Another birthday has come and gone. Seems like that happens more and more frequently. It’s fitting, I think, that this particular birthday should come right at this particular juncture in my life. Right at the crossroads of my past and my future. Caught in the middle of who I am and who I will be. Straddling the fence that separates the familiar from the unknown. I’ve put in my time and paid my dues, yet somehow there is still a shadow of guilt and a specter of anxiety lurking in the dark corners of my mind. But there are other emotions crowding and pushing to the front of my mind so that I hardly notice the phantom twins.
I am both excited and slightly petrified when I consider the future. But isn’t that how all the best experiences make us feel? Anything worth doing is going to call out a strong emotional response. Whenever I am doing or contemplating doing something important, I get both butterflies and a nauseated feeling. And that’s how this crossroads is making me feel. I’m learning that that’s how life goes. Change is inevitable, as are the emotions that accompany it. The only thing we control is which emotions are dominant. I’ve pushed the negative ones to the back and allowed the positives to take center stage, but it could very easily have gone the other way. Of course, since this change is of my own making, it was easier than it could have been. Some days, it’s still a struggle.
It’s the waiting that’s starting to get under my skin now. I’ve never been very good at waiting for anything and this seems particularly hard. Probably because it is such a big deal. My current stress levels are considerably higher than they probably should be. As it happens, there are a couple other big things happening in my life right now and it looks like they are all on a collision trajectory. My whole life is going to explode with big things happening in the very near future – probably all in the same week. And for now, all I can do is watch. And try not to get too stressed out. So far, I am keeping things in control. I pray I can manage that for just a few more weeks.
Last week I talked about finally admitting to my true calling. Today I’d like to talk about the process that got me to that point. It was a long, slow, at times painful process and I didn’t understand what was happening. In hindsight, I can now see how everything that happened has led me to this point in my life. And I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.
The seed of my passion for writing was planted before I could even read. I learned to love books from an early age due to my Mama reading great books to me – both picture books and otherwise. Playing pretend as a kid caused that seed to germinate. It blossomed when I read my first “real” book. As in, a book with chapters and no pictures. I even remember what that book was – a biography of Helen Keller. Her story, and the way Mama was proud of seven-year-old me, sparked a fire inside that has never gone out. The gift of my first journal for my 8th birthday sealed the deal.
The path of my true calling took a dark, but necessary, turn during my early teen years. I was never the typical overtly rebellious teenager. Instead I poured the frustration and angst of those years into words on paper. I still turn to writing when I am frustrated or upset. As I came out of that phase, my writing became something more. Lighter and more optimistic, but also more real and honest. I had found my voice. I also began to delve more into writing fiction. Looking back, some of those early efforts were cringe-worthy, but I am slowly improving. I still have not created a story that is fit to publish yet. Someday perhaps.
In the meantime, writing is both my lifeline and my outlet. It is the one thing I turn to in every situation. When I’m sad or joyful, depressed or content, angry or excited, when I feel broken inside and when I am ready to take on the world. Writing is always there for me and it is always my first reaction. That is how I know that it is my true calling. And that is how I know that I will never stop writing.
Some people seem to have it all figured out. From a young age, they know exactly who and what they are going to be and by golly that’s what they do. I am jealous of those people. By the time I graduated high school, I had emphatically decided on a career 20 different times, no two choices alike. When I was five, I wanted to be a firefighter. Then a police officer. At six I was gonna run an orphanage when I grew up. Seven-year-old me was a future politician. And so on. Lawyer, bodyguard, journalist, truck driver, cowgirl made more than one appearance, restaurateur, a secret agent phase of course, DJ – and the list goes on. I never could settle on just one.
I think there are two reasons for that. The first is equal parts personality and upbringing. My dad made no fewer than 8 career changes just in my memory span. I always thought that was normal, but I guess most people stick with the same one forever. I honestly don’t know if I could do that. There is something to be said for security, I suppose. But is security worth sacrificing adventure? Should I trade an unpredictable life of freedom for safe drudgery? Yes, I know I’m oversimplifying. But do I really wanna tie myself down – even to something I love – and potentially miss the next great opportunity? I want to grab life by the tail and see where it takes me.
The other reason for my inability to pick a single career is denial. All those years and all those varied careers I said I wanted, I never once admitted what I really wanted. Even to myself. Other than as a pipe dream. An “if-a-genie-gave-me-three-wishes” kinda dream. I have finally admitted to myself and to others what I truly want to be more than anything else in the world. I want to be a writer. Actually, I am a writer – I want to be a successful, published author. I believe that writing is my true calling. Some even say I’m good at it. Whether my work will be a success or not remains to be seen. Whether I can make a living off it also remains to be seen. But whether I make millions as a writer or a few bucks or nothing at all; whether I find a successful second career or work a string of jobs or quit working altogether; whatever else I may do, wherever my life may take me, one thing I know for absolute certain. I will never stop writing.
Some call it a “bucket list”, some make a “dream board”, and some set “personal goals.” Whatever you want to call it, the practice of articulating what you want to see, get, and do in your life is a good habit to have. Having a bucket list helps me think about the future instead of getting completely caught up in the present. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for living in the moment. We have to enjoy the here and now because it’s all we’ve got. But we still need to find a little time to daydream about and plan for the future. If we don’t figure out where we want to be or what we want to do down the road, how will we know which road to take?
My bucket list is so random; it almost seems like more than one person made it. Places I want to go, things I want to do, stuff I want to own – it’s got everything on it. From holding political office to living on a houseboat. There’s the obvious ones, like successfully publish at least one book, build my dream house, and own at least 10,000 books. The castle-in-the-sky-pretty-much-impossible-type daydreams like owning my own island and a yacht to go with it. And no bucket list is complete without a few travel goals: visit all 50 states, a motorcycle trip through South America, an African safari honeymoon. And the list goes on.
Some of it will never happen; hopefully more will work out than not. Even if I only accomplish a few things on my list, I will have done more than if I just drift along letting life happen to me. I don’t want to be a spectator to my own life – I want to grab hold of my life and mold it into what I want it to be. And what I want it to be is an unconventional adventure. My bucket list is the first step in that direction. Of course it’s completely useless unless you actually use it, so that’s my next step. Have bucket list, will travel.
Sometimes it feels like life don’t fight fair. But when life knocks me down, I have to pick myself up and remember one thing: life’s not a fight, it’s a journey. And while there may be a few fights and struggles along the way, that’s not the point. The point is how we react and grow and develop. And that’s the hard part. It would be so much easier to shake my fist at Heaven and scream out “Why?!?!?!” Or to roll up in a ball in the corner and cry. But you know what? Life goes on, regardless of what I’m going through.
Not quite a week ago, my Mama went home to be with Jesus. We are all devastated of course. She was far too young to be taken from us so soon. I’m still a bit shell-shocked. I’m especially concerned for Daddy and for my baby sister. It’s really, really rough. Even though we knew it would come eventually and even though she had been sick for a while, her death has hit us all really hard. Continuing with the mundane things of everyday life is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted. But it’s what she would want, so that’s what I’m gonna do.
I have no regrets for the past. I was blessed to have the world’s most wonderful mama. And I really did have a beautiful relationship with her, especially the past few years. I have many, many sweet memories to cherish. The only regrets I have are for the future. That I will never kiss her good night again. That she won’t attend my wedding or hold my children. That she won’t be there to give me parenting advice or say, “See, I told you that you would understand once you had kids of your own.” That I will never again be able to say, “Let’s go to Mama’s house.” I regret the many more years we should have had together. And yet, it’s not all sorrow. It is tempered with the peace of knowing that she’s in Heaven, but her spirit is also still here with us. And in a way, she will always be with me.
Last week, I wrote about my dreams being put on hold. I learned something about myself through writing that article. Those old dreams have been on the shelf collecting dust for so long, I had almost forgotten what they were and how much they once meant to me. For me, it has always been easier to push hard or painful things so far back in the closet of my mind that I can almost forget about them. In order to write about those old dreams, I had to pull them down, clean the dust and cobwebs away, and take a good hard look. They and I had to become reacquainted, as it were. And in that process, I realized something.
The girl that put those dreams on the shelf so many years ago is gone. She has vanished, leaving only her memories to remind me of her. I stand here today as a totally different person. I’d like to think a better person than I was then, but certainly a completely changed person. Putting myself back in her shoes and seeing the world through her eyes was not an easy thing to do. For a brief span of time, all her deepest fears and insecurities and longings and dreams became mine again. And I realized that I am glad that I am no longer that girl.
I also realized that as I have changed, so too have my dreams. They have grown and matured right along with me. This period of waiting has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not only has it made me a better woman, it has also given me better and more beautiful dreams. So I will not be putting all those old dreams back on the shelf – they are dead and need to be buried. It is time for new dreams, new plans, new purpose. And I can’t wait to see what the future holds.