I remember the moment it happened and what I was doing and where I was.
I was riding my bike on a part of our local bike trail I don't frequent often. It goes by a different lake than the usual one and through a grove of damp trees that makes me feel like I'm riding through a forest and then through a residential area more populated with traffic than the usual part of the trail.
On my way home, while riding back through that forest-like section, the words floated across the front of my mind like one of those banners that trails behind a blimp in the sky, its message printed in red capital letters.
Midwife of soul and word, the banner message said.
I recognized it for what it was and scrambled to bring the words back to center before they floated away.
Midwife of soul and word.
I knew, in an instant, what it was. It was my vocation. It made sense of everything else. With that banner message, something clicked into place that had puzzled me for so, so long.
For years, by that point, whenever someone asked what I did for a living, I pulled my standard answer out of my pocket.
"My life runs along two parallel tracks," I'd begin.
They'd perk up, interested in hearing the story of a two-track life, even from a stranger they'd just met.
"On one track, I'm a professional book editor," I'd say. "On the other track, I'm a spiritual formation practitioner and spiritual director."
Then would come the usual questions. "What sorts of books do you edit? What's spiritual direction?"
And, eventually, my concluding line: "I expect, at some point, one of those tracks will end — likely, the editing one — and I'll put my attention fully on the other. But until then, I keep doing them both."
In truth, I'd been straddling those two parallel tracks of my professional life for so long that I'd begun to wonder what was the hold-up. When would the end of one of the tracks come? Was it coming? Was I missing something?
It turns out, the end did come. It started that day on the bike trail, with that floating banner of words: Midwife of soul and word. Except that instead of a switch to just one track after the ending of the other, the two tracks came together. They merged.
I never imagined a merge.
I received a call to ministry in early 2008, but I've been a publishing professional much longer than that.
Seventeen years ago, I graduated college and stepped onto a career path I thought would mark the rest of my days. With dreams of a future that included moves to New York or Boston and a climb through the ranks at Random House or Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, I gobbled up books on the publishing trade — Betsy Lerner's Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers and A. Scott Berg's Max Perkins: Editor of Genius among the first — and learned within a month at my first job some key things about myself.
I learned, first of all, I was a quick study. I lost no time learning my way around The Chicago Manual of Style, The AP Stylebook, and Strunk and White's Elements of Style. My copies of these industry style guides stood next to my computer, within reach at all times, their pages soon peppered with fluorescent tabs at the places I thumbed most often.
I also learned I was good at this work.
I'll never forget the day Jason, a writer who worked on the other side of the building, found his way to my office and sat himself down.
"You're Christianne?" he wanted to know.
"Yes," I stammered. Only a handful of people, all of them on my department's team, had stepped foot in my office before.
"You edited this?" he asked.
He placed on my desk a green folder whose blue-and-white sticker tab indicated the project's name. It was a study guide of the book of Ephesians I'd finished editing earlier that week — my first book-length edit.
"Yes," I said again, sure by now I'd done something wrong.
He paused and regarded me a moment, no doubt taking in my young age (I was twenty-one) and the fear flashing in my eyes.
"You're good at this," he finally said.
"I've never had an editor edit me the way you have. I had to come see who you were."
"You're the author?" I asked, feeling faint.
He nodded again. "I'm Jason." He looked around my office. "You're new?"
I told him I was. I also told him his study guide was my first book-length edit.
"I was afraid I did too much with your words," I admitted, my memory of the red markings on each page inside that green folder flying to mind and making my face hot. "But I tried to make the language tighter where I thought it could be."
"You're right to have done that," he said, "and don't apologize. You're challenging me, as a writer, to be better, and I want that. Have you ever heard of Maxwell Perkins?"
And that's how I was introduced to the legendary editor who is credited with bringing the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe to the rest of us. Jason lent me his personal copy of Scott Berg's classic biography of the man, which went a long way in teaching me the kind of editor I wanted to be while affirming the kind of editor Jason saw I already was.
Over the years, I kept working in words.
To my résumé line of staff editor for an international nonprofit organization, I added the credits of writing director for an honors college, associate book editor for a traditional publishing house, magazine and web editor for a trendy tastemaker of culture, writer-for-hire for nonprofits and for-profits and would-be authors, and full-time book editor on a freelance basis.
But right in the middle of all that, I received the call to ministry.
It happened in early 2008. The previous year, I'd left my in-house position as an associate book editor to follow the dream of creating a company that supports women in the discovery and development of the stories they're meant to live. I followed that dream straight to a graduate degree in business after realizing I was coming to work in the book department each day more lit up by the prospect of learning what God was doing in the lives of my co-workers than by the words on the screen I was helping to craft into perfectly edited books.
I was halfway through business school when I heard the call the ministry, so after graduation, I went straight into more school. A graduate degree in spiritual formation and a certificate program in spiritual direction set me on my way toward the new future I had come to believe would mark the rest of my days.
It led me here, to Still Forming.
I discerned a call to work in online spaces. I developed that call here, and it deepened through several webinars and workshops I was invited to lead on the subject, as well as an online initiative I created for spiritual directors called The Soul Online. Eventually, my work here began to shape itself into the development of an online spiritual community.
Through all of it, I continued to work with words — specifically, books — on a full-time freelance basis.
But looking ahead, on the horizon of my life, all I could see was Still Forming.
Last year, in June, I had the opportunity to attend a writing retreat in Ojai, California, led by a close friend whose memoir I'd been privileged to edit. Hers was one of three books I'd helped three close friends bring to life in the previous year in a way that exceeded any experience I'd had in a decade and a half spent editing books and working with writers.
In each of those book pairings, the author and I did good and solid book work — work we could be (and were!) proud of. But while doing that book work, we also did soul work. We discerned together about the book and the book's publishing path. We asked questions of the book and questions of their soul in connection with the book. We listened to what was said and not said. We noticed what emerged.
It was immensely beautiful and immensely gratifying.
It was what I'd always wanted my work with authors to be.
I didn't have a book project to bring to the writing retreat in Ojai, but I assumed I would spend time working on the next project I was developing for the Still Forming community, and I did do some of that.
But what stayed with me after the retreat was a conversation I had one evening with one of the writers. After hours, we stood in the kitchen, next to the island and the tea station, and out of my mouth popped words I didn't even know I knew.
"I loved my experience of working with authors in this way — from conception to completion," I said, my hands moving from right to left, indicating the length and fullness of the journey I had traveled with my three author friends the previous year.
"Usually I'm contracted by a publisher to work on a manuscript," I said. "They send me the manuscript and give me a deadline, and I do the work and send it back. I don't often work directly with the author. But with these other three projects this past year? We worked together through the whole of the creative process, and I loved it. That? I could do that forever."
And I could, I realized. Midwife of soul and word. That's what it was. A blending of both parts of my professional life. A merging of the two tracks into one.
I came home from the retreat with that conversation ringing in my ears.
If I wanted to work with authors in that way, why didn't I? While I was waiting for Still Forming to become the full-time work I fully expected it would become someday, what was stopping me from at least planting a flag — creating a simple landing page on a website, maybe — that indicated I was available to work with authors in this way?
Nothing was stopping me. I decided to try it.
Little did I know, everything was about to change.
What I thought would be a simple landing page kept developing into a fuller and fuller website. And the more I worked on the idea, the midwifery metaphor serving as inspiration, the more it expanded.
"I feel like this idea keeps taking up more and more room inside of me," I told Kirk one afternoon when we went out for a long drive to talk about it. "It feels like it's taking up 75 percent of my heart, professionally, right now. And Still Forming feels so small — just 25 percent. That is freaking me out. I've never felt that way about Still Forming before. And this other thing hasn't even become real yet! It's just an idea I keep following."
"It feels expansive," he agreed.
A short while later, after stopping for a quick stretch, Kirk landed on the perfect name for this expansive new venture: Bookwifery.
But I admitted, again, it was freaking me out.
"It feels like I have to keep following this," I told him, "but it also feels like a sharp right turn. I've been looking at the future straight ahead for so long, and the horizon has always been Still Forming. But here's a right turn I know I'm supposed to keep following, that feels so right and true, but it's turning me toward a horizon that's completely different."
He nodded, getting it.
"I don't know what this future looks like," I told him. "And I'm scared of what it means for Still Forming. What happens to it, if it's not the horizon anymore?"
I knew he couldn't answer that question for me. But I also knew I couldn't let the unanswerable question or the fear of a new and unknown future keep me from continuing into this right-hand turn that was feeling so right and true.
I had to keep going. And so I did.
I worked on the development of the Bookwifery idea and website through July and August of last year, and the company officially launched on September 1.
In mid-August, I had that revelatory experience at Kirk's final retreat for the Transforming Community. By late October, I was attending my first retreat as a new participant in the Transforming Community. And by November 5, I had announced my sabbatical from Still Forming.
These sabbatical months have been doing their work in me, and I suspect they will continue to do so for quite some time. It's hard for me, if I'm honest right now, to imagine returning to the practitioner work of spiritual formation or spiritual direction, and I think some of that is certainly the sabbatical speaking. My soul continues to be desperately tired, and I'm still asking a lot of hard questions of God and struggling to be still in prayer on a consistent basis.
But I think it is also Bookwifery speaking.
I am loving this new work in my life. I love its creativity and the way it challenges me to bring my very best to each stage of the creative process with each author and their book. I love the connection it provides me with these authors who have beautiful words and gifts to carry into this world and whose spirits are so vibrant and lovely. I love the way discernment and listening and noticing and asking good questions — all hallmarks of the work of spiritual direction — still happen each and every day in this work, and it feels like something of a delightful gift that it takes place with the medium of a book between us. A book! One of my favorite things in all the world.
I love that Bookwifery keeps teaching me what it wants to be and that I have to keep pulling up my chair, like a good student, listening and pushing my glasses up on my nose and poising my pen over a stack of straightened papers, ready to take notes and then act on them.
Something important has shifted and is happening here. I have a new horizon now. I still don't know what the far-off future looks like (as if that can ever be known anyway, for any of us!), but I know I'm heading in a direction that's right for me right now, even as it began with a surprising right-hand turn.
I'm grateful for this space, where I can continue to spill the story of what unfolds.