A very specific memory has been running through my mind recently. It was a conversation I had in high school, somewhere near sixteen. The whole thing is a little frayed, but the edges start to crystallize around a certain point when the age of twenty-three came up in a conversation about the future.
I raised my eyebrows and laughed uproariously.
“I’m never going to be twenty-three!” I howled.
The thought was absurd. Though it was only a seven-year stretch from where I sat, it seemed like an unimaginable eternity, impossible to cross.
Somewhere in the same time frame, I made a detailed plan for my life. I was sixteen for crying out loud; it was about time I sorted that out.
I would study creative writing for four years at a great university, graduate, and move into an apartment in a town square somewhere—preferably a spot above a local bookstore—and sit at a desk by a window as sunlight peers through the maple leaves hoping for a glimpse of the novel beneath my pen.
My dreams shifted at different ages. Plans for the future looked different at nineteen and had been altered again by the time I arrived at twenty-one. Somewhere along the way, I had surrendered to the idea that I would turn twenty-three, but even in my grandest dreams, all ambitions halted there.
I’ve been thinking about these wispy memories lately. They play through my mind, and again I laugh.
I smile at my sixteen-year-old self, and look teasingly at her dreams all laid out neatly and in perfect order. I smirk a little at her unquenchable belief that her wildest ambitions were as good as it could possibly get.
Silly girl. You weren’t even close.
Every dream I had then seems so small and puny when I think of what the Lord has done. At every turn, at every change, I’ve stamped my foot and pouted, begging for my ideal to be returned. But I kept following, and around every corner, I have been blinded by the sheer enormity and extravagance of what He had planned for me instead.
Today is my first day of twenty-four, an age I never envisioned or laughed at. It’s the first day on the other side of my sixteen-year-old dreams.
It is also the first birthday in fourteen years that did not dawn beneath Alabama sunshine. It is the first birthday in twenty-four years that did not start at home with my family. Suddenly, growing up doesn’t seem so absurd.
There have been moments recently when I’ve wanted to go back and kick that silly sixteen-year-old me for not planning further out.
But there have been other moments when I’ve had some things to say to her. Things that I imagine my future self will want to tell me, too.
Your most extravagantly imagined plans aren’t even close to the adventure unfolding.
The shadows are not as dark as you think they are.
Just because you feel alone, does not mean you are alone. You aren’t.
The Lord hears every prayer, even the ones you’re too afraid to write, speak, or think. He knows. He isn’t ignoring you. He hasn’t forgotten you. He sees and He understands.
Don’t be so afraid. Don’t step so timidly.
Be brave. Be bold.
Pay attention. Observe. See. There are stories happening in lightning speed around you. Let them wash over you, sink into you, pour out of your fingertips.
Stop collapsing in the face of a really terrible first draft. If you can’t fight through, you’ll never make it to a relatively okay second draft or a moderately decent third draft.
Life is a process; stop trying to skip steps.
Don’t spend all your time and energy looking for ways to tiptoe around failure. Face it as an inevitable foe.
And when you fail, know when the battle begins. The war won’t start while you’re failing. It’ll happen on your knees, when you’re afraid to stand back up. It’ll happen when you no longer trust the legs beneath you to hold you up. It’ll happen when you drop your head in defeat. Come prepared for this moment. Bring your sword, lift your chin, and face the lies of defeat with courage and purpose. Don’t waste the fight. Try again.
Perfection is a ruthless prison guard who delights in failed inspections. Don’t believe her when she tells you how great everyone else is doing. When she says you’re the only one who doesn’t measure up–you’re the only one feeling lost. She’s baiting you. Don’t let her hold you captive.
When you’re right and you wish you weren’t, don’t allow your validated instinct to sow seeds of cynicism. Instincts were meant to protect, but if you let them, they’ll turn you to stone.
Relish the moments when you feel the smallest. You’re too prone to view yourself as the center of every lens. In the rare moments when you glimpse a vision of a world bigger than you, breathe it in. Feel very small and very relieved that you are not the center of any universe.
Take those leaps of faith, even when you think you can’t. Even when you tremble at the thought. Even when you can’t see past where your foot will land, step forward anyway.
Be brave, and step forward anyway.