The Journey Back

Sometimes I really hate writing. More aptly, I hate reading all of the writing that’s constantly churned out by the masses, leaving me so bone tired trying to process and make sense of it all. I mostly blame the internet. With its allure of a listening audience and its ease of publishing, gone seem the days of silently wrestling with God, chewing over a passage of Scripture or a piece of work until, at last, you dislodge the meat, spitting the fat into your napkin.

I often lament that thinking is a thing of the past, toppled by the ever-present god of doing. We toil and try and if something fails, well, we must pick ourselves up and immediately try again. But what of thoughtfulness? Of patience? Of wisdom and her bed-fellow prudence? Everyone is so ready to share – what they’re doing, what they’re reading, what they’re eating, what they’re feeling.

The voices online shout louder and louder, and it becomes increasingly difficult to determine what is for me, as recommendations about every facet of our lives come at us rapid-fire from every corner of the internet. It’s not even just blatant, “do this and read that” messages. Instead, we are instantly served up a plethora of human existence to scroll through. Being such social creatures, in moments of despair and dissatisfaction, we can’t help but to wonder where we’ve gotten our own lives so wrong.


Two years ago exactly, I stopped blogging. I struggled mightily with trying to tie-up loose ends in my writing which the Lord had yet to bind in real life. I felt convicted by this dissonance and remain increasingly wary of sharing what the Lord continues to sift.

In swathing the banner of vulnerability over the blogosphere, I worry we smoothed away the culpability for duplicity or oversharing. Even just the simple question of should I share this gets overpowered by the urge to produce something, anything to show for all the life we’ve been living. And if I’m honest, it is so much easier to consume the work being wrought in a fellow sister’s life as a spectator than it is to sit quietly under the Word myself.

But sit we must, and sit I did for two long years. Words, which used to come with such ease, stretching into sentences and paragraphs, slowed and then stopped altogether. Yet, in those months of silence, I began to sorely miss this outlet. This space, which gave me a place to process and dream, was something of a friend to me.

I debated starting a new blog but returning here felt right, like coming home after a long time away. Here, I will retrain myself in the art and discipline of regular writing. My hope is to produce words of value, words that don’t simply spoon-feed watery milk, but incite an insatiable hunger for solid food. If you’d like to follow along, you are most welcome.


May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19:14

Owning Our Stories

Years ago, after serious straight line winds tore through my Midwestern neighborhood, what I remember most was not the destruction, which was truly shocking, but the eery quiet. Trees uprooted, holes ripped in houses, and yet apart from the gentle dropping of rain and far off thunder, it was so very still.

I did not cast my vote for Democrat or Republican, but I empathize with those that arose in fear and dread and silence as the dust settled around them this morning. I can’t help but wonder at what point we draw the line. Culture vs. individual, do we blame both? The societal machine that continues to spew out cults of personality and celebrate mere humans as glittering demigods. We worship progress and chase happiness, always looking out, never seeing in.

Blame crosses aisles. Hateful, vitriolic abuse knows no party. Division knows no bounds, because neither does evil. What the devil can divide, he can destroy. And on this day when we chose “the lesser of two evils,” evil was still chosen. For we are given over to the desires of our sinful hearts as we chase power and prosperity, dangled just out of reach by the prince of the air.

It was not lost on me that on the day a man who employs abusive, hateful language was elected to the highest office of our country, privately I faced yet another conflict with the individual who displays her own divisive, abusive tactics to maintain control. And I wondered, who else. For we as a society seem to protect abusers as they yell the loudest and beat their fists, all while their victims suffer in silence.

And so I want to reach out to my brothers and sisters who woke this morning with the familiar feeling of panic and dread. Maybe you couldn’t sleep or couldn’t eat or couldn’t even enjoy your coffee, because anxiety made your heart race and your hands shake. You didn’t really have the words to tell your children, looking into their little faces, because after all who really knows whether it will be okay.

No matter how your vote was cast, we all play our roles in this collective reality. And as human beings charged with loving and caring for one another and creation, can we agree not to downplay the very real fear many people woke with this morning? I don’t know about you, but I understand this fear, the overwhelming uncertainty cowering in the wake of a bully who delights in singling you out.

In the church and in our politics and in our homes, it is time to strip these abusers of their power. And it starts within. We must reclaim ownership of our own stories. Abusive people have no problem staking claim over your life. Your body, your motives, your thoughts, your intentions stolen from you. But you, dear one, “You own everything that happened to you,” says Anne Lamott, “Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

We must rise up together to not just call out any horrendous, unacceptable language and behavior for what it is – abuse – but with the courage to actually listen to the victimized and marginalized, seeking understanding. Even if we don’t feel any semblance of responsibility for the disorder, can we agree to help anyway, to care and to clean and to build?  After all, we each operate within our own realities. This truth applies to victim and abuser alike. But, as the author of my own story, I must prudently exercise the privilege of casting the leading roles.

And so, as the sun rises and sets on another day, let us dwell in the simple reality of our individual existences. Mother Theresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” And may we love thy neighbor and ourselves just as well.

Boat Building

Along with a few others, I recently contributed a couple of devotionals to be compiled into a resource for our church. A study on joy through the book of Philippians, our hope was to draw them into God’s word both individually and collectively. And I was so nervous. I mean, I write, sure, but what if my style or my skill level or experience or whatnot just wasn’t on par with their expectations.

I so desperately want to be all-in, but I fight to balance between too much and not enough, this comfortable place of escaping notice. My insecurity flared up, threatening to stymie God’s good work. So much of my life has been spent trying to dim and hide parts of myself to appear non-threatening. I’ve pieced and parceled and sold out my wholeness to appease others.

And then a still, quiet voice reminded me, “It’s not about YOU. It’s about ME.” A flashback to the continuing education class I attended for Holy Yoga Touch Training. One of my favorite takeaways was meant as a mere aside, as Jonnie lovingly scolded us teachers, “It’s not about YOU. So you just need to get out of the way.”

And it is such great advice. As I write, the Holy Spirit has this wonderful tendency of taking over, and the finished work is so utterly transformed from what I had initially intended. I can’t even explain it. Sure, my name is listed in the byline, but the words don’t belong to me at all. I simply string them together, adding a period here, a comma there. When facing the quiet confidence of purpose, insecurity finds herself homeless.

I had this beautiful vision during my quiet time the other day of building boats. When I write devotionals or lead Holy Yoga, my sole intention is to create an environment conducive to meeting with the living God. God’s words, these wood planks, carefully shaped and stacked to form the hull. The Holy Spirit filling in the gaps of my limited wisdom and understanding, protecting the boat and ensuring she will float.

It is not about me whether or not anyone chooses to get in. I have simply been charged to build and invite.

It is not a reflection on me how far anyone chooses to journey in the boat. It’s the point at which they see Jesus beckoning, come.

  It is not up to me when (or even whether) someone chooses to step out of the boat. Pushing people toward Jesus is ineffective at best. They must find their own balance, trust the Savior, and, one foot at a time, step into the waves.

I am not the only boat maker or even a very good one, to be honest. Half the boats I build don’t even float. Still others sink under the weight of pride and insecurity. But since I have been called to build them, build them I do, weaving words and flowing poses together, inviting the Holy Spirit to seal this work. They aren’t very pretty boats, sweat and tears stain the wood in places. Some have been battered and broken from my own journeys, but I lovingly restore them for their next passengers because they know the way.

Ever since I finished my Holy Yoga training, I have struggled mightily with insecurity regarding teaching. I feel ill-equipped, unprepared, and wholly inadequate. I have been allowing my perfectionism and well, ME, to creep in and kill “this new thing” that God has started before it even gets off the ground. But if I don’t build this boat, I am robbing every single person who desperately needs the ride.

It’s time for me to touch toe to wave at last. And so I pray and I trust and I pray some more.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 73:26

Making Space

Our bodies hold things. Trauma, memories, spaces and places we’ve been before. Our muscles remember. Our minds remember. Our hearts remember.

What about our souls? 

Our made-in-the-image-of-ness. This made-for-so-much-more-ness. Because this too must be imprinted on our beings. Deep down, we remember what it was to walk in the garden on cool mornings. Creator and creation, side by side. This commune of spirit to Spirit.

Much of the here and now is lacking. But we have been called, called to remember. Because the Kingdom of God is near. It is in the very fiber of our existence. Threads knit a universe as the world spins on.

So we press and we push and we toil and we try. After all, that’s what image bearers and light bringers do. Salinating the air around us, each grain sparkles, a glimpse of what’s to come.

Prepare the way of the Lord, a call. Hearts open, we make space.

 

But God

Even this sadness is not strong enough

One of my favorite songs lately, repeats this over an over. A reminder that God’s love is so much bigger, so much stronger than our current circumstances. Everyone goes through hard times. You’ve had a hard time. I’ve had a hard time. These are hard times.  There must certainly be good here, even when I can’t see it. Can’t feel it. Can’t create it.

I look at my hands folded uselessly in my lap and feel I’ve failed. Not living up to my potential. Wasting precious resources. Value in the vigor and succor of doing. Invalidated by simply being.

Slowly, ever so slowly, I’ve been working my way through the Psalms. And slowly, ever so slowly, God has been mending and binding and restoring my broken and weary soul. Living water rushing over chapped lips to quench my heart’s deepest thirst.

In a process long overdue, I stepped away from a relationship that was extremely unhealthy for me. The things I believed about myself, about my identity in Christ, were stripped off and cast down at the threshing floor. Naked and alone, I faced long buried shame and fears and suppositions. Each one, peeled off and added to the pile at the foot of the cross. And in the end, there was nothing left to offer, nothing left to do.

But God. Because it wasn’t so much about who I was and what I could do for Him. Through the Psalms, God’s been showing me so much about who He is, who I am in Him, and what He wants to do in me. The being of God is never separate from the doing of God. God is love, which means He is always loving. God is sovereign, which means He is always in control. God is patient, which means that He is always waiting. Redeemer, restoring, healer, mending, merciful, giving.

I don’t need my works, piled neatly around me to show off how godly I am. I desperately need my God to come near in my mess and begin a new work in me.

And so I sit and let Him do what He does best, love me. Unfolding my hands and lifting my face, the lump in my throat unsticks, breath rushing out. A song of gratitude, my song of praise, dancing in the wind:  freedom. 

Coming Down

Last week, I was at my Holy Yoga retreat, the culmination of months of training. Literally and spiritually, I was on the mountaintop. Emptied of myself and filled with His Spirit, again and again. Challenged and stretched and encouraged and fed, over and over. Lifelong friendships began. We joked that we probably spent as much time in tears from laughing as we did crying.

 

When you hike in the mountains, paying attention to the elevation gain is far more important than focusing on the miles. Many hikes consist of a steady uphill climb to the ultimate destination. Whether it’s a continental divide view or the summit or simply a glacial lake, the trail winds onward and upward until that point. Excitement builds as you get close. That view, your accomplishment, you stand in awe. Then, rest for your tired legs and a snack for your hungry belly all while snapping a picture (or 20).

My journey to the mountaintop of last week was no different. It was long, I was tired, and it was mostly uphill. There were times when I wanted to give up. Times when I didn’t think that it mattered enough, when I didn’t think I mattered enough. But I kept going, because sometimes in life and in my faith, one more step is all I have to give. And I don’t want to reach the end knowing I didn’t give it all.

While at retreat, I snuck some time for myself and I hiked up into the hills surrounding our camp. As someone who would like to think of herself as mildly outdoorsy, I grabbed a large stick; it was mountain lion country after all. The glory of God’s creation surrounded me. On the way back, I thanked God for keeping me safe, but He answered, “Why are you more afraid of My creation than of Me?” I was stunned.

The most holy God of the universe laid the foundation of the world and to fear Him is the beginning of wisdom. Yet so often, I am more afraid of mountain lions and things not working out the way I planned. She Reads Truth said it so well: “Fearing God by revering Him as holy is not a posture of hiding; it is a posture of drawing near.”

When we meet God on the mountaintop, we are transformed. Sometimes this transformation is scary, because we don’t know if we’re ready or if we’ll even like the change. But drawing near to God is essential if we ever want to experience healing. For it is not God who breaks us, but rather illuminates all of our fractures, all of our mess. But God, in His ever-loving kindness, spits in the mud and reaches down using His own hands to make us whole again.

With every mountaintop experience, there must be a descent, a return climb. We double back and head for the familiar, the known. Sometimes, there is a longing to remain on the mountain, basking in the warm glow. But if we stay, we will never realize the beauty of another summit. In this, we must trust our Guide, for the journey does not consist of but one peak.

And as I head down, I cannot possibly explain what happened up there. I am unable to articulate my experience in a way that would be understood by others. Because even though I shared it with brothers and sisters, it was also uniquely mine.

I must simply let my time in His presence speak. When Moses left the mountaintop after meeting God, his face literally shone from being in the Lord’s presence. The Israelites begged Him to cover it. But in these dark times, covering glimpses of God’s glory helps no one. For it is time to shine. And as you arise, may others recognize the potential to shine within themselves as well.

Arise, shine, for your light has broken through!
The Eternal One’s brilliance has dawned upon you.
See truly; look carefully—darkness blankets the earth;
people all over are cloaked in darkness.
But God will rise and shine on you;
the Eternal’s bright glory will shine on you, a light for all to see.
Nations north and south, peoples east and west, will be drawn to your light,
will find purpose and direction by your light.
In the radiance of your rising, you will enlighten the leaders of nations.
Don’t be shy; don’t be doubtful; lift up your eyes and look around.
They have gathered all around you, eager to come and be close to you.
Isaiah 60:1-4, VOICE

On Getting Let Go & Letting Go

I’m a clinger. I like rules and order. I don’t always welcome change. But I also crave variety and love adventure, in manageable doses of course. What was once a tug-of-war, balancing these seemingly at odds tenets to my personhood, has become more of a sun-dappled path on which I greet and befriend these parts of myself along the way. Not out of pride or narcissism, but acceptance. And slowly, ever-so-slowly, I am becoming whole.

Wholeness isn’t finding things to add, pursuits or whatnot to pass the time. Wholeness isn’t found in the experiential, either. No trip, no matter how epic, is going to make you whole. Wholeness is intrinsic. It’s found within. Wholeness starts with humble confidence. Seemingly at odds right? But there’s this beautiful symmetry of humbling myself before God and the confidence that in Him, I have everything I need for this life with who He created me to be.

These are fractured and fragmented times. We all want to be unique, yet we continuously measure ourselves against others. We promote body and elevate mind at the expense of soul and sacrifice Spirit at the mighty alter of knowledge. We are broken, so broken inside, but we are terrified to show it. Instead, we glue ourselves together again and again with hobbies and accomplishments and doing good, this veneer that never seems shiny enough. We want to be more, know more, feel more.

 

I got let go yesterday. When you work on contract, you don’t really get fired and it’s not uncommon, even with long-term clients. Business needs grow and evolve and change and sometimes the big picture no longer includes you. It wasn’t anything I did or didn’t do, and quite frankly it was a relief. For a while now I’d felt the stirrings of something else. Not something more or better, but different. And once again when faced with that call, I had to decide, do I cling to the known, the constant drumbeat of unfulfilling work and a paycheck setting rhythm to my days?

Again in this middle, another space of in-between, I must fight the urge to panic, pulling the reins in to steer, to control. After all, who is in control? No matter how hard I try, it sure isn’t me. I pull and push and stack and spin, my eyes firmly fixed on the outcome. But still this sickly sweet fear drips like oil and drowns out my heart. I want to trust that God has what comes next. He has shown me time and again that I am held, but old patterns die hard.

For so long, I believed Who I am was wrapped up in What I do. We value careers and goals and status and so much doing. But no longer. This time is different. This time I’m ready. And as that old horse Familiar gallops steadily on, I make the decision to simply let go. I know the One who stands ready to break my fall, and He is ever-faithful.

 

Why are we so afraid of the in-between? We desperately want to reach the finish line, but if we can’t see it from the starting gate, we back away, defeated before the gun ever goes off. I used to run races. It started as a quest to get in shape and quickly become an addiction. (Darn endorphins!) Half marathons and 5Ks and 10 milers and trail runs. And in every race I ran, I unlocked new parts of myself. Courage and tenacity and steadfastness and discipline and compassion that remained long after my sneakers came off.

In the race of life, there are parts of yourself you’ll never get to meet unless you let go and get going. And along the way, you will find strength and resilience and creativity and this faith you never knew you had. Greet each new piece of your wonderful self and welcome them into your wholeness. Chances are you’ll need them for what comes next.