Small Steps

In times when I feel behind and desperate to compensate with large leaps, I am gently reminded to find my way through small steps. I have a conviction that they are one of the best ways to get anywhere. There is nothing in this world that you could want to do that you can’t take a small step towards. Often the felt obligation to start out with a ceremonious leap prevents us from ever beginning. We become lost beneath ambitions we are yet incapable of. But when you focus on what you do have within your grasp, it makes for progress. Today I cannot write that book of mine, but I can write this post. I cannot disperse all of my fears and insecurities, but I can choose to seek truth.

I could psych myself up for six weeks to make a great movement, or I could just move a little each day as I can and find myself further along. Life and progress is found nestled between turkey samwiches, morning showers, and the picking up of a book. Oh but we are swooned by the big! Big movements look progressive and create the sensation of purpose. Simply completing the process of the here and now has a drab coating to it. But motion breeds motion, and the daily warms up engines for great enterprises. It’s not just that those journeys of thousands of miles start with one step. It’s that those journeys are completely comprised of, from beginning to end, small steps. That makes today so very important. So very possible.

Advertisements

A Promise to Myself

_MG_2263

I will find the courage to move forwards. I will remember with kindness. I will take the time to heal. I will let my steps be small if that is all they can be. I will brave my visions to be big. I will seek spaces in which to dream. I will press against the voices of fear that echo through holes made by disappointment. I will rise above pain. I will strengthen my identity. I will forgive myself. I will celebrate.

Being Small Again

I looked up at the vast blue today and allowed it to make me feel small. I needed that sense of me being tiny in the expanse of everything else that is. Sometimes I get too big, and when I am too big inside of my world, I become scared. When I am big, my problems are big, my needs are big, my importance is big, and my responsibility to those things is big. There I am–looming all important in my world. My disappointments fill the sky, and I am the one to face the problems and fix them.

I stepped outside into the cold. I let myself feel cold for a while. I asked that big tree across the road whether he was touched by my situation, and how he thought history would progress if I didn’t master it. I asked him if he didn’t think my troubles and predicaments were unfair and worthy of obsession. But he wasn’t very obsessed with any of the things that I have been. I looked at that endless blue that I don’t understand, and I thought about all the things of time and eternity that I can’t explain. I contemplated all I don’t know. I contemplated how much of history past and future stands unmoved by what is so moving me. I felt small again and as I shrunk back to size, I felt the freedom of being a small person in a big story. It’s not that my life isn’t important. It’s not that my choices don’t matter. It’s just that I’m not the whole story.

Fall is good at this–this shrinking experience. Fall strips and sheds and spills. Fall gets you bare. But there’s so much comfort in it. It’s the reassurance of things so much bigger than yourself. Here you just get to be. Be bare, be held, be small.

Grateful Notes

_MG_1744

Gratitude doesn’t always look like a day full of things to be thankful for.

Thankfulness is not always a list, not always conscious.

Some days I write two pages straight of things I am thankful for. Other days I don’t write a single word.

Gratitude when you can’t think of things to be thankful for, is worship. Worship is a step of faith. It’s a faith that says I believe in His goodness even when it feels like I am not experiencing it.

Worship doesn’t come out because things have gone well. Worship is given because He’s always worthy, and because I have learned that when I am full of the gratitude of worship, I position myself to see rightly again.

_MG_1787

What was Wonderful about September

Few books have impacted the way I live my daily life like Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. I picked it up several summers back and it felt like she had composed an illusive song in my head. Appreciating the small things has always been a way of life for me, but Ann seemed to rub it into my soul till it really meant something. Her book is a journey to collect the ways in which He loves, documenting 1000 pieces of thankfulness. She shows us that joy is “always a function of gratitude, and gratitude is always a function of perspective.” The way she writes about thanksgiving is not as a quaint idea, but as an essential piece of life.

I dug into a journal the first day I cracked the spine of her book and began penning my own list of 1000 gifts that come into my life every day. By the end of the summer, my journal was fat:

18. Permission to not have to be good at everything
93. The smell of white toast and orange marmalade in the morning
101. The sound of gravel beneath my feet
143. Strolls at dusk with fresh apricots

I’ve had to fight for this celebration of life. In No Small Wonder, I wrote of losing the big picture:

I had let it become all hollowed out, all wrong way round. These little things will never give life. They are merely another way of seeing and appreciating the life everything is infused with because of Him… But when celebrating life becomes a part of celebrating and enjoying the God of all life, it is then that it becomes true gratitude. Then there is life and authenticity to it.

Now, 1556 pieces of thanksgiving later, it’s become a part of my daily life. Nothing makes for a moment of gratitude like starting a new month, so in celebration of October’s arrival, here is some of what I have loved in the past seasons, and a few of my photographs of what was wonderful about September:

copyright Amy Watson

copyright Amy Watson

148. The satisfaction of being able to put feelings and experiences to words and music
175. Wearing PJs to the breakfast table
186. The soggy, drenched inside bits of garlic bread
192. The crackling sound your ice makes when you pour water over it
195. The way cake gets better after a couple of days in the fridge
201. Counting down how many “sleeps”

copyright Amy Watson357. Relationships that are bigger than the mistakes you make
370. That first spoonful of Greek Honey yoghurt
430. People you are comfortable in simply being quiet with
460. The way commas allow you to extend your sentences
742. Watching golfers at the 10th hole outside our kitchen window
754. Filling the last page in a notebook
792. The feeling of a paintbrush on your cheek
808. The way a Dr. Seuss Book comes off your tongue
965. The echoes and acoustics of covered parking buildings
977. The sound of a teacup returning to its saucer
997. Three snuggled on a small red couch

copyright Amy Watson

1485. The way sweetened condensed milk in my coffee takes me back to mornings in Africa
1519. Remembering that people don’t have to change for me to forgive them

Enjoy October, and discover all that is wonderful about it!

Learning to See

There are some mornings when I can’t sleep in because I have somewhere I have to be. Then there are other mornings when I can’t sleep in because I have nowhere to be at all, and that makes getting out of bed far too irresistible. The lazier my morning, the more I want to get up and poach an egg, have a slice of sourdough, and deliberate about whether my tea is over brewed or not. I stick my nose in a recycled paper magazine, love its smell, and suddenly want Italian sausage to make its recipes. Not to mention, since buying my camera, I have had to add about half an hour to all of my morning preparation times, to accommodate for the shutter snapping between bites and sips and keystrokes.  I have a new, non-literal understanding of the phrase, “cooking time.” I will throw an egg shell into the garbage and be half way across the kitchen before I realize I need that egg shell for my photo. You have to tell the whole story. My camera is teaching me that… my canon and my 2H pencils.

The more I engage with art, the more I realize that so much of life is about seeing. Whether I’m looking through my viewfinder, or my subconscious train of thoughts, seeing is an art and a discipline. To see well is to live well. When you can see, you can make something beautiful. My art professor tells me almost every class period that drawing is not about becoming better at holding a pencil, but refining your ability to see. He comes along, puts a stroke on my Bristol pad where that stroke was supposed to go, and I exclaim, “oh! I see!” I get it. That’s what was wrong. How I wish the art of my life had a professor walking around saying, “no no, look here… you’re not seeing it right… see… it goes like this…” I am having to train my eye to see where the lines curve around a cello, or how light encases apples. More importantly, I have to train my eye to see where grace just gave me something I didn’t deserve, and where a difficult situation just helped to mold me into something more beautiful.

Change of Plans

I turned 25 yesterday and for the first time I feel that I am getting old. I had a scary moment when I thought, “oh no! I can’t start this now! Am I going to feel like this for the rest of my life!” Somehow at 25, every decision feels more risky as if it’s toying with uncertain time and resources. I want my decisions to feel more guaranteed in their outcome, but my life is still young and I am figuring out where to walk, and how best to get there.

Plans are changing. Big plans. Plans that for the past two years have played a role in where I have pointed my life and what side of the world I have lived on. Have you ever had a vision that pulled you forward, and gave you your sense of where you were going, suddenly end a few feet in front of you? Sometimes these visions change because we have grown to see differently. Sometimes they are changed by things outside of ourselves. But when change means that plans end, so much that is big and meaningful is unfulfilled.

For some time now, I have been chasing a train track until it has run out of rails and steel and I have become disillusioned to find it doesn’t go anywhere. The plan no longer continues, and so it seems that it was never valid. How does one not become stunned and disappointed? I look forward and I ask, “what was the purpose?” But then I look at where I am today, and I see that these plans, these rails that have ends, have brought me here. So much of what my life has come to look like, where I am and what I have to build from, would not exist if I hadn’t chased that dream. It gave me the security and the vision I needed. We need these–these evolving plans–to keep us moving into our future. We move forward through vision, and the visions I have had have helped me to carve out this world. God knows this. He knew I needed those big plans and all their meaning to bring me here and give me the security to make the decisions I have made. What if this track I have been walking on was to serve that end, to bring me forwards? Here I can see new plans and form new visions that perhaps I would not have embraced further back on the road.

On day two of being 25, I am scared of changing plans. I am scared of train tracks that end, and casting vision without guarantees. I want to make plans promise me that if I chase them, they’ll work out. But what if it’s not supposed to look like that? These unfilled plans of mine dare me to consider that perhaps they have met their purpose. Even as plans morph, change, or dead end, they fulfill a place of meaning in that they bring me forward.

Making Life Richer

Coffee shops do wonderful things for my soul. I could sit in a coffee shop for three straight hours and do nothing but watch other people’s lives and listen to John Mayer sing “A Beautiful Mess”. It’s one of my, “Amy, go reset yourself!” songs. Somehow I think that when Starbucks on Lake Blvd was being built, God smiled and thought, “this place is gonna do Amy a whole lot of good!”

When life gets frustrating, I start tackling it like a floor full of building blocks. If I can’t master the blocks, they turn themselves into clouds of irrational ideas. I’m terribly professional at strategizing how to right things whose “wrongness” is questionable. From blocks to clouds, I’m an over-thinker, and heads quickly become tails. The best reset button I know for such an occasion is an afternoon alone in a coffee shop. It doesn’t solve my life’s problems, but it does help to evaporate the ones that don’t actually exist! And that’s precisely what a day (or week) spent battling the blocks and clouds needs.

For all the wonders that a coffee shop can work on my head, I’m not there often enough. I have whole pockets full of things I know make my life richer, and yet I do them infrequently. Things like being alone, or taking a walk when it’s almost dark. Things like driving down back roads listening to classical music with the windows down. One should almost always drive with the windows down. You take in a lot more of the world that way—a world you are otherwise too occupied to see. These things bring me life. Every time without fail, I come back thinking I should do them all the time. But I don’t, and it’s because I don’t often feel like doing them. I have to twist the arm of some person inside. It has been a sobering observation of mine that we don’t do the things we want as often as we might presume. Rather, we do most often what we find to be comfortable and easy. A good deal of the things we truly want are things we have to tell ourselves to go do. It’s as if the best parts of our lives are dark leafy greens—really good soul food that sits healthy on the inside, but lacks the “eat me!” charisma.

I used to think that discipline was simply to help me do things I didn’t care for. It could perhaps be an elementary revelation, but it surprised me that our passions and desires demand discipline too. Things most valuable to us don’t automatically slot themselves into our lives. We have to schedule, and form habits around them. I used to think that if I could just clear away all the things I didn’t want, then in that great space I would begin to do all my passions. But no, the only things that fill giant spaces, are things you do without thinking—things of comfort and habit. Everything else, regardless of how important, has to be chosen and worked into our lives. It’s a strange concept to me to build schedules and habits for things I thought I could do from sheer inspiration. But it’s making the days richer, shaping my priorities and my life to look more the way I want. I am no longer depending on empty spaces that never come or the presence of inspiration to bring what’s important into my life. It’s there because I put it there, and it’s worth buying a few more grande iced teas for…

The Promise of Frustration

Life has been very much an experience of the “inbetween” lately—those days that happen after one thing ends but before the next one starts. These days can be giant lulls of empty. Standing inside my life, I begin to feel as though it is slowly shrinking. I can’t stand these kinds of days. My ideal self would be filled with expectation of the unseen, but I’m not really. Not yet. I know that those things are there, but what I can see and what I can feel is pure frustration. It’s a low-lying drone that rubs against hope and purpose and wants to bury me inside of itself.

Something asks me whether frustration isn’t a promise of new life in the air.  Perhaps it is meant to lead us to expectancy. Like a growing pain, it can be the herald of change. Frustration is telling me that I have grown and that the old life no longer fits the new me. It is telling me that seasons have ended and new ones are beginning. It’s not that my world has shrunk, it’s that I have outgrown it. When things begin to feel empty it’s because I can feel the absence of something that is about to be. God awakens a longing in anticipation of fulfillment, and we ache because it’s coming. With these eyes to see, my frustration is a misperception. Frustration is the edge of a need without the hope of an answer. If I can let discomfort adjust my focus, frustration holds a promise of things to come.

My in-between days feel bare and struggling, but they are rich and purposeful. They hold all the emptiness of transformation, all the frustration of new birth. There is a promise to my frustration that is meant to point me on. It is a moment of expectancy that has been misperceived, and if I can turn it the right way, this lull might just become a celebration…

And then there was Grace…

I’m not sure that it’s possible to graduate from the subject of grace. It has been as consistent a theme in my life as any, and the one that stands tallest when backwards gazing on what my life has become today. These days, these months–when I look at them, I see answers to what seems to have been prayers of a lifetime. These answers have come to me in adventure, surprise and poetry. But none of it has come without some kind of peril or heartache. None of it came the way I thought of it in my prayers. But the lives that make the best stories are exactly this kind. They are ones with unexpected answers–answers that come in packages we were never looking for–packages of struggle giving birth to glory, and tears that make way for song. The best of lives contain lessons learnt from unbecoming tutors.

When I look at this season, this life, I see much of this lesson learning and prayer living. But the thread that weaves through it all–the line one can put on the end of each story, or anywhere in between, is, “and then there was Grace.” It is what transitions every tragedy into beauty. It is what rearranges the chaos and calls it a life worth living. It is the “however” of life. One day, or a whole season, can turn on this word “grace”. The arrival of grace is what transforms our vision and opens up the back road of hope.

My story could go something like this: I prayed for a world of things I had never seen and knew not how to get to, and then there was grace, and grace brought me into a dream. I encountered all my fears and insecurities to live inside that world, and then there was grace that triumphed fear with love. I walked with people I loved and their battles and wounds became companions of my own journey. But then there was grace, and grace knew how to love deeper and go further. Onwards the story goes. I encountered rejection and grace showed me how not to throw away life’s sharp cuts. Grace came when I failed and came again when I ran out of space in my heart for others who had done the same. Above most other things, mine has been a journey defined by the power of grace to rewrite all that has been written.

I still catch myself whispering those words, “and then there was grace,” when I reach a moment in need of transition. I rarely know what will follow–the second part of the sentence–but I know that for every sentence that needs it, there is a “however”. There are some things in life that we need to know, and others we don’t. Knowing that there is grace is the first; what falls on the other side of grace is the second. And here, trust is so simple, so beautiful and scary, it actually makes me cry. It seems almost incomprehensible to entrust to grace what we cannot control or understand. But this grace is something so deep to rest in and I know that as it has marked the days behind me, it will continue to show up in the days ahead.

So if you ask me, or I ever ask myself, how I got here, though the story could start with a dozen different challenges or trials, you can be sure that it will always turn with the words, “and then there was grace…”