I began my series on The Glen Workshop claiming, as Glen organizers claim, that a week can change a life. My change came in a flash of clarity that has been spilling its light onto practical, nuts-and-bolts decisions since my return. Those decisions have been surprisingly easy. That flash was hard.
It was Wednesday afternoon and I was listening to Jeffery Overstreet's session at the Glen. Rather than simply read from his work, as most other presenters did, Jeffery had prepared a talk. Or perhaps the talk had pounced upon him, unprepared. He had adjusted his talk in a frenzy of last minute inspiration. The Spirit, it seemed, was moving. I listened intently to tales of Jeffery Overstreet's journey as an artist. I recount the talk, but scenes have lodged themselves in my memory. His story was full of failures and falters. Jeffery was wounded early on by love, and became afraid to love again. That fear held him back, not only in love, but in his desire and ability to create. He became starved for beauty.
I know from experience those terrible, suffocating walls of fear, closing in. I could feel their claustrophobia as Overstreet shared.
He had moved into a job where his creative calling was not front-and-center, but he eventually found life and hope in a late-night poetry reading group who met in some dark and mystic hideout. He told of meeting his wife, Anne, and wanting to journey with her but not knowing if his fragile heart could make the trip. His own brokenness was keeping beauty at bay. It was at this point, I think, that my own fragile heart began to crack. Jeffery's story then moved to what should have been the pinnacle of his career – publishing the series of fantasy novels he had envisioned for years, The Auralia Thread. A series, we learned, that echoed many of his own struggles with beauty and creativity and brokenness.
All four books in his 'thread' were out now and Jeffery Overstreet was still not sure what success meant. He still found himself wrestling between job and vocation. His own brokenness, and the brokenness around him, had not simply vanished in a magic 'poof' of achievement. As he shared that Wednesday, he was in the midst of a very difficult year, surrounded by tragedies too close to home. He was still searching for a beauty strong enough to pull him through.
But there was this moment. Facing deadline, Jeffrey Overstreet was struggling through a difficult scene in his novel. He went for a walk. He discovered his breakthrough in a form so small that many would have missed it. Jeff's personal mantra seems to be 'looking closer', and he must have been looking very closely that afternoon, through the Seattle mist, to spot a single leaf dancing in midair. He got out his camera. We watched the video. That leaf danced, suspended like pure magic, for well over a minute or two. The video stopped before the leaf fell. And that was it. Just a little dancing leaf. But it was a gift and Jeffery Overstreet recognized it. And I recognized it.
I recognized the voice of God in that moment whispering that there is still beauty in the world and even though life can be difficult and even though I can feel alone in my calling, He is right there. I need to look closer, but He is here.
In that moment I heard God say that my fragile heart can go one more round. I felt my excuses rise to pull that dancing leaf to the ground. I work too much to spare time for my dreams. Sometimes my wife's shift-work schedule makes it difficult to commit to things. Our single car makes travel difficult. I don't feel strong enough, inside, to do what I feel called to do. And so on. Then I heard God respond.
What if the obstacles in my life never go away? What if I can never pursue my calling full time? What if I never make much money from it? What if I always feel this broken? If this is what I'm given to work with, what then? Will I just walk away? Am I okay with that? Can I just set my calling down? Am I done searching for beauty?
And then my fragile heart broke.
Tears welled up and all I could do at the end of Jeffrey Overstreet's talk was blubber a thank you and make plans to chat later. Once I gathered my composure, I began to piece this awakening together. What had I heard? Why had my heart broke open? What was God up to and what was I to do?
I had not been avoiding my calling but I had been holding back, hiding behind those excuses. For the past few years I have been content to rest in the shadows and support my wife's career. It has been my delight to support her, as she has so often supported me. These have been good years, and I remain grateful, but I was feeling a push from the shadows and into the light. As my wife and I would discuss later, the season was changing yet again.
Two practical choices emerged, both significant. First, I could not work as many hours as I was working and get any more accomplished. The definition of insanity, they say, is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Time was something I would have to carve out, and not something that would fall in my lap. Second, we needed a second vehicle. The scheduling issues of shift work can be transcended, at least in part, with a second vehicle.
So far the changes are going well. I've just begun my new schedule working two days a week, rather than three or four. I am finding more time to write and to grow The Bleeding Heart Art Space. I've had some wonderful coffees with friends new and old. A few weeks ago we bought an old Subaru Forester. I am still struggling with becoming a two-car family, but that's for another post. For now I will admit that the colder it gets, the more at peace I feel with that decision.
Taking time away to think and pray and feel and commune with the Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ, I heard some things. Perhaps more than the Glen Workshop itself, it is this act of listening that is changing me.
My prayer now, back in the routine rush of the everyday, is that I continue to listen, and when I hear, to respond courageously.
Here is another poem written from the Glen, about waking up.
The Opening and Closing of a Door
The opening and closing of a door
The sound and speed of it
The timbre and
pitch of a careless slam
In my murky waking
it rings like church bells
And I am not here
in a college dorm bed
too small for two
under threadbare scratchy blankets
tossed and turned
I am in my basement bedroom coolness
squinting sideways toward my wife
soft as sheets
so it is too early
But tell that to the kids upstairs
crowing good morning
with their loudest
opening and closing of a door
As soon as I approach
they all become mirage
and I am left
with my self
Scrunching my sunburned forehead
Yesterday I walked alone in brightness
Near canyon road I saw
a massive sculpted portal
white as a promise
Circles circling circles
A Narnian gate
And I wish that I could rise and dress
my suitcase in hand
To turn the creaking handle
toward unthinkable light
then step across the rot-wood threshold
This post is part three of a four part series. Part one | Part two | Part three | Part four