Posted by: donnatallman | February 14, 2012

Joy in the Journey

Of all the tributes, opinions, and comments made about the life of Whitney Houston in the days since her shocking death, perhaps the most haunting to me is Kirk Franklin’s. Kirk Franklin is a Grammy Award winning gospel singer and was also a friend of Houston’s. In a tweet just hours following the news of her death, Franklin posted the following:

“Success killed her.”

Three words. That’s it, but I haven’t been able to shake them since.

“Success killed her.”

Photo by Donna Tallman

I doubt there is a person among us who doesn’t want to experience “success” in the arena of his or her passion, profession, or calling. I know I want to have success as a writer so I work hard honing my craft. I hide out in attic rooms, isolated coffee shops, and basement catacombs working day after day in obscurity. I spend hours in front of my computer writing, revising, deleting, tossing out, mulling over, giving up, and starting over. There have been more than a few days when I’ve sat down to write at five in the morning and haven’t moved from my chair until noon.

Why? Because I believe God has called me to be a writer and wants me to succeed at it. He is faithful to provide inspiration for me, and I believe I need to be just as faithful to invest my time, energy, money, and ability into the work as well.

Actually, I already am a success. I know that sounds brash – arrogant even, but you know how I know? I don’t measure my success by a “published works” resume. I do have a resume that publishers need to see, but in my opinion; it is irrelevant to my personal definition of success as a writer.

When I lived in Portland, Oregon, I used to meet with an amazingly talented group of writers every two weeks for critique, input,

Writers in the Rafters

support, and encouragement. One of the things we used to do periodically was to bring rejection letters to the group and put them in a black box to record all of our “failures.” We believed that every rejection letter contained the seeds of our ultimate success, so we weren’t afraid of them. In fact, they were a written record that we were contending for our dreams and working toward our own success.

I’ve received enough rejection letters over the years to wallpaper my bedroom, yet, still; I haven’t quit. Ah, there it is, one of the values of “failure.” The constant rejection inherent in a writing career (or any other career for that matter) builds endurance. It sifts and sorts my motivation, refines my character, and challenges me to excellence. It is this strength of character refined by hardship that I will need to hang onto when success (as others define it) enters.

So, how do I measure success?

Personal influence.

Years ago I took a writing class from a retired editor from a large Christian publishing house. He was as stoic and curmudgeonly a man as I had met, so I was sure he would have little use for my writing. I was wrong. As the professor began to read the words I had written for a class assignment, that hardened, curmudgeonly editor began to cry. I made a grown man cry. I was stunned.

In that instant I realized success could be measured by criteria unrecognized by publishing houses, agents, and film producers. Success in pursuing my passion is measured by the joy in the journey all along the way – the joy I get from writing, the joy I give to others by my writing, and the joy readers feed back to me when we’ve shared a meaningful moment together.

Yes, I intend to be a success, but I don’t want success to kill me.

One of the first verses I remember memorizing when I was young, was Joshua 1:8. It says, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” Joshua 1:8  (NASB)

God wants our lives to be prosperous and successful. That’s such a great thing to know and believe! When he calls me to something, he wants me to succeed, but his definition of “success” and our experience of it, has an anchor.

Did you hear it? “Be careful to do according to all that is written in it…” God’s interest in my success is that it be anchored to his word. My faithfulness to God’s word is what will usher in that success. It is important that I hang on to the same ballast that kept me stable during the hard years, when success was fleeting. In order to remain faithful to God’s word, I have to know what it says and how to apply it. Otherwise, I could be cast adrift in the “Sea of Success” vulnerable to opportunists, schemers, and temptations too intense for me to bear.

Like Whitney was. She lost the anchor of her soul when success hit, and she was ultimately destroyed by the very accomplishments that inspired us all. The horrible sadness of Whitney Houston’s death is magnified by the dissipating vapor her life became as drugs and alcohol stole what God had intended for her good, our blessing, and his glory.

Whitney Houston believed in God; she publicly professed faith in Jesus Christ on a number of occasions. She even asked for prayer from the public during a 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer.

“Pray for me as a person,” Whitney asked the viewers. “Pray for my soul, that I’m stronger. I know I’m a child of God and I know He loves me. Jesus loves me, this I know.”

How do you measure success in your passion, profession, or calling? How do you infuse joy in your journey along your pathway to success? How are you fortifying  yourself now for the challenges success will bring?

© Copyright, 2012 by Donna Tallman.



  1. Very well said. Success as a writer is something I ave struggled with for 14 years.

    • Thank you, Andrew. The life of a writer is a grueling one, and success can be incredibly eely to define. Determine for yourself what that success looks like and then hold onto your dreams. One of my favorite poems is from Langston Hughes. It’s about holding on to your dreams in the face of discouragement. I have it in several of my writing notebooks and I read it often.

      Hold fast to dreams
      For if dreams die
      Life is a broken-winged bird
      That cannot fly.
      Hold fast to dreams
      For when dreams go
      Life is a barren field
      Frozen with snow.

      Langston Hughes

  2. Well put Donna.

    It captures the essence of something eely …

    • Yes, defining success can be very eely! Thanks, Padre.

  3. Wise words. Thanks.

    P.S. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word eely before. I had to look it up. Also fond of the word “curmudgeonly” (have heard that one). I love your vocabulary.

    • Eely is one of my new favorite words. It captures everything that either confounds me or frustrates me. While not listed in a typical dictionary as a separate word…it’s defined only as an adjective…no other explanation or description given – which in my mind is kind of eely too. :}

  4. Wonderful post! I am always encouraged and blessed when I read your blogs. I love your heart!

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