I first met Michelle years ago when I was new to blogging and leaving comments like a crazy woman all over the web, clearly flirting with both making friends and being the person people ran from. Ha! Thankfully Michelle realized a sane person was beneath all my crazy. We have been on similar, yet different paths as authors. Michelle got an agent and has been traditionally published, while the doors that opened for me were in the independent publishing world. Thankfully, both are wonderful ways for books to come to life.
This is not Michelle’s first time here at The Messy Middle. A couple of years ago I interviewed her for her book Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk. Michelle has a new book out, so of course, I wanted to chat with her about it!
Michelle, we are so glad you are here today. I love to hear where the idea for a book came from.
Could you share a bit of how you got the idea for this book?
The idea was actually sparked during a family vacation to Oregon a couple of summers ago. We visited the Portland Japanese Garden, where our tour guide explained a particular Japanese pruning technique called “open center pruning.” She talked about how removing so many of a tree’s branches and limbs allowed the “inner essence” of the tree to be revealed. This, she explained, created a sense of openness, space and tranquility, not just within the individual trees themselves but in the garden as a whole.
I couldn’t get that pruning image out of my head, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that open center pruning could be a powerful practice for our spiritual lives as well. As we slowly prune away the extraneous bits of ourselves — the parts that detract from who we really are and who God created us to be — we will begin to flourish and live into a new openness and spaciousness in our lives and in our faith. I wrote a blog post about the metaphor of open center pruning not long after we got back from our trip, but I still couldn’t shake the image. It aligned so well with some of what I had been reading at the time — Richard Rohr, Henri Nouwen, Ruth Haley Barton, for example — that I began to entertain the idea of a book. Two years later, that original blog post about my trip to the Portland Japanese Garden grew into True You.
Wow. I can see why you couldn’t shake that image!
How did you research and prepare to write True You?
It really was a slow process. Over a period of a couple of years, I had been compiling notes from my reading into journals. At one point I went back and read through the journals cover to cover and realized that I had been chewing on some of the ideas for this book for a long, long time – there were some clear themes threaded through my own writing and reflected in what I was reading. I went through my journals and highlighted all the quotes and my own thoughts that pertained to the topic of true versus false self, and I realized I had a ton of research and information. So it was a matter of culling through it, organizing it and figuring out what I wanted to include in the book.
The writing of this book was a much more contemplative, reflective process than my previous books. It was slow going, because I first had to figure out how the Holy Spirit was leading me and the wisdom the Spirit was imparting to me about my own relationship with God, and then I had to try to make those insights applicable and accessible to others. Even though True You has a lot of my story in it, I really do hope that the themes and message are universal.
What is your writing process?
I do my best creative work in the morning, so after I get my kids off to school and the house somewhat in order (one of my quirks is that I need to have uncluttered surfaces around me – like the kitchen counters, the coffee table and my desk — before I get to work. A “clean” workspace helps makes for an uncluttered head…or that’s what I hope for anyway!), I usually go for a short run or a walk, shower and get dressed, and then am at my desk by 9 a.m. or so. I try to do about 3 to 3.5 hours of writing before I break for lunch. I work two days a week for The Salvation Army, so the other three days a week are my writing days. I try to write in the morning and then revise and edit in the afternoon before I leave to pick up my kids from school at 3 p.m. Truth be told, I prefer revising and editing over actual writing; polishing a piece is more fun and so much less fraught for me! The “blank screen” is the WORST.
(This is Amy, I love hearing about your writing process because it is so different than mine! And two weeks ago at the Writers on the Rock Conference, Philip Yancey said the same thing! He finds writing hard but loves the research and editing phases.)
(I’m going to babble first and then get to my question.) Michelle, I think we are drawn to similar subjects and ideas! I have been taken with the idea of “The Language of Eden” for years. We are so good at speaking “Eden Lost,” we forget it is not our native tongue. With Lent, I was thinking that True You might be an ideal (if unconventional) Lent read. I was looking at the description of True You and this part caught my eye:
“Similarly, we begin to flourish as we let go of ourfalse selves and allow God to prune us open. Michelle DeRusha helps readers:
– learn how to declutter their hearts, minds, and souls through the practice of directed rest
– let go of busyness, striving, and false identities to embrace their truest selves as beloved children of God
– grow in their relationships, vocations, communities, and intimacy with God”
Back to Amy and my question. Often people will fast during Lent, with sugar or caffeine commonly chosen. But I was thinking, what if people gave up busyness or striving or false identifies for Lent. Well, what if people try to :)! Knowing we will fail, yet God will meet us even in our daily (hourly?! minutely!!!) failings? So, my question is, what ideas or suggestions do you have for someone who would like to fast from busyness, striving, or false identities?
That’s such a good question, and I LOVE the idea of fasting from busyness, striving or false identities as a Lenten discipline (I’m actually doing a social media fast this year for Lent). My advice would be to find a few minutes – even just five or ten minutes a day – to sit in silence, stillness and solitude. Silence has been a critical aspect of my ongoing journey toward uncovering my true, God-created self. We live in an incredibly noisy culture, and even when we do have downtime, we tend to fill it with more noise: social media, technology, social activities, etc. Silence makes many of us anxious because we are unaccustomed to it, and so we endeavor to fill even our smallest slices of quiet time with distraction.
God will reveal the parts of ourselves that are false, the parts of us that are not aligned with him, but often, we can’t hear from him because our lives are too noisy and too busy. I say in True You that our minds need time and space to catch up with what our souls already know. In order to begin to even identify the false parts of ourselves, we need to be quiet enough and still enough to hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit speaking deep in our souls. So integrating a daily practice of intentional rest into our every day would be one way to begin to quiet the clatter of our hearts, minds, and souls. As I write in the book, this period of intentional rest doesn’t need to be long – I’m not talking a whole day squirreled away in a monastery at a silent retreat (though that would be lovely!). Five minutes is a great place to start, and you will be amazed what even five minutes, practiced regularly over time, can do for your physical, mental and spiritual health.
Michelle, I’ve really enjoyed our chat! And I imagine the readers have too.
If you would like to be entered to win a signed copy of True You, leave a comment (about anything!). What stood out to you in the interview? What gets in the way of you being your true self? What are you reading for Lent? Do you practice silence, stillness, and solitude? What does that look like for you?
P.S. If the winner happens to not like in North America, I’ll get you a kindle copy and draw a second name. :)