Standing Tall; Feeling Small

The best thing about being ticketed a window seat in the commercial section of a flight is the standing up at landing.

Even hunched over beneath the bulkhead, strangers’ bad breath mixing with my own, it feels so spacious. My upper back doesn’t even care that it’s concave; it’s so elated to be elevated. My forearms and elbows flap with joy–as they’re so over competing for an extra inch or two of armrest. Stand, breathe, stretch, flap. It’s a good life.

Sometimes my soul needs to stretch, too.

I don’t know how it happened, but when I was young, I ticketed my life with a commercial class window seat. At first the view was lovely. The space, though small, was ample enough. My legs didn’t mind the limitations, as they had no place they’d rather be. My soul felt fine letting someone else pilot the trip. It was a journey of great heights, after all, and who was I to complain about the course charted for me. I purchased the ticket; I was fine with the destination.

And then the layover happened. I’ve stood. I stretched. And it felt so good. I remembered how my body moved. I remembered what it felt like to walk and then run. Neither were as quick as flying, but flying kept the wind away from skin. I loved the wind.

Which person is more me? The person who has spent years huddled, or the person who gets off the plane? Which person is really going places?

There are moments, days, weeks, when I remember who I am. It comes so clearly and so vividly, I can’t deny the reacquaintance. It’s like a homecoming celebration; an open armed embrace. I’m convinced this time I’ll stick around. This time I’ll be strong enough to stay.

But the moment passes. And life calls. And people aren’t used to seeing me stand tall. It makes them more comfortable when I’m small.

And so I curl my legs back up. I slide back down into a connecting flight. And I wonder if she’ll be waiting for me again, or is this time terminal?

I don’t have the magic of making it last, but I do have the magic of building landmarks. Places of remembrance. Permanent markings that remind me of my ever-so-fleeting meeting.

I’m struggling to live my own life as me. But at least one of me will win the fight.

 

 

 

 

Tattoo This {Negative Words for the New Year}

The common person rarely knows that bravery is about to be required of them. While some spend their careers training for brave moments—for moments that will require sacrifice, or a suppression of self-preservation, or a willingness to become acquainted with death, most of us struggle to figure out what’s for dinner and whether or not we can pay bills. If we are developing a default setting of brave, we’re completely unaware of it as we shuffle sports schedules, work deadlines, and evaluate of our everyday successes and failures. We only see our own bravery in retrospect, realizing we conquered adversity with surprising results.

If, in December 2015, you’d told me how my year would unfold, I would not have had the bravery to step into it. I would have told you I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t trained for this. I was unqualified for the struggle. I would have refused to embark on the adventure and chosen to stay huddled right where I was, thank you, in safe familiarity, free from unnecessary stress.

Instead, I ran blissfully unaware, heart-first into the New Year.

My oldest son told me about the process of hypertrophy—or causing tiny tears in the muscle that, once repaired by the body, results in muscles that are stronger and better able to handle the stress that caused the damage. I didn’t believe him, but then I googled it; he was right.

Looking back, I’ve declared my word of the year in 2016 hypertrophy. I think it would make a lovely inspirational forearm tattoo.

I know it’s customary to choose more positive words as a banner of exaltation, words like: hope, dream, adventure, and passion. But when I look back over my last 12 months, I think of words like: shattering, dissonant, struggle. They’re negative, but represent a positive outcome as the fight was worthy, for the woman of December 2016 has a stronger core than the woman of December 2015.

In 2016 I was shattered and forced to collect the pieces of myself, but it gave me the opportunity to choose the pieces that really mattered and leave the rest.

In 2016, I was dissonant, feeling as though my voice was off key from the rest of the world, but it gave me an opportunity to evaluate what I was saying and how I wanted to say it.

In 2016, I struggled. I struggled to find the right words for faith. I struggled to find God’s presence. In the struggle, I felt myself fatigue and it was in that fatigue I was reminded of His faithfulness.

My point is this: We are headed into 2017 blind. Bravery will be required of us. And rather than fear the difficulties, let’s embrace them, knowing it’s the overexertions—the stress and strain, the micro tears in pride and ego—which build character and strength.

Some of us will lose love while others find it.

Some will reconcile the life they live to the life they dreamed of living. Others will have goals materialize into reality.

Some will admit their desire to manage is in conflict with a lack of control.

Others will concede they can’t force someone to be anyone other than who they are.

All of us will look in the mirror and choose to either love what we see or despise it.

In light of all a new year promises, maybe I do have a feel-good word to tattoo on both our forearms, thus reminding us of the only effective response to circumstances demanding bravery: embrace.

Let’s embrace it all. The good, the easy, the ugly, the shattering. Let’s embrace moments of prosperity and seasons of disparity. Let’s not boast about one or complain about the other. Let’s just live through them, together, for this is what we’ve been trained in and made for. Let’s spot one another, serving each other in the fatigue. And above all, let’s encourage each other, reminding one another that the most extraordinary example of bravery indwells us.

Bring it 2017. And bring us together as you both rock and rule our world.

Light = Beauty

I had a meeting yesterday: some clients had an architect join us at a home straight from the 80’s. The 80’s didn’t seem to mind compartmentalization of rooms, low ceilings, plain and simple finishes, and bathrooms that were more than 20 steps away from bedrooms.

As we walked through the house daydreaming and spending invisible dollars, something the architect said stuck with me, “The secret to creating beautiful spaces is light. No one wants to walk into darkness, and so it’s my job to allow the light to come through.”

I wanted to invite him over to my house and ask, “Can you do that in the abstract as well as in the concrete?”

Even if he’d said yes, it would have been about three days too late.

I seem to have made it through the dark. Just when I thought the darkness was home, or that the darkness was all consuming, or that I would forever be wandering blind in the dark—all life’s friction created a spark and ignited hope.

It was immediate. And it was unexpected. And I didn’t have much to do with it.

The hardest part of my faith is surrendering weakness.  For a woman who just wants to be strong enough or smart enough or good enough, confessing that I just can’t is demoralizing. It’s admitting need when I want to have none. It’s a return to infancy where I cannot feed myself, change myself, or love myself in a way that promotes growth. It’s dependency in a woman who just wants to be named independent.

Switching metaphors from light to air, because both are so essential to everyday living…

When I was a kid, I played so hard that losing the wind from my lungs was a common occurrence. The first couple times sent me into panic, and my mom stood above me and coached me through it. You’ve lost your breath, but it will return. Once I believed her absolutely, I could fall off the swing or the merry-go-round, lose my breath, and just stare at the sky until my diaphragm worked as it should once again.

Leaving ministry and the church was a bit like launching myself off a merry-go-round and forgetting the small lesson my mom taught me, “Your breath will return.” Not because of anything I do, but just because that’s the nature of the body.

This week has proven her right once again. My breath has returned. I wake up and feel the familiar expanding and contracting of my soul. I opened an old textbook for the very first time and started researching the role of cities of refuge in societies of integrity, because it matters that our next administration is going to defund sanctuary cities and I want to know exactly why it matters spiritually. I can hear familiar verbiage like grace and faith and prayer and not feel sick with grief. I want to run toward God rather than from him.

But there is something else, too. Jumping off the merry-go-round broke me in new ways. And in the healing, I’m not so certain I’m aligned the way I once was. I’ve wrestled through the pain and broken the straight-jacket of faith. What I now have feels a bit wild and untamed. As though the young woman I once was has met the child of God I am and the two have found home in each other. The offspring of that marriage is a faith that cares less about answers and more about developing questions together. A faith that doesn’t require conformity or performance, but instead just wants to dance in the light. A faith that doesn’t need to follow rules of behavior or language, but just needs to act and speak.

I’m back. But I’m different. And I really had nothing to do with either. Jesus, being the architect he is, found a way to bring some light into my dark spaces.

 

 

 

 

 

Thin Places

I found a thin place that night beneath the stars…alone. It felt like heaven buckled into earth and I existed within both but for a moment.

And another on a deck with the moon hung high over the river. Is it always like this? Is heaven always so exposed from here? No. Not always. Just that night and maybe a few times more.

And I found a thin place in the woods, trees aflame setting fire to my soul.

Yet another in the cemetery, oak bough low, offering to cradle me if but for a moment in the place that birthed the universe.

I’ve witnessed thin places unlocked by a song, as if the notes were the key and the heavens unsecured.

I never knew they had a name until today. I only knew I’d been hunting this sacred space where the barrier between heaven and earth wore thin. As my heart calloused over the summer, I craved evidence that the opaque could also be transparent. As my intimacy with God waned, I desired to sit in a space where the divine leaked through. For moments, minutes, sometimes only seconds, my chase was rewarded. And then it was time to go again—my departure sharing the same moment as the start of another hunt. Like many predators, I found myself hunting in the dark.

“It’s probably Plato we have to credit for our negative views of dark caves. His is a vision of darkness and imprisonment, that place where we remain unable to grasp anything more than shadows, ensnared, yet unable to step out of the night that holds us. The cave is a curse that confines and condemns. 

For the Celtic Christian, the cave was the opposite. From their beginnings in the 5th century, Celtic believers held a strong sense of sacred space, referring to certain places–caves, wells, even friendships–as Thin Places, which is to say, places where the veil between this world and the divine world seems somehow sheer. In these places, God’s glory seems better able to seep through to our awareness.

It is perhaps in this tradition that Irish priest and poet John O’Donohue speaks of the soul as such a place, offering a different take on darkness and conversely, the surprise of blessing in the midst of it. For O’Donohue, the sacred cave of the soul is that place ‘where loss will be made good, where blindness will transform into vision, where damage will be made whole, and where the clenched question will open in the house of surprise…'”

Another poet described the thin places below:

“Thin places, both seen and unseen, where the door between this world and the next is cracked open for a moment and the light is not all on the other side…”

If only I could live in a thin place. If only I could create them, as if fervent prayers were repeated acts of friction fraying thin the threads that separate. Still, for a girl who has been living in the dark, the leaking of light has transformed me in some way. What’s more, the dark has provided fruit—not a fruit admired for aesthetics but consumed for satisfaction.

So I choose to believe these thin places–whether caves, wells, or friendships–exist in my everyday. That the desire to hunt is induced by a divine appetite to sit and fill hollow stomachs…stomaches empty of words and craving experience. And wherever this space is, may it become my home, even if but for a moment as I shower in the leaking light.

 

 

___________________________

See Jill Carattini’s devotion #209 in Zondervan’s NIV Bible for Women

Quotes Sharlande Sledge, “Thin Places.” Nonpublished

 

In Which Everything Falls into Place

When I was a little girl, my cousin and I would get the giggles–always together and always right before bed. It was like our last hoorah of the day and it was infectious.

Fall has come to New England and it’s far from my first rodeo in the forest of colors. But this year is different and I’ve been confused as to why the colors seem to be calling to something deeper. I grew up in Appalachia, so maybe nostalgia? But nostalgia seems pale alongside the depth of stirring I feel.

Yesterday I was across the river, music loud, back river road winding, and just as I crested the cemetery’s hill, I saw it. Rows of headstones being cradled in a bowl of gemstone trees. I tried to capture it on film but failed. Sometimes beauty just wants to be appreciated and not memorialized.

And then this morning, again I crested a hill, this time on foot, the rhythm of my morning run hammering out the changes in my own life. Hammering away fear. Reinforcing backbone. And the trees just stood tall and watched it all.

A question that has plagued me since summer is “why now?” Why did stability crumble the month the book released? Why did my words run out when I needed them most? I looked up. And why do these trees shake me so?

And the trees answered:

It’s our last hoorah before bed. The last contagious fit of joy before winter comes.

One by one the leaves will fall and if the leaves were words one tree could fill a book.

I think this is what summer was…The book was the peak of my season. The culmination of all I had to offer the world through words. For now. I won’t lose my voice, it will just be dormant for a time. And when life comes again, it will be a new season. Something to anticipate. Not as beautiful as the colors of fall, but an unfurling of new life.

And this small answer let me enjoy whatever it was that summer had offered.

 

 

 

 

On Moving, Marriage, and Death

I haven’t written anything honest and true for a very long time. Weeks. Maybe a month. And the silence feels like a lie. So the following isn’t a feel good piece, but it’s honest and for right now, that’s all I can offer. No, it’s what I need to offer.

How are we after the great big move away from ministry? Our kids are making it and making friends. Once we limited our 3-year-olds exposure to Inside Out we haven’t heard so much of the dramatic, “I miss our old house. I miss my friends. And I miss my school.” For the first five months I didn’t mind sharing a bathroom with six other people. I love the sunrises over the river and the runs downtown.

But we are dying over here. Like there is decomposition in our home—layer upon layer of death—and it reeks. I’m so shattered that I’ve stopped trying to collect all the pieces and sort of marvel that only seven months ago people asked me for advice. Most nights, I fall asleep to my own voice saying, “I miss our old neighborhood. I miss my friends. I miss our church.”

And I wake up and pretend that none of it’s true and that everything is alright.

Nathan has started dealing with regular seizures, most likely connected to an old brain injury, and has lost the ability to drive until we can get them under control. I’ve gone to work full time and watched the work-I-love-to-do fight to stay on my calendar…scraping at a few scraps of white space so that my soul doesn’t burst with the swelling of words.

Add to that the agony of fourteen years worth of marital junk deciding to unpack itself in the midst of our deconstructed home and perhaps you can smell the first layer or two of death.

In the middle of all that death, there is then the most inappropriate emotion—joy. Because when I’m not missing my friends and not dwelling upon the family we left behind and not feeling like it’s my job to breathe life into all the dead things around me, I remember myself. I once was independent… I once was capable… I once was involved in the lives of people in the most mundane and everyday ways… I once liked to drive with the windows down and the music loud while singing just slightly off key… I once ditched the have-tos for the want-tos and didn’t feel at all irresponsible… I once was okay that I hadn’t seen the surface of my kitchen table since I bought it, and that it looked just fine as a mail holder and a laundry folder… I once was alive and free…

And when I read that through once more, there are too many pronouns ‘I.’

I once was an I but am now a we.

And we are dying.

I wish I could pack up all the death and stuff the last six months into boxes and drive my truck in reverse across country and return to living ignorant of pending death. When I believed our adventure was an adventure and not an escape. When I was unaware that I can live among so many people and still feel so alone.

But I have more to remember: Fifteen years ago I stood before a man—a pastor whose church I attended and who was later accused of embezzlement and child molestation—and I decided to take a gamble on the words he shared. I decided his words were enough to move me forward. This man who was a vessel of death and corruption was also a vessel of life. Isn’t that the mystery—how death and life can exist in the same body at the same moment? Isn’t that the question of every person with a terminal diagnosis? That they are allowed so many more days or months while knowing there will soon be a final one?

And I decided I would say ‘yes’ to this God who likes to make dead things live. A God whose creativity is unlimited by the one thing that limits humanity. A God who gave us perennials as evidence of his ability. That yes was the first moment of forever, a trajectory of life for my soul while my body continued toward finality.

It’s a spiritual juxtaposition.

Life is so much more striking when viewed alongside death.

And maybe that’s what’s happening here. That the vitality I feel in the remembering of me is only so striking alongside the death of we. That in reality, it’s just another mundane day of driving and singing. It’s just another walk beneath the outstretched arm of summer as it tries to hold on. It’s just another white square upon the year 2016.

Maybe the struggle is that I’m the one trying to resuscitate the dying, when fifteen years ago, I confessed my inability to accomplish such a thing.

So I exhale. Breathe. Let my chest fall slowly. And for the first time I know mercy. For the next breath I take is undeserved—a gift of greatest proportions. And the only thing to do with a gift is to give. Will the gift be enough for we?

I’m counting on that gamble, that it’s backed by a promise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twice Broken

I close my eyes and the halo of the moon shines still against dark lids

The ocean exhales against the shore

And I remember the days, the weeks, the months, and the years we believed ourselves to be shards of glass

Tossed into the waters by a broken fisherman

Convinced we were being smoothed…

Refined…

Made beautiful…

Before being found once again, deposited upon the shore by the exhale of our ocean–

Like fog against glass a child’s fingers find us

Then reconsider, tossing us back onto the rocks

twice broken

 

HaloWinMoon48-Best-net

 

To See in the Dark

Our nomadic culture can’t be good for mental and emotional health. I’ve been thinking a lot about the instability that comes with significant change and uprooting, and it must be damaging in its own way: Most obviously, too much loss of people and loss of self. Most subtly, it feeds an addiction to change.

So I’m ready to call it quits on the nomadic culture. It would be one thing if I were part gypsy, moving from place to place with a large group of friends and family. Or another if I lived in a caravan like that of Genghis Khan, where my nation of people flowed across the land as a united river.

But I don’t. And I am here. And I’m quite over being anywhere else.

So what am I doing to establish myself here in this new place? For more than any other move, this one has shown itself to be resistant to our presence.

There are day lilies planted on both sides of our front walk. One side of the walk gets sun while a church steeple shades the other. The day lilies in the sun open themselves easily, greeting the day with petals spread wide. But the day lilies in the shade aren’t so convinced. Their greeting of the new day is reluctant and delayed.

IMG_2778And that’s the way this move has felt. We are here, but the hopes and dreams for which we moved aren’t so convinced its time for our arrival. And so there is a definite delay, a hesitation, an unspoken challenge for us to prove our commitment.

Challenge accepted.

There is a twisting and a contorting of my previous life that must occur in order to make this new one work. I am taking on things I never thought I’d take on, and shedding things I never thought I’d shed. What could convince me to make such radical shifts? Surely not a 200-year-old home, or even a quaint New England town. Not a state that spends most of its year wrapped in frost. Is it pride? Am I afraid to admit we made a wrong choice?

I don’t think it’s the house or the place or the pride.

It’s the vision.

On my hardest days, on the days when everything around me seems shut tight like those lilies to the shade, I am reminded that we came here on purpose. And I close my eyes so I can see it. I can see the renewal center. I can imagine the trails that course through the woods. I can imagine the campfire discussions where fears are broken and insecurities released. We won’t be alone in this forever. But for right now, it’s just us and Him and this place of difficulty.

And so I open my eyes and return to present circumstances. Life feels as exposed and unfinished as my bedroom walls.

But because I can see in the dark, I press on. Taking one step at a time, even if the floor feels a bit unstable.

IMG_2780

So You’ve Rocked Your World, Now What?

brownies1

First of all, let’s just set the record straight on the brilliance of upending one’s entire life for the sake of rest and adventure:

Don’t do it. It’s a bad idea.

Or…

Hire a pseudo-you to go before you and smooth all the kinks, cry all the tears, and vent all the frustrations. Then you can slip into your new life unnoticed and free from pain and regret.

Or…

You can post all the awesome pictures of your new life on social media and pretend that everything is awesome and peachy and the food is great and the kids are happy.

Or…

You can admit that sometimes dumb decisions are made, which is fine, because I’ve read Scripture and I know God works with and through idiots all the time.

So we are joining the ranks of fools with faith. Fools with Faith. The capitals make it sound more official.

But in the spirit of foolishness, I’m making myself a list of ways to cope that don’t include packing my boxes and running back to…nothing.

  1. Don’t panic. If you’re like me, it’s easier to Craigslist your entire life in preparation for an emergency move anywhere. I know it’s tempting to send out your spouse’s resume and have the return email bounce back to you and go through the entire initial interview process, vetting new opportunities until you can SURPRISE! him with an onsite interview. Easy-peasy. Problem solved. Return to your old life in a new place and it’s like transplant surgery. Same organism, different Body, right?
  2. Don’t make brownies. Just don’t. When the two dozen reasons to be stressed this morning happen, you just don’t want the brownies calling to you from the stovetop. It’s too easy to have brownies with coffee and brownies after coffee and brownies alongside lunch and brownies before the kids get home. Before you know it, your Craigslisting your pants.
  3. Don’t reminisce your old life. For the sake of sanity, just remember high school boyfriends and how everything before was always so much cuter and sweeter and funnier and more romantic after the breakup. This is the way life works, too. It’s reverse Grass Was Greener syndrome. The grass probably was greener, but you sold it. So move forward.
  4. But if for some reason you find yourself Craigslisting the living room furniture with a quarter-pan of brownies to your right while sneaking a peek of your old house on Google Maps then… name it for what it is: Fear.

Fear that God could meet you there but not here. Fear that His love has boundaries that don’t follow fools across country. Fear that He might forget to be with you. Fear that things are completely out of control because control feeds off familiarity and nothing here looks the same.

5. Fear less. Trust more. Lean in. Breathe.

Or maybe all this is just me. My oven is beeping and I smell chocolate.

 

 

Addicted to Being Needed

A couple weeks ago I opened my inbox to find an inquiry to teach at a women’s conference in Canada. I was excited for a few reasons:

  1. New Brunswick is close and I wouldn’t have to fly.
  2. It would give me an opportunity to do what I love—prepare a message for a group of women. I could see the next few months filled with studying and praying and writing. Hours and hours of seeking out God’s message for these women.
  3. I was tired of shedding the skin of our previous life and this would be like an injection of identity again. A reminder that God still sees me and desires to use all these gifts and passions for preaching that He’s developed in me.

And so I waited. And I sent them video links and I waited. And I looked at their conference Facebook page and I waited.

A couple weeks later I received the email letting me know I hadn’t been selected, sharing with me the name of the woman who had, and telling me they’d keep me in mind for another time.

Don’t google her, I told myself. But I couldn’t help it. I typed in the name of the woman who had received the opportunity to immerse herself in these women for the weekend. She had a beautiful website and it was easy to find her video clips. I noticed her books were empowering and her training and endorsements validating.

But most of all, I took in her photograph, her clothes and her accessories and her hair. Not because I was shallow, but because she was staring back at me, fully dressed and put together. And I was sitting on the other side of the screen completely exposed and somewhat fragile.

I almost wished they had never asked, I told God. Not in this season. Not at this moment. It would have been easier to not have received an invitation than it was to receive a rejection.

For two months I’ve been stripped bare, repeatedly reminded of what we’ve left behind. I notice the busyness of the pastor’s wife and I inhale deeply, grateful that I am no longer overcome by guilt at my inability to meet the needs of everyone and myself. But I notice her relationships and lose my breath, longing for the role that automatically placed me near the heart of others.

For two months I’ve been setting old talents and projects aside, telling myself that it’s okay if what I was once good at is no longer needed. Reminding myself these abilities were the Lord’s to begin with and if He needs them to be stagnant for a time, so be it. Reminding myself there are other ways I can make this season of life meaningful.

And for two months I’ve been trying to rush rest because I secretly decided that if we could get through this season of rest and learn our lesson quickly, then we could return to the world that is comfortable and familiar. We could get redressed in an identity and feel strong and capable and needed again.

Instead we feel out of sorts. We feel humbled. We wonder if we were ever good at anything. We feel a bit forgotten by God. Or maybe that’s just me.

After the email saying thanks but no thanks, I’m tempted to only focus on perfecting my granola and jam and stop daydreaming about teaching and preaching and studying. Maybe granola and jam is all I have to offer the world at this moment.

Two months of feeling bare and how many months more?

Will I ever stop being plagued by the phrase, See what you left behind when you abandoned your life’s work thinking you’d find life? 

Such a cruel, untrue accusation. So I try to silence the noise of loss and listen for an invitation into more. 

And it’s then I hear God say: Welcome back to the garden, where it’s just you and Me. Where the gifts you’ve spent years unearthing don’t match the beauty of just being.

I know you want to get redressed, but the first woman put on her first clothes when shame entered the world. And I want you to be unashamed: Unashamed of your exhaustion. Unashamed of your inabilities. Unashamed that you desired more than I’ve given you. Unashamed that your need to be needed has trumped your need for Me.

 

And so I can learn to celebrate the rejection, for it exposed my fear of being forgotten. And as I sit in the garden of rest before the Lord, I dig in the dirt—fingernails caked with the stuff man is made of, hands stained by the stuff roots call home—and I bury my fear before him. Unashamed to admit I was addicted.

I’m bare. I’m fragile. But never have I been in the presence of such strength.