Originally published Monday, 16 February 2015.
This is one of the few (ever) guest posts that left me in broken, hopeful tears. After reading it I emailed Aleah and said, "dang it girl. dang." Aleah Marsden is my writing BFF, but even if I didn't have the extraordinary privilege of being able to say those things I would still say this: she is an incredible writer. This piece is about how scary it is to write, or to do anything, for that matter, when our contribution is so small and scared, while the world out there is so big and scary.
My seven year old son sits before the homework page: knees up, heels resting on the seat of the chair, arms wrapped around his legs, and dark brown, nearly black, eyes staring over his folded arms. Brooding. On the verge of tears. One hundred math facts: ten rows of ten facts, daunting. Overwhelmed and paralyzed, he fights the battle raging in his mind for a place to start. For a foothold. Maybe if he stares at it long enough, looking pathetic enough, I will have pity and excuse him from the work. Or do it for him.
My empathy is touched, but not pushed to interference. This scene plays out at least once a week, whenever the dreaded hundred-fact sheet is pulled out of his folder. He is excellent at math. Rarely do I need to correct his answers, though his spelling is another story. I know he can do this and do it well. I have witnessed him do it before.
However, I know how it feels to be overwhelmed and so stuck up-in-your-head that you can’t take the next step—even and especially the first faltering step.
I look adoringly from my book proposal, that sweet bundle of hope and pixels, to my phone: a picture of 21 brothers on a beach who I will see in martyr’s robes on the last day. I look into the eyes I can see because I want to be sure I recognize them. Oh, God, for the women and children left behind!
I excitedly check Twitter to see if today will be the day I break the magical 1,000 followers mark. I’m far from the majestic blue-check stamp of approval, but still eagerly anticipating this next milestone. Then I click a link and read about human trafficking in such beyond-the-numbers human terms that I’m sick to my stomach. Oh, baby girl. No, Lord, no!
I pray over my possibilities and share my life-giving stories of IF:Gathering last weekend. Of the power of women (and a few brave men) contained around tables in the theater and at restaurants all over downtown Austin. I am challenged to stop insulating myself from the fear of rejection, the fear of failure. To stop counting the cost, as I consider the cost of a little more than a dollar a day to Feed the Children. And I can’t. Because right now that dollar a day feeds my people and it tears me apart with longing for more. I vow to be generous with what I have and not what I haven’t.
I stand in the field, tall grass tickling my exposed calves, with my stone in my sling facing the Giant.
I walk my sixth lap around a fortress fortified up to Heaven and wonder if the marching is making any difference at all.
I look into the face of the Man calling me to drop everything and follow Him, heart beating in my throat.
In reality, I smoosh the words around the screen with the skill of a finger-painting preschooler and a fraction of the confidence. I point my laptop in the direction of the void of cybernetic space and fire off another bundle of words into the darkness.
There is so much more I want to do. If only I had heavier artillery to bring to this battle. I see my brother-martyrs, my sister-victims, our hungry kids and I point a blue ballpoint in my trembling right hand. I thrust it out before my chest against the swords and darkness; impotent iPhone in my back pocket.
My hope looks insignificant, selfish, against this wave. I am swept up in the rush of urgency down the social media rapids, overwhelmed and pulled under the whirlpool of information until I’m washed out on the shore panting, crying, praying. It’s too much. It’s too big.
How simple, how stupid, how selfish, how small this art feels against the looming dark.
I trudge out back to water the damn platform again, wondering as I do if it will ever be tall enough for anyone to find relief under its branches. If it even matters, or if it will just a die a slow death like every other green thing ever entrusted to my care. Truth is, though I sometimes fantasize about uprooting the thing and feeding it to the wood chipper, I believe it contains potential to grow into something beautiful, flourishing, and a tree of blessing for others.
Even though my words possess some intrinsic value scribbled in the margins of my personal space: they have no impact unless I have the courage to fling them. Maybe it’s more selfish to hoard them. I put my whole self of force behind them, trusting the I AM within to provide spark and trajectory for my small stones. God uses our stones, you know. And our steps, our pieces, our art to sum greater than their parts. Every time. He is our only hope against the too much, too big dark because He is the greatest much, the greatest big light. Against Him no darkness can stand.
My sweet boy sits staring. Even this small battle of overcoming addition holds incredible kingdom implications. You can do this. You are enough. You have what it takes. I breathe into the top of his soft dark hair. Start. Just pick one and do it. Then do another. And another. And one more little piece until it somehow in the mystery and solidness of mathematics makes a hundred.
I’ll keep flinging my words. Keep watering and pruning the brambly platform out back. Keep forcing myself to find human faces in the information overload out there. One more post, one more stone, one more submission, one more lap.
One more step forward pointing my pen-light into the darkness.
Aleah Marsden is a stay at home mom of four who wakes up at 5am to study the Bible and write because she discovered physical exhaustion is more manageable than emotional exhaustion (i.e. consumes copious amounts of coffee). She blogs about life, faith, and studying the Bible at DepthOfTheRiches.com. Member of Redbud Writers Guild. Connect with her on Twitter: @marsdenmom
Photo credit: Einherjan2k8 - Overgrown Path in the early evening sun (Flickr Creative Commons) / edited by Bronwyn Lea