For me, the dream of being a writer was born sometime in elementary school. I had a love of books that makes the phrase “voracious reader” seem not quite accurate enough. My first loves were books by Beatrix Potter, then Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beverly Cleary, and Judy Blume. These women all wrote words that meant something to me, and I got lost in their stories time and time again. I remember reading Erma Bombeck’s syndicated column in the newspaper each morning and checking the Sunday paper to see what books were on the New York Times bestseller list. Somewhere inside of me was a little voice telling me that I could write a book someday.
God puts dreams, both big and small, in our hearts for a reason. And it’s no coincidence that our dreams most often line up with the gifts he has given us. Now, let me say that sometimes, as children, we can have other dreams that are just our imagination running wild, because I also had a dream of being Olivia Newton-John, but all those practice sessions of Let’s Get Physical in the mirror while wearing a ballet leotard and leg warmers weren’t ever going to make that dream a reality. And I’m eternally grateful for that.
What I’m talking about are those deep down, scared-to-even-voice-them-out-loud, heart-beating-out-of-your-chest dreams. The things that seem like they could be a reality if we can just get past our fear of failure and exposure and critics because all those elements are a real part of anything we are going to achieve in life.
Here’s the thing. It’s easier to sit on your couch than to risk failing. It’s easier to sit on your couch than to be out in the world where you’re vulnerable and open to being hurt or disappointed. But you know what happens while you sit on your couch in your pajamas playing Candy Crush and watching Tami Taylor? Real pants with buttons and zippers. Also, life. Beautiful, gorgeous, fragile, heartbreaking, mind-blowing life. God has a script written for each and every one of us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done or how ill-equipped for the adventure we feel.
We are all climbing our own versions of Mount Everest and have no idea if our oxygen will last or if an avalanche will come, but God does. We can never underestimate the grace and the strength he will give us for whatever he is calling us to do and whatever challenges we’ll face. What he has planned for us is higher and deeper than anything we could ever hope to achieve on our own.
It’s too much. It’s too much for us to do in our own strength because we will mess it up, but he knows that and uses us anyway. It’s never about creating or doing or being something that’s perfect. It’s not about having all the right answers. It’s about being his. It’s knowing that he who has called us is faithful.
I’ve always loved this verse: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Notice how clear it is that we’re not the ones who are supposed to hold everything together? God is holding it all. He is before it all. He uses the sinners and the weak and the ordinary things that this world views as broken and hopeless. But in him all those things come together and enable us to do things we never dreamed possible.
There was a time when I thought being a published writer would be a game-changer, that I would suddenly have an office that smelled of mahogany and own many leather-bound books. I will never forget the day my beloved editor texted me to let me know my book had made the New York Times bestseller list. I ran outside to tell Perry, and we hugged and I cried. And you know what I did the next day? Scrubbed my own toilets and cleaned the tile in the shower. I tried to tell Perry that maybe I didn’t have to go to the grocery store anymore since I was a New York Times bestselling author and he replied, “Um, I think you better get your New York Times rear end to the grocery store, because we’re out of milk.” Except he didn’t say rear end. I did get to have my first television appearance on a local morning show, and Caroline encouraged me as only a preteen can, with “Bye, Mom! Please try to not act weird!”
The truth is, we can spend our lives waiting for the big thing to happen, the dream to come true, the thing that will change everything. And then it happens and it’s nice, but guess what? No matter where we go, there we are.
The world tells us that true success is a certain amount in your bank account, a certain number of cars in your driveway, maybe that all kinds of people know your name and you write a book that inspires an entire theme park and a line of collectible figurines. But true success and prosperity comes when you are right where God wants you to be, doing what he has called you to do.
Melanie Shankle is a New York Times best-selling author, podcaster, wife and mother. The Texas A&M graduate is also a guest blogger for high-profile outlets and an in-demand speaker for events across the country. Her latest book, Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up a Life, is available now. Melanie lives with her husband Perry and their daughter Caroline in San Antonio, Texas. For more information, please visit melanieshankle.com.