A Walk in My Character’s Shoes

I spent Wednesday morning catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in over a year. When talking about the pains and trials we’ve faced during our time apart, my friend said that we’re a lot like the characters in my books—facing difficult struggles without being able to see the big picture.

It’s okay, we decided, to not see the big picture as long as you can trust the Author writing your story. I can trust the Author. At least, that’s what I tell myself again and again. It’s just that sometimes I wish the Author would trust me with some of the details. Like the “why is this happening to me?” details.

But I get the Author analogy. I understand that when I finally reach the end of my story, I’ll be able to look back and say, “Oh, now that makes sense.” But I’m not anywhere near the end of that story and nothing about this makes sense right now. All that feels certain is this sudden urge to write a letter of apology to every fictional character I’ve ever crafted.

Dear Callum, I’m sorry I ruined your life. But there’s a reason this tragedy has befallen you and that is…

Then I would tell him everything his limited point of view can’t possibly understand. But that’s just the thing. He can’t understand. If I tried explaining, he wouldn’t believe me. Or worse yet, he would believe me and he would stop taking the steps necessary to becoming the hero I intend for him to be.

So I think if I were to write him, it would look a little something more like this:

Dear Callum, I’m sorry I ruined your life. I know this is difficult to understand, but you simply have to trust me. There are things you are not yet ready to know, but I’ll tell you everything in time. I love you, honest. That’s all I can tell you right now.

He’d be angry, of course, that I’m withholding information from him. He’d probably yell and shake his fist and tell me how unfair I’m being, and that’s okay. He has a right to be angry. Yes, yes, fume all you want, my fictional friend, but I will only ever do what is best for you. (But of course all hell breaking loose is best for you. Why do you ask?)

And I realize this conversation Callum and I are having looks suspiciously familiar, which is perhaps the point my friend was trying to make when I unloaded my burdens on her capable shoulders the other morning.

Because I’m good at yelling and shaking my fist and telling God how unfair He’s being.

But, you know, maybe God isn’t being so unreasonable after all. Because, yes, the path may be hard and the challenges great, but this all leads to a beautiful ending. So I guess I’m all right. And I guess I can keep on trusting the Author… even when I can’t see the big picture.

The View From Right Here

I have to confess that I’ve had sort of a bad attitude about life lately. Because if life is a game of Candy Land, I’ve been stuck in Molasses Swamp for eighteen turns now. And if life is a climb, I’ve been on this mountain far too long and I’m not even sure how close I am to the top.

And when your entire journey has been a heart racing, thigh straining, lung bursting climb straight up the mountain, it’s easy to get discouraged. Even after you’ve finally reached the top, it’s easy to forget the view. Because the climb down isn’t any better. In fact, sometimes straight down is even worse than straight up. Every knee-jarring step leads you farther from the view, and if you get your focus in the wrong place, you’ll quickly forget the wonder of watching the fog part to unfold an entire world before you.

I’ve found myself wanting to fast-forward a year or so—just far enough that I don’t have to be in this rut any longer. Just far enough that I’ve actually got life somewhat figured out. And then I realize how laughable that thought is, because when have I ever had life figured out? Sure, there was a time I thought I did, but when I look at how far I am from that dream now…

And once again, I find the words of Hannah Brencher echoing in my head.

“Life will lose its worth if you are only ripping to find the answers.”

And I find that her words are a reprimand because I’m missing life now, in this moment, because I’m so caught up in where I want to be some day in the future.

And maybe I don’t need to be at the top right now.

Maybe it’s enough to just stop and take a deep breath, filling my lungs with life, enjoying the feel of the mist on my skin.

Maybe it’s enough to know that I’ve climbed mountains like this before and it has always, always, always been worth it.

And maybe it’s time to remember that the view from the top isn’t always the most important one.

Maybe it’s time to take in the view from right here.

the view from right here

The Beautifully Painful Path

There’s a video that recently went viral called A Pep Talk from Kid President to You. If you have not yet been “pep-talked,” you should stop reading this right now and go watch the video because it’s a great message and the speaker is totally adorable.

Anyway… There are a lot of great quotes crammed into that short video, but I find the one the resonates most with me today is where he quotes (or technically misquotes) Robert Frost.

“Two roads diverged in the woods… and I took the road less traveled.”

“AND IT HURT, MAN!”

I couldn’t help laughing at the dramatics as this child rants about rocks and thorns and glass. (“Not cool, Robert Frost.”) But at the same time I feel the weight of his declaration because I know… I know about those less traveled paths and how they hurt really bad. I know what it’s like to have those moments of doubt where I wonder if the other path would have been a better choice.

But then, I didn’t choose the less-traveled path; I was basically forced down it. So maybe a quote that resonates better with me is the words of the witty Maureen Johnson:

“There are times in life when only one path is presented to you. The path may be rocky, on fire, populated by poisonous cottonmouth snakes… but it’s your path.”

I’ll forgive her the redundant expression about poisonous cottonmouth snakes (duh), because I feel for her main character as I read those words. I know all about that dangerous path being the only one. And let me tell you… IT HURTS, MAN!

It has been exactly one year since I was officially declared a published author. One year since Beyond Waiting became a tangible object I could share with all of you. One year that feels like a lifetime. Because it has been so much longer than a year for me. It has, in fact, been three years. Three years of rocks and thorns and poisonous snakes.

All those months riddled with late night arguments where I explained to God that I am a novelist and will therefore never write anything other than a novel (Ha!).

All those stressful days of computer malfunctions and printer jams and last minute edits that wouldn’t save.

And then there was The Night. The Night I sat in a hotel corridor, waiting to be called in for a meeting with a publisher as my leg bounced frantically from a combination of nerves and the five glasses of sweet tea I was trying so hard to retain. The Night that woman (who has clearly never undergone the pains of presenting a book proposal) said to me in her thick, southern drawl, “It’s okay, honey. There’s nothing to be nervous about.”

I cried tears and lost sleep and threw my body all out of whack from the stress of this journey.

It hurt, man.
Really bad.

But you know something? Even if I could go back and choose a different path, I wouldn’t.

Because the journey was as beautiful as it was painful.

For every tear I cried, there were a dozen smiles. For every minute of sleep I lost, there was a moment when I was fully alive.

I argued with God and I danced with Him.

The computer malfunctioned, but the words never stopped spilling from my fingertips.

When the printer jammed, someone fixed it.

And on that very night I nearly died from a nervous breakdown and/or an overdose of sweet tea, Shannon Primicerio gave me a hug and promised me an endorsement.

I held a book in my hands. It had my name on the cover. I opened it up and buried my nose in its crisp, white pages. I handed it to a friend and watched him bury his nose in those crisp, white pages (because apparently we have the same, odd habit when it comes to books).

I watched a dream come true.

And there are people all around the world who thank me for the words I almost didn’t write.

Because I almost gave up and started paving my own path.

Almost.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

the road less traveled

A Different Kind of Gospel

A few months ago, I got to thinking about the way we present the Gospel and started wondering if we were going about it the wrong way. Like, maybe we shouldn’t be telling people to accept Jesus “or else they’re going to hell.” Because maybe hell isn’t the issue. Because when I think about the way we promise people the opportunity of eternal life in heaven, I can’t help but wonder… Is that our only reason for following Jesus?

Because if it is, I’m no better than the people who are blowing themselves up in the name of faith, hoping for a shot at paradise. In fact, I’m worse because I’m not really living what I believe. I’m not risking anything for the God I claim to love.

Needless to say I was pretty excited when I stumbled across a book where the author basically poses the same question and starts launching into the sermon Jesus really came to preach.

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17)

If you flip through the rest of the book of Matthew and really pay attention, you’ll get the feeling that all Jesus ever talked about was the kingdom of heaven. And He told us how to grasp it. Right now. In this moment. Not just when we get to the other side of death.

Yet here we are—standing on the street corners with our big, flashy signs yelling, “Free tickets to heaven! Come on, folks, get your little bit of Jesus right here!”

And we wonder why we don’t see fruit in the lives of these new convert. Maybe it’s because all we ever told them was that Jesus wanted to spend eternity with them, but we neglected to mention that He wants to share life with them, too.

I like to think that I follow Jesus for more reasons than the promise of a cushy mansion after I die. I like to think that maybe I follow Him because the kingdom of heaven is near, and I want to experience it now. Today. In this moment.

And yes, the promise of eternal life is a beautiful thing, but sometimes eternity still feels like a long way off, and today… Today I need to walk hand in hand with Jesus, marveling at the wonders of this kingdom life and knowing that these simple moments of my existence are significant to someone other than me.

I think from now on I’ll be preaching a different kind of Gospel.

Living For You

Sometimes I find some really cool quotes on the internet, and sometimes I find not-so-cool quotes on the internet. Like, I was on pinterest the other day (that’s how all great stories start nowadays) and I found this quote that says, “You can’t live your life for other people. You’ve got to do what’s right for you, even if it hurts some people you love.”

Of course the person that pinned it thought this was the best advice ever, but I was like, “No. No, no, no.” Because that’s some of the most selfish and horrible advice I’ve ever heard. In fact, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that basically all of the atrocious sins that are committed in this world are committed by people who live as if that statement were true.

And, yes, sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. You’ll have to tell people “no” and chase a dream that they never believed in. But that doesn’t mean you can stop living life for other people. That doesn’t give you the right to hurt someone you love.

When Jesus came to earth, He didn’t do what was right for Him. He lived His life for other people. He gave  His life for other people. And if Jesus is the ultimate example of how we should live… Well, I think it’s safe to say we should turn this quote into ashes.

Life isn’t worth living if I’m only living for me. And though I’m selfish by nature and sometimes horribly fail at living for others, I at least want to be able to say that I tried. Because the worst thing I could possibly do is hurt someone that I love.

And once upon a time I started writing for me, but I like to think that the reason this blog has lived for so long—the reason I keep coming back two times a week to share words I didn’t know I had until they started flowing from my fingertips—is because there was a shift in my perspective. Somewhere along this two and a half year blogging journey, I started writing for you. I started realizing that my words carried enough weight in your lives that you kept coming back for more. That’s why I write here even though there are a hundred other things I could be doing. Even though all I ever wanted to do was write fiction.

I have a responsibility to you. This part of my life was meant to be lived for you. And even when I feel like I’d rather be submerged in a fantastical land with wars and prophecies and a curse that is about to be broken, I keep coming back for you. Because you’re worth it.

So in case you were wondering, I’m done living for me. I’m living for God. I’m living for you. And I’m living the moments as they come. And in fully surrendering me, I’m living free.

Joy in Your Presence

My life has been so busy lately. That’s been my answer for everyone who asks how I’ve been.

Busy. Busy, busy, busy.

Maybe that’s why Psalm 16:11 hit me like a slap in the face:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s the kind of verse that makes me realize how far off track I’ve been here of late. Caught up in the mundane. Just pushing to get through another moment. Another day.

In the hustle and bustle of everything happening in my life—the tasks I have to complete and the dreams I yearn to see fulfilled—I’ve forgotten an essential thing.

There is joy to be found in the journey. Joy to be found in the One who gives life to those as undeserving as I.

And I find that what I’ve been missing these last few weeks is joy. The joy I used to find in His presence. The joy that unveils itself with every step God leads me through.

The path of life is just that: life. It’s not meant to be routine. It’s not intended to become mundane. It is meant to be lived. Fully. With joy in His presence and eternal pleasures at His right hand.

And for too long I’ve been forgetting to live so fully.

Today I come to find joy in His presence again.

Growing Pains

“The prerequisites for growth,” Bruce Mau said, are “the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.” Perhaps that is why so many of us reach a point where we simply stop growing. It’s not easy to let an event change us from the inside out.

Or perhaps we simply reach that place where our bodies have ceased growing and we think maybe the rest of us has grown up as well. Now there’s a laughable thought.

I’ve said before that I’m the kind of girl who always had a plan. I always imagined I had my life figured out. I always thought I knew exactly what I wanted. Maybe that’s why I stopped growing. Maybe when I reached that place where my mornings were devoted to my writing, I thought I had finally arrived.

Because this is what I wanted. And even though I knew there was always room for growth, I had let myself believe it could only be the small stuff from here on out. I was settled. I was certain. I was in that dangerously comfortable place… until God reminded me of how often I’m more like a three-year-old girl in her pink tutu and plastic tiara, claiming that I’m going to be a princess when I grow up (which I don’t think I ever actually said growing up, but the principle remains and you know that every three-year-old girl has thought it).

“Darling,” God whispered, “you’re still growing. You’re still in the stages of becoming and discovering and finding it’s not always so easy to stand with your head held high.”

The past few weeks, God and I have been discussing my flaws and, let me tell you, there’s a reason they call them growing pains instead of growing pleasures. I’m learning that there is a price to pay for the joy of becoming. Slowly but surely, I’m accepting the pain for the blessing it truly is.

And if you’re finding it hard to move past the growing pains, just remember that those sharp pangs in your ankles rendering it hard to walk right now are going to make you a little more surefooted in the future. The spasms shooting up your arms are making you strong enough to carry the loads you were never able to shoulder in the past.

Because Little One, Little One, you were made for so much more… You were meant to be so much bigger. You were created for greater things.

But you’re still growing. And it still hurts, though sometimes it’s glorious to realize how tall you’re now standing. But you were made for greater heights than this. For longer reach. So don’t you dare become content to stay just as you are. Because you’re still growing. And yes, it’s a painfully glorious thing.

Holding on for Balance

You would think by now I would be used to the strange ways in which God reveals Himself, but I really wasn’t expecting Him to use a self-balancing unicycle. Of course, until yesterday, I had never even heard of a self-balancing unicycle, so I guess my surprise is sort of easy to explain.

But there I was at my friend’s house, watching him demonstrate this fascinating contraption that propels itself forward without pedals. He explained it as a segway without handlebars.

Now, I should probably point out that it’s not entirely self-balancing. While it won’t tip forward or backward, sideways is an entirely different matter. The trick to riding it, Dave said, is to swivel your hips. You can probably imagine the amount of entertainment that ensued. Then it came time for me to be the entertainment.

I was off to a rough start, muttering something about the self-balancing joke, when Dave came up beside me and offered his arm for balance. And then, rather shakily, I was off—propelling forward across the yard. Dave walked alongside me, my hand clutching his arm. Then he sort of jogged alongside me and my hand was merely resting on his sleeve, just in case.

Maybe I was distracted by the fact that I was finally moving, or maybe I simply relied too heavily on Dave. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t long before the contraption wobbled and my fingers curled around Dave’s arm once more.

I felt like a child again. Learning to walk with my hands wrapped around my mother’s fingers. Learning to ride a bike with my dad holding onto the handlebars.

Then I started to think of trying to navigate life without God at my side.

I imagine it would look a lot like trying to ride that unicycle without holding onto Dave’s arm. Because despite his assurances that I was a natural, I knew he was the only thing keeping me upright most of the time. I knew I never would have gotten to the point of balancing on my own without first having his arm there to rise and fall, counterbalancing my weight and inspiring the confidence I needed to keep pressing on. I’d have been lost without his gentle reminders to shift my hips and lean forward—always lean forward. The simple truth of the matter is this:

The only reason I was able to start going at all was because I knew he was there to catch me at the first hint of trouble.

And it reminds me of all the times my life has gotten a little shaky and I find myself clinging to God’s arm, struggling to stay upright. It reminds me of all the times I’ve been distracted by the world around me, forgetting those crucial truths that have brought me this far. Just like with the self-balancing unicycle, I jolt upright and reach for anything that will keep me from falling.

That’s when I hear His voice in my ear. “It’s all right. You’ve just got to shift your hips and keep leaning forward—always lean forward.”

And I know the only reason I live so freely is because I have Him by my side. His arm is the one I cling to when the world rocks so crazily that I forget how to steer.

I take more risks than I would without Him because I know He’s there to catch me if I fall. And I feel the smile spread across my face when I’m finally moving forward, almost on my own. But I’m not ready to let go, no sir. I pray I’ll never let go.

Because I know my true security comes from the feel of His arm beneath my hand—the knowing that He will be there to catch me if ever I should fall.

And so I navigate life—a little shakily—but ever so certain of the God at my side.

Full Circle

There’s a rule about stories (that may or may not be unspoken) that the story needs to come full circle. It needs to begin with somewhat of a theme or idea that ties into the ending. That’s what makes a good story. And that is why most of us aren’t writing novels about our lives. We have too many loose ends. Too many things that don’t make sense, and won’t make sense this side of heaven. In a novel, things have to be justifiable… otherwise the reader won’t buy into it. In life, we just have to trust that the Author knows what He’s doing… even when we think the pages of our lives look like a dozen different story ideas crammed between the covers of one book.

Maybe that’s why I was so surprised to find that my last journal has the makings of a novel. Okay, so maybe the stories in the middle aren’t exactly what anyone would want to read (or what I would want anyone to read), but the past seven months of my life have truly come full circle. For example… Page One: March 3, 2012 talks about how rough my recent transition in life was and how desperate I am for Jesus. Then it says this:

I’ve taken some advice from my brother’s musical friend Phil Collins and recognized that I’m on my way. And instead of dreading the future–instead of letting the uncertainties consume my heart–I choose to love every step I take.

I finished that same journal last night with an entry that began with the words, “Today was beautiful–and I’m not just talking about the weather.” And the final paragraph–my farewell words to posterity–read:

Life is a journey with unexpected twists in the road–an adventure far beyond my imagining. And I’m finally not ripping to find the answers. I’m finally content with seeing just this one step. So tell everybody I’m on my way… and I’m loving every step I take.

So, it may not be novel material, but for now I’m content to know that God is bringing my story full circle. Today, I’m satisfied to trust that God is alive and at work in my life and that He will not leave a work unfinished.

So if you’re finding that your life feels like a dozen stories mixed up in one, that’s okay. Because you’re on your way. God is still working on bringing you full circle. And He will bring you full circle… many times in your life.

(Side Note: If you’re still needing a pick-me-up, I recommend Phil Collins. He’s always good for that.)

You Can’t Touch Her

I watched a handful of preschoolers chase one of their little friends around a playground when, suddenly, the little girl who was being chased made a beeline for my arms. I held her to my chest and shooed the other kids away with my free arm while explaining, “I’m base. You can’t touch her as long as I’ve got her.”

So the kids backed up and waited until Charleigh gained the courage to run again. She jumped up, knowing she didn’t have to outrun the others for long—just long enough. Once around the playground, back into my arms, and repeat.

Except one time, Charleigh didn’t make it back into my arms. One time, she didn’t quite run fast enough. One time, I watched her get tackled by one of her little friends. She was taking a beating, and even though they were all laughing and enjoying themselves, I knew it was only a matter of time before things got out of control and someone got injured.

It was time to change the rules.

I stood to my feet, cleared a few preschoolers out of my path, and pulled Charleigh into my arms. “Ah, ah,” I warned when the other kids rushed at us. “You can’t touch her; I’m base, remember?”

I’ve been replaying that scene in my mind for weeks because, sometimes, I feel a lot like Charleigh. When life swells up all around me and I’m starting to feel overwhelmed, I just know that I’ve got to make it back to God’s arms and it will all be okay. He holds me close as I catch my breath and my heart rate returns to normal. He soothes me and comforts me, stroking my hair, sheltering me from all those things that threaten to consume me.

Because He’s base, remember? And nothing can touch me as long as I’m in His arms.

Then I’m off again to repeat the same pattern. Only sometimes, like Charleigh, I don’t quite make it back in time. Sometimes I find that life overwhelms me and I’m lying facedown in the dirt. And just when I think I’ll never get back up, the rules change. The base moves.

And God is there, picking me up, brushing me off, and saying to my struggles, “Ah, ah. You can’t touch her; I’m base, remember?”

Sometimes God lets us run to Him. He stands there with open arms, waiting to be the shelter we so desperately need because He wants for us to seek Him. He wants for us to declare our need for Him. And we’re the ones who have to come crawling back to fall at His feet and say, “God, I need You right now. I need You so bad.”

But sometimes… Sometimes we’re in too deep. Sometimes it hurts too much to crawl. Sometimes we can’t quite make it back on our own.

And that’s when the rules change.

That’s when God stands to His feet and pushes our struggles out of the way until there’s nothing left but Him and us. That’s when we’re safe again.

So if life is beating you down, just turn around and see that He’s standing there, arms outstretched, waiting for you to fall into the warmth of His embrace. Waiting for you to let Him set things right.

Because He’s base, remember? And nothing can touch you as long as you’re in His arms.