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by Beth Muehlhausen
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I am a writer. Voices speak to me - all kinds of voices.

Years ago the voice of Sadness creeps into my deepest and most unsuspecting child’s heart to lay a concrete block foundation – block by block by discouraging block. It is initially in the sigh of my chronically depressed mother addressing the would-be writer in me. I have only just finished laboring through third grade and am madly in love with the Bobbsey Twins book series – and I want to write. The syrupy, not-quite-with-it-voice is sugarcoated with Valium. I’m not sure I want to trust it. "Here's something to copy - you can copy these poems and make a book of your own that way." I believe her. I believe this is the best I can do: plagiarize.

Then the voice of Encouragement, stiff but barely touchable, falls hard like a shadow at sunrise from the carefully painted lips of a teacher sporting cardinal-colored lipstick. She clanks silver charm bracelets against the blackboard while diagramming sentences and shuffles in her high heels on tiptoes pinched in pointed arrow shapes. This is a don’t-mess-with-me-person; someone who means business. But she likes my high school compositions. "This is good...this is good...you do well with descriptions." I hate her ratted blonde hair - a veritable nest - and expect some creature to crawl out and down her thick neck and into her polyester v-neck dresses at any moment. The good news is revolutionary: she is an encourager. I need that. So although my instinct says “outa here” I override dislike – no, something closer to loathing – and decide to give her a chance. Maybe she knows what she’s talking about. Her verbal sledges, crowbars and jackhammers seem to chip away at the wall around my writer’s heart, the one built by Sadness.

I head off to college and face what is supposed to be independence as well as a heretofore unknown voice: Reason. I declare a major - elementary education - but only because I have to pick something. After the first semester some wellspring in my heart gurgles with anticipation and I know I must visit my counselor. I will get real and tell him: I have to write. He turns out to be a weary assembly-line-kind-of-guy who runs students through his office like machine parts. My guess is he’s overworked and underpaid. Of course he doesn't believe in me; he doesn't even know me. Rather, he half-listens to my dreamy sighs about writing and is clueless that I’m actually terrified of messing up my future. In reality I have this mental laundry list of questions and fears bubbling up like the boiling mineral pools in Yellowstone: a geyser ready to erupt. But I quiet the rumblings and let him call the shots. He is practical; he wants me to be able find employment. "Major in English Education. That way you’re still reading and writing, and you can always teach - that's a good job for a woman."

The voice of Accountability challenges me to assess my own character and motives. I try to fake out my Shakespeare professor (such tedium in his classroom, I almost gag) by acting interested in the curriculum in a flirty sort of way. It doesn’t work. I bat my eyes, a crisp and attractive snow cone about to melt under the scrutiny of his interrogation lamp. The voice pins me to the wall. "Miss Pearce, you seem to be shaking your head and affirming me - why don't you explain to the class all the intricacies of this Shakespearean sonnet? Eh?" His twitchy eyebrows play hopscotch; his slick lips, wet with too much foamy spit, grimace over limestone teeth. I want to deck him squarely in the jaw. He doesn't know - no one knows that all I really want to do is survive all of this so that someday I can regurgitate on paper whatever this persistent urgency in me requires, whatever my heart dictates when I sit down with a pen and a blank sheet of paper.

Eventually the voice of Hope calls my lottery number; I FINALLY sign up for a creative writing class. Sadly, it is my first and last one according to the dictates of the academic ivory tower, but I love every assignment and can’t wait to return to my dorm room to brainstorm. After the first couple of weeks, the voice stirs some shred of remembered optimism, as if to drag my heart out of hiding, and I trip over myself getting to the professor’s desk. I can’t read the signs; can’t discern the motive behind his request. "Please - make an appointment to see me before next Tuesday’s class." My heart thumps. I fear and worry. But I call and schedule; I go. "You're good - you're quite good, I like this-and-that-and-the-other about your style. You could really do something with your writing if you work at it." Afterwards I float down the hallway past the bulletin boards with their waving paper flags, past harsh florescent lights and doors of offices holding intellectual professors with wordsmith brains. I can't breathe. Someone who should know thinks I can write.

Without any commotion or fuss or warning, the voice of Silence creeps up from the underbrush of life to sneak in and take over. It’s an ambush when, after college, real life intersects with the end of academia and the supposed beginning of dreams. I don’t teach English; I hate the very thought. I don’t write, either. Instead, I marry and have a slug of kids, which is all very good and admirable, reasonable and logical. I fall in love with my family. To carry on the legacy of my youth (I only wanted to be a “good girl”), I freeze and can tomatoes and applesauce and every edible plant or fruit I can get my hands on. I wash diapers and hang them on the clothesline to bake dry. Every week I turn out volumes of brownies and homemade bread and pancakes with grated zucchini from the garden because I’m trying to get some vegetables down my kids’ throats. Periodically I wage war on the weeds threatening my carrots and green beans and sweep the anthills off the front walk where the cracks invite the black ants to flourish. I live through a couple of grueling home remodels complete with no running water for six months (one house) and electricity in the water lines (another house). And then - the coupe de gras - I cohabit with a colony of chubby, oversized rats stupid enough to eat our poison and die inside the walls of the house. Out of necessity I hang it up....writing, I mean. There's no time or energy to enter more than a scribbly, emotional blurb here and there in my journal. These accumulate into pages of pleading and begging, heart cries I hope are heard in God’s throne room. Truth is, I've now met Jesus and am starting to talk to Him.

But wait, the most devastating is the assassin’s voice: Skepticism. One day in a rash moment I decide to spill my guts to someone I love - a dumb move I suppose, since it hits this person without warning or explanation, poor thing. "I want to write; I have to write. I am hard-wired to write! What do you think?" The voice cracks hard like a judge's anvil, hammering me squarely between the eyes. "Ha! Well. What do YOU have to write about? You have nothing of interest to say." The verdict is out. I'm a loser. If there was a window of opportunity open for me, it is now locked shut and speckled with greasy grime and tears. I can’t see any hope of writing in my future; visibility is dim. The writing world has ceased to exist – for me. I have other responsibilities. I must not be worthy…or something.

Although I continue in the loser mentality for thirty-some years, I also wait and wonder if someday, somehow, the flame of writing passion might respond to God’s bellows. They are often challenging years, but good in many respects. I discover grace. I study despair and hope, suffering and love. I learn about wisdom and understanding. The Holy Spirit stirs and enlivens and works miracles way down deep; I believe and tremble. Faith and trust define life in the midst of my own broken humanity. Oh sure, I still do some spotty journaling, much of which is yelling and tantrum throwing, venting and questioning. I also reflect and wonder and grasp wildly for what seems unattainable, flounder and try a little harder to force the issue and be content without writing. Somewhere amidst the clamor, God's voice slowly begins to tutor me. "Believe in yourself. I am in you."

It’s true time crawls on its belly like a snake sometimes. But when the voice of God speaks…when the buzzer goes off saying wait, wait, listen, you’ve been right smack dab in the middle of His will all along…then suddenly all the voices join together in symphony and start to make sense. Finally, one dark night with anger and disappointment as my desperate companions, I confront my own seeping writer's soul, raw with years of neglect. "Lord, will I ever write?"

The answer comes swiftly from another dimension as God’s voice rumbles through my soul like throaty thunder in the distance after a storm. “You can do all things.”

That very night, for the first time in decades, I write a story. It’s no treatise, hardly worth attention, but it’s also not bad. I’m euphoric, free-floating within myself, soaring above and beyond those decades when God was – surely this explains it? - preparing me to write.

That was several years ago, and my life is different now. I don’t necessarily feel preppy or cool or together, I just feel right, as if somehow my heart’s capacity is enlarged to keep the creative juices flowing in order to quicken what has been dormant for so long. Maybe it’s sort of like the new well pump we recently had installed in our yard. The pump adjusts the water flow to the house automatically so it can service the shower, the toilet, the kitchen sink, and the outdoor lawn hose all at once. Likewise, words keep tumbling out every possible which-way to find the path of least resistance and insist upon a hearing. It’s time.

I am a writer. I hear The Voice.

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