Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s book Praying Upside Down released Friday May 1st. With this in mind Kelly would like to Be My Guest and talk a little bit about her new book.
Kelly O’Dell Stanley
Stephanie: In Praying Upside Down you mentioned that writing is an outlet for you. When and how did you realize that writing was more than an outlet and that you needed to write Praying Upside Down?
Kelly: To simplify a long and not-all-that-exciting story, what happened is this. After journaling for years, I started writing short essays to fill space in the weekly church bulletin (which I designed). Eventually I found the courage to quit claiming that they were written by “Anonymous” and put my name under them. An acquaintance who had published a memoir invited me to audit the senior-level college course on memoir writing she taught at a local college. She saw promise and encouraged me to apply for some MFA programs. That didn’t fit with my life at the time, though (I had young kids and ran my own full-time design business), so I decided to skip the program and just keep writing instead. I had been attending the Midwest Writers Workshop for a couple of years, and through that I connected with some editors and was able to publish some articles.
But one year I started praying before I went that God would not let me leave that year’s workshop without having a plan. I loved to write—and it was a powerful spiritual practice for me. I’d felt as though I’d been in a season of preparation, but I just felt that it was time to start moving forward, whatever that would mean. By the time I left the three-day workshop, my mind wouldn’t stop spinning. I’d once had an idea for a short gift-type book called Praying Upside Down. It was a very short explanation of what drawing upside down is, and then had some Bible verses to support why we should pray, along with cute, colorful pictures of kids hanging upside down. But as I drove the two hours home that night, I realized the concept was so much wider than that, and that it encompassed my entire spiritual life, my whole faith story. And that everything I knew about art also related to prayer.
So at that point I got serious and started working on it.
Me: I think anytime you can look back and see how God has worked in our past is exciting.
Me: In chapter 7 the topic is point of view. One of the memories you shared leading up to a change of perspective in this chapter is about you when you were a teenager and a guy named Rich. Somehow while you two were at a party, you guys were unintentionally alone together. During the period of time when no one was around Rich was verbally abusive and had you trembling with fear. Only by the grace of God the others returned (including your date who had left you behind) to the party before any physical actions were acted out on you.
Many years later Rich was at a church service you regularly attended. To say you were shocked maybe an understatement. Initially when you saw him there you felt that he intruded in your safe zone. You hoped he would not recognize you. Did he? Did you guys speak to one another that night?
Kelly: He did not seem to recognize me—which isn’t all that surprising because he was pretty messed up that night many years ago. But seeing him caused me to reflect back and see how much my life had changed in that time. And made me realize that focusing on myself and my short-lived fears was pretty selfish. As I said in the book, I later came to know the woman he used to be married to, and my personal experience was nothing compared to what she lived with day in and day out. It helped me to pray for her and gave me new-found empathy. But eventually, as I processed it as an adult, it caused me to realize that I had to accept what had happened and forgive him—and forgive myself for putting myself in a questionable environment to begin with. I’ve seen him a handful of times but had minimal interaction. To be fair, both of our lives are different now. And I can see now that he wasn’t specifically terrorizing me—I just happened to be the unlucky person who was left there with him. Really, it comes down to this: he has ties to some people I really care about, and they know about his past (just not as it relates to me). Their connection to him doesn’t change the way I feel about them, and I can be polite. Seeing him, too, is a reminder that God forgives and changes all of us. And that God’s grace covers all.
Me: In one of the Prayer Palettes discussions the topic is Sherry. In the midst of her struggle with ongoing medical treatments for a chronic condition, she developed a profound way to see how many prayers are answered. She simply wrote down her prayers and then would go back through with a highlighter to mark each answered prayer. This is something that was later called “I Got a Yellow” in your guys’ Bible Study.
I have got to know how Sherry is doing, and do you still highlight your answered prayers?
Kelly: Sherry is an amazing woman. In the years since that story, she has had two different times when she had serious accidents and was not expected to live. And yet she comes through every time. She’s broken her back. Stopped breathing. And through it all, she gives the glory to God. She always leans on Him and points people to Him, even in the middle of serious medical issues. She’s such an inspiration to everyone who knows her.
I’ll confess. I haven’t highlighted answered prayers for a while. Our church had a prayer group with a pretty large group of women, and it was extremely powerful to have a roomful of women writing down their prayers and rejoicing over their answers. And to see the book fill with yellow. When schedules got in the way of the group meeting regularly, I stopped doing that for myself. It’s a powerful practice and one I know I will use again, but for now, I seem to be in a phase of writing out my prayer needs in much greater detail, sort of recording all the nuances of a situation so I can go back and see God’s fingerprints all over it later. As a result, I’ve gotten away from this a little bit. But my journal is still full of answered prayers. They’re just not all colored yellow anymore!
Occasionally, though, someone will still stand up at church and say they got a yellow!
Me: If a reader was to walk away with only one piece of wisdom from Praying Upside Down what do you hope it would be?
Kelly: Can I give two answers? 🙂 One is that all prayer is good, so don’t beat yourself up. Just pray. God wants to hear from you. I believe that thoroughly and completely. The other (still closely related to that) is that God is faithful even when we are not. He forgives us when we fail. He wants us to come back to Him, even if we have to start fresh every day, or several times a day. And that our failings don’t matter because HE is the One with all power. Prayer gets its power, not from me, but from the One we pray to. (I guess that last line sums it all up, but it’s all what I hope people will come away with.)
Me: With so much excitement and success surrounding Praying Upside Down do you think you will write another book? If so, is it in the works?
Kelly: Absolutely! And sort of :-). I have ideas and I’ve put together another proposal. But it’s all kind of predicated on how well this concept is received. All along I believed I would write many books, and that the artistic perspective would be the common denominator. Now I’m sensing that maybe it will be prayer. (Although I can never look at anything in any other way besides as an artist, so that will never go away, nor do I want it to.) I am realizing that maybe I don’t get to be the one to decide! I’m kind of feeling my way forward right now, waiting to sense the right direction, keeping my eyes open to watch for clues. I’m trying hard not to let my human nature take over and make these decisions, which is sometimes a struggle. But, truly, I want to be where God wants me to be, and I’m trying hard to simply listen and be prepared. (And I certainly hope you’re right about there being excitement surrounding my book!)
Thank you Kelly, for taking the time to talk with me about Praying Upside Down, and for offering so many new perspectives on how to approach prayer. I look forward to your guest post tomorrow!