A Journey in Words: Stars in Clay Jars

When I first started blogging 6/7 years ago, I did so very cautiously. I think I had this vision that I’d write something offensive, it would somehow go viral and I’d find myself in a tank full of pyrranas, unable to swim. So I set up anonymously on WordPress, disabled comments, spent a few hours crafting a piece that I was proud of, took a deep breath aaaand… nothing happened. Three days went by and still, zero views. Well, that was an anti climax!

So I got a little braver. I edged towards the tank with my flippers and my little rubber ring and I dipped my toes. I shared my first ‘anonymous’ post to my personal Facebook page and… it took off. Although I cringe at some of the writing now, people did respond very positively; they shared it on their own pages, and within three hours I had over three hundred views. After this, I was like a machine. Every week as the baby went to sleep, I’d hammer out a few hundred words, and then pour over them for hours; combing every sentence for errors, ambiguity and offense. Next, I’d read them aloud to Husband and he’d agree or veto the information shared. I’d pray. I’d hit “publish” and then read them a few times more; always spotting a glaring mistake right after the post had gone forth!

Still. Writing was fun, therapeutic even, and I was gradually growing more confident. I even started to allow comments! Still at theological college, I’d join in heavy discussions with other spouses: we’d pick apart this clergy-spouse-in-training experience and reflect on it together; sharing our hopes, our fears and our struggles. Then I’d go home and write about it– just to try and put into words something that we could all relate to. And more often than not, it worked. People would send messages, “thank you so much for communicating exactly how this feels!” They’d share the posts with their friends, “For anyone wondering… this is exactly what it’s like!”

And that felt really good.

Fun Fact: The name comes from 2 Corinthians 4:7-9: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” We are imperfect containers of a perfect God; cracked pots full of gleaming godly treasure. I think at its heart, Stars in Clay Jars exists to display and reflect both: the imperfections and the gold.

In the years that followed, it wasn’t all Church or training related. Sometimes, it was a good place just to record the comedy of everyday life, to make announcements, or to have a whinge; other times the purpose was to encourage other crackpots, to document a particular life experience or to explore and describe everyday faith in a more relatable way. In some ways blogging became even more therapeutic than journalling – I found the process of turning my jumbled up thoughts and experiences into coherent reflections– with universal learning points- incredibly helpful in keeping calm and carrying on. And the messages from other clergy spouses and other Christians; from people who don’t normally talk or think about God and even from strangers on the Internet, were hugely motivating and encouraging. I’m not just writing this for me.

However. The second gear change came when Husband secured his Curacy. As we were returning to our sending Diocese, I knew I could no longer share my blogs on my personal Facebook page; we already had too many connections. I was still convinced that it was right to keep on writing, but that it was also right to keep doing so anonymously (to anyone who didn’t know me before 2017, anyway!). I just wanted the freedom to describe this particular experience – which can be fairly lonely at times- in detail; and to explore faith and family life in a completely honest way, without embarrassing my kids, incriminating my Husband or disappointing anyone who looks up to him! So I shared the WordPress page, asked people to sign up, and then completely removed my blogs from social media.

Lots of people followed, but the engagement was very limited. Without social media, it can feel like you’re just speaking into the void! With two preschool children and a third on the way, I didn’t have time to invest in the WordPress community like I do now. So it was pretty lonely. Occasionally I’d recieve an appreciative email or a text from people who knew me; quite often a note in a Christmas card or a letter, but generally… the immediate response to hours of work was silence. Which just isn’t much fun!

Then, of course, there was this:

I really miss your blogs!”

“I still write them. You just need to sign up on email.”

Oh I can’t be faffed with that!”

Excellent!

So, I set up a separate Starsinclayjars Facebook page… Husband and I were both admins, we very carefully invited select people to like it, and then watched the whole thing take off again. The conversations and comments really do make it seem a lot more worthwhile, truth be told. Still, roughly two blogs in and I saw ‘Starsinclayjars’ come up as a suggested link ON our church website! Oh dear. I kicked Husband off the admin and we both “unfollowed” it, fast!

For a while after this, things chugged along quite nicely. There were plenty of events and experiences to document throughout Curacy, and I figured that was the purpose of it. In fact, I had figured I’d keep blogging until Husband got his first post; then I’d quit while I was ahead, consider collating them all and approach a publisher.

Then… Well, then he decided to stay in post! That complicated things, rather. I never quit and I certainly didn’t approach a publisher! I also realised that, once in post, the clergy spouse experience began to vary. It was harder to write things that related to other spouses because… Well, because every context and experience is vastly different. I flapped about a bit, writing less regularly and wondering where to go with it.

Then came the pandemic. I started writing weekly diary posts for my own sanity, and inadvertedly gave the blog a whole new meaning and mission. Engagement went up and the “thank you” messages started again; it felt really good to write things that others could relate to. However, during the two years that writing and sharing became a life line, more Clergy from way-back-when started to move into our Diocese. Facebook followers became Facebook friends with people in our churches… I was towing a dangerous line on social media, and rather foolishly trying to ignore it.

After the pandemic, content became difficult too. Most of the observations I had about the experience of ministry heavily involved other people. There were real, unexpected, complex issues we were working through- flying by the seat of our pants and learning on the job. There were things that worked and things that in hindsight, we’d never do again. These are things that would be so useful to communicate! However … it was too risky. Occasionally I took the risk anyway, but one of my gracious followers would always pull me up (in love). “You think this is anonymous, but it’s too close to the bone, really.” They were right. “Imagine how his person would feel if they read it.”

Being one sketchy Facebook connection away from discovery made that scenario a little more likely than I’d care to admit. No matter how carefully you word something, someone is likely to get hurt.

Yesterday, I took another such risk. I wrote objectively about some alarming statistics that were an awful lot more complex when you add real people. A concerned friend asked me to take the post down, albeit temporarily, in case it hurt a mutual connection that she is close to. I love and respect her for that, so I removed it from Facebook, which I presume was the worry. I didn’t, however, remove it from WordPress, (the email version was already irretrievable anyway, to be fair). Instead, the post remains here, with a trigger warning. Why? Because, while I don’t want to hurt anybody, this is the first post in a long time that I felt strongly about sharing. It’s something that has come up in whispers, way too often, and doesn’t get talked about openly enough. It is something relevant to us, and relevant to others, and as such I am going to leave it here.

That said, I did, however, make the overdue decision to stop sharing my posts on social media and close down the Starsinclayjars Facebook page once and for all. Mainly because of the ice-thin connections to our local context, but also, partly, because I don’t need the reassurance anymore.

Until now, I needed to know how much my words had impacted somebody else in order to justify writing them. If someone responded, I’d used my time wisely; if nobody did, then I’d wasted it. I gave little regard to the idea that it was OK to write for pleasure. That it is OK to write for me.

Now I do. Since the kids started school, I have discovered Flash Fiction: a prompt, a time challenge, a very strict word limit! I write every day around my other commitments, and take time to read others’ work too. I’m building my craft, learning slowly and thoroughly enjoying the process. Perhaps one day I’ll even come out from behind the Stars and Jars mask and produce something I dare put my name to! But for now, I’m happy languishing in the safety of online obscurity; writing things that matter to me at starsinclayjars.com, and whatever the heck comes out of my imagination at Stars and Jars Fiction too!

Obviously, I would love it if you subscribed to continue recieving the blogs (the original I mean… don’t bother signing up to the Fiction site, I can’t promise anything good will come out of it!) But just… if you do, please let me know from time to time that you are there… it’s always nice to know someone cares!

(But if not… that’s OK too.

I’m going to keep writing regardless!)

Much, much, much love ❤

God bless you, thanks for reading- however long you’ve been doing so! xxx

8 Comments Add yours

  1. President & Prospect says:

    Awesome, as always. Wise words to live by.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Penny says:

    Thank you for being there

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The feeling is mutual! Thanks for following xxx

      Like

  3. Caroline Bellas says:

    I enjoy reading your ‘ writing ‘
    You are refreshing & honest & always manage to show the reality of family life & our relationships with brothers & sisters in Christ ❤️
    I always find your writing an encouragement & so often a spiritual challenge so keep up your perusing – God is using you & speaking openly about the ‘ uncomfortable ‘ topics is a must 🙏😘 x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! It’s great reading a post that is so relate-able

    Liked by 1 person

  5. plaridel says:

    thanks for sharing your thoughts. i wish i could write as well as you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What an encouraging thing to say! Thank you so much 🙂 I’m really enjoying the time to read others’ work too now. 3 kids in school as of last month 🤣 lots of catching up to do!

      Liked by 1 person

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