I stepped in dog pee the other morning, just minutes after grumbling at my relentless alarm. It was the perfect sour cherry on top of what was shaping up to be a top-notch-awful-week sundae. Frustrations at work…laundry held hostage in the dryer…a master bedroom that housed my 8 year old on the floor in a sleeping bag most nights…friends whose birthdays came and went too quickly without a card making it into the mail…boxes of Girl Scout cookies left to sell…graying hair in need of coloring…a thickening waistline…and nagging deadlines for editing my first novel (that needs to be successful and renowned by all who read it – ha). It all swirled in my head with a dizzying effect.
My wet foot dripped and “You’ve got to be kidding me!” cries filled the otherwise serene, still-dark living room. Something had to give. And soon.
Later that day I sat in my car during my lunch break and brainstormed what I could do to simplify this overwhelming life. I eventually circled around to my writing. Maybe this just isn’t the season of life to realistically achieve the goal of publishing.
Part of my problem is constantly trying to decipher the mixed messages to women of our culture:
Your top priority should be raising independent, well-adjusted children.
You have both the right to be an working professional woman, and the responsibility to continue paving the way for the next generation.
While you should not feel obligated to wed, if you do then your spouse should feel desired, encouraged, and taken care of.
You need A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, and P name-brand products, but should also be able to find a way to be debt free and ready for retirement by the age of 40.
How in the world do we wade through all of these voices? While the little white ball called “balance” winds this way and that, ping-ponging between work, home, family, friends, education, professional enrichment, personal goals, and others’ expectations we grow tired. Dizzy. Unsure which way to look and for how long.
This passage from Present Over Perfect by Shawna Niequist struck a nerve.
I have always, essentially, been waiting. Waiting to become something else, waiting to be that person I always thought I was on the verge of becoming, waiting for that life I thought I would have. In my head, I was always one step away. In high school, I was biding my time until I could become the college version of myself, the one my mind could see so clearly. In college, the post-college “adult” person was always looming in front of me, smarter, stronger, more organized. Then the married person, then the person I’d become when we have kids. For twenty years, literally, I have waited to become the thin version of myself, because that’s when life will really begin.
Can you relate? For me, the life that has begun often doesn’t reflect the life I envisioned long ago. It’s more hectic. More demanding. More distracted. And, frankly, often less fulfilling.
My Plan for Taking Control
The lunch break in my car resulted in a plan. I didn’t want to give up being a good mom or wife or employee. My daughter needs me on my best game. My husband needs me to be less stressed and more attentive. My job deserves me to be more focused and dedicated.
So the writing can wait.
I made the decision sitting in the car that I’d find ways to write here and there whenever time presented itself. Just for fun. Maybe keep writing my short stories for my newsletters. But the book publishing would need to wait. It didn’t make the cut.
With a sigh of relief and to-do list suddenly much shorter, the week went on.
But something unexpected happened next.
The 30-Second Game Changer
Later that evening, after the kitchen was cleaned, homework was reviewed and fixed, bath time was overseen, and clothes were picked for the next day, my daughter called me into her room.
“Can I read you something, Mama?”
“Sure, but then it’s lights out.”
“Ok. I just wrote this…” She proceeded to read me a poem she’d written. It included metaphor, imagery, emotion, and a simple plot. It was good. My tired, overwhelmed heart flipped.
“Honey, that’s really good. I mean, really good.”
Then the kicker.
“I get it now. Why you write. This feels amazing. And I can’t wait for your book to come out,” she said with and understanding in her eyes that stopped me dead in my tracks.
In the simple 30-second exchange with my daughter over a six-line poem written in pencil in a ratty journal, the plan I’d made earlier in the day to give up writing suddenly didn’t make sense.
Publishing this book isn’t just a self-indulgence. Not just a hobby I’d love to share with others. It has purpose, meaning beyond my own desires. The process, not just the end result, is important for my daughter to see me go through – not for the struggle, but in spite of it. This renewed awareness of purpose in the process reminds me, too, that the story’s message of hope and grace and forgiveness (to each other and yourself) is one I believe God placed on my heart to tell others. If that’s not a priority worth keeping on top, I don’t know what is.
Life will still throw me curve balls. (Just in the last 24-hours, for instance, I had a flat tire, spilled a full glass all over the living room, and had to catch my dog’s urine in a bowl for a specimen to take the to vet.) This is life this side of heaven. Messy, frustrating, and overwhelming. But it’s also filled with 30-second blessings that remind us why we do what we do: because we are who God made us each to be.
I gave up writing this week. But I picked it right back up again.
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