Me, writing, way before I knew what to write 🙂

 
On the first day of sixth grade, I got to my class in my new school early.  There was no other students there yet, so I went about choosing my desk.  Soon, a dark haired girl came into the room.  Have you ever met someone that, on the surface, you seemed to get along with—but, really, there was unspoken competition between you and the other person?  That’s what happened almost instantaneously between me and Moriah.  I don’t know why…. this was a unique experience for me.  Usually, I watched others and they ignored me.  But this time, Moriah seemed to watch me as much as I watched her.  We were nice to each other,  she even came over to my house for awhile to play once, but we weren’t –really– friends.  Really, we were in a competition with each other.  I never did know what we were competing for, or what we thought the other had that we ourselves didn’t.  I don’t know.  But it was real and strong.

That’s what made The Incident all that more incredible.

Moriah and I both auditioned for and were chosen to be part of the WGLF team.  WGLF was a student-run news broadcast that was watched every day by the entire school via classroom televisions.  The youngest grades actually came to the cafeteria, where our stage was, to act as the “live audience.”  It was hard work.  We had to read and choose articles from newspapers concerning headline news, sports, weather, etc,  write them in our own words and then do it live.  It was a big deal.  Such a big deal was it that the REAL news in our town came to our school to interview us about the broadcast and to watch us live.  That week, I was the anchor (we alternated positions between anchor, co-anchor, sports and weather).   We did the show.  After the show, one of the real journalists from the REAL news channel stopped me to ask me a few questions.  After the routine ones about the show, he said:  “So I hear you write your own books, too?”

Now.

I didn’t tell anyone about this.  But Mrs. Haymer, our homeroom teacher, one day discovered me writing.  She thought I was writing a note (a common misconception but a crazy one as  I would have never, EVER written a note!), so she confiscated it and read it.  After doing that, she asked me if I wanted to take the last fifteen minutes of the day to read the story out loud to the class.  I was in heaven, of course.  And the amazing part was that my classmates ENJOYED the story.  I know this for a fact because, every day, when I had to stop reading, someone would inevitably ask me what was going to happen next in the story.  So my homeroom class knew I wrote books.  They were the only ones who knew.  I asked the journalist how he knew that.  He looked around and then pointed to, lo and behold, Moriah.   “Your friend told me.  She said they are very good.”

That really made my day.   No.  Wait.  Actually, it did more than that.  It gave me a reason to follow my dream.

Quite often,  I  wonder why others don’t actively pursue their dreams.  I’ll hear them talk about what they love doing.  I’ll listen in awe as they sprout what seems like endless knowledge on whatever it is they enjoy, and I’ll wonder:  “why haven’t they done something with this?  Don’t they hear themselves?  Don’t they know that they have more knowledge on this subject than an encyclopedia?  AND they like it so much.”  I’ll usually, much to my chagrin, chalk it up to something like, “Well, they must have a good reason” or  “maybe there’s something else they like better that they are pursuing instead” or, sometimes, I hold my silence because I don’t want to strike a nerve, I don’t want them to think I’m overstepping boundaries.  Then I go home and write a chapter in the book, or another blog, and I’ll feel passion, excitement, peace, comfort and awe slide into the deepest parts of my heart and I’m filled to bursting with the joy of a dream realized.  When I  go outside at night,  stare up at the sky to find the brightest star and make a wish on it…. I do that because voicing my dreams out loud reminds me of what my goals are;  voicing them out loud reminds me of what work needs to be done.  It motivates me, in other words, to actually seek my dreams out.

Two of the most amazing letters on the planet, from my 11th and 12th grade English teachers, Stackhouse and Dr. Estes.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that I was actually one of the lucky ones.

Despite everything else,  I grew up surrounded by people who always encouraged my writings.   No one that mattered ever laughed at me for it.   My mother used to sit in my room with me.  I’d get really excited, telling her all about an idea, then about the “plot snags”, those pieces that didn’t quite fit into the puzzle yet.  She’d help me work them out.  She’d listen patiently as I rambled on and on about the names of the newest characters.  She brought me baby name books, actually, because I had rules concerning the names of my characters:  I could not use the same name twice for pivotal characters.  She once sat through an entire seminar given by a publishing company so that she could talk to the man in charge of it, “pitch” me and my books to him, because I had to go to school.  In other words—she supported the writing, whole-heartedly.  So did my sister.  My  grandfather, too.  He is blind, but he wanted me to record the books on tape so that he could listen to them.  He knew a famous writer, and he made me send one of my books to him to read.  He told everybody he ever met that I wrote.  My fourth grade teacher was the first one who let me read my stories out loud to the class.  My sixth grade teacher did the same thing.  Moriah, a girl who didn’t even really like me, told a news journalist that I wrote good books, even when there was nothing in it for her.  My ninth grade Principal allowed me to skip the last period of every Friday to go to a third grade classroom and teach.  My 11th grade English teacher read a book.  My 12th grade English teacher, who held a doctorate from Harvard, did the same and, consequently, wrote an amazing recommendation letter for my college entrance.  A friend, upon reading the first excerpt of a book newly written, compared my writing to that of Faulkner.  People, my writing really isn’t that special.  ESPECIALLY the books that they were reading.  I mean, seriously, I wasn’t even in middle school.   But I was surrounded by faithful people who made me believe that writing was a worthwhile endeavor, that it wasn’t a silly or wasteful hobby.

Me with a bunch of my books 🙂

As I said, I was lucky.  Without all of their faith and support, I don’t know if I would have tried so hard or kept writing for so long.  I learned something invaluable through their support and belief.  I learned that dreams are worth chasing, I learned that talents are worth believing in.  Wishing upon a star without then supporting the wish with action is like not making a wish at all.  Dreams are given to us so that we might be motivated to action, not just for the sake of dreaming.  Dreams are blueprints—a blurry, incomplete picture of something we want.  But, in order for the blueprint to be complete, we have to lay the foundation for it, we have to work, we have to believe too.  I didn’t believe I was a good writer, I didn’t believe in my own abilities at all.  But I believed in the stories, I believed that WHAT I was writing was better than I was, and I trusted that there was something greater than me at work.  All I had to do was follow it.

I was in the 10th grade when my history teacher “taught” us about the holocaust.  I was horrified at the lack of information given.  Basically, we were told to read Anne Frank’s diary, and that was it.  Had I not already educated myself on that horrific period in time, I wouldn’t have known what really happened. I would have known that Jews were rounded up, I would have known that six million died, but I wouldn’t have known what that looked like.  I wouldn’t have seen the truth.  I was horrified that high schoolers were not being taught about this subject, and I wanted to change it.  So I dreamed of a program that went into the schools and told the students the truth.  I created materials to do exactly that.  And then I talked to  teachers and was granted access into classrooms where I taught the students about the Holocaust.  I did the same thing when I realized that no one believed they had talents of their own–the program IMAGINATIONS was born through that.  But none of that was easy.  And none of it would have happened had I not believed that dreams deserve our attention and our respect.

Carrying surprise gifts for the kids in one of the classes for the program "Imaginations" --- dreams DO come true. 🙂

It’s not selfish to follow a dream.  I used to think it was.  But it’s not.  It’s not selfish to act upon something about which you are passionate, something in which you strongly believe.  NOT acting upon your dreams, allowing them to gather dust in the corner of thoughts,  putting the label “someday” on your ideas…. that’s as surefire a way as ever of collecting regrets.  Before you know it, “someday” has become “yesterday” and all those dreams and ideas have been hidden under the weight of responsibilities and life.  Your creativity, your dreams, whisper of what you’re supposed to be;  they beckon to you, encourage you, and, when you follow them, fill you with peace and comfort unlike anything else.  Dreams are food—if you look at food without eating it, you only become hungrier.  You have to taste it in order to become full.  You can look at a dream, you can visualize it, but until you trust the dream enough to turn it into a goal, part of you will always feel a void, part of you will remain unsatisfied.

God grants you your dreams for a specific reason.  He grants me mine for a specific purpose.  When I wrote “The Character”,  I did not think anyone would read it.  I certainly did not anticipate the response it has received.  I did not anticipate it garnering me speaking engagements.  But it has, it has been the diving board for bigger dreams than I imagined while writing it.  I like to sing, but singing isn’t something about which I dream.  Singing is someone else’s dream, then.  I like art, and I like to draw, but it’s not something about which I dream.  Art is someone else’s dream then.  But teaching, and writing and speaking—these things, these are dreams I hold  dear, these are the things for which passion flows  through my veins.

I was lucky to have encouragement,  I was lucky to be taught that dreams are worth chasing.  Too many aren’t given those gifts;  they’re taught, instead, that working a normal job, earning money, following the status quo, is what’s safer.  But how is underachieving safe?  How is failing to trust the dreams God gave you safe?  If you believe it, if you taste it, if you knock on enough doors enough times,  you can see the blueprint come to life, you can see your dream realized.

Dreams are more than pleasant thoughts, they’re whispered promises of confidence, meaning and purpose.   What color is your dream?  What does it look like?  What does it smell like?   Mine is black and white, it fits comfortably between my hands and it smells like old books.  I used to dream that one day I would wake up, pick up a copy of my book that had been resting on a bookshelf, hold it close to my nose and flip its pages, allowing the sweet, dusty smell of an old book to fill my nostrils.  Dog eared pages, underlined passages, receipts that double as bookmarks…  I dreamed of finding these treasures between the covers of a book with my name on it.  I dreamed of getting a piece of mail and reading about someone I didn’t know being affected by something I wrote.  I dreamed of framing the first dollar I earned for a piece of writing.   Mostly,  I dreamed of writing stories that matter, of creating characters who were real and touching. Mostly, I dreamed of filling hundreds of notebooks with words.  All of those dreams—and more—have already come true in miraculous, beautiful ways, simply because I believed.

Beautiful dreamer, about what do you dream?

 

At a book signing for "The Character" , Nashville, TN

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