Lost & Found

Sometimes you have to lose something to really understand just how valuable it is. It’s so easy to take things for granted, so easy to complain and grow dissatisfied with what we have. And then, when it’s taken away, we realize just how much we actually had to be thankful for.

Twice recently I’ve had something that was very important to me taken away. One of those things was later restored but not before I learned through heartache and tears to be thankful for what I had in the first place. The other thing has not been restored and I don’t know if it ever will be. What I do know is that losing these things taught me more than having them ever could.

Heartache is a terrible and brilliant teacher. I have learned much from the good things in my life, much more from the hard things. Perhaps it’s the desire to never go through such things again that moves us and makes us grow and change amid trouble.

In those moments when the things I loved and wanted were lost (and I’m not talking about material things, by the way) all I wanted was for life to go back to the way it was before that moment. I saw how good I had it, how much I had to be thankful for, and would have given anything to put it all back together as it was.

But even though I can’t change the way things are, I can learn and grow from the trouble—and really, it would be a waste not to.

This loss has humbled me; it has made me more thankful for what I had and what I still have. I hope these lessons stick. I hope I don’t have to learn the same hard lesson the same hard way.

I have much to be thankful for, a big beautiful life to live. God, help me never to forget.

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you
learn.” C.S. Lewis

Stuff I Know About Life

When you’re a teenager, you know everything about life. Then you get a little older and start to think maybe you don’t know anything about life. Then you get a little older still and learn a few lessons the hard way and start to realize you do very much know a few things about life—not everything like when you were younger, but some things for certain.

Here’s what I know:

I know it takes a lot of time and work to build trust and just a moment to destroy it. Respect the position people give you in their heart and life and think before you do something stupid that could destroy everything you’ve built. It takes years to get to know someone and really learn how to love them. It takes seconds to throw everything away. Little things have the power to break down big things.

I know my perspective is not the only, nor necessarily, the right perspective.  The world is huge and diverse. People are influenced by vastly different lifestyles and circumstances. It’s not fair to believe my particular lifestyle or circumstances give me the knowledge and authority to assume I’m right about everything and everyone. Yes, I hold to my beliefs and live according to what I believe is right. But in that I try to remember that I’m still learning and growing and so is everyone else. Besides, if we were all the same, the world would be profoundly boring.

I know compromise is not a bad word. Compromise is simply a gracious way of getting what you want and helping others get what they want too. Demanding that everything be done your way every time doesn’t make you powerful or put you in control, it makes you a jerk who will soon be doing everything your way…alone. If you want to be in any kind of successful relationship (work, marriage, friendship, family) then you will have to learn to give some and take some. Sometimes it’s right to speak up and have things your way when it really matters; sometimes it’s best to shut up and get Chinese instead of Mexican for dinner because people matter more than your particular preferences.

I know loving someone fully and truly is worth the heartache and risk. You can’t get close to someone and put your heart on the line without the near certainty of getting hurt somewhere along the way. But being close to someone and building a trusting, loving relationship is worth the bumps and scrapes. People aren’t perfect; they will hurt you. But people are also exactly what life is about and they are worth loving with abandon.

I know I have to take risks to accomplish my dreams and goals. Life is a series of stepping-stones. Moving from the safe and familiar into the unknown and uncertain is scary. But you cannot move forward or accomplish your goals by standing still in the same safe place. Life requires risk and fear and the occasional failure; that is how we grow. I have learned more from the stuff I screwed up than from anything I did right. So embrace the possibility of messing up and use your mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow. Push through the fear and do it scared.

I know life does not come to those who wait, it belongs to those who take it. If you are standing around waiting for instructions or inspiration, I’ve got some bad news for you. Life happens in the moving and the making and the people who are doing what they want are just that—doing. So figure out what it is you want to do and get busy. Don’t be afraid to try, to stop and start again, to make mistakes along the way. Fear only the time wasted not doing whatever it is you are here to do.

I know money and things can make me happy but they cannot satisfy me. People sometimes say that money can’t make you happy; I disagree. I think money can make you very happy. Money can give you freedom, choices, and opportunity. Money can buy you whatever it is you want. But here’s the thing, there’s a difference between the happiness that comes from having stuff and the peace and satisfaction that have nothing to do with material things. Don’t mistake the two. Peace and satisfaction are soulful and immaterial; they are a choice and a mindset, not a particular house or cell phone.

I know to be a little bit cautious and cynical towards the media and anybody trying to sell me something. This is not to say you go around assuming the worst about everyone and everything. But I think it’s only smart and reasonable to take caution when anyone is trying to persuade you or gain something from you. The media is trying to sell you something—a lifestyle, a worldview, a product— so don’t mindlessly believe everything they say. Think for yourself about your values and beliefs and make choices based on that, not marketing.

I know for everything I want, there is something else I can’t have. The idea that anyone can have it all is unrealistic. No one has enough time or energy for everything. So you must learn to prioritize and choose. You must put down this to pick up that or you will burn out and lose out on everything in your life. It is important to discern what matters most to you and to let go of the things that distract from your priorities.

I know saying less is saying more. The world is very loud these days and there are ever-increasing ways to share your thoughts and opinions with everyone the world over. But here’s the thing, no one wants to know what you think about everything all the time. If you speak less, people will listen more when you do speak up about the things that matter most to you.

I know the people I surround myself with will deeply influence me. The people we spend time with and listen to will have a deep impact on what we value and who we become. This isn’t a bad thing unless you surround yourself with people who are toxic. The right people can fill your life with truth, inspiration, and hope. The wrong people can slowly turn you into someone you don’t like. You are not above the influence of those around you. It is also important to know that you are influencing the people in your life too. Are you helping them or hurting them?

I know I don’t know everything and what I think I know might change :] I don’t ever want to stop learning and growing and sometimes that will mean letting go of things I thought I knew…and that’s okay.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” -Rumi

How Reading Taught Me to Write

I had a lot of trouble learning how to read when I was a kid. I don’t remember how old I was when I finally put the words together, I just remember being the very last kid who could make her way through the jungle of words in a book. None of it made sense to me. I couldn’t grasp how the letters and sounds were supposed to come together and actually mean something. I thought I was stupid and really believed there was something wrong with me. I believed I would never be smart like other people. I hated reading. I hated books. I hated words. I couldn’t spell. I couldn’t even pronounce words correctly. I avoided books and reading because they reminded me of how stupid I thought I was and brought to my attention everything I wasn’t good at.

I was a physical kid—always outside climbing trees and building forts with my brothers. I didn’t want to sit still and learn anything. I believed I couldn’t learn and that I wasn’t smart enough to understand like other people.

But then when I was 11 I picked up a book called The Penny Whistle by B. J. Hoff and something changed inside of me. I have no idea why I picked that book up or cracked it open because it wasn’t something I normally did. I remember loving the illustrations in the book—crisp, detailed pencil drawings that looked like you could touch the page and get graphite on your fingers; perhaps that’s what drew me in. Regardless, it was the words that kept me. Finally, for the first time in my life, words made sense; they ran off the page like water and I drank them up—consumed them one by one to the very last page.

I pulled The Penny Whistle off my bookshelf today—it’s tattered with a piece of tape on the cover. My name is written in black marker on the inside cover with the date July 18, 1997. I flipped through the pages and found the grubby fingerprints off an 11-year-old throughout. The book falls open to my favorite illustration of a tree standing stark against a winter backdrop.

When I held that book today I actually had to stop and take a deep breath to fight back tears. Why? Because that simple little book changed my life. I don’t even remember what the book is really about; the story is lost but the change it brought inside of me remains. When I poured over that book as an 11-year-old girl, I found something inside of myself. I found words. I found ability and intelligence. I found stories. I came alive and knew I had value, capability, and something to share. I went from hating books to loving them—loving the stories held inside two covers. I fell in love with words and began to see them as colors on a palette and the blank page as my canvas. There, reading that book, I fell in love with writing.

When I was a teenager, I remember being sick and bored one day so I cracked open Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. The name Daddy-Long-Legs amused me and, for no other reason, I started reading. I read the whole book that day without ever putting it down. I’m not an avid reader even now so it means something when I can’t part with a story until it’s finished. I gobbled up each book by Webster and learned one important thing from her stories—the writer’s voice. I don’t know how to describe Jean Webster—her imagination, her childishness, her sharp sense of humor—she wrote like she was having a witty conversation with each of her readers. I fell in love with her style and find now that my own voice in writing grew out of the whimsy I so love in her books.

Even though I struggled through school and language has always been a challenge for me, I have found that reading is the best lesson I ever learned in writing. In reading, I actually see the way language is laid out on a page in sentences and paragraphs. Instead of just hearing about and practicing the proper construction of individual sentences and parts of speech, I can actually visualize and grasp sentence structure as I read. The more I read, the more I learn about writing. The more I write, the more I want to read and learn more and more from the words and characters acting out the world of grammar on the page. I may never be a very good student. I may never be able to fully understand the complexities of the English language. But I do know the more I read the words of good writers, the better writer I too can be.

“The problem was too big for the lot of them. But her mother always maintained that you had to start where you were or you’d never get anywhere at all” (p. 37, The Penny Whistle).