Some years ago, I screwed up my courage and sent off an email to the editor of Canadian Mennonite. I offered to write a column on family relationships.
Proposing the column was one of the hardest things I ever did. I mulled over the idea for months, and when I actually sat down to contact the editor, I was so fidgety I could barely sit. Fear of rejection was probably the strongest obstacle, a familiar hindrance to many writers and artists. That fear, though, was held in tension with my abiding “passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others,” as my previous author bios indicated.
The passion won out. One thing led to another, and now 202 columns and four editors later, here we are.
The dream I had to be a columnist was ignited by another writer. When I first became a Mennonite, I enjoyed reading a magazine called Christian Living. Readers of a certain age and stripe of Mennonite will remember this publication. I especially enjoyed the punchy, pointed writing of Robert Baker in his “County Road 13” columns, and I hoped someday for a similar venue.
In the delightful way in which the Spirit works, I actually met and interviewed Robert for a writing project. Subsequently, I served as his pastor during a brief interim; an experience I had with him there made its way into a column. Finally this week, while sorting through files, I happened upon his final column, written as Christian Living came to an end. I imagine the Spirit likes to play among us and in our dreams.
The focus of the column I proposed to CM was to be on family relationships, defining family in its broadest sense: biological, faith-based, communal. It was relatively easy to find material, given these different families and my keen engagement in the lives of those around me.
From the outset, I tried to write without causing harm or embarrassment. I was aware of the power of voice and print and wanted to be sensitive and careful of the stories I told. For the most part, I was able to hold true to that goal. I imagined my training as a counsellor would be put to use, and the column itself might actually help people to live well in their relationships.
I wasn’t prepared for the warm, affectionate response that has come from you, Gentle Readers. I have been delighted and overwhelmed by the number of you who have let me know that you enjoy the column and find it offers meaningful guidance. The obstacle I climbed over to make that first overture to CM is diminished in light of the affirmations the columns received. I have been guided by Paul’s exhortation to Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (II Timothy 1:7). In short, don’t let our fears prevent us from offering our gifts!
I also benefitted from challenging feedback, from readers who think I’m off-track. As noted in the recent series on difficult conversations, we need to talk with each other, especially about our differences, to hear how God is speaking through many voices. We need to exercise and strengthen our capacity to listen and speak respectfully, openly, and with curiosity and humility.
Gentle Reader, the time has come to bring this column to a close. I write with sadness, for I have been grateful for the opportunity to place my heartfelt reflections before you, and will miss the monthly commitment. Yet I am winding down a number of activities in preparation for a new season of life, and I have a strong urge to clear space for whatever will emerge. From the bottom of my heart, I say thank you.
Melissa Miller is a pastor and writer soon to be moving from Manitoba to Ontario. She has written Family Ties monthly since 2002 and retains her keen passion for helping others to enjoy healthy relationships.
—Updated June 20, 2019