Everything is going so slowly.
Writing, for example. Back in high school, it felt like my writing star was ascending in an unclouded sky. I moved up the ranks of my online newspaper in exemplary fashion. I participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote a couple full-length first drafts of novels. I entered contests and won a few. I started making my home in this corner of the blogosphere.
I was so sure, when I looked ahead, that the writing would keep growing and expanding like branches unfurling from a tree. I thought I’d be a teen who who published a book. I’d have articles and poetry published on websites and in magazines. And sure, I’d have lots of rejection slips too, but the point was I’d be pumping out writing and actively promoting it.
Well, that hasn’t happened.
I’m struggling to create rough drafts, to produce anything, much less polishing and editing and submitting pieces. I haven’t written another novel; in the past two years, I’ve completed maybe three short stories. What feels even more alarming is that my pot of ideas is no longer boiling. It’s on a low simmer. Which is a blessing in a way, because a billion ideas bouncing off the walls of my head that I physically can’t harness in words would be so frustrating.
But at the same time, it makes me wonder, am I even a writer anymore?
Am I an artist anymore? A dreamer?
For the first year after the pain in my arms started, I ached so badly to write. The idea cauldron was still busily bubbling. Then, the flame sank, and for the next year there was a deadness in me. I knew I could spend all my exorbitant free time listening to writing podcasts or reading books on the craft. I could get better at it even if I couldn’t quite practice it yet. But I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to think about it.
In the past year, things have started to change, slowly. I’ve started to write snippets when I can, and I’m currently reading a how-to writing book. But did you notice the keyword?
Slowly. So slowly.
I wanted to rail against these invisible bonds holding me back. I want to tear them apart and break free. But I can’t, and because I believe in a God who is both a loving father and sovereign King, I have to believe: the slowness is a good thing. These are not shackles but shields protecting me from some danger I can’t see.
Somehow, something is being done in the slowness. But—
Another slow thing: college. It’s taken me two years to get to the place where I can finally say I’m heading off to college in the fall. I know two years is really small in the big scheme of things but at my age it feels huge. It’s just so different than I expected.
I powered through high school, I poured everything into my classes. I was known as the smart one, the one who took the hard online classes, the one who actually liked studying. All those things were true. I liked being known for those things. And I knew where they would lead me: to the best school I could get into, to the most challenging but rewarding programs. I’d study abroad, I’d double major, I’d work on the school newspaper and on my own personal writing projects and at an internship too.
Now, after two years of part-time cashiering and a total of two classes taken, I’m finally back on the college track. But it’s taken its own sweet time coming, and I’m realizing that I’m going to have to take my own sweet time when I get there. I won’t be able to physically handle thousands of different projects and activities. Even before this thing with my arms happened, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish everything I planned.
It’s all going to be slower than I thought and slowness—I am so sick of it. Slowness just isn’t something anyone values. Not our culture, certainly not me.
Mostly, I am afraid the slowness has stolen things from me. It’s stolen my creativity, and it’s stolen my desire to dream.
All my idealistic hopes got burned up like morning mist by the searing sun. With the light of that sun, I saw the landscape more clearly: there are limitations to life, and you can’t often do what you want, so move your eyes from the stars to the ground and find a practical path that runs as close to happiness as possible.
I was sure I wouldn’t be that adult. I wouldn’t lose my ability to dream. I would keep my youthful idealism and optimism. But have I?
In some ways, my dreams are less concrete than before. I had specific things I wanted to accomplish, and now it’s more a vague idea, the shape of a form in a fog, about the way I want my life to go. About its texture, its vibe, its palette of colors. It’s not really about what I do anymore—or at least, not so much—but about the imprint it will leave. It’s about who I become, regardless of what I accomplish.
I realized that today, when I read this quote by Dallas Willard in Emily Freeman’s new book, The Next Right Thing: “The most important thing about you is not the things you achieve but the person you become.”
Even though I haven’t achieved what I thought I would, I have become someone different. I have become more fully myself. And I like who I’m becoming.
I cried to my parents recently that I feel like the creative part of me has dried up. Or rather, it’s been abandoned, atrophied from disuse. And I miss that part of me. But as I’ve slowly, slowly, started to write creatively again, I’ve realized it’s still there. Rusty, but not obliterated. It will always be a part of me.
As will the dreaming. My dreams may look different than they used to, but does that make them any less dreams?
It’s good to look back and remember what I dreamed as a teen. Because it’s true: in the midst of paying for gas, work schedules, FAFSAs, doctor appointments, insurance, and the valid realizations of my own limits, I tend to lose sight of dreams. Of frivolous, powerful, beautiful visions the way things could be and what I could do with God by my side.
Instead of viewing my arms as a shut door, I want to see them as an open gateway to a new adventure. They can usher in new dreams.
That thought itself is the thought of a dreamer. And a dreamer, as I am discovering, is no naive, ungrounded window-looker. To dream is to believe. That is something I’ve learned these last two years; that is a part of who I’ve become that I like: I am a believer.
Pain and unexpected circumstances have transformed the facts in my head and the messages in my mouth into the beliefs of my heart. My heart is a cliff high above the waves of doctrine and truths I profess to believe, and only a storm can raise them to reach its heights.
Only the slow, monotonous pounding of the waves will make the water seep in.
So I have been given the grace of belief. So I have been learning how to dream. So the slowness transforms me. Like a stalactite I am growing drip by drip, year by year, one tiny deposit at a time.
I don’t see all that is being wrought in the slowness but I have been given glimpses. For example, with writing, the slowness stilled my creativity but it forced me to live. It forced me into long stretches of days without any distractions from business and achievement, days I spent wrestling and grieving and growing. I know life experience is the ingredient to true art you can’t learn from a book or even from practice. So maybe in not writing, God was making me a better writer.
There’s a verse I’ve memorized from a psalm, an easily overlooked portion at the very end that moves me the most:
Your way was in the sea,
Your path in the great waters,
And Your footsteps were not known.
You led Your people like a flock
By the hand of Moses and Aaron.
~ Psalm 77:19-20
Just because we can’t see his footsteps, just because the waters cover over his tracks, does not mean he is not moving. Quite the opposite. In the slowness, the waiting, the stretches of time we did not ask for, he is working. He is leading us with a gentle hand, God with us, the indwelling spirit. And someday the waters of our life will pull back like the Red Sea, and we’ll see them: his footsteps, marking out our days all along.