Everyone needs an Amy Young in their lives—she is smart, funny, compassionate, humble, silly, and a wise story-teller. Amy so amazing, I had to put her bio at the bottom—it was too long! You can check it out when you finish reading…
When the Middle is Long
If you met me, you might think I am a people person. And I am.
I just happen to be a task person who also likes people. I love the rush of accomplishing tasks. So, I try to weave into my day a few tasks that are short and concrete just so I can get a hit. Doing a load of laundry. Going to a class at the gym. Writing a blog post. I like to be able to look back at the end of the day and have a sense of accomplishment.
When Britta approached me to write for this series with a before and after picture, I wanted to pick a meaningful example where you would marvel at my deep insights on some ordinary part of our lives. The pictures would have been so amazing you might have been jealous. Just saying.
But what came to mind wasn’t a tidy task; instead, I sensed God say, “Amy, where do you see me meeting you in the middle of long tasks? When the end is not necessarily in sight. You know, the ones where you are in danger of getting lost in the weeds? Or distracted by something that might have more of an immediate pay off.”
There’s Always More to Be Done…
When I wrote my book Looming Transitions I knew I would have to edit it. What I did not grasp what that editing—especially for a first time author who had, let’s just say, a lot to learn—was not a once and done process. When my editor sent me the edited manuscript, I was shocked to see how much work I still had to do.
Clearly I was more on the “before” side of the project than the “after.” I began to wonder, “Is this worth it? Obviously I have overestimated my ability or underestimated the task. I think I’d rather watch TV than have to face all the work between me and a completed manuscript.”
But I dove in and started making corrections. Then I sent it to a friend and much to my shock, more changes were found. As in, quite a few per chapter. What in the world?! When do people say nice things and not find one correction that needs to be made? (Keep in mind, they were complimenting my work . . . it is just that they were also still finding ways to improve it. Sigh!)
I made the changes my friend suggested and sent the final version back to my editor for one last look through. In truth, I didn’t realize I was expecting her to be amazed at the transformation. Imagine my shock, horror, and annoyance when she sent it back—and I am not kidding—with still at least one change per page. And some pages? Multiple edits suggested.
How can this be?!
When will this end?!
But as I addressed that round of edits, I could see that each round was truly improving the work. I was getting somewhere. Finally, it was time for the formatter to take the word documents and transform them into . . . a book.
It turns out that he and I had to go through the entire book TWO more times with over twenty edits per go. But in the end? The final product is one of which I am very proud.
When the End Seems Far Off
Now on the “after” side, I can say that this process was worth the investment. Knowing how life is, you might find yourself in the middle of something too. If so, here are four tips to help you with the middle is l-o-n-g and the end is far off:
- Gather a community to cheer you on. When I got that third round of edits and could not believe so much still needed to be done, I posted in Facebook asking people to cheer me on and tell me why this book was needed. One comment in particular sticks out. She said, “My daughter is on the mission field and she needs this book. You are editing for Carrie.” She helped me visualize what I had lost sight of: real people would be helped by this project.
- Remember past projects. I can see why God used the word “remember” so often with the Israelites. Forgetting is easy. Fussing is easy. Fretting is easy. But remembering past accomplishments takes discipline. Build the discipline of remembering into your tasks.
- Just take the step in front of you. What a difference when I figure out what to do next—for instance, edit Chapter 3—instead of being flooded by every task that needs to be done. Don’t think of all that needs to be done every day; instead at the beginning of the week, list out what needs to get done that week and then each day, just take the step in front of you.
- Celebrate small victories. Do not wait to celebrate until the Big Task is done; build in small victories. When I was in the process of writing the book, I would give myself a reward after each 5,000 words written. I never, never buy donuts; so it was indeed a special treat to lick the powdered sugar off my fingers. When it came to editing, I was paralyzed at first by the enormity of the task. To get myself moving, I chose a small reward for editing chapters 3 and 4. I now have what I lovingly refer to as my “Chapter 3 and 4” workout shirt.
Lent is Life in the Middle
Recently I got my second manuscript back from my editor and guess what? Each page seems sprinkled in red. Each page. I began to wonder, “Is this worth it? I wonder what is on TV?” But this is why these annual rhythms are vital. Remember, Lent is also a part of the process. And Lent represents a larger process. Jesus meets us here, when the distance between “before” and “after” is long.
Where are you being met in the “long middle?”
In the middle, it’s always good to keep the end in mind. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, ESV).
Amy Young is a writer, encourager, lover of math, faithful daughter/sister/aunt/friend. And a HUGE Denver Broncos fan! Amy is a former missionary to China (of 20 years or so), blogger at The Messy Middle, and current co-editor of a website/ministry, Velvet Ashes, which ministers to women working in the mission fields all across the world. Her first book was about how to transition well, in and out of the field. You can find Looming Transitions—or gift it to your favorite missionary— on Amazon (eBook, paperback, family activity book) and on Gumroad (as workbook, audiobook, plus a family workbook!) She is currently finishing up her most recent book, so stay tuned for that. Amy contributes to too many websites to mention and co-hosts a conference for writers—whew! Obviously Amy likes to keep busy!
Amy, thanks so much for this post. Your writing always pushes me (in a good way) to really listen for God and let him speak how he wants and not how I want.
Britta, I’m so excited to have found your site! I love lent, and have been missing it because my faith community doesn’t put much emphasis on it. Thank you!
I’m thinking about when the middle is reeeaally long, like the Israelites 40 years in the desert. I hear God asking me, “What if you walk your current desert for a literal 40 years? Will you trust me then?” I find myself equivocating and trying to convince God that if that’s the case, I’ve only got 7 years to go, and hear him laughing–gently, but definitely laughing–because I’m trying to count Egypt as part of the desert, and we both know it.
Speaking of small victories: this is the clearest I’ve heard God’s voice in a long time, which is, I think, a sign of a little softening in my heart. It’s a reminder that however long I’m in this desert, I won’t be in it in total solitude.
Hey Jessa! I love the authenticity in your self-assessment. I also love the idea of God laughing indulgently at our silly childish ways of reworking history in our favor…I do this too. And, as a mom, I know that when my kids are most transparent and earnest, its hard to be really angry. He know our frames. He know our characters and how we are bent. And He loves us, His little comfort-seekers…He still loves us, though we crave the easy way out.
You’re absolutely NOT in total solitude. In fact, if we were really honest, we’d say we are all in the same boat here. We often find that our spiritual ears are stopped up, even as we ask God to speak to us. But thankfully, our growth and our journey are not dependent on us, getting it right. Thankfully, God’s plans for us cannot be thwarted by us. He will bring us to the next appointed place, in His time, in His way. He never lets us get lost. He is so wonderful!
Thanks for joining us! Let me know if you have any before/after pictures that we can use here. I just moved this year and we scaled things back a bit. I hope that next year we will create more noise on Instagram. 🙂