Yesterday, an interview I did with The Write Way Cafe was published on their site. The questions were thought provoking and challenged me to consider my journey in some new ways. Here's the link to the post if you'd like to see it on their site:
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Thursday, June 28, 2018 at 1:00 AM | By: The Write Way Cafe
Meet Shelaine Strom
The Write Way Cafe welcomes Shelaine Strom, who embraced the process of writing as a valuable discipline for self-actualization.
When did you first have the thought you'd like to write a book?
It had never occurred to me to write a book. That was what my husband did, not me. And then I found myself in a pain-induced time away from work, volunteer activities, and many social relationships. I knew that if I didn’t find something solitary to do at home, I would go stir crazy. I audited a creative non-fiction writing course and began capturing stories from my previous work as a career and life instructor and coach. This led to the publication of my first book, Changing Course: Stories to Navigate Career and Life Transitions. The completion and reception of that book motivated me to write But Pain Crept In, a personal memoir and very different book than the first.
What was your path to getting But Pain Crept In written and published?
Throughout my life I have journaled as a means of processing life and the season of being off work intensified this activity. At the encouragement of those close to me, I combed through these writings and saw content I felt might encourage others going through times of pain, be it physical, emotional, relational. At the encouragement of my agent, I self-published my first book, and found that to be a positive experience so I opted to do the same for But Pain Crept In.
Practically speaking, once the manuscript was completed, I asked about ten different people to critically read and edit, including a writing instructor, university professor, doctor, English teacher, grammar specialist and others. I wanted perspectives and input from a variety of individuals to see how the story resonated – or didn’t. The compilation of feedback and ensuing changes were arduous (and not my favorite!) but worth the effort.
I hired a professional graphic designer to create the cover and do the interior layout. She also assisted in solidifying the title and subtitle of the book.
Where did the idea for your story come from?
The story, being a memoir, came from my life experience and chronicles my pre-pain life as well as the circuitous journey to find answers and relief. The bones in my jaw were disintegrating from a childhood injury and resulting surgery, causing excruciating pain and rendering me unable to speak much, laugh freely, and engage in basic daily activities. I found comfort in stories of other people’s journey through suffering and hoped my story might encourage someone else.
Did you face any blocks while writing the book, and if so, how did you handle them?
The most significant challenge came as I recognized I was choosing to make some of my most private wrestling completely public. I believed God was calling me to share authentically to remind others in painful circumstances that they are not alone. However, to do so meant exposing my inner world and involved – and honestly, still involves – intentionally choosing to focus on the value to readers rather than on my own feelings of vulnerability. It still catches me off guard at times when a stranger jumps into a discussion about a deeply emotional part of my story. And, it’s often those raw experiences that move and touch readers. That makes the vulnerability worthwhile.
What have been surprises you've encountered while writing the book and after?
It surprises me how different aspects of the book are speaking powerfully to different readers. For example, one woman wrote to share how my humor resonates with her. Others have identified with emotional processing even though their pain has not been physical. And some comment on a particular story as being moving in a way I never dreamt would be.
What did you learn? For instance, what did you learn about yourself, your process, the writing world; about pain, hope, and purpose?
The whole book is about pain, hope, and purpose so living the experience and writing the book are intimately intertwined. My story is one of living a full, active, engaged life and being jettisoned into an extended “set on the shelf” period. Identity and purpose had to be redefined. Coming to terms with being instead of doing characterized this time. Learning to trust that God is bigger than my circumstances, expectations, or desires grew, in part, through the writing process. Thoughts and feelings out of my head and onto the screen helped me navigate this unsettling period.
Tell us about your writing space and how or why it works for you.
I have a writing table set up in our front living space that looks out a window into our back yard. We are empty nesters now so when my husband went off to work, the house was quiet. I found that working in my study felt too much like a mirror of my life of being tucked away from the world. Even though there was no one else home, writing by the window helped me feel connected beyond our walls. And, I love nature so seeing flowers and trees and squirrels inspired me.
I continue to have the table in this location even though I am no longer house-bound. It’s just where I write.
What are some of your favorite books and why?
Being Well When We’re Ill by Marva Dawn changed my life. She is a theologian who has endured intense physical suffering and has learned to change her questions. Her writing inspired me to see the dark pit asking “why” can lead to and begin asking God where He is the midst, and how I might view my situation differently. For example, instead of asking, “Why did those medical papers get lost?” I might consider, “God, are you protecting me from something I can’t see through this delay?”
Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend would be a close second. This material has helped me understand how to take ownership of my own life, a particularly critical insight when dealing with chronic pain. I had to advocate for myself, including letting those close to me know what I needed. Growing in healthy boundaries freed me from blame and resentment and assisted me in accepting the circumstances of my life.
I also appreciate the work of Brené Brown and have found several of her books meaningful.
What are you working on now?
I am presently writing a weekly (well, almost weekly) blog. I do not have another book project in the works at the moment but believe there is at least one more book in me. I also do some writing in my job.
Would you like to try your hand at writing a different genre? Which one and why?
My husband (who has also written two books) and I are talking about co-authoring a humorous book on relationships. It would also be in the non-fiction genre but feels like an exciting challenge to work together on a writing project.
If you were not a writer, what would your dream job be?
Well, I have a dream job actually. I am the Manager of Education and Professional Development for Food for the Hungry Canada. I get to help Canadians increase their understanding of the root issues of poverty and what healthy poverty alleviation looks like. In addition to facilitating workshops, speaking publicly, and training others to do the same, I have opportunity to write curriculum and articles for FH. I am blessed to be in a position with variety, which I thrive on.
What aspect of writing gives you the most trouble?
Honestly, it’s getting my butt into the chair. Once I sit down and enter into the writing zone, I love it. Since I’ve gone back to work I have largely lost my morning routine of breakfast and then getting right to writing. I find that without the consistency of that schedule - the time that is dedicated and protected for writing – other things crowd it out. I’ve also come to realize that writing is actually a spiritual discipline for me. It slows me down to a more contemplative pace and quiets my soul and active mind. Being unemployed allowed for five or six mornings a week of solitary creating. Now I’m satisfied if I can do so once or twice a week. I’m simply in a different season with competing priorities. Not bad, just different.
What or who has been instrumental in or to your writing journey?
My husband, Bill, is my biggest fan and cheerleader. We spent many a Saturday morning sitting by the fire engaged in what we’ve come to call “mutual edit-fication” sessions, where the week’s writing met the red pen. He is a gracious, honest, and skilled editor who believed I could publish long before I embraced that goal. There would be no books by me were it not for him.
Loranne Brown, the professor who taught the writing course I audited, was also instrumental in me owning an author identity. She challenged me to shift from spoken storytelling, which I grieved having to let go of, to written tales. She also encouraged me to attend the writing conference where I met my agent and more fully owned my writing skills.
We expect life to follow a patterned path with rises and dips along the way. Growing up, high school, starting on our own. Maybe we will meet someone, find meaningful work, raise a family, settle into comfortable community with close friends. We don’t expect career-ending pain. Identity-altering surgery. Faith testing disruption. In But Pain Crept In, Shelaine Strom shares her sojourn from vibrant vistas to deep valleys as jaw joints crumble and bones splinter. Where does one rest, breathe, revive when pain reigns? When does one quit, wait, try to go on? How does one lean on family, friends, even strangers to endure? And where is God in the midst? In her winsome and honest way, Shelaine tells of travelling between hurt and hope, from agony to plains of purpose renewed. Through tears and humor, her storytelling signals gratitude and grace, and no simple answers to the problem of pain.
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Shelaine Strom resides in Abbotsford, BC where she and her husband, Bill, raised their three sons. She works part time as Manager of Education for Food for the Hungry and writes weekly on her blog, In the Midst.
Birds are meant to fly.
When a mom-bird lays her eggs, she does so in a softly-lined nest. As her little ones crack through their shells they are met with a feathered world, padded to ease them into the maturing process. Mom feeds, nurtures and notes their growth. And then, at the appropriate time, she makes changes because she knows her offspring can’t stay in the nest forever.
Sarah Bessy, author of Out of Sorts writes, “When I was preparing to leave home, my mother used to joke about ‘putting prickles in the nest.’ She had read somewhere that when the time comes for baby birds to learn to fly, the mother birds put sticks or thorns in their nests. By making the nest uncomfortable, the mother bird is actually giving her babies a gift: the gift of flight and growth. Discomfort causes the baby birds to embrace their fundamental self as one who takes wing.”
…embrace their fundamental self as one who takes wing.
We have been fortunate to have all of our sons live within an hour of our home since they moved out over the last few years. However, last Friday our youngest son and his wife drove off with their little red car packed to the roof. They have moved to Ontario – four provinces away.
Watching them pull away flooded me with emotion. As the one left behind, it’s difficult to see beyond the losses. We’ll miss their presence at our monthly family celebrations, and I’ll grieve not working alongside Eric at Food for the Hungry. We won’t share dinners or spontaneous outings or get to hug them nearly as often.
But as they waved, I also felt excitement for them. The grand adventure of being young and heading into a new season, establishing a home, entering a Master’s degree program for Eric and new work for Riley, is exhilarating. I’m genuinely happy for them.
And, nothing will ever be the same.
That sounds a bit melodramatic because I know that’s true of every day we are given. I’m always older tomorrow, a bit more experienced in something, even when the days are ordinary and regular.
Then big transitions hit and the implications of decisions made by others land squarely in my lap. Of course I don’t want my kids to live far away. But I also don’t want them to stay close if it means missing something God is calling them to do.
Separation is hard. But I know in my core that my role is not to feather the nest to keep my babies in. My job is to free them, to bless them, and to celebrate winged flight. I know that.
But it doesn’t make it easy.
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst