A House, A Table, A Sisterhood

image from localmilkblog.com

image from localmilkblog.com

[This post is part of a collaborative series on Friendship, hosted by my friend Cara over on her lovely little blog, Little Did She Know. To read more on the series, check out her page, here].

The house sat up on the hill overlooking the breathtaking skyline of downtown Portland. It was massive, in a ritzy SE neighborhood none of us could have afforded without the whole lot of us. So we pooled our resources, and six women signed their names on the dotted line and together, began the long, exhausting process of moving everything in, unpacking, and then, of course- attempting to make sense of everyone’s belongings- arranging and rearranging it all, only to rearrange it again.

I’m not sure we ever fully accomplished the task, but slowly, over the course of time, mismatched though it may have been, this house became our home. With almost 3,000 sq feet of space, this place boasted more rooms than we knew what to do with, including what we fondly referred to as the Harry Potter closet. There were many spaces I would grow to appreciate in the year we lived there, but hands down, if I had to choose, all my fondest memories bring me back to the kitchen table, the one Shannon’s dad would spend an entire afternoon disassembling in order to add the extra leaf, the one that still always seemed too small for all the people we’d attempt to cram around it.

I learned the beauty and the mess of true community in that house, gathered around that table. In the single year we lived there, we hosted more dinner parties than any one of us could recall. From housewarming parties, holiday parties, birthday parties, going away parties, barbecues, bridal showers, book clubs, game nights, wine nights, dance in your underwear nights, you name it, we gathered for it. I can’t think of a single year of my life more centered around the ideas of community, food, wine and celebration.

But of course, it was a mix of a ton of fun and a whole lot of crazy. We didn’t always get along, the six of us [hard to believe, I know]. People tried to warn us beforehand, “Six women? You’re out of your mind!” or, “I sure hope you aren’t all friends, because you won’t be for long,” they’d say. And honestly, there were moments when I thought perhaps we ought to have heeded warning; perhaps we might have avoided all the tension before it had the chance to build, culminating into those awkward, sometimes painful encounters. So many hard conversations could have been avoided all together, so many tears circumvented. But you know, the most valuable thing I learned gathered around the table that year wasn’t how to stage it for the perfect Instagram picture, it was how to remain sitting at it.

When the six of us moved in, we were a mix of friends, and friends of friends. We knew we had a lot to learn about one another, and we were aware that with six very different personalities, the situation could prove challenging. However, we also knew that more than all of this, we were a group of women who wanted to live life communally, with open doors, and with a spirit of hospitality. We knew we wanted to welcome people into our home, feed them, laugh and cry with them, and then hold them hostage until we were certain they were leaving with fuller bellies and fuller hearts.

In all honesty, I don’t think any of us had any idea how difficult it would prove to be; perhaps we were too optimistic in that regard. But nonetheless, we chose to stay seated at the table. We chose to enter into those hard conversations. Laughing together was easy, but we would have to learn to cry with one another. We would have to learn when to give space when it was needed, and when to invade that space in order to sit in the ashes with one another when that was needed too. We would have to learn how to approach the conversations that needed to be had in a way that was respectful and life-giving, and sometimes we’d get it wrong, I know I would on innumerable occasions, in which case, we had to learn how to say, I’m sorry, and please forgive me. And then we’d have to learn to give our forgiveness in return.

There were a million incredible memories carved out in that house last year, I could write an entire book to recount them, perhaps one day I shall. And yet, there is one that has left such an impression on me, I still get choked up recalling it.

It was March 21st, I remember because it was “Match Day” for our med-student friends, many whom made up a significant chunk of our friend group- in fact, our house would lose two of the six that year to residency programs. Life and community as we knew it was about to look very different on a number of different levels, and we were all processing this impending change in our own ways. But nevertheless, it was a beautiful March day and we were all in relatively good spirits despite perhaps being a bit tender emotionally.

I was standing there in the kitchen, appreciating the mid-day light as it poured in through the windows, watching as Rachael rolled out dough for crackers, flour streaked across her face, moving freely like she does in her booty-short shorts and sassy new haircut, humming unselfconsciously away to her latest favorite jam. And there was Allison, moving in effortless rhythm there alongside her, pulling tinfoil over her dessert to leave. That’s when it hit me; I had this flash-forward moment in which I realized I was peering into my future.

These women, somehow, at some point over the course of that year, had become my people, my home team, my girls; the ones invested in this city with me. They’d become so much more than roommates, they’d become the women I’ll go on to build homes and families and businesses alongside. And I knew in that moment that in 10 years, long after our time in that house was but a memory- when the careers have changed and husbands and kids begin to fill the frame, and Rachael’s arms become increasingly covered in tattoos, as they are sure to be- as all the natural evolutions come, and they will come, we will still, undoubtedly find ourselves in each other’s kitchens, gathered around each other’s tables. Rachael will still be a sassy, smart-mouthed dreamer who cries at the drop of a hat, Allison will still be baking her decadent sweets, consistent and kind the way she is, Amy will still be her generous self, filling our wine glasses liberally, freaking out the moment she notices they’ve been empty for all of 3 seconds; that is to say, we will still be us.

I’ll never forget the profound feeling I had as the many frightening unknowns of the days ahead dissolved in the light of that overpowering, beautiful reality.

It was a crazy year. I’m not entirely sure what I expected going in, but I can tell you what I didn’t expect: I didn’t expect that these women would become my very best friends. I didn’t expect that in the years to come, they’d still be my people. I didn’t expect that when the time came to leave that house, those of us who would remain in Portland would fight tooth and nail to find another place, a smaller place, that would work for the four of us who remained, because we would want to stay together. And I didn’t anticipate that we would cry when we finally found it, partially out of excitement, though mostly out of exhaustion and relief after a long, drawn out, fierce search. I certainly didn’t expect that as we settled into our new home on the other side of town, this one that is a fraction of the size of the house up on the hill, that here, in the smaller spaces, we’d grow even closer.

It’s funny now to consider the many stark differences: our current home is actually too small for a dinner table. In fact, most of us had to sell or otherwise dispose of most of our furniture just to fit here. We joke that our living room is our “Room of Requirement,” it is our make-shift living, dining, entertainment room, den, office, you name it, the space will become it, and we will do as we have always done, and we will gather in it.

Granted, there are days I really miss having a separate space for dining, one with a real table to squeeze people around. But it’s striking to consider the progression. You see, last year we needed that table- it was our glue, it was our home base, our gathering point; it was the centripetal force, the thing that united us in honesty and humility, it was a symbol of what it means to be community when we couldn’t remember how.

Whether by wine and laughter or by tears and confessions, the moments we chose to stay seated at that table bound us together as sisters. And now, today, while the luxury of a dinner table would be incredibly convenient, we don’t actually need it in the same way anymore. Our hearts are already invested and fastened together, our futures already indefinitely entangled. We learned what it means to stay seated at the table for the good stuff as well as for that which is not so good, and the rhythms and habits we formed around that table have enabled us to do life together, beautifully, even in its absence.

Advertisements

Inaugurated

kingdom_concept1

It’s been rather quiet around here as of late, I know. And yet, I don’t really feel bad about it.

Writing a book is challenging, particularly being a rookie who really has absolutely zero idea what she’s doing. Everywhere I turn I learn, in more painstaking detail, all the things- in addition to writing the content of the book- that I need to begin, not to mention complete. For example, I need to write a well-developed book proposal. In order to do so, I first need to do market research and identify my target audience as well as those “competing voices” already in existence [that is, already in publication]. Also- and I mention this because I think it’s laughable- I must explain why it is this number crunching, cubical inhabiting, former accountant-turned nanny is “qualified” to construct creative, Christian non-fiction for the masses. Ha! I mean, I’ve made peace with my journey to be sure, but I still must acknowledge that it sounds bizarre to say the least, and perhaps rather unconvincing.

The above list, of course, is not in the least exhaustive; there are a slew of additional projects here and there I must begin, most of which don’t actually even involve writing the book itself- which is enough of a monster, I assure you- but I will refrain from unloading those here. You’re welcome.

Of much more importance is that which I have actually accomplished. That which I have actually begun and what it is I’m learning along the way.

There is an old Theosophic adage which states, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Regardless of its ambiguous, esoteric origin, it communicates a profound truth that has proven itself again and again throughout my journey, from the time I committed to writing this book to present. Doors keep opening. People keep showing up. Connections keep being made. Inspiration keeps striking. I keep feeling like I need to rub the sleep out of my eyes; this can’t really be my life can it? I can’t really be pursuing this wild, unpredictable dream, can I?

Presently, my days look a lot like me engrossed in a number of works by brilliant theologians much wiser than I, in an effort to help establish my underlying, but foundational premise, which, much to my surprise, is deeply rooted in what I understand and believe about eschatology. I think I knew that, and yet, I hadn’t really thought about it at length until recently. As such, I’ve been pouring through much by N.T. Wright and his contemporaries, in order to hone in on a mature, robust and developed theology on this issue. It almost seems silly, but this stuff makes me near giddy. Reading and absorbing content of this nature is a well of deep, immovable joy for me. I’m utterly absorbed in Wright’s “After you Believe” right now. I simply cannot get enough of this man’s brilliance and thoughtfulness.

I have an appointment scheduled in early January to grab coffee with a professor and pastor here in Portland whose knowledge, wisdom and insight I deeply value, respect and appreciate. And in an effort to not sound like a complete oaf in his coveted company, I’ve been studying like crazy, developing my questions and outlining what it is exactly I’m hoping to glean from him. What’s surprised me, however, is that throughout the process, I’ve watched my own ideas come into much sharper focus, my own stories become more clearly illuminated by what it is I’m learning.

Of course, I cannot spell all that out here, but here is the point- here is what I keep coming back to- the thing that compels me deeply and permeates my stories:

What you and I believe about eschatology deeply affects the way we understand mission [or purpose, if-you-rather] this side of resurrection. And what we understand about mission deeply affects how we live today, in the here and now. And how we live today, in the here and now, deeply affects the unfolding trajectory of God’s Kingdom story as set in motion and entrusted to us by Jesus all those years ago. That is to say, what we believe matters. It matters a great deal.

This reality is infiltrating my stories, but even cooler than that, it’s infiltrating my life. This journey is a good one.

The cure for loneliness

As I sit here, looking out over the Siuslaw river, the rain pours down hard, dancing on the water as it returns to the place from whence it came. Five minutes ago it was the sun that was raining down, pouring its light through the glass, warming my bare toes. And even as I write this, the downpour slowly subsides making way for another patch of blue skies.

siuslaw 2

The silence has been unfolding around me gently all afternoon. I’ve hardly moved from this spot on the couch, positioned conveniently in front of four large bay windows overlooking the peaceful landscape of the coast, and I’m not at all sorry. It is with startling precision that I feel the tension seeping from my muscles and out of my body like a thawing tree after a bitter ice storm- drip, drip, drip- and as I breathe in deep, I sense the clean air sweeping through the cavernous spaces created by the absence, and I feel whole in a hollow sort of way; raw and a bit vulnerable, but whole. I hadn’t realized how wound up I was until at last I wasn’t.

There is a saying, “the only cure for loneliness is solitude,” and in this moment I know beyond all doubt that this is precisely true.

And as I allow myself to open up to the silence, to surrender to the emptiness, beauty sweeps in like a spring breeze through an old, dusty cabin. It seems the lines that separate my senses have begun to blur and blend: for the fragrance of light is penetrating and the taste of the silence is palatable. I can feel the color of the trees taking root under my skin, their lifeblood mixing and mingling with my own, and the brightness in my eyes is back. It can be startling to peer at your own reflection and realize that you recognize yourself for the first time in ages; the human staring back at you, because who was it then staring back every time before? I had forgotten my humanness I think, that is, the good and holy parts of it. I seem to carry with me always the reality of my skin and bones, blood and muscles, my ceaseless pain and anxiety, and all the weight of my limitedness, no doubt. But more often than not, I forget to take up the lightness of my spirit that was meant to animate this shell of mine.

And as I continue to fully enter into this weekend getaway, this last minute retreat, I’m reminded of the word Shalom- in the truest, fullest sense of the Jewish word- and then immediately, Shabbat; the two, it seems, are indivisible. Without genuine, revitalizing rest, there will be no Shalom, and yet it seems I can’t manage to take either word seriously until I’m wholly desperate for them to revive me. And when they do, [and they are always willing to] I am reminded that there is a profound buoyancy inherent in our humanity, if only we can cultivate it. After all, we were made to inhabit our humanity, to live into it, not to be crushed by it.

And so, as I sit here while the hours pass by, I keep fighting the thought that “if only I lived here!” I would never leave this place. This place of solitude, of peace, of wholeness. But of course, people do live here, and they are every bit as caught up in the world of busy and go, go, go as I, and must seek out and cultivate rest and the spaces that fill them as well. And it occurs to me, that we cannot live in this space. No. None of us can. And to do so would be destructive even- ultimately. But, we can visit. And we should. Perhaps much more often than we do.

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.

time-black-and-white-desktop-2560x1600

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

cornfield

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.

When De(Tales) Preach

(de)tales pic

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…

– – – – – –

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.

LionWitchWardrobeWallpaper1024

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.

balda_alps_clouds_sunrise

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. 

writers-block1

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.