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I Shall Not Live in Vain

I shall not live in vain

I shall not live in vain

Emily Dickenson’s poem “I Shall Not Live in Vain” adorns the wall of Karen’s studio where I currently work part-time. Knowing me and my journey, Karen kindly offered me a job at her home-based business while I sort out what’s next.

I like working for Karen. I like that she’s a creative entrepreneur, fulfilling her vision, designing a much-needed product. And she’s doing it with kindness, compassion, and generosity — both for her employees and her clients. Plus, once I spotted that Emily Dickenson poem on the wall, I knew we shared a similar philosophy. A philosophy about our life’s purpose.

ishallnot live in vain words

Yesterday Karen showed me a short news clip about a sweet, six-year-old boy named Jayden from Georgia. Jayden’s father died when Jayden was very young, and recently his mom died in her sleep. Jayden now lives with relatives, and for a while, everyone around him was feeling pretty sad. So Jayden decided to do something about it.

With the help of his aunt, he began purchasing tiny toys, like plastic neon green dinosaurs and purple rubber ducks, and handing them out to strangers. Everyone Jayden meets gets a toy. The boy’s intention — to make people smile.

As I watched this remarkable young boy get such delight in giving away these trinkets, and the hugs and huge grins he received in return, I realized what a special gift he has. At six-years old, Jayden has already found his purpose. Spreading joy.

Some adults I know say they still haven’t found their purpose. They don’t know their true work, or their true worth. They think what they’re doing isn’t enough. Sometimes I hear that message in their comments about how I inspire them. About how they couldn’t do the kinds of things I’m doing.

Yet I see and hear people doing inspiring things every day. Right where I am.

Like my teacher friend who has taken three motherless siblings under her wing. Every few months she treats them to a special outing, and for a while, they get to have a special woman in their life give them one on one attention.

Or my dear friend Jeanine who for the past year has taken on the responsibility of caring for my dog while I followed a call to mission. They bonded so well, my dog is now her dog. And even though he’s aged and requires much more attention, Jeanine never complains. Yet she doesn’t think she’s doing much. Whenever I try to express how thankful I am for her taking this on, she tells me she admires me.

I have several other friends like this. They think their lives are ordinary. But I know that each one of them is extraordinary. Because of who they are. Because of what they offer. The aching they’ve eased. The pains they’ve cooled. The joy they’ve spread. And the hearts they’ve kept from breaking.

Each of us has a unique purpose. It can be really simple. And right in front of you. All you have to do is recognize it, and claim it. And then you, too, shall not live in vain.

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The Urgency that Calls You

wake-up-and-live

“Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.”
― John O’DonohueAnam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

What urgency calls you into wakefulness?

What longing waits within you unfulfilled?

Waking up alone in my quiet household, it’s easy to feel a sense of urgency. To remember where I’ve been and to fear becoming complacent and comfortable. But I feel anything but comfortable.

I miss El Paso. I miss the richness and vitality of life at the border. I miss the people and their stories. Stories of tremendous challenges, deep faith, and generous hearts. Mostly I miss the children.

But I’m not meant to go back just yet.

For now, the urgency I feel is to write their stories. Especially as the fear frenzy and racist comments towards Hispanic immigrants swells.

And it’s time for me, as a writer, to stop holding back. To put myself out there. Words from my favorite David Whyte poem, What to Remember When Waking,  speak to my heart more than ever.

To be human
is to become visible
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.

The truth is, I have been hiding out. Not fully claiming and embracing my gift. Not fully trusting that if I allow myself to be intimate and vulnerable on the page, it doesn’t matter whether I “fail” or what the outcome is.

what urgency
calls you to your
one love?  What shape
waits in the seed
of you to grow
and spread
its branches
against a future sky?

My one love is to write. And I want to write about the people’s pain. About their sweat and their struggle, their joy and their innocence. And how their lives are so very intertwined with ours.

My friend Rob is familiar with this place of holding back, too. I know Rob as a writer and poet. But, like me, he hesitates to fully own the gift. He writes:

What other gifts or passions have I kept hidden from family, from friends, from the world? If, as I believe, much of our task in this life is to lay claim to, and develop, our talents so as to share them with others – not in a self-centered way, but as proof of the joy in ongoing creation – then what had I been doing? I had put a variety of skills on display for decades, but had I been sufficiently brave or vulnerable to risk putting my gifts out for all to see? “

image

That’s what the urgency is really all about for me now. Putting my gifts out for all to see. To come out of hiding and fulfill my personal calling. To simply trust enough in the gift and the One who bestowed it. And to be willing to continue to live with the “not knowing.” I’ve done it for so long now, you’d think I’d be an expert.

Despite my doubts, I long to embrace this gift. To listen to the urgency that calls me to use it. To do it for Love.

And to let go of the outcome.

How about you? What longing within waits to be fulfilled? What urgency calls you to fully use your gifts?

Here’s the full version of the David Whyte poem:

What to Remember When Waking

what to remember upon waking

In that first
hardly noticed
moment
to which you wake,
coming back
to this life
from the other
more secret,
moveable
and frighteningly
honest
world
where everything
began,
there is a small
opening
into the new day
which closes
the moment
you begin
your plans.

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
wholeheartedly
will make plans
enough
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.

To be human
is to become visible
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.

To remember
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
true inheritance.

You are not
a troubled guest
on this earth,
you are not
an accident
amidst other accidents
you were invited
from another and greater
night
than the one
from which
you have just emerged.

Now, looking through
the slanting light
of the morning
window toward
the mountain
presence
of everything
that can be,
what urgency
calls you to your
one love?  What shape
waits in the seed
of you to grow
and spread
its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting
in the fertile sea?
In the trees
beyond the house?
In the life
you can imagine
for yourself?
In the open
and lovely
white page
on the waiting desk?

~ David Whyte ~

(The House of Belonging)

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