Little Paper Pieces: On the Tearing Up and Rewriting of Your Life

NOTE: The following is a featured post from 2016 which first appeared on my former creative blog, Scrappy Storyteller. I’m sharing this as a way of embracing my past creative self and sharing ideas she had that, well, still matter today. Enjoy!


Anyone who knows me well knows how much I hate the process of revision. Ideas tend to flow through me like freight trains, complete thoughts barreling down the track that is my early phases of writing. They’re coherent and prolific. This blog post itself is mostly a first draft, composed on-the-fly with a few stolen moments of time.

Generally after composing such a first draft, I walk away satisfied that I got my meaning across. This is probably the only real reason I write: not for the beauty of language itself, but to get something off my chest. 

And that is where things start to get messy.

Because the process of polishing my thoughts is never as straightforward or simple as the getting them down in the first place. I hate chaos, so there’s something inherently horrific to me about taking my neatly ordered ideas and tearing them up. Why un-make and re-make again what was decently adequate to start with—especially when it involves such violence?

To me, revision feels like a death: my beautiful first drafts get torn up into “little paper pieces” and scattered on the wind. Why can’t I just write it well the first time?

This is of course the purest form of creative impatience. Nothing on the planet (not even my words!) show up in the world fully formed. It must be shaped and fashioned, nurtured and evolved. Many sentences and paragraphs must die and rise again in new forms before the final product emerges.

That’s just not how the creative process works in real life. I think the same can be said for our inner stories as well.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about The Other Side of Storytelling. In this post, I explored what it now means to me to refashion my personal narrative of my own life experiences—so I can actually live with myself and move forward. Author Jean Houston has called this the process of “re-mythologizing your life.”

Just as cultures tell themselves stories to make meaning of their collective experience, so we individuals do the same. Just perhaps, more unconsciously. But as I’ve learned since I wrote the post, re-mythologizing an inner reality is much closer to the traditional process of creative revision than I imagined at the outset.

Revision is nothing more than a process of Getting Your Story Straight. To get your story straight, you must be willing to revise it, a thousand times if necessary. You must not fear the violence of ripping paper or the whine of the shredding machine. You must, in short, be willing to tear every unsatisfactory draft up into tiny paper pieces and scatter them to the wind.

Oh, the mess it makes!

Despite this mess, over the past few months, I have been blessed with so many angelic individuals coming into my life to help me “see” myself properly and retell my story at a crucial moment. Some of them are friends. Some are clients. Some occupy other capacities altogether in my heart and mind. But they all share one thing in common: 

They have, each one of them, forced me to tear up and rewrite my story—again. 

Every time I am tempted to settle for a less elegant rendition of what has happened in my life, or put up with a self-destructive turn of phrase, they pull out their red pens and call me on my bullshit. It’s editorial license of a breathtakingly destructive kind.

The funniest—and perhaps most grace-filled—part of it, is that most of these editors don’t even know they’re on the job.

They don’t know how many times I go home from being with them, feeling like my soul has been ripped up, ripped out or ripped open. They never see the tears I shed, or the long journal entries in which I force myself to reframe experiences that I have always naturally avoided, or seen in a particular, self-destructive light. Inspired by their nudges, I’ll start writing my story again, thinking this time I’ll get the final healthy version down pat. 

But it just doesn’t work that way.

There’s always another draft I need to write. And pronto.

Despite my frustration with the slowness of this process, there is hope. In my most private moments I find myself gradually being filled up with a story that (while different from the one I originally wrote) is probably far stronger. Yet in the presence of my editors, I still find myself frequently at a loss for words, or saying the wrong things, or losing my power of self-expression altogether. 

I do not have just the right turn of phrase to replace the part of my story they just redlined, or marked up with that dreaded bit of commentary: “Unclear. Rewrite!” 

Paper pieces start showering down everywhere, and no matter how fast I chase them with broom and vacuum, I can hardly keep up with the mess.

Of course, I hate the mess. And I worry that my friends and clients and others in my life will soon grow impatient with all the flotsam in my wake. Don’t they hate breathing in wood pulp? Don’t they get tired of red ink-stains on their fingers? And aren’t they going to revoke our contract when they get another horrible mid-revision draft that’s just north of complete drivel?

Then I remember, that they don’t see what’s happening in my soul. They aren’t inside my process of re-mythologizing my life. 

The paper pieces are likely invisible to everyone except me.

My mess, self-made, is also only self-seen.

So this is a thank you to all those brave souls out there who engage with me at a level I’ve never experienced before. You know who you are. You know how much you matter. 

What maybe you don’t know is just how painful (in the best of ways) your kindness is. 

I’m reminded of a quote from A Course in Miracles, which states, “Discomfort is not the final result of your perception.”

I trust wholeheartedly that this time of new perceiving of myself, and of rewriting my understanding of my life, will bear fruit in the years to come. I trust that the discomfort of my new perception, inspired by your collective kindness, will be rewarded with a great joy that I can give back to you a thousand fold. I trust that the sea of red ink you help me splash all over my internal narrative will deliver us at last a clean, fresh story that is satisfying all the way to “The End.”

I trust this, yes. 

And still , I grieve a bit every time a new draft splits into a thousand useless scraps.

Then again, maybe re-mythologizing not about getting the story “just right.” Maybe it is not about the death of the old drafts at all, but the celebration what might come in the next. And maybe—just maybe—that’s where I’ve always gone wrong with revision.

One can view the act of writing as a tearing up of the old, or as the welcoming in of something brand-new and wonderful.

Little paper pieces, I suppose, make their own kind of confetti.

Where Souls Cry: Walking the Berlin Wall

My entire life, I’ve heard about the Berlin Wall.

I was just six years old when it fell. Before 1989, it was something the newscaster spoke about on my mom’s radio programs. After 1989, it was something everyone looked back on. I vaguely remember my parents reading voraciously about the circumstances around this historic event which led to the reunification of Germany. 

Twenty-eight years later, I got a chance to see and touch it for myself. 

On a blustery day in December I bundled up myself and leashed Sam the dog—the Aussie shepherd I was pet sitting, who already had a bundle of fur to keep him warm. It took us about twenty minutes to walk to the Wall Memorial from Sam’s owners’ flat.

Later, I found another Wall guard tower right in our neighborhood an learned the Wall ran almost literally under the flat itself. But I didn’t know that yet. So I took Sam for a walk in the park where parts of the Wall are now preserved for posterity, along with gravestones and various sculptural pieces. Nearby also stood the Wall Memorial Museum, a chapel dedicated to the memory of victims, and other sites of interest.  

I’m glad I took Sam with me. I cannot now imagine having done the Wall Memorial without his gentle, steady canine presence.  

Mostly because for the first time in my life, I could hear the spirits screaming.  

Let’s face it: the ground of Berlin is soaked in blood. 

It’s not just the blood of Jews. It’s also the blood of Germans trying to cross from East to West. The blood of the Roma people who were slaughtered en masse, and other nationalities too. I told someone later that Berlin, to me, seemed like a giant collection of “apology monuments”—places now dedicated to memorial, for atrocities committed against some internal group who had once found shelter on that ground.  

The Berlin Wall Memorial just happens to be the most famous.  

I found it particularly moving to walk past the names and photos of individuals killed while trying to cross the Wall. As I viewed each face, I wondered, “Whose son is that? Whose sister? Did their families ever know what happened to them, or did they simply leave—and never return?” 

The atmosphere in the park was appropriately subdued. People walked from place to place, murmuring to one another. Taking discrete photos that seemed less voyeuristic and more commemorative. Over it all, a weak European winter sun shone down, its diffuse light softening the harsh contraption of concrete-and-wire that was all now left of the wall. 

I think perhaps the most bearable part of the whole experience was the chapel.  

Somehow, in the middle of a space where the spirits of the dead still cry out for full justice, that place was a refuge. I could not take Sam inside, so we only stood at the threshold. But even as we stood there I drank in the serenity of that faith-designated ground.  

In the middle of despair and chaos, the church represented hope and peace.  

In the middle of loss, the church represented eternal rest. 

In the middle of pain, the church was a balm for the soul.  

Though what happened in Germany during those terrible years cannot be altered, the future still remains to be written. It would have been easy for me to avoid the Wall Memorial altogether during my time in Berlin. But I’m glad I went. The chance to pay my respects. To understand more of what happened and gain greater perspective. The opportunity to hear those souls crying out from the ground and know that spiritual warfare is real. 

Sometimes the most uncomfortable places are the most important ones for us to visit.  

Just … take a big, empathic Aussie Shepherd with you if you can.  

I promise, it makes all the difference. 

How Can I Hear the Voice of God?

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 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.“
– John 14:26

There’s a lot of talk in our culture about people who hear voices. It’s one of those topics that’s mostly a joke … until it’s not.

Let’s face it: most of us know “someone like that.” Someone whose carton is a few eggs short. The one who does crazy (or even morally wrong) things, then says to us, “The Voices told me to.” The one everybody avoids at the family reunion. The one whom everybody cringes at when they pop up in Messenger. The one whose mug shot we see in the local paper.

It’s not super popular to be a person who hears voices. Which is why people get weirded out when you say you hear The Voice on a daily basis.

The Voice of God, that is.

There’s a lot of difference between a voice and The Voice.

I believe that not everyone who hears “The Voice” in their head is crazy or deluded. God says in His word the Bible that He speaks personally and individually to anyone who has chosen a relationship with Him through His son, Jesus. This voice is less an actual audible sound and more a deep prompting rising up from somewhere within. And it’s quiet. In fact, the Bible calls it the “still, small voice.”

People tell me all the time, “Lisa, I’m a follower of Jesus, but God doesn’t speak to me like He speaks to you.”

I’m here today to call that a lie, and the sooner you stop believing it, the faster you’ll start hearing from God, too. Because the problem isn’t that God isn’t speaking.

It could be that you’re so afraid of the “crazy person” designation—and the attendant potential ostracism—that you’re blocking The Voice from coming to you at all.

It could also be that you’re not quiet enough to hear Him.

Shhhhh… God is speaking!

Getting quiet enough to hear the Voice of God is not merely the province of gurus on mountaintops, or a saintly nun tucked away in a cloister. It’s a process of coming face to face with all the noise inside us: all the unaddressed trauma, and fear, and anxiety that keeps us running for our lives day to day. It’s the to-do list. It’s the pile of bills to pay. It’s all the voices that haunt our sleep at night, replaying angry cut-downs spoken by people who were supposed to love us … and left instead.

As long as you run from all that internal clutter, instead of running to it, admitting it and allowing Jesus to heal it, you’ll never really be able to heard God the way He desires you to hear Him.

Because you can’t hear Him and your fear at the same time. You can’t listen well to His plan while also trying to calculate your own next move.

The Devil loves to keep us running in place, always looking backward.

Anything to distract us from the still, small voice.

Run straight into the mess, not from it

So you want to hear from God? Radically? Like, the kind of hearing that has Him telling you not only what to do next with your life, but also what to eat for breakfast and which route to take on your drive to work? Then it’s time to stop hiding from all the mess inside.

For me, this process began two years ago when I went through an unexpected (and undesired) divorce. It was only as my life unraveled that I began to fully understand how my decisions and my lifestyle had been driven by my fears rather than my faith, by my insistence on listening to false voices who told me I was Not Enough, rather than the voice of God who said, “I am Enough for you.”

It took God pushing me literally flat on my face to finally see the truth. In July of 2016 He sent me a wham-bammy of an emotional experience that dropped my whole body into what I like to call a “six-day heart attack.” I was running three hours a day for no reason, not able to breath, unable to eat, dealing with 9000 lb weight on my chest and surges of internal energy I could not control.

On the sixth day, I smashed my face into the rug on the terrazzo floor of my apartment and begged Him to make it stop, or take my life.

In that moment, the pressure dropped, the world got still and I heard the Voice of God for the first time. His inaugural observation?

You do not know how to receive love.

The truth hurts, but it also heals

Um, wow. Yes. I knew immediately that this was true. I could not explain where this crystalline insight had come from, except that it was completely intelligible and somehow had come from complete silence. And it was completely true.

It all flashed through my mind: the struggles I had had growing up, my endless battle with perfectionism, man after man in my life who didn’t see me as “worthy” romantically (including my soon-to-be ex-husband), my battles with intimacy that left me feeling like less of a woman, all the fear and anxiety I lived with on a daily basis, my endless feeling of isolation.

All of that … because I was unable to receive love?

It was a crushing blow, and the beginning of real healing. Because from that day forward, I began to hear God’s Voice more strongly. Sometimes He told me things about myself or others. Sometimes He asked me to do something simple—like eat oatmeal for breakfast, or turn right and take a back way instead of turning left for the more obvious route.

At first I thought I was crazy. But as time went by, I realized that He wanted to be involved in every aspect of my life. Not just the big things. But the small things too. I simply had to do the one thing that seems harder for human beings than any other.

Listen.

Like, really, truly listen.

It’s your turn. Are you ready?

People ask me all the time now, “How can I heard the Voice of God, too?” Well, assuming you already have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ—the only way you can hear Him on this level—I cannot guarantee for you when and how you will begin to hear that voice. All I can tell you to do is to begin to pray. To seek His face and ask Him for His favor.

You will also have to begin cleaning out the emotional clutter that works like supernatural distraction for your eyes and supernatural cotton in your ears. That looks like actually dealing with:

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Insecurity
  • Anxiety
  • Silence
  • Lust
  • Isolation
  • Addictions
  • Experiences of rejection
  • Past abuse experiences

You see, most of us never really deal with the emotions around these things. We simply stuff them down—like I did with anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and feelings of failure and isolation. Talk to a trusted friend or mentor who can help you process through experiences that may be very tender. Don’t try to do it alone.

But the point is … let that stuff out. You might need to scream. Cry. Pound a pillow. Let yourself sit in a corner and shake like you never have before. Speak what happened to you, even if you have never allowed yourself to utter it aloud to anyone.

In short, you have to let yourself fall apart, so real emotional healing can begin.

Dare to become a beautiful mess

In our culture, we’re so afraid of these experiences. We do anything to avoid feeling pain, and when we do, we try to drown it out with exercise, work, or any other busy-ness that will keep us running to the next thing. Which is, by the way, precisely why we can’t hear God the way we want to. When emotions get lodged inside our physical body, they create barriers to our spiritual sensitivity and freedom. It’s like our whole being is “numbed out” trying to deal with what we were never meant to carry around inside.

I’m not saying by doing this your life will be perfect overnight. Or that you’ll suddenly hear The Voice fifteen times per day. But if you stick with prayerful practices of emotional clearing, you will be amazed at the luscious empty space inside that begins to form when you finally let go of all the pain you are hanging onto, and let God take it.

You’ll also find that you are suddenly able to be quiet and listen. Because it’s everything undealt-with inside of you that is keeping you from sitting still and really hearing the Holy Spirit.

The choice to hear God is yours

The Devil would love for you to remain in emotional bondage so that you miss out on the still, small Voice of God.

Don’t give in. You know now what’s up. He can speak to you just as He speaks to me, comforting me, guiding me, showing me each step on the road ahead—whether it’s my next big move, or my breakfast menu.

Rise up. Tell all that emotional clutter that it will no longer have you and keep you in bondage. Ask Jesus to break those chains. Pray. Praise. Speak with someone who also loves God who is qualified to help you get free.

And then get quiet.

Really quiet.

Because the Voice of God may be a whisper, but when He hits your life, trust me. Even the oldest, strongest foundations will shake.

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