If I'm being honest, I think 2017 is going to be one of the hardest years for me yet. All accusations of pessimism aside, I really believe I'm being realistic when I say that. Though the past several years up until now have definitely been challenging (and also growing) in their own right, I think this year will be especially trying because it plays to one of the areas where I need the most refinement in my opinion.
Want to hear a confession of mine? There are so many days when I feel like so many of the things I do aren’t worth it anymore, that so much of it doesn’t have a point because it’s not “making an impact,” or maybe just not in the way I might expect it to. There are days when I wonder why I still keep up this blog, why I still write my famously long (and sometimes dramatically pensive) captions on my Instagram account, or why I have my separate Facebook page for my blogging and writing. There are days why I wonder why I still write at all, why I did NaNoWriMo when the chances of actually being a published novelist aren’t always the highest. And these are thoughts that most creatives probably have once in a while.
Because you know what the real, selfish reason is for all that? It’s that we wonder why we’re not wildly successful yet. We wonder why with all the hard work we’re putting into whatever we’re passionate about, why we aren’t famous yet. We wonder why we’re not the next big musician or New York Times Bestselling novelist. And we wonder all those things because that’s how we’ve been so conditioned to view success and to view influence.
We wonder why we aren't famous yet.
This is what society tells us.
It’s not good enough unless you’re photographing Fashion Week. It’s not good enough unless your novel gets a movie deal. It’s not good enough unless you’re designing for an international company. It’s not good enough unless you have tens of thousands of followers on Instagram. It’s not good enough unless it gets enough likes. It’s not good enough unless it goes viral on Twitter. It’s not good enough unless…fill in the criteria here. And by extension, it tell us that it’s not worth it or that it doesn’t matter, because it won’t be good enough unless it fits into one of those boxes.
Society tells us it's not good enough unless you have tens of thousands of followers on Instagram.
And it’s hard to keep creating when the world’s standards of evaluating the worth of your art are so different from God’s standards of evaluating it. He didn’t necessarily give us our creativity or the gifts we have to become famous or to go viral on social media. That might happen, and if so, we then have to bear the responsibility of that platform, but that’s never been the goal of why we create.
We create because we’ve been made in His image as the Creator. That’s why we have the ability to craft stories, make images, and string together melodies. It’s all because it reflects on Him and the little pieces of His essence that He’s placed into each and every one of us. In reality, maybe it’s better than more of us aren’t famous, because that can be so distracting and take our eyes off the One who truly deserves all the fame this entire little planet hurtling through space can muster. It should all really be for Him, but some of the creative climate has robbed so much of that from Him, telling us that it should be us getting all that glory.
But that's never been the goal. We create because we've been made in His image as the Creator.
But the truth of that matter is that whatever we create should remind us, subtly or overtly, of where that desire and magic of creation comes from. And the underlying message then is that it is good enough, whatever you’ve created.
You're good enough.
Your art is good enough. Your writing is good enough. Your music is good enough. Your images are good enough. Your design is good enough. Your copy is good enough. It’s all good enough, because the point of it all isn’t to make us famous, but to remind us that all of our creating flows out of the one Creator who gives us the ability to do it all.
So keep creating. It's good enough. You're good enough.
Something about foggy mornings filled with gray light always seems to pull me out of myself, in the best way possible. Still not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s the way everything seems to stand still and you’re more cognizant of all the little sights, smells, and sounds around you that might normally get lost in the chaos of a typical American day. Or maybe it’s the atmosphere around you that seems to whisper that it’s finally okay to let all your muscles relax and just breathe and be for once, taking a moment to slow down in our world that’s normally always running at a million miles an hour. Whatever it is, these slow, tranquil mornings always seem to return a little more of the perspective I’ve been missing throughout the rest of the week. And maybe we all need a little more of that. Regardless of what season of life we might find ourselves in, there always seems to be this nagging sensation that you should be doing more, accomplishing more, or otherwise never stopping. We might allow ourselves to take a single day, or maybe even just a single part of a day to take a breather and reflect, but more often than not we still feel guilty about that rest we so desperately need. It’s the curse of productivity baked into the fabric of American culture, or so it seems. We feel like we need to be constantly on the go otherwise everything else that’s going by at breakneck speeds will pass us by. But that might be where our ever looming sense of dissatisfaction comes from, or at least that’s what I’m starting to discover about myself.
Every time we ramp up the speed on the treadmill of life, it’s so easy for us to think we’re still not getting enough done or that we’re still just barely keeping up with everyone around us, when we’re already running ourselves ragged. We set all these goals and milestones for ourselves (that may or may not be realistic), and we start to feel all sorts of angst when things don’t play out exactly the way we want them to, whether that’s not graduating from school when we thought we would, not having the job you want right after graduation, not paying off your student loans as fast as you thought, or whatever else it might be. With a myriad of expectations we set for ourselves (or that are sometimes set for us), it’s easy to lock ourselves in a mindset that only welcomes disappointment and pushes us to move faster and faster to get to where we want to be.
But these slow mornings have been reminding me that with slowing down comes more perspective, letting us look backwards instead of just forwards. And when we start to take the time to look back a little more, we’re able to see all the things we have to be thankful for and all the things we’ve already accomplished and already done instead of just the things that we’re striving for in the future, which is a powerful reminder that not all is grim just because we’re not right where we want to be in the present. And if those moments of stillness are hard to come by, start creating them for yourself. They don’t have to exist only on the weekends or during long periods of rest. There are spaces to create that stillness for yourself even during the storm of the week. We just have to look out for them and be more intentional.
I feel like this is probably a super millennial thing to say, but the transition to the adult world has been pretty jarring over the past few weeks. My college student body isn’t used to getting up at 6am to make it to work at 7:45am and then going to bed early to do it all over again, and my mind isn’t accustomed to all the new routines and mental switches I have to make during the day. All of that being said, it hasn’t been too rough yet, but I think one of the hardest things for me was also one of the more cliche things you could probably say about leaving college and starting to work full time: I honestly miss Bethel so much, and not necessarily specific friends or specific people at Bethel (though I definitely do miss all my friends and everything SO much; don’t get that mixed up, haha). But it’s more the sense that Bethel really did become my second home over the course of my three years there and it was so bittersweet to graduate and leave. I actually applied to a couple jobs at Bethel as graduation was coming up just to see if I could stick around a little longer, and as my job search got longer and more tedious over the summer, I actually started to get upset about the fact that I wouldn’t be going back (now that fall has rolled around, it’s more like tears and a lot of emotions, lol).
Currently, I work in the office at a charter school in St. Paul, and even though I do really like it, there’s still a large part of my heart and soul that misses Bethel and aches to be back there this fall, coupled with the fact that so many of my closest friends are still seniors there. At the same time, I wholeheartedly believe that wherever we happen to find ourselves at any given moment is exactly where God wants us to be for that season of life. That’s something that was hard for me to accept, being in a place where I maybe didn’t want to be, and something that I’m still working on and through during this period of so much change and adaptation to a different world, a different schedule, a different mindset, and a different group of people that I find myself spending the majority of my days with now. But I still cling to the promise that God never has us walk through specific corridors of life in vain, and right now, as much as I might not like it, I know that where I am is exactly where He wants me to be.
But at the same time, maybe just as an encouragement to me (today was the first day of school at work, and it was a crazy, hectic, draining day), God seems to have reaffirmed that eventually my desire to return to Bethel will be fulfilled at some point in the not too distant future, prompting some ugly tears from me in my bedroom circa 8:30pm tonight. This promise came through a section of Acts 18 I was reading. In it, Paul has been moving all over, preaching and teaching in various cities as the Spirit led him. Right around verses 20 & 21, he’s leaving Ephesus and it says that the people asked him to stay with them a little longer but that he declined because he felt the Lord calling him to continue traveling and ministering elsewhere at that point in his life.
However, it also says this: But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. – Acts 18:21
In all of my weariness and also maybe bitterness about not being back at Bethel this fall, I think this was probably one of the gentlest ways that God could’ve encouraged me and told me to keep at it for this stage of life. And maybe that promise seems like a stretch, but I also think that’s the way that God tends to operate and maybe what He meant when He promised that His word would always be relevant to us, over the course of all of time.
Throughout my time at Bethel, Ephesians was always a go-to book for me, and it was also the first time in my life I could actually say I had a favorite book of the Bible. I still want a tattoo eventually to commemorate two of my favorite verses from it (v. 20-21 also super not coincidentally, because that’s how God likes to roll), and it quickly became a home base of sorts in the Bible, just like Bethel became a second home to me, mentally, relationally, spiritually, and physically. So, it seems just like God to sneak this reminder and promise into my day just before bed after a day where I honestly questioned whether I’d be able to make it through the whole year working at this school where every day just seems to suck all the energy right out of me. It’s seriously mind blowing how God does that, how He speaks to us when we’re at our lowest that bring tears to our eyes and an nodding affirmation as we wipe them away that yes, we can do this, but only because He’ll be walking by our side the whole way.
I’m not exactly sure when God will bring me back to Bethel, and whether that’ll be in the distant future or whether it’ll be a little sooner, but I’ll be anxiously awaiting that day while simultaneously asking Him for the strength and grace to get through this season that He’s brought me to. I want to love and serve as much as I can right now, right here where I am, but look out, Bethel, because I’m coming back for you someday, and I’ll probably be crying buckets when I finally make my way back.
Today marks the end of my 14-day writing challenge (though this post might not actually end up making it online until day 15, since it’s currently storming and the internet and things don't like that too much), and I can honestly say that working through these two weeks of writing definitely was a challenge, but it was also incredibly growing from a creative standpoint as well, which I’m thankful for. I originally decided to start this project because my creative reserves were basically empty, and I had recently had a good conversation revolving around the idea that sometimes simply stoking the fire of whatever you might be struggling with might be exactly what you need. So, instead of taking some time to think and brainstorm for creative purposes, I chose to force myself to write something, anything, for two weeks instead, to see what I could come up with, and it was surprisingly effective.
Over the course of the 14 days, I found myself writing in a couple different genres and styles, which was stretching and growing from a literary standpoint, but I also found myself enjoying some of those styles more than I thought I would, especially given my previous experience and history with styles like poetry. Prior to performing this experiment, I always would’ve told myself that I wasn’t a poet and that I’d probably never write poetry, but my perspectives have begun shifting ever since I forced myself to write even when I wasn’t feeling like it. I think something about that internal pressure caused some of my ideas to seep out in forms they wouldn’t otherwise would’ve taken. At the same, I justified dabbling in poetry because poems could be shorter and maybe wouldn’t take as long as writing a longer piece of prose, but I ended up spending roughly the same amount of time composing the various lines and stanzas of my poems, polishing them until they conveyed precisely the messages I was aiming for. By the time I more or less ended my poetry phase of this writing challenge (though I will doubtlessly return to writing poetry, since I’ve discovered I actually really enjoy it now that some of my own psychological inhibitions towards it have been cleared), one of my friends pointed me to a quote saying that poets are poets because they enjoy the interplay between words, not necessarily because they think they have good things to say or because they’re exceptionally good at it, and I found that to be true while I was writing poetry. I definitely didn’t think I was a poet, adding that very line as a disclaimer to some of the pieces I published here, but I did take a certain pleasure in seeing how I could get the words to play off each other and how they sounded to the ear, and in the end, I suppose I did become an amateur poet through that, something I never would’ve discovered if I hadn’t taken part in this challenge to myself.
Beyond that, it’s been so rewarding to see where inspiration comes from for all the various pieces that I’ve written under the time constraints that come with trying to get myself to put out a quality or semi-quality piece of work every single day for a specified period of time. I think part of that comes from being able to prove to myself that I actually can write something, and write something good in a short period of time if I’ll actually be dedicated enough to finish it.
Finally, I would say that this challenge accomplished the one goal I set for myself when I first conceived of it: causing me to actually like writing again. In the weeks leading up to my creative dry spell and my decision to force myself to write no matter what, the mere act of writing had started to feel like a chore and I was dreading sitting down at my computer or with my notebook more than I should. Though I would still call myself a writer, I could hardly discipline myself enough to take the time to actually write something.
The first couple days of the challenge were brutal, because I still felt like I was dragging my heels through the metaphorical idealess swamp, but by the halfway point in the challenge, I was beginning to have more ideas than I had time or energy to write about, something that hasn’t happened in quite some time. More than anything, I rediscovered what it feels like to enjoy sitting down to write and to take satisfaction in creating a string of words that communicated an idea the way I wanted it to. And now that I’m at the end of this challenge, I think I finally like writing again.
At this point, I’m sort of just rambling, because there’s so much more I want to say about this writing challenge, ideas I could convey more eloquently if I had time, but it’s currently 9:41pm and I have to wake up at 4:30am in order to get to the airport, so I suppose this will have to suffice for now. Time is never really on a writer’s side it seems.
I’ll hopefully have some time tomorrow to reflect more on this writing challenge and/or perhaps write another nonfiction piece I was planning to write, but for now, I suppose I would just say that sometimes pushing through the creative blocks and the hard spots really is the best way to get back on your feet. I felt like I had nothing left to write, nothing left to give when I started this challenge, and now I’m reinvigorated with, at the very least, enough creative energy to keep me going for the near future *cue infomercial testimonial music*.
Funny side note: this piece is probably one of the least polished I’ve ever written; it’s basically stream of consciousness, but that’s sort of cool in a way. This piece is the written equivalent of a YouTube video, so if you ever wondered what it would be like for me to make one of those, it would probably sound a little like this post, haha.