“It is awfully hard to be brave, when you're only a Very Small Animal.”
- A. A. Milne (from Winnie-The-Pooh)
In these shifting sands, I often feel like a Very Small Animal, just one pinpoint among the many, many stars. The reality is that dreams shift and shatter, and yellow-brick roads sometimes lead to dead ends. Sometimes life is a quick drop, a sudden stop. And what do we do? We can look up into the blue sky and wonder who is watching. We can glance over our shoulders to see if anybody saw when we fell down and skinned our knees. We can wipe away that glimmer of a tear because there just isn’t time right now. We can yell at the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s.
There are different types of fear. We fear letting people down, failing, falling, and basically appearing foolish or incompetent. Basically, we fear the unknown. It’s a survival instinct. Here’s one important lesson to realize: humans, inherently, are not psychic. Humans are limited in that way.
The good news is that the unknown is not a monster. The unknown simply doesn’t exist. The unknown is your projection of a possibility. It’s not fact, it’s not verifiable, and it’s probably not even what may occur.
Projection avoids the present. Appreciating the present eliminates fear. Let’s walk through it step by step.
I have always liked the movie Elizabethtown. It is the story of a man, Drew Baylor, whose great invention at a shoe company craters and he is fired; while he rigs a contraption to commit suicide, his sister calls to inform him that his father had a heart attack and died. Yeah, yeah, it sounds sad, whatever. This is the platform from which he falls, however, and the audience takes the journey with him, through facing failure and its wretched aftermath, new love, and fresh beginnings.
“You have five minutes to wallow in the delicious misery,” Claire Colburn says in a note to Drew. “Enjoy it, embrace it, discard ... and proceed. Sadness is easier because it's surrender. I say, make time to dance alone with one hand waving free.”
We see Drew dancing under some shade trees after scattering some of his dad’s ashes along the road. He cries.
You can dance and cry at the same time.
It’s about glorying in the moment rather than expecting a projected triumph.
At one point, Claire says to Drew, “We are intrepid. We carry on.”
Regardless of what we hope for, project, or dare, what IS exists. And it’s stunning.
Call it a web, a journey, a path, or a plotline, humans navigate this earth and their time on it. The more difficult the landscape, the more you see of your true self. Amid the bouquet of options, I can see yesterday’s selfish flippancy, the materialistic cravings, the immature belief. I can see yesterday’s shaking flesh, the whimpering muscles. But I can also see how these challenges, these opportunities, they work like a sieve. Through the emptying out, an instigation of firmness builds within; as the complaining sifts out like powdery flour, a more solid hand steadies a tangible faith.
Not so long ago, God breathed out life upon the universe. He pieced together billions of people with billions of opportunities to thrive in a life greater.
The God who made us has us here to learn more about his security. He is secure, he is able. He is intrepid. As a believer in him, he resides within me, therefore I am secure, I am able, I am intrepid. There’s no better place for me than where I am right now. There’s no better place for you, either. You’re in this time and space with me, and we can reflect on the delightful present of our reality.
You breathe air.
You blink with bright eyes.
Your senses ignite, your hope flares, and you are now more awake to the possibilities of freedom — the possibilities of life, beautiful, perfect, as it is, right here, right now. How do you feel without expectations for what should be, and is not? How do you feel knowing that the story you’ve been beating yourself up for does not exist, nor should it? ‘Should’ does not exist. How does it feel to accept that the slow car in front of you is supposed to be slow? How does it feel to accept that you have the opportunity to wipe gum off your shoe in front of your child? How does it feel to receive the incorrect order at the drive-thru, and know that this is the moment for which you’ve been preparing? You get right now to be your best self. You get this one moment to drop your pride, speak with humility, and act in kindness.
You get right now to choose how to act.
Three kinds of business exist: Your business, My business, and God’s business. Your gift is this one reality to mind your business. You don’t have to mind mine or God’s. You can’t mind God’s business. (Seriously, would you want to? No thanks.) That’s why it’s his. He gets to deal with the stars, the natural disasters, and the mass of humanity as a whole.
“David also said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you’” (1 Chronicles 28:20).
See, God IS minding his business, which includes us. He won’t stop. He will never leave or fail us — he’s with us, he’s within us, he’s around us. So we’re secure on that end. Be strong, be courageous, do the work. I manage my business. You manage your business. And we rockin’ it. We magnificent.
Intrepid means ‘fearless and bold.’ Plucky. Dauntless. Resolute. We are intrepid. We carry on. It’s our business. And remember, you got yours, I got mine! We manage the events as they piece together before us. We have nothing to fear. We have nothing to complain about. Don’t assume some other scenario than what you currently have could be better. This one moment is the best option. (Spiders and all!)
Small animals? Maybe our bodies are small creatures compared to the stars. On any ordinary day, are our souls woven into the Spirit of the King of Kings, the Creator, the manager of the stars? Yes. Able to do the work? Yes. Dancing with one hand flying free? Oh, my dear, yes.
More on this coming soon. <3
Crucible: a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new (Merriam-Webster.com). What’s your crucible? Are you there?
My kids and I dove into a Bible story the other day, where God rescued his people from Pharaoh’s impending doom. He’d rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and Pharaoh allowed them to leave captivity. The people left, headed home, facing days and nights in the hot desert, following a pillar of fire toward the unknown. They ended up on the sands of the Red Sea, a body of water flowing for miles in both directions. And then Pharaoh and his 600 men and their raging chariots raced to recapture them. The Israelites freaked out then, as I think most of us would. They projected their fear, they cried, they whined. And God replied, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground” (Exodus 14:15-16). Essentially, God told Moses to tell the Israelites they couldn’t go over it. They couldn’t go under it. They couldn’t go around it. They had to go through it. And to stop whining.
Just like the classic picture book of “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt,” the adventurers had to face a challenge bigger than they understood.
You, oh incredible wayfarer, will face challenges bigger than yourself and bigger than you understand. It’s the plight of mankind. It’s your job. Don’t ask, “Why isn’t this easier?” Ask instead, “How can this make me better?”
The good thing about these challenges is that they make us into our best selves. Challenges aren’t just part of the story; they’re the story.
1) Challenges show us God’s bigness.
On this tiny planet, as this one tiny soul, I often don’t see the big picture. I’m one puzzle piece, you’re one puzzle piece, and sometimes we lose sight of the whole puzzle and all it entails. But God’s there, with this big love for us. In the fire, beside the wide sea, and under the grinding weight of the mortar’s pestle, God stands right there in the middle of the crucible beside you, with the strength, grace, and power to go on. He’s an endless source of strength, and he offers it to his people. In these challenges, we get a mere glimpse of how he can fuel us.
2) Challenges teach us gratitude.
“My struggles are my own unique manifestations designed specifically to give me the opportunities to love and accept myself fully” (Jill Coleman). Seeing a challenge, obstacle, or hardship as an opportunity to raise a hand in gratitude teaches stability. Accepting challenge as a chance to love is part of why we’re here. The apostle Paul mentored his friend Timothy with these words, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Being grateful in adversity proves faith. How much faith do you have? How grateful are you for the rain? How grateful are you for the wall you just hit? Are you grateful for who you are so that you can be in this place and time to face this challenge? Are you ready?
Practicing intentional gratitude exhibits a willingness to level up.
3) Challenges make us stronger.
“In the days of the sailing vessels, this is the way they chose a tree to make a mast: They did not go to some sheltered place where the trees were protected from the elements. They went up into the mountains where the soil was thin and rocky. They found a tree that had been buffeted by the storms and beaten by the winter winds. That tree, that hardened tree, they cut down for the mast of their ship. So suffering hardens and strengthens us” (Robert Shannon).
In being a wife and mom, I’ve found strength to be a power. Maybe that sounds silly, but I feel like there’s still a big train of thought out there than women should be soft and weak. And I’ve never been able to be that. I love lifting heavy weights and pushing limits, because when I lift those heavy weights, life feels simple and free (and super sweaty hot). I love the feeling of picking up my twenty-pound weights and not struggling to do so. I love being able to do interval sprints and not pass out dead on the ground. I love that with a consistent daily grind over the years, I’ve built up my strength in a tangible way that I can see for myself and nobody can take it away from me or deny it. I love that now the effort has proved itself. In the beginning of trying heavier weights in my work outs, I couldn’t hardly finish a twenty-minute workout, the fifteen-pounders made me just about fall flat on my face (maybe they did one time), and the idea of ‘sprints’ was absolutely laughable.
But now. Now I know that trying harder challenges means I win. If one of my kids ever needs to be carried? I can carry her. If I need to help someone carry something? I can help. If someone else cries out, frustrated, saying “I can’t do it,” well then I CAN say, “Yes, you can.” Because strength manifests itself. People are drawn to it. People want to overcome. People want to be the mast of the ship, carrying their people home. Or, at least I do. I bet you do, too. And I’m excited about tomorrow’s opportunity to try again.
Are you grateful for the workout?
4) Challenges teach us courage.
Being that mast on that ship? Where will it take you? Oh my friend, it carries you into the vast unknown. With each challenge you face, with each fear you mow down, you build up a portfolio of proven records. It all builds up.
Never once did the authors of the Bible instruct or show the necessity of fear and letting it win. No, in fact, the Bible displays the opposite. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). God made you powerful. God made you loving. God installed within you a sound mind. He dwells within you, and you are worthy to take on this challenge. Maybe you just needed to hear that. Very often, the things you fear are the paths you need to take in order to be your best self.
5) Challenges offer us a life greater.
“You’ve got to try this new show!” “You’ve got to get this soap!” “You’ve got to visit Venice; it’s beautiful!” In this context, a friend will probably be recommending something to you because that friend cares, with enthusiasm.
You’ve got to take on this challenge, because on the other side awaits a life greater. You’ve got to do these hard things, so that you see the beauty in the madness. Don’t miss this opportunity for greatness. Don’t miss these steps, small or scary as they seem. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
What’s your best life? Being in God’s will. What’s God’s will? For you to intentionally live a life grateful for the challenges he presents to you. No better path exists than the intentionally joyful path. You’ve got no reason to be sad or to complain or to give up. When you hit a wall, look up. Look around. Celebrate what IS, because it’s a glorious adventure.
There is only the journey toward God’s heart. And this journey is a life greater.
What if we didn't measure life in years or days or months or pounds or inches or dollars? Imagine if we measured in deep breaths and hope and smiles and hugs and satisfaction and realized potential?
What if mankind's existence and success was based on something other than making money or having the newest tech? What if it was about knowing the song of the seas, seeing the colors of the sunsets or the trees in the autumn, or tracing the path of the stars, or merging with the heart and mind of the great Creator? Perhaps, and indeed, it is.
Symbols do not accurately display sense and touch and the way your heart lifts to music. Numbers, strokes of a pen, do not convey the beauty in a glint of sunlight tumbling across the pages of a worn novel. Numbers are boundaries. Numbers are limits. Numbers are the accounted for, known evidence. Numbers are not possibility. Possibility cannot be accurately predicted or stored or weighed.
Sometimes those reports come in, filed away, showing numbers and lists and detailed accounts of What Has Been or What Is or What Lacks.
Find a way to laugh in the face of lacking. That’s how you fight dread. That’s how you wrangle unsatisfied expectation. During my third year of college, I spent a lot of time running. I worked out almost every day and I ran every day. I didn’t know what I wanted or where I was going. I ran to flee the doubt, I ran to escape what I called The Hope Monster. Terrible name, I know, because I’ve never said the name out loud before, because how ridiculous and lame does it sound? Who is afraid of hope? Who is afraid of possibility? Oh my friend, it’s a masked fear. It's not the hope we dread, it's the darkness behind it. At that point in time I was realizing I didn’t know what I wanted To Do with my life, who I wanted to be with, and in fact, didn’t know who I wanted to be. (I’m still figuring that out.) As I ran, I fled the unknown. But you cannot outrun the unknown. It’s always there. Fortunately, the unknown does not have to be scary. The unknown does not have to be a dizzying whirl of delightful, uncategorized options.
We rage against chaos, against fear, against lacking. We fight with shields of faith, with a bright smile founded in love, and supported by hope. We pierce the darkness with love, with knowledge of One who loves, and who makes a way for light.
Train hard today to fight the battles you need to win tomorrow. You don’t know when they will come, but they are coming, so hustle. In fact, you don’t know if tomorrow even exists. So: hustle. Now. With whatever tools you possess.
Grit cannot be weighed or measured. Kindness flutters freely, weightless and yet encompassing each soul brought to this realm. Our finite minds cannot contain it but we can control the portion we give to others. And it too cannot be priced, or proportioned, or marginalized.
The numbers don't matter. The numbers don't make a soul free. There's one number to keep track of, and that number is spelled Y-O-U. You do your freakin’ best. You keep trying. You work for good. You believe in the good you can do. You trust the omnipotent Creator, so vast we cannot comprehend his size or merit or reasoning, and walk as his treasure. He gave you life, which is the most valuable thing we have. We cannot originate it. Only the great Creator can. You, living creature, are a rare commodity in this enormous universe. With every breath, every blink, every swallow, every rippling beat of that tenacious, miraculous heart, you are an asset. You are a priceless addition to the cosmos. A delight. The whole cheesecake. With the sprinkles on top.
So the fight is against the doubt. The darkness ebbs in, marauding as numbers and limitation and broken gadgetry. In the same way you cannot contain sunlight, so too hope saturates. It floods the earth, in every bright smile. All it takes is one. One.
And one by one by one into infinity we unleash the torrent.
“The world needs you right now,” the Commander said. “It’s time to put all those experiments to work.”
“Seems like the world doesn’t want our help,” I bargained, recalling the glares and shouts.
“They may think that for the moment. But when Breame releases his army upon them, we’ll be waiting. That’s what we do. Humanity will always be worth fighting for. Individuals exist who choose good, who live simple lives amidst the turmoil and corruption and hate. Surely they merit defense. We fight for them.”
“And what about those who choose to be plain outright mean? Unappreciative? Who throw stones and yell at us?”
“We stay the course,” the Commander sighed. “That’s when we dig in and follow the directive. Place the mission first. Never accept defeat.”
I nodded and joined in. “Never quit. Never leave a fallen comrade.” I tacked on the additional condition. “Fight for the man standing next to you.”
The Commander blinked in approval, providing a simple nod of affirmation in his firm look. “Pain will come and go. The trials, the hardship, the sweat, it all cycles around. It’s short. It’s the dirt in the mountain. The fire. But you, sticking it out, you’re the diamond being etched. The gold smelted. Your efforts will last. Quitting will not. I’ve always known you to hang in — now is the time to use that grit and audacity to lead others into the unknown.”
~ Excerpt from Indelible ~
(Insurrection trilogy, Book 3)
Whenever I write, life ebbs into the themes. Hopefully my readers find multi-layered stories when they dive in with me, and with each reading, find a new little gift. With the books releasing and as I’ve tossed my gut into the wide world of social media marketing, I’ve found more struggle than victory. I’ve discovered a new horrible side of myself, one who is unabashedly jealous, who cries just way too much, and who can’t see the long side of the field. I don’t like her. She cray.
But in the muddy puddles as of late, I’ve also found a wealth of freedom, in finding some simple truth. "Tis a gift to be simple. Tis a gift to be free" (Joseph Brackett). So let’s share this simple truth I’ve found, in hopes that you may dwell richly as well:
Whatever you crave is what you need to create.
Whatever you need, give away to others.
Whatever you are not willing to give up is what will drive you mad. In giving away the Things you want most, you find they return in ways you'd never expect. Do you need peace? Offer peace. Do you need a hug? Give one. Do you need to learn how to do something better? Teach someone what you do know. Need encouragement? Give that away like water at a marathon.
But do not give in order to get. Don't give pridefully. Lavish. Release. Extend. Shower upon others the breezes of hope. Reflect grace.
I may not be able to make it into any hall of fame, but I would love to help someone else get there. Maybe I'm not strong enough, but maybe I can help someone else be. What a gift that would be, to be a part of the training of heroes.
I'm a background person. Always have been, always will be. Ain't no life of the party over here. Introverts unite, amiright?! So to force this dream I have upon others has been a dreadfully painful nightmare. But I'm waking up. Oh, wake up, sleepers! Don’t just believe in yourself, but believe in the work you can and need to do.
Fight in the name of the man standing beside you. In so doing you raise the arms of giants, and together extend life across the kingdom.
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