Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

There’s Something “Right” About Getting it Wrong

I don’t know how many of you were raised hearing, “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.”

I just spoke with a friend of mine who reminded me of  hearing that as he was growing up.

It brought me back.   Funny how you don’t have to hear that phrase too many times before it
starts tumbling around in your head or even worse, in your heart.

And it tumbles into the spaces of your brain, just as you  are thinking of attempting something you’ve never done before.  Just as you’re thinking of attempting  something no one has ever taught you – as you’re thinking about exploring  something new and, according to the conventional wisdom of your family, is just  a little crazy or something “we don’t do.”   And if you listen, you stop. You don’t try.  It’s too risky.

I often think of when I began writing books for  children.  I didn’t know anything about  ”right”  writing.  In fact, I didn’t even know I didn’t know  anything.  But I was invited to an SCBWI  (Society of Children’s Bookwriters and Illustrators)  critique group.  If I had known how little I knew, I probably  would never have even read my first manuscript.  But because I was so completely uninformed, I read a very “un–right”  first attempt.  Nobody in that group said  my story was awful.  Nobody said it was  good.  They just asked me questions about  plot, and audience, and voice, and character, and a host of other things I  didn’t know.  And because they were some  of the most encouraging people on the planet, I dared to learn and return and  read again, and learn some more, and eventually get published.

It’s amazing how daring to try what you can’t get “right”  the first time encourages you to try again.
But if we measure any possibility, challenge, opportunity, experience,  job, “crazy” idea by whether we can do it “right,” we end up living in a box of  undone dreams.

It’s scary to get it “wrong” when you’ve tried to get it  “right” all your life.  But there’s a lot  of exciting stuff that happens in the faltering or failed attempts, the  mistakes, the flubs, the “foot-in-your-mouth” conversations, the falls, the  walked-through fears when you go out on a limb and don’t care if you “get it  right” but rather find excitement and growth in the trying.

And eventually, you get a few things “right.”  But as soon as you do, there’s something else  just around the corner that presents a new challenge for getting it wrong.

But now I remember something else I heard a lot. “If at  first you don’t succeed; try, try again.”

And that helps me remember the exhilaration, endless possibilities,  and joy of discovery when I experience how “right” it is to get it wrong.

Love, Ruth

Ruth Vander Zee
Journey of Faith

Loud and Clear

Kim is the main character in my children’s book Always With You.  At the age of four years, Kim was the only survivor after the Viet Cong bombed her small Vietnamese village. Her mother died while Kim lay in her arms.  She was almost completely blinded when Viet Cong soldiers hit her over the head.  She was raised for several years in an orphange run by Christian missionaries on China Beach.  

Her life is filled with mind-numbing losses. 

When I interviewed her for the book, she blew me away with the hope and wisdom only someone who has suffered knows. Her faith was sure; her hope secure. Her quiet, gentle spirit seeped into my own and after being with her I walked away thinking I’d been in the presence of an angel.  And perhaps I had.

Kim found the love of her life – who, himself, is congentially blind.  She and her husband had four children, all who can see.  Life went on for Kim – living in a  world of shadowy gray images with a bright optimism.

Each time I talked to Kim I assumed she had suffered as much as any human can suffer.

So when I heard that doctors were going to attempt to help Kim see a little more than vague images, once again(!), I was hopeful that perhaps she would gain a bit of eye sight and at least be able to see the faces of her husband and children.

It was with great hope she went in for a corneal transplant on November 18, 2010. 

 It was then doctors discovered she has Acute myeloid leukemia (AML).   

They gave up trying to do anything with her eyes and began concentrating on trying to stop the rapid development of the AML. 

I just spoke with her on the phone.   

Since March 22, 2011, she has

  • had a bone marrow transplant.
  • suffered the complications of chemo therapy which burned her skin until it fell off in sheets. 
  • gone completely blind.
  • fought the effects of bone marrow rejection medication which first affected her stomach, reducing her weight to 71 pounds, and causing her skin to fall off in scales until she felt like a creature rather than a human.
  • been hospitalized for months at a time.

Now she is concerned about her liver enzyme levels. They’re going in the wrong direction.

AND her voice has changed.

With all that she has suffered, the fact that her voice has changed bothers her.  The fact that she erased her old phone message which had her former voice on it grieves her.  She feels like she lost something very personal which cannot be replaced.

But if Kim thinks she does not have a voice, she is wrong.

Her voice is loud and clear when she speaks about the strength, courage, and faith of her four children.

Of her first born son who, at the age of 16, drives her down the Dan Ryan in Chicago so she can go for hospital visits.  Who shops for groceries with his 13 year old brother, and just scored 33 on his first attempt at the SAT’s.

Of her two girls who have a grace and loveliness which inspires her.

Her voice is loud and clear when she speaks of how each day is a joy.  How to be in the middle of her family life figuring out how to cook, change the sheets on five beds weekly, clean, dust, and scrub the toilets  – all with minimal strength and  without being able to see - is a personal triumph.

Her voice is loud and clear when she tells me she is often confined to her home, but she is not lonely.

Her voice is loud and clear when she talks about the fact that she knows she is not in control because that which is meant to heal her is doing battle with her own body.  And so she hangs on to each second as a gift.

Kim is not Pollyannish.  She is honest.  She freely speaks of her doubts but more often about the solid rock of Jesus on which she stands.

I am honored and inspired to know Kim.   When I speak with her, she calms me because she transmits a  calm and serene spirit.  She redefines beauty and dignity because hers is in full bloom. She helps build my faith because her faith is fathomless.  

I am overwhelmed when she says she really doesn’t want her children to be without their mother, because she knows what that feels like.  But  she says with peace and  assurance that Jesus is always with her and will always be with her children, and I have no doubt she means it.

Kim is a woman who has met Jesus, and in her raspy voice she speaks loud and clear.

Ruth Vander Zee
Journey of Faith




Ruth Vander Zee

Ruth Vander Zee
On our journey, I believe Jesus desires us to be our authentic, child-of-God selves.

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