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.

In the Midst of Struggle

In the Midst of Struggle

I zipped up my running jacket and stepped out into the cold drizzle, a biting wind blowing against my face. Taking a deep breath, I resolved to make it a short run and started down the street. My thoughts swirled with reluctance as the chill penetrated each layer and settled into my bones—it was cold and wet and miserable—what in the world was I doing outside?

I knew the answer, even as I forced my body to ignore the myriad reasons I should turn around and pour another cup of coffee instead of running in the rain. My natural inclination is never toward discomfort, even when facing it leads to benefits on the other side. But experience has proven that perseverance is always worth it, even when it feels easier to quit before I begin.

Sometimes life feels like running in the rain.

Hard days—or seasons—make me want to hide at home in my jammies where I’m safe and warm. I’m in one of those hard stints now. Lately, anything beyond the basic activities required to get through the day feels too overwhelming to attempt. Extra things like reaching out to friends, writing thank you notes, and organizing the piles around my house have shifted temporarily into the “not today” category.

So I haven’t spent time writing in a while. Not only because I haven’t made much time to write, which takes considerable determination during any normal season, but also because it feels tricky to put my heart into words. If I’m honest, I haven’t wanted to admit I’m fighting a battle for healing that isn’t over yet.

I’m still in the midst of my struggle.

For a writer, it’s vulnerable any time you are brave enough to put your heart on a page and press “publish,” opening yourself up to the opinions and potential criticism of others. But when life knocks you facedown in the mud, the risk of sharing your struggle from that vantage point feels like an invitation to be kicked in the face while you’re down.

Yeah, I guess it’s time to admit I’m that writer. Here I am, facedown in the mud.

The details don’t matter, because we’ve all been there or will be at some point. Maybe it’s a period of grief, a struggle with depression, a life transition, relational pain, some sort of loss, a hard diagnosis, or another type of crisis—whatever the cause, it leaves us reeling, uncertain which way is up and if we’ll ever be the same as we were before.

I keep waiting to reach the other side of my particular season of struggle, eager to share all the lessons I’ve learned after surviving such a difficult time. I know I’ll have a story to tell of God’s faithfulness, that I’ll point to different moments when my heart changed and my load lifted on the road to eventual transformation. I’m clinging to the hope that I’ll have words of encouragement for anyone on a similar path, cheerleading those who are struggling in their own ways to persevere.

But I’m not on the other side yet.

I’m still in the midst of my own battle to remember who I am, piecing together my identity by sorting through each broken fragment. So instead of waiting for the end of this slow, arduous process, I’m writing from the middle of it—in the midst of a place I’d rather not be.

Transformation isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. Like Cinderella’s experience with her fairy godmother, I’d much prefer to wave a magic wand and arrive at the final destination of this healing journey I’m on, where in a flash I’m altogether different than I used to be—stronger, braver, more whole-hearted.

Real-life transformation, however, requires a lot more tenacity and grit. Change comes almost too slowly to notice, demanding stamina to keep moving forward with almost no evidence that forward is really even the direction you are going.

Sometimes perseverance looks like things that are intuitively productive, like journaling or exercise or counseling or heartfelt prayer. Other days perseverance looks like getting out of bed. Then doing the next thing and the next, one tiny next thing at a time. And sometimes it looks like simply not giving up, even when giving up feels like the only thing that makes sense.

Perseverance eventually changes us if we keep not quitting, no matter how slowly movement comes.

Today, the gradual ascent toward transformation looks like admitting I’m still not where I want to be. I’m writing from the midst of my struggle, where my capacity has been exponentially diminished for a time. It’s humbling for this recovering perfectionist to say no to invitations and back out of commitments, but pretending I’m at full strength will only use the precious energy I need to keep pressing on.

It’s tempting to push my people away, as if distance will keep others from seeing the dirt smudged across my face and caked in my hair. But the vulnerability of telling the truth about where we are opens our eyes to see that we’re not alone in the mud after all. Sharing honestly with safe people helps us to lift our heads enough to see a whole heap of others who thought they were the only ones here too.

If you find yourself today in a place you’d rather not be, you are not alone. You may be in the midst of it, but this is not the end of your story.

I’m here with you, cheering you on and reminding you that you don’t have to climb a mountain today. You just have to choose not to quit. Go for that run or make your bed or light a candle and spend some time breathing deep. And if that one thing is all you do right now, it’s enough.

Sometimes victory simply means not giving up. Let’s keep pressing on together. We’re going to have a breathtaking story to tell on the other side.

Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want

Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want

Waiting is hard. No matter who you are or what you’re waiting for, it’s hard. Just ask any kid on a road trip how they feel about not being there yet. Or, if we’re honest, ask any adult how they feel about waiting in the grocery line, waiting for the weekend, waiting for vacation, waiting for a promotion, or waiting for retirement—waiting is hard.

No matter our circumstances, we are all waiting for something. I’ve been waiting since I became a mom for my kids to go to school. Don’t judge me—I know it sounds horrible, but it’s an honest confession.

Yet, I also remember back to pregnancy and how excruciating the waiting felt as I longed to meet each of my children, both entering the world comfortably past their due dates. And now as I parent two preschoolers, depending on God’s grace most days to enjoy the beautiful gift of this exhausting season, the approaching fall beckons me with new hope as my kids (and I) joyfully anticipate preschool and kindergarten.

We are all waiting.

Regardless of what we are waiting for, there is always something ahead that promises greater fulfillment. We somehow believe that when the next thing comes, then we will finally be content. But the truth is, even when we finally receive the thing we await, waiting begins again for a new “next thing.” Whatever season of waiting we are in, our lack of control will either drive us to despair or invite us into dependence on God’s grace.

During the past several years I’ve spent as a stay at home mom, I’ve discovered the joy of pouring my heart onto a page through writing. I don’t know if I would have ever discovered the gift of purposeful reflection writing affords if I hadn’t been thrust headfirst into this slower-paced life with babies. Needing a place to use my brain and process what was happening within my heart, writing has become a creative outlet that both keeps me sane and fills my soul.

As I searched for ways to improve my craft, another writer suggested an online course called Writing with Grace with Ann Swindell. My entire approach to writing has been transformed by her powerful teaching, which has given my words new purpose and freedom. (Unsolicited advice: Anyone who wants to grow in their ability to use writing to bring life to others should check out this incredible class!)

Because of my deep respect for Ann’s teaching, I jumped at the invitation to participate on the launch team for her new book, Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want, releasing on April 4th. This book is for anyone who has waited, is waiting, or will wait—in short, this book is for everyone.

Ann artfully weaves together my very favorite story in the whole Bible—the story of an unidentified woman who suffered from bleeding for twelve years despite giving all she had to doctors who couldn’t heal her—with her own story of waiting to be healed. Ann’s writing is vulnerable and courageous, revealing the raw places in her own heart where waiting has cost her dearly. This book reminds us all that hope is real, hope can’t be taken away, and hope is worth waiting for.

Ann invites others to experience the fullness of God’s grace in the midst of their waiting. She honestly explains, “Waiting is hard because it thwacks against our hope and makes us wonder if the promises of Christ are real. It makes us wonder if Jesus is really good…In all of those places, waiting asks us if God is still good and if he really sees and loves us.”[i]

But there is hope for those who are willing to bring their desires and struggles to the One who made us and knows us and loves us more than we could ever dream. Because “hope is the antidote to despair, and it’s the only way to live through prolonged seasons of waiting without losing our faith or our sanity.”[ii] As someone who has felt a bit crazy during periods of extended hopelessness, I can testify with assurance that hope is indeed worth fighting for.

Nothing thrills my heart more than helping others find a place to experience the grace of God for themselves. This book is one of those places. Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want is a story for all of us, because each one of us is waiting for something.

And the best part? If you order a copy (or two or three) by April 3rd, you can get some amazing pre-order goodies for free! So go ahead, give a copy to the ones you know who need it most. You don’t have to wait to share hope today.

PRE-ORDERFREEBIESAVAILABLE-NOW

[i] Ann Swindell, Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want, 212.

[ii] Swindell, Still Waiting, 212.

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.

FullSizeRender (3) IMG_2653

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.

 

IMG_2651 FullSizeRender

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.