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.
"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.
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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