Friday, April 25, 2014

This is my story - Gibson

Just past the turn of last century, during the most productive of my freelance writing career, following God's pointing finger to "go ye" I walked into a local newspaper office—throat in mouth and file folder in hand. It held my writing resume, ten 500-word columns and a proposal to write a new one each week.
When I left the editor’s office, I walked out a faith and life columnist, under the heading “Sunny Side Up.” (I suspect the quick agreement had less to do with my writing than with my solemn pledge never to miss a deadline. I never have.)

On October 10, 2010, as I submitted my column, I realized something: …Lord, I’m 500 columns down that road!
Today, in 2014, I’m almost at 700. With God’s help, in five hundred words (or so) a week, I strive to show a primarily secular audience of many thousands how faith intersects with everyday life. Along the way, I’ve revealed much about my family, my friends, my faith, and myself. I’ve tried to keep things positive. Real. But…

“Are you surprised I made it to 500?” I asked my clergyman husband, Rick, on that “500 anniversary.”

“Because, well…”

“Well, what?”
“Because you’re quite often…(throat clear)…well….(squirm)…not sunny.”

“Examples, please,” I demanded.
“I can’t recall any, not off the bat.”

“Negative about life? Negative about people? Negative about what?”
He shrugged. “Never about other people…but …”

“Am I negative about you? I know I nag sometimes. But you so often NEED nagging!”

“There,” he sputtered. “And I’ll refrain from saying, ‘nuff said.’”

Milestones spur reflection. There followed a rather serious discussion about what it means to live out a consistent, authentic, Sunny Side Up faith on cloudy days. About letting the Son shine in—and out—where it matters most—at home. After years of practice, I’m still working on that. 
I thank God for a spouse who loves me enough to tell me the truth. I need nagging too—the Preacher (as I call him in my columns) let me off easy.

Some weeks when I’ve submitted my column, I’ve felt that it should have a different heading: “Over Easy,” maybe. Or, “Hard and Stepped On.” Even, horrors, “Scrambled, Fluffy, and Irrelevant.”  (My readers have been gracious.) Many weeks I long to go deeper, to tackle the big issues of life. Things that make we Christians squirm. Theological issues. Questions that won’t go away but deserve to be addressed anyway. But God keeps reminding me of my audience. Whispering that my role on those pages is simply to plant seeds and allow others to water them.
Of all my writing assignments, Sunny Side Up has brought me the most joy. God—who alone gets the credit for any helpful words and the milestones we’ve travelled together—has spread it far beyond my long-ago hopes of simply sharing my faith, Christ’s hope, and his love in my own community.

Sunny Side Up has a wider audience today. Though it runs mainly in prairie newspapers, it has expanded through the internet and through spin-off radio spots that air locally and, through a syndicated partner, in many countries around the world. To my amazement, people have responded from Japan, India, Britain and elsewhere.
I began writing Sunny Side Up in March of 2001. Within two years, requests started arriving. They came by email, card, word, and in person. Many followed the same line:

“Won’t you please put your columns in a book, so we don’t have to go fishing through our drawers to find the one we’re looking for?”
Eventually, I compiled the first year of columns into one manuscript and sent out a few proposals. But traditional publishers love column compilations about as much as yesterday’s congealed oatmeal, I learned—and stopped trying.

“My family can publish them after I die,” I told my daughter. She grimaced and rolled her eyes.
One day I received a call from a lady who had the responsibility of sifting through a friend’s belongings after her death. “Kathleen, I’ve found something I think you should have.”

The “something” was a burgundy binder, stuffed with plastic photo sheaths encasing yellowed newspaper clippings. Years of  Sunny Side Up columns. Every one in order. The lady had made her own book.
God’s nudge deepened in that moment. I dug out my manuscript and began reworking it, trusting God to direct me to the right publisher.

But another book raced to publication first—West Nile Diary; One Couple's Triumph Over a Deadly Disease; (Bastian Publishing, 2009) the book a mosquito started, the Preacher lived and I wrote. Not until after its promotional tours and interviews finished, did I return to the column collection—and finally I understood the requests for a Sunny Side Up book compilation.
Since I had last read the manuscript, a mosquito had flipped our lives around. My husband’s sudden and permanent disability had sent us into exile from home and community for six months. When we returned my husband had no job. Our church family was no longer our family. And our parsonage home? No longer our home.

We’d moved to temporary low-income housing, living on a disability income. I took a magazine editing job, but lost it within a year when the company drastically downsized. With a sudden spike in housing costs, we had no idea where we would live following our temporary situation.

Nevertheless, our life seemed bright, compared to the stories of many of my readers—the people who had written, phoned, and emailed to thank me for the inspiration they’d found in Sunny Side Up.

As I re-read those first columns from a very changed circumstance than when I’d first written them, they encouraged me too. In the words God had inspired years earlier, I found hope. Reminders of life’s truest wealth—God’s unchangeable, constant love. And I knew I must do all I could to honor my readers’ wishes and “get Sunny Side Up between covers.” For God’s glory alone.

To my amazement, Practice by Practice; The Art of Everyday Faith, won the 2009 Word Alive Publishing Contest (nonfiction). The company far surpassed my expectations in production. Four years after publication, I still get requests for the book.

All this telling makes me uncomfortable, frankly. As all writers who feel called, I strive to keep my balance. My other roles in life take up far more room and often bear far more appeal: wife, mother, grandmother, and full-time employee as a constituency and communications assistant for  the best boss in the world -- or at least I think so -- Garry Breitkreuz, our MP. 
Nevertheless, this is my story. And most days…this is my song: Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace…tidings of Jesus…redemption and release.




Peter Black said...

An enjoyable read, Kathleen. And congratulations on the milestones attained, and the recognition received from your publishers and appreciation from your grateful readers!
Every blessing and success to you in the days and years ahead as you continue to reflect the sunny side of God's love. :)

Susan Harris said...

I had the privilege of meeting Kathleen two years ago and I saw her on April 25, the day this blog was published. As before, I left her presence uplifted, refreshed, certain that I had visited God. I've read both West Nile Diary and Practice by Practice, and not only has my faith leapt forward, I've been presented with a bar for becoming a stronger writer. I feel she is my family, friend, peer and one who would set me straight if I needed it. And those kind of people are hard to come by. Many blessings on your personal and professional life, Kathleen, and btw, I love that pic.

Tracy Krauss said...

I was especially struck by how you came to the revelation re: negativity... sometimes we don;t see ourselves as negative until someone we trust (your hubby) says it gently. I enjoyed hearing about your journey.

Kathleen Gibson said...

Thank you, fellow scribes. You are very kind. I'm a work in progress, but I'm blessed to serve with other who inspire me too. Susan, I loved seeing you and your daughter again.

Eleanor Shepherd said...

What a marvellous ministry you have Kathleen, sharing gently with those who may or may not be people of faith in a positive way I am so delighted to learn about this Thank you for daring to seek the opportunity to write that column.

Glynis said...

When I stop to think how many readers have benefited from the seeds you planted, I am in awe. God can do a mighty work once we realize from whence our talents came. This article is actually gritty and real and no wonder people 'save' your articles and demand a book. Nice work, Kathleen.

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