As I’ve told people that my book is a memoir, they’re sometimes surprised. “Wow, aren’t you a little young to write a memoir?”
I laugh and shake my head. “Well, it’s written about the season of my twenties, so I think now is a good time to write it.”
I decided to write this book when I was 27, and I just turned 28 in November. I never considered that I was “too young” to go after this goal. (I actually felt like if I waited any longer with this particular book that I would be too old, too distanced from the story).
As I thought about that this week, I remembered 1 Timothy 4:12: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.”
It takes an interesting mix of confidence to not look anyone LOOK DOWN on you for your age, but more importantly, it takes a good amount of conviction to not let your age to be an excuse in your own mind to slack from doing something good.
Here’s a principle that I think is helpful: Don’t let anyone look down on you, but be sure also to find a few to look up to—and use their example as a stepladder.
As a writer (I guess I can call myself that now), I’ve tried to read the works of authors in the creative nonfiction genre. Over the last 7 or 8 years, I’ve read Donald Miller, Maya Angelou, Anne Lammott, Frederick Buechner, Madeline L’Engle, Annie Dillard, etc. But of the authors I’ve read, I’ve particularly connected with the writing styles of Shauna Niequist and Lauren Winner. I have followed Shauna and Lauren’s careers for about 8 years. This year I realized that their books helped my mind to dream up the framework for my own book.
When my friend Forrest came to see my house a few months ago, we started talking about my book (because he was working on the drawing for my book cover!!). I told him that my book is a collection of narrative essays that follows the storyline of building my house.
He asked what inspired me to write that type of book, and I pulled a blue book off the shelf to show him. It was Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist.
Forrest flipped through the pages and said, “Mary, you should write her and tell her that she inspired you.”
I smiled. “Okay, maybe I will.”
Looking up to Shauna and Lauren
I ordered Shauna’s first book, Cold Tangerines, soon after I graduated from college in 2009. Shauna was 31 when she released Cold Tangerines, and it was a collection of essays of Shauna’s experiences of college, working at a church after college, getting married, moving to a new place, having her first baby, etc. I felt like I connected with her stories and with her thoughts; I could relate to her, probably because she also grew up as a pastor’s daughter and church ministry has been a big part of her life. And yet, I sometimes laugh that I feel so close to her, especially because I can tell from her writing that my personality is very different from hers. (For one thing, she’s an extreme extrovert, and I like to claim that I’m introverted. Also, she writes a lot about how she loves cooking and experimenting with interesting recipes, but honestly, my back always hurts when I cook so I’m not as big of a fan of it as she is.)
Then I ordered Bittersweet, and I read it in the backseat of my parents’ car on the way to meet Shari and Royce and their kids at a weekend basketball tourney in Missouri. Usually, I get carsick reading, but I was so eager that I was willing to risk it. I had also just been diagnosed with gallstones and was scheduled to have surgery in 5 days, so I remember reading it while my stomach was in pain. But still, there in the backseat, I read about Shauna’s miscarriages and infertility struggles, and even though I had never experienced those losses, I cried too when I read her chapter, “On Crying in the Bathroom.”
When her book Bread and Wine came out, I bought it right away. I was at the lake on vacation when I read and reread those chapters. I felt blessed to get another glimpse into her journey of faith, to celebrate with her on another wedding anniversary and the birth of her second son, to hear the new insights she was learning and how God was working in her family. And in the back of my mind, whenever I thought about writing my own book, I knew Shauna’s style was something I could use as a model, as a starting point.
I also began reading Lauren Winner’s books the same time I began reading Shauna’s books. Lauren’s books tend to be academic and poetic and so totally real-life at the same time, kind of like the historic district of a small town. Lauren’s voice and perspective are unique; I don’t always understand or agree (sometimes I want to shake her by her shoulders, and other times I want to give her a long, sister-hug), but I always leave her books feeling moved. Always.
I first read Girl Meets God, which Lauren released when she was 27. In this book, her chapters are narrative essays, describing her conversion from Judaism to Christianity when she was in college. Then I read Mudhouse Sabbath, with her narrative descriptions of Jewish practices and how she found connections in her Christian faith. I even studied that book with a group. Then this spring, while sitting with a blanket in the patio chair on my back porch, I read her book Still, and I was blown away because the book’s structure is so creative and beautiful. But to tell you the truth, that book haunted me—in a good way perhaps (but how can I tell because my mind is still reeling?), helping me to see how she felt through her divorce and her “mid-faith crisis.”
I’m used to having older sisters, so perhaps that is why I have chosen to look up to these sisters in the faith and sisters in writing. It’s easier to not let anyone look down on you when you’re looking up to good role models who have shown you a trail to follow.
Age should never be an excuse for shrinking back. Who do you need to start looking up to? What podcast can you subscribe to? What mentor can you invite to lunch?
Whose example can you use as a stepladder for your own goals? #WeWontShrinkBack
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.