Thursday, July 19, 2012

Billboards

Do you ever feel like you are heading down life’s highway, and suddenly a billboard pops up that seems to be speaking directly to you? And then another one. And then another one. And at some point, you realize God has a big message he is trying to get through to you?

good story

It all began with a trip to Virginia. I can pinpoint a specific moment: dinner with six incredible women. Susan finished her meal and then asked: ‘What is your next big thing?’  The conversation circled the table as each woman in turn told about her plans for the near or not-so-near future. I listened to plans of travel, and writing projects, and business ventures. And I thought to myself: This is the big thing. I’m going home to make PB&J sandwiches for the rest of my life.

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I’m not talking about comparing myself with other women or feeling like I wasn’t worth something because I didn’t have big plans. I’m not even talking about whether someone should have plans or what they should be. Or what sacrifices one should (or should not) be willing to make for those plans. I’m talking about the fact that I use fear and excuses (lots and lots of excuses) to keep me from living a full life. A life full of possibility instead of restriction. I used to be a big dreamer-planner, but I allowed the daily grind of reality steal my dreams.

A billboard was staring me in the face. Big things are scary and hard, but they are still in the realm of possibility if you are willing to work toward them.

It had been a long time since I had read the blog Resolved 2 Worship. For some reason, I found myself reading pages and pages of archives recently.

The billboard read: What is your excuse, Heidi? You use four children as an excuse to not do anything or go anywhere. Because it is too much trouble, not enough fun. Well, it is time to step up and go on adventures. DO SOMETHING, even if it is complicated, and messy, and not every second of it is fun.

(Now, there are all sorts of other things to be learned at Resolved 2 Worship, but I felt as if God had that particular message for me at this particular time.)

So we went to the beach.

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We went walking in Eugene.

life2012-06-29_0001DSC_0104

Those were just warm-ups.

Then I felt called to an impromptu road trip to see my grandparents. In California. With the kids. Without Russ.

ca

After we returned home, a friend posted a TED talk video on Facebook. I took the time to listen. To read that billboard.

The billboard read: You have to do something. Little things. But SOMETHING. Often.

And I made a list of little things (physical, mental, emotional, and social) that I could do during any hour of any day. But that kind of list doesn’t do anything, unless you do the things.

There was another kind of list I needed to create that was a form of action. It was the gratitude list I’d been thinking I should make ever since reading the remarkable book One Thousand Gifts. I needed to go through the action of writing down all the gifts God has given me, all day, every day.

I pulled out the journal Russ and the boys had given me for my birthday and thought it was just waiting for this purpose. I started my gratitude list.

Then a friend on Facebook (another point for social media) posted a picture with a quote. Yes, an inspirational quote. A dime a dozen. It got under my skin. Another billboard.

DO

I had excuses. I’m not brave. I’m lazy and undisciplined. I can’t do it. But what is that thing? It has to have a point. I don’t want to do a thing just to say I’ve done a thing.

We went to a local Mexican restaurant. I placed our take-out order. Enchilada. Picadillo. Now, those words might not seem like much to you, but I’ve had proper Spanish pronunciation drilled into me from my infancy. It seems all wrong to say them with an English accent. So I tried to say them correctly, but nonchalantly. Because I’m insecure about doing or saying anything in front of someone else who does or says it well.

Then I get to fajitas. (It is much easier to say that with an English accent, because it is practically an English word, isn’t it? Like pizza.) Chicken. (That’s an easy one.) The (good-looking) guy smirked and said pollo. And then he asked if I wanted flour or corn tortillas. In Spanish. I turned to Russ and asked him if he wanted flour or corn tortillas. He said flour. I told the guy flour. He repeated flour in Spanish (with another smirk). I nodded. (I promise this story is going somewhere…)

See, here’s the deal. I can pronounce Spanish fairly well when I’m not feeling all self-conscious about it (which is never), but I don’t have a large Spanish vocabulary. I picked ‘corn’ out of his question and inferred based on context. But I couldn’t hear exactly what he said for ‘flour.’ Certainly not enough to repeat it. And I’m self-conscious as heck in situations like this. I should have just laughed, asked him to tell me the word for ‘flour’ again, and tried to repeat it. But instead I wanted to find a hole somewhere to hide in.

So Russ didn’t understand what was going on and thought the guy was questioning why he would want flour tortillas with his fajitas. And the guy said (with the smirk that was now permanent), ‘No, it is just that she was speaking so beautifully until she got to fajitas.’

It might come as a surprise to you all, with my life hanging out here in public like this, but I hate any sort of attention like this. I get embarrassed so. very. easily. It shouldn’t have been a big deal.

Billboard: Learn to speak Spanish fluently because I’ve always wanted to. And then be brave enough to do it.

I picked up the next book on my stack. Twelve other books on the stack have bookmarks a few pages in. The other 34 haven’t been cracked open. But book club was the following week. I should have at least a chapter under my belt before book club, no?

In two days I had finished A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.

dm

p. 31

I wanted it to be an easy story. But nobody really remembers easy stories. Characters have to face their greatest fears with courage. That’s what makes a good story.

p. 58

We get robbed of the glory of life because we aren’t capable of remembering how we got here. When you are born, you wake slowly to everything… The experience is so slow you could easily come to believe life isn’t that big of a deal, that life isn’t staggering. What I’m saying is I think life is staggering and we’re just used to it. We all are like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we’re given—it’s just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral.

p. 59

I’ve wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgment. We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.

p. 68

If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation… If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet.

p. 70

But I also wondered if… we were designed to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us.

p. 74

‘Beneath the surface of characterization,… regardless of appearances, who is this person? At the heart of his humanity, what will we find? Is he loving or cruel? Generous or selfish? Strong or weak? Truthful or a liar? Courageous or cowardly? The only way to know the truth is to witness him make choices under pressure, to take one action or another in the pursuit of his desire.”

p. 75

In the room where I’m writing today, nothing is happening. And later there will be laundry happening, which is nothing to daydream about. I can’t deal with reality.

p. 77

My entire life had been designed to make myself more comfortable, to insulate myself from the interruption of my daydreams.

p. 86

I believe there is a writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, even, and whispering a better story into our consciousness.

p. 87

The real Voice is stiller and smaller and seems to know, without confusion, the difference between right and wrong and the subtle delineation between the beautiful and profane.

p. 100

A general rule in creating stories is that characters don’t want to change. They must be forced to change…

The rule exists in story because it’s a true thing about people. Humans are designed to seek comfort and order, and so if they have comfort and order, they tend to plant themselves, even if their comfort isn’t all that comfortable. And even if they secretly want for something better.

p. 186

I realized how much of our lives are spent trying to avoid conflict. Half the commercials on television are selling us something that will make life easier. Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life.

p. 246

It’s interesting that in the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes, the only practical advice given about living a meaningful life is to find a job you like, enjoy your marriage, and obey God. It’s as though God is saying, Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let me help.

One gigantic billboard: Face your fears. Be grateful for this staggering life. Be willing to change. Don’t daydream as a way to escape your life. Listen to the Master Writer. Step outside your comfort zone. Work hard.

I thought again about the inspirational quote. Do the crazy thing… I wondered who wrote it. I googled Ciona Rouse. It turns out she wrote Like Breath and Water: Praying with Africa. It is about hope-filled prayer that keeps track of miracles instead of pains. About living a story filled with prayer as vital as breath and water and being intertwined in one another’s stories.

The billboard read: Add prayer to that list. To the top of the list. Because God writes a better story.

I went to Ciona’s page on Facebook. (Uh-huh.) She lists her favorite quotes.

"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches on the soul" -Emily Dickinson

It is the first one on her list. And the quote in my email signature. And one of my inspirations for Mt. Hope. (Well, that and doing hard things. I must have forgotten somewhere along the way.)

Her cover photo? It says: You are living your story.

I think I’m getting the message.

Live a good story and DO that thing.

  • Pray (as if my life depended on it).
  • Keep a written record of miracles and God-given gifts.
  • Eat well and exercise hard.
  • Seek adventure (even when it is messy and difficult. especially when it is messy and difficult).
  • Learn Spanish fluently and be brave enough to speak it.
  • Be open to finding a BIG thing and working toward it.

I’m still thinking about several ideas. I still have lots of questions. (Such as: How to decide if a thing is worth doing, and why. Whether everyone is meant to do epic things. How to do these things in the context of family. And how to create ‘inciting incidents.’) They might come up for discussion in future blog posts. I even created a category (Living a Good Story) for the occasion.

Will you join me in this journey?

“A good storyteller doesn’t just tell a better story, though. He invites other people into the story with him, giving them a better story too… Nobody gets to watch the parade.” ~Donald Miller

 

Listen to the story God is writing for you. And do it.

27 comments:

Maureen@Loving this Life said...

Wow!!! This post is a big ol' billboard for me! Gonna read it through again and just sit with it and listen for what God has to say. I know He's speaking a better story than I've been brave enough to embrace or even recognize. Time to step out of the comfort zone and out from under the safety of the mommy hat. I know I need to join in on this 'living a good story.' Thanks for putting words to what's been rattling around in my spirit...it perked up as I read and I'm taking notice. :)

Mandi @ Life...Your Way said...

Oh my goodness do I love this post, Heidi. I think I need to read it again and again because there's so much good stuff here!

Can't wait to see what the next months and years hold for you!

Ruth said...

Excellent! I believe the Lord will bless you in your endeavors. I love that you listed your plans! Being brave is awesomely scary.

Katie said...

“I don't want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully, tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, and with long, perfectly manicured fingernails.
I want to drive up in a station wagon that has mud on the wheels from taking kids to scout camp.
I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbors children.
I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone's garden.
I want to be there with children's sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder.
I want the Lord to know I was really here and that I really lived.”
― Marjorie Pay Hinckley

Sometimes making PB&J is a great story. Marjorie Hinckley lived the at home story while her children were young and her husband travelled extensively for their church. When the children were grown she travelled the world with him. But the glory of raising God's children? That is a story! I want to know when the great adventure that is bearing, raising, and educating children became something less than a "big thing". It might even be "THE thing!"

Fandrems said...

Epic is different for everyone! I think the children you are raising are fantastic and wonderful and you should just be sooo proud!!! You are doing a really big thing with them! And....I have to tell you that you are one of the people I look up to and admire!! I watch how you parent, dress, and relate to others and I think you are awesome!!

Katie said...

I wish I could have this conversation with someone, and not just leave comments. I just think you are amazing, and you have been very inspiring to me. We all have very individual and personal missions. God says small and simple things bring about great things. We can't discount the small and simple-Jesus himself appeared that way to much of the world.

We've all heard the when God shuts a door somewhere he opens a window quote. Well, I used to (figuratively) beat myself against the shut door, and the shut window. Finally I listened to the still, small voice that said "Turn around and look at the room you're in." Five sweet children, newly brought home for schooling, a loving husband, really great extended family, a comfortable, if a bit cozy, home to live in and most importantly, a testimony of the Savior. I needed to live in the room (life) I had been given. I needed to tend more diligently to the responsibilities I have already been given. Stories are made from lives that are lived in the performance of duty and discipleship. Your Grandpa's story is a great example of this. He learned so much in the performance of duty. I loved reading his letter!
I've read Susan Wise Bauer's books, and we're using the history texts with my kids, but you have been as much or more inspiration to me as she has, so here's to you and your lovely family!

Stephanie Shepherd said...

Yes, yes, yes.

I need a kick in the pants in so many areas as well. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! God's blessings on you as you dive in!

CB said...

I like how you're showing that small steps like trips taken and words spoken add up to bigger steps.

I think we all need some adventure, even those of us (me!) who don't really like it. :) I have three boys and a girl, and I think boys especially need adventure.

Have you read the story of the artist Grandma Moses? She's inspirational!

CB said...

Sorry, i forgot to sign my name. I've been meaning to update my google "name" and was just reminded to do so.

:)

Christie

Heidi said...

Katie~ I completely agree that raising children and being a wife are BIG things. :) All of the 'things' I *need* to do are in that context. :) I'll be discussing that further as I go along. You wrote: "Stories are made from lives that are lived in the performance of duty and discipleship." Those are still *actions* that I'm not so great at. :) (Whether or not it looks that way from reading my blog. :))

Hannah said...

I'm so struck by this post in light of the email conversation we've been having. I, too, read Donald Miller's book this summer and have been mulling ever since. I think I highlighted many of the same quotes that you did! It may have fed that sense that I've been struggling with, the sense of loose ends and searching for what I'm supposed to be doing, if it's any different than what I already am.

Anyway, more to say but I owe you an email anyway; just been looking for some uninterrupted time to write it. :-)

Danielle said...

You and I are on the same journey, friend. Thank you for letting it all hang out there, we are all inspired because of your bravery. (Yes authentic blogging is bravery!!) I absolutely believe that being a mother and wife is huge and paramount for us right now. But I wrote in my journal a few months ago. . "Is it possible that I focus too much on being a mother, on builing my children's stories, that I forget to keep my eyes open to what else God might fill my life with?" I would have thought there couldn't be "too much" but our God is wild and unexpected. I have a post half written that will sound a lot like yours. :) I am blessed to know you.

Heidi said...

Hannah~ Yes, our recent conversation has played into this, as well. I read the book after my last note to you, so we should talk more. :)

Danielle~ I'm looking forward to book club this month. What a big subject to discuss!

Tsh @ Simple Mom said...

That's one of my favorite books, Heidi! I'm so glad you read it, too.

And friend? EXCELLENT post here. Love it all. And love you. You're brave for hitting publish. :)

Heather said...

So glad to hear all of this from you, Heidi. I'm excited for you! Quick story: Last night our youngest woke us up at 2am and although I was tired, I could not fall back asleep. Finally I dragged myself out of bed and came down to the computer to finish some blog reading, like your road trip posts. I loved your grandfather's letter and later, back in bed wondered if the book of his life story would ever be available for the general public(like me) to buy and read? Then I fell asleep and dreamed we became friends on Facebook, followed each other on Tumblr and then you showed up at my house(which is not my house in real life) and it was very messy and disorganized and I kept apologizing and you were very sweet about it. Somehow I ended up at your house(which wasn't your house in real life either) and I remember thinking, "Heidi and I are friends in real life!" LOL, so strange all of it, especially since you don't know me, but I do admire you a lot and I have spent almost as much time on your blog as my own. So I guess, in my subconscious I feel like I know you. Okay, so sorry for this ramble, I just had to get that all out there.
I hope whatever you find to do, it involves your blog and your photography. You capture images like very few people can. THAT is something to be very thankful for. :)
Love to you, Heidi. May God bless you richly as you serve Him and love your family.

Heather

Jessica said...

I love this. So much. Linking here soon!

Anonymous said...

hi heidi....like for so many others, this post really resonated with me. thanks for your inspirational words, not only today, but so many other times on your blog.
connie
p.s. i haven't read alyssa's blog in a month or so. i'll have to head over there!

Jill O. said...

Hello ~ I have been reading your blog for a long time and I am so impressed with the mother, thinker, and do-er that you are! I so often find myself saying to my husband,"So the mom that homeschools up in Portland did/said this...isn't that amazing?" I love reading your book lists and seeing how your children enjoy exploring. I have five children, four boys and a girl. A couple years ago I found that Emily Dickenson quote in a children's book of her poetry. I ended up embroidering it for my sister for Christmas. I think it is part of a much longer poem, but I thought you might like to hear the rest of that stanza (if you haven't already!), as far as I remember it. "Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, And sings the songs without the words, And never stops ~ at all." Thank you for so much inspiration!

Katie said...

I did notice that all your things fit into the context of family. I know when I start getting antsy to do something "big" it means I'm neglecting the smaller duties,much to my chagrin! Even as a mom at home it is easy to get caught up in doing the chores and not paying enough attention to the children. I'm not saying I should ignore housekeeping and cooking--it's more a matter of where my thoughts are. When I'm all over the place mentally, I go to bed feeling frustrated at how I spent my time.

Anyway, I really struggle with wanting to do something big, like it seems so many people are doing, but also feeling like I need to master my mothering job before it's too late! I'm nowhere close. Also, I think the urge to start doing more comes when our babies really aren't babies any more. My baby turns two tomorrow, and I joke that I no longer have an excuse for not getting anything done.

I know blogs only show some of the picture, but the picture I see is inspiring. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Oh my dear, this post -- I read it five times in a row and I'm going to read it five times in a row tomorrow and the day after that too! It's so good -- inspired; convicting, encouraging and potentially life changing if I am willing and brave enough to go there. Destiny

Joyce said...

Just this morning, I was thinking about checking out that Donald Miller book! Guess that was a billboard for me! Thanks for writing and encouraging. This is something I need to apply to my life too.

Amy Lynne said...

Love this entire post! So much wisdom in being brave!

Heidi said...

Your post blew me away from the beginning as my name is also Heidi, I have 4 children, and pb&j/laundry are my life...and I often wonder if there's more to life (or should be)?!!! Am going to re-read your encouraging post and take notes! Thank you! Blessings to you and your family!
~Heidi

Kiki said...

Thank you so much for this. I just decided to say yes to my next 'big thing': family camping with my precious 4 years old and 15 months old

owieking said...

Thank you!

You did a great job of putting words to an area I'm struggling with.

Thank you for bringing me along while you tell your story.

God Bless!

Z said...

oh wow, thank you!

jeana said...

I really relate to this post. My " motto" for this year is life; learn how to live it. I have been amazed at how God is bringing me through this, like things (like you said) should not have even been a big deal., I am doing them! Er..not ALL of them, but most. Blessings to you on your journey, I'm along for the ride!