A few weeks ago I squeezed in some meaningful conversations with friends in the midst of 12 ten-hour work days. When you are a freelancer, no one cares that you are taking a week in California with your family and friends, or that the following week you are attending and working at a conference, or that in a moment of insanity you volunteered to be a female chaperone for the youth mission trip 36 hours after you get back. There is no such thing as paid time off; you just get your work done before you leave. On the flip side, I regularly participate in conference calls with leaders whose names you would recognize while wearing sweatpants and no makeup. Not much of a benefits package, but you take what you can get.
Anyway, vacation starts today at noon (as soon as I get off a conference call; seriously) and the lead-up has been brutal. But a couple of people I like a lot and never see asked for some time to catch up and it was good to hear from them. It was also interesting to reflect on the unplanned theme weaving throughout our conversations.
One reached out to me to discuss writing and also to commiserate. “Your Twitter comments make me think you are struggling through some transitions,” she said. She shared a link to one of her own blog posts detailing her recent graduation from seminary and her uncertainty over the next steps to take. At first I nodded to myself, thinking she’d read me (and my Twitter feed) accurately. Then I thought again, and emailed her back: “Instead of frustration with transitions, I think perhaps what you’re sensing from me is a longing FOR transitions, “I said. “I am bored in a variety of areas, and I don’t see a way forward in any of them.”
A few days later I talked to the second friend, who asked, “What is life-giving for you right now?” Perhaps it was only because it was day eight of the twelve-day slog, but I was unable to think of anything significant. I changed the subject and gratefully listened to her own long list of recent professional accomplishments and personal experiences instead.
My favorite kind of movie is the inspirational based-on-a-true-story. I love the historical and dramatic ones, like Apollo 13 and All the President’s Men. (Actually, I love anything related to Watergate and I can bore you for most of a meal telling you details you never wanted to know.) I love the quirky ones, like Catch Me if You Can. I love the ones where the underdog comes from behind, like Erin Brockovich and A Beautiful Mind. I even like ones about sports, for heaven’s sake – I’ve watched and re-watched Remember the Titans, Moneyball, Race, and Hoosiers.
I could name more (Breach! Spotlight! The Insider! Stand and Deliver!) but the point is not to impress you with how much time I’ve spent on Netflix when I should have been reading. The point is that in almost all of these stories, there is a time in the hero’s life that the movie just passes over. Maybe it’s all the years he spent doing paperwork at his desk, or testing petri dishes in the lab and discovering nothing. Maybe it’s the year he didn’t qualify for the Olympic trials, or the decade she spent slowly building an academic program before the teaching breakthrough and the acclaim. But in almost every real-life story, there are years the script skips through…..years where nothing much happens and no one thinks anything will…..ellipses years.
I am squarely in the middle of some ellipses years. It is possible that nothing beyond the excitement of now will ever happen to me, but if it does, if I accomplish something great or leave some legacy beyond two Johnson children who sometimes remember to wash their hands before dinner, 2016 will be one of several years that doesn’t show up much in the movie. Perhaps the screenwriter will write up one of these conversations with my friends before cutting to the dramatic Moment When It All Changes. Maybe there will be one of those montages of me sitting at a desk and grocery shopping, set to inspiring music. But this is not an era of my life that’s going to get a lot of screen time.
I suppose the only comfort from this is that I’m in good company. Moses spent a lot of time tending sheep before his big call from God. David did, too. Joseph hung out in jail. Paul got saved and then spent a dozen years just preaching around Tarsus. They were able to do something significant later in life because God forced some ellipses years on them. I won’t be leading a million people out of slavery or writing the New Testament, but perhaps God is preparing me for something, too.
If not, I’m slowly learning contentment. I would still welcome a little transition and a little more inspiration, but until that comes I’m going learn what I can in the dot-dot-dot of the day to day. And also, I’m going on vacation.