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.
"That's the way things come clear. All of a sudden.
And then you realize how obvious they've been all along."
- Madeleine L'Engle
Mrs. L’Engle is my favorite author. She has a way of turning phrases, turning pages, and inspiring my deepest breaths. Her writing packs a punch, if you will. What writing do you remember? Why do you remember it?
No matter what you write, use all those glorious tools in our writing tool boxes to create your best writing possible. I’ve provided a checklist, which will help you quite a bit, but I want to extend this thought to you:
Make your writing memorable.
How do you do this?
One way to make writing interesting is to move up a level from the basic sentence. Re-think ideas and make them personal to you.
How do we identify “basic sentences”?
In my own writing adventures and self-editing, I have found some tricky words that make me stumble, stutter, and fall into lame sentence writing.
Here is my list of Boring Words:
Make your own list! What words do you use too much? What words do you use incorrectly?
Sometimes these words are helpful. See right there? But I am aware that I used ‘are’ and know that possibly I could use something more effective. What is a more effective word than ‘are’?
Question your writing.
Each sentence offers possibility or boredom.
Avoid cliché and instead create your own word pictures.
Here is an example of a way to make your writing interesting:
Example: Having my sister come for a visit was heaven on earth.
Example: I like when my sister visits.
Those sentences are okay and whatnot. Sure, they convey a basic idea. How can they be more interesting, detailed, intrinsic, and thought-provoking?
Revised Example: Having my sister show up on my doorstep, one bright smile and hearty hug, greeting me with her unique flair and cinnamon scent brought tears to my eyes. Her presence was chocolate cupcakes. Her hug crammed the room full of sunlight. Her smile filled my soul with bubbly, pink sweater fuzzies.
See how that helps you experience the sister?
You would write this sentence completely different from me. How would you get to your version of this revised sentence?
Start by re-thinking what is your ‘heaven on earth’? What makes you happy?
If you are inclined to write, “I liked doing that,” instead explore the why and what behind what you were doing. What did ‘like’ feel like? Your ‘like’ is different than mine, and isn’t language the beautiful tool to explore how it compares?
This is where imagery meets metaphor. This place is fun. This is one reason I love writing.
Example 2: Have a good day!
Revised Example 2: May your day be sunny, life-affirming, and lined with laughter!
Example 3: The baby cried, looking so sad. There were no words to capture his wail.
Revised Example 3: Shadows shimmied away from the wailing toddler, his bald head wrinkled red with frustration and hunger. Tears dripped in large droplets down his scrunched up cheeks, pooling with sighs and hopelessness in the gnarled blankets by his feet. Paci had disappeared.
Give life to inanimate objects. If one object seems too difficult to explain, then illustrate objects or people’s reactions.
Give an object personality. Is it warm? Soft? Cheerful? Threatening? Prideful? Scornful? Lonely?
I hope you can take these ideas and carry them with you into all of your writing. Pack these ideas up, put them in your wallet, and take out as often as you need.
Warning: Be careful, as this, if taken to heart, will change your communications forever. People will suddenly pay attention because you wrote or said something interesting. Be memorable. Use those gifts God has given you to communicate light, power, and passion to the darkness.
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