Contentment is NOT a Foreign Land. (Plus, the Trailer!!!)

One morning, I sat down to write feeling crazy and desperate.

I was deep in the midst of a waiting season, and — much as I’d like to think otherwise — I’m not the most patient person. (Maybe you can relate?)

I wrote: “It’s all hopeless. So many times I’ve put my heart out on the line – in a post, a proposal – and received no response. Hearing nothing is worse than hearing no. Ask any writer, any artist. You can move on from a ‘no.’ But a ‘nothing’ can eat you alive.

I hate the uncertainty of it all. If uncertainty were an object, I would kick against it until it BROKE. How can one carry on in the face of it? How can one create something meaningful when other meaningful work has been buried? How can one take these terrible risks?”

Here’s what I heard in response:

“Honey, you’ve been looking to others for approval, but – surprise! – you need to look elsewhere. You need simpler measures for success: Did I write today? Did I publish that post? Did I do the work?

And if you can answer yes, let that be enough. Let that be your good news. Release the need for ‘big’ things to happen, and be faithful in the small things. When you need a lifeline, send one out for someone else. And most of all, practice looking around and seeing what NOW actually is.”

***

Now is a woman with a tear-stained face, sitting in a chair. The chair was given to her as a gift by her true friend. “To support you in your writing,” she said.

Now is the sound of the woman’s hands typing on the keyboard. The laptop was given to her as a gift by her wonderful family. “To support you in your writing,” they said.

Now is looking around her writing room. This room was given to her as a gift, renovated by her loving husband. “To support you in your writing,” he said.

Now, as it turns out, has nothing whatsoever to do with lack or uncertainty. Now is being surrounded by gifts, by certain grace.

***

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been waiting for a passport to a foreign country called Contentment. You’ve been standing in line and filling out forms and getting frustrated with everything around you. You do this even though this strategy has never worked before and isn’t likely to start working now.

But every once in a while, you catch a glimpse of reality. You see, however fleetingly, that there’s another way to go about your days. And that way opens up before you when you realize that all the time – all the time! – you were always and already a citizen.

You never needed a passport to get to Contentment. You didn’t need to waste time waiting in line. You just did that because you wanted those stamps. You wanted your passport covered in permission, decked out in approval. You wanted proof: Yes, you’re good enough. Yes, you’re welcome here.

But you don’t need stamps or a passport if you’re already home.

***

That’s what A Wish Come Clear’s new video trailer is all about: choosing love, losing fear, and finding home. (If you missed the story of how this trailer came to be, you can read it here.)

Thanks to Wes Wages and the talented people at Armosa Studios for their wonderful work, singer/songwriter Tiffany Thompson for providing the lovely music, and dear friends Camille Goldston Bennett and Kristy McKinney for donating their time, support, and hugs.

PS — Let’s meet in person, shall we? If you need a speaker for your next event, reach out now — I’m currently booking events for Spring 2014. To facilitate the process, I’ve released a brand-new Speaking Kit and Media Kit. Enjoy!

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What do you think of the video? Join the conversation in the comments!

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Receive posts via email, along with both Your Creed of Care: How to Dig for Treasure in People (Without Getting Buried Alive) AND Love’s Subversive Stance: Ground Yourself & Grow in Relationship. [Click to Tweet.]

Tempted to Throw in the Towel? Read This.

I love hearing about the times they almost gave up.

Field of Dream(ers), 2013

And by ‘they,’ I mean our heroes. You have your own examples: how Albert Einstein was considered a slow learner in grade school, how Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. As a writer, I take heart every time I hear about a literary great who almost threw in the towel.

I love reading about how the Bronte sisters almost didn’t submit their novels for publication (or claim authorship after they were published under male pseudonyms), or how Madeleine L’Engle tried to give up writing on her fortieth birthday, after a decade of rejection slips  and just before A Wrinkle In Time was published.

And one of my favorite posts on Glennon Melton’s phenomenally successful and beloved Momastery is an obscure one from back in 2010, in which Glennon admits to thoughts of giving up writing online, “… because I’m really, really scared that I’m going to start sucking and [readers aren’t] going to like me anymore.”

Can you imagine? Can you imagine what the world would look like if these women had given up?

All right, I admit it, my world would be rocked more than most, because they are among my favorite writers and my bookcase would be barren without their work. But our heroes don’t have to be famous to matter. Far from it.

I often wonder, in an It’s A Wonderful Life sort of way, “Where would I be without my friend Tammy’s encouragement? Would I ever have learned to drive a stick-shift or self-published two books if she hadn’t believed in me? And what about my friend Brooke? Where would I be if she hadn’t been brave enough to follow her dream of going to Vassar? How would I carry on, stay sane, and keep the faith without my husband, my family, every beloved friend?”

We owe so much to the courage of others.

***

All this is on my mind today because I’ve been waiting on some (potentially big) things in my writing life to move forward. After flying through a series of green lights, I’ve been waiting at a long yellow one.

I need to speak in metaphor for now; I promise to give details when (and if) things come together. But I tell you this to say that, if you’re discouraged and down about your dream, I get it. It is hard to keep the faith. It is hard to wait and work and hope for a dream that might never come true.

But what I’ve come to realize in this season of waiting is that nothing is wasted. I’m coming to see that, even if what I hope for never comes to pass, I will still be so thankful to have tried. I will not regret telling my stories, because — regardless of outcome — telling stories is what I was meant to do.

***

Here’s the thing: we can give up on our calling. We can quit 50 times a day if that’s what we need to do, if that’s how scared we are. But even so, our callings will NOT give up on us.

Whoever it is you’re supposed to be, whatever it is you’re supposed to do? It follows you around. They don’t call it a ‘calling’ for nothing — it does have a voice. A really, really persistent one.

So for all of you who sense a calling — be it to parent or sing or write or build or teach — please, don’t give up. We need you. We need your specific contribution. You may not see how or why, and that’s okay. Just stay faithful. Just keep on. Just for today.

Because even if it’s just one person that needs what you have to offer … well, that’s everything. Giving hope to one person is more than enough. And you know this already, don’t you? You’ve seen it happen. When you put your heart on the line and one person is moved, everything changes.

In that instant — when someone looks at you through tear-filled eyes after hearing you speak, seeing you dance, or listening to your song — you see that your dream wasn’t really even ABOUT you at all. Instead, it was about that one person who needed you to be exactly who you are.

The value of your gift was never measured by whether or not you had your name in lights. It was always about the people who would have been bereft without it, without you. And when you realize that?

You’re home free.

***

Tempted to give up on a dream? Join the conversation in the comments!

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Our free offering has grown to include a second digital book! Receive posts via email, along with both Your Creed of Care: How to Dig for Treasure in People (Without Getting Buried Alive) AND Love’s Subversive Stance: Ground Yourself & Grow in Relationship. [Click to Tweet.]

The Work That’s Never Done

There’s one item in our house that always catches people’s eyes.

The item in question? A photo collage that my husband Jonathan received when we moved away from the L’Arche community where we met.

Farewell collages are a tradition at L’Arche DC; they feature the faces of every person that was a part of L’Arche during the years one lived there. In Jonathan’s case, that means five years of faces, five years of relationships.

When we first moved, I hesitated to display the collage. The goodbye was still raw; there were (are) so many people we love and miss. And some faces triggered feelings of grief or discomfort, in the wake of try-as-we-might-but-alas-still-unresolved conflict.

Even so, I sensed that putting it out in the open was the right thing to do.

***

Ever since we moved, that collage has been an excellent emotional ‘gauge’ for me. If I pass it and my heart aches with missing beloved people, I know it’s time to let myself grieve, to send them love and light. If I feel old hurts stirring, I know it’s time to pray in the words of the Wailin’ Jennys in their song Beautiful Dawn:

Teach me how to see when I close my eyes / Teach me to forgive and to apologize

Show me how to love in the darkest dark / There’s only one way to mend a broken heart.

Our work of forgiveness is never done (not in this life, anyway). I will always need to return to this prayer. But more and more, as I look at those faces, all I feel is love.

To be sure, I’ve had to do hard things to get there, like cleaning up messes I made or participated in, and admitting where I was wrong. I’ve had to write:

Dear friend, I have eaten some humble pie since last we met, and it has helped me to see our time together more clearly. I thought I understood everything, but I understood almost nothing at all. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I gave you the cold shoulder rather than the benefit of the doubt. 

I’m sorry I didn’t fight harder for our friendship.

I’m sorry I was too scared to tell you the truth.

I’m sorry I couldn’t let you go your own way.

Could you forgive me?

When I’ve sent such messages — difficult as they are to compose — I have never felt so free. And don’t even get me started on people’s replies. When I consider how so many people forgave me before I even knew I needed their forgiveness … I just lose it. Things get undignified. Holy tears.

Heaven, I believe, is simply a place without barriers, and I’ve never felt this as strongly as when I see walls between us fall.

***

A still from A Wish Come Clear’s new trailer (coming soon)!

So here’s what I think when I look at that collage now: the people who love and forgive you are your family … and so are the people who resent you and hold things against you.

Because we’ve all done both, haven’t we?

In the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

And so I pray for every face on that collage. Even if we never meet again, we will always be connected. We are part of one another’s stories, pieces of one another’s hearts. We’re family, and family isn’t simple or easy or get-it-right-the-first-time. We have to keep falling down, and getting back up together.

It’s like what happened when I was trying to take a picture of the collage for this post. At first, all my shots came out blurry, with too much glare. Finally, it hit me: I have to sit on the floor and look up from below. I have to, quite literally, get out of my own way. 

And then – only then – will I be able to see clearly.

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How have you experienced forgiveness? Join the conversation in the comments!

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Our free offering has grown to include a second digital book! Receive posts via email, along with both Your Creed of Care: How to Dig for Treasure in People (Without Getting Buried Alive) AND Love’s Subversive Stance: Ground Yourself & Grow in Relationship. [Click to Tweet.]

That Whole Gorgeous and Terrible Pageant

Watching people’s professionally-produced videos can be … challenging.

Back & forth ...

Back & forth, back & forth …

Even though I know better, I usually think, Dang, that person really has their life together! They glide through their days with a soft glow surrounding them … no zits, pit stains, or problems! That is so not my life …

As you’ve probably guessed, A Wish Come Clear has a new video in the works, thanks to the talented team at Armosa Studios. But excited as I am about sharing the video with you, the behind-the-scenes story comes first.

Why? Because I am always so relieved when other artists debunk the illusion of perfection. I feel so much better when they are brave enough to say: Honey, I may have had the honor of working with some talented videographers, but I am NO stranger to acne.

***

On the day of the shoot, I was … a little nervous. But I worked hard to prepare, and drove off with my husband’s encouragement in mind. “You’re gonna knock it out of the park!” he said, fake swing and all. Neither of us are baseball people — we’re more reading at home people — and I was touched.

But then I missed a turn — that elusive turn! — and I had to go back and forth over the same bridge. It was so frustrating, because I could SEE where I needed to go, but I couldn’t discern how to get from Point A to Point B.

Eventually, I figured out how to get to Point B … but by then I was 15 minutes late. I tried to remember the perfectionism cure I learned this week: It’s a great day to make a mistake. I took deep breaths. And the presence of dear friends at the shoot helped; they reassured me that everything was all right.

When we find each other, we find the way home. (2013)

But I didn’t even figure out how ironic this whole situation was until I started saying lines from my own script. Writing a 60 second script means allowing only the essentials to remain … and what had I deemed essential for us, for A Wish Come Clear?

I’d written about Choosing Love, Losing Fear, & Finding Home. I’d written that since we are all so scared to be imperfect and vulnerable and real, it’s tempting to run from relationship. I’d written that showing up and loving one another as we are is about the toughest assignment there is. I’d written about getting lost and found.

***

After that humbling realization, the shoot flew by. I was having fun! (I was also sweating profusely, but hey, that’s what August afternoons in Alabama do to you.) And then …

“The water looks beautiful right now,” the filmmaker said, staring into the viewfinder.

I gazed out over the bridge, following his line of sight. It was sunset, and he was right. “It really does,” I replied.

“Yeah … but you have to see it through the camera,” he said, stepping aside.

And it was … magic. Everything, everything was shining, radiant. It was as though the water had stars in it. It was just a different lens … and it was another world. It made me think that maybe heaven, as Anne Lamott says, really is just a new pair of glasses. And that, as Stephen Mitchell writes, “It is as if the world we perceive through our senses, that whole gorgeous and terrible pageant, were the breath-thin surface of a bubble, and everything else, inside and outside, is pure radiance.”

Sunset at Point Clear, 2013

When I looked through the new lens, everything around me was illuminated. And in an instant, my thoughts were transfigured too; I went from doubt to gratitude in the blink of an eye.

Instead of thinking that I maybe I didn’t ‘deserve’ a professional video, I recalled my friends, who took time out of their full lives to participate in the shoot.

Instead of stressing about how the video would turn out, I remembered my husband, swinging an imaginary bat, effectively saying: You’ve got this. I believe in you.

Instead of worrying about future readers, I thought of you. You show up each week, sharing your stories, wisdom, and encouragement with me, and I am so privileged to write for you.

In the end, I saw what was right in front of me all along: the whole gorgeous and terrible pageant, with radiance within and around it. I saw all of us, just doing our best to live and love well.

And what could be more beautiful than that?

***

Thank you to everyone who contributed to our our charity:water campaign! Together, we raised $365, exceeding our goal of $350! Thanks to your gifts, 5 people will have access to clean, life-giving water.

Thank you for your generous support!

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