I first met Amy at the launch of my friend Chine Mbubaegbu’s book Am I Beautiful?
“Hi,” I said, “I’m Jennie.”
“Hi,” she answered, “I’m Amy Boucher Pye.”
My brain started racing. Was I supposed to recognise that name? Amy Boucher Pye…was she famous for something? I’ve got a pretty bad poker face, so I’m sure she spotted my confusion and helped me out, “I’m Chine’s editor.”
Ah! I breathed a sigh of relief. I might then have seen the name, but she wasn’t really expecting me to recognise it. We chatted a little, then connected on Facebook, bonded over ‘Call the Midwife’ and gradually became friends.
Fast-forward almost a year, and I was hugely privileged to be invited by Amy to become her editor. She had in turn written a book and, since it’s impossible to edit oneself, no matter how good you are, needed to find someone to help her through the last stages of refinement.
She had sent me an earlier draft of the book and I’d loved it, but there were some things that I’d suggested to her needed changing. Like her overuse of asides to the audience in italics! 😉
Somehow my (extensive) feedback hadn’t been too off-putting, and she was brave enough to let me at it officially.
I LOVED IT!
It helped, of course, that I had genuinely great material to work with. It helped hugely that Amy understood that when an editor suggests doing surgery on your baby it’s to enable it to live and flourish, not to harm it. It also didn’t hurt that we had a few good laughs along the way as we chatted about our cross-cultural experiences.
A search for true identity
The book, Finding Myself in Britain, (on sale today from all good bookshops) is in part a memoir of Amy’s transition from single career woman living in Washington DC to vicar’s wife, living in a series of poorly-plumbed vicarages in England. In places it reads a bit like Bill Bryson, as she reflects on her observations of us Brits and our strange customs and social mores. The story of how she and I first met made it into the chapter on names. While I thought that the fact she used her full name meant I was supposed to recognise it – she was not just ‘Amy’, but this specific Amy – to her the greeting meant nothing more significant than ‘Hello’.
Reading and discussing tiny-but-significant differences and misunderstandings like this brought back many memories for me of when I was the one out of place, living in Atlanta, GA, and trying to understand my new culture and its ways (and its accent!). Like Amy, I never did fathom some of its foibles (American Football, green jelly/jello in salads), but did grow to appreciate many of them (Thanksgiving, Superbowl parties, the long ribbon of tarmac snaking for miles in front and behind on a road trip) and to love the many wonderful friends I made there. The title of this blog post was an early suggestion for the title of the book, as it also describes that aspect of Amy’s story.
More than just a memoir, though, Finding Myself in Britain is partly a devotional walk through the Christian calendar, beginning in the autumn as that, almost more than January, is often a time of new beginnings. It is also the season when she met the greasy-haired English ordinand in a ‘sweater vest’ who was to become her husband.
As Amy learned the traditions of both her new country and her new church family, she found herself learning, in a whole new way, what Jesus meant when he said “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). She had to die to her old ways, her old expectations, even in a lot of ways her old identity, and at first that was a challenge. Throughout the book, Amy weaves the wisdom she picked up over the years – with disarming honesty – and reflects on wider lessons learned through events in the church calendar, through observations of life and nature, and through an ever-closer walk with God.
A life edited
As editor, my job was often to say, ‘I love this anecdote, but…’ and make her cut out stories that were dear to her heart but which may not have added much for the reader. I do sometimes struggle with that role of critic – always being the one saying ‘I don’t understand what you’re saying here’, ‘this is a bit muddled’, or (with echoes of The Princess Bride, a book and film we also share a love of) ‘I don’t think that word means what you think it means’! Amy was incredibly gracious, however, and although she’d occasionally put up a fight, she’d accept the ‘criticisms’ with good humour (at least in her correspondence with me!), and has been kind enough to say, several times, that my insights and insistences made the book better. Thank you, Amy! I sided with her against many others about the chapter on plumbing, though. If you don’t like it, sorry. It’s important to Americans, and I think she draws some neat conclusions about it, too. So there!
It struck me as I read, though, that her life story is, as so many of ours are, about being edited by God. He gives us freedom to write our stories, but comes alongside and graciously cuts, trims, tightens and reworks different areas (if we will let Him), to shape our lives to tell His story, not our own. A story recognisably ours, but infinitely better than we could have ever crafted ourselves (yes, I know I sound like I’m comparing myself to God here – well, we are made in His image…!).
If Amy had been able to cling to all the things she thought made her who she was, she’d never have found her true self in the One who made her so much more. Finding Myself in Britain will encourage and inspire many others as they wrestle with feeling out of place – or maybe struggle with that lemon tree I wrote about recently.
And thanks to the generosity of Amy and Authentic, I’ve got two copies to give away! If you’d like to hear more of Amy’s story, learn how to make her famous chicken noodle soup (for Christmas Eve?!), or ponder anew the art of celebration, just leave me a note in the comments and, in time-honoured fashion, I’ll draw two names from a hat at 9am (British Summer Time) on Wednesday, 7th October 2015.
If you’re not one of the lucky winners, you can buy a copy through Amy’s website, or any good bookshop!