The Next Day

Last night, I got to celebrate the official launch of my book, Red State Christians, with a book launch party in Minneapolis complete with my name on the marquee!

I decided to continue the excitement this morning by scheduling a filling at the dentist's office at 7:30, which means that now half my mouth is still numb, I can't talk or eat, and I haven't had any coffee.

So, you know, just living the dream over here.

If you're asking yourself, Who schedules a cavity filling the morning after their book launch party?

That is definitely a valid question and one I was also asking myself this morning. Nonetheless, it illustrates a pertinent point. Life goes on.

No matter how high the highs or how low the lows, life goes on. We have to get up, carry on, and live. Plus, at least it was only one cavity.

And at least I have the luxury of going to the dentist at all.

Really, what made this morning harder is that I spent most of the night awake. As an introverted, overly empathetic person - being surrounded in a room by so much love and support from dear friends and family - I had to take some time to process and relax before I could consider sleeping. 

When I finally did fall asleep, after making frozen spring rolls at 10:30 p.m., I woke up with a start at 2:30 a.m. with my mind racing. I was thinking about the fact that I'd scheduled another book event in the area in a few weeks, and there was no way anyone would come to that one - after all, so many of my loved ones had already come tonight.

Almost immediately, I started to hear whispers:
Why are you doing this?
Why didn't you just get a normal job?
Why are you trying to do something that requires you to be in the center of it all, trying to get people to come to events? You hate parties. You aren't meant to be the center of attention.

In that moment, all I wanted was to hide - to throw away the red dress I'd worn to my all my book events and put on black basketball shorts and a t-shirt and a baseball hat and cower in the corner, writing down observations and picking up on silent signals and doing all the things that made me a great observer and journalist but a sometimes-hesitant presenter.

Writers have the odd fashion of laying themselves bare on the page, but then being surprised when that nakedness is revealed in real life when people actually read your writing. I've had that experience before as a journalist and essayist, but I felt it more acutely when it came to the release of my first book, especially among close family and friends. 

My friend Lenny Duncan, author of Dear Church, described it this way: "a vulnerability hangover."

I found his words accurate last night, as my mind railed against the reality of my book being real. 

Who do you think you are? 

That was probably the question at the root of it, my old friend imposter syndrome paying me a visit, suggesting that, OK, I'd had my fun, now it was time to be real and get a real job and stop playing author. The party was over. I'd done the best I could; now it was time to get real.

Something else happened yesterday, though, hours before the book party began. In between refreshing my book's Amazon page and my Twitter account, I took a moment to pray about the reading I should share that evening.

My mind took me back to the border town of El Paso, where I visited in May 2018 and crossed my own borders and changed my own perspective and learned, anew, what following Jesus really meant.

Pastor Rose Mary Guzman's church in El Paso

My mind took me to last weekend's mass shooting at the El Paso Wal-Mart, at the mall where I went to buy sunscreen, before heading to church that dusty spring evening.

My mind took me to the sadness and the stubborn hope in the faces of the El Pasoans I knew, working in the reality of refugees and asylum seekers and children and family members who worked for the Border Patrol and served in the military. They had to make compromises and work together in El Paso - their lives and their city and their country depended on their ability to work together, and so they had - stubbornly resisting a national narrative that compelled them to hate each other, until that national narrative drove nine hours from Dallas and shot up the mall.

I realized, as I read yesterday afternoon, in a graphic t-shirt and biker shorts, putting off the moment when I'd change for the evening and become an official author - that while I cringed under the marquee and centrality of my book and my story at a party surrounded by my family and friends - my voice became strong again when I remembered the stories.

This is exactly who I think I am. I listen, to God and to people, and I tell true stories.

The stories and the people and Jesus strengthen my voice in the moments when it quavers and I tell myself I shouldn't be here at all, because they remind me that I'm here to carry the message - here to tell their truth and maybe, God willing, the truth.

So last night I read from my chapter about El Paso. I said how Pastor Rose Mary Guzman ministered in a little Spanish-speaking Lutheran church just a few blocks from the Mexican border. I told how she struggled with racism, the racism she'd uncovered in herself as a light-skinned Bolivian, the racism she saw toward the asylum seekers she met at the border, the racism that tried to tear her town apart. I told how she found redemption and connection in the other pastors of downtown El Paso, Southern Baptists and Evangelical church planters with whom she formed a coalition for border issues. 

I read at the party last night about Pastor Ariel Martinez, Liberty University distance learning student and grandson, son and brother of U.S. military veterans. Second-generation Mexican immigrant on his mother's side. Conservative Evangelical. Pastor to Border Patrol officers. Colleague of DACA recipients. Truth-teller.

I heard a hush last night when I read these words from Ariel Martinez, El Pasoan: "I think the most important thing to remember is that they're people. The asylum seekers coming across are people. It's easy to call names or put people in categories, but they're people first, and we do need to have compassion."

I want to write those words again: "I think the most important thing to remember is that they're people. The asylum seekers coming across are people. It's easy to call names or put people in categories, but they're people first, and we do need to have compassion."

Pastor Ariel's words ring out across not only my entire book but my entire mission, as I walk down a road uncertain and unclear, a future that looks different than I once expected - but a future still marked by the ones I love most: Ben, Jake, Josh, Mom, Dad.

I remember as I read Ariel's words that it's not about the red dress or the marquee or Amazon sales or how much debt I can pay off or if this grand experiment in book writing marks a life change or a brief aberration.

Instead I'm filled with a sense of purpose - to remind myself and others of the depth of our humanity, the innate goodness deigned to us from the beginning of creation - and that seeing it in ourselves and in others might just change America - as it changed God in Jesus.

We are people, all of us.

As you, today, fulfill your own purpose and battle your own imposter syndrome that says you are everything but what you are called and destined to be - a gift in these words from author Toni Morrison, who died yesterday at age 88.

"Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try. For our sake and yours tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. ... Don't tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief's wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear's caul." - Toni Morrison


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