My son, Matthew, was the kind of teenager that most parents dread. Obstinate, short-sighted, rebellious, he was a handful all through his teen years. A friend of mine, who was himself raising three daughters, told me, “I can’t imagine raising a teenage boy. It must be incredibly difficult.”
And it did have its challenges, like the time he put a baseball bat through his bedroom door because we told him no for something or another. But in the end, that pig-headedness is what saved his life.
Ten years ago, at the age of 23, just months after graduating from college, Matt ran his Mazda Miata into the back of a semi on I-35W not far from our home. He suffered traumatic brain injury, slamming his head into the top rail above his windshield. He was in an induced coma for a week, in intensive care for 17 days and in the hospital for two months. When it was time to leave the hospital, our rehabilitation physician discouraged from taking him home, instead recommending that we “institutionalize” him. But our family has always been self-sufficient, and we took him home nevertheless. The young man who couldn’t walk, eat or speak when he left the hospital was doing all three within three weeks at home.
Since that time, he has gone back to graduate school and earned a MFA in film, gotten married and now has a three-year-old son of his own. Many people say that it was the love and commitment of his family that brought him through this ordeal. And that is partly true. But I also know that his own determination (pigheadedness?) led him to never giving up on getting better.
If you were to talk to him today, at first you couldn’t tell that he had suffered a brain injury. But the challenges remain there. Many of the things we take for granted he struggles with every day. He has to write things down or he forgets them; if he doesn’t start his day with a list, he often forgets what he was supposed to do. He has trouble multitasking. And because the executive center of his brain was damaged, often his judgment is faulty.
Because of this, he has gone through many jobs in the past few years. Employers have certain expectations of their employees, regardless of whether you tell them up front that you have suffered a life-changing injury. And so the challenges of his life didn’t end when he left the hospital; in a sense they just started.
The majority of the world lives lives of acceptance. They will never affect world events. They will never build a house, run a corporation, or write a novel. It is that minority, that small percentage of people who have a dream or vision, who will do something different. And yet believing in a dream, believing in a calling, believing in yourself is not enough.
James 2: 26 says: “As the body without the spirit is dead, faith without deeds is dead.” Just as Matthew has to accept that every day presents him with a new challenge and he has to summon up the courage and belief to do what he has to do succeed, writers have to do the same thing. They have to believe in themselves, then they have to do what is necessary to succeed based on that belief.
Every year, I remind my college students that gaining a diploma will not guarantee them a job. In fact, it’s not even the most important thing they earn while in college. What’s important–and what employees pay for when they hire you–is what you learned and what you have become as a person in the process of earning that piece of paper.
And just as there no such thing as entitlement with higher education and employment, writers are not entitled to being read or published. Just because I have been writing for 40 years and written close to 20 books doesn’t mean you should read me. As the saying goes, the only book that matters is your next one.
The metaphor continues to us who are believing Christians. Jesus died for our sins, yes, and I am grateful for that every day. But that’s not the end of it. How does belief in that idea change the way we live?
Belief is the first, very necessary step. More would-be writers need to believe in themselves. But the litmus test of belief is where that takes you. Is belief in yourself enough to commit to 40 years of writing, even though most of it will never see the light of day?
I hope so, for very often that is what it will take.
Hang in there.