In Donald Miller’s storyline conference, Exercise Two asks, “Where am I going?”

I’m supposed to do some vision casting.

Imagine my life in the future if nothing changes. 

If I stay on the same course I’m on, where will I be in a year, in three years, and in five years?

I’m supposed to ask myself this question about my:

1) personal relationships

2) career

3) personal health.

When I participated in this exercise with the other people at the conference, I didn’t fit in. Most people struggled with putting their careers ahead of family. I feel that Paul and I have the opposite problem. We put family first but we also want personal success, which hasn’t exactly been achieved. We’re not perfect, but we have made the serious sacrifices that truly show family trumping personal gain. Choosing to homeschool instead of benefiting from dual incomes is a detriment to our financial well-being, but a major gain for our family togetherness. With all life choices, there are positives and negatives and Paul and I have struggled less with our family harmony and more with the financial hardships that come with paying back a school debt I chose not to use while supporting a large family.

Nothing is truly compartmentalized, though. I believe both Paul and I struggle with our self-worth because no one pays us much for what we do. We can remind ourselves ad nauseam that family closeness is priceless. But, at the end of the month, after working so hard to foster our family without much money, this too, costs. If we continue to put our careers on hold, we may lose out on the gains of a personal journey. Our kids will sense how much we sacrificed for them, and though they may appreciate it, they will not like being the cause of our lost dreams. I feel now is the time for us to sacrifice less on our careers and to give our dreams more attention. Our girls will have to understand that the world does not revolve around them — that their parents have hopes to meet too.

So let’s look at the first section.

Personal Relationships:

Imagine my personal relationships in one year if nothing changes.

Teaching frustrates Paul. There’s hope that this will improve with time. If it doesn’t, however, it does affect us. It dampens our relationship — not because he takes it out on us — but simply because he is not himself, not his best. If the family is the basic unit of the world, what affects one member of the family affects all members of the family. Paul’s unhappiness in his work will spread to us. We will feel his disappointment and frustration.

Homeschooling will have its difficulties which will compound if I continue to work this much. The girls were willing to make the sacrifice this year, but if it were to repeat, they would ask to go to school and not be on their own so often. If I choose to work less, we’ll be busy but we’ll stay close. Elsa will work on her art and Greta will work on her music. I’ll discover Ingrid and Dagne’s gifts and encourage them. If I work more and the girls return to school, we give up a major part of who we’ve chosen to be. In the end, we’ve neutralized our act of cultural disobedience. We’ll have bent our heads to a system we don’t believe in.

Imagine my personal relationships in three years if nothing changes.

If Paul’s enjoyment of his job does not increase, he will by this time grow bitter and jaded. This probably will have an adverse effect upon our marriage. If I continue to work this much while homeschooling, the girls will resent it. They will blame me for not being available to help them. They may demand to go to school because of my having too much on my plate. Elsa will graduate and go to college. If I choose to be home more, I’ll be thankful for the homeschooling time when she goes. I’ll be thankful that we were able to stay so close. If I work too much, she may have ambivalent feelings toward homeschooling because I could help her so little during her high school years.

Imagine my personal relationships in five years if nothing changes.

Do you know those burnt-out teachers who complain about everything? Paul may become one if he continues to depend on a system he philosophically disagrees with. I mean, how long can someone sell something he doesn’t trust? He may give up on his dreams of being an artist. Though stoic and accepting (more likely) or bitter and angry, the day-in-day-out of feeling like a sellout will affect our relationship. We’ll be disappointed in ourselves that we haven’t achieved much. Greta will graduate and possibly go to college. We’ll have two girls left to homeschool to adult-hood. If I continue working this much, the girls will have negative feelings toward homeschooling. They will feel neglected and doubtful about its benefits. They may fight to go to school. I may have to give in because I’m around too little.

Career:

Imagine my career in one year if nothing changes.

I continue to tutor which offers me the flexibility to work during the girls’ activities instead of during school hours. I took a short-term job during the day this year, but it isn’t offered next year. So, if I keep the days free, we’ll fill our homeschooling days with good things — reading classics, writing, and math, followed by creating — Elsa her art, Greta her music, and Ingrid and Dagne discovering their gifts. I work on writing the blogs, on writing articles, and on the book — bit-by-bit.

Imagine my career in three years if nothing changes.

Still tutoring. The girls are older. They are more independent. I have more time to write. I continue typing my stories and articles and submitting them. I attend writers’ conferences and seek relationships with editors and agents. If nothing changes, I haven’t really broken through as a writer. In three years, I may suffer from self-doubt. I may consider giving up. Perhaps a teaching job will tempt me because it is money and security and I’ve obviously failed as a writer. Right now, I feel that I write for me, for what I believe. If I have no validation from the world, I may doubt myself and my beliefs.

Imagine my career in five years if nothing changes.

If I’m still tutoring, I’ll consider myself a failure as a teacher as well as a writer. I’ll try to focus on my successes as a wife and a mother, but hope deferred makes the heart sick, and I’ll be heartsick that I have no successes to show for all my work. I’ll wonder if I wasted my life away. I’ll try to write for the sake of writing. I’ll be an artist to the end. But I will long for validation.

Health:

Imagine my health in a year if nothing changes.

I’ve managed to stay close to my wedding-day weight but I’ve gotten softer. I’ve begun a regimen that should counteract the problem. If nothing changes, I’ll be about the same — I need to lose five or ten pounds but I can still play softball and volleyball. I can still do everything I like to do.

Imagine my health in three years if nothing changes.

I really think we’ve done things right in regards to our health. We eat well — we sit down to meals that are complete and healthy. We eat out very little. Desserts are only for special occasions. We don’t snack. Paul and I go for long walks and hikes. The girls play sports. I’m playing softball again. I’m in a running group. I’m working out at the athletic club. The girls are old enough that I’m not tied to the house. I can find people to push me where my willpower is faulty. We’re hardly ever sick. The only time we go to the doctor is for yearly check-ups.

Imagine my health in five years if nothing changes.

The only difference in five years is that my shoulder might not hold out for the sports I play. I may have to face that I need surgery to keep playing volleyball and softball or I may switch sports. Perhaps I’ll focus more on hiking with Paul or move to tennis. I believe we’ve created a lifestyle that grows healthy bodies. Regular meals. Good meals. Drinking in moderation. Regular sleep habits. Rest on Sundays. We eat to live, not live to eat. Exercise is a way of life. Paul and I should make exercise more of a priority, but we’re correcting this.

Assessment: I’m supposed to step away from myself and view myself as a character in a novel. My character, the hero of my life story, has many things going her way. She is healthy and has strong relationships. She is happy as a wife and mother.

But she has neglected her personal journey.

She pushed aside her dreams for a variety of reasons — practical advice, small rejections, family responsibilities, personal beliefs, sacrificial mothering, and financial hardships. She has unfinished business with her destiny. She has to take some major risks to meet her goal — which is validation as a writer. She risks feeling ashamed if she continually fails. If she is still saying she wants to make a living as a writer five years from now and nothing comes of it, people will roll their eyes and patronize her with pats on the back that say Good luck with that! She will waste all that time in writing when she could have worked and gained income for her family. She will have little money for the future — her daughters’ college educations and wedding expenses. She will have little money for her retirement. She will be mistaken — she has no destiny, no calling. She missed the boat. The saints will say, Duh!

She will feel like a failure in so many ways.

Moreover, if, during all this time of pursuing her own dreams, her husband slogs away in a job he dislikes, he will suffer. He has made sacrifices for nothing. It could descend in a downward spiral of blame. Even if he were to withhold blame and give truly, he will be hurt by giving up on his own personal journey. He will wonder what would have happened if he had taken a chance on his own destiny. If the hero of Danielle Harris’ life encourages her husband to follow his dreams and he fails, all the consequences of her failing will compound.

Less money for the future. Less money for daughters’ college educations and weddings. Less provision for retirement.

Gambling with such big stakes only make good stories if you win!

Or is that true?

I guess failure and down spirals can still make a good story — it becomes a tragedy instead of a comedy. From Achilles to Hamlet, from Scarlett O’Hara to Catherine Earnshaw, tragic heroes endure.

I’m scared though. It’s not easy living a good story. I want comfort. I want safe. I want predictability.

I don’t know if I’m willing to drink from the cup. I’m unsure if I can suffer or persevere or dash my life upon the rocks as an offering. Can I endure the open sneers or the hidden snickers at a failed life? I don’t want to serve as a lesson — as a bad example. I don’t want to be a tragic hero.

Maybe there are no heroes. Are we like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Just sitting backstage wondering why the laws of the universe don’t really exist? Wondering why we’ve flipped heads for the hundredth time?

But, if I dig down really deep inside myself, I believe. I believe that we must tell stories, that we are telling stories, that stories are being told through us. I believe I’m a participant and the hero of my life. I believe I matter. I believe my music is heard and I … hope … it … is … beautiful.

It can be haunting. It can be sad. It can be terrible or absurd. But I want it to serve.

I’d rather serve as a bad example than take no risks at all. I’d rather live with all its discomforts.

Risk is really the crux of a good story. Sometimes external circumstances force the risk. Sometimes we create the risk. In this culture where suffering is the great evil, risk must be chosen. Even arranged.

Orchestrating risk. That’s what every writer does.

If I want to live a good story, take the risks when they present themselves and make the risks when they don’t.

Artists don’t always get to see the fruits of their labor. So many die before recognition. So many die believing themselves failures. The masses of people and the years passing by are the sieves. Didn’t Bach’s works waste away in obscurity for years before someone plucked them from the piles and recognized the genius? Van Gogh died in despair. William Wilberforce didn’t carry out his life goal for years and years, after his bad health had almost killed him. Abraham had only the son of promise. He couldn’t see his descendants number the stars of the sky. He believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. Imagine leaving the city life to wander in the desert and live in a tent because you believe in one God, an all-encompassing God, a God that is Other and not like us. How many times he must have doubted. Why, why I am doing this? I was making a lot of money back in Ur fashioning idols for people. They want their idols. They need their idols. Why can’t I just live like everyone else is living?

Validation isn’t always seen in our lifetimes. I guess that’s what faith is. Doing what you believe is important. We can’t always see if it will last. Some of us have to wait until the other side.

And even if I gain success, I can’t know whether it will make a lasting impact. Shakespeare probably had no idea he would shape the world. He was just writing plays in the cut-throat world of London Elizabethan theater. He couldn’t have known. Yet, he wrote.

And we benefit.

Perhaps I’m coming to an understanding about suffering and pain.

It isn’t evil.

Had Dickens’ father not caused the family to go to debtors’ prison, would Dickens have written about the plight of the poor? His father must have beat himself up for what he did to his family. Maybe he despised himself. Maybe he was just selfish.I don’t know. I just know that it worked out for good. Redemption is always waiting for an entrance.

I guess what I’m talking myself into is to follow my path and hang the consequences!

To scorn fear.

To trust that all can be used for good. That if my family suffers from debt and financial failure, it may cause a daughter of mine (or even a granddaughter) to right some evil in society, to reveal some incongruous facet of it, to shine truth upon it. Perhaps this exercise has helped me to laugh at Satan, that accuser, who keeps us shivering in cages.

Where am I going?

I don’t know. Somewhere unknown to me. A path that may have the shining citadel of success awaiting me or an ambush of failure.

Or maybe just the mundane vastness of a becalmed sea.

In this culture, I strive to fear staying more than going.

In this age where comfort and non-suffering is the goals of most, I shun joining them.

I’ve passed some tests. I turned down the safe choices of full-time jobs to pursue writing. I try not to tremble when I look at the bills. And I write in all the chunks and chips of time that I call my own.

I may give a gift worth giving. I may even live to see it recognized. I trust. I risk. I …

what does the future hold for me?

Blessed are those who believe and do not see.

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