When De(Tales) Preach

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It was just supposed to have been a walk.

Of course going for walks has never been something I do well. I love the outdoors to be sure, but I am constantly fighting the compulsion to run. You know, to burn calories, push my limits; get stronger, slimmer, better. Somewhere along the way I’ve managed to convince myself that walking isn’t sufficient. To move slowly in any capacity is to be wasteful, to squander time. It is inefficient at best. It’s American culture screaming in my ears and reverberating through my bones; and largely, I’ve bought in. And yet, there are moments; moments I allow to grow and expand into slow mornings, granting them the permission to turn gracefully into slow afternoons. It’s a sacred space where coffee is savored as a luxury rather than consumed compulsively for the sake of necessity. Where the Living Word rises up to meet me as sustenance, as daily bread, as fuel and inspiration rather than just another item to be crossed off a to-do list.

Settling back into a 4-seasons state, the winters are long, cold and gray, and come brandishing a brutal blow to my spirit with their prolonged and imposing stays…

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Today I’m over at Little Did She Know for a guest post series on the De(Tales) with the lovely Cara Strickland. Click here to read the rest of my post!

Seasons of Sadness & A River That Runs

It’s winter in Portland. Or perhaps you’ve not noticed.

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I, on the other hand, am painfully aware.

Having grown up in this rainy state, I really shouldn’t be surprised to find myself in this place again, blindsided by the wave of sadness that envelopes me so abruptly and completely this time of year. It doesn’t seem to get any easier.

Seven years beneath the sun-kissed skies of California and I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to want nothing more in life than to waste away time in bed all day and night; to curse the daylight for making me do life again. To loathe the very skin I wear so thoroughly. To bemoan the very things that normally bring me so much life. But alas I am here, trying to shake this old, SAD companion of mine all over again.

This time of year the clouds seem to hang lower in the sky, sluggishly slinking in with their oppressive gray to seal shut the expanse between heaven and earth. Leeching color from a once vibrant landscape, laying it bare, they expose the remains of a desolate and somber frame. The passing days slip by without much distinction within these ominous and wearisome walls; wandering indiscriminately about them I silently wonder how much longer God will give sanction to these relentlessly lonesome months.

It’s a strange sensation to feel so disconnected from oneself. To catch the reflection of a stranger where you expect to find your own. And I don’t know how to get her back, that person who lights up these eyes so vacant as of late. She’s in there somewhere, I’m sure of it, just hibernating away these cold, cold days.

And these are my truths. Or at least, in part they are, as much as I hate to admit it. Because the most challenging lie to overcome in the midst of these dreary, bitter-cold seasons is the notion that this Great Sadness is mine alone to bear; that I am all alone and untouchable in this place. Like the cartoon character wandering about a beautiful day beneath a personal and all encompassing rain cloud that no one else can see. That is what it feels like.

Enter: Deidra Riggs.

And as I was standing on the cusp of the frozen river, in below freezing temperatures in Nebraska with my dog, I heard the Lord say, “No, still not close enough. Closer! I have something to show you.” And so I did. And as I got closer, beneath the ice I could see the river running, and little sprigs of grass from the riverbed peeking out to declare, “Spring is coming, spring is coming, spring is coming!”

And that’s about the precise moment the dam broke. And all the things that had grown numb and been frozen by the ice and cold suddenly began to thaw; feeling began to creep its way back into my fingers and toes, making it’s slow but certain journey through my limbs, eventually making its way to my heart. It’s a painful process at first, as with all things that participate in the forging of new life. And before I have a moment to take inventory, I notice moisture has welled up from behind these distant eyes, quickly moving to carve out a forgotten path down my cheeks.

There she is.

Spring is coming, spring is coming

Spring is coming.

|| And Sometimes God Shouts || Prophecy & other Sign Posts

I’m not sure how the Lord speaks to you, but I am absolutely a believer that it doesn’t really look the same for any two people. Our God is an incredibly intimate and relational one, and as such, he finds ways to build relationships with us that are unique to our person, speaking to us in ways only our ears and hearts can detect and discern, if we take the time to listen.

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Or maybe you’re in the camp that God doesn’t really speak anymore. That the Word is his final word until all things are made new. If that’s the case, then you may not be able to relate to any of what I’m about to say, in which case, I’m sorry. Humor me, won’t you? If you do find yourself in this camp, I will say this: you’re missing out. The Spirit is alive and well my friends, and God is after your heart and your ears too. The “making new” you’re waiting for? It’s right now. It’s right here. You will never be able to see the renewal of all things before you and around you if you can’t first allow the same transformation to take place within you. 

That’s the whole purpose of the Spirit after all. That’s why Jesus himself told his disciples that it was for their benefit that he leave them [John 16:7]. Because Jesus, being limited to time and space and skin and ground beneath his feet, is just that: limited, whereas the Spirit he sent [and continues to send] is not. The Spirit is to be the active, moving presence that invades our every day, enabling and equipping us, speaking to and strengthening us. But the Spirit isn’t forceful or imposing. I am certainly of the opinion that God, while a pursuer of our hearts, is also a respecter of our privacy. Invitation required.

In my last post I briefly touched upon a sentiment that’s been brewing in me as of late: a deep sense that there is something new on the horizon. I actually told a couple of my roommates this a few months back. Because throughout my life, one of the most consistent ways the Lord has communicated with me is by way of gut instinct, for lack of better words. I’ve always had a very difficult time making decisions. As a kid I used to cry when my mom would ask me if I wanted chocolate or vanilla.

Why does this have to be a choosing game? How is both not a right answer?! LIFE IS SO UNFAIR!

Now that's more like it...

Now that’s more like it…

But all joking aside, there are rare moments when all the chaos and uncertainty is suddenly silenced, and only one thing remains. I know it’s the hand of the Lord, because generally, the direction I become inclined toward is the most unlikely, the path I would never choose of my own accord. But it’s in these moments that my resolve is so strong that doubt completely loses its foothold in certainty’s shadow, even if only for one sacred moment.

Sometimes it’s painstakingly clear, like when the Lord called me to move back to Oregon. And other times, it’s a subtle rumbling and discontent in my spirit that starts as a simple below-the-surface simmer, not yet rearing its head, not yet fully discernible, but detectable all the same. In part, I do believe this has to do with a simple prayer I prayed years ago when I decided to leave home in pursuit of higher education [and adventure] in Southern California against my parents mounting cautions and concerns. I told the Lord that my greatest desire in life was not to be great, to leave a legacy, or be known, but simply to wake up every single day knowing I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I told him I never wanted to come back to Oregon, but that if he ever really wanted me to, I would. I also assured him he’d have to make it crystal clear, lest I find reasons and a way to stay. And I would. Ever since then, I’ve had this exceedingly strong sense of intuition, especially in relation to this particular truth.

And now, as I sit here looking back at the closed chapter of another challenging year, I can feel the reviving winds of change filling up my lungs. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I can sense it, and I’m not usually wrong about these things. If 2012 was a year of remembering passions and dreams, 2013 was the year I began – for the first time – to really step into them, and in an appropriate progression, 2014 will be about refinement. [see Lean In].

It was the winter of 2012 the first time I allowed myself to speak the words to myself, let alone out loud to another human; floating out there in the universe unprotected… how could I protect them?

“I want to write,” I whispered at last.  I have always wanted this.

I was dating someone at the time who was able to meet my gaze and say, “Then do it. You can and you should.” For this, I will forever feel indebted to and eternally grateful toward him.

What I didn’t know was that speaking those words out loud would be the start of a snowball effect. Those words would be the catalyst that ceased the dreaming and started the doing. Slowly and extremely cautiously, I have started allowing myself to say it more openly:

I’m, uh… a writer.
I’m a writer?
I’m a writer…
think.

NO.

am. 

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Round and round goes the internal dialogue. So if you can imagine, to have these words repeated to me by someone else would be… I don’t know what to call it. I’m not certain there are words for what it is.

Humbling? That might be scratching the surface.

It started at the close of last year. I wrote this post about a few things that had been weighing on my heart, and wow, did it ever germinate feedback. Which was awesome by the way, because the feedback mostly looked like this: “Thank you. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for using your voice.” In fact, it even made its way around to the pastor I mention in the post, who then took the time to email me to offer me his own words of gratitude. To which I reply, “Are you kidding? Thank you for reading!” Seriously. The fact that anyone finds it worth while to read stories about my life is still mind-boggling to me, and incredibly humbling.

Shortly thereafter I was contacted by one of the founders of the Junia Project [of which, it should be noted, I am a huge fan] asking me if they could feature the article on their site.

What? Is this a real question? Because if you’re joking, that’s just cruel…

ButAlrightYes! You talked me into it, where do I sign?

*Ahem… I mean, sure. That’s cool I guess…

To say I was floored is an understatement. I think I actually almost fell out of my chair. But I simply chalked it up to “one of those things.” Lucky I guess. Thanks Lord, that was nice.

And then I stumbled upon another project by another well known blogger and author. Preston Yancey announced the start of a new undertaking on his blog in which he hands the proverbial mic over to women in the church asking them a very specific question, inviting their responses. I imagine due to the sheer volume of submissions he must have anticipated receiving, he made sure to denote that not every post submitted will be accepted. And yet, I found myself incredibly encouraged by the project and simply couldn’t resist writing my own response to his very gracious question: What Do Women Want From the Church? I didn’t really know what to expect. At the end of the day, I wrote it more as a thank you to him for asking the question. Because it needs to be asked. But I certainly wasn’t going to be personally offended if it wasn’t selected. A day later he emailed me telling me he’d like to run my submission in March.

Oh, well alright then. Fantastic!

Not even a week later, three days to be precise, my friend Bethany came over for an evening catch up session. We became friends late last year through a series of somewhat random events that led us to realize we were neighbors. She’s the Director of Women’s Ministries at my church and is essentially the only strong woman seen or heard from any significant platform across the entire leadership team; naturally I just had to be her friend.

And yet, in consideration of what I’m about to say, I do think it’s worth noting that we have only recently started to get to know each other. A couple early morning coffee dates, one particularly early ride to the airport, and now this. She is fantastic, but at the end of the day, she doesn’t know me that well.

It wasn’t five minutes after she walked through the door that she started pouring out an abundance of bold and prophetic words over me. What started out as general encouragement, without an intent to speak such potent words, turned quickly into very precise pronouncement of who I am and am called to be. At one point she even stopped mid-sentence to say, “wow, I’m not normally this prophetic, I’m not even sure that’s what’s happening. Hold it loosely…” before continuing. But among a number of things she said, she said this:

You are a writer. That’s what you are. You need to own that.”

And then this: “The Lord is preparing a new launching pad for you this year; one that you couldn’t have foreseen or prepared for. One that is going to look different from all the things you thought you were building a foundation for over the last few years.” [She said this, mind you, without previous insight into the fact that I had already been sensing this myself].

And then of course, to counter the visible apprehension in my eyes as I considered all the mounting obstacles before me, she knowingly said this:

“God can handle your chaos.”

Thanks friend. I needed that. Like, really needed that.

Now let’s be clear. I have awesome friends. Friends who speak encouragement over me all the time, and family who do the same. And it’s beautiful. But they know me. They know where my heart beats the fastest and where I come alive. It’s easy for them to hone in on those and say, “Yeah, absolutely, you can do this. Reach for the stars!” And that’s amazing; I’m deeply thankful. But it’s an entirely different thing when someone who barely knows you is able to reach down into those deep, cavernous spaces that the general masses aren’t privy to, and bring those things before the light as though they had never been hidden at all.

So after breathing all this life into me, thoroughly embarrassing me with her high praise in the process, she asked me if I’d speak at the Women’s Retreat this year.

Uh, come again? One more time?

I had to repress the urge to look around me and make sure she wasn’t talking to someone else…

And even whilst everything inside me screamed “No. Absolutely not. What the heck, you can’t do this… You have never done this! You don’t know what you’re doing! You simply cannot say yes…”

I agreed.

The very next morning I woke to a private message on Facebook from my sweet, fellow blogger friend, Cara Strickland asking if I’d be willing to contribute to a series of guest posts she will be hosting on her lovely blog in the upcoming months. Obviously, I’d love to. What a fun opportunity! But what I really heard behind the question was this: “You are a writer. Won’t you share with me who you are? Let’s do this thing we do together.”

And then there was yesterday morning. The morning that started all of this crazy talk that has just been unleashed upon you, you poor, unwitting soul you. I received a private message from a gentleman who stumbled upon my blog by way of a comment I made on someone else’s blog. He had been unable to sleep in the middle of the night when he came across it. His initial thoughts being that he didn’t have time for such rabbit trails. A COUPLE OF HOURS LATER, he found himself near the end of pretty much everything I’ve ever posted… and then? He went to work.

He poured out a number of lavish praises and thanked me for writing and telling my stories. He told me they matter and that they affect people. And then he said this:

“I just need to tell you that you MUST write a book, but not just one. I don’t know what you do for a living, but YOU ARE A WRITER.”

Wow. Just wow.

Alright, let’s take a little inventory here.

I am not sharing all of this to pat myself on the back and blab about what a great writer I am. I’m sharing it because it’s absolutely astounding to me and I don’t know what to do with it. My blog was never really much more than a space for me to process. Goodness knows it certainly isn’t anything fancy in style or design. Heck, I don’t even have an “About Me” section… yet. What started out as a hobby and a love is gaining momentum at a rate that is kinda sorta totally and completely freaking me out. In the best possible way of course. I think…

It’s freaking me out because I see a million little pieces coming together, pieces that have often looked broken and disjointed and frankly quite miserable, into a crazy and brilliant display of love, faithfulness and an excessive amount of generosity from a God who delights in seeing me do work that I delight in. I so often forget that I was created in the image of a Creator. Which means, in part, that I too carry this giftedness for creating, as do you. I simply adore what Emily Freeman has to say about this in her Seven Little Ways to Live Art:

“In the beginning, God created.
And when he made art in the beginning, he made us in his creative image.
Art came first.”

She goes on to say: “You may not be an artist by profession. But you are an artist by design.”

I’ve spent so much time trying to compartmentalize this part of my life afraid for it to become too big. It’s never seemed practical enough. Wise enough. Good enough. Forever battling this Lie of Legitimacy. And what if I did pursue it? And it failed… What then? What if I’m like one of those tone-deaf people who really believe they can sing; who stand before the judges singing their hearts out on national television only to look back up into faces of contortion and pity, receiving the oh-so-awkward and painful blinks of silence. What then?

Listen. I know this isn’t about winning. It isn’t about being the best or being known and prominent. But it is, at least to some degree, about mattering. And putting that very one thing out there you love the most on a stage for all to see and judge, well, in all honesty? It’s vulnerable and terrifying.

And yet, through all of this, I can hear the echo of God’s promises ringing throughout the chambers of my soul. Chambers that have so often felt cold and damp, lifeless and purpose deficient. I hear him reminding me that he is still speaking, still creating, and still making this little story of mine new.

Now there’s something I can “lean in” to.

Lean In

As I sit here before a crackling fire on this very first January evening reflecting on the close of yet another year, I sense a severe case of déjà vu coming on. It seems I was just here reflecting on 2012 and all the drama it brought with it. In fact, to say that it had been a dramatic year would be a severe understatement. And yet, while it was certainly a challenging year, it didn’t come without its small victories, namely the acknowledgment and resurgence of passions and dreams that had lain dormant for the better part of my adult life. Having collected dust at the expense of mere clutter and the daily rhythms we call “busyness,” I vowed 2013 would be different. I don’t typically make formal resolutions, but 2013 was to be the year I’d cut myself a little slack, embrace the discomfort, and pursue the things that make me come alive. I recorded all of this in a post [see A New Year: A Neglected Need] at the start of this year; the last sentence of that entry says this:

My prayer is that at the close of 2013, as I reflect back on yet another year that’s flown by, I’ll see the bittersweetness of this season in all its rich context and the fruit of the tears that brought me to this vulnerable and healing place.

Truth be known, the majority of 2013 didn’t exactly pan out the way my hopeful imagination had projected. After quitting my job on a Monday followed by a nervous breakdown on a Sunday, I took more than a $15,000 annual pay cut and started a new job, albeit a more creative one and booked my first counseling session. I struggled through the process of learning to grow roots in foreign soil, spent far too few hours with family for whom I’d returned “home” in the first place, and spent the latter half of the year in what you might call a “post-fall rehabilitative state” combing clumsily through the pieces of love lost. For all my noble intentions, the noose seemed to only be tightening, while discomfort opened its gaping jaw to swallow me whole rather than reveling in the surrender of my open arms, and empty hours spent grasping at straw was all it seemed I had to show for all my life-giving endeavors.

It was a most unpredictable season.

I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that January is here again. The close of the year looked much the way Decembers generally do, lights twinkling on trees, frost coating a desolate landscape, excessive amounts of sweets taunting passersby at every turn, glitter awkwardly finding its way into every orifice of your body, you know- the usual sorts of things. And yet, absolutely nothing felt the same. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, life felt more like a war-zone this past year, and yet, as I watched the final days of 2013 slip thoughtlessly away like bits of sand through the narrow passage of an hour glass, I’ve been moved to consider the significance of it all. As my toes thaw by the warmth of another roaring fire on this bitter-cold new years night, for a reason I cannot rationally defend, I can’t help but feel thankful for the whole lot of it. Perhaps it has something to do with the timing of things, having just passed through the Season of Thanks, a bit of nostalgia sets in the way it does. Or maybe it’s the second wind I’ve felt myself catching the past month or so. Whatever the reason, I’m a big believer in seasons, and well- it’s the season for reflection, so here we go.

Last year started off with so much promise. New job, speedy promotion, fresh and exciting relationships, I turned 26, hey-o! But as they say, what goes up, must eventually come down, and so it did. The pendulum swings the way it does, and just when I thought I was making my way out of rocky waves to the calm of the shore, I bore the brunt of a sneaker wave that unapologetically plundered my momentary stability.

And it’s moments [or seasons rather] such as these when I’m confronted with my own instinctive impulse to flee. When things get hard? Quit. When things get scary? Run. When things get awkward? Hide. When faced with the polarity of fight or flight, the latter usually looks more appealing in the moment. I can feel the anxiety sweep through my entire body to the very tips of my extremities: run, run, RUN. And sometimes, sometimes this instinct is right. Sometimes it’s important to walk away from something that’s hard, because it wasn’t meant to be so. But I would argue that more often than not, the more difficult and rewarding option comes when we lean in. Lean into the pain, into the dissonance and discomfort. I once heard grief likened to yoga, breathing and stretching into the hard places, into the pain.

This is a way through grief: the willingness to stretch into a place you do not want to be, and to be fully there.” -Emily Maynard

Only once we lean in to the pain, sit there a while, then lean in deeper still, do we uncover our resilience; our strength. Because if we can find the courage to lean into it, we will certainly find the strength to move through it and then, eventually, beyond it.

warrior pose 1

There was a specific stretch of time this past year that was particularly challenging. I felt completely disoriented. I told my therapist I felt like a piece of cloth that was frayed at every edge; no clear-cut lines, everything a blur and tattered. It was in this particular season the idea of getting well felt overwhelming, like an insurmountable feat. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around how much work would need to be done to recover even a basic sense of normalcy. For mere sanity’s sake I took up the mantra, “one healthy decision at a time” because anything else, anything more than this, was simply too much. So I started approaching wellness in this manner. Anytime I felt overwhelmed, I would take a step back and determine the single decision that stood before me, and I would look at it as though it were the only decision that needed to be made. It needn’t be monumental, merely attainable for the moment. One foot in front of the other. And believe it or not, this was probably one of the most significant accomplishments I made over the course of the year. Because eventually, healthy decisions begin to build upon themselves ushering us forward into spaces that – strangely enough – are, well, much healthier.

And because I believe in celebrating the little victories, let’s go ahead and be clear that despite all the road bumps along the way, 2013 absolutely bore its exceedingly bright moments. Sure, not every relationship worked out the way I had originally anticipated, but it should not be overlooked that other relationships were mended along the way, in massive and miraculous ways. In fact, there were a number of moments in 2013 that quite plainly floored me; and as I picked my jaw up off the floor, I was forced to take inventory and acknowledge that I had just lived through a moment I’d honestly been waiting for my whole life. Moments I feared I might never live to actually see come to fruition. So I take that back, that is no small victory… that is huge, and I will celebrate it as such.

And as much as it’s felt slow-going, one of my biggest goals for 2013 was to write more. To develop some amount of consistency with my blog. And you know what? While I still have room to grow in this regard, I gained significant ground over the course of the year, and I’m proud of that accomplishment, because it takes a lot to actually sit down and write, no matter how much I love it, no matter how much I want it. It takes a ton of willpower to resist resistance and do the thing you know you’re built to do.

Additionally, this past summer, in the midst of incredible discord of spirit, the Lord met me at The Window Seat. It was here, over the course of consistent and intentional quiet time in the early morning hours I discovered an entirely new level of intimacy with my creator. I suppose it’s not surprising that the moments in which the Lord’s Peace is the most restorative is when it finds us in the thick of the most difficult and tumultuous spaces, and yet it does always come as the biggest surprise. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.

At the close of this past year I started a small business with my dear friend. Yeah, that’s a thing that actually happened, I can hardly believe it either. It’s still in the developmental stages, but I have a business partner, we own our name, domain and will be launching our webpage soon. We even have clients booked… it’s insane to even think about. More on this in the coming weeks…

I largely learned how to speak up, own my voice and be proud of who I am and what it is I have to say with *less fear [because we are all a work in progress] of the critique of others. There are a number of layers to this, but it’s been incredibly freeing and I’m thankful for this step forward to embracing a new level of comfort in my own skin.

And now, as I sit here looking back at the closed chapter of another challenging year, I can feel the reviving winds of change filling up my lungs. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I can sense it, and I’m not usually wrong about these things. If 2012 was a year of remembering passions and dreams, 2013 was the year I began – for the first time – to really step into them, and in an appropriate progression, 2014 will be about refinement.

It’s fascinating now to consider the weight of those final words I wrote to close out 2012 as I ushered in 2013. For surely I had no way of knowing exactly what they would come to mean when I wrote them, and yet it’s almost startling to realize how prophetic they’ve been. As I sit here reflecting on this year that has most certainly flown by, the richest lessons are a direct byproduct of the bittersweet. We are not refined without walking through the refining fire. And as I continue to lean in, trembling though I may while I hold my warrior pose and press in deeper still, I can honestly say it’s right here in the discomfort that I’m discovering my own strength and resilience, and it is a vulnerable and healing place indeed.

The Trouble With Writers

We think… a lot.

And then there’s the obsession with words. Words mean things… we love that. On a good day, we can reach up into the mess swarming inside our heads and wrestle and wrangle bits and pieces of it into a few choice words and phrases that bring the chaos into some degree of order. And then we like to put those words in print, and publish them before the entire world. And for some reason, we truly believe they matter. We want to be heard. Granted, I think this is true of most people. We all long to be heard, truly known and deeply loved. But the trouble with writers is that at the end of the day, we are open books, and whether or not our words are understood, they are out there. And then aren’t ever not out there again. And once we are heard, we cannot be unheard.

At least for me, words always take their casualties.

As a writer, and someone who “blogs” it is particularly complicated, because as I attempt to share my perspectives and heart, it simultaneously invites the world into the conversation. At large, this is fantastic, ideal even. In fact, this is precisely what us writers long for, to engage others with our words and stories that they might enter into the dialogue along side us. But, there is also always the chance that we will be misunderstood. And as a non-fiction writer, someone who writes as a response to everyday life and circumstance, the likelihood that my work will be misinterpreted is greatly heightened.

large_writing_problemsWords have always played a particularly significant role in my life. During those Who-The-Hell-Am-I years [namely junior high and high school], I quite literally depended on words to help get me through it all. But words are peculiar and fickle friends; they mean things, and yet they are not bound by the strict confines of objectivity. Because we assign meaning to words based on our experiences, I can say one thing, and what my audience hears and the images conjured up, while they may be related, ultimately differ from my own. This is every writer’s dilemma. Words are a fantastic instrument and hindrance in the same sweeping stroke.

The trouble with writers is that we write. We write what we feel: our deep convictions, our questions, our conclusions when they come, and then our doubts about said conclusions. We write when we’re sad, and sometimes when we’re happy. We write when we’re frustrated, and sometime when we’re content. We write when we’re disappointed, and sometimes when our expectations are exceeded. But as a general rule, we write from the spaces of dissonance because it helps us process and make sense of our junk. And as we attempt to draw meaning out of the contention, we tell stories. Stories that involve people we love. And well, that’s complicated territory no matter who you are.

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I once heard it said that if you didn’t want to be the subject of a top charts country song, you shouldn’t have dated Taylor Swift. That’s a fair statement, and as a fellow writer, I can relate.

If you don’t want to be featured in my writing, then you probably shouldn’t be a part of my life. If you’re a big enough presence, at some point, you will influence my work and people will probably read about it. Now chances are, this will not be something you regret. Likely, it will be because you inspired or sharpened me. But chances are, it will be nuanced, because life is nuanced, and well, I learn lessons the hard way.

And yet, at the end of the day, chances are, the most significant audience this will affect will be my family and dearest friends; those I love the most. This is a difficult tension for me to contend with. Take my family for example: they are the most incredible gift I have ever been given. In a million years I couldn’t reason with you why I should deserve to be on set with such an outstanding cast of characters. Through the good, bad and the ugly, they have been there beside me and taught me innumerable, invaluable lessons I wouldn’t take back in a million lifetimes. And because they are such an integral part of my story, they often assume significant platforms within my writing. The same goes for my closet friends. But as a writer, many of these lessons: good, bad and ugly alike, become available at some point for public consumption. I am not suggesting that this is always right, but I am saying that it’s real.

This issue is a compelling one for me lately because the more I write, the more I find myself hyper aware of every single word, constantly editing and censoring. But the more I censor, the less honest and authentic I can be.

And it’s exhausting. I will never write/publish anything out of a place of anger or hatred. That is never where my heart is. However, if you walk with me through challenging waters, it will take challenging and real words to describe those experiences. And so I wrestle with my desire to honor the privacy of those who don’t choose to publish their diaries before the world wide web, and the need that exists in my innermost being to put into words what I am experiencing, because 99.99% of the time, the richest lessons I learn unfold for me while I write. I think a lot of writers can relate to this phenomenon.

So what’s the point exactly?

The point is this: as a writer, I write. I will always write. And if I’m not writing in one form or another, it’s safe to assume I’m not well. I can’t not be who I am. Furthermore, part of knowing who you are, is knowing who you are not, and [as I stated previously] I am not a fiction writer. I write based off life experience, and as such, I am going to write about things that are real. The real good stuff, the real hard stuff, and everything in between, because it’s worth being written. And writing is never conveyed as powerfully as when painted with precise examples and stories; such is the place from which the greatest connections are made with ones audience.

Life is chalk full of all sorts of beauty and disappointment. And I would argue we would never be able to appreciate or take notice of the beauty before us if we didn’t simultaneously know disappointment. Generally, in my humble experience, it is the marriage of the two that makes it all so rich and worth it. And there is a tremendous amount to celebrate in all of it. So if I write about the hard stuff, you can bet that there is deep, rich beauty brimming beneath the surface of it all, and good things are certain to be unearthed in the process. If I write a post, or a book someday, and you find yourself a key character, know that I’m deeply thankful for your inspiration and the fruit of the lessons therein. Even if you were a difficult chapter, you were [and are] absolutely loved and worth it.

And if one day you are reading as an outside observer, and you happen upon a passage that grants you a particularly vulnerable peek into my world or my family life, and you are tempted to assume you have seen the big picture, please, remember that a single chapter is not representative of the entire story. It is simply a chapter, doing its work to refine the characters.

The November Nine

If you haven’t yet discovered Emily Freeman and her blog, Chatting at the Sky, you’re welcome.

One of the loveliest blogs I’ve discovered in a long while, both in style and content. I highly encourage you to check her out. She also does a community collaborative project that consists of her sharing, at the end of every month, what she has learned over the course of that particular 4-week window. She encourages others to do the same then link up with her page to share the wealth. I’m slow on the trigger, so somehow I’ve managed to wait eleven months to get on this bandwagon. However, better late than never as my great grandmother always said. So without further ado, in no particular order, here are my November Nine.

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1. The more difficult the conversation, the more likely you really need to have it. Such conversations, once they are had, also tend to be the most fruitful. By some miraculous aligning of the stars [that is, God's divine intervention and grace], I managed to have 4 of these in November. FOUR! Friends, I don’t know if you get the gravity of this, that’s a lot. I’m talking the terribly intentional, challenging conversations that send your heart into your stomach just thinking about them. And while all were fruitful, one of them in particular was a long time coming for the better part of 15 years. Kind of a big deal; the kind that made my therapist’s jaw nearly hit the floor when I told him about it. The best part? It went beauuuutifully, tears and all.

2. Twitter is actually… not that bad. And for the record, I cannot believe I’m admitting this. I have had a distinct and firm aversion to Twitter from day one, and swore it was the one social platform I’d never join. And then… I met Emily Maynard. No, no, not the bachelorette. This one. She is a talented writer and speaker, fierce feminist, Jesus-lover, and she lives here in Portland with all the cool kids. She is friends with one of my [many] roommates and came to our Harvest Party in October. I was picking her brain about writing and how she got her start. Her first and immediate response was to ask me if I was on Twitter. Uhhhh… no. “You simply must” she says. “It’s how all the conversations get started.” So here I am, tweeting. But you know what? I’m actually growing to appreciate it. She was right, it’s chalk full of passionate people posting great articles and contributing to conversations about issues that matter [subject to the flock you follow I suppose]. It’s also one of the only platforms from which you can engage your favorite author [or other well-known person-of-interest] and actually receive a response.

3. Writing every day is really difficult. My roommate Rachael and I undertook a challenge in November to write every day. That didn’t necessarily mean we posted things to our respective blogs every day, or even weekly for that matter [clearly]. It just meant we would choose to invest in the thing we both love but struggle to carve out time for. I can’t boast a perfect track record, but on the whole, I did write almost every day in November… and you know what? It gets easier. And what’s more, I find when I’m writing regularly, I feel most well… most like myself.

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4. The Junia Project is such a fantastic project. I went to college with Kate Wallace [co-founder], and while I didn’t know her well back then, I knew her father who is the President of the University and was also a professor of mine in my final year of undergrad. They are a wonderful family passionate about justice and fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. Kate and her mother Gail are particularly passionate about equality for women in our world so heavily influenced by patriarchy and all its oppressive orderlies. This blog, along with a number of other great resources, has proved to be a tremendous encouragement for me as I learn how to more clearly articulate something that has long-since been a heavy weight on my heart. I highly encourage you to check it out. And be on the lookout for my Fierce & Feminine article on there as well!

Junia Project Branding

5. Sleep matters. When I was in junior high and high school, I was a regular insomniac. I would go days without sleeping, finally pass out three days later; rinse and repeat. This pattern diminished for the most part in college, though I have remained a very delicate sleeper. Being someone who also loves mornings, I generally average 6 hours of sleep per night. I swore I was just one of those rare people who functioned on less sleep, and I would argue this point with you if you tried to convince me otherwise. It was my therapist who countered me with “we don’t want you simply functioning, we want you thriving.”

Did you hear that? That was the sound of me being shut.down.

And so he challenged me to start fighting for 8 hours on a regular basis. Go figure it took a therapist to convince me I was a nervous wreck, in part, due to lack of sleep. And despite all my best arguments, I’ve got to admit, it’s seriously something else. Even my skin thanks me as a result. I’ll take it.

6. I might possibly be a bit iron-deficient. I have craved raw spinach to such a heightened degree lately, that I have eaten my way through entire bags of organic spinach from Trader Joe’s in one sitting on multiple occasions this month. I have no idea. But I’m not going to fight myself on the matter. If the girl wants spinach, give her spinach! She could be asking for a cookie. And you know what happens when you give a mouse a cookie…

7. Chronic back pain is a pain the neck. Literally.

8. Big houses are awesome. Then you live in one and you realize why your grandparents sold theirs after all their kids grew up and moved away. It’s an insurmountable chore to keep it clean and heated.

9. I hate electronics. I hate them. Exhibit A: I asked my parents for an external hard-drive last year for Christmas because “I so desperately needed one” for my Mac, which runs ridiculously slow due to the bajillion and one pictures on there from years of storage. It’s been bound to crash on me at any given moment, taking all my memories captive with it, for far too long. So they got me a hard drive… a year ago. Really simple device; I only just opened it over Thanksgiving weekend for the first time. I still can’t figure out how to get the pictures off my iPhone or how to update my GPS. So many better things to do…

And that’s a wrap my friends. Lots more learning to do in the month ahead; Advent is upon us at last. May we embrace the tension of the here and the not yet, waiting with joyful expectation for all that is ahead and a spirit of thanksgiving for all that we hold in our hands this very hour, lest both slip away unnoticed.

Fierce & Feminine

Despite widespread perception, deeply embedded associations and centuries of conditioning, these two words are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are but two sides of the same coin.

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Fierce: bold, ardent, passionate, powerful, relentless, strong.

A force to be reckoned with.

When I think of the women I know, those who walk through life with me, side-by-side, heart-to-heart, this is the most prominent descriptor that comes to mind. Loving, loyal, caring, courageous, beautiful, thoughtful, articulate, immeasurably wise, gentle even, yes, certainly, they are all of these and more, but fierce is not least among them. In fact, put the adverb fiercely in front of any of the above adjectives, and it only serves to make the statement more accurately telling of their character.

I grew up in a loving, supportive Christian family, the oldest of four daughters. Make no mistake about it, I have always known I was deeply loved and valued. And still, our home was one structured around patriarchal thought, though as a child I was hardly aware there was any formal name for it.

But I can tell you this…

I have always felt it, felt the weight of it.

Growing up I was taught, both directly and peripherally, that a man is to be the “head of the household,” and as such, at the end of the day, the husband’s and/or father’s word was to be final, and ultimately should always be regarded as “right” and of the highest standard. A woman was to submit to this authority over her and such a posture should be honored in the home and church. But if I am to square with you, this arrangement has never set well with me. Something deep in my bones has always been distinctly at odds with this model. And yet, for a significant portion of my life, I couldn’t have told you why.

Rewind with me, if you will, roughly 10 years: I was a teenager when my well-meaning mother first tried to coax [or coerce rather], me into learning how to cook. She attempted [unsuccessfully I might add] to require I prepare dinner for the family at least once a week so that I might “hone this skill set necessary for a woman.” I can specifically recall her saying in exasperation, “how do you ever expect to find a husband if you can’t cook?” I resented her use of what I considered to be severely insensitive, ignorant words. Quick on the trigger, I wasted no time spewing back careless words of my own regarding my independence and rejection of the notion that I should “need a man to take care of me.” If my ability to slave away in the kitchen was a contingency for marriage, I would just soon never marry, or would simply find a man capable of feeding himself. Certainly such a one must exist.

I knew these words served as daggers in my poor mothers heart, and I regret that. I was not skilled in the art of arguing well at 15. And yet, at a very young age I knew that what I had to bring to the table as a woman, and someday as a wife in the context of marriage, greatly exceeded the simplistic assumption of what I might be capable of setting on one.

We laugh about it now, especially considering that today I love the art and process of cooking. However, I learned to love it of my own accord and volition, not by force or out of duty. All the better then.

Fast forward to college. I can still remember my father making the following statement upon having heard I’d started dating someone: “well good, at least we’re getting our money’s worth.” Now, I wholeheartedly acknowledge that this playful comment was never intended to be condescending or demeaning. I certainly don’t hold it against him. And yet, it’s important to acknowledge that the underlying message in statements such as these is this: the most productive, valuable thing to gain, as a woman, from a college education, is a husband. Someone to lift the burden of care from the shoulders of parents. As women, we are not inherently enough on our own, not complete without a man to “take care of us.”

And while in retrospect I can see the fingerprints of such perspectives smeared all about the surfaces of my life, because patriarchy is a very subtle creature in our western culture, it has really only been in the last few years that I have truly been able to wrap words around it, speak its effects into some degree of intelligibility and to identify the threads as they have woven themselves so slyly, albeit fastidiously, throughout the pages of my story. And as I begin to peel back the layers, I’m discovering a distinct framework that is helping me bring to light something I have always deeply known:

I am a woman.

I am not weak, not a commodity, and I am not to blame for human depravity.

I have a mind; it is critical thinking. I have a voice; it is worth hearing.

I was not created to fit a restrictive mold; I was created for Kingdom work.

I bear the mark of my Creator in my femininity, not in spite of it.

I am of no lesser value than any one of my brothers.

I, on my own, and by the power of the Spirit in me, am enough.

Now in an effort to derail any misconception that I might be attempting to shake a fist at men and their brute insensitivity, please hear me out when I assure you this is in fact not the case. Rather, one of the more profound and challenging realities this revelation has brought to light is this: while this same liberating truth is wholly worth celebrating, it simultaneously prohibits me from playing the blame game. I am responsible for my own actions, my attitude, my heart and my sin. It is my responsibility to take all of these things to the foot of the cross. No one stands as mediary between myself and the blood of Jesus. Period. Furthermore, this reality goes a step further by lifting the burden of responsibility from the shoulders of men. My husband [assuming I marry] will never be held accountable for the cultivation or current standing of my relationship with the Lord. He does not bear the burden to “lead” in this way as those fluent in Christianese [of which I am one] might compel you to believe.

I am already lead by the Spirit.

I don’t need another leader, I need a partner. This is both liberating and sobering.

Now, none of this ought to be extrapolated, for even a moment, to assume that we don’t need our brothers at all. On the contrary, we need them very, very much.

A few Sundays back, I sat, tears brimming, in the pews during service while one of our pastors seized a most unexpected, beautiful opportunity to speak out into the congregation words of acknowledgement for the indispensable nature of every woman in the crowd. He reminded us of the revolutionary actions Jesus took to bestow great dignity upon women in a culture committed to disparaging them. He thanked us for our contributions and our voices. He thanked us for our support and our leadership. And in that very moment, it was his voice that was so very needed. So incredibly valuable. You see, words have this funny habit of meaning things. They have the ability to breathe tremendous life into places and spaces where perhaps it had been lacking previously [and likewise can have the opposite effect]. And on this particular evening, it was the voice of my brother that broke chains and brought down walls.

The fact of the matter is this: we women are fighting fierce battles alongside our brothers on behalf of the Kingdom in our city and our world every.single.day. And it pains me that the voices of more than half the Church so often go unnoticed and unheard; they get forgotten about, silenced even, or not taken seriously while their oppression is casually dismissed as a “secondary or third-tier issue” within the body. This ought not be so! May we seriously contemplate the weight of Paul’s words as he addressed the churches in Galatia:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus [Galations 3:28] 

In a culture that boasts great freedoms, it’s easy to overlook and dismiss oppressive forces like patriarchy as non-issues, or at best, “second or third-tier issues.” But they aren’t second or third tier issues if you’re a woman. They aren’t second or third-tier issues to our Father who designed us in the Imago Dei. Neither should they be second or third-tier issues to those of us who are charged to be his hands and feet. We so desperately need to be equipping all the saints to bring Kingdom here on earth in a holistic manner, side-by-side, as a full representation of the body of Christ. Both sets of voices are equally necessary if we are to effectively push back the stifling confines of patriarchy.

A few weeks ago I was out to dinner with a group of friends. As the evening unfolded I got into a great conversation with one of my girlfriends who was sitting next to me. She is an incredibly bright, gifted and wildly vibrant woman. Spend five minutes in her company and her indubitable strengths are made self-evident: she is a born leader. I admire her strength, passion and lively spirit, and on this particular evening, I happened to tell her so.

Immediately her demeanor changed. Her shoulders slumped and the light in her eyes dimmed. She looked at me ashamed, “I know, I hate that about myself!”

“What?! What are you talking about? You’re amazing!”

“But women aren’t supposed to be like me, they are supposed to be soft and submissive. I need to be more like that…”

Soft

The kiss of death for a strong spirited woman.

Soft

Such are the concepts, along with all the implicit connotations therein, that are being communicated to the hearts of women, reinforced in the minds of men, and perpetuated throughout the church today. And this is what I mean when I say the grip of patriarchy is far reaching and elusive. It’s difficult to pin down, not nearly as obvious and forthright as we expect it to be. Rarely is the message of oppression communicated through candid words, black and white rules or blatant subjugation. No, more likely we learn its lessons passively, by way of a dangerous undercurrent, and in all that goes unsaid we are conditioned to buy into the lie, and eventually, if we’re not careful, become complicit in the crime of perpetuation.

Soft: often confused with feminine.

But we were not called to be soft, oh daughters. Au contraire… we are image bearers of the risen Lord called to bring about Kingdom in partnership with the Spirit, our brothers beside us. We are far from soft, we are fiercely feminine. And that is no small thing to celebrate.

Chasing Sunrise

Mornings like this one are necessary after yesterdays like that one.

I love Thanksgiving. Don’t get me wrong. In fact, I’ve long since determined it my favorite holiday. I know, I know… but Christmaaaaas!! Yeah, yeah. Christmas is all well and good, and I certainly enjoy the warm and fuzzy time of year. But for me, Thanksgiving is the one holiday that is really about what it’s about: Family. Food. Wine. More wine. Left-over grazing. Did I say wine? Insert food coma here. Can’t complain.

However, as has long since been my struggle, I allow expectation to rob me of the beauty and relevance of real.

Essentially, I love Thanksgiving [and any holiday really] all 364 days prior to the actual day, and then I mourn the unrealized image built up and amplified by sweeping sentimentalism in my mind. Sometimes reality is jarring.

But more disappointing still is the abundance of imperfect joy I forfeit at the expense of elusive perfectionism.

Thankfully, I snapped out of it and Thanksgiving transpired exactly as it ought: our family gathered around one table eating until we couldn’t, followed by silly games accompanied by delirious laughter and playful family banter. And just when I’d finally decided it couldn’t get much better, I proceeded to watch as my meager expectations for the evening were vastly exceeded. I spent the latter half of the evening in the company of my parents and sister -digesting- and discussing theology, justice and biblical exegesis. I may as well have died and gone to introvert heaven.

Four hours of sleep later, I got up before dawn to drive home and go to work. Yes, please do revel in your 4-day weekend, as you should, I’ll be here… carry on.

But I’ve digressed.

I was on the road when dawn illuminated sweeping strokes of pastels in a cotton-candy sky above a fog-laden winter landscape to my right and to my left. The beauty of that fleeting moment was profoundly exquisite.

1-24-13-sunrise-2Such are the moments I remember why I’m a sunrise girl. I serve a God who is actively, tirelessly making all things new. All things. This includes me. My attitude, expectations, brokenness, great sadness, all of it. It is the great delight of my Father to grant his children the restoration inherent in new sunrises and new days that we might have just one more opportunity to embrace abundant joy that is our inheritance. Sometimes I think God brings the sun up again in the morning just in case I missed it yesterday. Did you forget to notice me yesterday? Alright, lets try this again…

Thank you.

I do not say it enough. Thank you.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.
[
Lamentations 3:22-23]

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this passage keeps me getting up in the morning. When I am certain I have done all I can to tarnish this gracious gift of life, he brings a new day, and it comes to me untarnished, full of promise and potential for new beginnings and renewed mercy. I think this passage is self-evidently ripe with promise, and yet, the more I return to it, the more I am moved by the distinct beauty of its placement: making its home most comfortably in the thick of grief and lament. Dead center. In fact, I don’t know that there is another book in the Scriptures so simultaneously depressing and hope-filled in the same breath. And that is why this daughter of a King will forever be chasing the sunrises of her Father.

Tomorrow’s freedom is today’s surrender.

So today, I surrender my expectations. My plans. My selfish script. And I will do it again tomorrow, and every day thereafter until the sun rises no more.

The Window Seat

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome  it.

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Dawn breaks habitually and punctually; the celebrated morning star making its certain journey across a sleepy skyline, trickling into dreamer’s windows, ready or not.

The alarm sounds and the urge to hit snooze overcomes any and all discipline, and the longing to slip down just a bit further into a sea of mangled sheets and oversized throw pillows declares its triumph over sheer will yet again.

Finally, hesitatingly, the fibers of dreamland begin to peel away like layers of fine gossamer to reveal the dawning of a morning light that’s come too soon. Sleep lingers in the air clouding vision and cognition, but feet remember and carry on perfunctorily. The biting splash of cold reality on flushed cheeks retrieve fragments of long stemmed glasses teeming with the deep crimson of celebration and sounds of merriment from familiar lips. It had been a day preceded by erratic tears and amorphous angst born out of the depraved lie that tirelessly insists it has not been enough. This life. This gift. These years. Wasted. Irredeemable. But digging heels feverishly into a moving sidewalk proves all for naught, for Father Time heeds not the pleas of man; without a momentary falter, the sun rises, warming the hilltops with its golden sanction, spilling forth the promise of a new day undefiled.

Mortal eyes struggle as they are burdened with the task of sight. But the trees, oh, they are not troubled with such triviality. Impervious to the lies, they raise their limbs heavenward, spinning their leaves to receive the warm rays with a jovial hospitality, catching them artfully and tossing them about with playful delight, casting them to and fro for all of creation: an open invitation to come and bear witness, for they are sure of their divine ordination.

A brilliant sunbeam glints through green bidding a modest summons, in hopes of waking a sleepwalking girl.

Feet pause from their habitual tread. Eyes see for just a moment.  Heart remembers for just a beat.

It’s been so long.

A faint whisper brushes past forgetful ears. Pressing to still the noise and clutter and busy that wage daily war against a soul at rest, at long last a faint whisper is granted a voice: a plea to remember, to return, is finally heard:

Return to me, and I will return to you

Longing swells up from the long neglected recesses of a calloused heart.

Weary and burdened one, come, I long to give you rest

Habitual tread becomes all at once deliberate stride over to the Window Seat where He can be seen.

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And here you are.

And here also am I.

I am finding you and being found here in this sacred space with each new morning, for it is here that I am named. I am known here in the Window Seat.

May I never return from whence I came.

Truth Time

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall…

I can’t speak for you, but personally, this well-known idiom draws to mind a love-hate relationship I have with myself. Chances are, at least on some level, you can relate.

In college I had roommates who joked about what they called Truth Time. It’s not unlikely you are familiar with the concept yourself. Truth Time is that moment when you get into the car in the morning to leave for work, or class, or whatever the new day brings, and as you adjust the rear-view mirror for one last glance before heading on your way, to your horror, you find the natural light has revealed all your imperfections: the distressed skin (emphasis on stressed), the unrelenting shadows that carve out their stations beneath sleep-deprived eyes, the make-up faux pas, not to mention those infuriatingly stubborn stray hairs that were missed in this morning’s tweezing session by dim indoor lighting. All of this… glaring back at you in their most staggering glory. Because mornings aren’t hard enough.

Read the rest of my article over at The Well Written Woman here.