from the inside out.

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Every August of my childhood, my Mama would take me to the mall for the big back to school shopping trip. It was a trip that I both anticipated giddily and dreaded heartily. I prepared diligently for these mall days, saving up Seventeen magazines and curling the edges of the pages with use. I planned who I might become that year, feeling the mantle and opportunity of a fresh start. I could be someone totally new.

I can still walk through the summer of 1993. I had tattered the edges of a magazine spread thin. In that fall world, girls my age stood in the midst of fog-covered New England looking landscapes. The leaves were bright swaths of God’s hand: yellow, red, orange. There were plaid kilts and knee high socks and long legs. It was serene and dignified and I wanted to be pasted right in: opportunity.

Reality: No matter how I tried on countless skirt after skirt or perfectly pale blue and crisp oxford, I was still me. It was still a 100 degree summer with 90 percent humidity. Sweat still pricked at my temples and I was still just five foot two. The leaves wouldn’t change until November and I would still be shy, unsure and uncertain. The clothes never changed me. Frustration, defeat and tears followed.

At the beginning of this year, I set a goal to write hard and clear. I set my feet to trudge down a path of bullet points and summaries and premises. I’ve circled around and around a gift from God, a story of His transforming work in my heart. Every step I took, more and more of the light of that story snuffed out until I wasn’t even sure I could keep pressing buttons and making little black letters appear on a screen.

Something has changed. In the mirror of a kitchen-spent Saturday evening, I saw the truth of how God made me on purpose in every way. Right there, as I baked chocolate chip cookies and my people watched Wonder Woman reruns, I saw the truth of what I have been doing. God desires truth from the inside out even when it comes in the reflection of an everyday night. Especially then.

I’ve been trying on sweaters that swallow me with defeat. I’ve been walking in shoes so tight that another step seemed impossible. I forgot who I was and I thought the clothes would change me. The truth is this: God made me on purpose in every way and I am a storyteller. I still have stories to tell, stories to tell of how He is pricking down deep. My goal hasn’t changed: I want to write without fear. I am determined to tell this story of His goodness and love to anyone who will listen. But I’ll do it on purpose in every way.

I don’t know. I think that we have to do this sometimes: walk around in sweaters that swallow us whole so that we can see what we truly are. I wouldn’t even call it wasted time despite how frustrating and dead-end living it might feel. In the end, this is Christ’s way: holding all things together in a forward-moving pitch.

Truth from the inside out.

Truth that changes the how and the why and the when.

Truth. I’m in. Are you?

thirteen years: a letter.

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If I could write a letter to my 21 year old self,  I would say:

I know you just returned from that conference; the one where you learned about courtship and making lists about your future spouse. Your list is long and detailed, but you won’t hold to all the fluff. The truth is you’ll move away to Roanoke, Virginia in a year or so. You’ll finish graduate school and you’ll commit to a year of ministry. Just before you move away you’ll fall in love. You’ll be so surprised by the man who woos you with laughter and deep set dimples and steadiness. He won’t play the guitar or write flowery words or lead with a heavy hand. He will have a quiet strength and he will love baseball and he won’t let you go on taking every little thing so seriously.

On December 30, 2013, you’ll celebrate your 13th wedding anniversary. It will be quiet and full of everyday things like going to the grocery store and taking down the dried out Christmas tree. Some years will be quiet like that. On your 10th anniversary, you’ll buy a couch and promise to take a trip later. Truthfully, the 13th year will bring hard things. It will hold stretching and disappointment stronger than any year before, things that will tug at both of you and that God will use to keep your bond solid if you’ll let Him.

And in the 13th year, he will love you like he always and never has. He will always see you as God made you: beautiful. And he will tell you more than ever. He will hold you under his shoulder as you begin a new stage of life. He will faithfully nudge you as you draw deeper and deeper into God’s love for you, as you turn away from defining yourself by performance and acceptance. A new thing will be birthed in you during your 13th year of marriage. And every truth, every victory, every step will have come through him first. He will believe for you, pray for you and love you when your hair is dirty and you’re wearing the same old yoga pants.

Everyday won’t be like this. You’ll needle each other and argue over things like toilet paper and groceries and your future. You will fight. Hard. And you’ll cry. You do will the hard work and you will be stubborn. But. On your 13th anniversary, you’ll be so overwhelmed with how much you like this man you met at 18.

I know you’re afraid and hopeful: afraid you’ll never fall in love and so wistful for the day that you will. I know you think that marriage will mean the end of insecurity and loneliness and uncertainty. It won’t. You’ll still battle timidity and take forever to make decisions and worry about what everyone thinks. But. You will have someone to walk with. You’ll feel beautiful when he stands beside you, brave when he takes your hand.

And you will like him.

If you are reading by email or through a reader, click through to listen to this sweet and poignant song by Ben Rector. 

Sweet photo taken by my lovely friend, Lorien.

on wobbly legs.

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Over the summer I wandered into a tiny children’s bookstore. It was full of all the very best kinds of things: glossy picture books and thick, story-filled chapter books, and it smelled like new paper–the very best smell.

The owner was there. We chatted about favorite books and raising readers and all the joys of getting lost in someone else’s world. I’ve always loved to read. Always, always. And this bookstore owner was a kindred of mine down to reading aloud chapter by chapter in the last dusky moments of a day.

I wanted to be her. I left that place bubbling over with all kinds of ambition to open a little bookstore. I dreamed of the perfect location. I dreamed of all the things I could do: writing clubs, reading clubs, smelling books all day long. I wanted to be her.

There’s a reason. She followed her deep-down, not-going-away dream. I asked her while we were there how she ended up there. She had started six years earlier. Six years before with a dream and a business plan. Six years of not changing her mind.

With a handful of months now gone, I understand that I wanted to be the dreamer in her. Not the bookstore owner. That was her dream. My dream is something different. The truth is that I want to follow everything that makes me feel alive instead of investing in one passion. I’ve declared we should move to Africa! To the heartland! To the big city! To a farm! I have a heart for everything but endurance for naught. This was God’s great gift to me in calling me to walk beside my husband: he puts my feet back on the ground and keeps me tethered to who I am in Christ.

There are lots of things I’d like to do but six years from now I hope I can look back and see that I made the hard and narrow choice, that I knew my own God-given dream and that I was faithful to it. It feels a little selfish to think this way but I’ve been reading Emily Freeman’s new book A Million Little Ways and I’m beginning to understand that maybe it is actually disobedience to keep stuffing, ignoring and belittling the heart God has given me instead of simply sharing it.

I don’t know how to end this except to say that I am going to stand on my wobbly passion legs and try some scary things this year. And I hope I’m not alone.

in season.

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Sometimes you forget to look for the sunrise. You are tired and weary and sleep calls stronger. You put your hand to the plow and you crash with rest heavy on you at the end of the day.

Sometimes you shuffle out to watch it rise over water and grass when the sky is still the ambient blue of pre-dawn. You wait there for hours, it seems, as each brilliant ray pushes its arm over the shadowed green silhouette of a horizon stretched out for days.

Your heart feels wind-borne as dark corners come to light. You  notice. Everything. Waiting there with hope on every bird’s wing, you don’t even care about understanding it all. You just want to watch it.

There is a time for all of this; a good and appointed time where nothing is wasted.

For putting your head down and barreling through. For just getting to the next day.

For lifting your head to see the hope of the sun just waking up. For hopeful anticipation. For dreaming.

 

 

overcoming the lie: where i belong.

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I still have the dreams. The ones where I’m 16 again and I’ve just walked into my high school’s cafeteria. And then the anxiety sets in. I have nowhere to sit. No group to belong to.

For most of my childhood I flitted along the outside edges of social groups never really finding a place to rest for a little while. Along the way I found a friendship or two but the awkwardness followed me. In truth, it was more about my fears than anything. I was afraid I’d be too eager or too annoying or too fumbly. I’d be found out, too–the fact that I was too different. I never belonged.

All lies. I didn’t understand this truth: I’ve taken the place of daughter in God’s heart. Paul declares it, that Jesus carried my name on His heart all the way to the cross. That God looks down at me and knows I am His. I belong. He’s shown me is most personal name and I can call it out to Him at any time.

I do belong. Still, as a grown woman I have to go back to this truth and let it seep down to bone level. I still wonder where I’ll sit. I still hope I’m not found out. I still fear how fumbly I can be.

But I have only to call out Abba and I’m reminded of the place that is just for me in His heart.

I’m participating in a blog tour today for Overcome the Lie. Overcome the Lie exists to equip and empower a generation of women to overcome the lie because Jesus overcame the grave. You can read more right here.

my year of (not so much) writing.

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In January I declared (to myself) that this would be the year that I would write. Something. A book proposal. An ebook. A book. Some sort of work that would be hard but good for me.

And, then? There haven’t been a whole lot of words. I became disinterested in what I’d been working on. My life felt overwhelming. I even struggled to write just for me. Can you still be a writer when you don’t know what to write about, what you should write about? I wanted to quit. I wanted to walk away from the whole thing. I mean, is it ok to keep writing the same things over and over again? About holding onto the sweet wisps of childhood still left at my house? About hard seasons and half faiths? About confusion? I felt like I’ve lost myself a bit.

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I grew up in a beautiful, liturgical church. We celebrated communion every Sunday. There was no children’s church. I sat in the folding chairs of the temporary sanctuary with my white patent shoes dangling inches above the ground. I wore matching cotton fold-over socks with lace trim. On Easter Sunday, my joy was made complete by simple gloves and straw hats with ribbon trim.

I still dream about going back to my home church, with it’s white and high ceilings and worn, wood beams.

In those folding chairs with the kneelers in front, I squirmed through the never ending preparation for Communion. Communion meant you got to shuffle down your aisle, walk around the sanctuary, smile shyly at your friends with their still sitting legs swinging away. Kneeling there, waiting for the wine and the wafer to be prepared and surrendered? I never felt so impatient for what was next like I did kneeling there.

And then it was time to press my round childhood knees into the velvet at the altar and push my bony elbows into the spit-shined wood railing. I would raise my hands, one placed on top of the other, and receive that wafer with the Cross pressed in the middle. I waited for the Common Cup. I took a bitter sip. The reverend spoke over me, wiped the cup with a clean, white, linen cloth. It was always folded perfectly.

I walked back to my seat, imaginary arms linked with all the hearts in that room. I stole quick glances and toothy grins with silly boys and preening girls. The whole sanctuary was filled with the drum of shoes shuffling, chairs squeaking, kneelers smacking up, the swoosh of Sunday best dresses. We moved together. We sang. We bowed low under the banner of the Lord and His beauty.

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Writing is like waiting for Communion. Sometimes you are sitting in that chair that feels too big, your feet swinging wildly with impatience for what will come. You feel too young. You feel too old. You feel wriggly. You feel you’ll never make it. You look out the sunny window and wonder what you will eat for lunch.

The best part is when you lift your words up, surrender them. You hear them swish in a common cup. You take bitter and sweet sips. You steal glances. Your heart soars. You link arms with the world.

But you can’t skip the preparation. The waiting. In the waiting space, I’m learning that words not coming easy is not the end of writing. In some contradictory way, it is the beginning. Sometimes the best place to start is nowhere: embracing the void of words and knowing that a feast and a common cup are coming.

winter gives way to spring.

c497cc369f1811e2bec722000a1f8c33_7Maybe it’s long walks on bright afternoons.

Maybe it’s the way all the world is on its tippy toes with forward motion. Green things. White things. Pink things. Tiny buds full of possibility.

Maybe it’s the way fresh air blows through a stale house.

Maybe it’s that my fourth grader is studying poetry. Poetry! And it’s my dear friend, Emily, and she’s so right that hope is feathered. Maybe it’s the way his eyes are stubborn with the belief that he just doesn’t get poetry but we’re talking about frigates and books and he’s just finished The Hobbit and he’s been to the Shire.

Maybe it’s the way hope does give flight. Maybe it’s giving voice to a dream and seeing my husband’s wide and dimpled grin as he prods the what ifs.

Maybe it’s that eight year old girls decide to make color coordinated fruit plates for snack.

Maybe it’s yard work and shovel driven soreness and the smell of compost.

Maybe it’s the way a five year old says something is bodderin’ him and toof.

Maybe it’s just me.

But maybe it’s you, too?

these stars of mine.

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On a fresh Spring morning, the dog and I fumble down the steps and out into the world. It’s still at least an hour from dawn and we are trotting through this sleeping giant playing our morning song.

It’s the soft plodding of my shoes hitting asphalt and cement over and over again. It’s the sharp tinkling of his tags against the metal clasp on his leash, gentle and melodic and full of his simple joy.

The sky is still the dark, deep blue of eventide and the wind is just barely carrying what will be the fragrant assault of the blooming season.

God begins His daily work, the beautiful and complex work of His hands: He wakes up the world. My song changes.

It’s the call and response of the Whipporwill, Lark, Wren, Blue Jay, Dove, Owl, Robin. How I can’t even begin to draw lines around one chirrup before another begins. How the soft wind blows the wisps of hair off my damp brow.

I am Abraham.

These are my stars.

Days walking in an unknown direction. Promises and dreams and hopes so full and pressed tight that I can’t hold them in. When the answer tarries. When I don’t feel His goodness, His light, His hope. In the dark of night.

I am Abraham.

These are my stars.

I have only to look. If He sends me where I don’t know. If He changes all my dreams. If He always answers with not-yets. If His goodness and light and hope feel far. If darkness surrounds me.

I have only to listen. I can’t count the beautiful ways He has made music through these feathered, winged things. I can’t count.

And even if all these things, I will always want to love the One who took bumpy skin and wispy feathers and tiny eyes and scrawny legs and put the melodic breath of a symphony inside.

Always.

make room for beauty this year.

Here’s how I want to start 2013. It’s something I’ve been wanting to say to you.

I have a beautiful place to live, to be.

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Here’s why. It’s not because of all the things in it: the old and creaky tables that tell stories or the crisp and new white chairs my mama got me for my birthday. It isn’t those things or the pictures on the wall or the well used hardwoods or the shiny banister on the stairs. No, none of those things make right now beautiful. It’s not because my husband has the perfect job (he doesn’t) or my children always, always smile sweet and compliant-like (they don’t). It’s not because every little thing my straining heart has ever chased after is finally slipping into my grip (it’s not).

Right now? It’s beautiful because I chose to believe it is. That’s it.  Imperfection doesn’t negate beauty. Rough spots don’t disallow beauty. Bitterness can’t wash it away. Bathrooms with wall paper falling off in big, fat sheets don’t erase beauty. Pain can’t rob my right now of the beauty that is there. Raisin like, wrinkly dreams on the back burner can’t chase beauty away.

Beauty is a fact. It’s part of God’s currency in this world. He is original beauty. He created it. He owns it. He bestows it. It is always present. Always.

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The way to make beauty in your life? Is to believe that it is already there. Right there in the midst of all the things you never really did want and the halfway done things that make you throw your hands up in the air and the hope that is so much like a wisp that it trails right through your fingers. Right there, beauty is shimmer shining and glinting and if you wet your dry and scratchy disappointment eyes with the balm of belief you will see it.

Choosing comes first. Decide for it. Decide to believe in the God of beauty. And then? Like a baby hearing his mama for the first time, you’ll know the tinkling of tiny beauty bells. And then? You’ll put your hand alongside the Beauty Maker’s and He’ll make lovely things through you.

Whether it’s the walls that make a home for your heart or the skin that wraps your tender soul up or the fences that mark out what your life looks like right now, let 2013 be the year you decide for beauty. You’ll waver. You’ll fight. You’ll want to give up. Don’t.

stillness leaves room.

round two. happy Thanksgiving, friends.
When the future looms hazy and distant and wide open without the clearest sign of what next step to take-well-I don’t have answers for that.

It’s a bit like standing on one side of Lake Michigan and knowing that the other side is there but all the squinting in the world won’t bring up a tree line. The first time I stood on a storied pier and took all of that water in, it felt like my eyes were just falling into the familiar. Oceans don’t have visible boundaries. In my little world, lakes always did.

It’s hard to know how to process that. To know that there is a boundary and that every glint and ripple is contained within it.  We do the same with life, squinting to fill in the lines of when we might reach the other side.

Being? Resting? Waiting for the boundary line to creep up over the horizon? That feels unnatural.

But God has said, “Be still and know.” Yes. We know Him in the stillness. We hear Him. We see His hand when we rest from our striving.

There’s this, too. Sometimes? In the stillness? Something rises up. A different kind of knowing grows in the space of quiet, rest, being. It’s the kind of knowing that fills in the lines of the other side a bit. It writes stories on our hearts and uncovers dusty corners full of things that need to be told.

Sometimes next isn’t drawn out in the hustling and reaching and hurry upping. It comes in the waiting and stillness and quiet.