Sunday, November 15, 2015

Off the Book Pile: Return To Me

I am reeling from the fact that another book that was sitting in my big pile of to-be-reads for over a year contained whispers and reassurances from God so soon after the last book I took from the pile.  God is on a roll!

This time the insights came in the form of a young adult novel written by writing mentor and friend, Justina Chen. From the book jacket for Return to Me: “Justina Chen, the acclaimed author of North of Beautiful, has created a moving and powerful novel about the struggles that arise from betrayal, the uncertainty of life after high school, and the joy that ultimately comes from discovering what's truly in your heart.”

The last part of that sentence is the theme that resonated with me throughout her story. As I continue to process my fortieth year and what it means to be on my own in a way I've never been before, I was comforted to read the words of a writer who has been on a similar journey, who has asked herself the hard questions, and has written her way through adjustments and transitions.

I generally don't believe in dog-earing book corners, but I am also interested in ridding my life of arbitrary rules. I dog-eared pages one after the other as I gasped at the kernels of truth that stood out on the pages. I'm giving nothing away by sharing these passages. They resonated deeply as I read this master storyteller's words and truth.

“...opportunities would spring up almost magically when I was on the right track, that there would be an alignment of what I needed and what I was offered. That sounded too New Age-y for a reformed skeptic like me. Until now.”

This passage encapsulates the experience I have encountered repeatedly as I have owned my place in the world as a writer. I set a goal to meet with writers once a month. The stream of new writer-friends and writing opportunities has not stopped since I set this intention.

“Maybe that was all we had to do: listen to our inner voice, the one that warns us when we're on the verge of a bad decision, the one that encourages us to jump even when we're shaking, the one that says open your lips and let the truth soar where it will.”

My life has deepened and become richer because I've begun to consistently listen to my inner voice. I like the decisions I've made and the direction my life is headed since deciding that my inner voice is my own compass and has my best interests at heart.

“Where before I might have drowned in these conflicting emotions, now I k new them for what they were: the mile markers to healing and forgiveness.”

Mile markers to healing...I gasped at that phrase. What a visual it provided. I appreciate the mile markers that have appeared in my journey to show the progress I am making.

“This is what women do when they defend their dream.
They pick their way through their own sharp-edged doubts and swim through the sea of skepticism. They remember that nothing and no one can turn them into powerless victims—not reneged vows, not betrayals that have ricocheted them from one end of the country to the other.
This is what women do.
They speak.”

Letting go of the powerless victim narrative in my life has been one of the mile markers toward living a fuller, empowered life. My friend, Dan, told me that the more I wrote the truth, the more people would read my work. He continues to be right. I speak my truths each time I write on this blog and I feel fearless after a year's worth of truth telling practice. I love this passage.

“Our home didn't just look different; it had never felt more like us: wild and creative and lush with life.”

This passage resonates with me as I reclaim the spaces in my own home and reenvision how it will look in the coming months and years. It feels like me now.

“Figuring out our calling was something only each of us could do, which might explain why oracles spoke in riddles. It forces those who question their lives to think and imagine and answer for themselves. So instead of telling Jackson what to do, I asked, “What do you want to do? You, not your parents? You, if you could do anything you wanted?
That, really, was the only series of questions that mattered. And the only answer that counted was knowing our power and following our passion, no matter how crazy and quixotic and impractical it might seem to others, even parents.”

This past year I have done seemingly crazy, impractical things that have fed my soul and moved me closer toward my true self. If I'd worried about what other people thought, as I have in my earlier years, I wouldn't have done these things and totally missed out.

I have come to love Epilogues. And the epilogue in Return to Me was just right. I wanted to know what happened when the story ended and the epilogue gave just enough follow-up to assure me that all would be well with these characters.

“Healing is a long, circuitous process. But if my experience over these last seven years means anything at all, what I know is this: Reaching joy is worth slogging through the volcanic terrain of hate, and the badlands of blame, and the deserted island of self-inspection.”

The slog through the rough emotional terrain IS worth the joy that comes as a result. Every. Time.

I highly recommend all of Justina Chen's books for the teenagers in your life. I know at least one Nana who's added this book to her Christmas shopping for the avid reader in her life. But don't let the Young Adult genre fool you. Justina's stories will keep adult readers enthralled too.

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