I nearly choked.

The boys are in bed, after this coming-of-age evening that we will all three of us remember. My heart is full.

Charlotte, you are the most beautiful.

* * *

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”

~ e. b. white

(If one could choose her own epitaph.)

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My Heart In the Marketplace

“What comes up, way down at the bottom, is that my heart is still broken from bringing out Writing Down the Bones.”  I gasp. I clutch at my heart. What is this you say, Natalie Goldberg? Broken hearted from producing Writing Down the Bones?

This is the book I have bought so many times over, and I’ve given these copies to many of my friends who could be writing or should be writing or I just want them to think about writing for my own selfish motive of getting to read their words.

And here, in her book Thunder and Lightning, she begins with a warning: she has never gotten over the heartbreak of writing that beloved book that sits tattered on my cover and sewn into my writing life.

“All I feel is aching. I was so innocent – I didn’t know what it meant to put my heart in the marketplace,” she says.

Well, if ever some words will stop me in my tracks, it is these from my favorite writing mentor as my book will be released in something just over 20 days.

Is my heart about to break? Do I have no idea how innocent I am, and will I only learn of my naivete when I’ve put my heart in the marketplace?

And Life Comes Back is generous in all it gives away. Some of my first critics have said, “Oh, Tricia, your vulnerability. I read with a lump in my throat, so aware of all that you were so generously giving away.” And, “I read thinking, ‘sweet girl, you’ve said so much.'” Indeed, I have said so much.

Metaphorically speaking, my heart is about to be available everywhere books are sold.

My friend Natalie Goldberg (you know how I call my favorite authors by their first name once we’ve become so deeply acquainted? I somehow always call her by her first and last. Natalie Goldberg. Always Natalie Goldberg.) continues on that same page, “And now this? Art leads to suffering? But it was true. I’d seen it again and again. I don’t know any writer who’s happy. But what else is there to do?”

I ask the same question: But what else is there to do? Live silently, quietly, and let nothing come of the truth that I know?

Not write? Ha. As if.

Many people have asked me in the last week or so, “Are you ready, Trish?” “Are you ready for your books to hit the shelves?” “Are you prepared?” “Have you done all the things you can do to get ready for the big release?”

Well, I have no idea, you scary people who think out loud.

I feel like I’m standing at the edge of the water, watching the tide roll in. “A wave is coming,” everyone says. “Are you ready? Get ready! Brace yourself!”

How do you prepare yourself for such a tidal sloshing?

Well, in my summers at the beach and my honeymoons at the ocean, I’ve learned just a little about the waves. The greatest lesson is this: if I resolve to stand still and keep my toes firmly planted in the sand, then first of all, the sand is going to erode beneath the soles of my feet in a creepy-crawly way that feels like something is eating at my foundations. And then, even as I stand where I am and fight the current, I’ll get knocked to the ground, the sand will burn its signature into my knees elbows and left shoulder, and I’ll come up sputtering and coughing salt water.

But. If I go a little deeper and let the water wash over me, if I pick up my feet and roll with the waves, if I keep in mind that this is bigger than me, then I’m in for a great and wild ride for however long the wave will roll. That’s the rush that keeps me coming back for more, wave after wave, day after day, summer after summer.

My first book is released in a matter of days. So, my heart could get broken, sure. Natalie Goldberg’s certainly did.

But here’s what I know: when the clock strikes midnight and the calendar turns to February 18, the day of the grand release, I’ll be the same girl. I’ll pack lunches and take my kids to school, if I’m lucky we will arrive just after the second bell, and I will come back home, pour a hearty amount of cream into my morning coffee, and start writing again.

God will do what he will do, and there’s no controlling the waves around me.

So I might as well kick up my feet and feel the rush.

Somehow I Didn’t Punch Him In the Neck

So, remember when I was all lit about about the book When We Were on Fire?

And I invited all of you to read it and join me for a giant book club discussion over lattes and scones at the world’s biggest Starbucks which might just be in my imagination and an ethereal dream?

I’m still pretty fired up about this memoir.

(No pun intended.)  (Okay, yes it was.)  (It always is.)

Addie Zierman has become one of my favorite authors and contemporary theologians, and (…wait for it…) she invited me to write a guest post on her blog, to her audience, for the people who call her well-written and wise.

Today is the debut: Somehow I Didn’t Punch Him In the Neck.

Please go to Addie’s blog, and give yourself the pleasure of a virtual stroll.  Give her some love.

And order her book.

 

Christians Suck Sometimes.

“Christians kind of suck sometimes,” I said, holding her hand.

“Oh, I know this.”

“I know you know, because you haven’t been loved well. But here’s what I want you to know: there are many of us who are mean and judging and hurtful. But those are just Christians behaving badly. That’s not God. That’s not his heart for you, or what he wants for you – and it’s not what he wants from us.”

Her eyes filled with tears.

“Oh, my friend,” I whispered.  “He just loves you. He is not the author of shame, confusion, or fear. When you feel those, you can know they are not from God, and they are not what he wants for you. Someone else gave that to you, handed it to you, placed it on you. But not God.”

She cried.

***

“Why do Christians suck so much?” I ask loudly when I can finally speak, because the moment of striking loneliness always brings me back here. To church. To the places where I am most wounded. I look at Miles, angry, my breath a mix of alcohol and dark roast.

“I don’t know,” Miles sighs. “They just sometimes do.”

I put my coffee down and put my head in my hands.

“I know what you’re going through,” he says quietly. “I mean, I’ve been there.”

“Why did you go back?” I mumble into my hands. I mean to the faith. To Church People. To the college on Snelling with the required biblical studies major and the ridiculous visiting hours and the rule about not dancing. To the people who look at you suspiciously, who wait for you to fail.

Miles thinks about it for a moment. “Because some of them don’t suck. Some of them understand what Jesus is all about. Some of them will love you without a thought.”

~ Addie Zierman, When We Were On Fire: 

A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over*

 

*I am in love with this memoir.  Addie writes about her journey of growing up in an evangelical environment, of cliches and guidelines that carry great meaning but are often divorced from the Scripture that they were originally derived from.  She comes of age and realizes that all of these words, cliches, rules, and contracts are not actually directives from God.  And it revolutionizes her thinking.

I would like to send a mass email to everyone from my youth group, summer camp, and college community.  I would say, Please read this and then let’s all meet at a giant Starbucks so we can talk about it.  I totally want to hear your thoughts.  And maybe we can each drop a line to the influencers in our lives who taught us how to think, not what to think.

If you grew up in the evangelical subculture, and you’ve ever questioned if any or all of it is legit, please read this book.  Stat.