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Month: February 2017

Living in the ‘now’ not the ‘what if’

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:25–26.


I don’t run marathons; the only running I do is from the couch to the fridge during Super Bowl ads. But I have a friend who does. And he says that in a marathon, he can’t focus on the finish line lest he get overwhelmed by the size of the task. Instead, he must stay in the moment and focus just on the current mile, one step at a time.

 Writing a book is like that. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon—a long, exhausting, brain-cramping marathon. If I focus on the finish line, I’ll  get overwhelmed and never make it. Instead, I must stay in the moment and focus just on the current chapter or paragraph—one sentence at a time.

 The writing process can be rich and inspiring, but it can also be slow and grueling. Frustratingly tedious. Mind-numbingly painful. Sometimes the ideas come in rapid succession; other times, the brain is a dry lakebed. Times of writer’s block—when my fingers desperately want to tap-dance their rhythms across the keyboard, but the hand-to-brain connection is frozen—are more common than rare. Even if ideas are flying around in my head, sometimes my fingers just can’t get them out.

 My ultimate objective is to complete the rough draft of my current book manuscript this spring or summer. My daily goal is a minimum of five hundred words—roughly two pages. Five hundred measly words a day. For someone delving into a writing career, this should be a cinch. How hard can it be?

 This month? Very.

 Ideas crash around in my cranium like kids in a bounce-house. They want to be put to paper. They want out.

 But my fingers are on strike.

 Thus begins a spiral: the more my fingers refuse to cooperate, the more frustrated I become. The more frustrated I become, the more the ideas shrivel. The more the ideas shrivel, the more desperation sets in. And the more desperation sets in, the more my fingers refuse to dance.

 Then it hits me. I have shifted my focus to finishing the whole manuscript, making it harder to concentrate on the current sentence.

 All of this brings me back to the marathon as a metaphor. In fact, it’s more than a metaphor for writing; it’s a metaphor for life.

This month marks the ninth anniversary of the date when my academic life disintegrated within the rich, dark walls of a British university. Since 2008, I have prayed about, begged for, and sought after the next open door—any door—that God wants me to walk through. Yet I can’t find it. A teaching career seems out. Ministry opportunities seem rare. I have engaged in a great inner battle over whether I am really qualified to do anything.

And now I am 50—in a world where most institutions and organizations would prefer to hire someone with similar education in their 30s.

 It would be inaccurate to say that doors are closing all around me. Rather, it feels more like I am walking down a dark hallway with no doors at all.

 So, for nine years, it seems there has been only one thing to do: writing.

 Yet my writing is not supporting me. My wife is. Ultimately, of course, God is – but he is using her to do so.

 Today, writers can write and publish whatever they wish—but of all the hopefuls, relatively few make a sustained living at it. The pursuit of writing does not guarantee success by any concrete measure, including the measure of guaranteed publication—or income.

 This situation is unsettling, especially as the specter of “retirement age” looms ever closer – and even closer for my wife than for me. What will happen after she retires? How will God provide for us then? I’m worried about retirement. I’m worried about provision. I’m worried about everything except the next step, which still seems to be: Keep writing. Unprofitable or not, it’s still the only thing God seems to be telling me to do.

 The more I try to guess the end result without being able to see it, the more frustrated I become—and the less I focus on the needs of the current moment, like completing a chapter.

 I must stay in the present. If I try to look too far ahead, I’ll go into a spiral.

 So the longer I walk down this endless hallway with no doors, the more I can’t help but think this is where God still wants me right now. As moments of desperation overwhelm me and frustration stifles my spirit, God’s voice leaks into the heaviness I feel over not knowing what else to do. And he says…

 “Keep walking. I will provide the path.”

 “Keep writing. I will be your muse.”

“Keep going. I will take care of you and your wife. I will take care of the rest.”


Nine years later, the pain remains, but God is still good

Today marks one of the two worse days of my life. Nine years ago this morning, in a span of one hour, my postgraduate dreams and career in academia evaporated and my life cartwheeled into a world that was–and somewhat remains–unclear, unknown, and undefined.

This was the day I sat across from my doctoral examiners and was told in no uncertain terms how much they hated my dissertation. I remember vividly the final walk of humiliation–barely able to breathe–down the path and out of the university, the phone call home telling my wife it didn’t go well, and the day I left England for the last time only to return to word weeks later that a contract for a job I loved would not be renewed.

The first couple of years were the darkest. I was numb, lost, and filled with self-loathing. I couldn’t sleep, my blood pressure skyrocketed, and my whole body ached. I had frequent anxiety attacks. Yes, there were times I prayed that my heart would mercifully stop beating or that my brakes would fail just before my car slammed into a retaining wall. As time crept on, I started writing, saw a counselor, and tried to somehow move on from the complete mess that had become my life.

Nine years later, with a book published and hopefully at least another couple to follow, I have gained some perspective. Time doesn’t heal, but it can serve as a buffer. This year, however, the emotions flooded back with more intensity. This ninth anniversary is the first I had to face at the age of 50. I still wonder what God is doing with my life. And I certainly don’t have a career or a ministry at this point that would carry my wife and I into retirement (which seems ominously closer at 50 than it does at 49). In many ways, my life’s trajectory remains uncertain.

As of now, writing is the only thing I have got. I am so thankful for the publication of Losers Like Us (from a real life publisher no less)–that truly was a miracle. And I truly am thankful for every sale to this day. But rarely does writing make a sustaining career. It offers no guarantees. Yet it remains the only path God has shown me.

The future continues to look uncertain. Not bleak, just uncertain. I would be lying if I said I have not grown weary of the uncertainty. I truly wish God would reveal his plans even just a little. But God is not obligated to fulfill my wishes like a genie freed from a lamp. He is a big God. And he is good.

Like a single candle flickering in the darkness a thousand feet a way, I have hope. I hope that my life has clarity even though I myself might not see it, that we will be somehow taken care of as the days march on, and that my wife’s sacrifices caused by her husband’s chaotic life will be honored.

Nine years after the horrible day in England, I can say I have hope in this big, good God.

But I still feel the pain.

As good as God is, I will always feel the pain.

2002, my first visit to the British University for my postgraduate studies.
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