I almost said no.
I’ve become good at saying no. No, I’m sorry. I can’t come to your classroom and talk to the kids about being a writer. I can’t speak at your women’s group. I’d love to talk to your book club, but I can’t.
It’s not a fear of public speaking. That fear flew out the window with my first taste of high school theater.
It’s the fear of exhaustion. Living with a chronic lung disease will do that to a person. You learn to guard and schedule your days like you would for a toddler. Sorry, that’s my nap time. I won’t make it through the day otherwise. Or No, I’ll be up too late. I’ll be ill the next day. Not worth it. Besides, I’m subject to coughing fits if I talk a lot.
I don’t say all this, of course. It sounds too pathetic. I just say no. Or I might drop a hint about physical limitation that sounds lame even to myself. After all, I walk a half hour every day. I hold down a job. I look fine. What’s the deal?
I’m filled with angst if I say yes and riddled with guilt if I say no. Guilt, because I’ve been given so much, and we’re supposed to take what we’re given and pass it on to others.
So when I’m invited to lead a writing workshop with the Country Quills group which meets in the TigerHills Art Gallery in Holland, I almost say no. But guilt wins out for a change, and I agree to come. And immediately ask myself what on earth I’ve done. Spend several hours prepping for it, still grappling. Then the event is postponed due to a storm, and I spend another month anxious about how I will manage to be “on” for the duration of a four-hour workshop, plus drive an hour each way. Spend another Saturday reviewing my preps from a month earlier because my old brain hasn’t retained it.
And somewhere in the middle of that Saturday, I finally begin to realize I feel far more concern for myself than for the people I am going to serve. Had I bothered to ask God what they might need from me? How I could best encourage them? I hadn’t.
I ask his forgiveness and try to shift my focus. Before I hunker down for my nap, I read a portion of AnnVoskamp’s book, The Broken Way. She quotes Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl, who said meaning comes when one does something that “points, and is directed to, something, or someone, other than oneself…by giving himself to a cause to serve, or another person to love.” She says, “maybe that’s how you peel back everything that distracts and cheapens and derails a life—transcend this life by giving yourself for someone else.”
Sunday morning, I drive to Holland with an adjusted attitude, trusting God to increase my stamina and decrease my cough.
And I meet some wonderful writers. I share with them my journey and hear a bit of theirs. Pass on some of what I’m learning. Listen to them read their brilliant words. And begin to hear things like, “This has been so helpful! Thank you for coming!”
Yes, I arrive home exhausted. But the good kind of exhausted, the kind that comes when you’ve spent yourself with passion and seen others gain from it. Voskamp says, “The abundant life doesn’t have a bucket list so much as it has an empty bucket—the givenness of pouring out.”
And I find myself hoping for another opportunity to say yes.