My Own Story and the Twists and Turns It Took

My five year old hands lovingly stapled construction paper together, then drew pictures and wrote the story out on each page in crayon. I proudly printed the title and my name on the front cover, then brought it to my mom.  

She took it in her hands and read out loud, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears, by Michele Linihan.” I waited expectantly as she turned the pages of my precious book. Finally she set it down and said, “This is very nice work, but it isn’t yours. You can’t write someone else’s story. You have to write your own story.”  

When I was nine, I sent my own stories to Random House Publishers. (I received a very kind, encouraging rejection letter.) I wrote songs that became instruments of torture to my family (not my intention). By my teens I wrote VERY introspective poetry, sometimes with God at the center, but mostly – all about me.

In college, I learned to have a quiet time and to journal—my songs and poems became more God-focused. But even when they were about God, they were still about me.

I daydreamed. I pictured myself on stage, singing the final song* of my concert. Everyone would be weeping.

I loved writing.  

But I had had other daydreams. When I was eleven, I would mow the lawn and make up stories about serving God in Russia. I tried to forget those “childish” dreams—but God did not forget.

One spring I told my mom I had committed to go to Russia for the summer. I added, “Going to Russia will give me new songs to write.”  

I held out hope that this would be a short-term thing (although deep down I knew) and I would return to be a songwriter in the order of Michael Card or Rich Mullins, delving into the deep things of God and touching people’s souls…all in a mysterious way.

I went to Russia. The “two month” trip became years.  

I didn’t write new songs.  

I did learn a new language and a new culture. Russia in the 90s was a tough place to be. Their system had collapsed, their old way of life gone – a time of chaos, lines for milk and bread, loss of hope.

journaled

“We were in over our heads, but You kept us afloat somehow … difficult economically …  people were so hungry and broken, and if You were their bread, then we were a few small fish. Few, small, but also in the basket, torn into pieces, somehow multiplied for the multitudes. (Mark 6:38,41; 8:6-7)

“I learned what it meant to offer You, the bread of life, to the hungry crowd and our own selves as well…” (1 Thess. 2:8)

I developed deep lifelong relationships.

But besides journaling my life with God, I wrote nothing. I had so much to say, so much to share, but no words could adequately express everything in my heart and even if they could have I was too tired to try.

The dream of writing songs died. I mourned it sometimes, but I didn’t hang on to it.  

We adopted two toddlers—another childhood dream that God did not forget. I had even more story to tell, and even less time and emotional capacity for telling it.  

I thought.

When the kids were four, I noticed poetry and songs were gradually creeping in to my journals. Then they seemed to burst forth like a brook once clogged but now cleared of debris and running free with new purpose—making new courses for itself.  

God had not forgotten that dream either.

What I said to my mom has proved to be true. But at first it looked like one of the most foolish things I’ve ever said. And in a way, it was, until dug through to the deeper meaning—meaning that I didn’t mean—couldn’t have meant at the time.  

I have learned to write new songs (Ps. 96:1). My own songs and stories, mine and God’s. If you’re reading this in email, you can see a video of one here and see the lyrics here. 

I don’t dream about concerts, but write (offer) my songs and poems to God the way I brought my story to my mom.  Usually they are just between Him and Me.  

God kept the artistic part of my heart alive 

by first killing it.

 

How has your art changed over the years? Where have you had to lay it down? In what ways has God used your art to refine you?

18 Comments

  1. Beth Everett March 15, 2016

    I loved this Michele! Having read your blog from time to time via The Grove, it was really good to read more of your story, and hear the journey of how God gave you new songs to sing. And also the reminder that His work in and through us is for a lifetime. It just looks very different at various stages of life. Hope all goes well for the final stages of you third album!

    1. Michele Womble March 15, 2016

      Thanks, Beth!  Yes, His work in us and through us DOES look very different at various stages of life, and often not at all like we imagine it’s going to look -at least, not like I imagine it’s going to look   and yet it’s always better (in the end) that I could ever have dreamed up.  When I daydreamed about going to Russia while mowing the lawn my “stories” were vastly different from the reality (and very ME glorifying, yikes) but I wouldn’t trade the reality of it for any of those old daydreams.

      Thanks for the well-wishes on the third album – pray for the album if it comes to mind  – we’re hoping to have all the music/sound details finished by May (but you know how that goes, things always seem to take twice as long as we plan, and we can’t exactly take a week off to work on it – trying to do it in between and along side everything else…but actually, it’s better that way.  Keeps it in it’s right place.) Pray that it will speak to people/serve people on the theme of transformation – and get done whenever God wants it to be done.

  2. Amy Young March 15, 2016

    Michele, I loved seeing the Russian dolls dancing in your song :). I’m very impressed with how patient you were to make it. And I loved thinking of you longing to be Rich Mullins=like and how you thought it was going to be . . . and then how it turned out. That kind of sums up my life too 🙂 (minus being a singer!)

    1. Michele Womble March 15, 2016

      I meant to reply to you but made a new comment instead, sorry!  so see below.  🙂

       

  3. Michele Womble March 15, 2016

    Those are my Russian Christmas ornaments!  The kids used to take them off the tree and play with them, and one year we were making them dance…side note to explain that – my daughter took Russian folk dance for years, and some of their costumes were very like these ornaments, ….so we were making them dance and got the idea to do the video.  Made a stage for it on the table  (so we couldn’t use our table for eating for awhile.) It was fun.  But tedious.  I ended up finishing it by myself.  (All those thousands of pictures are also taking up way too much memory on my computer, I need to move them somewhere. )

    I did want to be like Rich Mullins!  And now I’m older than he is.  (You know, because he died young.Ish.)

    But how I thought it was going to be, and how it turned out – and everything I thought I wanted – I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Have a song about that, too.  Not about Rich Mullins, but about how I wouldn’t trade the way my life has turned out.  (It’s called “This Grace”  – because that’s what it IS, grace that my life is what it is and not what I had planned.)

    I’d love to hear more about how that sums up your life, – how you thought it was going to be compared to how it is. (You probably have a blog post or article you can send me, too 🙂 )

  4. Elizabeth March 16, 2016

    I love this, how this thread of creativity is woven all through your life, and how what you thought would happen with it was different than what did happen! Love the slow shift from “me” to “God.” I think that probably happens (or needs to happen) for all of us.

    And we Trotters share your love of Michael Card and Rich Mullins. They are wonderful people to aspire to! But you, Michele, are your own wonderful person to BE 🙂

    1. Michele Womble March 16, 2016

      About that shift from “me” to “God” – I wrote above in the post that “even when they were about God, they were still about me” (the poems and songs).  At the end of the post I had a line “now, even when they are about me, they’re still about God”.  I erased it.  Partly because I couldn’t really make it work in the post without being awkward, but also – I thought, well, I feel that way NOW, and I believe that they are much more about God than they were twenty years ago, but probably twenty years from now I’ll look back and say, “Nah, it will still too much all about you.”  In comparison.  (At least I hope I’ll change that much!)  So – in comparison – yes, there’s been a shift from me to God.  I hope that shift continues drastically.

      High five (or fist bump?) for loving Michael Card and Rich Mullins!

      Thanks, Elizabeth!

  5. Mary Beth March 16, 2016

    Loved reading this and learning new things about you 🙂

    1. Michele Womble March 16, 2016

      Thank you, MB!   🙂 .

      Did you know that at 13 years old A asked me if it was possible God was calling her to India? (she felt burdened for the widows in India because of a book we read)  Because of my own experience – eleven years old – I had to say, yes it’s possible. That I don’t know if He IS, but He could be.  Can’t remember if I told you … she’s kind of forgotten about it, now, blown it off, but…so did I…He could have been working her heart to some other end…But, I’m preparing my heart, to be ready, just in case.

      (ya’ll – MB is my sis-in-law.  Had to share that. 😉  )

       

  6. Michele Womble March 16, 2016

    BTW – The time period I wasn’t writing:  10 years. From the time I stopped to the time I realized I was writing again.  Then it was awhile  after that before I shared a poem or a song with someone, and even longer before I recorded the first album.

    So, for anyone who is wondering what has happened to their art or their creativity, who might be thinking that it is dead – gone – whatever:  don’t despair.  I can’t promise, but it is very possible that God is going to cause it to sprout again.  At the right time (even if the right time is many years later). Better than before.

  7. Ellie March 17, 2016

    An encouraging post Michele. I am encouraged by the fact that God didn’t forget those buried dreams..

    I am tentatively cracking open a window into some creative areas I have had “dormant” or shut down for the longest time and it’s painful but beautiful, so it’s good to hear how someone has “gone before” and has testimony to something a bit on the other side.

    The video and song were powerful for me too – the “new girl” dolls (/Christmas ornaments – beautiful!) and their gradual assimilation into the group and then them leaving the group “changed and wondering” was something I saw and heard/felt in it. A really beautiful and challenging thing.Thank you.

    Blessings.

    1. Michele Womble March 17, 2016

      Ellie! I would love to hear more about these creative areas of yours and how you are tentatively cracking the window open into them.  But if it’s early yet to share more, I get that.

      “It’s painful but beautiful…”  – yes, I can understand that.  It’s painful when something that’s such a part of you is dormant – missing – like that – and still painful when it starts to awaken again – but beautiful all through.

      If you are at a place where you can share about your journey so far (or if/when you get to that place) I would love to hear it.  We can encourage each other.  🙂

      God has this way of remembering our dreams, doesn’t He.  I have had some dreams that did need to die completely – usually because they were wrong in and of themselves – but most of them it seems He has pruned way back until I thought they were gone, and then revived them and given them back – but given them “back” as His for me to be a steward of, for His purposes.  They never come back quite the way I imagined them, either.

      Thank you for telling me you saw meaning in the video!  My daughter took Russian folk dancing for almost ten years (you can see one of her dances here – the filming isn’t great (it’s me) and of course I’m trying to stay on her so you don’t really get a feel for the whole dance – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9_IRFK_7cU )   – anyway, the dances her instructor choreographed always told a story – so we were trying to “tell a story” in “our” dance, too.  Loosely, so that people could kind of fill in the blanks with their own story, which is also what I try do with my poems …But I wasn’t sure if you could really see a story in the dance – and you are the first person who has said that you could!  So thank you for telling me that that worked out, and also thank you for telling me what you saw.  I like your words “changed and wondering”….

       

  8. Halley Mastrolonardo March 21, 2016

    Hi Michele,

    It was so nice to read your blog post today. I get these in my inbox everyday but don’t always read them. It’s probably no coincidence I read yours this morning.

    Like you, I’ve been a writer my entire life; it’s taken on various forms over the years. Since I was in middle school I kept a diary which I wrote in everyday. By the time I was in high school I was a writer and editor for our yearbook and newspaper. I went to college and began to pursue a career in journalism, with the hopes of working in sports, or news. I even thought I’d write a book one day as well.

    Fast forward to just a few years ago, God changed my life and heart and I laid down that career and decided to go into full time ministry. Since then I’ve gotten married and my husband and I are heading to Poland to serve full time. We hope to be there within the next year (2017). It’s a long process though, as I’m sure you know. 🙂

    Even though I’ve laid down those dreams of writing professionally, I’ve always kept up with journaling and even other creative art. I’ve always enjoyed DIY projects and just making anything pretty. Lately, I’ve gotten into calligraphy and brush lettering. In this interim period, before we move to Poland, part of me has wrestled with wanting to start a business and has begun to reconsider our move (also for some family reasons). I’ve begun to notice that I think I want to showcase some of my work out of selfish motivation, or to prove that I have purpose or even the ability to make something pretty when sometimes I feel ugly inside. Especially during this season of my life. As we prepare to move overseas, part of me feels like I may have to lay down some of the creative work I love and enjoy so much. It’s hard to explain, really. It scares me. Maybe perhaps part of it has been my identity but yet, on another side, I feel like God has created me to create. We are made in His image, aren’t we? In my mind I know God can use our creativity for beauty and for his Glory. But only if we really give it to Him.

    These are some of the things I’m processing and praying through. Thanks again for your post and for reading this. I’m encouraged by what the Lord has done through you and with your music!

    1. Michele Womble March 21, 2016

      Hi Halley!  🙂

      Wow – you have had a quite a journey so far – thank you for sharing it!

      It’s true you may have to lay down some of the creative work you love and enjoy.

      But then again – you may not.

      It’s good to have something that is like a hobby, that helps you to “dial down”, to relax, to rest.  Even when you are going overseas.  But in the early years especially – although not only – we have to be careful not to disappear into those things altogether – because sometimes it’s tempting.  So, as long as we’re able to keep something like that in the place God wants us to keep it – we don’t necessarily have to give it up.  Sometimes these things help us process and recharge.

      But – having said that – you do have to be prepared to lay them down, to give them up – if that’s what is needed – if it’s what God is asking.

      And it really is scary.  It’s so scary to give up those things that mean so much to us – that are so much a part of us and our identity.  It would be scary all over again if I had to do it again.

      But if HE’s asking it – it’s SO WORTH IT.

      If you DO have to give them up…it’s very likely only for a season.  God likes resurrecting things, and He resurrects them new and whole and more wonderful than before.

      And who knows – maybe this is totally not even on your radar anymore but…

      in ten years or so you may write that book.

      It just may not be the book you originally thought you would write.

       

      I have a few questions for you:

      (I numbered them because I kind of ramble through them)

      1. Did you pick up calligraphy and brush lettering as an alternative creative outlet to writing – since you laid down writing?

      You said “I’ve begun to notice that I think I want to showcase some of my work out of selfish motivation, or to prove that I have purpose or even the ability to make something pretty when sometimes I feel ugly inside“.

      (I like how you put that – the ability to make something pretty when I feel ugly inside – and I think that it’s really interesting and cool of God that He allows us to create beautiful things even out of that ugliness)

      I’m wondering about this because I quilted for awhile when I wasn’t writing and the kids were toddlers – partly I really enjoyed it but partly it helped validate to myself that I could do SOMETHING at a time when I had no tangible evidence of accomplishing anything or creating anything – maybe it kind of gave me purpose when I felt I was wandering in a desert – something beautiful and useful I could do…

      so I was wondering about that and you and calligraphy –

      and also wondered

      2. Have you asked Him if that’s really what is happening? (not what I said about myself, but your words above)

      AND

      last but not least

      3. have you asked Him about writing (and giving it up)?  Have you asked him about giving up your creativity, your creative work?

      I’m asking because sometimes we give up things He hasn’t asked us to.

      I’m praying for your processing and looking forward to seeing what God does.

       

       

      1. Elizabeth March 21, 2016

        “God likes resurrecting things.” AMEN Michele!

  9. Katie Wong March 27, 2016

    This was so timely to read, as God is re-awakening all my dreams (both for life and creatively) right now as he calls me out of the field into the unknown.

    Thanks for sharing so openly and especially for those last lines – I had willingly killed my dreams and my creativity to serve where I am, but He doesn’t desire those things to remain dead forever. And what a thing to remember on Easter! =)

    1. Michele Womble March 28, 2016

      Hi Katie!  I’m awed that you are able to see a connection between God calling you “out of the field into the unknown”  and God re-awakening all your dreams.  Going into the unknown can be really frightening, and can feel like a death – and yet (while you may also be experiencing it as a death) you are experiencing it as a resurrection – of dreams, of parts of yourself – it sounds like you are full of hope.

      You are right, those things that we give to Him or that we ‘die to’ or put to death for the sake of following of Him – He doesn’t desire them to remain dead forever.  I believe that He resurrects them – both in this life and in the life to come.  And  – it’s so exciting to see what those dreams and gifts (and creativity) will be like “resurrected” – HIS, and how they will serve Him.

      Easter IS a great time to remember it!  So glad you came by here on Easter 🙂

      Praying for you as I type – for your transitions, for the resurrection of dreams – for new dreams.

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