Burning Dreams to Ashes

When I was eight years old, I had my life all figured out. I was going to be the next Amy Carmichael, never mind my green eyes. I figured after a stint in missions, I would settle down and start a family. I’d stay home with my six kids, of course.

Well, life doesn’t exactly play out like it did in our eight-year-old minds. In a strange turn of events, my brother was the one who moved to India. I went there once and decided it wasn’t for me. And after two years of working with Advancing Native Missions, I realized there was another dream overtaking the one I had crafted and cradled from childhood.

It was terrifying to say goodbye to all I’d ever thought I wanted. Terrifying to place my life in God’s hands as I chased an impossible dream. Even more terrifying to realize that I’ve just been in transition all along. That maybe I’ll just be in transition all my life.

That’s what life is, isn’t it? A transition from this world into the next. God putting us on this earth for a purpose that is never clearly defined.

What am I to do? Where am I to go? Who am I to be?

A few days ago, I set fire to the remnants of my life in Virginia. That’s how it felt watching all my blank checks go up in flames—that a dream was burning to ashes. Because I never dreamed that I’d be moving back in with my parents a few days shy of my 23rd birthday, uncertain of what the future holds from here.

My missions stint didn’t end in marriage, six kids sounds like a crazy lot of work right now, and that’s not all I want out of life anymore. I want something a little crazier than that, even if I’m not 100% certain what that crazy thing is.

I’m learning it’s okay to burn our dreams to ashes if it means that a new one will rise in its place. And I think it’s all right to stand in those places where you have no idea what’s coming just around the river bend. After all, if God wanted us to live a predictable life, He would have given us a manual with step by step instructions. But He didn’t, so I guess He must just like holding our hands as He walks us through the ups and downs.

The honest truth (and perhaps the reason this blog has been so silent here of late) is that I don’t know where I’m going to be six months from now. I don’t even know what I’m going to be doing six weeks from now. And Control Freak Rebekah doesn’t like that, but Rebekah Who Lives By Faith is coming to terms with it.

The remains of my goals and plans my be resting in the corner of a fire pit in Afton, Virginia, but that’s okay. Because God led me here for this time and season. And God is leading me into a much greater future than I could ever dream for myself.

And though I am not certain of many things, I have absolute confidence that He will call forth beauty from the ashes of my dreams.

ashes

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.