Last week I took an extensive look at Fierce Solidarity for the first time since I published it. There is a hope that I'll use this space to expand on the topic and speak more toward young adulthood, and making the transition assertively and with grace. Instead, I've been reading voraciously, working on fiction, and checking my Penn State account every five minutes to see if my evaluation of transferable credits has been posted yet. As of .5 seconds ago, it hasn't been.
Ironically, these last few years have seen changes in our family that rival the upheaval of my early twenties. Just for the record, the formula for maneuvering through change during times of unusual stress that I wrote about in Fierce (relying on trusted advisors, trading pressure for grace, maintaining fierce boundaries. . .) works as well for a thirty-something as it does for a twenty-something. Also for the record--it's just as hard now as it was then. I get no points for having woven my way through the obstacle course of life thus far, or even for writing the book (ripoff-right?). The challenges are different, and they demand that I use muscles I didn't know I had. At this point, though, I'm going in knowing I'm not the only one. Struggle is universal. That's something I couldn't feel in my bones when I was 20.
I feel it now.
Back in my early twenties, when I was pregnant with our youngest daughter, I had this dream that has guided me for nearly a decade now. When I get lost, it gets me back on track, and it went something like this:
I'm in an empty house (I love house dreams). It's all grayish white like the buildings at the North Pole in the movie Elf, only it's very minimalist. In my peripheral vision I keep catching glimpses of a person walking. In the dream I know this is God, or a messenger come to speak for God or something, and if I just catch this person he's going to tell me all the secrets of the universe. Suddenly he's right beside me, and he answers every question I ask. Through the whole lengthy dream I know I'm not going to remember what was said when I wake up, but as I'm dreaming, I have complete and total peace. I know all the things, and I know all really is well.
Then he says this, "Now, this is the only thing you're going to remember, and it's the only thing that really matters right now. Just pick a brown spot and make it green." Then we kind of have it out over callings and what I'd been expecting and my confusion over what I was supposed to be doing with my life. He just kept repeating, "pick a brown spot and make it green." It doesn't even matter which brown spot or what kind of green. Just cultivate something. Stop waiting for guidance that won't come until you start doing something. There is no big thing. All the somethings matter, and it doesn't matter which is picked.
This still boggles my mind. OF COURSE IT MATTERS! (It really doesn't). BUT OF COURSE IT MATTERS! (It really, really doesn't). This is a tug of war that exists inside my head every day. The days I actually get things done are the days that I listen to the little voice telling me the truth. "Anna, this square foot of brown that you're making green today is enough."
Someday, some sweet day, I will forever shut down the yelling liar in my head who tells me to wait for something more important--the one who says, "This is not important enough. Wait for the real calling. Try harder. You're not ready yet. Scrap this and do something bigger and better." Someday, I won't let my voice speak to me that way anymore.
But for now, on the good days, I'm cultivating. One inch at a time, beginning with what I've already made. Maybe even with peace in my heart. . .maybe.
I've been feeling about as worthy as an earthworm to be the person carrying the message of Fierce Solidarity out into the world. That's not going to stop me from doing it. Now that I think of it, earthworming is absolutely how Fierce happened. I ate life and digested it into fertilizer. Humble, but useful. Not a bad role to play in the world, really.
So anyway, if you're feeling small, you're not alone. Your efforts don't have to be massive to matter.
And if you're feeling lost, find a tiny brown plot to make green. It always sets me to rights. It's often the answer to finding my way through everyday struggle.
Examples of "Everyday Brown Plots"
Stressed out Mom Friend
Neglected of Discouraged Self
Literal Unused Gardens
Unfinished Work Project
Organization Lacking Volunteers
Examples of "Greening"
Make Something Beautiful
Pay a Compliment
Lend a Hand
Do an Amazing Job on a Work Project
Clean Something Filthy
Do Something for You (What hits the reset button? It's not a waste of time.)
PS--The very most important thing is acknowledging that you greened today. You might be greening all day long and still feel bad at the end of the day if you don't give yourself some recognition. ;)
PPS--Other people probably won't notice, but that's okay. It's not about applause. It's about good mental health and good living.
PPPS--Health > Being Praised. I promise.
Anna Turner is the woman behind Little Hearth. She's an ordained interfaith minister, a writer, a believer in purposeful living and healing, a perpetual student, and a full time feminist mother.