Brave Enough to Keep Trying

Brave Enough to Keep Trying

Since I was in elementary school, I have fantasized about performing in a Broadway musical. It doesn’t matter that I have the vocal giftedness of a robot—a dream is a dream, and it was mine.

Blame my parents for taking me to see The Phantom of the Opera when I was ten. Everything about the performance was magical, inspiring me to spend hours locked in my bedroom pretending to be Christine Daaé. I played the soundtrack on repeat, singing along and memorizing every lyric—if a casting director ever knocked on my door, I would be ready.

It didn’t matter that I couldn’t sing on key to save my life. I was brave enough then to hold fiercely to a dream that stirred my heart, no matter what odds were stacked against me.

I tried out for our town’s production of Annie, singing my little heart out in the group audition and using my best falsetto to sound just like the professionals. I didn’t get a call back; it was the last time I tried out for a show of any kind. One rejection was all it took to squelch the shaky confidence that had given me the courage even to try.

If we let it, fear of failure will keep us from doing anything that matters. 

Rejection is devastating, even if it’s just perceived. As a kid, anticipating that I might not have what it took to get a part was enough to keep me from trying out again. Even though I’m all grown up now, insecurity still squelches my courage more often than I’d like to admit.

It’s been months since I’ve written anything here after losing my confidence as a writer when my world imploded last year. A series of events outside of my control led to a season of debilitating anxiety and depression, forcing our family to focus all our energy on recovery and healing. It has been excruciating and grace-filled and painful and beautiful—a year we would have never chosen, but one God has used to build greater freedom and deeper love than ever before.

Writing again now makes me wonder if my heart has really recovered enough to be vulnerable with my words again. It feels brave to offer my story back out to the world, unprotected from potential criticism, misunderstanding, or judgment.

I’m not a professional blogger. I’ve never been formally trained in creative non-fiction. I don’t know what I’m doing when my fingers start flying across the keyboard, but I know it makes me feel alive to put my heart into words.

More often than not, I read other writers’ work and feel inadequate in comparison. I talk myself out of the unique voice I bring to the world because it’s not as witty/deep/well-written/insightful/funny/inspiring/fill-in-the-blank as those I admire.

Even though I know better, I still catch myself using others as my measuring stick of enough-ness. I forget I’m not supposed to be them, I am designed to be me—imperfect, honest, insecure, passionate, dorky, hopeful—fully myself, just as I am.

Comparison steals the joy of discovering the irreplaceable beauty only we can offer the world.

I tell myself I shouldn’t even try to write because it’s not like I’m going to publish a book or make a living on my blog or do anything substantial with my words. It’s like I’m asking, “What’s the point of singing show tunes if I’m never going to perform on Broadway?”

Because I love it, that’s why.

Just like listening to Elphaba belt out “Defying Gravity” gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes (Wicked fans, am I right?!), writing awakens my soul and brings it to life like nothing else. And even though I may not be Idina Menzel, I can still sing the song I’ve been given at the top of my lungs with all the passion my heart can muster.

What matters most isn’t the performance I deliver but the bravery of offering my unique voice, no matter the response.

So I’m starting here, choosing to do one brave thing at a time, feeling vulnerable because it requires me to step out of the safety of my comfort zone. I may not be the best writer in the blogosphere, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write anyway. I’ll never grow into who I was meant to be unless I try and try and try again.

Neither will you.

Your brave thing will likely look completely different than mine. It might be inviting someone over for dinner or applying for a new job or setting boundaries in a relationship or taking that class you’ve always thought about. But if you never attempt the thing lingering in the back of your mind, you’ll never experience the fullness of who you were meant to be.

Building courage takes practice, so let’s just keep trying. You will be braver for showing up, even if you don’t get chosen for the part. The world needs more people like you.

Since vocal performance is not in my gift set, I decided to audition for a new role last week. After months of training, preparing, and convincing myself not to quit, I gathered enough courage to do something new and scary: I became certified as a group fitness instructor. And get this: I will dance on a stage wearing a microphone!

It may not be Broadway, but it feels like the next best thing. And you know what? That’s good enough for me.

Deciding to Chase a Dream

Deciding to Chase a Dream

My heart is beating a little faster as I type these words. I’m sitting here at my dining room table, candle burning for ambiance, fresh flowers to inspire me with their beauty, and holding my breath a bit as I decide today to begin a new chapter of my writing journey.

I’ve come to realize through the encouragement of my man, belief of my friends, and burning within my own heart that I can’t just wonder anymore what it would be like to become a writer. I’ve got to actually put my heart on paper, risking the possibility of failure for the sake of chasing after this dream. As my dear husband told me last week, it’s time to give my writing the attention it deserves.

But I have no idea what I’m doing.

Following these nudges to write feels simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. Success is not guaranteed. I don’t even know what steps to take. If I’m honest, I don’t even know the final goal. A book? Sure, I’d love that. More? Dare I even hope? Even if I don’t know exactly where I’m going, I know I have to move forward.

Even just saying the words out loud, “I want to be a writer,” almost makes me tear up at the sheer exhilaration of embracing a dream that has felt too impossible to ever pursue. Who am I to think I have something worth saying? Who am I to assume people actually care about what I write? Who am I to attempt what thousands of others are already doing so well?

As those questions have bounced around my mind over the past year and a half that I’ve dabbled in blogging, a deeper question echoes within my heart in a response that feels truer than any of my doubt: “Who am I NOT to give life to the dream growing inside me?”

As Marianne Williamson so beautifully expressed in A Return to Love,

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?…We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

We were made to let our light shine.

And every life shines differently, in diverse beauty. Every one of us has been crafted with a unique set of passions, gifts, experiences and perspectives that is not replicated by another human being. There has never existed another living person with your unique make up in all of history—another you will never be repeated for all eternity. No one else can reveal the glory of God in the way you can.

Vulnerable as it feels to share my heart with the world through writing, I don’t want fear of failure/rejection/criticism to keep me from doing the thing I was created for. I want to be brave enough to let my light shine.

Trying new things, especially in the creative realm, can be daunting. My parents are both inspiring me right now with their courage to explore untapped musical passions. They work full time and have plenty of demands on their evenings and weekends, yet they are both choosing to invest time, money, and energy into fulfilling dreams they have each carried as long as I can remember.

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A couple years ago, my mom surprised my dad with a music lesson for his birthday. His lifelong obsession with classic rock was the inspiration for his desire to play bass. After the birthday lesson, he started taking lessons regularly; a couple months later he coaxed a neighbor to join him in weekly jam sessions. Now my dad’s pursuit of his dream is giving both him and his friend, who had previously refused to play in front of anyone, the chance to shine their musical light.

When we pursue our own best stories, others are brought along for the ride. Living our own best life gives others permission to live theirs.

 

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My mom has always wanted to learn to play the cello, so a few months ago she signed up for cello lessons. Who does that at 58? Only someone willing risk the discomfort of a steep learning curve for the satisfaction of doing the thing that fills her heart.

So I’m following my parents’ example and venturing into the unknown world of creative arts. Even though the prospect of writing more seriously feels completely overwhelming, I’m committed to taking the next step.

Today I watched a webinar on how to write a book.

Tomorrow I’m going to research writing conferences.

I don’t know what it will be after that (suggestions, anyone?), but I’m committed to taking whatever step arises next.

Consider this post my public declaration of my intention to pursue writing more seriously. Don’t ask me what that means, because I honestly don’t know. I only know that I can’t ignore this growing sense of responsibility to use the gifts God has given me for his purpose and plans.

And I’ll tell you this, even the ability to admit that I have a gift with words—a passion for expressing my thoughts, feelings, and observations through written and spoken language—feels like a brave first step. Recognizing that I have light to shine—and so do you—may be the most important part of living a courageous life.

What is the dream stirring deep inside your heart, waiting to be released? (I’d actually love to hear–it inspires me to know how you’re living fully!) You’re light is waiting to shine. Just take the next step.

My Stained Glass Life

My Stained Glass Life

We started looking at minivans on craigslist last week. Yup, minivans. The car I swore I would never drive—the one you have to trade in your cool card to own. The car that says, “I care more about opening the doors by pushing a button than about pretending to be young and hip and sexy.”

But the thing is, I’m not young or hip or sexy—I’m a mom with two kids under five and more crumbs and abandoned toys in the backseat than I know what to do with. My current car is so small that I have to move the passenger seat all the way forward for my daughter to sit behind me—my legs are too long for any more of this nonsense. The time has come to look past cool and embrace my real life. Ugh…I must be growing up.

A couple years ago, as a friend and I were talking about my dream car with all the fancy bells and whistles I would never be able to afford, she made a statement that changed everything for me. She said, “I never want the car I drive to make people think I’m something I’m not.” It hit me—I want a cool car so others will think I’m cooler than I really am.

And it made me ask myself, what else am I pretending to be so that others will think I’m more than I actually am?

I’ve spent too many years thinking that if I work hard enough often enough, I actually can pull myself together. I believed the lie that if I could just…

figure out how to work out consistently,

keep my house clean,

remember birthdays,

avoid dessert,

manage my budget,

update my wardrobe,

plan healthy meals,

organize creative activities for my kids,

find time for myself,

and do it all without being tired,

THEN I would feel like enough. And more importantly, others would think I’m enough.

In reality, if my value is based on my ability to live up to the impossible standards I set for myself—aided by Pinterest, social media, and a tendency to compare and compete—I will never measure up. I just can’t do it all. No one can.

I don’t want to pretend to be more than I am. Pretending to have it all together is kind of like driving a fancier car than I can afford—and it’s a barrier that keeps people from seeing the real me, flaws and all. And my flaws are many.

For example, parenting brings out ugliness in me I never knew existed; staying home with my kids is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Not to mention the guilt that comes with admitting I’m not completely satisfied by the beautiful gift of motherhood (gasp!).

You should also know that I’m a recovering perfectionist. It’s still a battle to believe that my performance does not equal my value. I am continually relearning that failure is not the enemy—but failure to risk failing is.

I struggle almost daily with what I see in the mirror, choosing to believe that beauty is not how our world defines it. It can’t be bought, applied, or styled, and it doesn’t require me to exercise for it or lose weight to find it. Beauty only grows as my body changes and ages and my heart softens and deepens.

Add to the list of flaws that I’m a terrible housekeeper. Just the thought of cleaning the house again overwhelms me—didn’t I just clean the bathrooms last week? Wasn’t that enough? Don’t even ask what’s for dinner…

I don’t know how to ask for help. I’m learning the hard way that I can’t do as much as I think I can. It is paralyzing and humbling and exhausting to worry more about burdening others than to ask them for what I need.

I’ve experienced depression so deep and crippling that the thought of continuing to live was unbearable. I know what it feels like to lose hope to the point of believing death is the best option—and I know that it’s possible to come out of the darkness more alive than ever before.

The list goes on—and yet, the freedom to admit I don’t have life figured out is worth the risk of being perceived as the mess that I really am. I’d rather live honest and free than hide behind an inauthentic self.

Fellow perfectionists, performers, and strivers: You are already enough. You can stop trying so hard. You are enough because you are made on purpose to reveal a God who shines most brightly through your cracks.

I don’t want anything in my life to create a perception that I’m anything other than a real human person, dependent on grace to get me through each moment. And if you’re a real human person who struggles in any way, I want you to know this: You. Are. Not. Alone.

I don’t want to waste any more energy or time trying to make myself into someone I think you’ll like. Instead, I want to allow the pieces of my life to be displayed as they are—without pretending. Transparent enough to let God’s perfect light shine brightly through my brokenness. Like a stained glass window.

The journey I’ve been on over the past couple years has been one of identifying the themes of struggle, heartache, joy, and passion throughout my life and asking God, “What do you want to do with that part of my story?” Over and over, the answer has been something along these lines: “Tell the world how you’ve seen my beauty—and let my beauty shine through your cracks.”

It feels scary to admit that I’m such a work in progress. But I want to be brave and honest and curious about the things I experience—and give others permission to do the same. Our lives are too short and too precious to pretend they’re not hard. Let’s be brave together instead of struggling alone.

May we all have the courage to tell one another the truth about how we’re really doing, holding with tenderness the pieces of others’ stained glass lives entrusted to our care. You are enough, struggles and all. Let the Light shine through your cracks.

When You’d Rather Just Quit – Why Persevering Matters

When You’d Rather Just Quit – Why Persevering Matters

It’s not normal to want to do hard things. My husband jokes that he doesn’t like going to the gym because he has an allergic reaction every time he works out—his face gets red, he starts sweating excessively, and his heart beats fast. Like my man and exercise, most humans will avoid pain and discomfort at all costs.

I recently heard a friend say that weight training actually creates tiny tears in your muscle. It’s in the process of your body rebuilding those tiny tears that new muscle is actually developed. I guess that means without tearing your muscles, you will never get any stronger.

What hard thing feels like it’s tearing your muscles a bit?

I was in the middle of an exercise class a few weeks ago and trying to devise a way to sneak out early without being perceived as a wimp. I just wasn’t feeling it. Some days my body simply will not listen to my brain, and this was one of them. The instructor was wearing a shirt that said, “Strong is the new pretty.” Suddenly it hit me: if I snuck out of class, I wasn’t going to get any stronger. Or prettier, apparently.

If I listened to my discomfort and chose not to push through a hard hour, I was going to miss the chance to tear my muscles enough to let them rebuild.  If I wanted to be strong, I had to do the work it took to get stronger. I decided to stay in class. It may not have been my best workout, but I finished it.

Sometimes it’s more about choosing not to quit than giving a perfect performance.

Real life is the same way—there is no shortcut for building endurance. Strength comes from persevering through hard things. The discomfort associated with pushing through physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual fatigue is usually a sign that you are getting stronger.

That’s not to say we should push ourselves past the point of physical or emotional exhaustion, or that to grow we need to live in a constant state of weariness and overload (I’ve been there—it’s not a healthy). It takes wisdom to know when to push and when to rest and recover—but most of the time when something is hard, I would rather quit it completely than wrestle with the tension between persistence and rest. It’s in the wrestling that new strength emerges.

Right now I’m in the midst of something that feels harder than I anticipated it would. The thing I committed to isn’t going the direction I’d hoped, and the length of my commitment seems to be increasing before my very eyes. My muscles are tearing in ways I didn’t expect.

My natural response is to give up and say, “Well, at least I tried.” But perseverance takes practice. Building endurance requires persevering in little things, one decision at a time.

Some days I’m more inspired than others, but often my choice to keep going just starts with getting out of bed. Then pouring a splash of coffee into my cup of creamer. Then praying. A lot. Then taking a shower. Then getting dressed. Then showing up to do the thing I said I would do, trusting that I’ll have what I need for the next few moments.

Some people call the choice to persevere or to quit “fight or flight.” You can either press into the hard thing, fighting through discomfort, stress, tension, fatigue, or you can run away from the thing that causes those undesirable feelings. Most of the time, I just want to run away.

When I feel overwhelmed by the incessant demands of my precious, inherently narcissistic children, I’d rather put on a show to keep them quiet than deal with my own selfishness, magnified by their constant needs.

When I feel needy and overly sensitive for reasons that seem irrational, I’d rather eat something sweet—anything sweet—than rumble with the deeper cause of my emotions.

When the demands on my time and energy outweigh my capacity to keep up with my commitments, I’d rather drink a latte or a glass of wine than deal with the root of my stress.

When I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, I’d rather shop for something new and pretty to wear than examine the untrue beliefs about myself that drive my pursuit of superficial beauty.

When I get in a fight with my husband, I’d rather give him the silent treatment and go to bed angry than apologize for my part and try to lean into the discomfort of being seen in my ugliness.

Fighting is harder than flighting. Building endurance takes work. Persevering through hard things means tearing our emotional muscles a bit. But there is no shortcut for the strength of character that comes from pressing in when you feel like numbing out.

Sometimes I’m tempted to think that it actually would be better to live a comfortable life than a good one. Why would anyone choose to do hard things like run a marathon or scale a mountain or earn a college degree or have a baby?

For the same reason it’s worth the fight to save a marriage, care for an elderly parent, raise a difficult child, reconcile a broken relationship, deal with emotional baggage, wrestle with questions of faith, battle with cancer, or press into the thing that breaks our heart. Because, in the words of Glennon Doyle Melton, life is equal parts brutal and beautiful—life is brutiful. And because our perseverance through our current struggle prepares us to persevere with hope through the next hard thing that will come.

Our choice to be be brave and persevere today helps us to respond with grace and strength tomorrow. We will not lose hope when life gets hard in the future because we know we’ve endured victoriously in the past. Our hearts will be stronger than they used to be.

So I’m not going to quit just yet. Today I’m on vacation with my family, grateful for the chance to step away and catch my breath and gather my strength to keep pressing in and pushing on when I return.

But I want to gain the full benefit of this current struggle by allowing my spiritual muscles to tear a bit. I am trusting that the strength I am building, slow and imperceptible as it may be, will be worth the fight.

Choosing not to quit could possibly take all your courage and all your strength–but you are brave and getting stronger by the second. May you have the strength to endure today, no matter what form perseverance takes.