A Book is Born: Serving Well is now available!

It’s here!Screenshot (4)

Elizabeth and I are thrilled to introduce you to our new book, Serving Well. It is our deepest hope that this 400+ page book will encourage and equip cross-cultural folks through the various seasons of life and ministry.

It’s available in print and Kindle version here. Our publisher is also selling the book with a 20% discount here.

You can read the Serving Well press release (with book excerpt) here.


From the Back Cover
Are you dreaming of working abroad? Imagining serving God in another land? Or are you already on the field, unsure about what to do next or how to manage the stresses of cross-cultural life? Or perhaps you’ve been on the field a while now, and you’re weary, maybe so weary that you wonder how much longer you can keep going.

If any of these situations describes you, there is hope inside this book. You’ll find steps you can take to prepare for the field, as well as ways to find strength and renewal if you’re already there. From the beginning to the end of the cross-cultural journey, Serving Well has something for you.


Early Reviews for Serving Well
Serving Well is an important voice in the search for honest, experienced conversation on living and working cross-culturally in a healthy and sustainable way. Dig in!”
– Michael Pollock, Executive Director, Interaction International and co-author of Third Culture Kids

Serving Well is more than a book to sit down and read once. It is a tool box to return to over and over, a companion for dark and confusing days, and a guide for effective and long-lasting service. Elizabeth and Jonathan are the real deal and Serving Well, like the Trotters, is wise, compassionate, vulnerable, and honest. This needs to be on the shelves of everyone involved in international, faith-based ministry.”
– Rachel Pieh Jones, author of Finding Home: Third Culture Kids in the World, and Stronger Than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Serving Well is a must-read book for missionaries and for those who love them. This is a book you really need if you are ‘called to go, or called to let go.’ In Serving Well we read both the spiritual and practical, simple and profound, funny and compelling in chapters written by Elizabeth and then Jonathan Trotter; hearing from each their voices and their hearts, the struggles and the victories, ‘the bad days and the good days’ of preparing to go and serving well overseas. Their down-to-earth yet godly insights were born from living overseas and from authentically wrestling with the ‘yays and yucks’ of missionary life. They draw wisdom from both Scripture and sci-fi authors, Psalms and funny YouTube videos, encounters with Jesus and encounters with cops looking for a bribe. Take two books with you to the mission field: the Bible, and Serving Well.”
– Mark R. Avers, Barnabas International

Serving Well is deep and rich, covering all aspects of an international life of service from multiple angles. It is full of comfort, challenge, and good advice for anyone who serves abroad, or has ever thought about it, no matter where they find themselves in their journeys. It is also really helpful reading for anyone who has loved ones, friends or family, serving abroad–or returning, to visit or repatriate. Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter are both insightful and empathetic writers, full of humility and quick to extend grace–both to themselves and to others. Their writing covers sorrow and joy, hope and crisis, weariness and determination. Best of all, from my perspective as someone who has worked with TCKs for over 13 years, it contains an excellent collection of important advice on the topic of raising missionary kids. Choose particular topics, or slowly meander through the entire volume piece by piece, but whatever you do–read this book!”
– Tanya Crossman, cross cultural consultant and author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century

“Overseas workers face a barrage of junk when they arrive on their field location: identity issues, fear/anxiety issues, and faith issues. I have worked with missionaries for well over a decade now and see how these common themes cry out for a grace-filled approach to truth and authenticity. The Trotters live this out loud, intentionally seeking a way to minister out of their own pain, striving, humor, and failure. Keep this reference close at hand!”
– Jeannie Hartsfield, Clinical Counselor, Global Member Care Coordinator, World Team

“This book is the definitive guide to thriving in cross-cultural ministry. The Trotters have distilled years of experience into pithy chapters filled with helpful tips and wise insights. Put it on your must-read list.”
– Craig Greenfield, Founder, Alongsiders International, author of Subversive Jesus

“In this must-read missions book, Jonathan and Elizabeth unearth the underlying motivations of the cross-cultural call. Penned with copious compassion and startling transparency, Serving Well is sure to make you laugh, cry, and, in the end, rejoice as you partner with God in His global missions mandate.”
– David Joannes, author of The Mind of a Missionary



Leaving and Arriving Well — what to do when your time comes {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

You’re probably going to leave the field.

Someday, somehow, the vast majority of us will say goodbye, pack up, cry tears of joy or sorrow or both, and depart.

How will that work out for you?

Well, frankly, I have no idea. But I do know that there are some things you can do to prepare to leave and some things you can do to prepare to arrive. And while a cross-cultural move is stressful no matter which direction you’re going, knowing some of what to expect and how to prepare really can help.

The first part of this article deals with Leaving Well, while the second part deals with the oft-overlooked importance of Arriving Well.

In Arriving Well, we’ll look at

– Embracing your inner tourist,

– Making movie magic,

– Identifying your needs, and of course,

– Grieving

We’ll wrap up with an Arrival Benediction, which is a prayer for you, the transitioner, from the bottom of my heart.

Click here to read the full post.


7 Tips for Stayers and Goers

by Elizabeth


As a military kid I grew up hearing about these things called “Hail and Farewells.” I didn’t really know what they were; I didn’t even know it was two separate words. I thought of it more as “hailenfarewell” and was at a complete loss as to what it was.

But as I began to contemplate this upcoming season of expatriate goodbyes, I couldn’t get the phrase out of my mind. So naturally I went to my mom and asked her to tell me everything she remembered about Hail and Farewells. Her answers blew me away with their spiritual applications.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

1. “Hail and Farewells were an integral part of military life. Whether we were stationed at a military installation or a university in the States, or were stationed abroad, we all took part in these monthly events.” Hellos and goodbyes happen at regular intervals, and they touch the entire community. Nobody gets to skip out on the goodbyes (or hellos), and nobody is immune to the transience – either the Leaver or the Stayer.

2. “It always involved food, whether it was at someone’s home and everyone brought food, or at a restaurant and we purchased our meal.” Ok, so we need food. It’s perhaps kind of obvious, but this answer stood out to me. As humans we celebrate—and mourn—with food.

3. “They were usually more dressy events, except those that were barbeques, etc. There was always a gift, usually a memento that represented your unit and also some kind of plaque that commemorated your time there.  Oftentimes others would gift you with items that spoke personally to the officer leaving.” Whether we’re leaving or whether we’re staying, we honor our friends with something special. Whether it’s a physical gift representing our relationship or our country of service (for the gift-givers among us), a special event (for the quality-timers among us), or something else, we don’t let them fade away without that special honor.

4. “The commanding officer would do the introductions of new people, and we would find out where they came from and a little about them and their family. Then the farewells were saved for last with the usual good things said about people. Those that worked closest with the departing officer would also have an opportunity to share about them.” We honor the newcomers by trying to find out a little about them. And we honor the Leavers by sharing our cherished memories about them.

5. “Something I always saw in the groups we were in was the total willingness to accept and ‘get behind’ a new commanding officer. Oftentimes the departing commander was beloved and the idea of someone else coming in and taking over could be hard in a way, but your dad and I and others were intentional about welcoming and following new commanders just as we followed the departing one.” This gets to the heart of welcoming new people, whether they’re in leadership over us or not. Being new is hard, and the least we can do is welcome new people even as we say a painful goodbye to beloved friends. Whether we’re the Leaver or the Stayer, no one can replace our friends, but our hearts can expand to love more people.

6. “We were usually notified about 6 months in advance of our new duty station, and something strange and wonderful always happened after we found out where and when. Usually it was met with, ‘Uh, okay,’ but that time in between notification and actually leaving, our minds turned it into something good that we were actually looking forward to, and we were very ready to leave.” If circumstances allow (and I know they don’t always allow), we plan time between the decision to leave and the actual leaving. That time gives us the space to say goodbye well to people and places, to mentally and physically prepare ourselves for the next step, and to physically and mentally prepare our friends and co-workers for our departure. We realize that nothing can completely prepare us for our next stage, but a little time to reflect and say goodbye is helpful.

7. “It was sad to say goodbye, but many times we figured we’d meet up again.” To a certain extent, expatriate life also allows us to meet up again. (And I’m always thankful when that happens!) But even if we never see each other again on earth, as Christians we know we will meet again in Heaven, and (at least for me) that reminder does cheer the aching heart.

 So to recap my mom’s advice:
  1.  We accept that hellos and goodbyes will happen regularly.
  2.  Sharing food is a good way to commemorate these hellos and goodbyes.
  3.  Whether we’re departing or staying, we need to honor our friendships at each goodbye.
  4.  We need to welcome new people into our lives too.
  5.  We accept that goodbyes are hard.
  6.  When possible, we need to make space and time for these goodbyes.
  7.  We remember we will meet again, whether on earth or in heaven.

This time of year is painful. I will not deny that. April and May are months of many tears for me. I’ve written about these heart-rending goodbyes before. Each year I feel the feelings afresh, and sometimes I fear they will break me. But I do want us, as the Body of Christ, to carry on in a way that honors both our earthly fellowship and our faith in a mysterious God. With that in mind I offer you my Expat Manifesto:

We acknowledge that we will always have Hail and Farewells. We will bid farewell to our people. We will honor them with our tears, with our laughter, with our food, with our stories, with our hugs, and with our time. And we will bid farewell to seasons, whether satisfying or sad. We will welcome new people. We will honor them with our open (though sometimes wounded) hearts and remember that they may one day be our old people. We will remember that in Christ goodbye is never forever, but only for a time. And with Christ as our Anchor, we will embrace each new season, whether dreaded or longed for. We will Hail, and we will Farewell: This is how we carry on.

What traditions do you have for Hailing and Farewelling?

How do you carry on?


(Originally published at Velvet Ashes and reprinted here with permission.)

‘Tis The (Leaving) Season!

by Jonathan

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It’s that time of year when a lot of folks return to their passport countries; some for a visit and some for good. Which means it’s that time of year when returners get upset that folks “at home” don’t really care all that much about life abroad, or our ministry, or our former country, etc.

But what if the returners cared as much about the home team as we want the home team to care about us?

What if the returners asked their senders questions of the same quantity and intensity that we desire the senders to ask us?

Maybe you’ve been abroad for two years or four years or six months. That’s awesome! And maybe you’ve got stories and you’ve experienced love and loss and grit and glory.

So have they.

Those who “stayed behind” lived life too. And while you were living two years, they were living two years too. And most likely, they’ve got stories and they’ve experienced love and loss and grit and glory too.

And while we’re so desperately wanting people to listen to and care about our stories, perhaps we should spend some time listening to and caring about theirs.

Turns out, pretty much everyone likes being heard.

And I think that’s a gift we should give. These people send us, pray for us, sacrifice for us. The least we can do is actually care about their stories of love and loss.

Remember, they lived life too.

A-41: Essays on life and ministry abroad

Purchase the Kindle version of A-41 here.

Purchase the print edition here.

Here’s what Elizabeth has to say about the print edition:

“What I like about the paper copy is that it’s in 8 1/2 X 11 inch format, so it has lots of white space and (ahem) margin to make your own notes, to sort of journal through it, as it were. A lot of our posts really are like journal entries of what God is taking us through, so having a hard copy allows you to journal through those issues on your own, too. Hopefully that’s a blessing to someone!”

If you want to save a couple bucks and you don’t mind clicking a ton of links, most of the content can be read by clicking the various links below. Merry Christmas!

Thanks for stopping by!

all for ONE,
Jonathan T.


Missionary Mommy Wars
The Church: On Not Being the Casserole Lady
I’m a Proverbs 31 Failure

Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)

Parenthood & Third Culture Kids
On Your High School Graduation: A Letter to My Third Culture Kid
What I Want to Give My TCKs
A Prayer for My Third Culture Kids
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid
The Little Word That Frees Us
Particle Physics Finally Explains Third Culture Kids!

The Purpose of Marriage is NOT to Make You Holy
Our Journey to Finding Joy in Marriage (and the things we lost along the way)
Open letter to trailing spouses (and the people they’re married to)
Trailing Spouse: He Heard, “Go!” and I Said, “No!”
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife

A Letter to Singles

On Grief, Loss, and Being Really Sad
Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised
Grief on a Spindle (a poem)
Don’t be afraid of me, please (and other lessons from the valley)
A Lonely Birthday
For the times when you hold back the tears
When Grief Bleeds
When Friends Do the Next Right Thing
A Sorrow Sandwich
Heaven and Human Trafficking

Deeper Musings on Missions and “The Call”
Why Are We Here?
The Idolatry of Missions
Before You Cry “Demon!”
Demon and Divine
What If I Fall Apart on the Mission Field?
How Do You Write Your Name in the Land?

Lists (because they’re fun)
– 10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary
10 Things Flying Taught Me About Missions
6 Reasons Furloughs are Awesome (sort of)
10 Ways to Survive Your First Year Overseas

On making decisions with your head and your heart and Him
Navigating the Night (3 things to do when you have no idea what to do)
When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t
To the ones who think they’ve failed
Distractions and the Voice of Jesus

Conflict and Anger
– Run Away! Run Away! (And Other Conflict Styles)
Anger Abroad
Angry, Mean, and Redeemed

Things you should probably be aware of if you’re even slightly interested in missions, serving somewhere in the Church, or just living in general
Four Tools of Spiritual Manipulators
How to Communicate so People Will Care
Facebook lies and other truths
margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Please Stop Running
I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs
How to Transition to the Foreign Field and not Croak: Six Essential Steps
Women are Scary (and other lessons modesty culture teaches men)
What To Do About Women’s Roles
Jesus Loves Me This I Sometimes Know
The Journey To Feel Starts Small


A Few of My Favorite Things {September 2015}

Here are some of my Favorites from this last month. ~Elizabeth


Pen-and-Paper journaling and analog Bible reading. As much as I loved reading the Kindle versions of Grace for the Good Girl and From Good to Grace for my devotional times over the summer, my soul felt so happy to return to good old pen-and-paper journaling and analog Bible reading this month. Apparently I need the turning of pages and the moving of my hands on paper. My soul is different on the inside, more still and at peace.

Prayer time with the prayer team.  Being in ministry and continuously pouring myself out for others, I often forget to let others pour into me. I (usually) remember to let God fill me up, and I most certainly draw strength from my marriage, but I generally forget to let other people pour into me. Which is why meeting with the prayer team at our international church felt so good. I didn’t owe anyone anything; my only job was to receive prayer. I didn’t even have to come up with words and verses for them to pray over me; that was their job. I cannot tell you how good that felt and how many burdens were lifted from my heart after that prayer session.

A farewell night with my team. I’m so thankful for the families on our Team Expansion team. They are dear, safe confidants, and their children are like my children’s cousins on the field. In an ex-pat world of moving people, there is something so comforting about having people who get you (because you live the same lifestyle), and who are also committed to you on a longer-term basis (because of the organizational link). The difference in relational security is staggering. And also, my people are funny. They make me laugh. I can be so focused and serious sometimes (most times?) that I need real, live people to pull me out of my Seriousness and have fun with me.

Worship music from Hillsong, International House of Prayer (IHOP), Bethel, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, etc. While I dozed over the Pacific, I listened to my (10-year old) iPod shuffle, which has all my favorite worship music on it. I love IHOP music. Can’t get enough of it. In the time of flux we like to call “furlough,” this music served to re-center me and focus my affections on God. Bonus: it lulled me to sleep during a bad hour of turbulence. I get airsick pretty easily, and Jonathan told me later that he kept looking over at me during this hour, fearing I would be sick. Instead I was fast asleep. Thankful for that!

My parents’ house. As expected, I did feel right at home walking into their house. My parents have lived here 15 years, the longest they’ve ever lived anywhere (with the next longest time being 4 ½ years), and it truly feels like home to me. For years Jonathan and I lived only 20 minutes away, and I brought my kids here at least once a week. I have all these memories of my mom babysitting so I could go to pre-natal appointments and then staying for the rest of the day, of using her laundry when we didn’t have a washing machine of our own, and of just plain sitting nursing my babies while I sat and talked with her.

And my kids remember this place too, both before we moved to Cambodia and on our last stateside service, when we stayed here a couple months. This house is for them, I hope, what my grandparents’ house was for me: a rock, and a stable place to return to. Plus, Mom makes yummy food, and her house has soft sheets, a dryer, and comfortable carpet. What other creature comforts could I ask for?? It truly is a safe place in a time of transition and culture shock.

Free parks in cool September weather. It’s not cold yet! The weather is pleasant and beautiful. Friends lent us bicycles, and my kids are enjoying those, along with all the free, non-rusting, non-blisteringly-hot playgrounds. Windows are wide open all the time, and I’m enjoying the very fresh, non-garbage-y air. I can walk the neighborhoods — whose sidewalks are both clean and flat — without a bunch of mangy dogs barking and nipping at me. Also I’m loving the back porch as a place to read and write.

A total lunar eclipse. I hadn’t seen one since I was a girl, and it was neat to both see it and revisit some of the science behind eclipses. I was still jet-lagged but nothing can erase the splendor of a blood-red moon.

Free books from the library. Need I say more? My mom lets me max out her library card while I’m here. If I come across any treasures, I’ll be sure to review them here next month.

And now for some Link Love . . .



When God Became King by N.T. Wright. This is my first N.T. Wright (I know, I’m late to the game), and like all Wright, it’s dense and will take me a while to get through. So far I’m intrigued. I love the Creeds (Apostles’ and Nicene) and the way they encapsulate the gospel story. But Wright says they’re incomplete. They’re missing Jesus’ LIFE. So I’m on a journey to find out more. . .



An Open Letter from My 42 Year Old self to My 28 Year Old Self Who is About to Begin Homeschooling by Laura Hamm Coppinger. New homeschool moms take note of this advice! I had the privilege of being counseled by Laura at Bible camp for several years in a row back in the 1990’s, and I relate to her on so many levels, not least of which is being guilty of taking homeschooling waaaaay too seriously in the early days. As she says, “Hello, he’s five.” Also she cracks me up with: “Someone always has to poop.” Yep. Ask any mom of boys and they’ll tell you the same. For another hilarious parenting one from her, check out The Story of My Sleeves.

My Daughter was Born on the Anniversary of 9/11 by Rachel Pieh Jones. If there’s one thing Rachel knows how to do, it’s write tear-jerkers! It’s been a few weeks since we commemorated the anniversary of 9/11, but this post is worth going back to. May you be encouraged by both the hope and the shalom present in this story.

Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis by Marilyn Gardner. Need I say more? The title tells all. Marilyn is always wise — and in this case, she’s funny too.

How to Respond (without violence) When Someone Says “Everything-Happens-For-A-Reason” by Christine Suhan. More on the subject of responding to people in crisis. This post reminded me of the scene in Call the Midwife when Jenny is in despair after her boyfriend unexpectedly dies. Sister Julienne tells her, “God isn’t in the event, Jenny. He’s in the response to the event.” I’ve always had trouble accepting theology that says God is sovereign; therefore He intended for [rape/violence/trafficking/cancer] to happen. Sentiments like Sister Julienne’s comfort me in my faith in a loving God, and I often find myself remembering her statement in the midst of tragedy.

Grace and Anger by Chris Lautsbaugh. Sometimes I’ve found, as Chris explains in this post, that what’s underneath my anger is a deep sadness and grief that I’d rather not address. Perhaps you’ve experienced this too.

Christ, Our Righteous Garment by Missy Filler. Another post on grace and works. I think so many of us have felt this way before and struggled to untangle our thinking.

An Unexpected Friend by Melanie Singleton. So many reasons to love this post about insecurity, gratitude, and finding deep, healing friendships with other women.

Faith in the Valley: Hagar in the Desert by Katrina Ryder. I’ve gotten to know Katrina through fellow A Life Overseas writers Andy and Kay Bruner. When I shared with her my recent post about Hagar, she in turn shared her thoughts on Hagar. I was blown away. Blown away. I love the stories in Genesis. I think and read about them a lot (I take after my mummy in that regard). But here Katrina offers thoughts that you’ve never thunk before. Read it and engage with her in her own comment section, and then let me know so I can read your thoughts, too.



Kari Jobe teaching on worship.  You all know I love to worship. And I love this teaching on worship from Kari Jobe.

Addicted to Anxiety 2 seminar. Over the years I’ve dealt with some pretty significant anxiety, both in social situations and over health and safety fears. I don’t generally live with overpowering anxiety anymore, but in times of stress, I can really start to feel anxious again. What I love about this seminar is finding out that teachers and writers whom I love and respect have dealt with heavy anxiety too; I’m not alone. Maybe you also need to know you’re not alone in your anxiety. In particular I loved hearing from Angie Smith (whom I know from IF:Gathering) at 19:00, Beth Moore at 34:40, and Holley Gerth (founder of incourage.me) at 2:01:55.

Emily P. Freeman on the Feathers podcast. I’ve talked about Emily, author of Grace for the Good Girl, before. I loved this interview with her.

Flourishing in Grace by Katrina Ryder. As I mentioned before, I met Katrina through some mutual friends. She’s the editor at the website To Save a Life, where some of Jonathan’s and my work has been reprinted. I love her video sessions! This one is based out of her personal interaction with the ideas in Emily P. Freeman’s Grace for the Good Girl. Scroll to the bottom to watch the video.

Finding the Rest of My Faith by Katrina Ryder. Another one from Katrina, on spiritual rest, and I like it even better than her first one. She made me laugh a bunch in this one.

Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness in the Church — an interview with Kay Warren. Wow. You will cry during this interview. Kay and her husband Rick lost their son to suicide several years ago. Kay is wise and compassionate and offers advice for churches wanting to help those suffering with mental illness, including some beginning book recommendations. What I love about Kay is that she thinks the Church has something to offer those suffering from mental illness that no one else can offer. It’s a really hopeful view of both the Church and mental illness.

To Scale: The Solar System. You might have seen this already. I love it. When I was a child, I dreamed I walked the solar system. I passed by the gas planets, walked all the way to Pluto (which was still considered a planet), and ended in a beautiful valley. It was paradise, the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I often think of that dream and the way God placed a love for the heavens in me from a very early age. Of course the science and scale of my dream was waaaaay off, for me to be walking past the gas planets. But the awe and wonder present in that dream are still present in my waking hours today.

Biblical Imagination and the Gospels — interview with Michael Card. Jonathan and I have a long-standing love for Michael Card’s theologically-rich lyrics, including songs like El Shaddai, Things We Leave Behind, Why, and God’s Own Fool (which I’ve actually blogged about before). I loved listening to Michael’s explanation of the Biblical imagination and how to connect the head and the heart, and his four new Gospel commentaries are now on my To Read (Eventually) list. Here’s a quicker explanation for the Biblical imagination from Michael. He’s also done some teaching on lamenting as worship, which I really appreciated.

Never Once by Matt Redman. I listened to this song on the plane. It was the theme song during our last trip to the U.S. and truly represented how we felt about our first term in Cambodia. Now that I’ve finished a second term, I can again say with gratitude that never once did I ever walk alone. He has been with me, beside me, and in me this entire time, and I see how His love has burned ever deeper into my heart the past two years.

Birth & Art {A Metaphor}

by Elizabeth

Writing is a birth, of sorts.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I decided I wanted to give birth without medication. I was in love with the idea and informed my husband. He was enamored of the idea as well, and he bought books on the Bradley method of natural childbirth for us both to read. It was in those books that we learned about the emotional signposts of labor.

First, there’s excitement: Today’s the day! I’m having this baby today!

Then, there’s seriousness: Let’s get down to the business of birthing this baby. This is hard. I’m uncomfortable. I need to concentrate. And by the way, DON’T touch me.

Finally, there’s self-doubt: I’m done! I can’t do this anymore! This emotional signpost corresponds to transition. Transition is a nice-sounding word for the most difficult part of labor and signifies that birth is coming soon.

Even though I’d studied these signposts, the books still made birth seem easy, and I was confident I could give birth naturally. I was looking forward to it, in fact. The night my water broke, however, the contractions came hard and fast. I doubted whether I could handle the rest of labor. I did indeed survive my first labor, and I gave birth to a precious baby boy that night. But his birth wasn’t without pain.

Eleven months later, I became pregnant again. This time around, I wasn’t so confident. I’d been blissfully unaware of it during my first pregnancy, but during my second, I knew labor was going to hurt. I knew how bad the labor pains could get, and I wasn’t looking forward to the actual birth process. And I was right — it did hurt. Bad. I knew that I could give birth naturally, but I dreaded the pain.


Writing is a birth of sorts, complete with all the emotional signposts.

First, there’s excitement: I have an (invariably brilliant) idea!

Then, I pitch the idea to someone, most often, my husband. It’s (usually) met with approval.

I’m still excited. Until I start typing, that is, and the words on the screen begin to look like nonsense. They don’t communicate what I want to communicate AT ALL.

That’s when I decide that my “brilliant idea” is total, complete, and utter trash.

I determine that either

          a) the idea itself is bad or

          b) I have no wordsmithing abilities whatsoever and

          c) I should just quit now.


It’s at this self-doubt signpost that I’ve learned I need to close the laptop and put it away until tomorrow — a luxury not afforded one in active labor. Then I keep returning to it, day after day. This is the serious working phase, and requires concentration. I rearrange words, and rearrange them again, deleting whole sentences and even paragraphs, until I can read them out loud with relative satisfaction. Then, I birth it. I hit Publish and launch it out into the world. My hard work is done.

I used to forget this phenomenon between writing projects. I would forget how annoyingly hard the process is. They say Labor Amnesia is the reason people have second and third and fourth and even fifth babies. The pain of labor dissipates — we forget, and are willing to try again. Well, I had Writer’s Amnesia. Each time I attempted something new, I was surprised and frustrated by the difficulty of the task.

I worked hard each time, yet when I was finished, I still had new ideas I thought I could tackle with ease. (How very naïve.) But this same plotline has unfolded so many times now that I’ve come to accept it as part of the writing process. And I keep coming back to the craft because something inside me tells me there is more to be said, more to be written, more to be done.

Writing — and all art — is messy. It’s hard work, and it sometimes hurts. You might not know this ahead of time. The pain and heartache might take you by surprise, might sideswipe you. That is, until you’ve given birth to enough pieces that you can look back and see the pattern in your labors. Now, you know it will hurt. Now, you know the process is long and drawn-out. Now, you know you might regret your “brilliant” idea, and be tempted to give up. But by now, you’ll also know that you can’t give up, even when faced with the self-doubt signpost. Because something inside you propels you forward.

For the artist, for the creative person, conception of an idea is exciting. The gestation, however, is decidedly not. Your idea often grows much heavier than you expected it would. You reach the same emotional signposts each time you labor over an idea. But the beauty of it? Another day, you can birth another idea. And on a day after that, you can birth another idea. The emotions stay the same, but the ideas change. They are new. They are fresh.

They are invitations to create.