Category Archives: Writing

Confessions of a blogger

I started blogging in 2005. Mercy was a few months old, I was in my final months of study at Fuller Seminary, and I remember that it was around the time that we began putting Mercy down for a regular morning nap. I would put her down in her crib, and on most days I would spend the next hour and a half studying furiously for John Thompson’s Church History class, but on others I would sit down and indulge in writing a blog post. Maybe it was the isolation that new motherhood can bring, maybe it was the stress of trying to balance tough academic work with sleepless nights, and maybe it was the need to carve out something that was just for me, but blogging helped me feel a bit more human.

I first got the idea to blog because a good friend of mine had started. I loved reading her thoughts, and she told me how easy it was to set one up. Around that same time, another good friend introduced me to Heather Armstrong’s blog, dooce.com, and I quickly became a regular reader there (along with hundreds of thousands of other people). She made me laugh and sometimes cry, and I was struck by the level of intimacy she revealed in her writing. These were my initial inspirations, and they were the extent of my blog reading.

I stopped blogging that May, the day that I found out I was pregnant with Aaron. Mercy was only six months old, I was terribly sick that first trimester, and life overall became pretty overwhelming. Oh, and I was in the midst of a difficult quarter of Hebrew that was sucking the life out of me. All that to say, blogging fell completely off the radar for that season.

I started blogging again three months after Aaron was born. I don’t remember why, but perhaps it is not coincidental that it was about the same amount of time after Aaron’s birth that I resumed as it had been after Mercy’s when I had started blogging in the first place.

Sometime in the spring of 2006, I started reading Scot McKnight’s blog regularly. I also added my blog to a website that features a collection of bloggers within my denomination, and also became a contributor at Meremission.org. At some point, Scot McKnight picked up my blog and added me to his blogroll, and started highlighting pieces that I wrote in his weekly “Meanderings” feature. I am pretty sure that Scot McKnight is single-handedly responsible for the majority of people who read this blog. Later that summer, Doug and his brother surprised me with a new domain that allowed for me to leave Blogger and switch to WordPress. This made me very happy!

Somewhere along the way, people began to visit this site regularly and share wonderful comments and encouragement. I also began reading more blogs and I “met” some truly delightful individuals this way. Actually, that understates things. I have had new relationships form that I am intensely grateful for that likely would never have happened any other way. I now have a very dear friend on the other side of the country who ended up at this site because of a google search for someone else. It is amazing and humbling to consider how God works through any medium. If for no other reason than this, I am grateful for this blog.

I don’t usually get too introspective about why I blog. It is a habit for me now, something I just sit down and do, usually every day. I think that writing here helps me sift through and sort the events of my life, not necessarily understanding them but at least telling their story. And I find that if I do go a day or two without blogging, I begin to feel an itch, a small agitation in my spirit, and it is with relief that I return to this keyboard and pound something out.

This blog is at once a very personal exercise, yet it is done in a public venue. As a strong introvert, that is an interesting juxtaposition for me. And I cannot answer why I have never been able to maintain the spiritual discipline of journaling (private), yet have found success in the discipline of blogging (public) daily. Something to ponder.

I have been thinking about all of this because of something I read recently on someone else’s blog. A young woman in Chicago found my blog and describes what happens here this way:

“John Steinbeck writes a beautiful essay about “Why Soldiers Don’t Talk,” where he explains how men who go to war and women who give birth have a biological mechanism that causes them to be totally unable to re-live the pain and fear of those events because they will be required to repeat them in order for society to progress. All they can remember is that they were afraid and that is was painful. They cannot actually call up that pain and fear, the way most of us can do with tastes and music, they can only call up the memory. I believe that this is the other reason most memoirs and speeches of community development practitioners are a little blah. The immediacy is missing.

With the nostalgic tone that most people tell their stories with and the details that elapsed time and the need to summarize leave out, as an audience, we must use our imaginations to empathize with how hard it must be to live in under-resourced communities. Our imaginations aren’t enough, though, because we are limited by our own lack of experience. We imagine an extension of our suburban, middle-class experience and that does not do their lives justice. This is why I was glad to find The Margins. Because the story is being told while it happens, there is no over-arching thesis to be proven. Her brain has not had time to protect her from the memory of being scared for herself and her children. Because of this, her faith in the midst of all she is going through shines all the brighter. Read especially Erika’s post A Walk in the Park to see what I’m talking about. She doesn’t know yet that it will all turn out to be OK. But she does it anyway.”

I have always hoped for the privilige someday of writing books. But for now, I am grateful for this opportunity to “tell the story while it happens.” And I am grateful as well for those who have joined us in our story here. You are a daily blessing to me.

Margins?

I realized in writing my last post that I have never explained the source for the name of my blog. Some have asked, so here it is…

I recently spent three years as a student at Fuller Seminary earning a Masters in Divinity. I have never been one of those students who sits though class busily typing away on their laptops (or playing solitaire, which I saw a LOT of in my classes). I have always been the old-fashioned pen and paper type. In every class I would take thorough notes, and as I was provoked by ideas or questions, as I was stirred emotionally, as I was troubled, I would scribble my musings in the margins of my paper. I have never been a talker in class. I was the student, in both undergrad and in seminary, that got notes from her professors on the papers she wrote that read: “You have great insight! We need to hear your voice in class.” But the shyness that marked my childhood actually does continue in many ways.

My husband used to go nuts sitting next to me in class at Fuller. Some discussion would be going on around us and I would scribble in the margins of my notebook my thoughts on the issue, and Doug would do everything short of actually lifting my hand in the air to get me to make my comments aloud. But I would opt for the anonymity, the silence, the privacy of my thinking instead.

So when I first considered starting a blog, I was motivated by the idea of having an outlet for the things relegated to the margins of my notebooks. And that is where the title originated, and I liked that it held a double meaning for me as well: I live in South Central, Los Angeles and I share my life with people considered by most around me to be “marginal” for a host of reasons: race, economics, nationality, citizenship status, culture. A lot of what I write about is my experience of life in this community, so the title seems a perfect fit.

So there it is…

What’s in a name?

I just stumbled across a collection of blogs from folks in my denomination. As I scrolled through the list looking for any familiar faces/voices I came across a blog named “Marginal Thoughts” . Intrigued by the similarity with my own blog name I clicked on the link. To my delight I found a blog belonging to a woman I have known since I was in college. She and I went on a mission trip to Mexico together when she was a youth intern in Mercer Island. I was a last-minute add-on to the trip, primarily because they needed someone who could speak Spanish to join them. I was on crutches at the time following foot surgery and one of my funniest memories is wearing this ridiculous sock on the tip of my open toed cast so that scorpions wouldn’t crawl into my cast at night.

I didn’t see this friend for a few years until she and I later overlapped at North Park Seminary in Chicago. It was great to be in touch once again.

Many more years have now gone by and so my heart is warmed to “see” her again through her blog, and to share a kindred spirit of blog names with her.
Blessings to you, Jo Ann.