2016: The Side Effects of Living

I have never met a year so widely despised as 2016. Every time I get online it seems there is something new to blame on that silly string of numbers: Dear 2016, why you gotta do me like that?

This whole year, according to the internet, has been the worst. It has been one thing after another, tragedy upon tragedy. A girl can’t even catch her breath. People are counting down the days until the year is over, praying 2017 brings relief from the horror.

I understand. I’ve spent the majority of this year striving against the hardships, wishing for a different kind of life than the one I’m living now.

It’s easy, I think, to focus on the tragedies. Why is it that bad things seem so much more substantial than the good?

Because if I take a step back to see this year for all it has held—triumph, tragedy, and everything in between—2016 has had its fair share of beautiful moments. In fact, one might even say that 2016 was Bucket List material.

In 2016, I tried snowboarding for the first time. When I wasn’t any good at that, I tried skiing instead. And since I was already well on my way to the Winter Olympics, I took figure skating classes and learned how to twirl. I’m still a little ungraceful and haven’t managed a waltz jump yet, but I’ve accomplished my goal of dancing on ice.

I’ve had random first-time adventures with friends. Like eating out of a taco truck with Dave, rolling down that huge hill at the Reservoir with Makayla, and letting Stephen steer me around a pond in a little rowboat with a motor attached.

I went to Mexico.

I got my first apartment.

I finally learned to hold my own in Call of Duty.

I met the New York Times Bestselling Author that I’ve been following since the unsung Book One.

I read an unpublished manuscript and told the author how she could make it stronger. (Y’all remember the name Annie Sullivan. Her stories are going to be on shelves one day and you don’t want to miss out.)

I visited the Columbus Museum of Art.

I fired an official FBI handgun.

I completed my Goodreads Reading Challenge with four days to spare.

I gained a niece, a nephew, a sister-in-law, and four perfect little cousins.

How could I ever convince myself that 2016 was anything less than beautiful?

Because I wrenched my knee while attempting to snowboard?

Because I sprawled out across the ice more times than I care to count?

Because I failed at crossovers and spent an afternoon limping through Walmart?

Because I missed a whole string of flights and spent the night in the Charlotte airport?

Because the latest draft of my novel is not anywhere close to where the story needs to be?

Because I don’t have any control over what is going on in the world around me?

These are mere side effects of being alive in the world. But I am alive, and that’s a gift. If I fail at something it means that I’ve tried. If I keep persisting it means that I’m slowly getting better.

I can look at this year and hate it for all the ways it was not so good, or I can choose to celebrate the moments where I accomplished something, no matter how small.

Personally, I’m going to choose joy. I’m going to choose thankfulness. I’m going to choose celebration.

No, I am not out of the woods yet, but you know what? It’s kind of magical here.

While I’m not much of one for New Year’s Resolutions or the ever-popular Word of the Year, I think it’s safe to say I’ll be making gratitude a theme for 2017.

Because I am tired of living a life this full while letting myself believe that it’s empty.

Here’s to 2016.

Here’s to a lifetime of moments such as these.

And here’s to learning to cherish them.

Advertisements

Liberate

Lately I’ve been playing a whole lot of Civilization V, and I like to think it’s not in vain. I’m going to assume the majority of my readers are unfamiliar with the game, so I’ll give you a quick rundown:

Basically, you start out as this tiny little city, and over the course of however many hundred turns you are willing to devote to this game, you become an unstoppable world power. At least, you attempt to become an unstoppable world power because the only other option is being purged from the face of the earth and no one wants that. Mostly, you choose your battles wisely and try not to think about how this game is a tragic reminder of the actual state of our world.

For the sake of  this story, you need to know that for each large civilization, there are two city-states. These are little cities that take up small pockets of the world and sometimes grant gifts to the civilizations they deem friends or allies (which is a great perk).

Now, in this particular game, my nearest neighbor was the city-state known as Rio de Janeiro. Rio and I were friends for most of the game, then for whatever reason, they became more impressed with the growing nation of Siam than my humble little China. Normally, their declaring allegiance to another civilization wouldn’t be a problem (besides perhaps the little slap in the face that says I’m not good enough for them, but I digress), but on this particular day, Rio’s change of allegiance was a monumental mistake. You see, Siam was at war with Carthage, and Carthage just happened to be Rio’s neighbor to the north.

In my brother’s oh-so-insightful words: “Say goodbye to Rio.”

However, this is me and my world of silly fixations, and I didn’t want to say goodbye to Rio. So I turned to said brother, who is far more experienced in the game than I, and asked how I could save them.

“Well, maybe if you give them some money, it will make them like you more than Siam. If they’re allies with you, Dido will make peace with them.”

So I followed his counsel and dropped 250 gold pieces at their doorstep. They proclaimed their love for me and the Carthaginian army retreated back into their borders. All is well in the world, right? Wrong.

It took all of two turns for Rio to turn back to Siam and declare war on the Queen of Carthage once again.

That’s when I had this striking thought which I voiced aloud to whoever cared to listen:

“Is this how Jesus feels?”

I mean, talk about bad decisions. You start a war you cannot possibly win, and when I offer you a way out, you aren’t even going to take it? Stupid, stupid city-state.

The war elephants march in. The city falls and is marked with the symbol of chains. The borders bleed into the royal purple of Carthage. And I am far more distressed than I should be in this situation.

Because, Rio, my silly little Rio, don’t you know how I wanted to protect you?

And as much as I find God in this, I’m struck by something even more disconcerting.

I find myself in Rio de Janeiro.

How many times have I turned away, distracted by other, shiny things? How many times have I misplaced my allegiance? How many times have I found the world pressing in around me, leaving me with no one but myself to blame? How many times have I worn chains and bled the colors of the enemy?

And how many times has God watched the mess I’ve made of my life while whispering, “Rebekah, my silly little Rebekah, don’t you know how I wanted to protect you?”

But this is not the end of the story. It never is.

Because Carthage is not the only one with an army. I have my resources, too. I come sweeping in like a riptide, like a hurricane, purging the city of every trace of Dido’s army. And when asked what I want to do with the city, I don’t hesitate.

It’s the same thing Jesus does for me every time He comes crashing into the midst of my messes. The same thing He does when the chains bind me tight and my borders bleed the wrong colors.

I don’t know why I stand there nervous every time, like I’m afraid the pattern will change just because I’ve done it for the thousandth time. Although I would be done with me by now, He never is.

He breaks the chains. He changes the colors.

My fingers hover over the button. I smile. I click.

Liberate.

 

The Sound of Diamonds

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I believe in dreams. The big kind. The ones that push you past the realms of what might be considered practical and launch you into worlds beyond imagining. I’m always at the ready to champion dreams such as these.

Which is why when a friend asked a favor of me back in November, confessing she is aware I “don’t really do this on my blog,” I knew it would fit perfectly within this corner of the internet.

Because when it comes to launching Rachelle Rea’s first book, this is so much more than a cover reveal; it’s a Beyond Waiting success story.

I first met Rachelle during the summer of 2012, when she read my book and deemed the words within “life-changing.” We connected then, weaving our hearts together on the threads of the internet.

Rachelle is a single young woman, living her once upon a time journey, fighting her own dragons. She believes in whimsical. She believes in daring. She believes in living beyond reason and pursuing the things deep within her heart.

And I am so proud to stand beside her on the day one of her wildest dreams finally becomes a reality. Her first novel, The Sound of Diamonds, doesn’t actually release until June, but today is the day the world gets the first glimpse of the book cover.

So with no further ado…

sound of diamonds

In Reformation-era England, a converted rogue wants to restore his honor at whatever cost. Running from a tortured past, Dirk Godfrey knows he has only one chance at redemption.
An independent Catholic maiden seeking refuge in the Low Countries finds herself at the center of the Iconoclastic Fury. Jaded by tragedy, Gwyneth’s only hope of getting home is to trust the man she hates, and she soon discovers her poor vision is not the only thing that has been blinding her.
But the home Gwyneth knew is not what she once thought. When a dark secret and a twisted plot for power collide in a castle masquerading as a haven, will the saint and the sinner hold to hope…or be overcome? When Dirk’s plan fails, could all be lost?rachelle rea

But the celebration doesn’t stop there. The Sound of Diamonds is available for pre-order on Amazon. Go check it out, snatch it up, support a dream.

Oh, and while you’re waiting for the official release, you can get to know Rachelle’s daring heart a little better at rachellerea.com.

 

Say Goodbye to Plan B

I’ve said before that Hannah Brencher is one of the most amazing human beings that ever walked this planet. I’m in love with her message, and her heartbeat, and the way she weaves such simple syllables into music that sings to my soul. But mostly I love that, though we’ve never met beyond the realm of digital acquaintance, she’s like the best friend I never knew I needed, giving me what she calls “a good butt-kicking pep talk” just when I’m set to give up.

Sometimes I think about how much I want to be her. Other times I think about how I already am her, and she is me. How else could she know? How else could she manage to speak such specifics to my fears, my doubts, my hesitations? How else could she know the depths of my dreams and the intense longing I have to make the world a more beautiful place before I go?

When I stumbled into my inbox yesterday afternoon, I had to remind myself to breathe. Because she did it again: that thing where she’s writing to the whole wide world, but I’m looking between the lines and finding the words, “Yeah, I’m talking to you, Rebekah Snyder.”

“Plan B doesn’t fit you,” she wrote.

“Yup. That’s right. Said it. Meant it. Plan B is where you are standing when you decide that you are too afraid to step out there and let life smack you in the face with blessings and confetti. Plan B is the shaky, but seemingly secure, house you construct for yourself when you want to avoid risk and keep all the pieces intact. Two fun facts for the day: a) nothing worthwhile in this lifetime is fit to be controlled b) Plan B ain’t for you.”

I’d never thought of that until yesterday: how maybe Plan B is the worst possible idea I’ve ever concocted in my life because it could keep me from living Plan A.

Because I’ve thought before, like probably every person thinks, “What do I do if this all goes wrong? What’s my back-up plan?”

There is no back-up plan. There’s doing and there’s failing. And there’s the brushing dirt and debris from your skin and starting over from scratch if that’s what it takes to make your dreams happen. It’s do, or die trying. And maybe it’s not very encouraging to think about the die trying part, but, darling, I don’t think there’s ever a reason to give up on Plan A. Maybe you’ve got to tweak your methods a bit, but don’t you ever give up on the goal. It’s not worth it.

Remember the parable of the talents? You know, the story Jesus told about the three guys who were entrusted with the king’s money? The first two guys took a risk, and they were commended for it. The third guy buried his portion in order to insure it was still intact when the king returned, and he got in trouble. Why? Because talents were meant to be invested.

Sometimes I wonder what the king in the story would have done if the other guys had failed. Would he be angry with them for losing it all, or would they have been commended for trying? Had the third guy invested, but lost everything, would his ending have turned out differently? I don’t know. But I do know this:

This world is not the end.

We forget that too often. Or we know it somewhere in the back of our minds, but we haven’t let it transform the way we live. Because if we were really convinced that this life is but a blip on the scale of eternity, we wouldn’t be so afraid to live a daring life. We wouldn’t try so hard to make sure our futures are safe and comfortable and secure.

I think that shows a lack of trust on our part. I think that if God decided to give us a season of life on this earth, He wanted us to live it, and not just in our safe little comfortable existence that we call living. When God gave you a dream, He never intended for you to fall back on Plan B. He never intended for you to find ways around it because, let’s face it, it was a crazy dream, after all.

I think we all need to take a little bit of advice from Hannah Brencher and “get real clear on the things you always, always said you would fight for before you learned how easy and safe it felt to stand in your own way.”

I’ll leave you to contemplate, and hopefully write your Dear John letter to Plan B.

Plan B

Ode to a World Changer

I recently listened to a pastor share a story about the day he walked into a conference workshop and found his seven-year-old daughter praying over the instructor. It was the same day she would be found marching in a corner, praying loudly and boldly for the conference attendees. The day she would defy her father’s wishes to stay out from underfoot because she felt compelled to lay hands on individuals in the crowd.

It was the day her father realized that God had great things in store for his little girl.

He choked up as he told that part of the story. Tears blurred my vision and I was acutely aware that there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. But then, there never is at the funeral of a ten-year-old girl.

And I imagine that, at that point, most everyone was thinking what a tragedy it was that she was taken from us so suddenly. Because she was a little fireball with so much potential. The kind of girl who might have changed the world one day.

That’s where we went wrong. Not with the tragedy. Not with the fact that our hearts were broken. But we were wrong to assume that her potential had been cut off at the knees. Wrong to assume that she might have changed the world one day.

Maggie HollifieldBecause Maggie Hollifield did change the world. Those great things her father predicted? She fulfilled them in a mere ten years of living. From the time her daddy recognized her potential until the day she breathed her last, Maggie did mighty things.

Maggie believed in small encounters. She never sold herself short. She never saved anything for “one day.” She lived in the moment, dancing her way into the hearts of those around her. And that’s how she managed to change the world in ten, short years.

And I’m a little ashamed to think that I could live a hundred years and not touch half as many people as Maggie Hollifield did during her tragically short lifespan.

Because I have a habit of getting so caught up in the someday that I forget to live in the now.
I forget the monumental impact the smallest encounters can have.
I forget that changing the world is done one day at a time.
Just one day at a time.

I’m thankful for the way this child turned my world upside-down in the brief eight months I knew her. I’m thankful that she left me something of her to carry—a song I can dance to, a legacy I can live, a road map to changing the world.

And I hope we all can learn to live so freely, love so extravagantly, and dance so passionately as Maggie did.

I hope we learn to leave the somedays in the future as we embrace the now.
I hope we remember to make room for the small encounters.
I hope we determine to change the world one day at a time.
Just one day at a time.

How to Cradle the World

I fell apart with a five-year-old boy in the middle of a classroom. And by “fell apart,” I mean I maintained that calm exterior that is necessary in a room full of preschoolers, but my heart completely ripped in two.

He said he was hungry, and maybe he was, but it wasn’t the kind of hunger a handful of Cheese Nips could solve. And I wish that it was because it’s so much easier to conjure up a handful of Cheese Nips than to piece together the splintered remains of a broken heart.

So there I am, with my box of unwanted snacks, simply staring at this boy with his thick, long lashes that are laced with tears and longing.

“He wants his mommy,” one of my students sagely observes.

I’ll bet he does. I’ll bet he does. And it would be so much easier to see him cry if I knew he had a mommy to go home to. But he doesn’t. Because he was transferred to my school at the same time he was transferred to a new foster family.

He’s five years old and he has nothing to cling to in life.

He mentioned a brother, but I didn’t dare ask if they were placed in the same home. I was afraid of what the answer might be.

Can I confess something to you?

Sometimes I feel so small.

Sometimes I feel helpless and useless and completely overwhelmed by the world around me.

And while I’ve never been one to doubt that one life can make a difference, sometimes I wonder if we make difference enough.

Because my arms aren’t quite big enough to rock the whole world close to my heart.

And I realize that my presence in the life of this child is temporary. Just a few, short weeks until school is out and he passes from my life forever—gone just as quickly as he came.

It’s almost enough to make me question the purpose of giving him all I’ve got.

Almost.

There’s a reason Rebekah means “Devoted.” I don’t know how to love with anything less than all I’ve got.

So I’m sitting there looking at this child, asking God why. Why would He give me something so fragile to hold for such a short time? Why would He give me the desire to nurture and mend and create wings for this child when such a task cannot possibly be done in a mere handful of weeks?

And what does one do with an untouched pile of Cheese Nips on her table and a steady stream of tears creating a puddle on her floor?

You let them stay just as they are, and you draw that child close to your heart, and you make him your world for a moment.

Yes, you make him your world, and you’ll see…

The world fits quite nicely in the curve of your arms.

You’re big enough to cradle the world, after all.

Yes, that’s how you cradle the world.

How to Cradle the World

Strong Enough to Say I Need You

I overheard a conversation in a bookstore about how someone was “so sick of those stories about girls who are just waiting to be rescued.” (Side Note: Seriously, when was the last time you read one of those stories? I’m pretty sure they’ve died out over the last thirty years or so. But I digress…) So, the woman at the desk recommended a book with a strong, female character who is a real inspiration. And when she announced the title, I nearly gagged.

Why? Because I read the book, and the only thing the main character inspired in me was a few negative feelings. So why did I bother finishing the book? Now, that’s a fair question I’ve even asked myself a few times. I guess I was hoping this bitter, sadistic character would transform into the heroine the reviews promised me.

There was enough back story for me to understand her lone ranger mentality, so I was waiting for her to overcome it. And I waited and waited and waited for nearly 500 pages. What a letdown. It reminded me of the humorous quote from the movie Picture Perfect:  “Her character never grows, Alan. I need growth!”

I have a hard time understanding why anyone would sing the praises of a character who is broken and bitter and trusts no one but herself. That’s not strength; that’s arrogance.

Want to meet a strong character? Watch a wallflower become a queen in Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns. Follow her through The Crown of Embers where our once-timid, uncertain heroine makes the strongest declaration of all. There comes a scene when she looks into the eyes of the man who has been her strength while she has yet to find her own and says, “What I did was weak. Cowardly. Unqueenly… and you were right. About everything. I do have power. Enough that I don’t need you. But I will miss you awfully.”

And. My. Heart. Melts.

Because strength is not believing you can take on the world by yourself; strength is realizing you are capable, but admitting your dependence on someone else.

I believe there’s a lot to be learned in the crafting of novels (because if I didn’t, the last year of my life would be a total waste). As I read and research and discover what creates a strong, female character—as I mold my Genevieve into someone whom I hope is both believable and inspiring—I’m learning to become that kind of character myself. I’m learning to say, “Hey, you know, I was wrong and, um, I need you.”

Yeah, I’m still working on the delivery. Because it’s amazing how such simple words can be your undoing.

But I want to be strong enough to say that I need you. Strong enough to admit that I was wrong. Strong enough to know what I am capable of on my own… and choose not to do it on my own after all.

I want to be strong enough to depend on someone other than myself. Strong enough to trust another human being with the fragile pieces of my heart.

I want to be strong enough to grow—because we all need growth—no matter how painful and difficult and terrifying that growth may be.

I want to be strong enough. Just strong enough…

And so I set out on this journey of becoming.

Strong Enough