Let Go or Be Dragged

It’s been a while since I’ve had something to say. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. It’s been a while since I could wrap words around what’s going on inside me. Months have passed since my last blog post, and while nothing tragic happened in those months, they were very difficult. There wasn’t a single big negative event that happened. It was more like a thousand little negative events that happened. And kept happening. I can usually manage chaos. I feel like it’s a given in the world we live in and I’ve learned to deal with it. What I hate (almost more than anything else) is extended chaos. When life just Will. Not. Stop.

That’s what the past few months have felt like for me. I can’t even list to you all the stuff that happened. It all became a blur of what felt like repeated punches for me. Even if I could name it all, it would probably sound ridiculous. It was nothing anyone on the outside would consider major. But it sure felt major on the inside. I’ve been on this earth for multiple decades now, and I’ve been through some storms. Most of the time, I just have to wait for them to pass. But this one just wouldn’t. I was stressed and exhausted and life didn’t seem to care. It just kept throwing things at me. I didn’t even have the energy to duck anymore. My prayers, strong and consistent at first, turned into frustrated questions like “Is this not enough? Am I ever going to catch a break? Am I ever going to get the chance to recover?” Everything started turning to water in my hands and the tighter I tried to hold, the faster it slipped through my fingers.

In the middle of all this, I was on the phone with my mom one evening. Just venting and processing. I said something like this: “I feel like I am on a boat in the middle of a storm and no matter what I do, it won’t stop. It won’t relent. I am standing here screaming at the wind and waves to be still, and nothing’s happening. Nothing’s changing. Even though I am trying so hard to handle this the way Jesus modeled.”

My mom’s response was matter-of-fact: “If you want to handle this storm the way Jesus modeled, you should be sleeping.”

That stopped me in my tracks.

Is it theologically scandalous to wonder if calming the storm wasn’t Plan A? What if that was Plan B? What if Plan A was to just sleep through the whole thing? I’m not making assumptions. I’m just wondering.

Here’s the problem with sleeping through storms of extended chaos – the decision to rest requires surrender.

If I were really honest, I would admit that I have some minor control issues. Teensy ones. Microscopic, actually. Hardly worth mentioning. (I might also have minimization issues. I haven’t decided yet.) To truly rest and be at peace the way I am intended to be, I have to give up the illusion that I am as in charge as I like to pretend I am. Control doesn’t always look like trying to get other people to do what you want. Sometimes it looks like using your bare hands to try and bend the steel bar of life into the shape you think it should be. Sometimes it looks like stomping your foot to try and make the boat stop swaying since the waves don’t seem to be listening.

While walking all of this out, I came across an Instagram post that simply said: “Let go or be dragged.” That pretty much sums up the lesson I’m taking from that season of my life. You can get as worked up on the inside as the storm on the outside… or you can sleep through it.

As a writer, sometimes when I’m having trouble processing what’s going on for me spiritually, God will give me a story to write so I get to work it out with characters. For me, the characters tend to show up before the story itself does. I write a lot of fiction, and my characters are real people to me. I interact with them as real people in my head and, honestly, perceiving them as real makes me a better writer. I know that’s an odd concept and may call my mental stability into question, but it’s important to note for this post.

During this extended stormy season in my life, a new character showed up. He was a fisherman who lived off the coast of Maine.

I laughed out loud.

No. Absolutely not. I write suspense. Crimes and detectives and car chases. I do not write fishing stories. I know as much about fishing as I do about Maine. This character stumbled into the wrong writer’s brain. I thanked him for his time and showed him to the door.

But he would not go.

As he started to share his story, I instinctively stepped in to influence it. The suspense I enjoy so much was lacking, so I started looking for places to amp it up. Maybe this fisherman was in witness protection. Maybe he was a mastermind criminal hiding out in Maine while his enterprise ran flawlessly elsewhere. But nothing stuck. None of my ideas worked, the story fell flat, and my fisherman got frustrated.

It wasn’t until later that I realized I was doing with this story exactly what was I was doing in the storm of life – manipulating things. Trying to control. Bending metal that wouldn’t budge. I wasn’t letting go, so I was being dragged. When the light bulb finally went on and I understood what God was using this fisherman to teach me, things changed. I lightened up, the character came to life, and the story started taking shape. The suspense is there, but it doesn’t look like what I was trying to coerce it to look like. Thankfully.

Things have calmed down now and I’m thankful to be out of the storm. But hear me well—I don’t have this “letting go” thing locked down. I suspect I will need to be reminded often. As David Foster Wallace said, “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.”

Let go or be dragged.

It’s really that simple. Simple, but not easy.

I just wanted to encourage anyone going through a stormy season right now. Maybe it’s lasting longer than you expected it to. Maybe you’re exhausted. Because that’s all control really does to us—makes us tired. Let go. Breathe. Stop wearing yourself out. We aren’t going to capsize. Take a timeout. I’m pretty sure there’s a pillow and a blanket on this boat if you want them.

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Seventeen

At the end of 2017, I read through all my journal entries for the year. This has become habitual, something important for me to do at the end of every year. It gives me a chance to review the events that impacted me, the events I freaked out about that ended up being no big deal, and the places where God showed Himself faithful in answered prayers.

As I finished this time, I prayed, describing to the Lord the way I saw 2017. The way I perceived certain events and how I thought they had shaped me. Then I went a step farther and asked God to contrast how He saw the year versus how I saw it. It was a simple request, something like “Jesus, I know how 2017 went for me. I know what I see. What do you see?” I expected a simple answer. What I got was more complicated and profound. He began with a challenge: “Andy, if I do that, it won’t look like what you think it will…”

I felt the need to grab a pen and paper, so I did. It was like He was whispering, “Here’s what I see. Some things we see the same and some things we see differently. Sometimes we see the same thing but give it different titles.” As I started to process what God was highlighting in my heart, I decided to write it all out in essay form. I started wrapping words around the impressions I was feeling, and the following lines developed. It’s always a little odd for me to attempt to write things from God’s perspective, but I really felt that my question needed to be addressed this way. It’s unusual for me to share something this personal in a public forum, but I needed this. And I’m sharing it because maybe you need it to.


You see endings. I see beginnings.

You see rubble. I see raw material.

You see ball caps. I see crowns.

You see edges you could fall off. I see horizons that only appear to be endings until you get close enough.

You see moments of what you would call seclusion or loneliness. I see you learning the value of solitude. I see a shepherd boy becoming king in the fields long before he had a palace.

You see your sand castles taken down by the waves. I see the water we walked on together.

You see exposure and vulnerability. I see honesty that shatters the isolation of those around you.

You see sacrificed sleep. I see My favorite moments.

You see yourself stuttering and clearing your throat. I see a leader learning what his voice sounds like.

You see “I guess I can.” I see “I always knew you could.”

You see yourself discovering and learning new things. I see you uncovering what was there all along. What I put there at the beginning.

You see yourself becoming a more mature person. I see you becoming the real you.

You see yourself disrupting the quiet and regretting those comments. I see you finally speaking up.

You see yourself having an opinion. I see you trusting yourself.

You see yourself ignoring certain people. I see you refusing to listen to the voice of a stranger.

You see yourself as a work in progress with small moments of forward movement along the way. I see what I’ve always seen: the finished product, the person you will one day be — the youest you.

You see walls that gave way. I see a vision no longer boxed in.

You see friends. I see sharpeners.

You see someone trying to be his best. I see what happens when we put our bests together.

You rejoice that places of weakness are finally becoming places of strength. I was never worried or rushed.

You see the trouble spots, the limitations and sins. I’m aware of those and we’re dealing with them. But I wish you’d notice how differently you handle them now.

You see progress but bypass the celebration of it. I’ve thrown some parties for you and missed having you there.

You sometimes wonder if I’m even paying attention. That one hurts. If you were a movie, I’d be on the edge of my seat. I’ve watched with rapt attention from day one.

You see promises coming true eventually, but you remind Me that “eventually” feels like forever. I see all things. Don’t mistake my prioritization of the long-term as negligence of the short-term. I know what I’m doing. Learn how to wait well.

You hesitantly concede victories. I am the loudest dad in the stands, cheering on what I’ve been certain of for a long time. Your victories were always loud and sure.

You see someone who at least looks better than he did in 2016. I see someone who looks more like Me.

You see you and all your efforts. I see you… and Me.

Without Maps

I finally got around to starting that blog I’ve been talking about for years.

Allow me to introduce it. I’m not sure what I want Without Maps to look like yet, but I have to start somewhere. I’ve been wanting to start a blog for a long time. I’ve talked about it, done some research, and even had my mouse hovering over the “create” button several times. Something always held me back. And that something was fear.

In early 2014, I made the decision to take ownership of the truth that I was a writer and commit to the process of actually writing. Fiction is my preference. Over the course of four years, I’ve written three novels, two short stories, and a growing collection of essays. I’ve learned a lot about the writing process and the agony of how long a writing project can take. I’ve also learned that no feeling compares to the sweet reward of finishing. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer and as a person, as my stories tend to reflect whatever spiritual growth I’m experiencing at the time. The writing journey has shaped me into a more contemplative, appreciative person.

There was just one glaring problem.

Nobody had any idea what I was doing.

I am a deeply private person and since my writing is a direct draw from the well of my heart, I tend to keep pretty quiet about it. I would give friends snippets of stories, descriptions of characters and plot lines, and they would get excited and supportive and encouraging and then… I would go hide again.

I could make a lot of money as a professional hider, were there such a thing.

In my attempt to protect the beauty of the stories unfurling inside me, I had built a castle wall behind which I alone was allowed. I was learning, growing, writing, changing, maturing… And nobody was there to celebrate with me. It was lonely, but it was lonely because I had forced it to become so. I held what I considered precious treasure like it was a basketball and sent flying elbows at anyone who dared get close, even if they were only getting close to encourage me. But the issue ran deeper than that. It wasn’t just me wanting to protect what was happening inside me.

It was old-fashioned fear.

Being a creative person is an exhausting, dangerous endeavor. Because as much as you love the creative process and the work of art that comes from it, there is a sheer and sudden terror right below the surface that everyone who sees your work is going to hate it. And tell you. In no uncertain terms. So I kept creating my own pieces in my own castle, where I liked them and nobody could tell me how terrible they were. (Some of them really are terrible, but fear has a way of convincing you that everything you touch will be shamed if you let it out into the light of day.)

The Lord convicted me about this earlier in the year. I began to see that my playing it safe was not serving the Kingdom in the slightest. Now, I am not arrogant enough to think that my words will forever alter the constitution of every heart they come in contact with. But in the middle of the night when I genuinely wanted to give up on a project, God would remind me… “Somebody out there needs this.” And there have been days when that promise kept me moving through a story. And shouldn’t that be the heart of any creative endeavor? To minister to others? Even beyond that, I started realizing that I have friends and family who care a lot about me and want to read what I’m writing. I was doing those relationships an injustice and missing an opportunity to bless and be blessed by staying so secretive about what I was working on.

And that brings us here, to this blog. Without Maps. I’ve known I wanted to call it that for a while, but I honestly didn’t know why. I’m still figuring that out. I am a planned, organized person in most areas of my life. Metaphorically, I love maps. But I want this blog to be a place where I can adventure and explore without them. I hope to ease up on myself in this space, without worrying so much about eloquence or perfect grammar. I want this blog to be a place where I can share what I’m learning or working on, spiritual lessons or fiction pieces. It also keeps me accountable to continue writing. Creating this gives me a place to pull back the curtains and let you see what’s going on inside me. Because maybe we’re going through the same stuff and need each other. There is a unique comfort in solidarity.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Perhaps we walk into this one without a map.