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Thursday, February 2, 2012

God Didn't, Part Two

Time for Chapter 2, folks. So without further adieu...

Chapter Two: Who Am I?

I remember the first stab I made at finding myself. We only had two children then, but there was only 13 months difference in their ages. My husband insisted I take a “day off” one Saturday and go do something for myself. I remember the anticipation, the excitement of thinking about just doing what I wanted to do. However, when the day arrived, I got up and started my daily routine. I soon realized that I had to get out of there or I would never make it. My husband took over with the children and shooed me out the door.

I got in the car and started driving; then I realized I had no idea where to go or what to do. I drove around for a while, ending up at a mall. And what great, self-affirming thing did I accomplish? I went in and found a great deal on a shirt for my husband and some cute little tokens for the kids…then I realized what I was doing. I shifted focus. I thought about what I did to relax in college. I somehow ended up with a sketchbook, a notebook, and a sandwich, and I headed for a local pond.

I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the shade, sketching and enjoying my lunch—that is until the overfed killer ducks caught sight of my sandwich. Having dealt with that problem, I opened the notebook and began the first of my journals. Looking back at it, the first thing I notice is that the language is stiff and formal—in part, I think, because I thought journals ought to be written like they came out of the 19th century, and partly because I was so out of touch with the writer in me.

I continued writing journal entries fairly regularly for several years. There are notes about poems and little pieces I was working on, but most of it has to do with day-to-day living and big events in our lives. Gradually, the language loosened up as I got comfortable with myself. I am amazed, though, when I read the entries I made about my having done something creative and how wonderful it felt. I guess there was just too much going on for me to pick up on the clues.

The family continued to expand, and my life got ever busier. I had ups and downs, but somehow I kept returning to that feeling of not being fulfilled. It didn’t make sense, I’d tell myself. I had a wonderful life going for me, but there was something missing.

I managed to get some fulfillment from writing little skits for church variety shows and such. I directed some and performed once in a while. Still, there was precious little time devoted to myself; and though I enjoyed this work, I probably wouldn’t have done any of it if it hadn’t been assigned.

Then one fateful day, a dear friend asked me a question: “What did you like to do when you were a child?” And do you know what? I couldn’t remember! I had to think really hard for several days before it came back to me. I used to make up stories. Whether they were my own episodes of favorite TV shows, personalized versions of movies, or out-and-out fantasies, I made up stories. I also liked to play “school” and be the teacher, correcting papers. Still, armed with this memory, I didn’t know exactly what I was supposed to do.

I had figured out that writing was fulfilling in some degree, and the few friends I let see my work seemed to enjoy it. So, in those years when I had six young children and an absentee husband, I learned that when I was feeling frustrated, creative writing helped. I even submitted a few things to magazines, but no one seemed interested. Still, it was a valuable exercise for me.

Another thing I discovered (a few years later) was community theater. It gave me a creative outlet—I ended up not only acting, but writing, directing, producing and just about everything else—and my family noticed that when I was in a show, I was happier (stressed during tech week, but overall happier).

The most important feeling, though, came through the Spirit. I knew that writing—creating things—was something I was supposed to pursue. I had no reason to believe I’d ever be more than a “starving artist,” but it was a skill I was supposed to develop. Maybe so I could write great journals for our posterity. Maybe something would get published some day. In any event, I was supposed to do it.

Those are the kinds of feelings to pay attention to: those things that feel right, even if you don’t know why. Those feelings are your spirit trying to communicate with you, to remind you who you are and what you were sent here to do. They also tap into the Holy Spirit, who is telling you what God wants you to know.

We so easily get sidetracked. They aren’t necessarily bad things that pull us from our original selves; many are things we need or want to have as part of our lives. Sometimes—like when we’re in school, new in the workforce, or our children are young—we have to accept the fact that we have to let the pendulum swing more in the direction of the “business” of living and away from the “joy.” It is important to keep one spiritual eye on ourselves, though.

There was a time when the financial stresses of a large family made me feel it was time for me to go back to work. I was, of course, heavily involved with family activities and still doing my theater work when I took a part-time job. The load was very heavy, and after contemplating the possibilities, I decided that I would have to give up my beloved theater for a while. I was willing to make that sacrifice for the good of the family, and I knew that when the crisis had passed, I would take it up again.

I took that decision to my Heavenly Father and asked Him if that were the right thing for me to do. The answer was a resounding, “No!” It nearly knocked me over! He communicated to my spirit that in no way should I give up what I was doing, that my writing was a major part of my life’s work, and that He would sustain me so I could continue. And that’s exactly what happened.

Twenty years later, I readily recognized one of the reasons for that. I was asked to write a full-length play on very short notice. It was a piece that would have great spiritual significance for many people and it had to be historically accurate. Because I had continued to develop my skills, I was able to complete the project in an unheard-of 15 days (it usually takes me a year to perfect a play of that length). The approval committee asked for only two small changes.

Because the timeline was so short, there was no time for another person to get familiar enough with the script to direct and oversee the production. Again, my years in community theater made it possible for me to instruct other volunteers in costuming, set design and other production tasks, direct the show, and fill in for actors who couldn’t make rehearsals. (I think I played most of the 60 parts in rehearsal at one time or another.) It was made very clear to me that my ability to do this was based on the fact that I had listened to spiritual counsel and continued in theater work, despite the fact that it was sometimes difficult, and even though I had never expected such an opportunity to come my way.

A journal is a great way to keep in touch with your spirit. You can write there what you don’t feel comfortable saying to anyone. You can also allow yourself to explore ideas and possibilities without anyone interfering or telling you it’s not a worthwhile pursuit. You can record answers to prayers, which can then return to your heart with the full force they had when you received them, every time you read them. Any way you choose to do it, get in touch with who you really are. You’ve been there from the beginning, and you’re still in there somewhere.

What were your favorite games as a child? What are the elements of that game? If you liked to play “army,” you may like organization, leadership, or working under pressure. (Really! Some people thrive on that! Why they thrive on it is another book.) If you liked board games you may have talent as an analytical thinker. Video games could mean eye-hand coordination skills and an inquisitive mind—I’ve heard that some of the best fighter pilots began as video wizards. If you liked to play with dolls (Barbie™, baby, G.I. Joe™, or any other) you could be interested in working with people in general, with nurturing, or with making up stories. Playing school requires making up stories, too; and if you played the teacher, you may have used editing or math skills. You were also working on public speaking and teaching. Were you Play-doh™ proficient? Creative skills, multiplane reasoning, and physical dexterity were at work. Were you the proprietor of the neighborhood’s die-hard lemonade stand? Business! Entrepreneurship! You get the idea. Whatever you found the most fun, the most absorbing, the most often played will give you some clues as to who you really are.

As you try to find yourself, don’t forget to ask the one who knows you better than you know yourself. No, I don’t mean your mother (though she may give you some clues about what you liked to do when you were young). I mean your Heavenly Father. He not only knows who you are, He knows what you came here to do; and no one wants you to succeed as much as He does. Be sure to include conversations with Him as part of your quest—that means listening as well as talking. He has a lot to say.

Where would you be? Another wise person once asked me, “If money were no object, if you had no obligations and no worries in life, where would you be?” In other words, where is your spirit screaming that it wants to be? It is so easy to block out the voice of your spirit, and so fundamentally wrong. Your spirit knows who you are better than your mind does. Your mind has been shaped by the events of your life, and often tells you that you can’t do one thing or another for whatever erroneous reason. That reason is usually the product of some bad experience or impressions you formed as a child. Your spirit holds the pure knowledge of who you were meant to be, and can communicate with God, who can guide you to that pinnacle of your personal conquest.

I had begun to pursue some of my interests by the time I heard this question, so the answer for me came quite quickly: I’d be on a stage. It was an identifying moment for me to say that aloud. The fact that the thought and the passion that accompanied it came so readily to the surface made me think; it reinforced the ideas I had formed about who I am. My continued work as a playwright, director, and occasional actor has kept me very close to the “boards,” (stage) and that is where I found much of my fulfillment. Since then I have moved more toward the writing end of things, writing novels, plays and screenplays, as well as articles on various topics.

I also added painting to my creative list. The interesting thing about that was how I started feeling the call to paint. I had a very demanding job as an editor and was stressed out a lot. Suddenly I found myself wanting to “get back to painting.” That’s the way it came to me. I thought that was strange, because the only time I had ever played around with paint in any measure was for a few months in college (the first time—I went three semesters before I got married). I had never spent much time at it and was definitely not what anyone would call good. But somehow I had this feeling that I needed to paint. So I did. I started with a small set my husband bought me for Valentine’s Day. Before long I was in the art store almost every week, turning out paintings like crazy, and feeling great. I knew that feeling; I’d been down this road with my writing. Now I have two very happy places I can go to when things are tough.

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