Deadlines, Dreams and Doing it All

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It’s November and that means three things:

  1. It’s socially acceptable to begin preparing for Christmas. Time to buy more wrapping paper for my collection and start blasting Josh Groban’s holiday album!
  2. It’s National Novel Writing Month. Authors everywhere are surviving on caffeine and competitiveness as they scramble to write 50,000 words by 11:59 pm on November 30th. And…
  3. I haven’t posted anything in over five months. Cringe.

There are lots of words to describe the past 20-ish weeks. “Unpredictable,” “exciting” and “stressful” rank in the top three. 2016 has been non-stop and 2017 doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

With all that movement, some things get pushed aside or trampled over. In my case, blogging was one of those things. All my writing lately has been to meet deadlines. While that’s fine for my academic and professional life, it’s left me feeling stretched and empty as an author. I’ve met one deadline only to be greeted by four more. Each one seems to crowd out my dreams a little more. I looked at my planner the other night and realized my entire life has become a checklist.

When was the last time I did anything fun?  I wondered. A few social events were crammed onto my calendar, but my strongest memory of them was trying to enjoy myself despite the looming deadlines on my mind. When did I last do something for someone else? I thought as I flipped past scribbled out tasks. There was no time to serve others; I barely had time for myself. When did my life become a laundry list? 

Ordinarily, I like lists. But this time, my list made me feel more overwhelmed than empowered. It proved that I had too much to do, not enough time to do it, and no time to do anything else.

With every deadline and trying to do it all, I had left no space for dreams. Somewhere, I picked up the idea that busyness = success. I’ve made my lists, said yes to more than I should, and checked things off only to replace them with new tasks.

To be honest, I still do this. I’m still chasing down deadlines and leaving my dreams in the dust. And I suspect I’m not the only one. All of my friends, new adults and more experienced ones alike, nod knowingly when I talk about busyness. We all have twenty-four hours in a day and approximately twenty-four hundred things to do. In some capacity, we’ve all given up what we want to do for what we have to.

Part of that is simply being a responsible adult. But another part of it is something my mentors have told me, and I am finally beginning to understand: We can’t do everything. “Doing it all,” isn’t realistic or healthy.

Deadlines will always exist but they shouldn’t be all that exists. Life is dull without dreams-  those things we are passionate about, that make us smile brighter, love better, sing louder, talk faster, and dig deeper. Sometimes, the deadlines have to give way a little so the dreams can have a place to grow.

I say this as I have a list of assignments to submit and overflowing emails to answer. I’m shaking my head as I type these words, wondering if I’ll actually take my own advice.

Obviously, I can’t abandon everything and do whatever I dream. Much as I would love to spend every day telling stories, it isn’t going to happen right now. I can, however, carve out a little space to let my soul breathe. I can commit to making my passions a priority rather than an afterthought. I can give myself permission to take a break, to focus on something that is personally meaningful without guilt over being unproductive.

It’s not something I’m used to or fully comfortable with, but I’m taking steps towards finding that balance. This month, that means spending some time writing fiction. It means turning my phone off for a few hours each day, spending more time in prayer than political discussion, and making an effort to appreciate the people I love. These are’t drastic moves but they’ll clear some space for things that matter to me. I suspect that freeing myself from “doing it all,” and giving my dreams a place will also make me more productive when it comes to those deadlines.

I wonder, what dreams have you felt forced to set aside? Is there a small way you can bring them back to life? Your deadlines are important but your dreams are just as significant. If all you can see are deadlines, please do one thing to celebrate your dreams. Take a walk on your lunch break and capture photos of nature; publish that blog post; test out the recipe you found six months ago; support a charitable cause; try the workout you’re not sure you can finish. Deadlines don’t have to mean dead dreams. Living is done best when there’s space for dreaming.

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The Time That Is Given Us

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One hundred and twenty-five. That’s how many days it’s been since my last post. I’ll spare the usual exclamations about how quickly time is flying by. (But seriously. How is it possible this year is close to halfway over?)

I only counted out the days because it feels like forever and I was curious as to how long forever really is. How do you measure the moments that make a life?

The weeks that have gone by have felt mostly the same. I went to work five times a week, church two or sometimes three times, met homework deadlines (some by thin margins), and didn’t get nearly enough sleep. Thanks to my English coursework, I did more writing than I had in a long while, though it’s not visible on the blog.

Within that pattern, though, change broke through. In the midst of to-do lists and deadlines came defining moments. While I was busy submitting assignments and filing paperwork for five months, my life changed in a few defining moments.

According to dictionary.com, a defining moment is “a point at which the essential nature of a character or person is revealed or identified.”

In storytelling, defining moments are no accident. Characters are positioned, trips arranged and stages set long before the moment occurs. If you’re truly perceptive, sometimes you can guess what’s coming before it grandly arrives. My favorite scenarios, though, are when the author is masterful enough to completely surprise me. A common rule is that defining moments should be both inevitable and unexpected. When we look back, we should see how everything led to this point, but when it initially occurs, we should feel a bit stunned.

One of the early defining moments of The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien is when Frodo is bequeathed the One Ring from his uncle. At first glance, this doesn’t seem terribly significant. Eccentric old uncle Bilbo leaves all his possessions to his nephew and decides to become a hermit and an author. Suddenly inheriting a home in Bag End shouldn’t rearrange Frodo’s life too terribly; after all, it’s his uncle Bilbo setting off for the unknown. As anyone vaguely familiar with the Lord of the Rings can tell you, though, this moment means more for Frodo than for Bilbo.

Frodo goes from leading an ordinary, rather unadventurous life to taking on a quest with earthshaking repercussions. His calm existence is derailed by a single object… a defining moment. The consequences of this moment are drastic, leading to many other defining moments and later causing Frodo to say, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” “So do I,” Gandalf replies. “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring) 

The time that is given us… whether that is a time of upheaval or unexciting activities.

Maybe it’s not a moment we want. Perhaps it’s one where we feel stuck and it seems like the opposite of a grand, defining moment. Maybe this instant hurts, and feels like it’s going to hurt until the end of time.

Perhaps this is a big moment and it’s terrifying. Maybe this is a decision we don’t want to make. Maybe this is a change we never asked to face.

No matter what is happening, this is the time that is given us. We don’t get to choose our own time. For better or worse, this moment is all we have to live in. This is where God has placed us. All we have to decide… Is what to do with the time that is given us.

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What I Learned in January

januaryJanuary is always the month of newness. It inspires resolutions, and then demands readjustment. By the end of thirty-one days of trying to improve everything, I’m usually ready to hibernate. Forget the New Year. I need a new bedtime.

With that first month behind us now, I’m pausing to wonder where it went. What I accomplished. What I learned.

I’ll be sincere: January did not go as I intended. I had high expectations in several areas, and I didn’t live up to them. I barely wrote a few chapters in the manuscript I planned to complete; I haven’t figured out my future yet; what I want changes at the slightest notice; when I evaluate my actions from the last month, some of them make me cringe. This year already feels like it’s off to a choppy start. Outwardly, nothing drastic has happened, but I can’t shake my inner sense of unsteadiness.

I’m tempted to delete that entire paragraph, but I’m going to leave it because I promised myself something for this year: I am going to be authentic. It’s too tempting to create a perfect persona. It’s too uncomfortable to be vulnerable and real. Yet I’m learning that I connect most truly and deeply with others when there’s a sense of sincerity. In a world of photo shop and plastic, I think we want to know what’s genuine. We want to know we aren’t the only ones who feel messy and uncertain. Every intimate detail doesn’t  need to be spread. We still need a sense of privacy. But that doesn’t mean we need to pretend we’re perfect.

So in the midst of others celebrating their life-changing resolutions, their unstoppable success, and how 2015 is the best year ever, I’m happy for those people. But I’m not going to claim I’m one of them. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

January was not the triumphant month I imagined. It had ups and downs, but I can honestly say I learned along the way. I am learning. Here is a scattering of my humble findings for last month:

  1. Even when I don’t get the results I want, there is no regret in being brave. Courage is a choice I have to make with trembling limbs and knots in my stomach, but once I do, I am free. I no longer have to wonder what would have happened if I had stepped out. Fear doesn’t deserve the final word. Faith and freedom do. It’s empowering to type those words, even though it’s a little harder to breathe seeing them.
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  2. Patience is a process. Every time I think I’ve got it mastered, I have to learn it over. And then over again.
  3. Even loners can’t always walk alone. I am an introvert through and through, and I lean towards working by myself. I’ve recently discovered the true value of teamwork, though. I used to talk a good game about it, but now I’ve played it. And on a great team, everybody really does win. I’ve been able to watch this happen in ministry, at work, and recently in writing when I joined the fantastic team of The Fangirl Initiative(Which is a super fun, nerdy blog! Here are a few posts I’ve had the pleasure of sharing there.)
  4. It’s important to make time for what makes me happy and whole. A couple of weeks ago, I stayed up reading until 4 AM, something I hadn’t done in years. It actually felt amazing. I need books to read like I need air to breathe; I need to journal and clear my head often. And I need to make that a priority, not a luxury. Rest should be a gift, not something I have to earn by doing enough work.
  5. Speaking of books, we can no longer say Harper Lee published only one! In a bizarre twist of fate, the novel she wrote before To Kill a Mockingbird is being released at last this summer. Decades later, the public will have something of a sequel to the beloved American classic… The beloved classic I have yet to read. Since To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic, I kind of felt there was no rush. Now that the buzz is all about the sequel, Go Set a Watchman, I probably need to get a move on!
  6. Bookworms share a common problem: There are so many reasons to buy books! It’s impossibly hard not to give in to all of them! Dratted budgets. Thank you all for the brilliant response to my last bookish post- I’m so glad to know I’m not alone in my struggle. 😉
  7. Words have such power. In the last month, several people spoke encouragement to me, whether through texting, over Twitter or in person. They may never realize the light those words gave me, but I’ve clung to them. Speak kindly. Lift others. You never know how you’ll inspire them.
  8. Even the best intentions may go awry. I fully intended to have this post finished in time to participate in the link-up on one of my favorite blogs, Chatting at the SkySadly, I missed the deadline. I didn’t want to miss reflecting on January, though, so here it is. And if you’d like to see what other bloggers learned in January, here is the post I was *supposed* to add my link to. 

What did you learn in January? Is there anything you’ll change for February, or do the same? How has this month started off for you?

All the best for February!

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Forward into ’15

Go forward: 2015

Eleven days into 2015, and zero posts until now. That was definitely not one of my resolutions. I have such high hopes for this year, and myself in it, but the truth is I’m having trouble shifting into this New Year at all.

I don’t mean that I’m still writing 2014 on all my checks and journal entries, although I actually just did that. I feel like I’m still living in 2014, repeating all the patterns I want to change in 2015. This first week and a half has been unstructured and rather sporadic, reminding me of last year.

2014 was filled with changes, most of them out of my control. So much shifted, from my priorities and responsibilities to my dreams and relationships. I spent much of the year split between fighting the wave of change and learning how to ride it. Last year tested my faith and forced me to trust God; to wait on Him. More often than not, it meant simply being still. Which, for me, meant waiting anxiously for something and going partly crazy because I felt like I was doing nothing. For a girl who likes being in control and keeping busy, it’s a hard lesson to learn.

It didn’t go perfectly, and I have a lot more growing to do. Eventually, though, I settled into the stillness. (For the most part, anyway; my family could tell you I still had my “moments.”) Overall, though, I had to accept that God was doing something in the seasons of nothing. I had to learn not to fight those times, and even to give thanks for nothing. Not all the answers in life are instant or permanent, and it’s a little easier to see that now. I stopped trying to figure everything out and gave up my “five-year plan.” (And also my ten, fifteen and twenty year plans.) I don’t know what’s happening next month, or even all that could happen in the next two weeks. Even so, I know God is truly in control, not just because my Pinterest quotes say so, but because I have seen Him arrange my life before. I have seen what happens when I finally get out of the way and give Him space. 2014 was the year of being still and seeing the salvation of the Lord. It was the year Exodus 14:13-14 came true for me.

“Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today…… 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”  

That was hard to accept initially, but it truly worked and now I’m rather comfortable where I am. There are still other things I want to accomplish, dreams for me to chase, yet the routine of 2014 has at last become familiar. I might not be completely satisfied, but I’m safe here in the waiting… In the stillness.

And now that I’ve found the faith to wait on God… I have a dilemma. He’s asking me to have the faith to go forward again.

In verse 15 of that same passage, in 2015 of this same girl’s life, the stillness has ended. To paraphrase that verse, the Lord says, “Why do you cry to me? … Go forward.” (emphasis mine.) 

Go forward? It’s what I was straining for last year, before I learned the importance of being still. In 2014, I didn’t need to go forward. I had been racing forward too long, and needed to slow down. To stop. Breathe. Rest. Wait.

Now? I’ve found that rhythm of silence. And I’m afraid to leave it. It’s puzzling, how last year, being still seemed like the worst thing. I was chomping at the bit for the command to go. It’s finally come, and suddenly I want to curl up and stay still.

It’s what I’ve done for the last several days, fighting the strain of going forward. If I go forward, I have to move into the unknown. This season of stillness has given me a chance to recover my faith and grow it gently. If I move ahead, it will be tested all over. It will be strained and shaken and forced to dig its roots deeper in the rough patches.

In the nothingness, I could dream safely about the someday’s filled with something’s. If I go forward into that someday, and start doing that something, I’m afraid those daydreams will be shattered. What if I fail at everything I’ve been waiting to accomplish? What if I somehow mistake where God is leading me, and derail onto the wrong road entirely?

Forward is frightening. Moving forward might mean falling or failing.

But the time has come. If I want to live my life as a symphony of God’s grace, it’s time to start playing the song. I can no longer be silent, even if it means I’ll be missing beats and playing plenty of wrong notes.

The faith I learned through stillness has to carry me forward now. It’s time.

What are you going forward into this year? 

Forward into 2015!

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New Year’s Symphony

My final post for the year. Already, it has come to this. In a matter of minutes, everything will bear the date of 2015. That’s hard to believe, especially considering I wrote 2013 on something just last month. I was finally getting used to writing 2014, and now I have to readjust again.

I didn’t accomplish everything I planned to in 2014. In fact, most of my plans were turned upside down or torn up completely. Most of my accomplishments were entirely unplanned. In some ways, I’ve changed dramatically, and in others I still have a great deal of growing to do. Still, I don’t feel totally like the girl who crossed from 2013 into 2014, and I know I have the chance to change entering 2015. No matter how many resolutions I failed in the past, something about a brand new year fills me with hope: Hope to do more, see more, be more. To change more and make more.

For a girl who typically resists change, I tend to stack too much of it on the brink of each New Year.  I once made a dozen resolutions, only to forget them all by Valentine’s Day.

So this year, even though I have goals, I don’t want to make them the center of my plans. After all, if there’s one thing I have learned this year, it’s that plans change. I’m tired of making long lists where I either quit and feel like a failure, or succeed yet still feel empty. My desire is for 2015 to be a deeper year, one of true growth. I don’t want to measure my success this year by how much I produce or earn, but by the person I become.

Yes, I’m still going to try the usual things, like getting healthier and becoming more organized. What I really want, though, is to change my way of living. I don’t want this to be another year where I miss the miracles around me, where I go through each day and forget about the One who gave me those days.

I found these beautiful words from William Ellery Channing a while ago, but I’ve adopted them as my mantra for 2015.

 To live content with small means, 
To seek elegance rather than luxury, 
    and refinement rather than fashion. 
To be worthy not respectable, and wealthy not rich. 
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly,
to listen to stars, birds, babes, and sages with open heart,
to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. 
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, 
    grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony. 

– William Ellery Channing, “My Symphony”

To remind me of this each day, I made some simple quote prints. Each time I see them, I hope I’ll remember that life is a miraculous gift. 2014 was a gift, despite coming in an assorted box of good and bad, and 2015 will be the same way.

Symphony bird printSymphony tree print

If you would like to share that reminder, you can download the free prints in 8×10 size here, or in postcard format here. For the 8×10 size, there is a design with birds, a text-only one, and one featuring trees. The postcards are printed with either birds or trees. 

As the final notes of this year fade into silence, and the symphony begins to play for 2015, I hope our new songs will be beautiful. No matter what changes come- both in our control and out of it- I pray we will have courage and strength. I pray that when we don’t, we will allow ourselves to be carried and comforted by God’s unfailing love, and covered in His grace.

Most of all, I pray we will make the most of every new beginning. Of our fresh year, and each fresh day in it.

Happy New Year, dears! May your days in 2015 be filled with unsinkable joy, unshakable peace, and unwavering hope.

I’m looking forward to sharing another year with you.

Blog SignatureP. S. Be sure to check out these inspiring New Years Posts from a couple of my favorite bloggers, as well. 🙂

2014 Going on 2015 from Rana at the Villain Authoress 

Turn to Face the New Year from Miriam at Wishful Thinking