A Joy Restored

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Photo Credit: “Jump” by Jana_Koll

I’ve said my dream was to be a writer. I developed this dream in childhood—I don’t know exactly when, but it was early. I read profusely from age eight on, and I’m guessing my writing dreams developed as my reading list grew.

At that age it was enough to have a foggy notion, a sort of affinity, a general inclination or tendency to writing. Writing was fun! I did it without overly thinking about it. I jotted silly stories and poems, and when I started playing the piano at age eight, also penning song lyrics. Back then I never thought about the practicalities of getting published, the imminent necessity of earning a living, the eventuality of needing a schedule to keep oneself on track to produce enough, often enough, to survive. No, back then my dream was a hobby, a thing I did at whimsy with no outside provocation. I did it because I enjoyed it. It brought me joy. It was fun.

How wonderful to be a child, to be innocent of worldly and societal expectations, or implications of adulthood. How I wish, as I write this, that I could go back.

Is that impossible?

It seemed impossible when life threw me its first really traumatic curveball at fourteen, when tragedy struck so quickly it seemed childhood was snatched away overnight. Then it was, I have to think, that Satan really went in for the kill on my identity. And with it, my dreams.

Suddenly I was no longer a capable, positive, promising child. I was an incapacitated, negative, doomed child. My world as far as I could see had collapsed around me. I couldn’t see beyond the walls of my home, now torn apart by dissension and hatred and despair.

Though a family breakup may not be our fault, it has everything to do with us. It has everything to do with how we see and understand our place in the world, everything to do with how we define ourselves. I’m not saying this is how it should be, or even that it’s logical, just that this is how it is.

This family event affected everything about me. It redefined me in negative, defeated ways. I became, in my eyes, a pitiable child, one who couldn’t speak up or have needs, either at home or at school.

Instead of being an empowered writer, I became a closet writer. That dream of writing got shoved in a closet, shoved under cover—literally, under the covers of journals—as I took to writing about my family plight and my own plight for no one’s eyes but my own. I guarded my writing, and with it, my pain, like I guarded the family secret. This was not healthy. And yet, by God’s grace, he even used that period of writing to myself for good. Even though the subject matter was bad, it kept me growing at least as far as a writer.  The writing kept my joints oiled, kept me in practice. The practice was being perverted, but it was leading to something only God could see.

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Photo Credit: “Happy Life” by Lusi

Today I feel I have regained the joy of writing–maybe I’m even embarking on my second childhood! Gone are the dark days and the need to hide who I am, because God has restored to me my value and my worth. I rejoice because my identity is not defined by what was done TO me, but by what God has done FOR me. He saved me. He restored me. And He has returned me to the joy of my youth. Thanks for sharing my journey!

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Some Keys to Being Freshly Pressed

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Photo credit: “Key” by debsch

After achieving the feat of being Freshly Pressed, a sort of fear can set in, along with  negative thoughts like these: “I’m going to screw up!” “My next effort won’t be as good!” “I’ll disappoint all these new readers!” Happily, I’ve only had these feelings mildly, and they’re not sticking around. Instead of fear, I mostly feel hope. Rather than daunting me, the Freshly Pressed Status has buoyed my confidence as a writer (a writer whose work people want to read!), and it has encouraged me.

The Surface Answer

So, you want to know how to get Freshly Pressed? (Before last Tuesday, I wondered that, too.) The easy answer is that you just have to keep writing and hope one of your posts gets picked. On the day produced my “pressed” post, I was just doing my regular thing. I was praying and reading the Bible like I do every morning, then I started scribbling about the issues my prayer time had revealed to me. I let the writing sit for a weekend, and then on a busy Tuesday when I almost didn’t think I’d post, I tweaked a bit, paired it with a picture, and posted. It was one of the easiest pieces I’ve published, in fact, because I didn’t expect much out of it—not like some past posts I’d edited into mincemeat (hoping to be “pressed”).

It was a complete and total surprise when, three hours later, my inbox greeted me with: “Congratulations! You’ve been Freshly Pressed!” For the next few days I soaked up the extra comments, likes, and follows—and thanked God for blessing me when I wasn’t even asking.

The Deep Answer

Maybe that’s a key to receiving blessings: to stop trying to force them.

I think back to the small string of writing successes I’ve had so far. (You can liken my writing to whatever dream you’ve carried for most of your life.) In all honesty, when I’ve succeeded in writing, I wasn’t much expecting it. Conversely, when I’ve most expected to succeed, often I’ve actually flopped.

I know I’ve talked to God a lot over the years about my dreams. Heck, he was aware of these goals even before my birth. But when I started chasing them in the beginning, it was like I wanted God on call, ready to answer at the moment I asked. I was selfish (not that I’m a saint today, but I’m slowly learning patience). I wanted to be published, and I wanted it when I wanted it, in the way I wanted it.

Some Instructive “Flops”

In 2010 I prepared a manuscript based on my “oh-so-interesting” teenage journals and figured this just had to be my first book. After a pause in the project, during which time I encountered some pushback from one of the main “characters” in the memoir, I realized maybe this sensitive material wasn’t yet “book-ready.”

In 2011, when I was re-entering graduate school with the dual goals of professing and writing, I identified a PhD in Creative Writing program one hour away from me that I thought would be “so much better” than the bland rhetoric program I was currently in. So I fretted my way through months of manuscript and application preparation, then lay awake at night with knots, willing and wanting so badly for this to work out—only to be rejected a few months later.

In 2012 I tried again, this time a distance MFA program that specifically catered to writers of faith. This, I was sure, was the vehicle through which I would make my plans—my plans—happen. Only, I didn’t get in.

Today I’m not sorry I attempted that now-dead manuscript and those fruitless applications. I think it was good for me to try, especially since I felt God nudging me toward writing and I didn’t sense him expressly forbidding those things. Where I went wrong was becoming too bull-headed to recognize that God had other, better ways to make my dreams come true besides those few paths I could see.

Doing Our Part, Letting God Do His

So it is with any endeavor. Maybe we don’t exactly know if the thing we want is the same thing God wants, but we feel it might be. In that case, I believe our part is to work faithfully—do our homework, hone our craft, practice it, and perform it to the best of our ability (so we are not presuming on God)—but after we’ve done that, we should let go and let God.

When we live our lives like that, quietly and diligently doing those things that (to the best of our knowledge) God has appointed us to do, we might just be pleasantly surprised one day when our faithful efforts pay off. Since I’ve made writing a part of my daily routine (and dropped those arbitrary, self-imposed expectations, such as “the writing has to result in X”), I’ve had a few of those pleasant surprises, including three published (and paying!) magazine articles, a co-book project, and most recently a Freshly Pressed blog post.

It’s fun to get good news when you’re not expecting it. That’s not to say we shouldn’t expect good things from the hand of God. We should.  But we shouldn’t try to dictate what those things will be. As I’ve learned, God has a vast storehouse of blessings for me that I’m not able to see—and it’s bigger and better than anything I could ever come up with.

Today my prayer is that I will faithfully do the task God has given me while letting God be God, trusting that he will reward me according to his promises and for the purpose of his glory. If you need to get re-centered on what really matters today, I recommend reading Psalm 119 in its entirety, as I did this morning.

Dear Lord, “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. Fulfill your promise to your servant, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 119: 36-38)

How to Make Your Dream a Reality

Rule number 1: You have to DO something.

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Photo credit: felipedan

It sounds really obvious, but so is most of the advice in any self-help book you can read. I complained for a lot of years that my dream of publishing a book was not coming true, but, um, it was no wonder. For a lot of years, I wasn’t doing anything about it. So then, one day, I sat down and started to write. And promptly ran into a problem.

 

Rule number 2: Push through roadblocks, however slowly

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Photo credit: Jazza

It could be a lack of time, a mental block, or a naysayer. For me, my roadblock was not the oft-cited “writer’s block”; rather, every time I tried to sit down and write that book I had in my head, I’d be reduced to tears for the memories the work brought. And then there was the naysayer. Someone told me my book idea wasn’t respectful of my family…and I should reconsider what publishing it would do to them.

No matter which roadblocks you’re facing, there is always a way to keep going. For aspiring writers (or aspiring whatevers) with little time, the best advice I know of is to set a realistic goal for yourself, whether a daily or weekly goal, and stick to it. Maybe you’ve only got fifteen minutes a day. Maybe you’ve only got one hour a week. Whatever you have, build that time into your schedule, and then guard it with your dream.

When I started having those toxic emotional reactions to my work, which literally could incapacitate me from living the rest of my life, well, I shut down for awhile. But in hindsight, I realize that I eventually found other ways to keep moving in the direction of my dream. I came at it from another angle. Although I wasn’t yet ready to write that book in my head, I started reading up on the publishing industry, and I started reading about honing my craft. As I did this, I put the naysayer out of mind, and hoped for a better day to write and publish my book. And this leads to rule number 3.

 

Rule number 3: Learn from the masters

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Photo credit: krayker

So, how did you first develop that precious little dream of yours? I’d just bet it was from watching someone else who was doing that very thing, and saying to yourself, “I want to do that someday, too!”

So here’s the deal: the same place you go for inspiration—be it a bookshelf, a rodeo, or a runway—is the same place you should go to apprentice for your craft. Once I identified memoir as my medium, I became a student of the genre. Not only did I read books about how to write memoir, but I read memoirs. These days I have become a sponge for these things, keeping them by my nightstand, on the coffee table, and in my CD player in the car (audio books). Where I once read only for entertainment, now I read for craft and technique, story development and organization. I read with a critical eye, judging a book’s execution and effectiveness, asking myself, is this a technique I could use? Is it one I’d want to use? Whether a memoir is well done or not, I learn from it.

 

Rule number 4: Work through personal problems to clear room for your dreams

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Photo credit: brainloc

Okay, this is probably the hardest rule to follow, and I can’t tell you how to do it; I can only point you to a blog post describing what worked for me. But if you do have some kind of mental or emotional block impeding your work, there must be something you’ll eventually have to deal with before getting on with your dream. If you have to “take time off” from your project to get your life or emotions in order, by all means, do it! This is not wasted time, because when you come back to your project free from the impediment, you will find that you have a vigor for your dream that you never had before.

 

Rule number 5: Set a deadline with measurable goals

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Photo credit: mimwickett

This rule will vary from person to person, and obviously your timelines and deadlines can change. But the thing here is to write down steps, measurable goals, that will move you closer to your dream, bit by bit. If you can give yourself a deadline and stick to it, you will be much helped, as most people operate best with a deadline.

For myself, after I started doing something and I learned how to keep plugging away at it in some form, even when it was hard; after I had started bathing my mind in masterful examples, and after I had worked through my poisonous personal problems…I came up with a schedule for completing my dream that I’m hoping will carry me through to completion. For now, I am trying every day to “move in the direction of my dreams,” even if it means only fifteen minutes of work. I hope you will do the same, and good luck!