“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 are you waiting for?
Waiting. The waiting game. The waitlist. The weight gain. Ha ha.
Being a writer is like being a lego door piece. You think you’ll be part of constructing a house or some sort of car. Instead, you have to be flexible. You have to be willing to end up in pieces, as part of any sort of building, or even closed in by other bricks. You’ll be used in a manner you never imagined. When I sit down to work on writing a book, I have to consider all of the other aspects – promotions, advertisements, and ways I can convince people that my words are worth paying for. Super fun. (Translation: Super bummer.) Just because I like constructing stories doesn’t necessarily mean I like to harangue people about buying them. So I’m waiting for one person to like how my cover looks and fancy my blurb, and then another, and then another.
I’m waiting for the people who need my story to find it.
Several of my friends are waiting to adopt or to get pregnant. If you have a child you’d like to be rid of, I know a girl. Hit me up. Winky face. The waiting for a child holds countless expectations and preparations and crushed heartbeats. Waiting for a child to arrive brings out the worst in a person, and ultimately the best. Waiting for the people who need us gives us time to become the people who need them, in more ways than we ever know. That person you’re waiting for will challenge you and maybe drive you to your limits. Take this time to store up knowledge, aptitude, and perseverance. You’ll need it.
How’s that job market looking? Enjoying the grind? Is your boss awesome? Do you want a boss? Do you want to be your own boss? Are you also binge-watching Netflix and hoping for some more employable skills to come your way? I getcha. Heartbreaking is the journey through Indeed.com.
Just because you’re waiting doesn’t mean you’re holding still. The term ‘waiting’ insinuates a lacking. Lacking what you want, unable to fulfill, incapable of movement. But let’s change that. Waiting needs to be constructive. Waiting is the training period.
Just because you’re waiting doesn’t mean you’re useless. Just because you’re waiting doesn’t mean you’ve got no purpose. Just because you’re waiting doesn’t mean you’re faulty.
While you wait, take time to rest.
While you wait, take time to hustle.
While you wait, take time to clean up. Clean up your house, clean up those projects you’ve been avoiding, clean up your spirit. Clean up your game. Clean up your focus. What do you really want? Will you be ready when the waiting ends?
While you wait, strengthen. Go to the gym. Go for a run. Go for a walk -- every single day.
While you wait, enjoy the scenery.
While you wait, take time to dance.
While you wait, jam out to some awesome music.
While you wait, act in gratitude.
On Monday, I sat at my computer and had nothing to do. I didn’t have a class to teach, a project to work on, no deadlines, no due dates, no nothing. N.O.T.H.I.N.G.
Some ‘nothing’s are good. Some ‘nothing’s are bad.
I DON’T DO LAZY WELL. DOES ANYONE DO LAZY WELL?
I’m a task-oriented, obsessive compulsive, driven, crazy kid at heart. My first job at a dry cleaner’s illustrated the importance of Always Doing Something, because there’s always something to do. Don’t let Joe see you sitting around! Find something to do!
And I’ve been given the gift of having a hearty work ethic. It’s in my genes. My people were at the Alamo, folks. We were settlers and foragers and builders.
Turn and burn, people. Move it, move it!
There’s always something to do. There’s always something to work on. There’s always something to improve.
But on Monday morning, I had nothing to offer and no spirit to shove onward. I think I experienced all the seven stages of grief on Monday as I sat at my computer. I binge-watched a Hallmark show on Netflix, ate a lot of chocolate and key lime pie, and … I colored. One of my fabulous sisters gave me a coloring book and this fancy set of colored pencils for my Christmas gift, and honestly I thought it was a neat thing but didn’t know I’d use it because I’ve been so incredibly busy and I keep myself busy. I like busy! I like bustle! I like it, honestly, because if I stop moving then I have a hard time starting back up. Starting back up is a whole new monster in itself, yes?
While I colored, I yelled inside. I was mad at myself for my lacking, mad at Everyone Else for having what I wanted, mad at the faceless masses on social media who seem to accomplish things I'm not, mad at my pencil sharpener for being dull. Mad at the coffee for being bitter, mad at the writers of the show script for being so blasé, mad at myself for having chosen WRITING ABOVE ALL USELESS THINGS to do for my vocation! I felt useless. I felt pointless. I felt like, at my core, I lacked essentiality.
“I got a homesick heart but a long ways left to go
I've been doing my part but I ain't got much to show…
These days are tough, these days are long
Sometimes it's hard, you carry on
But I hear a voice singing and I know it's true
I got dreams that keep me up in the dead of night
Telling me I wasn't made for the simple life
There's a light I see, but it's far in the distance
I'm asking you to show me some forgiveness
It's all for you in my pursuit of happiness
Singing, oh, happiness.”
NeedToBreathe penned these inspiring lyrics and I listened to the song several times yesterday. Oh, that we may show more gratitude for these waiting periods. Maybe you want to move on, move out, move up, move laterally, move in, move less, or move more. This life is a package of unconditional realities and unmanageable circumstances.
You’re doing a good job.
Among these unmanageable circumstances, we’ve got a box of Legos full of parts. Big, long ones, short singles, flat skinnies, and the awkward three-prong. Some of us sit in the box waiting much longer than we expect or hope. Maybe you expected to wait. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you’re a red three-prong, and the Maker needs a red three-prong, and he picks the red three-prong across the box. Of course you’re fully qualified to fulfill that red three-prong role. But now’s the time to enjoy the lego box. You’re not broken. You just need to hang out until the next three-prong slot comes along.
I don’t know all that you’re going through. I feel like you want more, or less, and maybe can’t get where you want to be just yet. That’s hard, yo. This morning as I prepared for Day Three of having no To Do List, I cleaned up my kitchen, which led to laundry, which led to cleaning the living room, which led to more dishes and then dishes usually leads to blogging somehow. I don’t have any new words for you to hear, but there’s a big heart behind the ones I do have.
The heart is where all these matters twist and shout. Underneath the waiting, there’s a heart wrestling with something deeper. Waiting can be great, honestly. You get to chill out, there’s a sofa, and lots of television to watch and books to read. We all say there’s never enough time, so in the waiting, we get to fill our time how we like. But in the waiting, those ribbons of heartbreak tangle and snarl even the most patient of us. Maybe you feel as if you’ve done something wrong. Maybe you feel afraid. Maybe you feel unprepared or bored or restless or exhausted. Oh, you know you feel exhausted.
Here’s an idea. Whatever you are feeling, act in the opposite. Are you lonely? Go find a friend. Text. Call. Hug. Feeling tired? Go for a walk. Feeling afraid? Go do something thrilling. Feeling broken? Seek the one who has made you whole.
“There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place.
And I know that it’s the Spirit of the Lord.
There are sweet expressions on each face.
And I know that it’s the presence of the Lord.
Sweet Holy Spirit. Sweet Heavenly Dove.
You’re right here with us, filling us with your love.
And for these blessings
We lift our hearts in praise.
Without a doubt we’ll know
That we have been revived
When we shall leave this place.”
~ Doris May Akers ~
In this waiting period, you and I, we aren’t alone. Don’t give up. Be a Lego door. Be your proud three-pronged self. Be useful in ways you’ve never imagined. Don’t just fill time to fill time. Fill your time with unconventional joy.
The people who need you are waiting, too. Live now in gratitude of all you do have, and the people who need you where you are, as you are, right now. Celebrate. Defy despair.
And while you wait, be your best self possible. Bust out the fun music and dance around the living room, waving your arms like the awkward three-prong you are. Cause you’re pretty amazing. You’re the best awkward three-prong I know.
If I just gave up, would anyone care?
What if I don't Make It?
What if I can't find my niche or that answer that I'm hoping to find?
"It’s never too late to run away." That’s what one purple alien told his traveling companion as their vehicle crashed to the ground in the movie Home.
The hubs and I have discussed the idea of success a lot recently. What is success? Can success be measured, weighed, wrapped up in a package, or defined by some shiny statue? Is success a framed certificate or a dollar amount on a paycheck? Maybe it depends on the initial goal and the motivation behind that goal. Some people find success as simply getting out of bed in the morning. I been there, I hear dat. Some people find success on a brightly lit stage, dressed in a formal gown, with their hair all did fancy. Does success exist in One Moment, in One Shot?
Success can be found anywhere along the road. Success is the moving forward even though the ground seems to be shaky and the air very thin. Success is the unfolding of light within a dark realm. Success is dancing wildly on a grassy patch of grass, finding hope and delight in little achievements. Success ought be sought with joy, flung freely, and named frequently.
Small bricks build strong walls, if layered well and often. Little steps matter.
I guess it’s okay if I fail, because it was small. And from that "no," from that, "well, not right now," that, "um, uh, I think it...uh, I like this, um..." stuttering stumbling happenstance, we learn, we reconfigure, and we re-examine.
It's okay if your goal is big. Love your purpose, love your goals, and love yourself in the process of achieving them. Carry on with a smile and a coffee cup in hand. Believe in moving forward and finding opportunity.
Because since I acted out scenes in my parent’s hallway, sweeping floors, pretending to be Cinderella’s twin sister who was left behind because she was the awkward, shy one who lost her first love to a band of local pirates, well, I guess I wanted to just create stories. Maybe act them out.
Definitely share them.
I’m still learning how to communicate and share my stories. That walk is a daily exercise and one that will continue until I am done with words. But words, silent words on a page, have always been the way I found my footing and guided my pencil out of the maze.
Words do not need to be everybody's purpose. This sapphire globe runs on the fuel of mankind's creative genius, endowed by such a Creator himself. We have been gifted so generously with dirt, wood, sunshine, far away worlds, unseen heavens, numbers, letters, song, sound, touch, and dream. All ought re-evaluate what their souls whisper so desperately for. Are clenched fists and coiled ambition shoved into a box in the attic?
"Mohamed 'Mo' Farah is a Somali-born British distance runner... Farah earned Olympic gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races, and repeated that double victory at the 2013 world championships... In February 2015, Farah set his first world record by running 8:03.40 for 2 miles indoors."
Runner's World. <http://www.runnersworld.com/tag/mo-farah> Accessed February 16, 2016.
Mo Farah was pictured with a surprise look on his face after winning gold at the most recent Olympics. Noted by thousands as an inspiration and a true Olympic legend, he is adored and yet has been made the subject of many a comical moment online. An entire Tumblr page has been created about mofarahrunningawayfromthings.
The race is tough.
The race is long.
The race pushes, pulls, and separates.
I looked into Mo Farah while researching fun encouraging memes for one of my online classes. College can often seem like a sprint, and for some it is an ultra-marathon. Single days in normal life may seem like sprints or ultra-marathons. Let’s face it. I’m a mother of a two-year old. Sometimes minutes seem like ultra-marathons.
The race builds endurance.
The tenacity carries physical achievement.
The maze offers surprise.
Mo Farah may have been surprised at his success with a comical expression, but he holds that gold medal as a record of his accomplishment.
One day, the time will come when that next fork in the road stumbles upon you. You'll have to decide if you want to get out of bed, drive that boring route, or to pursue the next goal. You’ll have to decide if you want to write another stupid query letter, finish another paper, change another diaper, put away those darn dirty dishes one more time, or just start digging holes.
Digging holes can be fun.
Watch out for lies, though, because they will make you think you should dig holes instead of build houses. Turn that hole into a basement. And keep going.
Not all runners get a medal. Heck, most runners don’t make it to the Olympics. Is there a person within fifty feet of you? Then that person probably runs. Is he in the Olympics? No. Does that mean you stop running? No. Doesn’t matter how he runs. It matters how you run. It matters how I run.
I’m guessing Mo didn’t run away from his fears though, and just kept running forward.
Finish strong, finish on your knees, finish covered in mud, finish glistening with fairy dust, but finish.
I’m honestly not sure how God falls into the equation and how your heart will seek him, and which answers will help you keep on. This level of the building is where we learn to give him glory when the lights go out, there are holes in the floor, and all the doors are locked from the outside. Hey, he’s there with you though. "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you" (Deuteronomy 31:6). So don’t worry about running away alone, or moving forward alone. You’re not alone. There’s that.
Darkness settles into bones with a soft, creeping, withering stare. Sometimes it is obvious and sometimes not. Don’t be afraid to shake it off, throw it down, or carry it along for the ride and let it blink blindly in the sunlight. The darkness only weighs in the nighttime. Now, because it is night, and my mind whirls tumultuously, I can sit in my dim office, type out some sense, and add one more notch in a void where notches are free and pay even less. But it’s there, it’s loaded, it’s available, it’s another rock on the pile. It’s hopefully another connection to someone else awake in the night wondering if it’s too late to run away.
It’s never too late to run away.
But hold tight if you need to. See if you can hold out any longer, or feel around in the dark one more time, and make one more round. Extend a hand and call out, and see if anyone else is in the room with you. I bet there is. I know there is. And I bet that a hand is attached to that Creator who made you, and that hand wants to hold yours. Even in the dirt. Even as we make our way through the maze.
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