Monday, February 10, 2014

What do you do when you realize all your dreams have come true?

When I was five years old, my dad asked me the question that most parents ask their kids from time to time. Our conversation went a little bit like this:

Dad:  “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Me:  “I want to write books.”

While my dad might have been a little surprised at my answer, he and my mother never hesitated to support that dream. As a child, I had no idea what kind of life I was signing up for; nor did I have any clue about the heartache that comes with pouring out one’s heart and soul on paper only to have it rejected by publishers and agents alike. Still, I had a support system bigger than I could have ever requested, and I had a dream that refused to die.

I wrote my first poem at the age of six on a napkin in the kitchen of my childhood home. It was far from glorious, but I’m told my parents still have the napkin on which I unceremoniously distinguished my mama from a llama (creative, right?). From that point, I filled journals at a determined pace, documenting even the dullest points of my life, and went on to write my first horrible book at the ripe old age of sixteen.

Throughout the years, I’ve become a better writer, I’ve lived and experienced much more complex life events, and I’ve grown. As a result, I’ve learned. Yet, up until about a week ago, it wasn’t enough. I still had rejection letters pouring into my inbox, and I was tired.

Yes. I fully realize that I’m only twenty-five years old, and that’s far too young to give up on a lifelong dream; but, I was ready to surrender to the fact that it might not ever happen for me. While driving home from work one day, I heard a song that touched me in a spiritual place and spoke the words of my heart.

From “Run” by Delta Rae:  “All my life I’ve been burning by the dreams I’ve had, now I want to run.”

From the time I was a child, I had a favorite word:  "dream."

I was tired of chasing, and I was taking a hiatus from writing. In fact, on January 27th of this year (only two weeks ago), I wrote an entry in my prayer journal in which I gave it all back. I thanked God for putting that dream in my heart, I acknowledged that I had taken ownership of the dream when it should have still been in his hands, and I surrendered it back to him. I wrote that, if it never happened, I’d accept that fact.

A week later, I received my first acceptance letter and a book contract. It was an incredible feeling, and it made me realize that we really can’t do this thing on our own.

As I sat in my living room that night, furiously writing again with renewed passion, it all hit me. A line from one of my favorite movies (Coyote Ugly) played in my head: What do you do when you realize all your dreams have come true?”

My answer came without any further thinking:   I cried.

Sure, they were happy tears, but they were also tears of gratitude—gratitude for the fact that God did, in fact, plant this dream in my heart and see it to fruition. I had such a thankful heart—thankful for the parents who never stopped believing in me, for the mother who has read everything I’ve ever written, and for the father who constantly reminded me “this is what you were made to do.” I was thankful for the friend who has read every manuscript and provided feedback, just as I was thankful for the friend who once told me that even if all I ever wrote were B-list books, he’d kick my butt if I didn’t write B-list books for the rest of my life. I was thankful for the teachers who spent a little extra time with me—not only teaching, but also encouraging and cultivating my dreams.

And, I was thankful for everyone who has offered encouragement, those who supported my previous writing endeavors, and all who are still by my side.

It’s been an incredible and slightly overwhelming week, and I’m not going to pull out the line:  “You can do anything you set your mind to.” It has always irritated me when I hear people who suddenly achieve something and feel the need to express that sentiment. Nonetheless, I will offer a sincere “thank you” to all of my friends and family, and I will say that I truly believe that there is a reason that God gives us each the dreams we have. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Pick your battles" and other lessons learned from my dog

In late 2011, I made a decision that changed my life when I brought home a tiny puppy that fit in the palm of my hand. Throughout the last two and a half years, she has impacted my life more than most of the people I know. This is likely the reason I get a little defensive when people talk negatively about her for her breed. 

Yes, she is a Chihuahua. And, yes, she's a small dog. Let's face the facts. I grew up with Rottweilers and Mastiffs, and I absolutely adore large breed dogs; however, at the time that I decided I wanted a dog of my own, I lived in an apartment that was only slightly larger than a cereal box. Therefore, my decision was an easy one:  get a small dog or get no dog at all.

I made my choice, I made my purchase, and I came home with a tiny friend. I’ve never regretted my choice—except for the day said tiny friend ate some of my kitchen tile, but that’s another story.

The fact remains that my little dog has taught me several essential lessons in life, and I’m grateful for her company daily. As a result, I thought it was important to discuss some of the things that dogs can teach each and every one of us.

1)     Looks really aren’t the most important thing if you genuinely love someone. My dog doesn’t care if I’m in sweatpants or have crazy bedhead hair. She just loves me, and she loves spending time with me. Much like an old friend or a family member, she has enforced the rule that when you love someone, you love them regardless of those factors. Similarly, I love her even though she has bigger ears than Stitch.

Waking up with this in your face for the first time is an interesting moment, to say the least.

2)     We all need a little help sometimes, and we all have something to offer. She does not have thumbs, and she’s naturally a pretty curious little creature. Because of these factors—combined with the fact that her sweet heart is often much bigger than her brain—she gets herself in a pickle from time to time. Just the other day, she managed to get one of her front legs through—that’s correct, through—her collar. Since I have thumbs and a little more cognitive function apparently, I was able to help. Likewise, she has a dog’s intuition and incredible hearing. She brings things to the table as well (aside from her love and companionship). She can hear things I cannot, and will warn me if there’s someone here that shouldn’t be. Additionally, she’s typically a pretty good judge of character—even in times where my judgment might be blurred. (However, she’s on probation in this area after deciding that she liked my latest ex).

A little help here?

3)     It’s really all about the little things in life. In true dog fashion, she finds joy in the smallest things. A walk? Her favorite. Snuggling in my lap? Her favorite. A blanket? Her favorite. Breakfast? Her favorite. Ice in a water bowl? Once again, her favorite. She makes me smile, and she’s been a constant reminder to be grateful for even the little things.
Also, sometimes, it's the little things we do with our dogs that make life a little more entertaining

4)     Being accountable to and responsible for some other living thing is a great feeling. About a day after I brought her home, I called my mom in a panic. After telling her that I was pretty positive I had over-committed, we had a laugh. I had those panic moments for a little while, because it truly is a scary thing to be responsible for the well being of another living creature. But, it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences ever. We’ve been through ups and downs, and luckily having a dog is much easier than having children—but she’s still alive and healthy, so I must be doing something right. That’s always encouraging to remember.

5)     Friends can come in the most surprising places. From all appearances, my dog and my roommate’s dog should not be buddies. Mine is smaller than most cats, and his is massive. There is over 150 pounds of difference between the two, but they do everything together—from eating out of the same food bowl to lounging with the little one sitting on the big one. There’s no judgment in the eyes of a dog. Instead, they’re both kindhearted creatures who have found a sweet companionship, much like we should do with other people regardless of our differences.

The odd couple enjoying their typical nightly lounging position.

6)     Love means being there—even if you can’t solve the problem—and most of the time, that’s all that’s needed. Over the past two years of dog ownership, I’ve been through some rough times (not having to do with my pet, of course). I went through a really bad breakup, I had some friendships end unexpectedly and in ugly fashion, I dealt with the typical ups and downs of a young adult, and I’ve been sick a time or two. Whether I was under the weather or I was in a dark place emotionally, the little one never left my side. She knows when something is wrong, and though she can offer nothing but loyalty and presence, she does so gladly. Thankfully, she can’t talk, so she doesn’t try to fix things. She’s just there. I think that we might all be better friends if we adopted such a role in the lives of others we love. Sometimes, all that matters is being there, being supportive, and showing your love.

A trusty companion is worth everything.

7)     You’re never too small (or insignificant) to make a difference. My dog weighs 4 pounds, and she’s easily one of the brightest parts of my life. No matter how insignificant we may feel, everyone can be a friend to someone. Everyone can love, and as a result, everyone can make a difference.

8)     Pick your battles. For the most part, my dog does not suffer from little dog syndrome. Instead, she pretty much always is aware of her size. Because of this, she knows that she’s not going to win against most foes. With her big buddy on her side, she’ll take on the world, but alone, she’s quite cautious about picking her battles. I am pretty sure I’d be a lot less stressed if I didn’t often try to fight the much bigger “dogs” in my life and focused on the fights that mattered most. 

If you're going to go into battle, make sure you have a sidekick who's got your back.