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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Who’s Right In Front Of You?

When I first saw her, she was striding across Connecticut Avenue.

Not in a crosswalk, mind you … in the middle of the road. She had bright blond hair and a dark tan, and she was walking across what DC residents know is a very, very busy street. At rush hour. With a pronounced limp. In fact, she seemed to be almost dragging her right leg.

Cars honked their horns, stopping abruptly to avoid her. Still, she carried on.

Busy DC street.
Locals will recognize this as 14th St NW, not Connecticut Ave NW. Both are, of course, quite busy.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zoghlin

I was standing on the opposite sidewalk, and she was coming right toward me. I couldn’t help but notice her and feel concern. At the time, I was working with a caregiving organization, so assisting people with mobility challenges was second nature. I started to step forward, thinking I’d offer her a hand up the curb.

But it was not to be. “What are you looking at?!” she said, her voice an angry snarl. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you that it’s not polite to stare?” With that, she rushed past me into the crowd.

Words stuck in my throat. I was so hurt, I could barely speak. “I … I … was just going to help …”  I said, knowing it was too late. She didn’t hear me.

***

At the time, I was devastated at the thought that I’d (inadvertently) added to that woman’s pain. Her angry words were a rebuff: How dare you notice, how dare you care? I felt shamed for feeling compassion.

For a long time, I didn’t understand why she’d lashed out at me that way. But then, a memory surfaced; it was from years earlier, a summer afternoon when I went running through my parents’ neighborhood.

I was home from college or work, and my younger brother Willie (who has autism and struggles with challenging behaviors) was having a terrible day. I don’t remember the details, but I know that they weren’t good. And I couldn’t deal with it.

So I put on the tie-dyed tank top that my cousins made for me and my favorite sky-blue running shorts, and I headed out for a run. I ran and ran, and along the way, I realized I was angry. Very angry. In fact, anger was fueling every step I took.

So when some guy whistled at me and made a comment to the effect of Girl, you look good, I just … snapped. In a dramatically uncharacteristic move, I shouted: “SHUT UP !!!”

Silence. The poor guy had no idea. I kept running with tears in my eyes.

***

On that run, I was a time bomb, ready to detonate at the smallest provocation. Just like that woman I saw on Connecticut Avenue years later.

When she snapped at me that day, I was too stunned and hurt to understand what was going on. But when I hold the two stories together — me on that run, her crossing that street — they are mirrors.

I don’t know anything about her circumstances, but I understand that sometimes, when we’re trying not to take our anger out on those closest to us, we end up taking it out on strangers.

Before, I saw that woman as a terror; now, I see her as a sister.

And when I look at her in that light, I also understand this:

” … Whether we’re with our kids or without our kids or in an office or traffic or a makeup chair [,] we are always RIGHT IN FRONT of somebody who needs love.”

A friend’s offering of love, 2009

When I read those words from Glennon Melton of Momastery, I pictured that woman on the DC street. And I realized that I didn’t have to be afraid of her anymore. And I also didn’t have to blame myself for not knowing how to respond to her anger.

Instead, I could see her as a teacher, someone sent to show me my own capacity for rage. Someone sent to help me forgive us both. Because in the end, she was, quite simply, someone who needed love.

Someone just like you and me.

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Who’s right in front of you? Join the conversation in the comments below!

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Fill Somebody’s Cup: An Unconventional Birthday Wish

Home renovation projects: they can wear on you.

Viva la tiny bathroom!

You stumble over construction supplies, and everything is forever out of place. The cat dips her paws in the polyurethane your husband’s using to top-coat your wood floors. (And then she proceeds to lick it off.)

Everything takes so much longer than it’s ‘supposed’ to take.

Need a glass of water? Too bad. You can’t have it right now. Your entire kitchen, including the sink, has been blocked off for a week. The water pitcher doesn’t fit in the bathroom sink, so you take it to the tub.

In the process, you skillfully avoid the other dishes in your tiny bathroom. (You also try to avoid thinking about how you really should clean this bathroom.)

You fill the pitcher, and wait. But naturally, you do something else while it’s filtering. You get immersed in your task, forget you were thirsty, and then wonder why, an hour later, your throat is parched.

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Photo courtesy of charity:water.

The terrible thing about the whole renovation process is that it’s disruptive. And the silver lining is the same.

Going through an elaborate process to get water isn’t what I would choose. But I don’t take clean water for granted as much as I did before. Now, I appreciate every filled glass.

It’s a (little) bit like going to a developing country, where people draw water from wells, walk long distances, and carry it home.

A place where the process of getting clean water is time-consuming, arduous, and absolutely essential.

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Make a wish …

Tomorrow is my birthday – I’ll be 28. I always get reflective this time of year. And the thing I’ve been thinking about? Water. (Great for reflectivity.)

It’s really easy to get comfortable when you have conveniences at your fingertips. But what happens when the little things you count on – like being able to have a glass of filtered water whenever you want one– are stripped away?

When I consider this, I’m just blown away by everything I already have, everything I already take for granted.

So, for my birthday, I’d like to ask you to consider giving to charity:water.

I’ll be making a donation, and I’d be honored if you’d join me.

charity:water is a non-profit, committed to bringing clean, safe drinking water to developing countries. Private donors cover all operating costs, so 100% of our donations go directly to water projects.

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If you’d rather not donate at this time, of course I understand. If so, consider doing an act of service instead. Go above and beyond for someone else, and be sure to share your story with us in the comments.

It’s the story of our lives: We are empty, we are filled, we are overflowing. Sometimes in the span of seconds.

And so often, it doesn’t take much … to fill a cup, to listen close, to hold out a hand.

That’s all. And that’s everything.

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PS – I was inspired by this post (and many others) from Glennon Melton of Momastery. And I first learned about charity:water from Courtney Carver‘s birthday campaign at Be More With Less.

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