All She Had

Wherever I go, I’m looking for words. As a kid, I used to flip past the “wild rumpus” pages in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are: though gorgeously illustrated, they have no words. I had no patience for pictures. (Richard Scarry’s pages, on the other hand, studded with words as they are, I could pore over for hours.) These days, when I drive, I’m busy scanning the roadside signs all around me. Sometimes, I’ll interrupt a chattering companion to read out some bumper sticker or typo’d store motto I find humorous; my passenger is never quite so amused.  

All my life, I’ve scribbled in journals, devoured books, and hid away in corner stacks of libraries and bookstores to inhale the scent of pages or fall head-over-heels for some long-dead poet. I became an English major in college just because I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do. But it was also in college that I decided I could never be a writer. 

There was only one creative writing professor at our small college. I took multiple classes from her and got decent grades in all of them, but I never felt the ineffable spark of irrepressible approval I thought I needed. She wrote nice things on my papers, I suppose, but I never got the feeling that she loved my writing. And so, based on a lack of enthusiasm from one overworked reader, I concluded that I wasn’t talented enough to keep trying to do the only thing I ever really loved. 

I put away my pens. Blundered my way into a few years of teaching. Dropped out to become a stay-at-home mom. I got a part-time job at church. And then, one year, someone asked me to write a short devotional for a little booklet that would be printed on the church copy machine and distributed among the pews for Advent. I wrote about spiritual lessons I’d learned from being a mom. When it was published, I posted a link to my Facebook page. 

The first response came from a family member who isn’t particularly religious. I hadn’t expected her to even read it. But within minutes of my posting, she replied with one short phrase. “To be able to write like that!”  

The point of my telling this story isn’t to brag that my aunt thinks I’m a great writer. The point is that her words shocked me. To be able to…? I wondered. But… it was just a couple hundred words, assembled rather hastily during naptime. Not everyone is able to write like that? I was genuinely confused. So… I can do something not everyone else can do? 

In my search for vocational identity, I had been asking the wrong questions. The question isn’t, am I good enough to knock the socks off the professionals? The question is, what do I have that is uniquely mine? In my case, what I have—what I have always had, ever since I was no bigger than an elf-sprite—is a dogged fascination with the human neurological response to patterned squiggles. What are those little things we call letters? And how do they unlock such unboundable worlds? 

I may never be what some might call a Real Writer: someone with a published book, or widespread name recognition, or even enough income from written work to buy a daily cup of coffee. But like the widow with her mite, I have decided lately to go all-in with what I’ve got. I still teach, mom, and church—and also, in the crevices and corners of my life, and with as much of the front-and-center real estate of my calendar as I can possibly afford to claim, I write. Somewhere along the way, I’ve concluded that a writer is not something I may someday become. It is who God made me, from the beginning, to be. 

They may not amount to much, but Lord, my words are Yours.

Sarah L Sanderson is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, and mom of four. Find more of her work—including updates on the memoir she is currently writing about abuse, mental illness, faith, and her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother—on, or follow her on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter

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