As I sit here, I’m so excited that I can hardly contain myself. This morning, I completed my order on Amazon in order to receive five proof copies for my very first chapbook, Through My Good Eye: A Memoir in Verse.
(In case you’re wondering, a chapbook is a short collection of poetry that is usually less than forty pages. Chapbooks tend to contain approximately 20 poems and often focus on one particular topic.)
I can’t believe it’s actually happening. I’m eagerly counting the days until Friday (November 30) when these proof copies are due to be delivered. This small poetry collection has been a labor of love that has been in the making for over five years. I would also like to sincerely thank Martha Harris for editing this collection. I would never be bold enough go to print without Martha’s keen attention to detail. I’m brave enough to publish this collection because I know that Martha won’t let any mistakes through that will embarrass me!
I wrote this book over the course of my first five years in ministry. I am not exaggerating when I say that these years have been the happiest of my life. I feel as if I am at long last living out the mission that God placed upon my life when God called me to be a preacher
Writing As An Act of Rebellion
This small book is my statement of defiance against a world that is steeped in the sins of racism, ableism, and sexism.
I was in my junior year of college when I experienced an encounter with racism that will stick with me for the rest of my life. After dinner one evening, I returned home to what I thought was my empty my dorm room. Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to find a young man nonchalantly leaning against the wall and holding a book in his hand. Although the young man was a friend of my roommate and a fellow English major, I hadn’t been expecting anyone to be in the room. I was even more shocked when I realized that the book he was holding was my journal.
“Give that back!” I cried.
He looked up from the pages of my journal and arched an eyebrow at me.
“What?” he asked as he held my journal high aloft above my head. “You want this back?”
“Give it back now!” I shouted. I could barely control the anger in my voice. I felt inexplicably violated the fact that he had read my most private and innermost thoughts.
He laughed coldly as he turned away from me and began to read aloud from my journal.
“Stop that! Give it back!” I shouted as I frantically reached for the book. I cursed my short stature and the fact that it seemed everyone in the world was taller than me.
As he read, I could feel the heat rush to my face. He was reading one of my poems. Even at the time, I knew that it wasn’t a very good poem. It lacked structure and the wording was awkward; however, it was my poem.
I stood frozen with horror as he read my heartfelt words aloud in his ironic tone of voice. After what felt like an eternity, but in reality was only about a minute, I managed to gather myself enough to lunge for my journal once more.
He laughed once more before he at last relented and handed me the book. “You can have it back. I’ve read enough.”
I grabbed the my journal from him and clutched it tightly to my chest. I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me.
His quiet voice cut through the sound of my frantic heartbeat drumming in my ears. “What do you think,” he asked, “That you’re some kind of writer?”
“Not yet,” I said defiantly as I turned to face him once more, “But I will be someday!”
“No you won’t,” he replied. His voice sounded dull and matter of fact as he spoke, “Not with writing like that.”
“It’s only a journal,” I mumbled defensively. “It needs editing.”
“No amount of editing will help,” he said as he began to make his way toward the door. “Women don’t write poetry. Besides- I don’t see how you think you can be writer when you don’t even speak English.”
“What do you mean, I don’t speak English?” I asked. I was dumbfounded. “I’m an English major! And women do write poetry! What about Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath? ”
“Emily Dickinson was an agoraphobic who died in obscurity and Sylvia Plath stuck her head in an oven.”
I recoiled inadvertently to his callous response.
“And English isn’t your first language.. Although, I have to admit, you speak it surprisingly well for someone who’s not even an American.”
I was truly and utterly flabbergasted. “What do you mean, I’m not an American? I was born in Virginia! English is the only language I speak!”
He paused with his hand on the doorknob and turned to face me.
“That doesn’t matter,” he said as he looked directly into my eyes. “It’s not your language. Your language is- what is it they speak wherever you’re from?”
“My Dad was from the Philippines. They speak Tagalog or Cebuano,” I replied flatly.
“Yeah – that. That’s your language,” he said. “And you don’t even speak that.”
He shrugged once more and stepped out the door. As he left, he said over his shoulder with a sneer, “Your English is terrible and you don’t even speak Filipino. And you call yourself a writer.”
On that fateful day, his uninvited intrusion lasted only a few minutes, but his words have continued to haunt me for over a decade.
A Still Small Voice
As I say in the forward to this collection, I didn’t set out to write a book of poetry. For years, I scribbled quietly in the privacy of my own home. In my mind, as long as I kept my writing to myself, I wasn’t hurting anyone. Furthermore, as long as I only wrote sermons, I wasn’t embarrassing myself or my office as a church leader. Clergy are supposed to write sermons. It’s a major job requirement.
I continued to write: poems, short stories, devotions, essays, and even the occasional partially finished novel. I also continued to read voraciously and I remained passionate about reading poetry. In this year alone, I have read 104 books to date.
I was ordained as an elder in the United Methodist Church (UMC) in May of 2018. At my ordination, I was overjoyed. God had called me for a very specific task: to be a preacher. At last, I felt that I had completed the task that God had set before me.
I had graduated from college, attended seminary, worked at two pastoral internships, and completed the extensive ordination process required by the UMC. I had dedicated my life to the church, and in return, my beloved UMC had ordained me and covenanted with me to always provide me with a church to serve, thanks to our guaranteed appointment process.
As I stood on the stage at our annual conference, I smiled broadly into the blinding lights. “If I die tomorrow,” I thought to myself, “I can die happy. I’ve done what God has called me to do. At last, I am a preacher.”
Then, a voice that was not my own whispered in my heart, “Not yet… not yet.”
“What do you mean?” I asked the still small voice, “I mean, I know it’s not time to die yet. I hope to serve for many more years-”
“Write your book, the voice whispered softly in my soul, “Write your book.”
Writing for the Glory of God
After returning from annual conference, I tried to ignore the nagging feeling in my heart. I told myself that I was still young and that I had plenty of time; however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should start taking my writing more seriously.
Then, my beloved said something that struck me, “You’re always talking about how people should use all their gifts and graces to serve God– what if you’re supposed to write? What if God gave you the ability to write in order to serve Him? What if, by not writing, you’re not fulfilling your call after all?”
When I heard that simple question, I felt as if a bucket of ice water had been dumped over my head. My beloved had convicted me with those straightforward words. It was as if the Holy Spirit had spoken through him, in the plainest language I could possibly imagine.
My greatest wish is that, when I at last meet my Savior face to face, that He shall look at me and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, welcome home.”
I do not want Him to say, “I called you to preach. Why did you not write of my love?”
It is therefore, with a humble heart, that I dedicate this little book to the glory of God and to the people of Christ Community United Methodist Church. All profits made from this collection will be donated to Christ Community United Methodist Church.
In the future, I plan to publish (either independently or through a traditional publisher), a full length nonfiction book that will help to empower others to use writing in order to connect to God and deepen their faith. If you would like to continue to receive updates about Through My Good Eye: A Memoir in Verse, as well as poems, book reviews, sermons, devotions, and updates about my other writing projects, please subscribe to my blog through Word Press or E-mail!