Sidekick to Your Superhero

A friend of mine once performed one of those tests where she asked a group of us questions that were supposed to represent different aspects of our lives.

“I’m a little concerned,” she told me. “You said your favorite color is green, but you don’t know why. Your favorite color is supposed to represent the way you view yourself, and I wish you were a little more excited about it.”

Disappointing, perhaps, but accurate. (I don’t know why I like myself; I just do.)

“I think your second answer is really sweet though,” Alina continued. “Your favorite animal is supposed to represent how you view other people.”

This brought a smile to the entire group because, while I may not have gotten excited about the color green, I had a pretty cool monologue going on about why I like horses.

“I just think they’re incredible creatures,” I said. “I love to watch them run. Like, I could watch them for hours and not get tired of it.”

This conversation came to mind last night when I was trying to convince my brother that I think my purpose in life is to come alongside someone else. Because I would rather play sidekick to a superhero than set off to save the world by myself.

My brother insisted that two Batmans were better than a Batman and Robin combination, but I disagreed. Batman doesn’t need an exact replica of himself; he needs a Robin.

But if I absolutely had to be a superhero, I would be Violet from The Incredibles. I would be the girl who stands invisible on the sidelines until her brother is in mortal danger. I love that scene where Dash is cornered, certain he is about to be shot, when Violet throws herself over him, envelopes them both in a force field, and confesses she doesn’t know how she did it. Then Dash does what Dash does best as Violet continues to guard them from enemy fire.

That would be my superpower—the human shield. I know this because even in video games I adopt that role.

My sister taught me how to play Gears of War (because “guys dig chicks who play video games”), and while my siblings and their friends are all charging into the fray in search of bonus points and achievements, I make it my duty to keep them alive. So while they’re out there armed only with chainsaws and scorchers, I’m hanging back near the base, picking off anyone who would cause them harm.

And it makes me happy.

I find absolutely no joy in that game when I don’t have a partner to keep alive. Sure, I’m still shooting the same mutant creatures, but I’ve lost my purpose. I’ve got no one to protect. No one to support.

And though my brother was hard pressed to accept it, I’m the same way in real life.

There’s not a whole lot I want for myself, but I want the world for you. And I may not get excited about many things, but I will always be moved by watching you run, seeing you fly.

And I would be happy, always, to just be the sidekick to your superhero.

gears of war

 

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

Start Writing Now

I should have known I was going to be a writer by the way I invented a desk of stacked storage containers and covered its surface with pages of scribbles because my fingers hadn’t yet learned to form words.

I should have known I was going to be a storyteller by the way my dollhouse characters had histories and futures that were ever so clear in my mind.

I should have known. The signs were all there. But if you had asked me as a child what I was going to be when I grew up, I would have told you I’d be a mother and a missionary, but never would I talk about those stories that were engrained in my heart. They were as much a part of me as the wave in my hair and the gold fleck in my eye. Maybe that’s why I never noticed their significance. Because they had been there all along. All my life, my imagination ran wild with story after story after story.

I wrote my first book when I was perhaps nine years old. It was a horrible collection of short stories that my family still laughs about to this day. I’ve often wished I could burn it, but since I haven’t yet discovered how to erase certain memories from the minds of my family members, I elected to let the horrid creation live. Besides, it’s a reminder that before I even realized I was called to write, my fingers were doing what came naturally to me—filling pages with words.

That’s where all writers must begin. With words—your own words. If you want to be a writer, stop reading all the advice. Stop worrying that you’re not going about it the proper way. There is no proper way. Just do whatever works best for you.

Don’t worry about the critics, don’t obsess over “making it” in the writing world, and know that your validation as a writer does not come in publication. Seeing the finished product is a beautiful thing, but it is not the only thing. I was a writer long before I held Beyond Waiting  in my hands.

I’d have given up long ago if I chose to believe the people who told me I’ll never make it in the “real” world. Writing would lose its worth if I allowed myself to be convinced that stories aren’t necessary and I should write the truth as cold, hard facts—if I listened to those people who tell me to dream in black and white when my heart is pounding with deep purples and vibrant yellows.

Let me tell you, if you don’t believe that stories tell truths, you haven’t heard Brodi Ashton’s definition of the word “redemption.” You haven’t found hope in Laini Taylor’s hands. And you have yet to let Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution  take place inside of you.

And that’s the key to succeeding in writing: to believe in what you do. If your heart is fully invested in the words you’re spilling onto the page, no one can take that from you. The way to press on through the hard days is to know that you know that you know that you are called to this. You were made for this. And the words that are in your heart were meant for being shared, even if only a few ever read them.

 

A Light That Shines in the Darkness

My mom recently asked me if I could recommend any Christian books my little sister could read. Having been reading young adult fiction for the last year, my list of “Christian” books isn’t very large. When I explained that fact to my mother, she teased me for my sudden fascination with “heathen” books and music.

Well, you know what they say. When you turn a sheltered, homeschooled child out on her own…

But seriously. My mom was completely messing with me, but if I’m honest with myself, I do sometimes fear that the stuff I’ve been reading is going to color my world with shades of gray (but not fifty shades of it because I’m not even touching that). So I started looking at the shape my life has taken since I stepped outside of the Christian genre. This may sound strange to say, but I think I’m better for it.

Young adult fiction challenges me in a way that Christian fiction never did because instead of flowing smoothly with the worldview I was raised with, it grates against every fiber of my core. There have been books that I’ve cringed through and others that I’ve set aside because they’re not even worth finishing. They present a series of “what if’s” that Christian fiction had protected me from.

The thing is… I like being challenged. I like questioning my convictions and wondering how they would hold up under fire. I like being stirred to anger or moved to brokenness over the scenarios that present themselves to me. I like when a song comes on the radio and I’m reminded to pray for the state of my world… even if it means I have to change the channel every couple of songs.

And I know there is a fine line between convictions and compromise. I know that when you walk too closely to the edge, there’s always a chance of falling. That’s why I spend my mornings with a Bible on my lap and a pen in my hand. That’s why I still crank up the praise music and dance my heart out in worship. That’s why I cling to the promise that God will hold me up if I will simply trust in Him.

Over the past year, my calling has shifted in so many ways. I stopped working at a mission’s organization because I wanted to write full time and because I realized that my calling was to this nation, not the nations. I decided that I’m writing YA fiction with an underlying theme of grace rather than overtly Christian fiction.

Somewhere in the course of the past year, I realized that I don’t want to be a light that shines amidst all the other candles; I want to be the one who stands alone in the dark.

And I know that suggests that I’m going to spend a large portion of my time feeling very, very lonely, but I’ll keep shining—keep calling others forth—hoping that I will one day leave a trail of bright, flickering flames where there was once nothing but darkness.

Coming to Terms with Your Calling

Have you ever read the story of Jonah? And by that I don’t mean, were you ever in Sunday School when they talked about the guy who got swallowed by a whale? I mean, have you actually read it for yourself? In the Bible?

The basic summary of the story is that Jonah runs from God, God finds him, God delivers him, and Jonah fulfills the calling God gave him in Chapter One. Sounds like a pretty standard story. But here’s the thing that I find sets Jonah apart from all the other Biblical heroes: There’s absolutely no turnaround in his life. No repentance. Sure, Chapter Two is one, big, flowery prayer in which Jonah cries out for deliverance, but he never actually apologizes for disobeying God. Not once.

With a heart every bit as bitter as it was the day he first ran, Jonah goes to Nineveh where he preaches this big sermon of, “God will pour his wrath out upon you sinners.” He doesn’t tell them to repent… but they do.

And instead of rejoicing in the miracle God has performed through his message, Jonah gets angry and storms out of the city, begging God to take his life. “I’m angry enough to die,” he says. And that’s where our story leaves him.

It would almost be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

I wonder if Jonah ever got it. I wonder if he ever came to terms with his calling. I wonder if he ever went back to rejoice with the people of Nineveh, or if he avoided that city for the rest of his miserable existence.

Perhaps we’ll never know what happened to Jonah, but we can make sure this doesn’t become our story. I can’t speak for you, but I know that I don’t want to be the kind of person who is so full of hatred that I refuse to answer God’s call. I don’t want to be the one who flees from the miracles God would perform in and through my life.

I want to be the kind of vessel that would bring repentance and instill life in the hearts of hundreds and thousands of people. But I know that repentance starts right here in this heart of mine.

So this is me, apologizing for all the times I’ve run away—all the times I’ve sought Tarshish when there are 120,000 people awaiting the words I’ve been commanded to speak. This is me, coming to terms with my calling and determining to find joy in doing the will of God.

For those of us who desire to glorify God with our lives, this is the point of surrender.

The Blank Page Before Me

I honestly would have slept right through the welcome of the new year if it hadn’t been for all the people in my house. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a day like any other. I’ve never gotten caught up in the “brand new start” and resolutions that were meant to be broken. Which is interesting, because this year is a new start if I’ve ever had one.

I didn’t mean to quit my job in December; that’s just when it became clear that I couldn’t stay any longer. My decision shocked a lot of people. My friends, co-workers, parents… even myself. You try dreaming of something for twelve years and then realize God is calling you to something much bigger. That the dream you clung to as a child was only a small part of God’s dream for your future.

I know in my heart that the changes happened slowly – that the dreams shifted gradually. Still, it feels as if I woke up one day and found that I was a completely different woman.

Everything is new in 2012. New job, new vision, new possibilities, new challenges. I’m excited and scared all at once. Excited to see these dreams unfolding, but scared that they won’t work out exactly as I planned. Ecstatic that I’ll soon be a published author, but afraid of the new challenges that will come with this responsibility. Thrilled that God will be there to walk me through this process, but nervous that I won’t always be able to interpret His voice.

I stare at the blank page before me and wonder if I’m crazy for even considering pursuing writing full-time. I can relate to Moses when he asked God, “Who am I?” But the same words God spoke to Moses resound in my heart. “I will be with you.”

On that promise, I pick up my pen and begin to write this new chapter.

Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat

When I was young, my cousin and I used to sit on a raft in her pool and rock back and forth, back and forth, until we created waves that lapped over the edge of the pool. It terrified me to think that if I were to slip back into the water, I would be in over my head. I hated water. I still do. But something about the waves we created fascinated me enough to make me keep rocking back and forth, back and forth.

You know what else is both terrifying and fascinating at the same time? God’s call on each of our lives.

I think back to a time that Jesus played with water, perhaps similarly  to how my cousin and I did when we were young. Only He was walking in the middle of a storm-tossed sea when He invited Peter out to play with Him. I wonder what was going through Peter’s head when Jesus told Him he really could climb out of the boat. Did he think he would drown? Did he know he would sink?

I wonder if the other disciples thought Peter was crazy for even considering jumping overboard. Didn’t he know it was safer in the boat? Didn’t he know he could drown?

Of course he knew. Of course he was afraid – probably even terrified. But Peter saw what so many of us fail to see through our fears. He saw that there was something better out there. He saw the thrill of walking on water. He saw that the risk was worth it. He saw Jesus beckoning him to play in the waves. And for a few, shaky steps, Peter lived the dream that the rest of the disciples merely dreamed because, unlike the rest of them, he faced his fears and took the risk.

Today I encourage you to rock the boat, make some waves, and take a step of faith, knowing that the One who called you is faithful to fulfill His promises.

Remember, you can live your dream, or die dreaming. As for me, I choose to live.