Monday, July 12, 2010

Where Do We Find Miracles?

Being a writer is a tough slog. I think most of us would agree that what we really want is to have written. The process of writing is hard, even tedious. What we want is a letter from an editor accepting a completed project for publication. It is a major challenge to motivate and trick ourselves into doing the work it takes to get to the goal. One writer said that the key to success as a writer is KBOC – Keep Butt On Chair. I am working on a project right now that has been on my heart for months, and I still think it will be a miracle if I stay on task and finish it, despite the fact that it nags at me every minute that I am not working on it.
Some people think miracles only happen when five thousand people are fed with a little bit of bread and fish, or when a man born blind can suddenly see. I think God works another kind of miracle. The early Christian writer Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” I believe God works miracles that bring us to that state of being fully alive, and I believe they happen in many walks of life, including writing.
Recently my husband and I faced our biggest challenge so far with our sailboat. The auxiliary diesel engine would not work, and we were outside the US in a place where we had no idea how to find a reliable diesel mechanic to help us. We concluded that we had to sail our boat back to the US, a very long voyage, without the engine, just like Columbus or Magellan did. Larry asked me one day, “Do you think we could sail this boat back without the engine?” and I replied, “Well, it is a sailboat, after all.”
Larry’s question was not idle or silly. One reason we have an auxiliary engine is that there are situations in which it is very difficult to maneuver under sail alone. We had always used our engine to get in and out of anchorages or to avoid the necessity of sail management during a storm. Without an engine we could not go into anchorages with tricky entrances, and we would not be able to douse the sails and turn on the engine if a storm arose.
We also needed our engine to charge our batteries. We needed electricity to run our electronic charts and our auto-pilot. Without electronic charts, we had to read positions from a handheld GPS, chart them on paper charts, and draw our course with a pencil. Without the auto-pilot, we had to steer manually 24 hours a day, trading positions at the helm every 2 hours.
Finally, we had always used the engine when cruising after dark. We had made round-the-clock passages before, but always with the engine and auto-pilot. None of our overnights had been longer than 50 hours, but this voyage would be six days under sail without an engine or an auto-pilot.
It was hard to convince ourselves to begin. It was a lot like sitting down to write and discovering sixteen things we needed to do before beginning the real task. We waited through one weather window by convincing ourselves it was too short. We waited through two days of the next weather window by convincing ourselves there was not enough wind. Unlike a writing project, we truly could not stop after we started, but like a writing project, we were beset with challenges to our successful completion. There was too much wind, or too little. An unanticipated current coupled with a lack of wind drove us south when we wanted to go north. We were battered by tempestuous seas, torrential downpours, and a wild ride in the Gulf Stream. We had to use every sailing skill we had ever learned or even heard of before we arrived at our destination. Was it a miracle that we arrived safely where we wanted to go?
I think it is exactly the same kind of miracle that happens when I finally complete a writing project and send it off to the editor I hope will love it. Before we departed on this voyage, we stood on the aft deck and prayed Psalm 62. This Psalm opens with these words:
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

We relied on God throughout our voyage. He kept the promise Jesus made to his followers as he ascended into heaven, saying, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We prayed at the end of each day, and we prayed through our troubles. When we looked up at a roiling wall of clouds filled with lightning and thunder, we prayed for courage. When we couldn’t figure out how to prevent ourselves from drifting onto a shallow bank, we prayed for guidance. When we had exhausted every skill we knew and still had not solved our problem, we prayed. We did not receive any ecstatic visions nor were we suddenly lifted out of our troubles. Instead, God nudged us in a more fruitful direction. He led us to rethink the obvious and see what was not obvious before.
It was a lot like helping a baby learn to walk. When the baby falls down, Mother doesn’t run every time and pick the baby up. Instead, she encourages him to laugh and try again. This is what God did for us, and like the baby, we learned and grew in the process.
The same thing happens when I write. God doesn’t write the piece for me. He doesn’t dictate the words. He inspires me to use to the fullest every gift he has given me. Then, after I have exhausted my gifts and my skills, he leads me one step further. I grow and mature, and like the baby learning to walk, I gain confidence and competence. I become more than I was when I started.
If anyone asked us now what was the best part of our trip this year, I would answer, “The voyage home.” We embarked on that passage due to a problem we could not solve, but making that passage blessed us in ways we could never have anticipated. We learned things we would never have learned if everything had continued to work as expected. It took God’s surprise to yank us out of our comfort zone so we could grow up as sailors. I think it is a miracle when God leads us to use his gifts to exhaustion and then, after we realize we must depend on him, he takes us forward to his wonderful surprise. He leads us to come fully alive.
That is what happens when I write, too. Some projects take me way beyond my comfort zone as a writer. I fidget. I check my email. I remember that I didn’t put cinnamon on my grocery list. I know I need to wade into my writing project, but it is hard. I see my goal, just as we could look at our charts and see our sailing destination, but I don’t see how to get there, just as we could not initially see how to escape a powerful current. I need to pray Psalm 62 and truly wait on the Lord. My own abilities are used up. I have stretched myself as far as I can go. If God wants me to write this project, then he will have to lead me. Like the baby learning to walk, I have fallen down, but like the encouraging mother, God calls my name and says, “Look here. Come to me!”
Katherine Harms

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