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Sunday, 25 February 2018

Building on the Basics



There’s this game I play on my phone called Wordscapes. It’s a word scrambling game where you’re given a certain number of letters and, using them, have to fill in a crossword. It’s probably not a normal thing but I love that game where you take a word and see how many others you can make out of the letters. I find myself doing it all the time, sometimes even without realising I’m doing it. So basically, this game keeps me well-entertained.

Wordscapes

The levels, as with most games, become more challenging the higher you get. While sometimes I can just look at the mix and instantly find the longest word, it’s becoming more and more frequent that I look at a set of letters and just stare, unable to find a single word let alone the fifteen or so I need to complete the puzzle. And the word that uses all the letters? Ha! Forget it.

But then I’ll see a little word. Cat. Pathetic, when faced with the vast number I need. Even possibly a little degrading, given a five-year-old could have picked it out. It doesn’t make me feel clever, but it’s a word. A place to start.

And then, from that sad little prep-grade word come more. Fat. Act. Then tact, fact. And suddenly, the words start flowing, building on each other until that puzzle I stared at blankly, thinking I’d never conquer it, is done. Complete. Every little box filled with words. Even the longest ones. All because I started with one little three-letter word. Hundreds of puzzles in and I'm still surprised every time when it happens. You'd think I'd have learnt by now. 

It’s a lesson I’m learning just as slowly in my own life. I like to think I’m beyond all that basic stuff. My self-esteem much prefers to start with the impressive things. The big words. The deep and meaningful conversations. The life- and world-changing moments.

Certainly not putting the same set of blocks away five times in one day. And three times the next. And six the next. We have this set of blocks at home and every single day, without fail, I find them spread across the floor and have to pack them up. Nothing exactly life changing about that that’s for sure. It is, quite literally, child’s play. Depressing even on occasion, I’ll admit. It’s not showing off any of the skills I’ve learned in my thirty years or practising the spiritual gifts God has given me. Nope, it’s just picking up blocks.

But those blocks are not only building towers – and trying to trip me over and hide all around the playroom – they’re building the relationship between me and my son. As we sit there playing with them at various times during the day and packing them up over and over, he’s learning that I love him and that I’m there for him. One day, from those basic moments, the deeper ones will come.

Degrading as they may seem at times, there’s nothing wrong with the basics. God can, does and is using them in your life and the lives of those around you. All the time. He’s building on those small starts. That time spent doing things over and over with your kids, the asking of your friend how they are and listening to their day, the chat to your neighbour across the fence about their pet. They might not seem all that spiritual or life-changing at the moment, but they’re the place all that begins. They're the place people find you care. 







Sunday, 11 February 2018

Back to the Beginning





Back when I was eighteen, I went on a mission trip to Brazil with Teen Missions International. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. (And, side note, if you’re a teenager or have teens interested in missions, I would very highly recommend going on a TMI team.)

We had a few different roles while we were over there – running a camp for Brazilian teams being the first one. But, before we could help run the camp, we had to make room for it. I’m not sure whether that particular campsite is only used once a year or whether vegetation just grows really fast in the humidity of Brazil (probably the latter), but there was a lot to clear.

Not only does grass grow really fast and tall in Brazil but it’s tough and thick. Like bamboo. But hey, we were young, enthusiastic and living the dream of finally being in Brazil after a year of preparing and five long days’ travel. What was a bit of vegetation? Oh, and we had machetes. Which get a bad rap but are a lot of fun to use when you’re tasked with cutting down a virtual forest.

The first day was great. We laughed, we sang, we pretended we were ninjas. The second day, we headed out a bit more tired but still happy to be there. By the third day, the novelty was wearing off. 

Four of us were sent off to clear a rectangle of land, maybe thirty by twenty metres. The bamboo grass there was almost as tall as me. Compared to the half a football field we had been working on, this seemed easy. We figured we’d be done in an hour or so.

So, we began. Take a handful, chop it, drop it. Another handful, chop it, drop it. One hour, two hours in – we were chopping it and dropping it, but that wall of grass still stood before us. The heat didn’t help, neither did the occasional tarantula, but what really got to us was quite simply the fact that it felt like we were going nowhere. We were working so hard, and nothing seemed to change. We were sweaty, dirty, covered in scratches and over it. If the option had been there, we would have given up on the spot. It wasn’t, so we just kept at it, grumbling our way through. The jokes died, the enthusiasm long gone. Not even the spiders got a reaction.

And then, maybe it was God, but I had this idea. I dropped my machete there on the ground and walked backward, all the way back to the line we’d started from. It was such a beautiful sight, I called the others back and we just stood there. Marvelling.

We couldn’t see it, our faces mushed up against the grass and the finish line seeming just as far away as it had been when we’d started but walking back to the beginning, it was obvious. We might have felt like we were getting nowhere but we’d cleared over three quarters of the area. I think there might have been some tears involved. We were making a difference. And, if we kept going, we would get to the end.

Sometimes it takes going back to the start to see how far we’ve come.

It’s a lesson I’ve been thinking about a lot lately with my writing journey. In very basic terms, nothing has changed in the seven years since I started. I wasn’t published then and I’m still not now. In many ways, it would seem like I’m getting nowhere. And yet, when I think back to the start, those first few days of timidly admitting to myself (let alone anyone else) that I wanted to be a writer, it blows my mind to think how far I’ve come.

I’ve learnt so much. I now know what ACFW, POV, SASE and Mss mean and what ARCs, WIPs, One Sheets and elevator pitches are. I know not only what a literary agent is and does but know a heap of them by name, which agencies they work for and what genres those agencies represent. I’ve written five full-length novels which, whether or not they ever get published, have grown me so much as a writer. (And hey, I’ve written five novels! Not everyone can say that.) I’ve chatted with and been encouraged by multi-published authors and industry professionals and met lots like me on the journey. I’ve started and maintained a blog and seen an incredible group of friends and encouragers grow up around me (Which still blows me away. You guys are awesome!).

I’ve come a really long way in the past seven years, something I couldn’t see until I went back to the start and remembered where I’d begun.

It can often feel like we’re stuck in our journeys. That nothing’s changing, no matter how hard we try. Don’t believe that lie. Because that’s what it is, a lie. God is working in your life and in your journey. Even if nothing else changes, time does, and today, you are one day closer to your dream being fulfilled than you were yesterday. One day further in your journey.

Keep moving forward. Keep looking forward to what God is doing. But don’t forget to look back occasionally to see how far he’s already brought you. And not just look back but remember who you were when you started. Look back to the beginning and see how far you’ve come.