Back when I was eighteen, I went on a mission trip to Brazil with Teen Missions International Australia. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. (And, side note, if you’re a teenager or have teens interested in missions, I would very highly recommend going on a TMI team.)
We had a few different roles while we were over there – running a camp for Brazilian teams being the first one. But, before we could help run the camp, we had to make room for it. Now, I’m not sure whether that particular campsite is only used once a year or whether vegetation just grows really fast in the humidity of Brazil (probably the latter), but there was a lot to clear.
Not only does grass grow really fast and tall in Brazil but it’s tough and thick. Like bamboo.
But hey, we were young, enthusiastic and living the dream of finally being in Brazil after a year of preparing and five long days’ travel. What was a bit of vegetation? Oh, and we had machetes. Which get a bad rap but are a lot of fun to use when you’re tasked with cutting down a virtual forest.
The first day was great. We laughed, we sang, we pretended we were ninjas. The second day, we headed out a bit more tired but still happy to be there. By the third day, the novelty was wearing off.
Four of us were sent off to clear a rectangle of land, maybe thirty by twenty metres. The bamboo grass there was almost as tall as me. Compared to the half a football field we had been working on, this seemed easy. We figured we’d be done in an hour or so.
So, we began. Take a handful, chop it, drop it. Another handful, chop it, drop it. One hour, two hours in – we were chopping it and dropping it, but that wall of grass still stood before us. The heat didn’t help, neither did the occasional tarantula, but what really got to us was quite simply the fact that it felt like we were going nowhere. We were working so hard, and nothing seemed to change. We were sweaty, dirty, covered in scratches and over it. If the option had been there, we would have given up on the spot. It wasn’t, so we just kept at it, grumbling our way through. The jokes died, the enthusiasm long gone. Not even the spiders got a reaction.
And then, maybe it was God, but I had this idea. I dropped my machete there on the ground and walked backward, all the way back to the line we’d started from. It was such a beautiful sight, I called the others back and we just stood there. Marvelling.
We couldn’t see it, our faces mushed up against the grass and the finish line seeming just as far away as it had been when we’d started but walking back to the beginning, it was obvious. We might have felt like we were getting nowhere but we’d cleared over three quarters of the area. I think there might have been some tears involved. We were making a difference. And, if we kept going, we would get to the end.
Sometimes it takes going back to the start to see how far we’ve come.
My debut YA novel is coming out in two weeks but, just one year ago, things looked pretty different. I’d been writing, editing, sending out proposals and getting back rejections for nine years. Yup. Nine years of basically nothing changing. Wasn’t published when I started, still wasn’t nine years later. Yes, to all those people who asked, I was a writer. No, I didn’t have any books you could read. No, I had no idea when I would.
In many ways, it seemed like I was getting nowhere.
And yet, when I thought back to the start, to those first few days of timidly admitting to myself (let alone anyone else) that I wanted to be a writer, it blew my mind to think how far I’d come.
Even without a contract or a book, God had been working in and through me. During those nine years, I learnt a new language (I now know what ACFW, POV, SASE and Mss mean and what ARCs, WIPs, One Sheets and elevator pitches are*, among other things). I’d learnt not only what a literary agent is and does but a heap of them by name, which agencies they work for and what genres those agencies represent.
I’d written six full-length novels which, whether or not they ever get published, had grown me so much as a writer. I’d chatted with and been encouraged by multi-published authors and industry professionals and met so many others like me on the journey. I’d started and maintained a blog and seen an incredible group of friends and encouragers grow up around me.
No, I didn’t have a contract but that didn’t mean I hadn’t come a long way in those nine years, something I couldn’t see until I went back to the start and remembered where I’d begun.
It can often feel like we’re stuck in our journeys. That nothing’s changing, no matter how hard we try. Don’t believe that lie. Because that’s what it is, a lie. God is working in your life and in your journey. Even if nothing else changes, time does, and today, you are one day closer to your dream being fulfilled than you were yesterday. One day further in your journey.
Keep moving forward. Keep looking forward to what God is doing. God is working to make those dreams he’s placed in your heart come true. But in the waiting, don’t forget to look back occasionally to see how far he’s already brought you. And not just look back but remember who you were when you started. Look back to the beginning and see how far you’ve come.
I pray that you, like me, will be amazed.
*American Christian Fiction Writers (writing organisation), Point of View (who’s telling the story in a novel), Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (thankfully not required too much these days), manuscript (definitely required!), Advanced Reader Copies (versions of a book sent out to reviewers before the actual book comes out), Work-in-progress (self-explanatory), all your/your book’s pertinent details on one page, a description of your book concise enough to tell someone in the time it takes an elevator to travel a couple of floors. There you go, you’re on your way to speaking ‘author’ 🙂