Getting Over the Wall

Looking at my present through the lens of my past I find myself wishing I had struggled more. That may seem an odd wish to make, but with life and perspective oddities sometimes become a sort of wisdom.

Life for me was fairly easy. I don’t recall having to work too hard at anything. Natural talent can go a long way.

But…

I found the limit to natural talent. I first faced the wall in college, and I was wholly unprepared. Time and time again I looked for ways around the wall trusting my abilities would get me there, and time and time again I was disappointed with the outcome. Unaccustomed to a real fight, I would back away, regroup and try to find another way around without growing or developing. It became a punishing cycle that ultimately defeated me. Well, not entirely defeated, or I wouldn’t still be here clinging to hope that dreams can come true. Thankfully, I never let go of that hope. Then again, maybe it never let go of me.

Either way, I’m saying these things now because I see the value of having to face a real fight early on. We need to face a challenge that requires persistent determination without immediate results. I think this has become even more important in today’s world where desire is met instantaneously. For some, this means being pushed in something they love. Pushed to exceed the point where natural talent can take them. Pushed to the point of struggle. For others, it means being held to a decision past the point of comfort. Being forced to finish what has been started. Being forced to struggle through and climb over the wall where there’s no easy way around it.

Walls, in the end, are gifts. I see this now. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think these walls are easier to face earlier in life. Knowing that, I hope I can help challenge others in a way that will better prepare them for the future. As for me, I can do nothing about the past. All I can do is learn late and fight my way over or through. Wishes won’t get me over the wall. Deception won’t get me past the wall. Only effort, determination and persistence will make me into the person who can scale the wall and see the other side.

Love and the Gerbil Wheel

“In terms of writing practice, what kind of gerbil are you?”

This question has been prominent in my thoughts since the day I read it nearly two weeks ago. It didn’t take me long to respond to that question by purchasing the book it came from – The Write Brain Workbook. For me, that choice was a step forward because writing for me has always been a “running around and around on the wheel” kind of thing. I see the stories taking shape and I enjoy them. So I begin writing them down, and when they don’t measure up I take a break. I stop. That’s my wheel, and unfortunately it extends beyond just writing. It’s like a house of horror stuck on repeat, driven by fear, and with no end in sight.

But I want off.

It scares me to know that this wheel has become comfortable enough that it feels safer here than out there in the unknown. As much as I hate it, it feels safe. I don’t think I ever realized how important that sense of safety is, but it’s been a recurring part of the answer God has been showing me since yesterday. The promise of a path forward.

The first part of that answer is best expressed in a quote shared by my friend Coenraad this morning. It comes from Warsan Shire who says, “No one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying – leave, run away from me now. I don’t know what I’ve become, but I know that anywhere is safer than here.” Sometimes we need a voice to express the growing dread we are trying desperately to ignore. A dread we’re aware of, but unwilling to acknowledge. Maybe it takes another voice to help us see that “anywhere is safer than here”.

But fear is fear, and as irrational as it may be to fear. Fear is real nevertheless. How do I face it and win? It is to this question that the second part of the answer addresses. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18)

I can’t say I fully understand the concept of perfect love, but I remember a time when I knew a greater boldness than at any other time in recent memory. I had the love of a person who I cared very deeply for and trusted explicitly. I knew that, no matter what happened, I was safe with her. And she loved my stories. And I loved to write them for her. At that time, I was free in a way I don’t recall being true of me at any other time save as a young child. I felt her love, and with it I felt like I could face anything. For that, I will always be thankful. But, as sometimes happens, that relationship ended and once again I’ve been facing life without that sense of safety brought on by tangible, real, wrap yourself up in it on a cold day love.

But as I recall that those words on perfect love are scripture, I realize that they are meant to speak of someone far greater than another person. Someone who’s love is unchanging and unending. Someone who loves me more deeply than I can fathom. I wish I could understand it more clearly, but its hard to to feel it without the warmth of a voice filled with joy and laughter or shared sorrow. It’s hard to feel that love without the physical touch of a caring hand or warm hug. There is a gap that written words cannot fill. One that intellectual knowledge cannot bridge. Knowing and knowing are two separate things, and though I know of His love I want to know His love. It leaves me with the mystery of faith.

As I read the testimony of others, I see that the only way to know His love is to live like it’s true. Somehow, the light of His love will come through. As I see it, chasing dreams is one of the paths to seeking His embrace. Something tells me He’s out there waiting for me to find him in the words that live in my dreams, telling me that its safer out there than in here.

I’ve tried before, and I’m not sure I’ll be any more successful this time, but something tells me that there’s safety to be found in coming to know the unknown. To know Him, it’s worth leaving the wheel.

The Gift of a Simple Day

Today was a simple day. Looking back on the past few hours, a kitten nuzzling at my hand for attention, I find I am filled with a deep sense of fulfillment. Not for any great accomplishment, but for the little things we sometimes take for granted.

  • The warmth of an animal – From the unconditional love of my dog to the insistent nuzzling of a kitten more interested in a scratch behind the ears than this post, their selfishness in wanting my whole attention is a pretty amazing gift. In a word, love.
  • The joy of time with friends – A trip to the store, a detour to deliver coffee, a video game, a shared meal… I am coming to believe there is little more valuable than time shared with people you care about.
  • The joy of work and a job well done – I’ve always loved physical work. There is something incredible about seeing the fruit of your labor. Today, I built a shelf. It’s far from perfect, but I’m proud of it.
  • Taking one more small step towards being who you want to be – Funny to think that cleaning and organizing may have been the biggest of those little steps today. Something very small, but filled with meaning and encouragement for tomorrow.

Nothing special, and yet every one of these things was very special. May God bless you with such simple gifts, the eyes to see them, and the heart to embrace them.

Cheers,

Kirk

Childlike

There are times we all benefit from revisiting old stories. My turn came Saturday as my niece decided we were going to watch Elf together. For some reason Buddy’s childlike behavior stood out more than ever before. He’s truly a child in a man’s body, and despite my adult irritation at some of his antics, I found myself becoming a student of his freedom. So, today, especially as an aspiring creator who needs a little more freedom, I’d like to share a few lessons I’m learning from Buddy the elf.

  • Be fearless! Sometimes we need to leave home, go someplace new and walk like we own the place. The unknown isn’t something worthy of our fear.
  • A little ignorance can be a good thing. Some of the best things happen because Buddy doesn’t know any better. I have found myself really thinking about Buddy’s seeming disregard of consequences. For example, his labor of love for Santa at Gimbel’s destroys a few hundred dollars worth of pillows to make snow. But, as I think about it, I realize it is not disregard for consequences. Like a couple little ones I know very well, he is simply ignorant of the consequences. He doesn’t understand yet, and as a result he makes something amazing!
  • Make mistakes, and learn from them. We might not like Buddy’s example of playing in traffic, but it shows us he learns from his mistakes. He survived his encounter with a New York cab, and he remembered it. “The yellow ones don’t stop.”
  • Give things a chance to be what they claim to be (or Don’t be too quick to judge). “World’s best coffee.” It might not be, but why not taste it to find out if it’s a “crappy cup of coffee” or not? If we assume it’s a lie, then we’ll never know. The same is true of people. I’d rather trust first and find out later that I was wrong to trust them, than distrust everyone and never get the chance to know them.
  • Love courageously. I am not going to bother to count the number of times Buddy says “I love you”. Over and over again he looks for ways to show he cares. He’s not embarrassed by his feelings, and that’s something incredible.
  • Accept the love of others. Sometimes love is easier to give than receive. Buddy shows us the power of receiving a caring word when we’re down. I know I’ve struggled to trust the voices of love in my life in the past, especially when I can’t see what they see in me. They encourage us when we’re not so sure who we are anymore, whether that be an aspiring author or a human elf.

So, I hope that we might become a little more like Buddy. Maybe we should be a bit more childlike ourselves. May we live courageously, fearing less, boldly experiencing all life has for us, and learning to love and be loved along the way.

Cheers,

Kirk

The Face of an Enemy

“Following the Darwinian theory of evolution… people began to look at themselves and the world around them in purely utilitarian terms. …So even man was measured by what he could achieve, produce, earn, contribute and so on. Not only that, all man’s attributes, talents and endeavors had to be justified in some utilitarian way.”

-Franky Shaeffer, Addicted to Mediocrity

I felt like I was reading my own experience and deep frustration as I read these words earlier today. In context, he’s speaking of the infiltration of secular cultural ideas into the church, and the impact of the theory of evolution and industrial utilitarianism on the arts and creativity. A statement I exempted from the excerpt above illustrated the idea from the perspective of the natural world. It reminded me of a study of economics I embarked on some years back. I was, at that time, stunned to discover that our present system of economics does not assign value to a thing, say trees, until they are harvested and produced into a saleable item such as lumber. Sadly, as he pointed out, human beings are viewed through the same lens at present. A lens that disregards anything we do unless it produces something of utility, a utility often measured in terms of its ability to generate money.

For most of my life I have lived in this tension, though it is only recently that I’m coming to understand the source of those feelings. It exists every time I consider my age. I turned 37 this year, and as far as the world is concerned I do not have, nor have ever had a career. It exists every time I indulge in pursuing my curiosities. I remember a time as a child, when I discovered paints in the cabinet. I took a small slab of sandstone from the backyard and painted crashing waves. I seem to remember doing things like that fairly often as a child. To do such a thing today leaves me with a sense of guilt, both for time “wasted” and the creation of something that has little to no monetary value. It exists in the hours upon hours of preparation and training necessary to reach the so called 10,000 hours for mastery of a skill. The old I get, the more I’ve felt that time to be stolen from something more important. As if my time for learning in that way should be past. Lastly, it exists every time I feel the pressure of my own meager living expenses. Sadly, indulgence of these things is considered to be the privilege of the rich who can afford such frivolities. And I find this is often true. While living paycheck to paycheck, suddenly the worlds advice to monetize everything seems the only way to both dream and create while making a living. Unfortunately, this pressure also drains me creatively, and often makes it hard to consistently produce high-value, well conceived work.

All of this can be overwhelming, but at the very least discovering this has helped me see the face of an enemy. Sadly, I am trapped in his world. A world that has forgotten the value of dreamers and poets, but it is also a world still filled with beauty. A world filled with lavish indulgence of creative play, obscene variety and frivolous diversity. A world created by an artist for His own pleasure. A world He gifted to us for our enjoyment. Maybe understanding that truth holds the keys to escaping the world of the enemy and rediscovering the world of the Creator. I certainly hope so.

So, let’s see where the road takes us, shall we?

-Kirk

Life Lessons from Little People

I need help. Those words make up a terrible yet wonderful phrase. I hate to say them. I hate acknowledging my own failures and inadequacies. I hate the vulnerability it requires of me. And yet, there are obstacles that would still be left unchallenged or unconquered if I had not uttered them. There are debts that would still remain outstanding if others had not come to my rescue. It is humbling.

My lesson started Tuesday night as I picked up my niece and nephew from Daycare. Their class had celebrated everyone’s birthday and they each had a bag of goodies. A bag they were very clearly told to leave alone until we arrived home. My niece, Danielle, had a little difficulty with this and was soon honking away on a party favor she’d found among her treats. I demanded she put the toy back in the bag, and as I expected, she fought me. However, after she finally obeyed she surprised me. She gave me the bag so she “wouldn’t be able to get into it.” She knew she wouldn’t obey so long as she held it. She recognized temptation, knew she wasn’t up to the challenge, and chose to ask for help by giving power over that temptation to someone else. Those actions lingered with me. Apparently God thought I needed another demonstration. This time at the hands of my nephew. In short, he did the exact same thing his sister had done. He handed over temptation, his magnets, when dinner had to be a priority. I was both proud and challenged at the same time. Their actions have left me thinking constantly about places I need to hand over my temptations and ask for help.

There’s a simple word for this kind of interdependence, but until a text I received today I had forgotten it. That word is accountability. When we can’t stand up to temptation, we enlist the help of others to hold us to our convictions. In essence, we call on them to partner with us so we can live the life we want to be living. We ask for help.

What does this look like for me now? I need accountability with my writing. I am slowly becoming aware of the enemies I face as a writer. Fear. Laziness. Distraction. They are daunting, but they are not all powerful. I just need a little help. The help of a few people I can hand my temptation to and say, “Hold onto this for a while. I can’t trust myself with it right now.” I long for these people, and I’m starting to understand why I long for them. Even if it means exposing my weakness. It is because I really do want that life that seems to be waiting just out of reach. The one where I am writing and publishing novels and children’s books. The one where I can afford to stretch a bit more and do more than just scrape by. You know the one. I have a feeling you have one just like it, and I hope you’re living it. But, if you’re not, maybe this life lesson is as good for you as it has been for me. Try saying those three little words with me.

“I need help.”

Cheers

-Kirk

Even if He doesn’t

Last week I received an update from a friend who is still chasing a dream to begin a charter school. She has worked incredibly hard over the past few years despite numerous setbacks and delays. Last I’d heard from her, one of the most difficult obstacles had finally been overcome. It was time. Everything was about to come together. Despite all our hopes however, it did not. So once again the page reads “one more year”. In the face of further delay, she has chosen to find work this year while continuing to lay the groundwork for the school to come.

Reading her letter, I found myself empathetic to her struggle but also encouraged by her determination and perseverance. She continues to hope for both the future and the present, and she is still chasing her dream. I wanted to thank her for that gift, so I replied. I hoped to encourage her as she encouraged me and offer prayer and hope for God to provide the exact type of position she sought. It was here that these four words crept into my mind, “even if He doesn’t”. I deleted them almost immediately. Those words startled me, but as I thought them through I began to understand their importance. There are simply no guarantees. We can trust that God will be with us. We can trust that He will meet our needs. Outside of that, we just don’t know. Even this school that she’s worked so hard to begin might not come to be. That thought is heartbreaking, but the possibility exists. And if that happens, what of all the effort? What of the blood, sweat and tears invested toward the dream? Does it have any value?

The answer is yes. It does.

I am reminded of the opening scene in Pixar’s UP. Two young adventurers find love and a common dream. A dream they spend their life chasing together. But time after time life gets in the way of their dream until time runs out and his wife passes away. She never reaches their destination. She never sees their dream realized. It’s heartbreaking, but as we watch their life unfold I don’t think any of us would say those years were without meaning or value. Sadly, in the face of things like that in my own life, that’s exactly what I’m sometimes tempted to believe. It’s as if the only value is found in reaching the destination.

Slowly the lesson is hitting home. Life is a journey, and life with God is a journey with God. Every day and every decision matters not because of where it takes us, but for all that is being created in us. We grow. We grow as individuals. We grow in our relationship with others. We grow in our relationship with God. All the while, our life bears testimony to all those around us looking in. Even if they don’t see us living our dream in the wilds of South America, they see our determination. They see our perseverance. They see our heartbreak, our struggles and our tears, but they also see our joy, our successes and our hope. And much as we watch the story of Carl Fredricksen and his wife in UP, they watch our story, and as they cry with us, rejoice with us, and hope with us, we all grow closer to one another and to God.

So where there are dreams I will trust that “even if He doesn’t…”, I will find blessing and hope in living and knowing Him. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t hope that He does!

Cheers,

-Kirk