Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Small Miracle of the Comfort Zone

Today I went for an ultrasound and x-rays of my left knee, which has been giving me grief since last August. I have a "knee/ligament/leg/who knows what" issue, and the doctor decided to find out why my hobble hasn't gone away. He threw in pictures of my right knee and my back for good measure.

While I was twisting this way and that, it stuck me that I was uncomfortable in the extreme, and couldn't wait for the experience to be over. Lying on the rock-like ultrasound table, I wondered why. It didn't hurt, and even though the technician had the personality of a tomato, I was only spending about twenty minutes of my life in her presence. A hospital gown, socks and underpants are not my favourite attire, but it was only for an hour or so. It wasn't even inconvenient. I went on my way to work, and although I was late, one of my colleagues was covering for me.

So, why am I so thankful the experience is over?

I was out of my comfort zone.

When I am at home, at work, with friends, and many of the familiar circles in which I travel, I am comfortable. Uncomfortable things may happen, but for the most part, I know how to handle them. Sitting in a change room between tests, clothed only in a hospital gown, is a vulnerable position. In many ways, I am at their mercy. Those who guide me through this experience can be demanding and unsmiling, like the ultrasound technician, or friendly and gregarious like the x-ray guy. I have no control, and very little choice. If I want to find out what's going on with my knee/leg/whatever, I have to go through this.

Not being in my comfort zone is...uncomfortable.

This isn't always a bad thing. In fact, it's often in these situations that I grow.

In my journey as a writer, I have been outside my comfort zone many times. When I decided to take my first course with Christian Writer's Guild, which was just a few months after my husband's death, I was terrified. During that first course, a friend helped me polish a personal article about my struggle with removing my wedding ring a year after the death of my husband. I'd poured out my heart--what if they rejected it? They didn't, and so began my publishing adventure.

I've had my share of rejections, though, and they sting. Most recently, I had Pelican read my entire manuscript and reject it. I knew it was a long shot, but I was hopeful. Ouch. That was uncomfortable.

I've learned, though, that the alternative to my comfort zone is safety. Safety is a good thing, and I certainly don't condone recklessness, but safety can be stifling. Stagnating. Safety can lead to...nothing.

I'm not alone in this struggle. The Bible is full of the stories of real people who dragged their feet when asked to leave their comfort zone. Moses was full of excuses. "I can't speak well, I stutter. Send Aaron." Gideon said, "Send me a sign. Okay, send me another sign." Joshua, who had lived in the shadow of the great Moses, watching the sea part and snakes become poles and then becomes snakes again, was terrified when asked to lead after Moses died.

The bottom line is fear. It's alarming to leave the familiar and go into the unknown. But sometimes that's exactly where God wants me to be. He has a promise (several, actually) for me in the midst of this. I love the promise He gave to Joshua, because it's true for me, as well. "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Josh. 1:9

Back to my writing journey. I was at a writer's conference last year with my elevator speech on my lips and my pitch tucked under my arm, preparing to talk to agents and editors about my novel. It wasn't finished at that point, but it was almost there, and I was looking for some direction regarding next steps. Now, if you know me at all, you will realize this was already far beyond my comfort zone. Miles. Whole countries away from comfortable. So when God gently prodded me to move even farther, I was aghast.

I'd prepared a list of three editors and three agents who took materials in my genre. During the introductory session, each presenter gave a synopsis of what they were about. I can't remember the words she said, but when one of the editors spoke, I got the shivers. Something about her made me dub her "scary editor" in my mind, and cross her off the list. No problem. There were others to talk to.

Except later, as I stood in the crowded room full of editors and agents and hopeful authors, God gently prodded me, "Sign up on her sheet."

"Really, Lord? But... "However, I've learned over the years the futility of arguing, I wrote my name in one of the few empty time slots, and recorded the time in my book.

The next day, I trembled outside the door, waiting for the chair opposite her to be empty at the designated time. When that person finished, another slid into the chair. I waited through that session, but another was waiting. What had happened? When everyone was at lunch, I went to check the sheet I'd signed, and realized I'd reversed the numbers in the time I had written down. My time had passed with an empty chair. I was humiliated. How could I be so stupid? However, I hadn't done it on purpose. It was an honest mistake. Sorry, Lord.

The next morning, as soon as my eyes opened, the Lord spoke to me again. "You need to apologize to her. You wasted her valuable time."

Really, Lord? I mean, really?

I have no words to describe how far outside of my comfort zone that left me.

I was attending a workshop she was teaching, so had to sit through two hours with this hanging over my head. I was sweating and trying to keep my voice from shaking as I approached her as the last person left the room. "I would like to apologize." She looked startled.

"For what?"

I explained what I had done, and that it was an honest mistake, but I was a person who respected people's time and knew the value of a deadline and I would never do something like that on purpose.

She smiled at me and said, "Do you want to talk about your manuscript now?"

"I didn't come to get another chance. I really just wanted to apologize," I stumbled through the words.

"Well, why don't we sit down now, and you can tell me about your work." And so began a relationship that still continues. This wonderful woman has read and edited my entire manuscript. She gave me valuable input, and has inspired me to believe I have something to offer. She has been a treasure.

I have learned that there are times to be in my comfort zone. Times to put my feet up, grab a cup of tea and a good book and relax. Those are beneficial and restoring.

But when God calls me to move, whether to cross the Red Sea or cross the room, I'd better be prepared to do it.

Thankfully, I will never have to do it alone.

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