Why I Identify with Michael W. Smith, Kevin from ‘This Is Us,’ and the Hulk

Long before the Chris Tomlin Takeover of modern Christian radio, those of us church youth groupies jammed to the kickin’ beats of Amy Grant, Petra, Steven Curtis Chapman, and everyone’s favorite “friend forever,” Michael W. Smith.

A pop music crush for my sister and thousands of other WWJD bracelet-wearing teenyboppers, Michael W. Smith released one of the greatest hits to emerge from this period, “Place in This World.” The tune was catchy, the singer captivating, the lyrics sufficiently ambiguous to interest a mainstream audience and attract a direction-seeking generation of youth:

A heart that’s hopeful
A head that’s full of dreams
But this becoming
Is harder than it seems
Feels like I’m
Looking for a reason
Roaming through the night to find
My place in this world
My place in this world 

Smitty’s angsty song might as well be my vocational anthem.

Since those elementary school days of learning penmanship and diagramming sentences, I’ve been trying to find my place in the writing world.

Am I a reporter, blogger, or aspiring author?

Should I write fiction or nonfiction? Satire or analysis? Memoir or devotional?

Do I use a formal or informal voice? Emotional or straight-laced? Witty or heart-rending?

What message am I trying to convey, to what audience?

Just why exactly am I writing?

Through trial, error, disappointment, and a few mid-shower epiphanies, these gray areas are beginning to clear. I can see direction, though not destination.

It has been a process. And God has been leading me the whole way through it, uncertainty notwithstanding.

The topic dilemma
As a grade schooler, I launched my career authoring a saga about kittens. I don’t recall the plot, but my grandma reassured me it was riveting.

After graduating college with a degree in journalism, I bounced around jobs at a daily newspaper, business journal, community newsletter company, and technical magazine publisher. While these gigs helped pay the bills and expand my abilities, the topics they entailed didn’t typically excite me. I was invested for the sake of completing my work well, not because I cared deeply about the subject matter.

Then something changed. Longing to become a mother and struggling to fulfill that desire drove me to the computer to type – furiously, comprehensively – so that I could process my emotions. I didn’t write because I had to, for work. I wrote because I had to, to think, understand, and exhale.

Blogging my way through infertility became an instrument of healing in my life.

And God’s grace extended beyond this therapeutic gift. In writing about a personal and rarely discussed life crisis, I could invite others into a place of vulnerable disclosure and, through the faithfulness of the Lord and not myself, point to the redeeming hope of a risen Savior.

This compulsion to write lay dormant during the early parenthood years raising my two active boys. Disappointment over not having a third child reignited this drive, and then, perhaps as a way to take my mind off what my life was lacking, I tried my hand at other topics, specifically, humor, faith, and mommy blogging.

I’ve taken this eclectic approach for several reasons, including my resistance to being pigeonholed in one subject. In this sense, I can relate to Kevin Pearson.

In the TV show “This Is Us” (which I highly recommend viewing if you’re in an emotionally stable place right now), the character of Kevin Pearson starts out as an actor looking to land more serious work than the role he’s known for on a sitcom called “The Manny.” Even as he successfully branches out in his career, everywhere he goes, people recognize him and, to his dismay, blurt out his cheesy catchphrase from the show.

Like Kevin, I don’t want to be a Manny, typecast by one niche topic. I don’t even consider myself a blogger. A blogger writes short, casually worded posts. I’m far too verbose for that.

Also, I have to be honest and admit that writing exclusively about infertility reopens old wounds and creates a conflict of interests. Infertility-specific posts don’t always resonate with other readers, while posts on topics such as motherhood potentially alienate those aching for a child.

Yet writers must have a certain audience in mind. There’s no way to please all the people all the time. And before you can determine your audience, you need a specific message you want to communicate through your words.

So I’m a writer, looking for a place, an audience, and a clarified message.

The call to write
Two years ago I read a book that revolutionized my faith.

Women of the Word” provides guidelines for how to study the Bible first from the perspective of what it tells us about God, then what it tells us about how to live. Before explaining the steps of inductive study, author Jen Wilkin emphasizes one pivotal truth:

The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.

This is a Bible study game-changer. It helped me grasp the importance of building accurate knowledge of God to more fully and rightly grow in my affection for Him – not some weak and incomplete version I imagine Him to be.

Knowing the truth about God’s nature then helps transform how I see and respond to sin in my life, leading to a clean heart that loves and pleases God. Romans 12:2 confirms this:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Beyond these life applications, this mind and heart concept has influenced what I want to write about and why.

I realized this when I came across a piece on Desiring God discussing the question, “Has God Called Me to Write?” John Piper answered with this:

… my understanding of this kind of calling is that it is a work of God in our minds and hearts and abilities and relationships that results in a recurrent, not temporary; long-term, not short lived; compelling, not merely interesting; benevolent, not selfish; Christ-exalting, not self-exalting desire to write, which proves fruitful in the lives of others.

I read this, and my heart sang.

All those years of working, venting, experimenting, crafting – roaming through the night to find my place in this writing world – has been building momentum to realize this purpose:

I want to write about God, for God.

I’ve never thought of it this way before – writing as a calling, my calling – to serve a higher objective than self-expression or creativity.

Other topics I’ve written about are important and worthy of contemplation. I believe all edifying words can be expressed to glorify God, directly or indirectly.

Yet there’s a distinct quality about writing as a calling, and I think the Lord has shaped my experiences and changed my impulses in a way that resembles Piper’s description:

Then there is the impulse to write, not only to learn and not only to create something beautiful or interesting or compelling, but also the impulse to instruct and awaken and delight and transform people into obedient worshipers of Christ.

This is what and why I want to write: The gospel of Jesus confirmed by the truth of His Word and revealed in the reality of our lives.

The how I want to write is another place where mind and heart come into play.

The good news
I’ve been slowly working my way through a video workshop designed for moms who write. In one of the sessions, the instructor recommends fine-tuning your writing voice to attract and engage readers.

This spurred some second-guessing of my preferred styles, including ironic humor and sentimentality.

I wondered: Can someone who wants to publish books in the Christian nonfiction genre effectively balance two different styles, or do I have to pick a lane?

Though I didn’t determine a solid answer to that question, I stumbled onto a way to resolve this inner conflict at an unlikely moment – while watching “Thor Ragnarok.”

It’s not spoiling anything to say the Hulk plays a major role in the movie. Like many other superheroes, Hulk has a dual identity as placid, brilliant Dr. Bruce Banner who, triggered by emotional outburst, turns into a fierce green giant.

Surely, it’s a stretch to compare my writing with an Avenger, but for some strange reason, it clears things up for me.

I can write with both voices because that’s who I am. Emotional, but not constantly sappy. Analytical, but not always serious.

This dual-sided approach to writing style corresponds with my newly defined writing emphasis.

I want to engage others’ minds and my own through studying Scripture and reliable source material so that we can know God better. I also desire to encourage our hearts to be real about and surrender our emotions, weaknesses, and affections so that we can love God better.

I suppose you could think of it as going Hulk on the gospel. Except that that sounds a little weird and a tad violent.

To this end, I’m shifting the bulk of my efforts from building a platform via social media to contributing articles for Christian blogs and websites. I’ll still participate in social networking – it’s mandatory in this day and age – but not pressure myself to produce content every day.

Regarding topics, I expect to continue writing about what’s dear to me – infertility, adoption, and motherhood – and intentionally draw out gospel implications in these areas. I also plan to write on the church, culture, and straight-up theology, while integrating witty comments on occasion to make my words creative and relatable.

Only God knows how this calling of writing will fully play out in my life, and only He can accomplish it. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.

He is my “place in this world.” To Him be the glory.