Sex in the City

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This post is part of a Mother’s Day synchroblog. I’ve joined up with some incredible women who are passionate about eradicating sex-trafficking. Please head over to Kaylie Hodges blog to read more in this series. 

Nestled cozily amongst the ubiquitous greenery, beaming in the glint of a deep blue harbor, sits the city I call home. One of the fastest growing cities in America, we’ve officially, unofficially launched campaigns called “stop telling people about Portland.” Okay, but jokes aside, when people think of Portland, a number of things often come to mind, most notably, an unparallel culinary experience. Whether it’s food or drink, we take the cake [literally] and up you a Blue Star donut. You’re welcome.

Portland is known for having established what is referred to as “coffee culture.” We have more breweries than any other city in the world, with wine country just a short drive down the road to some of the most elegant Pinot’s you’ve ever tasted. I recently heard a pastor say this about Portland, “A few things happen when you move to Portland: one, you get a tattoo, it’s like a passport stamp, ‘Oh, I see you’ve been to Portland.’ And second, your taste in coffee and beer get very expensive, or ironic, you have a choice.”

But don’t concern yourself with it, as the hipsters say, “You probably wouldn’t understand…”

If you’re not a bona fide, high profile foodie, you may still be drawn to Portland for its outstanding beauty and conduciveness for outdoor adventuring. Home to hikers, bikers, dragon boat racers, you name it, you’ll find it. With a heart for conscious consumerism, small business and sustainable practices, Portland is almost literally the Garden of Eden.

Interested in starting a non-profit? We probably already did. You guessed it: we’ve got more non-profits per capita than any other city in the U.S. And while I could continue this rather pretentious Portland pitch [it’s surprisingly easy to make fun of Portland], that is actually not the point of this post.

Edenic imagery in mind, there is actually a disturbingly dark underbelly to the city that often gets overlooked at first glance, particularly by those just passing through on their gluttonous food tours [Yeah, we know who you are with your umbrellas in tow, your Dutch Bro’s… frappy thingys, and flagrant mispronunciation of “Couch” street]. But I’ve digressed…

As I was saying:

Food and outdoor adventuring are not the only markets we monopolize. There is actually one additional category in which we top the charts, but we don’t really like to talk about it. It’s like airing our dirty laundry, we’d rather not. We’d rather tantalize your taste buds and keep you wrapped up in the hedonism we idolize in this city than admit that we’ve been identified as a central and prominent hub for sex trafficking.

There it is, our deep, dark secret.

According the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world. It is estimated to generate $32 billion a year, $28 billion of which is generated from commercial sexual exploitation. The average age of entry into the commercial sex industry in the United States is between 12 and 14. Portland is ranked second for the greatest number of children found in forced prostitution among all U.S. cities [Source].

Tragically, we often think of these sorts of issues as being far removed from our comfortable little worlds. These are systemic problems arising out of troubled economies somewhere over there in those other countries. In other words, it’s someone else’s problem. But this simply isn’t true. This egregious “industry” is running rampant in our own backyard.

All of it is our problem.

Recently, my younger sister met and immediately became inseparable with a young woman she met at work. My sister has always chosen outstanding friends, so when I had the privilege of meeting her, I was eager to hear her story.

I was driving the three of us out to the Gorge for a hike, because obviously. Within minutes I was struggling to see through my tears as she shared in such humility and transparency the intimate details of her life.

She began her story as a mere babe, roughly 4 years of age, growing up in Sikkim, India. With striking poise and grace, she recounted the instance that would change the trajectory of her entire life.

She and her sister were attempting to find higher ground during a monsoon when the taxi driver stopped to offer them a ride to safety that day. The decision to accept his offer still haunts her today; they were so young- her sister just barely in her double digits.

When the taxi driver stopped again, she had to witness her sister being mercilessly raped by this old man. She can still hear her cries; still see the blood that dripped down her leg later that afternoon in the showers at the brothel they’d been taken to.

Public transportation remains a terrifying trigger for her today. “No money in the world could get me into another taxi,” she says.

In the days and weeks that followed, she recalled her sister trying to explain to her what sex was, and where they’d been taken, and what she ought to do when the men started coming to her. But she didn’t understand. All she could comprehend is that these people gave them food and nice clothes and bangles. They sent her to dance classes and gave her a warm bed to sleep in at night.

She’d been a mere baby- 4 or 5 years old- and her virginity was worth a great deal. She was being “groomed.”

She recounted the day her sister came to her and said, “We have to run away tonight.” While she found this confusing at the time, her sister had been insistent, and ultimately, she trusted her with her life. So in the middle of the night when her sister woke her, they crept up to the rooftop where they would jump from structure to structure until they made their way to the ground. Then, they made their desperate getaway and ran for their lives. They slept in cornfields during the day, and ran at night. Eventually, by the grace of God, they would make their way back home. Her older sister was married off shortly thereafter, but because of her young age, her father would send her to America to be adopted for a chance at a better life.

“He tried to explain to me that there was this place where anything was possible. Where I could be whatever I wanted; a place where I could eat as many apples as I desired. He knew how I loved apples.

“He handed me a bag of peanuts when he put me on the train that day. I was so excited about the peanuts. I could see him out the window, and remember being confused by his tears. All I could think about were the damn peanuts.”

Tragic as this story is, it has a much happier ending than most. She and her sister ultimately escaped, wounds intact. But not all are so fortunate.

This kind of evil breaks me. I’ve read all kinds of statistics and information about the rampant nature of this evil, and I still don’t know how to process it. All the information, the statistics, they feel so far away, so removed and distant.

And then I see her face. I hug her and I remember, that the statistics have faces, they have stories, and they are right here among us. Who knows, you may discover one day that a victim is closer than you ever imagined, she might just be your sister’s best friend.

Here in this beautiful city I call home, sex trafficking is alive and well. Almost more shocking is that the majority of those who live here have no idea our beloved city is home to the second largest trafficking hub in the country. And as much as I may wish to deny it, Portland is no Garden of Eden. But where you live, whether in Portland or Nepal makes little difference. That’s the point. Boundary lines can’t and don’t contain sex trafficking. Government systems aren’t able to eradicate the crime, and every well intentioned non-profit can’t protect all the young girls and boys.

But before we throw up our hands in helplessness, there are things that can be done.

Would you join me and my friends today in prayer over this horrific evil? Our prayers are heard and they do matter. And if you have the resources, would you consider making a donation to one of these organizations to help bring freedom for those trapped in a life we can’t even begin to wrap our imaginations around?

Here are some resources and ways you can help.

1) Very good summary video about the problem as it is manifested in Portland, put on by the Junior League of Portland: Waiting for the Light.

2) The Lov Foundation.

3) And of course, please visit the other posts in this series for more information, link at top of post.

 Grace, Peace and Freedom for all.

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The Fault in Perfection

As a kid, I never considered myself a perfectionist. My mother always used the word to describe herself any time she undertook a project of a crafty nature. She didn’t do it too often- though more so then than now- but anytime she sketched or cut or stitched anything, even when she’d color with us, she would erase, remeasure, undo and redo until it was just so. “What can I say, I’m a perfectionist,” she’d confess.

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 But I’ve never really cared much for crafts myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve wanted to want to, but that’s about as far as I ever get. At the end of the day I find the thing I lack is not the talent, but rather the necessary patience and desire. So crafting is out for me. Crafting and I, we’ve made our peace. But because I always heard perfectionism in the context of all that is “artsy,” I just assumed that it was something best left to those who actually gave a damn about hand-made cards in the first place. Personally, I was perfectly content with what Hallmark had to say. Perfectionism couldn’t possibly be my thing.

A+perfectionism-239x300And so I poured my energy into less perfection-oriented pursuits, like academics. I pulled enough all-nighters in high school to ensure my transcript was filled with uninterrupted, shiny A’s, landing me at the top of my class. I color coordinated my closet, killed entire rain forests writing single essays, washed my hands so often they bled [true story]. In college, as I jumped into communal living, I often found myself seething is self-righteous amazement that people didn’t seem to know how to pick up after themselves. I’d take out my aggression by scrubbing the floor boards with a toothbrush and cleaning things until they sparkled because, “if you want something done right, you’ve simply got to do it yourself.”

Obviously. 

But me, a perfectionist? 

I imagine by now you can sense the sarcasm dripping from every sentence. Sometimes self-depreciating humor is all that is left. In fairness, I did eventually come to realize that I held myself to an exceptionally high standard, and that that alone might in fact qualify me as a kind of perfectionist. I was able to intellectually cut ties with the idea that perfectionism was intrinsically tied to artistic pursuits. I’m not that dense. But even still, it’s really only been in the last year or so that I’ve begun to explore just how deep and wide is the pond of perfection in my life. As it turns out, its actually a lake. A very big lake, flowing into an even bigger ocean. I’m positively drowning in it.

Granted, it doesn’t look anything like my mother’s, and rarely resembles that of my peers, but a perfectionist I am. In fact, it’s come to my attention that my primary “need” – and by need I mean compelling drive – is a need for Perfection, specifically, a perfection of character, or righteousness. And as I’ve begun to examine- rather painfully I might add- this tendency of mine, I’ve begun to see with new eyes the many casualties it’s taken along the way, perhaps the most notable of all- my writing.

Writing is something I was made to do. Few things make me come alive the way writing does. Few undertakings make me feel as genuinely and generously myself, and yet, nearly every time I sit down to write, my desire to create something flawless keeps me from creating anything at all. 

This is my Achilles’ heel. 

I confess, even as I write this stupid post, I’ve been coming back to it for days. I read and reread, rephrase, reread again, edit and rewrite. If the flow isn’t just right, I rewrite it until it is. It’s so exhausting. I defeat myself before I have the chance to really get in the game. And this is the primary reason I end up not writing. It’s not really because I don’t have time- after all, time is never found, only ever made, isn’t that right? It’s because I know the amount of time it’s going to take me to finish a single thought, a single post. By the time the post is finished, it’s likely not even relevant anymore. 

This is why I’m more drawn to article writing than to blogging. Give me a prompt and a deadline, and you can bet I’ll get it done. Give me loose boundary lines, and I’ll find something better to do.

In an effort to combat this, I’ve begun to do what’s called Morning Pages, three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing first thing in the morning. People apparently swear by it, but I absolutely loathe the idea. But already I’ve begun to notice benefits, a dislodging of connected concepts that I’d not taken the time to see or unpack. Hopefully it will help dislodge my writer’s block, which, as it turns out, is just my own perfectionism. 

 

The Metamorphosis

If you’ve ever spent any significant time in the company of a fiction writer, you’re probably familiar with the popular refrain that ponders and pokes fun at the way in which characters often “take on a life of their own,” and have a bad habit of “running away with the story.” I’ve often sat in wonderment at such a thought. What does that mean exactly? Either you’re the author or you’re not, am I right? Not being a fiction writer myself, I more or less resigned that I would likely never really know the answer to this question. characters come alive However, in due course, as I’ve begun to undertake the painstaking process of drafting my own book, I’ve been amazed to consider all the ways in which this concept is strikingly on point. Sure, I write non-fiction, but this doesn’t negate that I’m still participating in the art of storytelling; painting a picture, peeling back layers, breaking down an experience or story in order that I might begin building it back up upon a foundation which will illuminate it in a new light. That is the overarching telos, if-you-will, or ultimate goalAnd to achieve this end, a distinctly creative process is inevitably involved.

I was journaling the other night my reflections on this concept. I had spent the day constructing my Introductory chapter, and had previously drafted my working “Elevator Pitch” for the book, and was struck by just how much the project has already evolved in such a short amount of time. Here’s my entry:

It’s so peculiar to watch something you’ve set in motion take on a life form all its own. I wonder if it must feel a similar kind of foreign to watch your child grow into a being, separate and independent from yourself; watching him or her evolve and morph into something wholly other than you could have ever initially wrapped your mind around.

When I set out to write this book, my ideas were more of a birds-eye-view kind of thing. But as the process has forced me to begin really articulating the project with more precision, I’ve watched my vague, overarching idea come into much sharper focus. I imagine it must be [roughly] akin to getting an ultrasound and hearing your baby’s heartbeat for the first time. Suddenly, I can hear the heartbeat of the book and it’s a jarring sound. I didn’t even know this is what I wanted the project to be, and yet, look there, on the page, that is in fact what I wrote, those are the very words I used. Looking at where the story landed, I’m stunned at how vaguely it resembles the original idea I set out to craft. Sure, the stories are mine, and yet, they stand alone to tell their own story at the same time. It’s this bizarre blend of terrifying and beautiful.

God help me. Suddenly I understand why it is women say the day they found out they would be mothers was the day a floodgate of prayers was unleashed unlike anything they’ve ever known.

So you can see, even as a non-fiction writer, I’m left amazed watching the stories I’m telling unfold in their own unique ways, telling the stories from their own perspectives. It’s really weird, and really cool. But mostly really weird.

My mom is always telling me how much she learns from me, but not until recently have I actually considered how much weight this carries. To have something you created and set in motion turn around and teach you; it’s an incredibly humbling experience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of writing only to find myself blinking away tears I never anticipated all because I didn’t realize I felt a certain way about something until it showed up on the page before me.

And then there’s the moment when you realize the one undergoing the metamorphosis… is you.

Inaugurated

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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.

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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.

Like Coming Home

 

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This past weekend I had the great privilege of traveling to Northern California to stand beside my best friend from college as she pledged her life and devotion to a truly wonderful man. Their vows made everyone cry, I assure you. The whole affair was nothing short of steal-your-breath-away. The venue, a gorgeous vineyard in Redding, California, provided one of the most stunning backdrops I’ve seen thus far, and for a moment, standing in the warmth of the afternoon sun, wrapped in its unseasonable glow, I recalled the rain I’d left behind in Portland and wondered, in a weak moment, if I had in fact made a terrible mistake.

From the time I was a young girl I’ve been thoroughly enchanted with the idea of travel; by the sheer expansiveness of a world that lay in wait for me- by the great unknown, surely begging to be known. Adventure- I could hear her beckoning me from the four corners of the globe to come and turn over her rocks, exposing the earth’s rich history in all its untamable, boundless beauty; inviting me to breathe it in like air, and breathe it out like a blessing.

And eventually, I would.

sunriseEventually I would board planes, chasing the sun till my feet met the cobblestone streets of Europe; I’d head underground and hop on subways in search of the secrets told by a city that never sleeps. I’d take buses and cabs and boats and I’d tread by foot the same soil traveled by countless others who’ve come before me. Sometimes those travels would leave me standing in awe of the relic beauty and robust hisotry present in the ancient, Gothic architecture of France. Other times it would have me caked in the dust of poverty, arms intertwined with the fragile limbs and bodies of orphan babies as I rocked and sang them to sleep in the sticky, marshy African air, praising God for his Common Graces- faint breezes like a whisper, evening rainstorms as a reprieve from stale heat, the reviving nature of human touch- which He generously bestows to all without partiality; all of which I so thoroughly overlook in the midst of my Western comfort.

And still, there is no denying I’ve only begun to skim the surface of all that is to be explored in the vast expanse of creation. Many have seen much more than I, and could speak with far greater authority to the world’s many wonders. God willing, my journeys are far from over; there is certainly so much more I pray my eyes bear witness to before my lips breathe their final hallelujah. There’s something inherently stretching involved with traveling to new places: a palpable reminder that the world is far bigger than my daily perimeters extend; that it does not revolve around me and my trivial, selfish agendas. It helps ground me in the hope that there is still much to learn and discover in life. It’s humbling in so many ways, and this is good. I need humbling.

But even so, I often find that these same experiences tend to breed something of another nature within me as well, that is, a spirit of discontentment. I would argue that our exceptionally mobile and digital age has contributed to a fear of commitment that largely exceeds the generations before us. As our options for travel and consumption have vastly expanded, there is tremendous temptation to flea or escape when life gets hard, or a little scary, or even just too routine. We begin to ask ourselves what else is out there.

What exactly is behind door number 2 anyway? 

As our journeys expose us to far away, exotic places, there creeps in a gnawing thought that haunts us: perhaps we have been cheated in some way; perhaps life is keeping some grand secret from us, for surely we were born in the wrong city, state, country, era, body and so on and so forth. We’d rather envy the greener grass in another’s yard than cultivate our own. And we begin to believe the lie that what we have is not enough.

It’s an age-old story really, and I regret to say how often I feel this way.

But on Saturday, when I landed in Portland, something instantly felt different. I pondered what it could be as I slowly made my way up the steps and through my front door. I trudged my belongings upstairs, exchanged my California garb for a more appropriate fall sweater, then immediately headed back down to the kitchen to make myself the first good cup of coffee since my departure three days earlier. Then, in an effort to unwind from a busy weekend, I grabbed my mug and journal and made my way to the front porch. And as I sat there, breathing in the cool, fall air, watching the clouds drift lazily across a sky of vibrant blue, something strange began to happen: it was as though I began to unfold in that moment.

If you know me, you know I am not exactly a details person. Generally speaking, I’m so often in my head, distracted by my own thoughts, that my external surroundings just sort of pass me by in a blur. But on this particular afternoon, it was as though all my senses were heightened: I noticed the way the sunlight streamed through my kitchen window as I made my coffee, reflecting off the water in my aero press, casting its light onto the countertop in a lovely dance; I couldn’t help but smile. I wondered if the trees had overnight decided to light their tops ablaze, exposing their autumn hues, or if I’d simply missed it until now. It was something like making the switch from cable to HDTV. Everything came into precise focus. Everything, and I mean everything was beautiful. I felt almost as though I’d put my skin on again- the skin that’s mine, and mine alone to wear- the skin that’s comfortable and at ease. And it hit me as I sat there sipping my coffee, that this thing I was feeling, this peace and alertness to all the beauty around me, it was the feeling of coming home. And I had to give pause to the moment and thank God, but for his perfect wisdom and goodness, I’d still be searching for such a place.

For surely, of all the roads we travel in life, few are as satisfying as the roads that leads us home.

 

 

Building Fences & Taking Sides [@ the Junia Project]

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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

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.