Prayer, Creativity & Faith

Why I write down my stories

Not long ago, I re-read an old book. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was different than I remembered. I mean, some things made me cringe a teensy bit—but I found myself reading stories I’d forgotten, totally interested to see what happened. I was blown away by the confidence of the writer, her assurances and profound faith, her love for God. I found myself inspired, but also flummoxed.

Because strangely enough, that writer was me.

A while back, the ebook rights for Praying Upside Down reverted to me. I thought it would be easy to copy and paste from the PDF into the new format, but the text came through with all sorts of wonky formatting. I put off the meticulous work for months and months, not realizing how much time had passed. I knew I’d get to it *someday*. (Can I get an amen?).

As I traveled recently to Colorado to visit my grandkids (and their parents), I took advantage of the down time on the plane to wade through the Word document, checking paragraph breaks and the location of callout quotes and so on. I had to read every word to catch all of the extra characters and formatting, and along the way I found myself drawn in, almost against my will.

In recent years, I’ve been grappling with my faith, and if you read my newsletter, you may be tired of hearing about it. (Honestly, I’m tired of it, too.) At the same time, it feels inauthentic to be anything but upfront about that. My theology has evolved a bit, and to be honest I was afraid to read this again because of my trepidation about what I might have written back in 2013.

As I’ve changed churches and been embraced by a very different denomination and faith environment, I often feel like an imposter. I’m too progressive to fit in an evangelical world, and too evangelical to really 100% fit in a progressive church. I don’t always know who I am and my faith doesn’t fit in a tidy litle box. And it terrifies me to say that, because I’m afraid you’ll close this book right now, whichever side of that equation you are on. Please bear with me. That’s not what this book is about.

I worry that I might use some of the “in-the-club” language that leaves so many in the church feeling excluded and now turns me off. I’m afraid that some of my assertions about what is “right” might become a stumbling block for those who interpret their faith differently. I have written about my devotion to the church that, I now recognize, has made so many feel unwelcome, or worse, victimized and traumatized and unseen. I’m a little embarrassed by some of the things I once accepted. I harbor vague feelings of resentment when I have to, grudgingly, agree with certain teachings that were part of my old world. I kind of wish I could just throw it all away and start fresh.

And yet. (Yet is one of those amazing words—three little letters that introduce the enormous possibility of hope.) And yet, Praying Upside Down ministered to me. I really do believe prayer matters. I may not feel the same levels of confidence I once did that God will actively intervene and change the course of events. I recognize that some of the many approaches to prayer can be misinterpreted and lead to a crisis of faith. I’m not saying the underlying assumptions are necessarily “wrong,” just that it’s entirely possible to take some of the teachings in that world and end up in a crisis of faith by misapplying them.

For example… If “where two or more are gathered” means God hears us only when we’re with other people, then we must need to recruit hundreds to pray with us, because one person’s prayers won’t make a difference. Or if we don’t hear from God, maybe our faith is too weak. Or perhaps we harbor unconfessed sin that is keeping God from answering. Or when others say God healed their loved one, but we’re staring at a parent’s tombstone, God must not be good after all. Or maybe God isn’t really that all-knowing or all-caring. Or maybe He doesn’t heal after all. When my prayers aren’t answered, maybe it means God doesn’t love me as much as he loves the next person.

I found myself humbled—and chastened—as I confronted my own stories of faith, even with the unresolved questions. Because no matter what the cynic in me wants to believe, I cannot deny those stories.

I’ll tell you the truth: I don’t know how to get back to that place of confidence and assurance from which I originally wrote this book. And I think maybe that’s okay. Maybe the whole point of faith is to help us grow and evolve, to teach us new things and show us where we have fallen short. To help us see our lives from a place of grace, not one of condemnation.

Even back when I wrote this, I had questions about prayer. I didn’t want prayer to “work” because that would force me to admit I’d been wrong—and yet it did work. (I may define “working” differently now—I’ve come to think of it more in terms of changing me and drawing me closer to God than actually changing the outcome of a situation.) But the fact is that those prayers, and that time of my life, instilled in me a deep, profound love of God. It taught me the grace that I now have to offer to those who have hurt me or whom I have hurt. And the forgiveness I sometimes need to offer myself.

And it’s reminded me that I have seen God, experienced God, and witnessed God’s gracious and merciful hand.

I have been taught by people who passionately, desperately, authentically loved God and who shared what they believed because they believed it would change my life, just as it had changed theirs. And it did.

This process of discovery simply reinforces something I’ve always held to be true: that writing down our stories is important.

They don’t have to be published to matter. They don’t have to ever be seen by anyone else. Over time, as we tell (and retell) our stories, they may evolve. Some things become more important; others go by the wayside. We can develop an immunity to the spiritual power of our stories because we’ve told them too many times, or we might retroactively apply new opinions and teachings to old events, changing how we view them.

My old stories don’t fit the narrative I feel like I’m living now. But I’m able to see now that I’ve chosen to put up the walls I have in place. I’ve chosen to vocalize my skepticism.

And yet, these are still my stories. Reading my own words has washed away some of the slightly misremembered moments, revealing new (old) insights, recalibrating what I know as “truth.”

I wouldn’t have believed you if you had told me this before I sat back down and reread this book. But I kind of have to believe myself.

Our words matter. Our stories matter. They help us hold true to the things we know—and the things we once knew. So keep that journal. Write down your stories. The moments that formed your faith, the ones that challenged it, the times when it changed. You never know when those words will soothe the hurting parts of your soul and help you get back on track.

I will likely continue to struggle to come to terms with who I was then and how that informs who I am now. But I’ll continue to offer myself grace, and keep writing things down. I’ll let myself ask hard questions of myself, like: If my faith is the product of walls I’ve built and choices I’ve freely made, what would it look like if I reimagined it all?

If I chose to believe?

Maybe someday I’ll have answers. (And maybe they’ll be in another book.) But in the meantime, at least I’ll have a record of where I’ve been. And I’ll have my own words to remind me that God remained with me through it all.

Thank YOU for walking on this journey with me and believing that prayer matters.


One Response to “Why I write down my stories”

  1. Kay Nannet says:

    Kelly, thank you for sharing your vulnerability and authenticity with us, your readers. Your words bring hope, love, and grace to a divisive world, and reveal the courage it takes to step out and truly see how big our God is.

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