I did my best, but still, I saw my writing life like this …
My sense of personal failure led me into a full-blown emotional affair — with a dilapidated house getting a makeover.
How the relationship started I don’t know. One day, I realized I was strapped into a rollercoaster of emotions, judging myself on the progress — or not — of this house being rebuilt.
I know it’s weird. One time a character in a movie was so much like my dad he became “Dad” to me. The good guy who would win. He didn’t. His murder — right in front of me — blindsided me. My wailing blindsided my date, who had to leave a perfectly good movie because his girlfriend had a meltdown in the theater.
I never saw the end of Cliffhanger. (I did tell my dad about it.)
But even weirder, I associate this house with me. As I pass it each day on my return from work, I monitor its progress and think: This is your life.
My writing life.
My connection with the house made me feel judged or joyful — even though the house never knew me. But I’ve broken that affair with these simple truths. If you feel you’re failing at something you love, catch this new perspective.
The house that captured my heart
At one time, this house on the corner of 84th and 4th was a home. Neatly landscaped and maintained. The owners sold it more than 20 years ago. And the decline began. Warning signs appeared on the garage door and all the entrances.
“Danger. Do Not Enter. BLACK MOLD.”
The house was so dangerous no one entered or disturbed it. Years passed with no sign of life or care.
The yard became a mess of overgrown shrubbery, spiky weeds, and a shocking cluster of ginger plants that alone found value in the property.
All of the landscape begged for a hungry lawn mower. Even the flat roof — which was wild with weeds.
Construction hope springs eternal
One day, I was surprised and ecstatic to see cars and work trucks and a big Dumpster in the driveway.
The workers had hacked back the overgrown bushes and weeds with no thought of beauty. I thought it was beautiful anyway.
They opened the garage door, giving me a view inside. They had torn out wallboard, insulation, and carpet. They had removed interior doors and closet doors and leaned them on the front porch.
Then activity stopped. The only evidence work had been done was the louvered closet doors propped against the front wall. The house remained sealed, still warning of danger: BLACK MOLD.
More years passed.
The problem with misplaced hope
This past winter, the house succumbed to the years of neglect. Its flat roof caved, and the gaping hole admitted sunlight and rain — and served as a portal for the squatters who missed the “black mold” warnings posted on the doors.
It seemed the end of hope.
But when I’d resigned the house to its demise, work trucks and equipment and another large waste container appeared. The workers lifted the rotten roof from the house, stripped the insides bare of everything but the frame, rebuilt the exterior walls taller, and installed a peaked roof.
I was overjoyed. Until, again, all activity ceased.
They left the wooden roof covered in tarps and a trailer holding one, long two-by-four. The trucks and the waste container, and the portable toilet were gone. One day the trailer was gone, too.
Progress stopped. Again.
But this was my problem
It discouraged me. My emotions had climbed with the mounting activity. They fell with the sudden stop of activity.
When had I made this construction project personal? When did I project my own success onto the house?
The status of the house mirrored my writing life. Stagnant. Faltering. Despite my best efforts.
On a walk one chilly morning, I shot this photo:
“Was this lack of planning?” I thought. “Did they run out of money? Did the owners fail?
“Is this house a picture of me?”
I captured the image to remind me to plan, persevere, and complete my mission as a writer. To complete my work. Maybe like the house’s owners, I reasoned, I fail to plan. My writing life incomplete as a result — perhaps with four walls and a roof but missing those protective shingles and windows and more.
Building truth into my own heart
But as I wallowed in this supposed failure, God spoke truth that turned my feelings of failure into fundamentals of faith.
He reminded me I am not the owner of this “house.” Not the one on the corner. And not the owner of my writing. Or me, the writer. It’s all His. I am His.
And unless God builds the house, as the Psalmist so wisely said, I labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). I must remember this:
1. It’s not my house.
Second, as I drive by the house each day, I glimpse what’s happening — or not. I don’t see the plans, purchases, timeline, or team of workers preparing the great completion, orchestrated by the owner.
What seems like inaction or abandonment to me is only that. What it seems like. My limited perspective.
The owner knows the plan. The Owner of my “house” has a plan for me, too, and it is good. I must remember this, too:
2. The Owner has the plan.
Third, a couple of months after I shot the photo of the house, I was surprised, once again, by a flurry of activity at the corner of 84th and 4th. Joy!
Workers shingled the roof, installed new windows, and continue their progress. Slowly. Not as fast as I would like. But they and their tools remain on site. I am trusting the owner will complete the job.
I trust God is at work. I must remember:
3. Even if I can’t see it, He’s working.
When do I see workers on the site? When they’ve got the supplies to do the job — not before.
As His worker on this writing “house,” I work with talent God has supplied. He gifted me. I respond by using my talent. (Related post: The Best Way to Appreciate a Gift Is to Use It Well.)
And as He gives me new instructions and supplies the talents and inspiration to fulfill them, I will continue to labor on this house that belongs to Him. For in addition to remembering He is working, I work, too. Because:
4. I must do my part.
Do you know that romance-movie-worthy phrase “You complete me“? (Think the movie with Jerry Maguire rather than Dr. Evil here.) I need to say that to God. “Father, you complete me.” (Although for the record, He both starts and completes me — and I had His heart before I said hello.)
I need to trust the Owner of my writing life, the Owner of me, works in ways I cannot see to complete His work in me.
He is working in you, too, as Paul declared to encourage his fellow believers in Philippi:
“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 1:6, NIV)
“Father, you complete me” can serve as an ask (“Father, please complete me”) or a statement of faith (“I know you will complete me”). Both put the burden of building the “house” into His capable, loving hands.
Both remind me to work, yes, but more so trust His timing and perfect plan. My fifth action:
5. I must trust Him to complete the work.
I went to Zillow to see the history of the house on the corner of 84th and 4th. It last sold for $50,000, a fraction of its original price. Because the new owners stripped the house to its foundation to then rebuild it, they will spend even more.
But in the end, the house will be worth far more than what was spent. More so, it will be a home.
My life — and yours — also cost the Owner. God sent His Son to pay the death penalty for our sins. Jesus died on a cross so that we might live — as His house. On His level foundation.
Which is quite the opposite of a rollercoaster.
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