Whose platform is it anyway?

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[Photo: Oscar Keys via Unsplash]
I was born during the Jennifer Era of U.S. history. Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Garner, JLo, and I joined more than half a million of our moniker sisters in dominating the baby name charts from 1970 to 1984, until those scheming Jessicas hijacked our reign.

Whether this trend can be attributed to the name of the doomed heroine in the acclaimed 1970 film “Love Story,” or to random cycling mass phenomena in accordance with mathematical processes, we all know it was a massively popular name back in the day and are wondering which hippie/hipster fad will produce another generation of Jens, Emmas, and Bellas.

My name is thoroughly unoriginal, and I’ve come to accept that. What’s more difficult to swallow is the apparent requirement in this digital age for writers to leverage their names as their brand.

Sure, it makes sense. If you want to reach an audience with your message, you have to get your name out there so people can find you and read your work. To build a successful author platform, you must create a social persona to which fans will flock and publishers will beckon for book deals.

It’s DIY marketing with an egotistical spin, and it seems if you ever want to go anywhere in the publishing world, you’ve got push yourself to promote yourself.

An inner conflict

In case you didn’t pick up on it, I was cringing between the preceding lines. I strongly dislike the concept of self-made publicity for many different reasons, including the aforementioned ordinariness of my name. The world has plenty of Jennifers; it doesn’t need another one running around tooting her own horn.

Also repelling me from the “be your own brand” strategy: my tendency toward shyness, lack of knowledge and desire to market like a boss, and fear – fear that others won’t like me, or that they will like me and expect a standard of excellence I can’t always (or ever) deliver, and fear that I’ll care way too much about others’ perception and evaluation of the person I project myself to be.

Aside from these unpleasant factors, the most stomach-turning aspect of self-marketing is its very nature. Count how many times I dropped an “I, me my” in the preceding paragraph. I sound as conceited as a 2-year-old.

I know there are millions of people out there pounding the social pavement to develop online personalities as a means to spread an important message or advance a worthwhile movement or simply make money as a business venture, and that’s fine. However, I think there’s a tension that can and should arise for Christian authors writing Christian books, a vocation and niche I aspire to pursue.

If you’re ostensibly writing to proclaim the gospel and convey the truth of God’s saving grace, how do you justify throwing your time, energy, and resources into promoting yourself? How can you reconcile God’s command for His people to be like Christ – humble, submissive to His will, seeking His exaltation above all else – with your endless striving for people to like you and follow your words?

He must increase

Prominent Christian authors addressed these and other concerns regarding platform building during an online discussion earlier this year. Beth Moore, Margaret Feinberg, and Karen Swallow Prior shared honest thoughts from their experiences in the Christian publishing industry, warning of the perils of social media ladder climbing and admonishing believers to fight the fleshly temptation to make ourselves known under the guise of making Jesus known.

I followed these conversations with rapt attention, as I respect these women and want to heed their guidance in venturing out into this field. Yet for all the wisdom I gleaned, the klaxon of prideful posturing alarmed and discouraged me, especially after researching the platform strategy and confirming it as the new norm for author best practices.

This brought me to a crisis of writing about faith: Accept the necessary evil of self-promotion to move forward with my publishing aspirations, or refuse to undertake this sinful endeavor and scrap the whole dang author idea.

Dismayed as I was, I kept thinking and researching and praying, and then came upon this article by a not-yet widely known writer contemplating “The Social Media Strategy of John the Baptist.” Reflecting on John’s gospel, she describes how the outspoken forerunner of Christ grew a following as he proclaimed the coming Messiah, and then once Jesus appeared on the scene, directed his followers to the incarnate Savior:

“God had given John a platform – he had become famous and influential in his own right. But John used his platform to draw attention to the only One who could satisfy and save their souls.”

John used the platform God had given him to draw attention to Jesus, not himself, and made this outrageously meek statement that should be the motto of every follower of Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

John 3 30

I read this article, and pondered this verse, and thanked the author and John the Baptist for this critical reminder.

Serving purely

Any platform I have is God’s, not mine. He gives and takes away gifts, skills, relationships, email subscribers, Twitter followers, and “tribe” members for whatever purposes He intends – most specifically, to exalt His name and shower goodness on His people.

Knowing this, I can publish a blog under my name, post content designed to encourage others, even seek out new readers to engage and connect with, and do so with a clean conscience IF my heart’s desire is to increase Jesus’ fanbase, not my own.

With whatever my hands find to write, I pray that the efforts involved – from production to publicity – will point others to the King of Kings, the Word of Life, my Blessed Redeemer.

Hands write point to Redeemer

As the pastor at my church stated during a recent sermon on Daniel’s rise to prominence in the Babylonian Empire, all due to God’s divine appointment and his humble obedience: “The greatness that the Scripture teaches is best described by you moving through the world and leaving a wake of the Kingdom of God behind you.”

I will not do this perfectly. The Spirit will inevitably need to convict me, on a repeated basis, and I petition Him to have at it. He knows how much I struggle with craving approval.

I also don’t plan to write exclusively about issues of deep spiritual significance, and occasionally cover more lighthearted subject matter – particularly that of the deprecating, keepin’ it real variety. This is fun for me, and I hope my enjoyment of pouring out some creative juices edifies others and honors God, as much as any mocking commentary about a TV show can accomplish that.

In stepping out on this precarious limb, setting up a platform for my writing work, I ask God to help me make wise choices in His strength, to value His truth above any other opinion or striving for “likes,” and to help me follow Beth Moore’s advice on navigating social media branding:

The answer will be found in serving God as faithfully and as purely as human hearts and souls know how and let Him build His own following and determine who listens to what voice and when.

Serving God with a pure heart isn’t ever easy, and the way forward isn’t entirely clear. Marketing as an author in the Christian publishing industry is risky business, with a danger involving soul-devastating consequences. The uncertainty weighs on me, and I expect to feel apprehension about this platform racket for however long the Lord allows me to write about Him.

But by His grace, I will forge ahead, trusting Him to send forth His Word either through or in spite of me, as I write under my humdrum, exceptionally unremarkable name, aiming to lift high the greatest Name in all the world.

Blogspiration and the nudge-nag phenomenon

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People blog for all sorts of reasons. Political, religious, financial; about sports, about entertainment, about how to cook beef bourguignon, or solve the Syrian refugee crisis, or upcycle a thrift store-salvaged dresser into a shabby chic armoire.

IMHO, the ultimate motivation underlying all these reasons for blogging is rooted in a universal human presupposition. We like to think that what we have to say matters to someone else. Our quest for significance drives our compulsion for utterance of our thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

I started blogging in 2008 for no greater reason than peer pressure. Everybody was doing it, way back then. It was part of the normal life pattern many of our friends followed after graduating from college – get married, move, get a job or get more education and then a job, start a blog, have kids, post their pics on said blog. My husband and I pursued this chain of events until we hit a snag.

This snag/pit of despair was characterized by years of longing for but not being able to conceive a child. After attempting to deal with my grief in my own strength and failing to find hope through that strategy, I began reading a friend’s blog describing her struggles with these issues. Her demonstration of vulnerability freed me to wrestle with my anguish more honestly and reinvigorated my passion for writing with a renewed purpose: to let others know they were not alone in this profoundly painful trial.

Once I had written about our failed IVF cycle, amazing adoption story, and surprise pregnancy, I became less motivated to blog except for occasional times when, as a good evangelical, I should describe as “God laid it on my heart.” My label for this is the “nudge-nag phenomenon.” God nudges my heart about a specific topic at a specific time and nags me until I write about it. His still, small, unrelenting voice is not like the nagging I do to my kids to hurry up and get ready in the morning. It is gentle, insistent, assuring, and dare I say, a whole lot more effective.

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That’s where I’m at now. God is nudging my heart to share my reflections about a variety of topics, not just infertility, though that is and always will be part of my story.

I don’t really have a gimmick to draw readers in; I don’t craft or cook or exercise or ruminate about politics or put together a wardrobe in such a way that would inspire others. I don’t even have a Southern accent with which to issue a “y’all” call to action. I just have my words and a desire to console, to teach, to encourage, and to preach.

While I’d like to feign indifference and declare that it wouldn’t matter to me if anyone ever read my blog as long as it glorified Jesus – adopting a creed like “I write for an audience of One” or some such spiritually conceited nonsense – I can’t, and I won’t. I do care if people read this; otherwise, I’d pick up where my 5th grade self left off and just continue ruminating in my personal diary (but probably with fewer contemplations on which of my friends has the cutest jeans … probably).

My preschooler served as my muse for how to explain my ultimate reason for blogging when he burst into an enthusiastic and surprisingly on-key rendition of the chorus to Big Daddy Weave’s “My Story.”

If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
To tell you my story is to tell of Him

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I want to tell you about my life to tell you about my Redeemer. I want to share my unruly weaknesses, sanctified discoveries, and sarcastic annotations on life so that others can find some measure of encouragement that refreshes their faith. I want to preach the gospel to myself and anyone else who cares to listen.

This is my story; this is my song; praising my Savior, all my words long.

[Cover photo: Green Chameleon via Unsplash]

How my blog was almost called ‘My A Cup Runneth Over’

I heart words funny emoji meme

Lemme tell you about this brilliant intro I wrote for the post that I had planned to publish when rolling out my new blog name. It was distinctively captivating, inspired and innovative, bursting with terrible puns suggestive of Top Chef writers with Tourette’s.

I had planned to publish Heart to Pen: The inside story, but then I wrote a grimly navel-gazing essay on wanting a third child, followed by an amusingly self-mocking piece on the benefits of comparisons. And then I got sidetracked with the Chewbacca Mom, Olympics memes, and various other fascinating diversions on the Internet webs.

Even though it’s dated material, I have to share at least a portion of the post I wrote depicting the debate that went on inside my head when pondering a new blog name. I challenge you to read it and NOT think it was an excerpt pulled from a Shauna Niequist memoir.

Me 1: What do you think of the blog name “Heart to pen”?

Me 2: Um, OK. That is … something.

Me 1: What does that mean?

Me 2: It means hearts are cheesy. You don’t even like them. Remember how you “accidentally” broke those sweet but American Girl-sy heart earrings Colin gave you when you were dating? And how you barf a little every time you see someone post multiple lines of emoji hearts in their Facebook statuses?

Me 1: I thought the whole thing was eloquent and all-encompassing. And it’s catchy.

Me 2: This title would only seem catchy to the inspirational wall art-pinning, Duggar family-loving crowd. It might as well be the name of a Hallmark channel original series.

Me 1: Wow, that is insightful. And rude. And completely wrong. People eat up cute crap on the Internet all day long. Exhibit A: minion memes. See also: baby hedgehog videos.

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Pretty fantastic, right? Only problem is, neither Me 1 nor Me 2 nor any of the other voices in my head really likes the name Heart to Pen. It’s just too froofy. And if you know me, you know I’m not froofy. Anxious, absentminded, OCD, hypercritical, yes; froofy, no. (Please disregard the fact we own a toy poodle.)

So I’ve decided to axe the maudlin heart shtick and go with something more witty, imaginative, and true to form.

“Jestify” came to me like so many other clever ideas – randomly popping into my head while I was vacuuming. The word, which is a portmanteau of “jest” and “testify,” conveys how I write: with a style that is sometimes satirical, sometimes serious, and often a strange mixture of the two, and for a greater purpose beyond reporting Current Household Events – to affirm the redeeming work of Jesus in my life.

Astute readers will notice the resemblance to the churchy word “justify,” which I appreciate from both a Scriptural sense – meaning “to judge, regard, or treat as righteous and worthy of salvation” – and a typographical sense, meaning “to position text so that the edges form a straight line.” Both definitions capture the irony of how my sanctimonious fastidiousness falls a few hundred miles short of being anywhere close to salvation-worthiness.

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The tagline “Teasing lessons from life and faith” – which carries a double entendre that should enchant fellow word nerds – describes my plan to unravel strands of significance from my frizzy tangle of personal experiences, covering topics like motherhood and adoption and infertility and spirituality and perfectionism/anxiety and all the swirling emotions that accompany these issues. I also hope to explore Scripture and delve into the glorious tension of the BOTH/AND that proliferates paradoxes throughout our lives.

As I get preachy on these topics, I occasionally lapse into a mocking tone, which I chalk up as creativity and my husband labels as “pun-ny chick humor.” (This is coming from the man who proposed I call this blog “My A Cup Runneth Over.”) I do this because I think some Christian bloggers take themselves and their subjects way too seriously, and because I think a little humor can help cast a tone of much-needed levity and humility, and because it’s more fun this way. And really, isn’t that the ultimate motivation for which any sanctity-aspiring Christian has been called to uphold? #sarcasm

So there you have it: an artfully updated, corny-downgraded blog name. I pray that the reflections contained herein will encourage and propel others toward love and grace in such a way that causes them to feel multiple lines of emoji hearts.