The Journey Begins

When I was sixteen years old, my sister and I went skydiving. I’m not sure what would possibly possess my parents to let their only chldren jump out of an airplane at the only facility in California willing to break the law (I was underage), but I’m tremndousy grateful for their awesomness. It was a dream for both my sister and I.

And yet, as we reached our jump altitude, a sudden and understandable certainty arose: I will not be jumping out of this plane. I analyzed my options with surprising calmness. I will tell them I cannot jump. I will unstrap myself. They will fly me back down. That’s all there is to it. Despite my dream, my desparation to dive, when faced with an open door and the ground SO FAR BELOW, I was satisfied right where I was.

There was, however, that dream still stirring inside. Before I could say anything, my instructor, strapped to my back, began issuing simple and clear directions in my ear. They seemed so straightforward that even in my deer-in-the-headlights fear, I could follow them. That dream wanted to follow them. Move this way. Now that way. One foot on the ledge. Lean forward. And then:

WHOOSH.

I burst out into the open space below the plane with stomach dropping gravitational pull. We were in freefall for a solid minute before he pulled the cord, after which time we drifted in absolute silence to a rough but solid landing. There are no words to express what those five minutes were like, but the fact that twenty years later I can still see the vast landscape spread before me, hear the wind roaring in my ears, feel the force of my descent whipping around me should say something about how profound the experience was.

I’ve restarted this post so many times that I’ve lost count. I’m not really sure what to say. For a year and a half I have set all personal writing aside. Truth be told, most of my personal projects have moved to the back burner. Instead, I’ve poured myself into my famiily and my job, with really positive results. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, and even if that’s a really challenging place, it feels good to be there. 

But there’s also been a stirring in my heart to return to writing. It was truly one of the great loves of my life, and while there were some really valid reasons I set it aside, but I am realizing that the two biggest may have been weakness and fear.

Weakness and fear are not of God. They are keeping me from what God has for me.

The thing is, I’m satisfied with what God has given me. I love my family, my job, my life. I love my friends and my chuch and my community. So when God has whispered,”There is more,” I have honestly not been tempted, and He, to His infinite credit, is not going to make me. But I’m coming to see this not as a polite no-thank-you but a trade. I am trading a God-sized gift/dream for satisfaction.

That’s not actually satisfying.

I think about what I would have missed if I had been satisfied inside that plane, if I had let my weakness and fear convince me to trade that satisfaction for those five amazing minutes. 

What am I missing out on now? And for what? Is it really worth it?

I don’t know what to do, but I know I don’t want to waste any more time being satisfied. I have an instructor more powerful than anyone else ever, a conviction that He has something waiting for me, and the willingness to take one step at a time.

The journey begins.

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A life surprised

For my 30th birthday, B threw me a surprise party. In the weeks leading up to it, there were countless odd conversations (if you were going to order food from somewhere, or do you still like Costco cake conversations, etc). Friends were strangely distant, flexible plans seemed set in stone. The weekend of my birthday, I was terribly sick and asked to postpone my parents’ visit, but B insisted I’d be fine (I was not fine, I was beginning our swine flu ordeal, but I’m glad I didn’t protest).

B sent me out with my mom to get my nails done. When I returned home, B called me into the kitchen, and when I walked in, everyone yelled, “Surprise!”

I turned around and walked out of the room. Yep. My friends and family had gone to great lengths to surprise me, and I walked right out.

Surprise is hard to process.

Seconds later, I walked back in and started taking the most wonderful hugs you could imagine. Hugs not just of appreciation and joy, but also of relief. All the strange distance and confusion of the previous weeks melted away in the warmth of such love, love that would plan and prepare and work so hard to make my birthday really and truly special.

I feel as though God has thrown a surprise party for my life.

For what seems like ever, I’ve struggled to understand God’s plan for my life. I do not recommend this. God’s plan and his timing work just fine on their own, thank you very much. But I like to know. So I’ve struggled, prayed, tried and let go. I’m decently good at being obedient, so we’ve walked a path, God and I, but I was always trying to figure it out. Why would you lead me into writing when I don’t like publishing? Why would you take away these friends, the cakes, my ministries?

God never left me. But he didn’t fill me in, either. Your adventure is still to come, he told me. So I waited, patient but aching.

God wasn’t kidding.

A few months ago, eager to find my place in our church, I offered to help in the children’s ministry. In the following weeks, the director and I tried to find the right niche for me. I enjoyed everything I tried, but didn’t have a heart for anything specific. The fear set in again–another disappointment.

Then the director asked me to cover for her one Sunday, even though I was barely qualified to cover for anyone in the ministry, least of all the director. But I agreed to anyway. That morning was amazing! I loved welcoming parents, encouraging the staff, and organizing the materials. I was so shocked by how satisfying the ministry was, and what a good fit it was for my skills.

Lord, I’ve never even thought about a position in ministry, and I know I’m not qualified, but I love this work. If you want this for me someday, I trust that you will open the doors.

And that was it. I lifted up my prayer and left it go.

The next Sunday, the children’s director told me she was leaving and that the pastors wanted me to interview for her position.

Surprise!

I could not believe it. Even though I had asked for such an opening, I didn’t actually expect it would happen, and especially not in a single week. I told her about my prayer, and three days and two interviews later, I accepted the position. Scared to death of the responsibility, the permanency, the change in lifestyle to two working parents, but all in, because God asks nothing less.

It’s a dream job–part-time with full-time potential, flexibility on working at home or bringing the kids with me, and full of opportunities to use all of my different talents. Suddenly the decisions God had directed made sense, the things he took away and the doors he chose to close. Since then, I’ve been filled not just with joy for the tremendous opportunity I’ve been given, but also with relief. There was a purpose for it all, just as God promises:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)

I always trusted God, but I’d be lying if I said I always believed that verse. Sometimes, like when B planned that surprise party, you have to trust that the people around you love you, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. God is no different. He’s got big plans for each of us, and sometimes those are clear, and sometimes those are surprises.

I have a feeling I needed the surprise. I needed to be kept in the dark a little, because I learned both trust and patience. Plus I know me–I would have planned the dickens out of this career, had I known where I was heading, and probably would have missed out on building the skills he really needed me to have. Then there’s the reward, the giant payoff, which creates a whole new level of trust and respect–two things I will definitely need on a career in ministry.

Still, surprise is hard to process. I had no intention of getting a job, and when I pictured the job I might someday have, this never came to mind. I stand in awe of God’s planning, and I bow to his supreme authority. I hope I will never forget this feeling, that it may keep me forever mindful that I am second, and privileged to be so.

Suffice to say, as I start working, things like this blog will have to play second fiddle. I’m not sure what God has planned for my writing, whether it will be used within or outside of my position, but I now trust him with abiding humility. Right now, I’m focused on honoring his plan for me, and that includes clearing some mental space to get that done.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

From on the edge to all in

As you might have noticed, we’ve got a new thing going here. And we have also not had a lot of posts lately. This whole year has been a transition for me, what with K starting kindergarten and me moving from the little ones stage to the school ones stage. Don’t get me wrong: I love this stage. I’ve loved all the stages, because they’ve tested me and taught me and left me stretched and grown and alive. But it’s a transition nonetheless, and I’ve been struggling with it more lately.

I think it started with the car. The new car. The shiny blue one that is so slick the kids practically drool over it. It has everything I’ve ever wanted in a car: moon roof, killer sound system, heated seats, phenomenal gas mileage, etc. I love this car. But when I would get into it, it wouldn’t feel quite right. I struggled to understand, and then as I was praying through my confusion, God spoke to me:

“It wasn’t about you.”

Oh. Oh. The car was about B. I worked to wrap my head around it, the gift that was supposed to be mine, the car that replaced my van. I settled into the peace that followed: it’s not always what I expect, when I do as God asks, and truly, it’s never supposed to be about me. Joy filled my heart as I understood what was really going on, what God intended and what we had gracefully (if unwittingly) fulfilled.

A week later, I was engaged in an even deeper struggle. Why would God lead me to writing if I had no interest in publishing? I’ve mulled over this thought time and time again, looking back at the trajectory of my life and feeling baffled. Everything led to a career as a writer, from the stories I wrote in elementary school to the MFA. Along that path, I truly sought God, and I knew His hand was in those choices. So why did they lead me to something that wasn’t right? And then, God spoke again.

“It wasn’t about you.”

Oh. Oh oh oh. Really? You can’t be serious, I asked Him. But then we went through it, step by step. The way it had been many of my choices that led us where we are. The extra year my lit degree took me, which allowed B to get his master’s degree. The desire to go to grad school, which brought us back to San Diego and into the career B loves. When I stepped back, I could see how important my choices were, but they weren’t necessarily for shaping my path. They were for shaping his.

I think, if we hadn’t gone through the car issue, God could not have prepared me for the bigger revelation. Sometimes I think He tests us with little things before bringing out the big ones. In this case, I’d already worked through the humility required, the trust, the understanding, the acceptance. We worked through it again, me letting go of my pride and embracing His truth. But I’m only human, and I did cry. What about me?

“Your adventure is yet to come.”

Okay, enough already, I sighed. But He wasn’t joking. A week later, I was praying again and going over different paths before me. What to prioritize, I asked? And how do I fit rest in there? Because if there is one thing God is still working on with me, it’s rest. I lined up the three paths–baking, writing, and working at the school–and lifted them up. Which one do I choose?

“All of them.”

Oh. Oh. NO. I cannot do all of these, I said. You told me it wasn’t about me, so it can’t be the writing. You told me it was about rest, and doing even one of these violates that principle. Three? Seriously, three? Are you crazy?

“No. I am God. And you will rest. You will not try to figure out how this all works. You will do what you need to do, and I will handle everything else. That’s your rest.”

So that’s where I am. And the truth is, the buying of the car may have been about B, but it has grown to be my baby, and I love it. Prying the keys from my hands has become embarassingly difficult. And my love of writing has been refreshed, even if the path that got me there was more about B than it was me. And when I was sure I wasn’t a leader, I’ve been nominated as the VP of Education for next year’s PTA (even though I’ve only attended one meeting in my three years at the school). God’s ways are not always linear, nor are they as black and white as I sometimes see them. It was about me. Me understanding the ways in which our service to God is intertwined and multifaceted. Me growing in humility and trust. Me accepting that sometimes God needs my action, and that even in action I can be at rest. With God, all things are possible. I’m hoping to be living proof of that.

Which winds back to the title. Our pastor gave a stellar sermon last Sunday about the difference between believing in God and being ALL IN. It absolutely inspired me. Instead of trying to live light, how about I just live light? Live for Jesus, all in. Not just seeking that Spirit-filled life, but enjoying it every day. It’s the difference between standing on the edge of a pool and trying to figure it out–how will I swim, what’s in the water, how deep is it, and how cold?–versus just jumping in. It’s God’s water, and He’s not going to let me drown. So all in–God promises it’s gonna be all right.

Ageless

M: Is J.K. Rowling still alive?
Me: Oh yeah. She just wrote a book for grown-ups.
K: But she must be really old.
Me: Actually she was pretty young when she started the Harry Potter series. I bet she’s in her forties*.
M: When did she first write them?
Me: Well, I think I was in college, like just starting. So maybe 97*?
M: Oh. 97 years ago?
Me: [silence alternating being amused and mortified] 1997. How old do you think I am?
M&K: [silence, uninterpretable–or at least I refuse to do so]

* Old as I may be, I was right on both counts: J.K. Rowling is currently 47 years old, and the first book was published in 1997. She’s somewhat of a hero in our house, given our love for Harry Potter, and obviously proves that those of us who are young (despite what our kids think) mothers are capable of some serious substance.

Field of dreams

When I was in high school, I took a lot of AP classes. A lot. I’ve forgotten most of the tests and all of the scores except 1: English literature. I got a 4 out of 5. The reason I remember it so clearly? My English teacher that year told me that if I didn’t get a five, she would hunt me down and kill me.

I was a teacher’s pet across the board, but my English teachers took special interest in me.  My writing was good. I showed natural aptitude and interest that I’m sure got them excited. I felt this interest keenly, sure that they were right about my future as a writer.  After all, I’d written my first (lousy) novel by the time I was 12.  So how could I have failed her? How could I NOT get a 5? Me, the writer!

The truth was, I needed to pass all the tests I could, and English was in the bag. I wisely put my effort into other areas. The five, it was her thing, not mine, though I still can’t help but look back on it with shame. It’s the same shame I feel when I look at my two not-lousy novels and wonder why I can’t bring myself to send those precious manuscripts out, when that’s the last step to achieving my dream. My friend suggested that perhaps it’s due to the differing skill sets required for writing and publishing, and I maybe think that’s true. It certainly makes me feel better for not wanting to consider social media, for hating agent research, for looking at writer/agent blogs with yawning disinterest before abandoning them for something–anything–else. But even if I’m not good at research or interested in social media, you’d think I’d get interested, that I would force the research as a means to an end–the road to the dream.

I’m starting to think it’s not really my dream.

It’s a logical dream. It’s one I’ve carried for a long time, pretended to have tons of interest in, nurtured through many channels. But I don’t know that it’s really mine so much as it’s the dream I think I’m supposed to have. After all, I’m still a writer, have been and always will be. I enjoy processing information through words, enjoy the kind of engaging arguments that English classes bring up. I’m glad I got my degrees, both of them, instead of anything else. And what else should a writer do but publish? Isn’t that every writer’s dream? But therein lies the flaw: there’s no every. There’s each. Taking on a generic label also takes on the baggage, direction, burdens, and blessings that go along with them. How accurate are those labels, and everything they bring? How much are they self-perpetuated and self-fulfilled?

I’m not sure what this means for me, except that I’m starting to let go of a lot of guilt I feel for not achieving–for not even wanting–the expected. If I feel bad about not being published, that’s one thing, but feeling bad because I’m not doing what other people expect is another. And, since I feel gifted and directed toward writing, I rest assured that God has plans for that gift. I’m letting go of the plans everyone had–including myself–so that they are free to do the work He has for me. Maybe it’s publishing, maybe it’s something else. But I need to be open to find out, and I need the answer to be well and truly mine.

This whole thing started because a friend and I were talking about our priorities. “Right behind taking care of the family,” she said, “the most important thing to me is (blank).” I was surprised by her answer, only to realize that my life demonstrates the same one. It made me ask myself the same question, seeking not only to decide what I wanted on that second rung (or the ones that follow), but how to change my life to reflect its importance.   It’s a powerful question. It’s an even more powerful thing to answer it.