In January of this year I selected one word to ruminate and write on. This was in the tradition of one word New Year’s resolutions, #oneword365. This time, though, it wasn’t so much that I selected my word, as that it came for me. I said it one day, by accident, and it made my adrenaline surge. It made my heart get squishy.
It was a word that had come for me before, both in my own life and my mother’s life. An unkind word, and yet a word that makes me who I am. It was the word that drove me to graduate from high school at age 15, and to race headlong through the years of short nights and fierce competition that gave me a freelance theatre career in my late twenties. After all that I had run from this word. I had rejected it, feeling that it had betrayed me. Now here it was, knocking at my door again.
At the time I had a book in my pocket, which I knew was good, but also knew would require confidence to sell. I had all sorts of words in my pockets, which might fly, even in fragile packaging, who knows how far? And, deeper than the words, I had the source of the words. Fierce and dense and authentic. I had something powerful moving in my life. I felt the pull and push of that, the pull of some deep terrifying joy matched blow for blow by a kind of inarticulate revulsion.
Into the breach, my heart.
The very next thing that happened was everything wrong. Just a few weeks after the turning of the calendar year I stepped into a blackberry thicket of personal setbacks. In every arena, from friendship loss to homesteading failures to financial difficulty, I just took it in the chin.
My computer broke. My car broke down, three times. My bees were dead. Some of you remember the night I had to open my accidentally locked yurt with a crochet hook, while my three children were throwing up sick in a borrowed car. I’ll spare you the details, but whole months of this year were like that. Just stupidly difficult. I forgot all about being called to anything in particular. I forgot about something powerful moving in my life. If I felt called at all, it was often to the head-down tangles of a day-to-day existence.
A new friend asked me the other day if I believe in spiritual warfare. I do. This is how it manifests itself in my life. It is the way I am tangled, and enmeshed, such that I can forget that something powerful is moving in my life. It is the way I come to think that my personal failures and setbacks somehow equal the failure of the source. It is the way that an authentic ambition – a faithful desire to grow as tall a tree as God has planted – slides quite so easily into something that also goes by the name of greed.
By a trick as much internal as external, measures of success are transformed into measures of failure. A gold ring becomes half of two gold rings. There is not enough. The spoon is empty. This is the most I know of darkness. It leads the way to a hundred kinds of wrong.
And I have seen it before, up close. I put my head down.
Mid-stream, the year of ambition became another year of authenticity. Another year of searching for the place where God meets me, internal…that place where infinity trickles through this imperfect instrument. It became another year of trying to tell the whole truth of what I believe, without pulling my punches. It became another year of doubling down on the homestead, reconnecting values with actions and getting back to what we believe is right. It became a year of accepting that failures are a natural part of this long road, but counterculture is still possible.
Meanwhile…my words march on, if still in fragile packaging. This IS the year in which I signed with a powerful Christian literary agency, and became a regular contributor at two online magazines. It IS the year in which I became connected in inspiring ways to a number of more experienced writers and journalists. It is the year that I close with renewed confidence that my first book will make the leap. I believe more than ever that it has what it takes to be presented by a publisher to the Christian market…although, please, squeals and encouragements are still premature.
But I am feeling grateful. I am ending this year full of gratitude, both for the ambition that doubles for bravery and for the dark patches that temper it.
If anything, each year passing is making me more sensitive, not less. Each year makes me a bit more vulnerable to feelings of gain and loss, joy and failure. But it also gives me this gathering weight of years…heaping up on my shoulders like a blanket. It gives me the sure knowledge that although I go through the thicket, again and again, also each time I come out the other side. And when I emerge, it is with clearer sight, each time more able to tell the difference between what is infinite and true and what is passing.
The thicket will pass. The tangles are temporary. The day-to-day desperation is real but also not real. More real is the trickle of infinity that makes its home here, even in the midst of throwing up sick kids and broken cars and failures. The spoon is full.