I never set out to be a writer. When I was asked as a child and all through my teens what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always the same – a missionary. I can’t remember exactly when God first planted that dream in my heart but I remember, vividly, as a ten-year-old deciding it was high time I started preparing. I figured it was something practical I could do until I was ‘old enough’ to actually go somewhere. I borrowed books out of my primary school library on different countries and religions, raided the church library for mission biographies, made friends with missionaries from my church, went to mission conferences and even stuffed envelopes with newsletters for a missionary friend, thinking it was good practise.
I went on my first short term trip just a month after I turned 16 and loved it. The next was at 18 and I couldn’t wait to go again. I waited a whole two weeks upon returning home to sign up for another one.
And then everything changed. My dreams crashed in a pile when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis just before my 19th birthday. I very quickly learnt what pain, stress, anxiety and depression were. I became accustomed to regular doctor visits, blood tests and daily medication to keep my disease under control. I went on a few more trips during that time but to say they were tough feels like a giant understatement. For so many reasons, I’m thankful I went on them but came home really sick each time and knew it wasn’t something I could do long term, not without taking my entire support network with me. As far as I could see, my dream was dead.
In spite of that, life continued, as it does. I relished mentoring a group of teenage girls as a youth leader, stayed involved in my church, got married to an amazing man, had children of my own. And found a new dream. Two, actually. Being a mum, and writing.
Those few hours a day while my kids slept, I wrote first one novel, then another. And I loved it. Pouring my heart for people and God out onto the pages of a book. Hoping that God might teach someone something through it like he’d taught me through so many of the books I'd read over the years. And the dream didn't stop there - I dreamed of being published.
So, I got back to researching and sent proposals to the few publishers and agents accepting them. And got soundly rejected.
So, I read a stack of books on writing, re-edited my manuscript and sent it out again. And got rejected again.
Strangely though, much to my surprise, the rejections didn't faze me in the slightest but just made me more determined. All of the authors I knew had been rejected countless times so each one I received just made me feel more like a 'real' author.
I signed up for a whole heap of writing and publishing blogs, read more books, kept writing and re-writing and editing and sent out more proposals, got rejected but encouraged by the few who replied, put one family of characters aside, fell in love with another, entered some writing competitions, won one, further encouragement that I was on the right track.
And somewhere along the way, I realised that my dream as a ten-year-old to be a missionary wasn't dead. Even without being published, God was speaking to people through the stories I wrote and the connections I was making. I wanted to tell people about God and how incredibly much he loved them, and I was. From the platform of my couch at home, I was reminding people there was hope.
I spent my whole life asking God for the chance to be a missionary. And here I was, being just that. My dream didn't die, just my version of it.
Almost a decade to the day after I sat down to write my first novel, my debut book is being published by WhiteFire Publishing. To say I’m excited at the thought of holding a book with my name on the front seems a gross understatement but more exciting is looking back and realising that God did it.
He gave me a dream and he made it happen.
So here’s what I’ve learnt along the way about the dreams God gives:
1. God knows what He’s doing - even when we think all is lost. I thought my dream was dead. Turns out it was just different.
2. God gives us the right circumstances to see them through. Getting arthritis slowed me down and forced me to give up some things I really loved, but it also gave me the time I needed to write and the desire to make each moment and relationship matter. It's meant fighting my way through depression, anxiety, pain and a whole heap of doubts about whether God even cared anymore, but has also given me a far greater compassion for others going through the same thing. It made me weak, which just proved over and over how strong God was, and is. He's given me the chance, day by day, hour by hour, to have a front row seat to his incredible faithfulness, something I don't think I'll ever stop thanking him for.
3. A God-given dream will fill you with passion. I should have given up on this writing dream years ago. The more I read and learnt about the publishing industry, the more I realised how impossible it was to be traditionally published, especially for an Aussie to break into the US publishing market. And yet, despite hundreds of hours of writing and years’ worth of rejections, it never crossed my mind to give up. I knew that if God had given me the dream, he was big enough to make it happen. And he has. He is.
Rapunzel said it in Tangled, Mother Superior in The Sound of Music - find your dream. Find your God-given dream, and do whatever it takes to see it through. Believe me, it's worth it.
(This post updated from Till You Find Your Dream, first published January 2015)