Building Fences & Taking Sides [@ the Junia Project]

fence-post

I’m a big advocate for what I like to call “tension living.” If this life has taught me anything, particularly where faith is involved, it’s that black and white do in fact occupy a significant amount of mutual territory, and there is more than enough grey to go around. Ryan O’Neal from Sleeping At Last puts it beautifully in his song “101010”: “grey is not a compromise – it is the bridge between two sides. I would even argue that it is the color that most represents God’s eyes.” So… Sovereign God? or Free Will?

Yes.

And I’m comfortable sitting in that tension. Some things aren’t for knowing yet and I think God quite enjoys that we can’t pin him down with our cold, hard precision and logic. So you see, I agree.

Except when I don’t.

The more I dive into the cause of women and gender [in]equality, both within the church and around the globe, the more personal the issue becomes for me, and the more determined I become to build a fence simply to demonstrate that I will not be found sitting on it.

I’m thrilled to be over at the Junia Project today. Click here to read the rest of my post!

Grace & Peace,

Cayla

Should, Could, Would

There are so many rules. Everyone I talk to has something to say regarding the matter. I’ve just got to “sit down and do the work.” And I mean, it’s only two to three posts a week I need to keep up on.

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Ah yes, “only,” of course, silly me, I should have known.

I also need to be writing for other platforms and submitting pitches for articles to additional blogs at least once a month if I expect to “build any kind of following,” they say.

And then of course, there’s the book. I’ll need a well developed book proposal, not to mention an outline and draft of the book itself. But please, don’t neglect blogging!

And social media, I mean, whatever you do, don’t overlook your Twitter account for goodness sake, how will anyone find you if you aren’t firing off clever antics and links to your blog posts every 2.5 minutes, and engaging in heated debates with other prominent Twitter Tweakers all day long? [Please do forgive the sardonic humor, I have nothing against Twitter; I love Twitter or something. In fact, I should probably tell you to follow me at CaylaCheri23. There! Shameless plug, I must be on the right track, yes?]

But for the love of all that is good and holy, be present! Put away your phone, look your friends in the eyes and just be. Everyone knows we aren’t what we do after all.

Really? Really!?

Now of course, please do continue to do all this in your free time outside of your 50/hr. work week. It really shouldn’t be a problem…

Okay, I’ll admit, I’m being a bit melodramatic in delivery, I knoooooow! But it doesn’t make it less true. Frankly, I’ve heard it all, and honestly, it’s all more than a little overwhelming. Yes, I understand that I have to take writing seriously, yes I understand that it’s a lot of work, yes, yes I get it.

But life is never quite as simple in practice as it is in theory, am I right? On paper it’s all rather cut and dry, but that’s just not reality, or at least it isn’t mine.

And the above only highlight the messages I’m fielding related to writing alone. I haven’t even touched on the myriad of other time-sucking activities I have to prioritize [and here you thought you'd made it past the lunatical ravings]. Take my health for example, living with chronic pain for years, I hear all the time what it is I really ought to be doing to get “fixed.” My trainer wants to help me build strength and muscle in an effort to correct the problem, so alongside training twice a week in the wee hours of the morning, on days I don’t train I should also be running and doing daily stretches and corrective exercises and rolling out my muscles. Just a little bit of “homework” he says.

My friends tell me I should be getting regular deep tissue massages, and acupuncture, definitely need that, right? But then this person tells me how their chiropractor changed their life, while this other friend assures me what I really need is to see a D.O., nope, nope, scratch that, it’s physical therapy I need.

Awesome. And would someone be so kind as to point me in the direction of the money tree? Mmmk, thanks.

At some point, let me tell you, you hit a saturation point and have to fight the urge to throw your hands in the air and say, “Who the hell knows anyway?! I’ve lived with it for this long, what’s another 50 years?” I have seen chiropractors, I have seen two Doctors of Osteopathy, both of whom shrugged their shoulders at me and handed me a prescription for muscle relaxers.

All the while, the words of my therapist still ring out in the background, “You need to be fighting for at least 8 hours of sleep a night; we want you thriving, not just surviving.” Ah yes, sleep, my ever elusive frenemy.

I’ve not even touched on the added stress of trying to balance family and friends, a small business, church and Missional Community, time in the Word and study and prayer, and, and, aaaaand let’s not forget one glaring detail folks, this hot mess is an introvert. That means I need time to be alone, to reflect and hear myself think lest I unravel into an introverts form of hell, that is, extrovert heaven.

introverting

And you know, it’s all just a lot of pressure. That’s really “all” I’m saying. Everyone seems to believe that their advice, their area of expertise is the most significant thing, the thing that should be at the top of my priority list. But they can’t all be at the top, and frankly, I’m just one person. I can’t do it all the “right” way. I just can’t. I know it’s cliché to say, but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. And I realize I sound like I’m wound up tighter than a top, but that’s because I am.

I know I’m not alone in this either. I watch my roommates and my sisters attempting to sort through all the contradicting messages we are all bombarded by on the regular, and I see how it wears on them. It seems that everyone has some brilliant input for our lives, some way of doing things that is better than how we’ve been doing it all along. And while some people are better at letting it all roll off them than I am, admittedly, I tend to internalize it a lot more, I want to create a functional framework with all that information… but it’s just too much. At some point I’ve just got to trust myself. We all do.

And yet, truly, at the end of the day, no matter how much I want to pull my hair out from time to time, when I take a moment to step back and examine my life, I am struck by the humbling reality that it is indeed a good and beautiful one. I suppose we all need a good venting session from time to time, but really, I have no complaints about this silly little window of time I’ve been given.

So here’s where I’m landing the plane: I’m going to keep writing- that’s a commitment I’ve made that I am indeed committed to. But I make no guarantees that it’s going to look a certain way; that I’m going to have ‘x’ amount of posts up per week or month or whatever. I’m always in the process of writing something, but I am a slow writer, that’s just my reality- the framework have to operate within. And among all the many good and lovely things I’m trying to juggle, I’m also trying to produce content for a book, which requires a whole new level of commitment and dedication. I’m figuring it out, slowly but surely.

And I have to laugh a little bit when I remember that all of this- all this ranting and promise-making- it’s all really just for me. I doubt very much any of my readers really even care, but more than telling you all of this, I really just needed to tell myself. I needed to let myself off the hook a little. Everything is going to be oooo-kay.

[cue: deep breath]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Painful Plunge

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For the last 3 days I’ve holed myself away in my parents country cottage in an effort to get some solid writing done. And for the last 3 days, I’ve been using every distraction tactic my imagination can conjure to keep myself from the same end. I’ve been telling myself that I’m just figuring out my “rhythm,” determining what “works for me.”

I’ve read articles on how to overcome “writers block,” checked my email, Instagram and Twitter accounts in compulsive three-minute intervals, and listened to more classical music than I likely have over the course of my entire life until this point. I’ve consumed more cups of coffee than could possibly be considered healthy, taken pictures of the “writing” process, posted those pictures and waited for the likes to roll in for some coveted scraps of encouragement to keep going.

Yes. I am quite aware of how pathetic that sounds. Whatever people. I’m human.

And to be fair, I have gotten some writing done. I’ve worked a bit on my outline; found that I like the Notebook function in Word for creating my draft as it offers a clean and effective format for organizing my outlines and stories. I even managed to get another blog post up… this one will make two.

But this morning I came to the end of myself. I had to put away the distractions and take a good long look at what was going on and ask myself, “What is it you’re so afraid of?”

By in large, I already know what it is I need to write about. I have a good number of chapters already predetermined in my head, though they’ve yet to be written. And this morning, as I sat in the profound discomfort of this question, this is what I found: I don’t want to go back; I don’t want to revisit these stories. I don’t want to dig that deep and unpack all the crap I’ve so meticulously put away.

It turns out, when you commit to writing a book about redemption, you have to write about the unredeemed parts too. I forget that it’s hardly the pretty, “together” parts of our lives in need of restoration. No, rather redemption is birthed out of our abject poverty, our brokenness, hurt, loneliness and vulnerability. These are the things in life that need to be made new. And usually, unfortunately, these are really the only stories worth telling. But it’s painful. I want to be able to say that I’ve made my way through the mire to the other side where only rejoicing is found. That I can look back without those old familiar pangs of regret and sadness. That the memories of some of these stories don’t still sting. But that wouldn’t be honest, and it certainly wouldn’t make for very good story telling. No. Instead, I have to trudge back through all the garbage, make myself vulnerable to the memories once more and relive them. I have to feel the pain again, and cry tears that I swore I’d never shed again, in order to write effectively and honestly about it all. I have to take the painful plunge inward and invite the Lord to walk me through the process once more; to bring me back to the vantage point where perspective shifts from what is broken and bereft of hope, to something of profound and nuanced beauty.

And I want to get there. I do. But it isn’t easy, and I can see now that it simply isn’t going to be. Perhaps it isn’t supposed to be.

I don’t think I’ve ever realized how much of a person’s soul is poured out and laid bare in the book-writing process. It is incredibly humbling. It is incredibly frightening. It almost doesn’t seem worth it until I remember that it is also profoundly healing.

So this morning I planted my backside resolutely in my chair and wrote until I was right back in the moment. I wrote until the tears came, and then kept typing right on through them. Am I thrilled with the product? Not particularly, but product wasn’t the point today. Today the point was getting to the place of being honest with myself about the process and coming to grips with that. And though I’m sure I’ll have to relearn this lesson a thousand times over, today I will celebrate this small victory for what it is.

The War of Art

rainy day cup

Why is it that the very thing we absolutely must do simultaneously becomes the one thing that feels impossible to accomplish? Why is it that the moment I declare “I’m writing a book!” the task seems doomed for failure? And why is it that as I’m sitting here staring at the blinking cursor at the top of an empty white page, the idea of spending the week out here at my parents lovely, peaceful, country cottage for a writing retreat suddenly seems like a sentence rather than a solace? Suddenly I simply cannot get comfortable. This chair is much too firm, the couch has the opposite problem, and the cottage is much too cold. I already have trouble sitting still for more than five minutes, but now doing so seems an insufferable feat. Everything in me suddenly wants to scrub the bathtub and reorganize my parents kitchen in the most desperate kind of way.

Steven Pressfield would argue that this is Resistance doing its finest work to distract me from leaning into my gifts and accomplishing some of my life’s most important work. In his fabulously motivating [in a kick-you-in-the-pants sort of way] book, The War of Art, he highlights that this resistance we feel is not unique to any artist or human, in fact, it is a fundamental element of the human condition. He personifies resistance as the great adversary [or evil] actively and tirelessly working against us to keep up from rising to the occasion. I have to say, I think Pressfield is onto something. One of my favorite quotes from the book is a pithy statement about Hitler: “You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study… Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it an overstatement, but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”

Snap.

I say all of this because it seems significant and necessary to acknowledge my anxiety on the matter in order to move thoughtfully and successfully through it. I’m an idealist in every sense of the word, so the idea of writing a book sounds wholly romantic to me. Early mornings spent at a cozy cafe in the city on a cool, overcast, fall day. Fingers wrapped around a steaming soy latte for warmth as I contemplate my word choice. I’d type out brilliant thoughts about ordinary life to the rhythm of the rain outside. It’s all so poetic and nostalgic, like Christmas or something. Until I get to the coffee shop and am reminded that ice cold fingers and toes are by no means romantic, and in fact it is absurd that they are blasting the air conditioning when the weather is already a bleak 45 degrees as the rain dumps depressingly right outside my window. Seriously, air conditioning? Is this real life? Also, when did it become socially acceptable to charge $7 for a plain cup of coffee? God knows I don’t come to this specific coffee shop for the coffee. Portland is a roastery mecca, and these people don’t even know what cold brew is.

Grace, Cayla, grace. Good grief woman, quit being so critical and just write!

Yes, writing, that is what this is all about after all isn’t it?

Or is it? I’m not so sure anymore. It’s about writing and it isn’t. It’s something to do with calling and faithfulness and being deliberate in the face of resistance. It’s about courage and enough honesty to sit uncomfortably in the spaces of failure that will find us in between, and then granting ourselves enough grace to begin again. It’s about the human condition in all its fractured glory. About facing fear day, after day, after day and not loosing heart in light of the reality that it’ll certainly be there waiting for us again tomorrow.

It’s about showing up and it’s about perseverance, because the bottom line is this: to create art, in any capacity, is to wage war.

Wage on.

The follow through

It was 2007 and I was a sophomore in college when Shauna first visited our campus to promote her inaugural book, Cold Tangerines. I had seen that deliciously orange hard cover in the hands of a few students scattered around campus prior to the event and had heard her name once or twice in reference to her collection of stories, but that’s about the extent of what I knew of her or her little appetite-inducing book.

I almost didn’t go that evening.

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As a writer, reader and insatiable learner, I spend a good deal of time seeking out new books to add to my ever-growing shelf of “to be read” items. A solid book recommendation can go a long way with me, and I can’t quite imagine a better way to while away a slow afternoon than at Powells, book in one hand, a good Portland roast in the other as rain beats out a relaxing rhythm against the window pane before me. Fiction, non-fiction, it doesn’t much matter; something ignites inside me when I crack the binding of a new book I’m really excited about for the first time. That said, I’ve become quite the aficionado when it comes to finding a really great read.

But then there are these moments, although exceedingly rare, when- much the way the wand chooses the wizard- a book chooses you.

I took a seat in the chapel that evening and listened as Shauna spoke, sharing little bits of her soul with us, meticulously and lovingly woven throughout the stories she had so bravely and graciously penned. I bought myself a copy of that shiny, tangerine-colored book, and made inconsequential chatter with her as she signed my copy: “To Cayla- warmly- Shauna Niequist

I wish I would have known in that moment how much her words would, in time, find their way off the 2 dimensional sheets on which they’d been printed and into my heart in a surprisingly 3 dimensional kind of way. I would have ditched the small talk and hugged her the way I would hug a friend who has walked the dark and low valleys of life with me, because in truth, Shauna’s gift of storytelling would eventually affect the entire trajectory of my life. And even now as I continually return to her stories [currently compiled in three beautiful publications], they continue to shape me still, over and over and over again, reminding me who I am and liberating me from the self-imposed condemnation for all that I am not.

Throughout the years, all of Shauna’s books would manage to find me when I needed her words, honesty and bravery the very most, in the most desperate kind of way. In the winter of 2012, her book Bittersweet would find me in a particularly fragile state. I was sitting on the couch, curled up in a blanket before a dwindling fire as I read her chapter titled Twenty-Five through tear-filled eyes. I cried and cried as I read and re-read that chapter. And then… I took a really deep breath, pulled myself together as best I could manage, and marched my terrified little self into that fancy Portland high-rise and promptly quit my corporate job; the job I got the degree for; the job that promised lots of stability and status; the job that made me appear so very intelligent and together to those around me; the same job that had been sucking the very life out of me; the job that I loathed and dreaded but was too terrified to leave. But finally, I would, and it would be one of the very best decisions I would ever make for myself, and in no small way, I have Shauna to thank.

Why am I telling you this story? Often times, when I sit down to write, or even think about sitting down to write, I get really overwhelmed, because really, what is there left to say? There will always be someone else who has already thought it, written it and published it, and others who will have already heard it, read it, tweeted and re-tweeted it… you get the picture.

So what’s the point? Understand, if you can, that I am plagued by this question.

But then I remember Shauna’s books, her stories, and I’m reminded it hasn’t ever been about having something particularly new or revolutionary to say, but rather about managing to relate to and connect with another human soul at a particular point in time. Reading Shauna’s words, I’d already known what she was saying was true, but I needed, in those moments, to be reminded.

This is why I write. It’s why any of us do I suppose. These connection points, these “me too” moments, if you will, that make it all worth it.

If you’ve ever been a follower of my blog, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted new content in a long while. There are a number of reasons for this. In part, I took a deliberate step back to reevaluate, well… essentially everything. There was a part of me that began to panic at the thought of building a following of any kind. How might I be perceived? Would I be able to keep up? Was I really ready to seriously commit to writing? I kept talking about it, and the more I talked about it, the more I felt obligated to deliver in some sweeping, grand-gesture sort of way. I have a deep-rooted fear of being perceived by others as inconsistent in pretty much any capacity, but particularly as it relates to standards I hold myself to. And so the more I talked about writing, the more I started to freak out, wondering if I could really deliver; if I was really capable of tackling this dream that felt so big and frightening. So the very fact that you’re reading this post is largely significant. This is me coming out of hiding, out of my head, in a deliberate movement away from fear toward the first steps of faith; this me saying I am here to stay.

In more specific terms, I have officially begun the process of outlining and drafting my first book. Chances are that sounds far more terrifying to me than it does to you. But I’m saying it because I’m finally ready to put my money where my mouth is, that is, I’m finally ready to speak it, and then commit to the follow through.

With that said, you’ll be noticing some changes to my blog in the coming weeks as I’ll be working with a web designer to completely revamp it. I’ve done my homework and sought out a cafe in the city that is most conducive for writing and getting work done and I’ve carved out intentional time in my weekly schedule to hammer out content. I’m meeting with another writer friend of mine monthly to establish goals, check in on those goals and then continue setting new ones.

In addition to my blog and working on my book, I’ll also be working on pieces for one of my favorite blogs on the web, the Junia Project, as a regular contributor. I’m very excited about this opportunity and look forward to writing about and advocating for issues I care deeply about.

So I guess what I’m saying is this: I am a writer, as terrifying as that is to say out loud, and as such, I have a deep, unabashed and untempered love for words. And now, I want to be accountable to them. I’m going to need a tremendous amount of grace along the way, surely, but I’m choosing to believe that it will be a fruitful endeavor, because ultimately, I know that I will never be the truest, fullest version of myself if I do not step out in faith and do this thing that I am so deeply compelled by God to do.

Thank you in advance for your support and solidarity.

Grace & Peace

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.

tight_rope_walker_530w13

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.