A long time ago, I was given a very special book. It was the translated diary of a survivor of the Bosnia-Herzegovina war. Her name is Nadja Halilbegovich, and the title of her book is My Childhood Under Fire: A Sarajevo Diary. You can purchase it here, if you wish. It is worth reading.
Growing up in Sarajevo, Nadja lived through most of the Bosnia-Herzegovina war. But she did not come through it unscathed. When she went outside for a brief breath of fresh air, a bomb landed near her. Though she did not lose life or limb, to this day she still has shrapnel in her legs from the shell that went off. Several years after this, in 1995, she and her mother made the harrowing journey from Sarajevo to Croatia so Nadja could be flown to safety in the United States. A few months later, the war would finally end.
But neither Nadja nor her mother knew that as they walked through a cramped underground tunnel, the first leg of their journey to Croatia. With the shrapnel in her legs, walking for long distances caused Nadja a lot of pain. The confines and length of the secret trek exacerbated this ache to the point that she was on the cusp of giving up the walk to just sit down, essentially giving up. She looked back at her mother to tell her this, only to stop as she realized how tired she was.
Noticing her daughter’s stare, Nadja’s mother smiled. Then she said, “Remember, Nadja. Remember your dream and keep walking!”
Those were the same words Nadja wrote when she signed a copy of her book, the one which was eventually given to me. Reading that note for the first time, this author paused. The message was hopeful but weighty; clearly, the author knew more about the world than I did at the time. But only when she finished the book would this entertainer learn the full weight and meaning behind Nadja Halilbegovich’s words.
While it would seem this article is a retread of the post on never giving up, this note actually has a different aim. The previous article concentrated on what a good story ought to do for its readers. But they are not the only ones who benefit from uplifting tales of courage and hope. Writers – whether they deal with fiction or fact – need these reminders as well.
Most of us embark on our careers as storytellers with a “perfect” view of what will happen next. Publishing is easy, after all, especially now that Amazon and other companies are willing to let us use their platform to broadcast whatever stories we create in whatever arrangement we desire. All we have to do is jot down a tale, copy and paste it in the right format, and BANG! We are now published authors.
But it is not actually that simple. It never really has been.
Is writing easier, especially these days, than digging a ditch, cleaning clogged pipes, grooming horses, or filing paperwork? Physically yes, it is far easier. And it can pay better, too – though as the old saw says, plumbers hardly ever want for employment. Telling tales for money is a much less secure job market, especially for beginners.
However, while storytelling is not physically demanding, it is mentally demanding. The author has to learn his craft, which requires that he read widely, study hard, think a great deal, and sit still for hours on end. This is a draining process, one that can take years before the writer sees any results. Even the most talented authors were only able to present something salable to the public after an extensive period of time. It may have been five, four, or three years rather than ten, but the fact remains that a number of 365 day cycles ran past before the writer’s name and work appeared in print for others to buy.
This picture alone is rather depressing, and it leaves out the other difficulties writers face. These can be physical, mental, or spiritual. More than likely they will be some combination of the three, and they will all become painfully acute from time to time.
Even if you are just setting pen to paper or pixels to pixels, you know the troubles of which I speak, future writers. How many of you are trying to pay the mortgage? How many of you are working two or three jobs to feed your children? Or, to reverse that picture, how many of you are watching your parents struggle to keep a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food on your plate? Who among you are watching a loved one waste away due to illness? Do you have to read this post in snippets while holding back panic or tears as you wait for the doctors to come out of the operating room to give you potentially horrible news?
Those who do not have these issues hovering over your shoulders, howling for your attention and dragging your dreams into the mud, have other struggles. How many of you have looked at your writing and compared it to others, only to see that yours is lacking? Who among you have abusive family members or teachers mocking your wish to be published? If you say that none of you have heard that little imp hissing “Give up, it’s no use, no one is paying attention,” in your ear morning, noon, and night, then you are a liar. Every writer worth the name has had that monster dragging at his mind and will since prehistory.
I am not going to tell you that these troubles will stop. There is only one place where they go away for good, and that is heaven. For those of us determinedly trying to get there, temptations and difficulties of one kind or another do not decrease the closer we get. Rather, they increase as the devil, the world, and our own fallen nature rebels and attempts to pull us away from pain to the ease of following our wills.
Whether these succeed or fail to draw us away is largely dependent upon us and how much we are willing to rely on God’s love and providence. Even when we know without a doubt that we are following His Will (it is not always clear, trust me), that does not make staying on the path any easier. We are fallen creatures, and the temptation to take the easy way out is ever with us. Until we die and find out where we are going for certain, we will always be plagued by trials and doubts of one kind or another.
And that, of course, returns us to Nadja Halilbegovich’s story. It is not the exhaustion that stops us, or the despair, or the fear. People throughout history have faced these trials and come out on the other side of them victorious. What stops us is the decision to give in to these obstacles. In short, we are halted when we choose to stop walking the path to writing and – if we desire it – publishing.
Let me say that again. When you and I choose to give up, to say “I can’t do it,” or “it’s too hard,” we seal our own defeat. No one else made us capitulate to our troubles. It is impossible to make someone do something they do not want to do. Even hypnotists cannot force someone under their spell to act contrary to their will. Therefore when we surrender to pain, darkness, and despair, we do so of our own free will.
And that is a shame, future writers. It is a shame to give in, to give up on what we have been called to do. We should not throw in the towel and refuse to hold on long enough to see our way down the path that God has placed before us.
I do not say this lightly. I have my troubles, just as you do. Everyone does, even those who appear to “have it all.” No one’s life is free of temptation, grief, or sorrow. Not even the Son of God avoided it, and He could have if He wished. One cry from His infant lips would have saved us all from sin. Instead He bore more pain, heartache, and evil than any man in this world ever could. He could have given up at any time and abandoned us all to sin.
He did not. And by doing so, He showed us the way forward.
Although it is not necessarily a grief-stricken one, the way to Him is not always pleasant. It is not a clear road, where we can see all the turns and twists ahead of us. There will be valleys, hills, and mountains to climb through. There will be pain. There will be blood. There will be heartache. There will be more uncertainty, confusion, and fear than we think we can bear.
But if we hold to Him no matter what, if we stay with Him even as the world falls apart (or seems to) around our ears, we will never be lost. We will always find the strength to put one foot in front of the other, and live through the day. In short, if we look back at Him in this dark passage and see how much He suffers with us, we will be able to “remember our dreams and keep walking!”
When the day is at its grayest, look at Him. When you feel you can’t go another step, look at Him. When you are sure you have gone the absolute wrong way and think you are chasing an insane dream impossible to accomplish, look at Him. Listen to Him. And then do what He tells you.
He never gives bad advice. He may give unpleasant, painful advice, yes. But He never does it for our harm, only for our benefit.
Follow Nadja’s advice, future writers. Keep walking, no matter what. Remember your dreams, and keep walking!
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