I used to look up at the stars and feel like I mattered.
Because even in possession of all this vast beauty, God still made me. I existed, and that had to mean something.
I’m not sure how or when this feeling began to fade. I don’t know if it was merely childhood resilience that kept me coming back to this truth over and over when I was young, despite my insecurities. But these days, I find it more difficult than ever to hold this sense of wonder and assurance.
This sense that every epic story I witness or read or hear about is calling me to something greater. That I can maybe, someday, find myself in one of these mystical tales. That I can walk among the stars, because I belong to their Maker. That I can scale mountains and defeat monsters because the light I carry is brighter.
That I am the unlikely hero. More than I seem. Braver. Stronger. More beautiful.
Why can’t I be the hobbit that saves Middle Earth from imminent doom?
I turned thirty recently, and I felt like it was going to be a significant birthday, that God wanted to bring me into something new with Him. A new way of walking with Him, a new way of listening, a new way of living. The past few years for me have been a journey of re-learning who Jesus the man is, of how he relates with me and cares for me. Of what it means to surrender and trust him to calm all my storms. To let go of control and let him love my heart into freedom.
But as I approached my thirtieth birthday, Jesus ever so gently took my hand and whispered to my heart that it was time to get to know his Father again. God as Father. See, God is all about family. You can’t have the Son without the Father, and you can’t have either without the Holy Spirit, the helper. As God has gifted me these past several months with the spiritual family that I’ve longed for, I have realized how difficult it is for me to receive good things. To receive love. To receive the truth that God is actually answering my prayers and fulfilling my longing for community.
See, in so many ways I have been living as if I have something to lose.
I fear loss. I am afraid that if I receive love from others, it will be taken away at some point. I am afraid that if I put myself out there, if I share my dreams and my thoughts, that I’ll be met with rejection or I’ll be ignored, and that it will kill a piece of my heart. I am afraid that if I write my stories and they never reach people, I will have lost. I’m afraid that I’ve wasted time or I’ve taken the wrong route. I am afraid that someone’s reaction to me could somehow make me less.
So as I turned thirty, Jesus met me and revealed to me that his Father wants to walk with me. He reminded me that he himself was thirty when he officially began his ministry. And he reminded me that his ministry didn’t begin until he received the approval of his Father.
I thought about the story of Jesus’ baptism, how the dove came and his Father’s voice boomed from the heavens:
“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!”
And I realized, He says the same to me. Before I ever do anything, before I become a hero to anyone, before I write a book or go to work or try to love people. He says, “No, the stars weren’t enough. I wanted you.” Someone to do life with. Someone to love and coach and dream with.
Someone to share the stars with.
I think along my journey, especially through adulthood, I’ve been stopped by potholes that tell me I need to apologize for my presence. Like, anytime anyone says or does anything that might imply they think I’ve got the wrong idea, my view of myself gets a little smaller. Until I’m stuck with a general feeling of being wrong.
And I realize now that this false belief has hindered me from approaching life with confidence. Because I haven’t truly received the Father’s approval.
But in this new decade, the sense I have is that He wants me not only to receive His approval, over and over again, but to become like a child again. I love how the Kingdom of God is counterintuitive. The older I get, the more He emphasizes my need for childlikeness and wonder.
And I would have it no other way.
All of this leads me to my time at the Realm Makers writers’ conference that I recently returned from. I don’t know what it is about these weekends, but they always leave a lasting imprint on me, whether or not I expected it. Maybe it’s just being in the presence of so many other wild dreamers who still bumble about at times in their insecurities, like me. Maybe it’s just that my creative identity needs a breath of life. But God always shows up and surprises my heart with an embrace I didn’t even know I needed.
When I came into Allen Arnold’s class called “When Chaos and Creativity Collide,” I didn’t know how reassuring it would be. I didn’t know what Mary Weber, our keynote, would speak about, of how much her words would resonate in my spirit. I didn’t know that Tosca Lee would have us answer soul-searching questions about ourselves during her lesson about characters. But this past weekend, I was reminded of some very important truths:
Success doesn’t look like getting ahead or producing as much as possible. It looks like walking with my Father, doing what He says is best even if it’s not on my to-do list or it doesn’t happen within my timing.
My calling is primarily to be loved and to love people. I can do this in many ways, and it is not at all limited to my ability to get my art and my stories out into the world.
As a child of God, I have the freedom to live and create as if I have nothing to lose.
Whew. I can breathe again. Because truly, I do not have anything to lose. My life has not exactly turned out as I once imagined or thought it should. But that doesn’t meant God isn’t in every bit of it. Every child I’ve cared for as a nanny, every question and risk, every friendship that’s lasted or hasn’t, every move across the country or across town, everything that’s made sense and everything that hasn’t. He is in it.
It all matters. I haven’t evaded my calling. I’m smack dab in the middle of it. No, I do not have a novel published yet. I thought I would have by now. But my Father stands outside of time, and He has a plan. The best plan.
I never thought I would be a nanny for so many years. At one point, I thought: this is just an interim job while I try to get my writing career going. But it has become more than that. I never expected my heart to break a little bit when having to leave a child behind to transition to a new family. I never thought my heart could swell with so much love for little people that aren’t even mine. But it has. And I didn’t think I could do it over and over again, not after feeling like I’ve failed to love them as I ought to.
But these little ones have changed me. Loving them, teaching them and learning from them has become a part of my calling, an important path in my journey. And they will all show up in my stories in some way, but more about that later. 😉
My job as a nanny is just one example of how success in my life can look different than what I think it should. But more than anything, it all boils down to living my life through my Father’s approval.
Allen Arnold showed us a few different movie clips in his class, to demonstrate what it looks like to live and create with our Father. One of my favorites is a scene from August Rush, where the boy who is trying to find his parents encounters his birth father without even knowing it. His father trades guitars with him and together they play. The boy doesn’t know his musical abilities came from his father, though he has a sense about it. But the father knows. And the father gives his son the best instrument and delights in creating this melody with him.
Sometimes I am not aware that my Father is there, creating with me, playing with me, working with me. Approving me despite my haphazard appearance or subpar abilities. I don’t always know that He’s mine, and that I belong to Him. That my dreams are actually leading me closer to Him, because He is in those dreams. I don’t have to be very far along. I don’t have to be famous or on stage. My success is buried in His approval.
Right after the conference, I watched the movie A Quiet Place. Little did I know what a perfect end to the weekend it would be.
I am undone as I replay the scene in my mind. The father, wounded, watching his children in danger. Thinking of nothing but their safety and his love for them. His love runs deep enough that he would do anything. And he does. But not only does he sacrifice his own life, take the pain that is due to them upon himself. But he makes sure his daughter knows he loves her first. With a few simple signs, the father’s entire heart is revealed.
I love you. I have always loved you.
In this moment, the daugher’s heart is flung wide open. She didn’t realize that he could love her when it was her fault her little brother died. When she thinks her deafness puts their whole family at risk.
But he proved, in that last moment when he died in her stead, that she was the world to him.
That scene, for me, said it all.