Full and Hungry

Full and hungry.  At first glance, you’d think it should be full OR hungry. It seems counterintuitive that one person could be both full AND hungry.  And yet, I’m here to say that I think being both full AND hungry is quite possibly the best way to be.

I don’t know your personal thoughts and feelings on the Bible, nor am I writing this post to debate it or try to convince you of anything, but if you’ve read much of it, I think you’d probably agree that there is some really good wisdom in it.  Things like “moderation” (always a good tack to take when it comes to avoiding overindulgence in anything), being kind to one another (our world would be a much better place if we could all manage to observe this on a daily basis), and the importance of love. I could seriously make a list a mile long of all the plain old SMART, COMMON SENSE tidbits in the Bible.  Being both full and hungry is one of them.

This particular verse is in Philippians. It goes like this:  “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”  This nugget is snuggled up to some pretty famous verses, ones I’ve had memorized since I was a child.  But a couple of weeks ago, those three words jumped out at me like I’d never seen them before, and since I don’t believe in coincidence or accidents, I took note.

The context of this verse is in regards to being content with what you have and where you are in life, something that’s difficult for the vast majority of people, myself included.  Since becoming an author, I’ve become intimately acquainted with my own boundless ambition and crippling competitiveness. I’ve realized that, while neither is a bad thing in and of itself, both can be devastating when taken to extremes.  

I started out in the wonderful world of writing just wanting people to READ my work. That was goal number one.  Goal number two was to make enough money doing something I loved to replace the income I made as a nurse.  So simple.  So sweet.  So RIGHT.  And for many, many months, I woke up every day anxious to tell a story and make a living at something that also just happened to be my passion.  It was pretty perfect for a while.

Then came some success.  By some people’s standards, it was considerable success. By others, not so much. To me, it felt like I’d hit the “next stage” and I was flying high.  But then, as most of you know, the bottom dropped out of the industry.  Not only were big changes coming for the literary world, but big changes were coming in my personal life as well. 

I wasn’t prepared for either.

Fast-forward a couple of years and there I was, dropped like a newborn into a world vastly different than the one I saw the last time I lifted my head to take notice.  Competition got greater, sales got lesser, and people got meaner.  And somewhere along the way, being satisfied with just writing something I loved and making ends meet financially had gone the way of the “good old days”– bye bye.  

I had no idea what a struggle it would be to find balance again. Things were so much different, and there was a big part of me that wanted to be back in a place that felt like “flying high” to me all those months ago.  Only that place was much harder to reach now and, try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to find it.  

The more I fought to get back something that was forever gone, the more I began to wrestle with my  writing.  My personal demons were nipping at my heels, and the world I’d come to love had changed so, so much. I felt like a stranger.  And a brand new author, starting from scratch in a community that was barely a ghost of the one I’d come to love.

When I wrote The Empty Jar, I was grieving something fierce.  That book contains little bits and pieces of my soul, and I didn’t write it to an audience. I wrote it for me. I wrote it for my dad. I wrote it for others who had suffered or were suffering.  It was the first thing I’d written in quite a while that was just something I loved. Just something that mattered to me.  It wasn’t written with the first thought for what it might mean for my career. It was written because I had to write it.  

But loving something doesn’t mean you’re immune to the disappointment of harsh criticism or slow sales.  I wanted everyone to read and love TEJ, just as I loved it, and it was hard for me when sales weren’t what I’d hoped for.  That book gave me something far more valuable than sales, though. It gave me back my love of writing.  

Now I just had to find a way to be okay with the financial part again.

Enter Levi’s Blue.  

This was another story that I loved from start to finish, and another one I had the highest hopes for.  When I finished it, I spent the following weeks trying to relearn marketing, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.  All I could really do was try a little of everything and hope it worked. For me, it didn’t perform like I’d hoped, but I’m noticing that, in this day and age, it has done really well by most people’s standards. The facts, the numbers caused me to look around at how hard the market is for 99.999% of authors right now, and how sales are down for everyone from the biggest fish to the tiniest minnow.  And THAT caused me to be grateful that my books are selling at all.

And THAT is where the full and hungry part came in.

Over the course of the last couple of years, I’ve been hungry. Starving, in fact.  Desperate to regain something that isn’t possible to regain without a time machine that will take us all back to the year 2012. But y’all, that hunger made me miserable.  It affected my voice, my concentration, my mood.  But most of all, and saddest of all, it affected my joy.  Somehow, success by other people’s standards had become the stick against which I’d begun to measure MYSELF. My worth, my success, my satisfaction with a day’s work.  I’d let that hunger steal something vital from me.

But through Levi’s Blue, God showed me that while things are different now and it’s okay to want to DO better, WRITE better, and BE better, I need to be happy and content with what I have RIGHT NOW.  Missing the NOW in pursuit of what we think we want and need is a travesty.  There is a balance to be had, and it’s so very, very important to find it.  Now, striking that balance is incredibly difficult. I will be the  first to admit it.  But this scripture…these three words taken in the context in which they were intended…they made me see that striking that balance is IMPERATIVE.  Otherwise, I’ll just walk around hungry all the time, never full and grateful for all the wonderful things I’ve seen and experienced and achieved.  All the wonderful people and places and moments in my life. 

Life doesn’t wait for anyone. It didn’t pause and wait for me to come to my senses.  It simply moved on without me.  Then I had to run to catch up.  But at least I DID catch up.  I DID find that balance again.  Now I just have to keep it.

What I’ve learned? It’s okay to be hungry. To want more. To want to have more, be more, do more.  That’s what compels us to find cures and climb new mountains and write masterpieces. But it’s so, so, so important to be full, too.  To say at the end of the day, when things didn’t quite turn out like you’d hoped, that you’re happy and healthy and FULL, and that you hope to wake up in the morning and live to fight another day. And maybe THAT day will be THE day that brings satisfaction to your hunger.  But either way, you’ll be full.  

There will always be more to be had.  Higher peaks to reach, more money to make, skinnier clothes to fit into. But there is only one today, and wasting it by being miserable because of what we have not yet achieved is just that–a waste.  I’m done wasting days, y’all.  I want to, need to, enjoy being full.

I hope somebody out there benefits from this as much as I have.  It’s to you that I raise my cup, a cup which is currently running over, and toast the beauty of today and the excitement of tomorrow.  May we both, may we ALL, be able to keep them in perspective.