Thursday, June 28, 2012

Judith Hugg Interview with Mary Nichelson

While To See the Sky is hailed as “a great gift for those who are not perfect in their faith and who struggle with meaning and purpose”,  it is also for readers that have a grasp on their relationship with God, but long for a refreshing reminder of what that relationship is, and more importantly, isn’t. Hugg invites the reader to trade their complacency for wonder, as they realize there is purpose in every experience, even if the meaning isn’t clearly illustrated.

To See The Sky is about seeing with the heart, finding a healthy way through the losses of life, and about having a well-exercised funny bone. I think God's grace involves more letting go than The Epic Struggle to find God.” Perhaps fully embracing God's grace is what motivates Hugg to write for her readers and then donate proceeds from her book to places like the Community Soup Kitchen. She exemplifies in word and deed the proverb ‘Let go and let God’ and is not ashamed to explain how she came to this place in her spiritual journey.

MN-You have said that your book, To See The Sky, is your love note to God. Explain what you mean by that.

JH-My life is surrendered to being Christ’s light in the world, and “To See the Sky: Vignettes of Grace” is my homage to the incredible power of God’s presence and His hilarious grace in my life! I’ve written articles and poetry for years, but it was time to finally assemble the stories of God showing up in my life and make them a book, my thanks to Him for never letting me go!

MN-Your dialogue is very theatrical and can I say, delicious in an artistic sense. You write with an intuitive accuracy. Have you always been connected with the world as effortlessly as you write about your experiences?

JH-Since I was a child, I’ve always felt that connection—and maybe this is a universally childlike link—to a Power in the universe who was manifest in the beauty of nature. That’s where my faith in Christ started. That’s what still heals me when the world is out to turn my heart into mulch. My faith has matured with a foundation in Scripture and an active membership in a great church with brothers and sisters who keep me in line (or they at least try!), plus a very active prayer and meditation life, but when I’m hurting or tired or stressed, an hour in a quiet field, or on a swing, or by some water restores my soul because God is waiting there for me. There is spiritual nourishment in the first scent of the lilacs blooming on a warm spring day that is like no other tonic on earth!

When I was in high school, I wrote a letter to Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles) who I was just discovering at the time, and I asked him if he was always so aware--if, when he was a child, he was really so sensitive to nature and to the vibrancy of life as his young characters were. (It was a school assignment, but I really wanted to know, as I was struggling to leave my own childhood behind.) His response (which I am able to pull off a shelf in my living room as I write this; I am a major fan!), in his own handwriting, was “YES, YES, YES! I ALWAYS KNEW!” Well, it turns out, I did too!

MN-I love your honesty. At one point, when writing about unanswered prayers for the sick, you admit “I don’t know what to do with that fact in my life of faith.” How were you able to make peace with not knowing or fully understanding everything regarding God?

JH-In chapter 13 of Job, he says “though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (KJV) Now there’s some FAITH! (Though the next line has to do with Job arguing his case with God…) Before my father died, I would’ve said something bold like that; I thought I could take anything, with Christ strengthening me. But then Dad died, and my faith was laid bare. I had begged God to heal my father, and the answer was no. My trust in God was an open, festering wound for a while. I couldn’t pray; I couldn’t go to church. I was a follower of Christ, but I couldn’t find Him anywhere, as I say in the book. I was in unbearable pain, and I found myself drawn to our town’s soup kitchen. And I went there, looking for Christ. Every Sunday, I would go and join whatever team was there, and I would chop vegetables and stir soup, and then I would stand in the line where the local working poor and homeless and mentally ill would come past, and I would literally hand them a cup of cold water, or a bowl of soup, or some bread and butter, and I would find Christ there in their eyes, in their faces. It was the only thing that began to heal my heart. There were no answers to my questions; there was no bright light and the hand of God saying “everything’s okay now.”

Dad didn’t come back; the loss was still epic in my life. But Christ showed up and showed that His love could give me a handle on the loss. And my ability to trust God slowly came back. I don’t know as I’ve so much made peace with all of that as much as Christ stepped in and withdrew the intense pain and installed His peace. It was a long road. I have a hard time with Christians who just stick with the “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” Sounds really good, and it makes you look like a super-servant. But until you’ve had to fall flat on your face in front of God in total despair and defeat—and find Christ with His arms around you, waiting at the end of your rope—then it’s not helpful to brag about how you would never fall apart because yourfaith is the brand-name, heaven-certified real Christian one. You have no idea until you are near-drowning what the fresh air of real gritty Christ-love is.

MN-The chapter titled “This is the Day That the Lord Hath Made” literally took my breath away. You so eloquently parallel living in the moment with the vision of a child on a swing as the sun sets, and all that matters is the crickets and the screech of the swing chains. It took me right back to my trusted, old swing and I realized how much we don’t experience living in the present. Do you think it is the responsibility of adulthood or a world spinning out of control that is to blame?

JH- God only gives us today, this moment! I know that, yet I forget that memo a hundred times a day. My pining for or regretting yesterday, or projecting and fretting about tomorrow, is to miss the point of following Christ. Childrenget that; children can be so totally absorbed in a project—or a dandelion—that they are oblivious to any other fact. My moments as a child on the swing set at home—I can still feel it and hear it and smell the garden scents—were totallypresent and full of joy.

When I remember to just be where my feet are at this moment, life is good! But I’m usually wandering off to the weekend schedule, the phone calls I have to make, the arrangements and plans and agendas. I can psychoanalyze that it’s having more responsibility as an adult, or the world putting a thousand demands on me, or having overextended myself so that I can feel superior to you, or because I’m the second child in the birth order and need to prove myself—or something. But I have the choice—right now—if I want to hold God’s hand in the now and dwell in humble peace, or race off towards next Tuesday’s shenanigans. I’m still learning.

MN-No matter where the reader is in their faith journey, they will be able to relate completely with your stories in To See The Sky. The umbrella message is one of grace. Why did you choose that concept to write about?

JH-The articles and poetry that I’ve written for magazines over the years were always about God’s grace in my life, whether I was overtly focusing on grace or just alluding to it, or even if I was oblivious to it. I’ve always wanted to write a book, and I was always told to write what I know! And since I am a fallible, ill-tempered, depressive, skeptical, cynical late-bloomer/person of faith/child of God who is, nevertheless, loved to pieces by God, it was a natural direction! I don’t know as I chose it so much as it chose me.

MN-You have a gift of bringing a sense of closure to the open ended experiences and questions everyone struggles with. Is there a personal message you have for readers that are confused by God’s silence and are lacking peace?

JH-That place where God is hard to find, where everything you’ve believed in is being refined in the fire, where losses are so deep that it seems like even God can’t fill the void, are terrible places to be. I’ve had perfectly well-meaning Christians say to me “well, don’t you think you should be over that by now?” or “God doesn’t want you depressed,” or the ever-popular “It was God’s will that (fill-in-the-blank).” I’ve been told that I don’t have enough faith, and now I can proclaim for an absolute fact: yes, that’s absolutely true. I do not have enough faith to explain away why my father died too young, or why my mother is a paranoid schizophrenic, or why terrible things happen to the dearest of people. I don’t know why you’re suffering what you’re suffering right now, and no one’s holy-sounding explanation is going to help your heart. The comfort is this: there is a God in the universe who is personally involved with you. (Love makes Him pretty involved.)

You and I aren’t entitled to have all the explanations for the pain on a silver platter. What we do--and sometimes it’s enduring for one minute at a time--is to stay where our feet are, cry our hearts out, and wait for God to show up. In my experience, there is always a healing, a shift in the pain, a way out. It is a hard road, this faith thing. I used to think I had it all sewn up: God loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life, and that was all I needed. But life gets convoluted, and God doesn’t always take you where you think He will. He is bigger than any concept I could possibly have of Him. And who or what else do I have to trust in on this planet? I’ve leaned into His grace, and He always comes through. Eventually. And He is always worth the wait.

Author Bio: Judith Hugg was brought up in New Jersey in the 1950s. She has been writing since she was ten when her mother let her use the family’s ancient, dusty Royal typewriter. She can still remember the sour smell of that oil and the ink-ribbon. (You could only type in black or red then, and mistakes were forever.) Judith was writing seriously at 17 when she had her first poem published in The Sunday School Times. She has written for a number of Christian magazines since then. This is her first book. You can find out more about Judith by visiting her website:

About Mary Nichelson:

Other interviews featured in The Wordsmith Journal Magazine's June issue: Donita K. Paul, Donna Fitts & Jocelyn Green.

This interview is courtesy of The Wordsmith Journal Magazine.

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