On Grappling Toward Clarity

For several years now, I have struggled to gain a sense of clarity about where I’m going. For almost six years, I’ve simply known how to do the next thing. The thing right in front of me. My life was in constant upheaval, and so knowing what was in store for the long-term seemed unnecessary. I needed help for that very moment.

There was a brief time during my three years in Chile when I began to catch a long-term vision for a life there. I saw, for a moment, the possibilities on my land. There was something really beautiful about that life, and because it didn’t come to pass, I have struggled to catch a vision for my future here, in Seattle. I’ve made decisions, big ones, and I’ve leaned into the present, but I haven’t set long range plans. I’ve simply lived and done my best to be present right here. Right now.

Even in my prayer life when I have asked God for a picture of what was going on, a vision for where I am and what is to come, I could only see myself in a dark wood, filled with big tall trees, grappling toward the next step. The wood was dark but not foreboding, shadowed but not daunting. I sensed the presence of God, but saw no path out of the wood. Light came from above the trees, but the trees were so dense that no light came from the path itself.

That is beginning to change. 

Now, when I pray, I am still in the wood, but the trees have thinned, light is all around me, and the path is clearer. I can see farther out than I could see before and I have a sense of expectancy.

A year ago, I applied for an MFA in Creative Writing at SPU. I wasn’t quite sure it was the right program, but I want to write and I love to teach, so I applied. I did not get accepted. Surprisingly, I was almost relieved. And I was also confused. If I’m called to write, I should get my Masters in Creative Writing. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m simply supposed to write. All of it left me muddled and confused and resigned, perhaps even powerless.

I pressed on, kept doing the next thing in front of me. I wrote a non-fiction book proposal last spring, submitted it to an agent and after waiting for weeks, the agent said no. A few weeks before that, a fiction agent, said he liked my novel and wanted me to do another revision. After chatting and praying with John, it seemed like the open door was quite obvious. Spend the summer revising the novel. So, I did.

And yet, there has been a consistent nagging feeling that I’m being called into something new. That God wants me to dig something up that I had buried in a cemetery. But I didn’t know the way in, I didn’t know how to integrate all the pieces.

I kept editing, and kept praying.

Finally, during the revision in the last section of my novel, where my protagonist goes through a massive identity shift, I had my moment, my clarifying earthquake. The main character, Brinlyn, endures a huge ordeal and at the end of the book, she is the only one who can decide how it will affect her life. She has to decide what to do with what she has been given, and whether to rise into her identity or walk away from it out of fear, which is no small thing. 

I realized that it was time to pick something up that I’d long laid down because of fear, cultural pressure, and various kinds of rejection. After going on a walk and thinking through so much of my life, I came home, knelt beside my bed and offered this particular part of myself back to God.

Something cleared.

A few days later, I asked John to call Fuller Theological Seminary about a family discount. I was very specific in what I asked from God. Several days after that, good news came back from Fuller, and we decided it was enough to give me the push to apply. I applied. They accepted me. Here we are. I’m going to seminary.

If you are in a season of transition, or at time where you feel as if you’re grappling toward clarity, stay in it. Don’t give up. Sometimes life is one step in front of the other with no end in sight. Your only clarity is to do the next thing.

Sometimes life is one doctor visit after doctor visit. Chemo to chemo.

For five or six years, when I was first learning how to write, my life was rejection after rejection.

Maybe your grappling toward clarity is that every day you want to do thirty minutes of exercise. That’s all you’ve got. Do it. Don’t let those thirty minutes slide into something else. If you’re faithful to this small thing, more will come. I promise.

A man I knew in Chile, shared that for over eight years he was completely lost. He had no idea what he was doing or why he was doing it. Every day felt the same. One night, he had a dream, which gave him clarity, and shortly thereafter, he met his wife. They got married, and had a son. His thick, dark wilderness faded into something new. Eventually, they moved to Chile and started a life there.

Seasons of fog do lift, and God does lead us out of the wilderness into a new land. But never in our timing, and almost never how we hope or expect.

May you find courage today to do the next thing, and then the next, and may it lead you to beautiful and unexpected places. 



Tina Osterhouse is passionate about living deeply and authentically. Through fiction, blog posts, and creative essays, she writes about ordinary life and the way God meets us in our everyday circumstances and creatively weaves the sacred into them. She studied ministry and theology at Northwest University, most recently lived on thirty acres in Southern Chile, and finally returned to the Seattle area in June of 2015.

1 comment

  1. Love this Tina. I completely relate to this article alot and I love the imagery you share with the forest.

Leave a Reply