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!

***

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.]

Have You Been Imagining Those Prison Bars? (Or, Don’t Re-Enroll In High School)

I had this dream one night.

In the dream, I was in my twenties. I was living with my parents in New Jersey, in the house where I grew up. Since my career had apparently stalled, a faceless, intimidating authority figure strongly recommended that I re-enroll in high school, to ‘get back to basics’ or something like that.

Good news: you’ve already graduated!

The thought of re-enrolling filled me with dread, but I did it anyway. I didn’t think I had a choice. For weeks, I struggled to re-learn my old routines, fumbling through locker combinations, math tests, and the like. I felt my spirit deadening with each passing day.

And then, right as I felt I couldn’t stand it any longer, I had a glorious, eye-opening moment. It was suddenly obvious: I didn’t belong in high school. In fact, I’d already graduated from another, better school. (Vassar!)

I had my whole life ahead of me, so why was I going backward?

It was so absurd, I started laughing … the kind of loose, wild laugh that comes out when you realize that you’ve been imagining those prison bars around you, that they were never really there at all.

I had choices. I had options. And I didn’t have to stay at that school one minute more. I woke up with my hand on the double doors.

***

I awoke the next morning with a sense of liberation singing in my veins. It was the kind of dream that’s more than a dream; that is, the kind that is trying to tell you something powerful about your waking life.

So many of us walk around believing that we’re trapped in our own lives. We make a soul-deadening decision because some dictatorial figure — real or imagined — told us that that it was ‘necessary.’ We don’t think we deserve to be free, so we bind ourselves. We don’t give ourselves permission to get out of a bad situation, to take care of our hearts, to do anything but re-enroll in high school.

***

But then, if we’re lucky, we find another way. We have a moment of illumination, or we meet people who give us the permission we can’t seem to give ourselves.

I think of how a long-term member of the L’Arche DC community came to work with the community full-time. Once upon a time, he’d been a lawyer, wearing nice suits, meeting with powerful people and enjoying a great deal of prestige.

He wasn’t entirely fulfilled by his law work — in fact, he longed to do something else — but the validation he received from just about everyone in his life kept him bound to that career. That is, until he started hanging out at L’Arche … and specifically, spending time with Theresa** and her housemates (who, years later, later became my housemates).

After a while, he realized that Theresa was perhaps the one person in his life who didn’t care one bit about all the ‘important’ things he did all day. Sure, she understood that he had a job; she just didn’t conflate who he was with what he did for a living. She didn’t treat him differently because he was an ‘important’ lawyer.

Permission granted.

Instead, what mattered to her was that he showed up. What mattered to her was that he was a friend. And what mattered to her, as it turns out, was what mattered to him as well.

Just by being herself, she gave him permission to change his life. And so he took a leap of faith and went to work for L’Arche full-time. And who knows? Perhaps the ripple effects of that choice are part of how I ended up at L’Arche years later.

As Madeleine L’Engle writes, The pattern is closely woven.

***

And so today, I challenge you to look — really look — at an area of your life in which you feel trapped or helpless. Then, identify a step you could take that would move you toward a place of freedom and spaciousness.

If you need someone’s permission to take that step, you have mine. (And I’m pretty sure you have Theresa’s too.)

And now, I’m off to take my own advice. There’s an email I’ve been putting off for some time, probably because I need to apologize. Today, that email’s getting sent. That’s what will bring me closer to the double doors.

I’ll see you on the other side.

***

What’s your story of being set free? Join the conversation in the comments!

***

Enjoy this post? Receive posts via email, along with your FREE copy of Your Creed of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive).

*L’Arche (French for ‘The Ark’) is a faith-based non-profit that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.

**Names have been changed.

Trying to Learn, Seeking to Love? Start Small. Always.

A mosquito lands on my leg, and I swat it away. I’m in our front yard, pulling weeds with my husband, Jonathan, and trying to understand my own confusion. It’s the perfect time of day to be outside, just before the sun sets in our small town in Alabama.

As I pull out the roots, I’m thinking about the conversation I just had with my mom and my brother Willie. I’m thinking about how, for all the knowledge we as humans have gained, there are still so many things we don’t know. For example, we don’t know precisely why one person has autism and another doesn’t.

If you’re a sibling of an individual with autism, you get that this isn’t an abstract inquiry. It’s a visceral, tugs-at-your-stomach kind of question — why not me? You’re not sure if knowing an answer would change anything; you just know that you’ve always carried that question with you.

And my confusion comes down to this: It’s a complicated thing, sometimes, to accept my brother exactly as he is and, simultaneously, to hope and work for better. For health and healing, and a more welcoming world.

***

As I keep pulling green shoots from the gravel, I think: It’s no wonder we haven’t ‘solved’ the bigger mysteries yet. After all, we don’t know the answer to so many smaller, everyday questions, either.

We don’t always know what one another needs; we don’t always know what we, ourselves, need. We get only occasional windows into one another’s minds and hearts … and, if we’re honest, we’d admit that we only occasionally clean our own windows well enough to let others see through.

In one of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, A Severed Wasp, a character named Felix Bodeway says: “…The only way we can have contact with people is through the windows in our rooms. You get what I mean? And some people have more windows than others. And everybody’s windows get dirty.

So there have to be window cleaners. I’m one. At least maybe I will be one someday. That’s what I want to be.”

***

Thinking about figurative windows reminds me of literal ones. My husband has replaced two windows this week, seizing the opportunities afforded by two rainy days. Watching him work on this house of ours is an inspiration to me. When work on one task is derailed by weather or wait-time, he moves to another.

“It’s always the little things,” he says, appreciating each new detail and pointing out how it enhances the whole. He works with patience and precision, and every day, he makes progress.

We fix our house one day at a time. We learn and grow in small spurts. And it’s such a lengthy process, this seeking to love. There will always be more weeds to pull, more improvements we could make to our new (old) house. And there will always be further to go on this journey, more answers to seek out.

But I have to believe that the answers to the bigger questions will come through more clearly if we take the time to tend to the small shoots of love in our care.

If we take the time to call our siblings and parents and friends.

If we apologize when we’re wrong, and speak truth when it’s right.

If we give ourselves times of quiet, times to listen to the voice of love that whispers to us from within.

If we pull weeds, one by one, up from the ground.

If we are faithful to these small tasks, tending to them with love …

I can’t help but believe that we’ll help beautiful things to grow.

***

When has doing a ‘small thing’ made a big difference in your life?

Join the conversation in the comments section below!

***

Quick Announcements:

  • I’m honored to be a part of Kerry Magro’s just-posted list, “100 People Making A Difference for Autism“. Kerry and I are both columnists with AutismAfter16.com, and he has an incredibly inspirational story. Definitely check him out!
  • Next week, A Wish Come Clear is going live! I’m scheduled as a guest on Heather McCrae’s Neurodiversity Radio program next Monday, July 23rd, at 8p EST (7p CST). You’re more than welcome to tune in for the (free) show.

***

Liked this post? Receive new posts via email, along with your complimentary copy of Your Creed of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive).