I’ve spent more time inspired in the past week than I have in an awful long time. I had time to lay in bed longer than usual, restructure this website, flex some creative muscles that haven’t been used in quite some time, flex some real muscles that needed some toning, and dream and love a little louder. I rolled over on a Friday morning, eyes fuzzy without glasses, and just saw white: the unexpected snow to wash everything clean. I walked in it to my last final of the semester: a breakfast party with all of our handmade pottery and beautiful flowers to put in our vases and a dog running around the studio, a sacred space that connected all of us in some strange way. This was fellowship, one of my sweetest classes of college by far. Inches and inches of snow, and a snowball fight on the roof, and some of the best people I’ve ever known in my entire life to watch me cry with joy because this day was the best. And it ended with some of my best friends and a dinner at 4 in the afternoon and sweet potato soufflé and hot tea and The Newsroom. So many days in the last week have felt like my best days, days when God’s abundance was so tangible.
And then there was this morning when I had the absolute privilege of baptizing my 12-year-old brother. Everything was a blur in those few moments and I was a blubbering baby but I was getting to watch him be washed by the water and commit to walk in a new way, free of sin and shame, understanding that there is a God who loves him so deeply and fully and abundantly. That proclamation, that statement of faith, is one that makes you want to have a Breakfast Club moment, fist in the air, and singing, “Death could not hold You, the veil tore before You, You silenced the boast of sin and grave. The Heavens are roaring the praise of Your glory, for You are raised to life again,” with no doubt in the world that is the Truth. It was surreal, like a moment I never deserved to live in but got to walk in this dream-like state for the remainder of the day.
I’ve also been on the road a lot in the last week, and those car rides have lent themselves to brainstorming and processing and dreaming and scream-singing Christmas music and show tunes. And I spent the last week in the office wrapping up final semester things and starting some planning and brainstorming for the spring, and one phrase kept coming into my mind:
LEAVE IT ALL ON THE FIELD.
Now, I don’t play sports. If you know me, you know. But I had this phrase seeping into everything I was doing. Leave it all on the field. Leave it all in the classroom. Leave it all in every project. Leave it all on the floor. Leave it all.
I put every bit of myself into everything I do, and that is something I’ve learned about myself in the past year. Sometimes it leaves me exhausted and completely at the end of myself, but that’s usually where the best stuff comes out. I vow to put all of myself into every last thing I finish out in this coming semester. I don’t want to leave wishing I had tried harder or done more or been more generous or invested more. I want to leave it all every place I go and in everything I do. And I realized I don’t just want this to carry through the end of my undergrad career, but I want this to be every single day of this life I get to live.
I sat at my desk on a morning this past week and cried over an Anne Lamott TED Talk. She said, “The two most important things about writing are: bird by bird and real god-awful first drafts. If you don’t know where to start, remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better. You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions, and songs — your truth, your version of things — in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us, and that’s also why you were born.”
I’ve written a lot of unpublishable things lately, and that’s a place I hadn’t put myself in for quite some time just because it was uncomfortable. Before that, my writing had been dry and bland and felt like a bunch of dust particles that didn’t actually have any flavor or the ability to form into anything that means anything. It’s a painful feeling but a startling realization that you’ve spent entirely too long not challenging and trying to make anything that matters at all. I always strived to write things to post, and I forgot what it was like to write the deep, dark stuff just for me. That’s why I’ve disappeared from this space for a while, and it was good for me, so good. I took a lot of time, time I’m still taking, to push myself into the deep, dark corners and inspect, look around at the museum of things I left untouched for fear of what they would make me feel.
And I’ve felt a lot of different things lately: awe, fear, infatuation, joy, sorrow, desperation, need, want, all of it. I haven’t been able to write the real, honest stuff because the real honest stuff involves feelings I’ve never felt before and harsh realities about standing in the darkest corners and refusing to come out. I plopped myself down in a coffee shop in another town on an afternoon before an eventful night and tried to make myself write the real honest stuff. And I came undone in a way, writing about people and places and feelings I’d never stood still long enough to inspect and not feel shame for. It was amazing. And my friend appearing was like a stopwatch going off, a time to drain the rest of the black coffee in the mint green mug and shut the laptop and turn off that part of my brain. Compartmentalizing has become refreshing, and not something I feel guilt over anymore.
On the darker, more anxious days, the world seems so small. But on the freer days, the ones where I remember my identity, I get to dream big, fat, dreamy dreams where I can be anyone and do anything and feel everything. These are the days I want more of, and this is what happens when we invite God into what we’re doing, what He was already doing in the first place. What a humbling place to stand in: a place where we can hold our brokenness in one hand and our humility in the other in order to live freer than we’ve ever lived before. That’s the place I want to stand for days and weeks and months and years to come. This is the place where the big, fat, dreamy dreams are born.
There’s this passage in Isaiah 55 I have kept coming back to in the past few weeks, and it reads:
7 let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
God’s promises will not return void. And when I find myself in darkness, in a season of writing the unpublishable and pulling things off of shelves I long forgot existed, I remember that God’s will is accomplished and that He is a God who gives out of abundance. His thoughts are higher than mine, thankfully. It reminds me of a moment in Mona Lisa Smile where the girls are staring at this Jackson Pollock painting and Julia Roberts says, “Do yourselves a favor. Stop talking and look.” I feel God nudging me with that lately, and yes, I did just have God assume the position of Julia Roberts and that may be a bit heretical, but go with me. He’s gotten me silent lately. He’s gotten me sitting in awe and seeing His promises and provision in a land I thought was a barren wasteland. It has turned out to be this place of abundance, this growing, nourishing season of abundance. His promises will not return void.
So the past few weeks have looked like this: big, fat, dreamy dreams, late nights of finishing research, fun design projects, writing all the deep things, shoving poetry into composition notebooks and pieces of paper in my wallet, a concert that was basically a religious experience in itself, sweet fig pizza that was also a religious experience, texts about leaving room, the word “abundance,” final pottery projects, late movie nights, the-good-kinda-sore muscles, and remembering my freshman self in so many moments.
And if I could’ve told my freshman self anything, it would be this:
Develop self-awareness early on. Don’t ever be afraid of conflict. It probably isn’t wise to drink 7 to 8 cups of coffee a day. Fill up more journals than you know what to do with. Don’t be afraid to write the dark stuff down, nobody will try to read it. Write more thank you notes. Be more generous with your time. Don’t get caught up in the money, but don’t be stupid with it. Recognize “no” as a sacred word. Do the same with “yes.” They were right: you will grow to love your siblings and even miss them from time to time. Keep taking videos. Keep with the photography business. Keep reading for fun. And don’t make excuses for not reading for fun. Recognize God’s abundance and provision in every single second. Be where your feet are. You’re going to be okay. And I wish there were a less cheesy and less cliche way to tie the loose ends on this advice column I’ve written for you, but there just isn’t and I think that speaks for itself.
So I’ll go back to Anne Lamott because that’s always a good place to go back to. I’m not going to wake up one day and feel like hell because I didn’t write the stuff I shoved down into my heart. I’m going to write everything I need to write. And it might not all end up here. It might end up in a book or in journals I pack into boxes when I move my whole life around for the next few years. I’m going to hang up my dreams like Christmas lights on display to give life a little more of a pop. I’m going to sip everything a little slower, the coffee with the peppermint mocha creamer and the moments like an unplugged song at a concert or hand holding or the way it feels to hear people read a book out loud.
So here’s to leaving a little more room for the big, fat, dreamy dreams and the space to learn what God’s abundance looks and feels and tastes like. Here’s to leaving room to breathe and to write the dark stuff I sought to avoid for so long. Here’s to the joy and the grief and the darkest corners I tucked my journals into. Here’s to recognizing it isn’t a wasteland just because I labeled it one for so long. Here’s to seeing the new things growing.