God Is Not Threatened When We Leave the Church

{An Abstraction on Lipstick}

 

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It happened standing in Wal-Mart with my daughters. I was buying a lipstick and rubbed the pretty coral color that I fell in love with onto my lips. I didn’t notice the brand–that smell. That’s when the memories came flooding in. Memories of being the focus of ridicule at a school in a whole new state, the memories of the poems left on my desk that said “She wears socks with her clogs in winter. She’s in a bubble and thinks no one can reach her, because her Daddy’s a preacher,” and they giggled at me as I turned red and crumbled up the loose-leaf paper taken from one of their cute binders. But there are darker ones.

Dark memories of a 21 year old youth pastor, who came into the sanctuary when I was playing piano and put his lips on me, held me from behind. He befriended my father, came over to the house, and when we went downstairs to play ping-pong, he forced me to sit on his lap.

And the hits seemed to keep coming. I became chronically ill after having my fourth child. And there were people in the church who wanted to pray for me one Sunday. I made it known that I didn’t want it, that I felt uncomfortable with such a spotlight on me. They assured me it was fine, and it was in the midst of this prayer circle that I was told there wasn’t grace for this sickness, this depression, this anxiety, and that God was asking me to please come back home, to come back to where grace abounded for me.

I recoiled at this. Because I knew that God had not left me and I had not left him and the last thing I needed was for someone in the church to tell me that my illness was because I had done something wrong. The insinuation was that it was a direct result of my having left God. But I knew then, and I know now– that none can pluck me from His hand. It’s not possible.

I did feel very far away from God, and what I needed at that moment in my life was for someone to gently remind me that God was still with me and loved me beyond imagination.

That day left me aching, a hole wide-open in my soul, cold bitter wind blowing through. It left me confused about prayer, and unable to utter any words toward heaven. Prayer had been a means, as far as I could see, to hurt others. And I became bitter and maybe I let my words sting, too, because all I could see was people who wanted to hurt me.

I could tell you more stories–I have lots of them. I could tell you about a time my husband and I were asked by the pastor to be elders  because he was leaving and the church needed someone to help run things in his absence. We hesitated, but we loved our pastor, so we agreed. A short time later, we found out that the leadership of the church had sorely treated our pastor, and was the cause of him leaving. Our hearts were broken. We resigned, left the church, and never looked back. But we won’t talk more of that.

What I want to tell you is that because of a lifetime of those memories, my husband and I have chosen to take a time for healing……

{to read the rest of this post, please come on over to Outside the City Gate— I’m over there today, and I have more to share with you….}

{concrete words link-up is below}

 

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Photo credit: Church and steeple: Cindee Snider Re 

Holding hands: Kelli Woodford

Okay, time for #concretewords! ***Will you do this with me, friends? Let’s explore the practice of Awakening to God–this still ties into listening–writing out our story with words that show, not just tell. We’ll connect on twitter and facebook with the hashtag, #concretewords,  #listeningtoyourlife and also #awakeningtoGod if you like. Do me a favor and use these on social media and share with friends–invite them? Writing alone is no fun–but writing in community? Well, THAT is the stuff!

What this link-up is about: We “write out spirit” by practicing writing about the invisible using concrete words. In case you are going “what in the world is a concrete word?!“–this just means (using the prompt to inspire) write out what’s around us–concrete words make the senses come alive, gives place. In every story, there is always an above and beneath, a beside, something tucked away, aromas in the air, something calling in the trees or from the street, notes in our pocket, rocks in our shoes, sand between our toes. Go here to see Amber’s take on this. It was very helpful to me–I think it will be beneficial for you, too.


                                                         A few simple guidelines:

1. Be sure you link up the  URL to your                                                                       Concrete Words post and not just your                                                                      blog home page URL.
2. Put a link to this post on your blog so                                                                    that others can find their way back here.
3. Try to visit one or two others and                                                                               encourage their efforts.
4. If you don’t know how to do these steps,

please email me for help.

 

Today’s prompt is lipstick. GO!


{**Since I’m posting this mid-week, this link-up will run until next Monday afternoon 2 pm CST, giving you plenty of time to write and link up. Sometime between now and then, I will read your stories and try to highlight one of them on social media! Next week, the prompt will be balloon .}

 

 

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For When You Just Need Life to Rise Up From the Decay

 

{An Abstraction on Rust}

 

**I am SO pleased to welcome our first writer from our #concretewords team today, my very dear and one of my best friends, Tammy Hendricksmeyer. Tammy makes me laugh on hard days, even when she isn’t aware I need to laugh. She calls me up when I’m facing a difficult trial and need encouragement. She threw me a lifeline and literally helped pull me up out of the recluse cynical-girl-without-community hole I was in.

She offered me a place that I could call a community home, with friends around, and with one of the warmest hearts I’ve ever known, she welcomed me in to be a writer there. She even allowed me to brainstorm with her for this new project she’d welcomed me to be apart of, Outside the City Gate. She called out talents she saw in me. She’s a gem of a person. I know you’re going to like her. And she just happens to be a great writer, too.

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The double gates greet me, their loose security swinging from a silver chain. Gravel crunches under the tires for a full-stop. I must enter, but first I need to unwrap thick links like a honeysuckle vine clinging to a fence. It’s only a minute or two, yet the pause is long enough to notice the Blue Heron flying from its perch not too far from my untangling.

Once I’ve freed the silver shackles, I’m ready to begin again, to continue my trek for home. Our driveway is a long one. There is a temptation to speed down its length and make up the distance in time, as if the sand is slipping too quickly in an invisible hour glass. But the bumps, the turns, the old cattle guard, they require me to slow my pace.

Some days, a pair of buzzards perch high up in a dead tree about the spot where the car dips down as the road lowers. They look down as if I’m an ant. But they do not own this place.

The straightest spot of the driveway is where the rust sits. Lots of abandoned metal greet any guests who venture here. There is much of it before there is any beauty. There are vacant places, or in-the-middle-of-repairing buildings, and metal skins of by-gone days. There’s even an old pink house from some turn of the century date that’s now lost among a rubble from years of neglect, but it stands tall enough for you to notice it too.

Rust clings here. Many places of the spreading disease corrode my view of redemption. And if I think too long on it, my face blushes hot of how such wastelands are seen before anybody arrives to Knockout Roses displaying splendor or where red brick stands on an old hay field.

But as I consider the word, I turn it over in my mind.

On the one hand, there is need for attention, for care, for tending and the decay tells me this has been too long in coming. Here, where the copper colored stains begin to crust corners of my life, I see where neglect has taken a toll. In the ugly mess, there is a story being told. On any given day, I must drive past the disease before suddenly meeting the wide open porches of redemption and grace. If only I could drive past all my guests’ wastelands too. Would compassion not rise from the rust?

Just one glimpse could change a lot, like a feed bin bowled over when knocked off its pedestals.

Weakened by plight, the metal lays on it’s side. Once a sturdy place for food, now has become part of scrap waiting to be carried off. It’s top facing the road at a perfect angle for a picture. So I snapped one, then more. The cylinder lid half open, as if murmuring a dying breath or word to me. Age now wrinkles in waves of reddish brittle coating. Food for thought has gone from the stomach to the heart. Although chicken pellets no longer fill it’s hollow belly, I’m nourished by what I can learn. Like a story behind every gravestone of a buried life, wisdom is born from what has died. A story is a mustard seed waiting to be more. Maybe then, the copper hues would share their wisdom that sprouted from adversity and death.

But rust can also be my thorn. The appearance of it like evidence poking my side with frailties and the danger of a soul left unchecked. Age has proven a place of revealing the deep hidden things, eating their way to the surface. Clearly, I see them now. But I lug them off for the heap, one by one, even as the corroding appendages humble me. It is here I am dependent most on the redemptive work of grace and mercy, for I must guard against condemnation and shame which attempt to smother the process of Truth.

For whatever the muse, I notice the rust. Some days with a bit of force and a handful of camera, I cherish speckled and hole-y pieces scattered among our fray. Occasionally, my hubby finds a small token buried under layers of Texas clay and sand. We dust it off the best we can and give it a place of prominence inside our house where redemption continues to churn. We salvage. We rescue. We search for copper-covered jewels to pull from mines of neglect and disrepair.

Perhaps my life is prone to it. I am in need of embracing gratefulness with ambition, of remembering this is tale of caution which reminds me of frailties. Among the fallen places where decay is marking a trail, is a Person who is pulling me from the miry clay. Dare I imagine Him standing over me, admiring my sidelong posture having been knocked off my pedestal?”

Would He not whisper, even in my coppery array, “Now that is pure beauty of a treasure, right there?” Much in the same way, I captured the bin. Even if I fail to understand, rust is telling a story, and on any given day, is telling mine too.

 

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Tammy is a writer, collaborator, and encourager of big dreams, who also has learned that inter-personal relationships can both wreck you and build you up.  She’s a renaissance woman who’s scattered pigeons at Notre Dame, swam the coral reefs of Okinawa, spent the night in a castle, but surprisingly finds herself now living on a farm in tim-buck-two, Texas. This poet at heart homeschools for now, throws her head back when laughing, talks her family into hair-brained photographs, and occasionally drives an ol’ John Deere tractor. She’s a visionary over here but spills her guts here.

 

***Will you do this with me, friends? Let’s explore the practice of Awakening to God–this still ties into listening–writing out our story with words that show, not just tell. We’ll connect on twitter and facebook with the hashtag, #concretewords,  #listeningtoyourlife and also #awakeningtoGod if you like. Do me a favor and use these on social media and share with friends–invite them? Writing alone is no fun–but writing in community? Well, THAT is the stuff!

What this link-up is about: We “write out spirit” by practicing writing about the invisible using concrete words. In case you are going “what in the world is a concrete word?!“–this just means (using the prompt to inspire) write out what’s around us–concrete words make the senses come alive, gives place. In every story, there is always an above and beneath, a beside, something tucked away, aromas in the air, something calling in the trees or from the street, notes in our pocket, rocks in our shoes, sand between our toes. Go here to see Amber’s take on this. It was very helpful to me–I think it will be beneficial for you, too.


                                                         A few simple guidelines:

1. Be sure you link up the  URL to your                                                                       Concrete Words post and not just your                                                                      blog home page URL.
2. Put a link to this post on your blog so                                                                    that others can find their way back here.
3. Try to visit one or two others and                                                                               encourage their efforts.
4. If you don’t know how to do these steps,

please email me for help.

 

Today’s prompt is Rust. GO!


{**This link-up will run until next Sunday at 11:59 pm, giving you plenty of time to write and link up. Sometime between now and then, I will read your stories and try to highlight one of them on social media! Next week, the prompt will be balloon .}

Photo credit: Tammy Hendricksmeyer

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Don’t Give Me Man’s Religion; Just Give Me Jesus {An Abstraction on Path}

 

From my perch on the lazy swing, my mom and I watch them play in a hill of red dirt. We smile at one another at how carefree and winsome they are, pushing the red around, not a thought to how caked on it is, how hard it will be to wash off, and how happy they are, just to scratch their hands in dirt and carve paths.

One of my little ones, my six year old, she comes to me and says Mama, you need to come look at something I made. In my new blingy sandals and silk tank, I’m not dressed for playing in dirt, I tell her.

You don’t have to get in it–just come look, her red-lipped mouth moves and I follow its beautiful dance , looking in huge greenish-hazel eyes, her pale brows and milky white skin glowing in the sun. Her adorable lisp just makes me want to giggle . I get up and walk over, following her as she runs, her long golden hair ripping in the wind and caressing her waist.

 

Can you see her?

 

She shows me the miniature road and cave she carved at the tip-top of the sienna-red hill. I grin back at her beaming, proud face. Such an angel.

Sundays in my family are more relaxed nowadays. It used to be come in early on Saturday evening, and get up early on Sunday morning to run around like a chicken with your head cut off to to make it to church early to practice for worship and to teach Sunday School–back when my dad was the pastor. And my parents had to sacrifice a lot of time with my sister and I to make that bustling church life happen.

Now, though, things are slower. We take our time getting up on Sunday morning, and we fellowship over cream soda, chips, and good-smelling turkey feta spinach burgers that make your mouth salivate, the aroma wafting from the kitchen out onto the porch. The outdoor furniture is a communion table of sorts, the swing slowly rocking back and forth– making me a little sleepy– my pew. I smile at three little heads chomping on burgers, their legs tucked under the bar my dad built for them to eat at. We laugh and enjoy simple things.

These are the things that matter–not the rushing, not the pushing, not the running around like crazy to impress and serve. Sometimes serving is in the slowness, the taking time to be with one another. This kind of serving, this kind of love speaks to my soul best. This is where and how I am awake to God. I’ve thought a lot about what it means to carve out my own path with God. What it means to really be awake to life, and Him all around.

This is the first year that it’s April and we haven’t bought flowers or a hammock for the backyard for relaxing and reading. But it’s also the first year that’s been so full of promise. Flowers can go a long way in brightening one’s day, and I certainly recommend gardening for the blues, for the cloudy seasons, but not even pansies and violets, no matter their austere beauty and symbolic joy, can force a change in a desperate time. They, for all their smiles, cannot make the wind blow in a different direction. And they, for all the hope they ensue, cannot keep winter’s last freeze at bay.

In the evenings, in our home, wine is poured and Nora Jones or Allison Krauss croons soft and lulls our heartbeats to a slower pace. Conversation is the meatier portion, as hello-hugs are exchanged and we chop bell peppers and herbs, and talk about our day. There is much love, everyone gathered around, but there are also a lot of sleepy-filled days when we are tired, and we can hardly put one foot in front of the other. We are in what one author coined, The Tired Years. 

Some days we bicker. Some days we all just need our space. Some days the kids scream words at one another that make my insides ache and I think I’ve gone very wrong somewhere along the way. Some days I can’t see the redemption in it all. 

But I see hope just around the bend, and that is a very good feeling.

Isn’t hope like that? A little shrouded, always hiding just beyond our fears and uncertainty, but still shining her light through the cracks of our insecurity?

I often feel restless these days. Like something better is waiting for me just down the road, perhaps slightly obstructed from view, and the Spirit is nudging me to keep pressing forward.

There is no hope or redemption in staying in this place of comfort, my cynicism and pain an excuse to doubt and not step out on that limb of vulnerability He’s called me to.

He’s called me to be brave– I know this. Last year, I wrote here about fear in a 30 day series. It was difficult and painful to visit and re-visit sordid wounds hidden deep within that are happily put away and forgotten. It is no surprise to me that he is whispering now, as I listen, and become awake to Him, the word– brave. Be brave, my love.

In my practice of this new bravery I’m waking up to Him, seeing Him, being aware of Him in all kinds of ways in which I wasn’t before. Everyday seems like an exercise in freedom. The more I learn, the more I realize I’ve been in bondage, and that He came to set me free. He did not die so that I could live a caged-up life.

He has laid out the road before me, and it is marked with steps of courage. Each step is lit with His goodness and audacious love.

Really–let me ask you–does it matter what others think of my dress, or my hair, or my tattoos, my writing, or my home? Should I live my life, in a tight little box, conformed to a religious formula? You know the one I mean–the one that says Christians dress this way, fix their hair like this, only wear this amount of jewelry, don’t drink this or only eat that, and it’s okay if you had a tattoo pre-Jesus, but not after.

Didn’t Paul tell us that if we were going to hold ourselves to the law of circumcision, that we must hold ourselves to the entire law–every letter–every jot and tittle? So let’s be about grace, then.

Let’s not forget the important parts of the law–the ones Jesus said to hold onto– love your neighbor as yourself, and love the Lord your God with all your heart. But for me, I have decided to take Him literally when he said that I no longer need to follow all of the law and that man does not rule over me with his made up version of religion. And this is Him giving life to me.

So, yeah, hope~

The path is laid with hope and the road is stretched before me, and who knows where it will lead with God, the Wild Man, showing me that there are no holds barred, no cage, no do’s and don’ts — only Love, brave and bold, leading into new freedom. A slave to the world no longer. Christ my Redeemer. People my passion. Heaven my goal.

The race is set. Don’t mind me if I zig and zag all over the place, in my own unique pattern, a roving rebel. I’m focused on the prize, over hill and over mountain, through valley and through storm.

 

 

***Will you do this with me, friends? Let’s explore the practice of Awakening to God–this still ties into listening–writing out our story with words that show, not just tell. We’ll connect on twitter and facebook with the hashtag, #concretewords,  #listeningtoyourlife and also #awakeningtoGod if you like. Do me a favor and use these on social media and share with friends–invite them? Writing alone is no fun–but writing in community? Well, THAT is the stuff!

What this link-up is about: We “write out spirit” by practicing writing about the invisible using concrete words. In case you are going “what in the world is a concrete word?!“–this just means (using the prompt to inspire) write out what’s around us–concrete words make the senses come alive, gives place. In every story, there is always an above and beneath, a beside, something tucked away, aromas in the air, something calling in the trees or from the street, notes in our pocket, rocks in our shoes, sand between our toes. Go here to see Amber’s take on this. It was very helpful to me–I think it will be beneficial for you, too.


                                                         A few simple guidelines:

1. Be sure you link up the  URL to your                                                                       Concrete Words post and not just your                                                                      blog home page URL.
2. Put a link to this post on your blog so                                                                    that others can find their way back here.
3. Try to visit one or two others and                                                                               encourage their efforts.
4. Please write along with us, using                                                                                 the prompt.

Today’s prompt is Path. GO!


{**This link-up will run until next Sunday at 11:59 pm, giving you plenty of time to write and link up. Sometime between now and then, I will read your stories and try to highlight one of them on social media! Next week, the prompt will be Rust .}

photo credit: Kelli Woodford

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In Which I Tell You That You Are Amazing On Mother’s Day

{because you need to believe it}



I wasn’t going to write anything for Mother’s Day.

I look away, down, anywhere but straight ahead, scroll past, ignore the posts, try not to read stories that remind me too much of my failings as a mother and how I don’t measure up. I try to stop the hemorrhaging, plug up the giant mother-sized hole bleeding out from so much pain and guilt. The past two years have been the hardest years yet for me as a mother.

Mother’s Day could just be another day, and I would be fine with that, I tell myself.

It would be easier than facing the guilty feelings for all I haven’t done right, for the ways I put myself down, tell myself I’m not enough.

Isn’t that usually the way with mothers? And guilt and anger over what we deserve or don’t deserve always lend to shame. It’s a vicious cycle.

Honestly, I’ve had enough of feeling not good enough. I’ve had enough of the lies and the fears and the torment in my belly that keeps me awake at night, crying into my pillow when no one sees.

I’ve all but decided that constantly shoving in a diet of filthy rags in the sight of God mentality is not good for my happiness, or my spiritual growth.

I sort of think that for some of us, who struggle with pride, maybe it’s good for us to remember that we cannot do things on our own but we need God.

But for others of us, who struggle with insecurity more than we do feeling great about ourselves and our talents,

maybe we just need to be told weareamazing.

Me.

You. Yes, you. Beautiful, tear-streaked face, hair in knots, pajama-wearing, you.

This is for all of us. For those of us who don’t feel beautiful or appreciated or enough in anyone’s eyes.

For the women and mothers that can feel a little neglected as they bend, break, wipe up vomit and then try to cuddle up to their man and feel sexy.

It’s not easy, is it? I know.

Depression can bring you down to such an ugly place, and postpartum can do a mom in, and sometimes I wonder why the world has to be the way it is, why Eve had to take that fruit off of that tree, why I have to be so much like her.

I know what you’re thinking right now–this is wrong. How can we say we aren’t filthy rags in the sight of God, because the bible clearly states in scripture that we are.

Oh, yes, I know. Believe me, I know, because I grieved and I lamented, and I lived in a perpetual state of my “I’m not good enough” theology for years. Yes, that’s how the story begins.

But it isn’t how it ends.

That’s the beauty of the blood-stained, wrecked, holy, scandalous gospel.

We were, we are and always will be filthy rags. In and of ourselves.

But listen to this and listen close. Grasp it, and once you do, never let go:

Christ came and changed all of that. Forever, for you and I. We are no longer prisoners to our filthy rags, we don’t have to walk around in sack and ash-cloth, mourning our bane existence in the presence of a Holy, angry God. He poured out grace thick when the blood coursed warm out of his body and ran cold. 

He gave you freedom, like a slave set free and told he can leave his master’s land. Forever. Free to make his own choices, free to live without worry and fear.

We’re not a slave to the law, to our dirty sinful hearts, or even to our fears, but if we are a slave, we are a slave only to grace. We are married to freedom now.

We’ve been bought with a blood that is tied to no strings, our ransom has been paid, and we’ve been let go.

Do you see it? Grasp it? Know it deep in your marrow?

He loves you. He loves me. He loves the whole messed up lot of us.

And that is why I know, know, know that he doesn’t want us mothers feeling guilty on this Mother’s Day weekend. Do you hope for a card and think, maybe once again this year, it will be forgotten? That is just being human.

Do you get disappointed? Maybe slightly angry, even? GREAT! That means you’re human! Jesus understands when we’re angry, yes? All he asks, is that we don’t sin in that anger. We give grace, we forgive, we try to understand, we try, once again, to live selflessly. And we patiently ask that next year, they might try to remember a card, or a letter. Something that would help you remember they love and appreciate you, because you need to hear it. Sometimes, admitting what we need from others is the hardest thing of all. Because then we open our hearts fully. And we shouldn’t feel guilty for needing, because God made us this way!

He doesn’t want us strapping the law to our backs, lamenting our sin, totin’ a sign that says “I’m not good enough”, waving a guilt banner in people’s faces and pulling them into our religious nightmare because the ones who carry the law heavy need someone to help them bear it. And we all drag one another down.

The gospel, this one life He’s given us to live, the whole of creation and reason for existence is about way more than just filthy rags, sinners in the hand of an angry God, and lamenting that there is no good in us, and only He is the reason at all that we can do anything good, mother half-well, be a serving lover to our husbands, or live with any decent purpose at all.

No, let’s not box up a Holy God, a limitless God to such finite ideas. Let’s stop believing the lie that we can only be nothing in ourselves and maybe half-worth something for the kingdom of heaven if we grit our teeth, bear the law hard, and submit to a God who rules over us.

He is the mighty Creator, and it doesn’t serve Him well or do His wonders justice for us to wear heavy cloaks of humility that weigh us downbut it boasts His power and waves a banner of glory when we are happy in who He made us. 

I give you permission right now to stop believing the lie, to shirk off the heavy cloak of shame, to wash off the foul stench of fear and guilt and begin rejoicing in who God has made you.

Because God? He rejoices over you. He spins happy and He watches you take in sacred breaths in early morning light, and He smiles down on you, Beloved Daughter, as you hug your daughter or son, as you cry and as you yell, and as you bravely say sorry and rise again each morning even though the days are hard and wear you thin.

God gets it–He knows you. He knows how hard you struggle and He catches each tear, and your intercessor, Christ, He prays for you to the Father as He sees you fall to your knees in exasperation once again, no words on your lips, groans the only thing escaping.

He loves you, daughter, infinitely and wondrously.

He sees your struggle, your pain.

He sees the beauty in your heart, the desires that are deeply hidden and entombed there.

He sees the potential of what He made you to be, and He sees who you are now, right where you are, just how you are–weak, fragile, each breath you breathe a sacred one,

And He says it. is. good. 





                                                        *an edited re-post from archives

{This post shared with The Weekend Brew}

This is what I’m asking for on Mother’s Day weekend–as a family, we will give to this project! I’m a little excited!! You can go here (ß– click on the highlighted word) to give just a $5 donation to the Esther Initiative, a project that Ann is apart of to bring hope to girls and women all over the world. It is a project to empower women, something I think you’d be proud to be apart of, as am I. Isn’t this a perfect gift—right here at Mother’s Day weekend, when we’re celebrating women, and birth, and life itself? Will you give with me? I’m asking my husband to make this my gift. Let’s stand together. Let’s make our voice heard. Let’s let our sisters across the sea and right here at home hear our roar—we care and we will not stop, until this stops. We give you our yes, Father. Use me, Jesus, to sit beside someone in chains. 


You can learn more at that link above, about the project– and you can go here, to my post from yesterday, to learn how YOU can help in small ways that matter, and also share some ideas you may have! 

Join Me In Sending The Plague Back To Hell


                    #BringBackOurGirls





In the golden bright sun, cross-legged on my porch swing, I read Ann Voskamp’s post on my phone, the swing lazily drifting back and forth. The words startled me. Because I thought I would read about girls from Nigeria. 234 girls still missing. Girls that were studying in a school to become doctors and lawyers in a place where getting an education can get you killed. I thought I’d read about these brave ones, these heroes.

Instead, I saw myself in her words.

I saw myself in the words, mistreated, dismissed, misunderstood and misplaced.

Yes, that’s been me. I am that Nigerian girl. She is me. Woman.

I’ve had boys spread things about me at school, calling me a “trick”, because I didn’t know how to say no to a boy who kissed me. I had been invited to his house for a super bowl party, and I didn’t know how to say no without wounding his ego, disrespecting the generous invitation. He grabbed me before I processed how I could retreat. I was on his turf, and he knew it. This is the conundrum so many women face. We are submissive by nature and it’s taken advantage of and then we are the ones blamed.

When will this stop?

Ann talks about a four year old little girl that was taken from her home in the village, and they searched, and found her in the jungle. She had been raped, lying there, crying. I know horror stories like these.

I lived them.

I hear of these girls on the other side of the world, how they are mangled, beaten to death, raped, taken from over and over. And over again. No right to human decency. No value. They don’t know what it’s like to feel they mean something. That they are something of worth.

I was out with some girlfriends in college, having a drink, dancing. I rode with a boy who promised to take me to a friend’s house. He told me he had to stop by a friend’s of his and pick up something first. But he kept driving, and city lights began to fade. We were headed in the wrong direction. My heart pounded in my chest, then my throat. I asked over and over, as trees began to get thicker, why are you driving so far away from town? Where are we going? The night got darker, the country without city lights, and I implored, pulse hammering, Can you please turn around and take me back? We’re not doing what you said–you promised to take me to my friend’s house. 

He told me no, to be quiet, that we were almost there.

We ended up out in the middle of nowhere, in the woods. The road was long and winding, with trees so thick and tall and wild, taking us away from the interstate. He pulled up in the drive. There was a log cabin. I refused to get out. Said I would wait there until he took me to my friend’s house. He demanded I get out of the truck, pulled me inside the house, where unspeakable things were playing on the big screen television, several couples gathered around. He continued to pull me up the stairs, and I could not walk, the drink making me heavy and foggy, not really knowing what was happening. So he dragged me. To the bed.

Later I asked him, once again, to please just take me home, to my friend’s house, now. But he refused, said he was sleepy, so I had to stay the night, in the bed with my rapist. I never made it to my friend’s house until the next morning. I didn’t even have time for a shower.

I drove straight to church, in a purple dress I had packed. And I was late. My parents were furious.

I sat down in the pew, on the front row, feeling every bit like the whore he had made me into as my father began to preach his Sunday morning sermon. I felt so dirty. And I didn’t know it then, but Jesus was right beside me. Because in a room long ago? I’ve written about that day when He made himself scandalous in a room full of religious leaders by allowing a known whore to kneel at his feet, to touch his feet with her hands and with her hair, a moment so intimate it seems inappropriate, sinful even. Was this woman trying to evoke desire? But Jesus saw her. He really saw her soul when he looked in her eyes, and when she kneeled at his feet, her perfume and her hair, an offering of the truest worship. He welcomed her intimate worship fully. And it was holy and good.

I have more stories, and not all of them were just one-time, unpleasant encounters. Some of them were long-term relationships where boundaries were crossed against my will. My face was grabbed forcefully. I was coerced and used, trying to say no, but my voice wasn’t heard. It was silenced. I was caged.

I hear these stories, stories unlike mine, and yet the same– stories of women being trafficked, even in our own backyard here in America, and it makes me cringe, makes me want to turn away, makes me want to shrink back in terror.

It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that as civilized as we are in this day, that young girl’s and women’s bodies are still being shackled for the entertainment of men, that they are being shot for getting an education, that they are being beaten to death for finding love elsewhere when there is none at home.

The foulness of it, the stench of bodies used and bruised and mutilated– it fills my nostrils and I am disgusted and angered. I want to do something–but they are so far away. I am an American stay-at-home-wife, with very little gas in my car, and no cash in my wallet at the moment.

So the question–what can I do?

What. Can. I. Do? THAT is the question

No more excuses. No more I’m barely keeping my own head above water, so how can I help someone else? 

Because do you see? If I don’t do something, then I’m inviting it to my back door as well. I’m welcoming abuse in to be lashed out on my girls, too. Because those girls over there and around our country? They are my girls. They are your girls.

The brave, beautiful ones in dark skin, and all the colors of God’s glorious rainbow, shining all around the world, they. are. real.

Let’s not buy the lie that because they aren’t here and we can’t see them, that they aren’t real and there is nothing we can do.

That is false, straight from the Greatest Liar himself. His lies are hellish, and keep all our girls in chains.

A very wise man said this~

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ~Martin Luther King

If I sit back in comfort here and do nothing about what is going on there, then what I’m really saying? Is that it doesn’t touch me. It doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t move me enough to initiate action.

I’m complacent. Apathetic. The very opposite of love.

The thing is? It does touch me. This is not a problem just across expansive waters. This is not a problem we can fix by installing a well in Africa. This is not something we have figured out, because it’s in our own neighborhoods, our churches, our sporting events, the back seats of our daughters’ boyfriends’ cars, and in the alleys where young college students walk home from work.

We’d like to think we have it under control, but we haven’t gained the monopoly to a resolution for this epidemic that is turning into a landslide, because it’s. still. happening. We don’t have the patent on the solution to this problem, we haven’t commandeered this ship, because the problem is right here, all around us. It’s very close, as close as the hairs on the back of your neck when a man lets out a wolf-whistle and a snide remark as you pass him in the stair-well. And it’s also world-wide.

It’s all of us women. It’s you, it’s me, it’s Nigeria and it’s Nepal. It’s the extremist Islam countries, and it’s anywhere else we’ve been taught women are not human, that they are less-than, not equal. That they are a thing to be used, and not a soul that has eternal value. To God, that soul has so much value, it should make us quake in our shoes. But we’ve grown desensitized.

You may have heard this phrase (I have unfortunately been on the receiving end of it), a course joke, uttered in mixed circles–it goes something a little like this:

 This kind of thinking is like a dark plague, a disease that slowly, deceptively trickles in over time. You don’t notice the adverse symptoms all at once. It’s a slow decay.

This belief system is what has caused our world to be what it is: a world where women are forgotten, misused, abused, treated as trash to be taken out back.

I am a housewife, a preacher’s daughter. I have a white picket fence, and I live in a fairly safe neighborhood. I drive a nice SUV, carry pepper spray in my purse, and have conveniences at my disposal everyday. There is a policeman just about on every street corner willing to risk his life for my safety. It is a fine palace we live in, called the grand US of A. And these stories–they still happened to me. How much more, those who aren’t safe, those girls out there, living on the edge of the jungle, where government soldiers are afraid of extremist groups–how much more do they need our help?

I am only a housewife. And yet, I am so much more. I can do something. There is no end to the lasting ripple effect that will go out and out and out, if only I am brave.

I may not have much, by some standards, but let’s pull together our not-much, let’s be brave, and let’s stop this disease.

Let’s tell this plague it can go back to hell.

Let’s Bring Our Girls Home.

Linking with friends, Emily, Kelli, and Jennifer

You can go here (ß– click on the highlighted word) to give just a $5 donation to the Esther Initiative, a project that Ann is apart of to bring hope to girls and women all over the world. It is a project to empower women, something I think you’d be proud to be apart of, as am I. Isn’t this a perfect gift—right here at Mother’s Day weekend, when we’re celebrating women, and birth, and life itself? Will you give with me? I’m asking my husband to make this my gift. Let’s stand together. Let’s make our voice heard. Let’s let our sisters across the sea and right here at home hear our roar—we care and we will not stop, until this stops. We give you our yes, Father. Use me, Jesus, to sit beside someone in chains. 

What else can we do? Here is a small start: (baby steps, right?) 

1. Use this hashtag on social media–facebook and twitter. #BringBackOurGirls The story of the missing Nigerian girls wasn’t being covered until some angered women began using this hashtag on social media and making some noise. 

2. If you’re a blogger, write about it. 

3. Here is a link where you can sign the official Whitehouse petition: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/work-un-and-nigerian-government-bring-home-girls-kidnapped-boko-haram/fFcLj7s2  
 It seems the U.S. is springing into action, but the Nigerian government hasn’t shown much interest, due to the extremist groups– so this petition on the official US Whitehouse website is important. 

4. I’m considering finding a #BringBackOurGirls pic and making it my profile picture. Would you consider that, too? 

5. If you have any ideas, would you put it in the comments? Thanks! (If someone would like to make a picture for us to use for profiles, that’d be awesome. I’m no good at that!)

Word-Paint: The Inside-Outside Conundrum {A Featured Story by Amber Cadenas}

I am so pleased to announce that we’ve chosen a story to be featured, a beautiful word-painting by Amber Cadenas. Kelli introduces her friend (and my *new* friend) below::

Amber Cadenas is a fellow sojourner with a penchant for all things creative, gentle, and transcendent. She calls her blog Beautiful Rubbish with a subtitle that could not fit any better: the everyday art of learning to see. Her writing is luminous and often reflects the bite of starlight in which it was conceived. Please welcome her voice as the final contribution to this series: The Conundrums of Christian Writing and Blogging. ~Kelli Woodford

                                 photo credit 



“Can you be inside and outside at the same time?
I think this is where I live.
I think this is where most women live.
I think this is where writers live.
Inside to write. Outside to glean.”
~ Terry Tempest Williams*
Paint me a picture, I say to myself, of this tension of inside-outside living. So my pen becomes a paintbrush and I dip it in the colors of memory, splashing across a canvas of blank white page.
I am inside and outside, a woman on both sides of the looking glass.
* * * * *
I call myself a writer, most of the time, with varying degrees of confident assurance. I have a blog, where I air my words and my heart, one to three times a week. I surround myself with good books that inspire me in the craft. I have a group of writer friends who make me believe, at times I can soar on the wings of their prose, and maybe even on the wings of my own.
I am inside.
I hold my tongue, refuse to say this is who I am, because I am just not convinced. Maybe I got it all wrong. Maybe this is the last remaining, tattered shred of youthful idealism I’m clinging to and I need to let it go. How could I ever think I’m a writer?
I am outside.
* * * * *
I am inside the church where we worship on Sundays. Where we stand, sit, kneel, sing, speak, listen and hold the silence of liturgy. I am surrounded by people, many whom I don’t know, some whom I call “community.” We feast together at the table of communion, we share the same creeds of faith. We love the same Jesus.
I am inside.
I look up at the landscape of the front of the church sanctuary. Men leading us in worship through instruments and song. Men serving the bread and the wine. Men praying the prayers. Men preaching the sacred word. I feel silenced, disappearing in the pew.
I am outside.
* * * * *
I wear a wedding band, possess a certificate of marriage. We share the same address, the same car, the same bed, the same last name. We’re gradually crossing over for each other without losing sight of ourselves. He’s immersed in my culture and I in his.
I am inside.
We coexist, side by side. We give affection and we withhold. We sleep with a wall of fear, of silence, of weariness, of distant longing between us. I inhabit a place of hope deferred.
I am outside.
* * * * * 
I wrap arms around her and she buries tears in my shoulder. Our hearts are locked together in the ache of sorrow. She has walked through valleys of loss with me, and now, I set out with her. I would do anything to take this pain away.
I am inside.
I am not a mother. I’ve never conceived life, never waited through months of expectancy, nor delivered life into this world. I’ve never seen my body stretch to make room for another. I’ve never grieved a womb that was inhabited, now empty. I do not know this agony.
I am outside.
* * * * * 
I am breathing in rain-soaked air, heavy with cherry blossom fragrance. I am walking, running, standing still, listening to the songs of birds and the symphony of life that arises in my silent wonder. I am drinking in sunsets. I am inhabiting moments of beauty, moments of bravery, moments of failure, moments of being known, moments of loneliness.
I am outside.
I come inside, close the door, and set my hand to write, transferring words from head to hand, my paint across the canvas.

* * * * * 

Amber Cadenas is a people-loving introvert, who pulls espresso shots by day and writes the trail of glory-crumbs that is her story on her blog, Beautiful Rubbish. She is wild about nature, creatures of all kinds, books and spicy foods, and considers herself Mexican at heart, thanks to her husband. Her biggest ambition in life is to know Jesus and become someone who loves well.  



linking with friends, MichelleHolleyEmilyJennifer 

**This here is the final wrap-up of a series on writing–the last week! Let’s all gather around the table in the comments and discuss and show Amber some love! I will still be writing about once a week (hopefully) about the issues we face as writers, and I’ll be encouraging you to be brave in your writing journey!

Other posts in this series below  

In Which I Invite Us All to the Table –Nacole Simmons

A Hand In Your Own — a guest post from Kelli Woodford


A Divided Loyalty and the Stinging Truth –a guest post from Michelle DeRusha   

Rooted In A Tangible Grace — Kelli Woodford   

On Prostitution: Cheap Grace and One Word: Enough –Nacole Simmons

In The End, Three Things Remain –a guest post from Holly Grantham

What I Want You to Know About Mental Illness, Social Media, and Community –Nacole Simmons

On Vulnerability and Boundaries –a guest post from Diana Trautwein 

Walking With Christ Online :: thoughts on faith, calling, and diversity –a guest post from Lisha Epperson

Brokenness, A Grace-Bathed Thread — by Kelli Woodford and Nacole Simmons

Brokenness, A Grace-Bathed Thread

{The Conundrums of Writing and Blogging: A Series}

I am delighted to have my friend, Kelli Woodford, at the blog today, who has collaborated with me on this post. We are both sharing our voices and stories with you today of how we met. This is a bold move, we know–and we hope you enjoy it. 
More than that, we hope you can see one golden, grace-bathed thread through the entire thing–how God opens our eyes to see the souls beneath human skin, broken and beautiful skin we all share– and that you will maybe walk away with a renewed sense of sisterhood/brotherhood and what it means to be at the table together. Much love to our readers and thank you for being with us on the writing series journey~ 

The airport bustled as I pulled the car curbside. Flipping down the visor, I checked my hair and applied chapstick. The radio station desperately needed adjusting and oh for the love, where could that water bottle have gone? And it was there, hand jammed under the passenger’s seat with great angst written across my brow, that I recognized it: Fidgeting, yes, I was fidgeting.
Because nervousness? It always drives me to do.
She texted from inside the building. Only a few moments and we would meet for the first time. Only a few moments till the hopes and dreams of the person we had known through words on screens and a smattering of facebook photos would shake hands with stark reality. We would stand before one another in the flesh – for better or worse – in all our devastating human nakedness. Without the comfort of photoshop’s charms or a hearty following behind us. Without smartly punctuated witticisms or cleverly sculpted reputations. We would brush skin and hear joints pop and perhaps waft the warmth of the other’s signature scent. I wrapped my coat around me against the wind, took a deep breath, and let my feet find the pavement. Brave feet, I thought, keep walking.

I looked up at the sound of my name.
She was prettier than I expected her to be. Slender and blond. Her idyllic smile rivaled Denzel’s for shine and luster, teeth straight as a manicured picket fence. Intimidation crept up my neck and flushed my cheeks with scarlet. We chatted about her flight and about the weather. We sneakily studied one another’s faces when we thought it wouldn’t be noticed. I listened to the slow, thick drawl of the south on her tongue, and I imagine she heard the nasal whine so common to midwesterners in my voice. It was strange and wonderful, this stark reality. It was a bit like stepping into Narnia, finding more than you ever thought possible inside a wardrobe in the spare room.
Because aren’t we, all of us, more than screens can ever tell?

The weekend unfolded in gentle, halting exhale. Moments both sacred and scared laced our days. We revealed parts of our lives to each other, but not without a good bit of trembling. Intimidation faded like a fall flower in the honest light of brokenness shared. And then it came time for goodbyes. We parted alongside the very same curb where I’d exhorted my audacious feet. This time, there was a knowing in our voices. We didn’t hear the differences that took up so much space at first. We only heard the heart. For you see, we had taken time to listen.
And perhaps that is what many internet relationships need – this listening. Because it’s so easy to see a photoshopped profile picture and make assumptions, isn’t it? So easy to comfortably settle into a one-dimensional assessment of an individual instead of pushing deeper, believing for more, digging into the back of the wardrobe?
Now, I realize it’s not always possible to quell these misgivings by face-to-face meetings. I get it. But this mining for gold no matter what rubble lies on the surface – this is more than that. It’s a perspective. This is what it means to invite all to the table. This is where we feel the hand in our own. This is what it means to honor not only the stories that we uniquely represent, but even the opinions and convictions that result from the narrative being scripted. This is respecting each other’s process. And it is how community can form, even in as unlikely a place as these screens permit.

  
~by Kelli Woodford

——————————————

When she stepped out of the car at the airport, her big baby blues startled me. They were much more exquisite in real life than in any picture. I had never before seen eyes like that.

As we began trying to load my luggage into the car, I looked down and noticed dainty feet in the cutest flats. How hip, I thought. I should’ve brought shoes like that. I also noticed her energy and her determination to help. She wasn’t the stander-by type. She was hands-on. I liked her already, because I’m the type who’s always a little lost, needing help.

I had come that weekend, with so much hesitation. I don’t handle large social crowds well, and I refused to be sick and have an anxiety attack while I was there. I knew I’d be okay with her by my side, because though we only knew one another through a screen, something in me trusted her. She had such unassuming grace.

Oh, how I tried to be strong, but all the grace in the world could not keep the inevitable powerful attack at bay. We walked into a bustling lunch room, bloggers and writers chatting, the noise blinding me, and I felt so disconnected, that I didn’t belong. A couple of friends tried to talk to me, but I didn’t want to be the center of attention. I went outside to cry and to call my husband.

When I came back in, she met me in the hallway and asked how she could help. Did I need my food brought outside to me? I wiped my eyes, gathered all of my courage and strength, and told her I’d walk back in with her so she could finish her lunch. Then we went back to the hotel so I could swallow down the calm my body so desperately needed and she and I just took a break.

I did not want her or anyone to have to care for me in that way, but my human brokenness left me with no choice. She saw me–fully human and fully broken, the pieces scattered everywhere.

And those pieces scattered over that weekend, were the fragments that bonded us forever, like a quilt made with love, from many left over scraps. The Master Sewer, He wove us together over those days and nights. We sat in her car until the wee hours of the morning sharing stories too sacred to mention here. We laughed hysterically over teenage adventures and how we sometimes still feel like we’re at that age of angst, and yet, we’re more fully ourselves. We cried. We listened intently. We were on holy ground. But to get to that place of holy? We had to be brave, oh, so brave. We had to let all pretenses go.

May I suggest something to you? Perhaps this is a concrete and poignant example of what it is to pull up a chair at the table with others, let the facades go, let our presumptions go of what we expect others to be, and try to see ourselves through their lens? Perhaps there really is another soul, right there next to us, hidden and disguised beneath pretty clothes and fashionable shoes, just begging to be loved, not with piety, but with true warmth, the kind that prays for you in the middle of the night, the kind that would leave a conference to take you to the hospital if need be, knowing this is the reason they were there that weekend–to meet another soul, broken, right where they are, to care for them, as Jesus would.

At the table, together.

And might I suggest something else? That we are not ordained by God to decide who gets to be at the table? Because it’s not just for believers, for those with a strong faith in God, the ones sure of themselves and their calling and purpose. It isn’t just for the ones mentally well, the ones who do social circles just right, and always know the right thing to say.

But perhaps instead, God has designed the table so that the atheist can pull up a chair beside us, that we can sup together, to share battle-worn life-stories, to really see one another– a beautiful, mysterious creation–yes, one very beautiful face of God.

And perhaps it is for the awkward ones, too– the ones who say all the wrong things at the table that leave people gasping and uncomfortable. Jesus made everyone gasp. They were uncomfortable in his presence. And so, I have become more comfortable with my awkward self, and I feel more at home around ones who say the wrong things. They have a place amongst us, too.

And perhaps the chair next to us is just as much for the homosexual who is confused, or determined in their lifestyle. Maybe just maybe– have we considered that God loves them no less than us, and in our separation we have shown a poor example of that? And maybe they are not as lost as we think– perhaps they are trying to find their way–floundering and very human like the rest of us. And perhaps, if we weren’t so uncomfortable around them, and pulled out a chair, said sit here, we would find they have some battle-worn stories too. And we would find another human being just begging to be loved, a soul crying for help. Isn’t that what Jesus was all about? Isn’t it why He came?

And just maybe, when we look around at our table, and see no one different from us outwardly, we should re-think that. Because yes, there are many different faces of God, and he has made some lovely skin to stretch taut over sisters and brothers all around us. When we plan our bible studies, and our place-settings, might I suggest we think of the black neighbor down the street, or the Asian sister who greets us with a smile everyday at our local fill-up station, maybe the Mexican sister or brother who attends our homeschool functions, but we notice they are always quiet?

Let’s not isolate ourselves from the ones who need our brave words, our bold love, our audacious grace– the most.

And let’s remember–they need it no more or no less, than we do. Let’s make this a table that is wide and large–let’s make room for everyone.

Don’t hide your love. Don’t hide your words. Forget about trying to please the masses with your words and your art. Forget about writing what you think is the politically correct or religiously correct term.

Write it real and write it true. That is what we want to hear. We are weary of sugar-coated religious platitudes.

Sister and brothers, listen up: Tell us YOUR story. Give us something real, brave, bold. God has designed you to make a mark. Let your light burn brightly, and light up the dark sky. Just let the words fall out, friend.

There is room at the table for broken, brave, beautiful you.

~by Nacole Simmons

Please watch the video– how beautiful –what encouragement–Y’all –I want to SEE YOU BE BRAVE!






Kelli Woodford considers curiosity a serious expedition and is rarely satisfied with anything remotely status quo. She collects friendships with people as different as they can be and feels all the richer for it, but never experiences “home” so much as when she is with her best friend–who also happens to be her husband. They make their abode in Love, but also in the Midwest with thier seven blue-eyed children. You can read more of her tantalizing words here at her blog, where she chronicles grace in everyday life, or find her hanging our here on Twitter  and Facebook . 





linking with friends, MichelleHolleyEmilyJennifer and Outside the City Gate

**This here is the wrap-up of a series on writing–the last week! Let’s all gather around the table in the comments and discussKelli and I will choose one *amazing* story on Tuesday morning, the 22nd, {the link-up is available until 8 am Tues} from the link-up below to feature on both of our blogs next week, on Wednesday, the 23rd!! And we’ll share on social media, too. So, what are the issues we face and deal with as writers? What has your own writing/blogging journey looked like? Please keep this theme in mind, and think of how you’d like to share your own story or journey of blogging/writing with us! If you’re featured, be prepared to provide a photo and a short author bio!

**{Requirements for link-up: Please no maligning/no mention in a negative manner of other blogs/authors/writers/brothers & sisters in Christ. Hurt does happen in community, and if we write about that, one option is to change the name/situation/dates, so that the people involved remain anonymous and are protected. “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9}

Other posts in this series below  

In Which I Invite Us All to the Table –Nacole Simmons

A Hand In Your Own — a guest post from Kelli Woodford


A Divided Loyalty and the Stinging Truth –a guest post from Michelle DeRusha   

Rooted In A Tangible Grace — Kelli Woodford   

On Prostitution: Cheap Grace and One Word: Enough –Nacole Simmons

In The End, Three Things Remain –a guest post from Holly Grantham

What I Want You to Know About Mental Illness, Social Media, and Community –Nacole Simmons

On Vulnerability and Boundaries –a guest post from Diana Trautwein 

Walking With Christ Online :: thoughts on faith, calling, and diversity –a guest post from Lisha Epperson


**Announcing the winner from the book giveaway last week! Beth Stiff, you’ve been hand-picked. Kelli chose a number between 1 and 3– and your # was chosen!! WOOT! Please leave a comment or message me with your address, friend!


Take Hold Of the Promise {An Abstraction on Bloom}, An Announcement and A Giveaway!!

**Trigger warning: This post talks about marriage and contains the words divorce and separation–if those are hard things for you to read about because of a fresh wound or experience, please consider that before you read. All my love and warm wishes your way….

I meet him at the door, his arms heavy with groceries and other leftovers from a long commute. He stares at me, puzzled by the look on my face. What is it? he asks.

Just–what a weary day, huh?

He exhales. Yes, a knowing in his eyes. We exchange a somber look of understanding.

I give him as much of a hug as I can with all the stuff in between us, and kids yelling with delight– Daddy! and I walk into the kitchen and begin unpacking everything. I smile to myself secretly —

He got all the things I like, the things that aren’t important to him, but are important to me–and he remembered. I feel so loved by this–this thoughtfulness.

I wasn’t always so easily pleased. There have been times early on in our marriage that I had to have things my way, because I was so afraid of being taken advantage of. The root of fear was so violent inside–God is slowly whittling that away. It took me several years to learn that love gives, and when love gives and is not afraid, there is this most odd dynamic that doesn’t make sense to us humans–we are fulfilled. And that kind of love only grows stronger. It has made my man love and protect and care for me even more–which is what I always wanted anyway.

Love always, always wins. Every time.

Four years ago I became very sick. Last year I was hospitalized for anorexia and other health issues. I was flailing, barely surviving. I was alive, but it felt like all of me was dead. When I got sick, I shut down. I disconnected emotionally from everyone in my life–even my sweet family. My mama said it was my body trying to preserve itself. Every day was a hard battle just to live. I’d lost the will.

There were times my husband had to take pills from my hands. We’ve been through a lot together in almost fourteen years– from a job that separated us early in the first year of marriage, through grieving over the loss of two babies, to dealing with addiction and illness together, even enduring the spiritual wilderness together and surviving marital separation.

Sometimes I feel like we’ve seen and done it all as a couple. But I know that life, and God, has so much more in store for us still. The days will be long, and the years will be short.

It has been a long journey, and there is still some mountain left to climb, but today I feel blessed.

I know what it feels like to want to live. I know what it feels like to fight tooth and nail to rise early in the morning to care for my children. I know what if feels like to carry around a heavy burden of fear that it will all end in divorce, only for God to speak a promise to me–

Every good thing I begin, I bring to completion.

And I have stood back and watched Him heal and make my marriage stronger than it’s ever been. I had begun to doubt that I loved this man, thinking God had somehow made a mistake with my life. And then a miracle happened.

He opened my heart wide to compassion and forgiveness and grace, and I know something for sure, as sure as I know my heart beats and there is breath in my lungs–

I absolutely love this man more than the day I married him.

I am on my way. I’m carrying on. I have a vision He gave. I’m being healed little by little every day. Even though in the last weeks I have not felt Him, have not heard Him speaking, He reminds me about the dreams– He’s been speaking to me through dreams–and it just took some time to see it.

He is always here. Emmanuel. What a loving Father He is, to get my attention in so many different ways. And being the proud Father He is, who wants the best for me, when I call on Him in absolute desperation, He is not angry or condemning that I didn’t come til now. Like the Good Father that he is, he is always happy to see me. This is a choice that I make, but He initiates, He prods. How lost I would be without that if it was all up to me.

And every day is a choice to keep moving in the right direction, to be awake to Him, to have my eyes open, to see Him in my life all around me–in the breath I breathe, in the pulsing heartbeat of child’s purple veins in her neck as she sleeps, in the wind, and sun, and rainy dark afternoon–

in bedtime kisses and stories, in make-shift gifts a four-year-old wraps up in a UPS box and presents to Daddy, in flowers brought in to me by chubby hands and placed on the sill in the light, in folded warm towels on top of the drier, in worship music soothing my soul as I clean, and rock and roll our beat as we roll down the highway toward the gym.

It’s a new day. I proclaim it. Sisters, listen up: Take hold of that promise.

Bloom.

——————————————————————————————————-

Lying there in the dark, he is asleep but something makes me come to a full stop. I’m so amazed at the marvelous miracle of love, that I reach up and gently trace the outline of wrinkles around his eyes, drop gentle kisses all over. I stare at him, and I am shocked at the overwhelming love that I feel for this flawed human being lying next to me. I love him, I love him, I LOVE him!

The tidal wave of realization and emotion washes over me. Memories, all the hard ones and all the good ones– 15 years– they all crash into one moment of mysterious miracle that only God could have performed.

And, I think, lying there– this must be what it feels like, not selfish love– the kind that drives us to look for someone to do life with and to make our own, no– selfless love– the kind that withstands all and keeps going and finds something deeper, surer.

I think–this must be what it’s like to bloom wide open into all I was designed to be.

linking with friends, MichelleLaura, Jennifer, Emily, and Heather

***Will you do this with me, friends? Let’s explore the practice of Awakening to God–this still ties into listening! This week, before you write, take a walk, in the woods, at the lake or park, down your neighborhood road, ride a bike, play tag, listen for the wind, watch the trees, the sky, pay attention to the small, seemingly unnecessary details of your day. It is here you will find wholeness, here you will find strength, beauty, brokenness, goodness, joy, pain… Here you will find God. THEN write about it–Let’s not choose to only see Him on Sunday mornings-let’s not confine Him to a sermon or a prayer or a devotional, but let’s see Him in everything. Our prompt is Bloom (next week’s is below), but our focus is on the practice of listening, awakening to God, and then writing. Excited? We’ll connect on twitter and facebook with the hashtag, #listeningtoyourlife and of course as always, #concretewords. Do me a favor and use these on social media and share with friends–invite them?

What this link-up is about: We “write out spirit” by practicing writing about the invisible using concrete words. In case you are going “what in the world is a concrete word?!“–this just means (using the prompt to inspire) write out what’s around us–concrete words make the senses come alive, gives place. In every story, there is always an above and beneath, a beside, something tucked away, aromas in the air, something calling in the trees or from the street, notes in our pocket, rocks in our shoes, sand between our toes. Go here to see Amber’s take on this. It was very helpful to me–I think it will be beneficial for you, too.


A few simple guidelines:       1. Be sure you link up the URL to your Concrete Words
                                             post and not just your blog home page URL.
                                         2. Put a link to this post on your blog so that others
                                             can find their way back here.
                                         3. Try to visit one or two others and encourage their efforts
                                         4. Please write along with us, using concrete words–
                                             and the prompt–Please no entries with how-to’s, advertising,
                                             or sponsored posts
                                         5. We connect on twitter with the hashtag #concretewords–
                                               please share so others can join!

Today’s prompt is Bloom. GO!


{**This link-up will run until next Thursday, the 17th at 11:59 pm, giving you plenty of time to write and link up. Sometime between now and then, I will read your stories and try to highlight one of them on social media! Next week, the prompt will be Path.} 

**An Announcement about the Writing Series: Kelli Woodford and I invited you here today for the wrap-up of the series and a link-up, but she had to go out of town this week for Faith & Writer’s Festival–lucky girl! So, we ask you to forgive us for postponing, and in the place of the link-up, we’re doing a giveaway! AND you are invited back here next week, on Wednesday, the 16th, when Kelli Woodford and I will be wrapping up the series with a collaborated post, and a link-up for all of you to share your writing journey! Be thinking of what you’d like to write and get your stories ready! We’ll highlight our favorite and feature it on our blogs!!


GIVEAWAY TIME!! WOOT! To win this book, just leave a comment and share this post on facebook or twitter! That’s all!! A winner will be chosen randomly.

What would cause an eighteen-year-old senior class president and homecoming queen from Nashville, Tennessee, to disobey and disappoint her parents by forgoing college, break her little brother’s heart, lose all but a handful of her friends (because they think she has gone off the deep end), and break up with the love of her life, all so she could move to Uganda, where she knew only one person and didn’t even speak the language? 


A passion to follow Jesus. 

Katie Davis left over Christmas break of her senior year for a short mission trip to Uganda and her life was turned completely inside out. She found herself so moved by the people of Uganda and the needs she saw that she knew her calling was to return and care for them. Katie, a charismatic and articulate young woman, is in the process of adopting thirteen children in Uganda and has established a ministry, Amazima, that feeds and sends hundreds more to school while teaching them the Word of Jesus Christ.

Kisses from Katie invites readers on a journey of radical love down the red dirt roads of Uganda. You’ll laugh and cry with Katie as she follows Jesus into the impossible and finds joy and beauty beneath the dust. Katie and her children delight in saying yes to the people God places in front of them and challenge readers to do the same, changing the world one person at a time.

Walking with Christ Online :: thoughts on faith, calling and diversity

{The Conundrums of Writing and Blogging: A Series}



I am so very pleased to introduce to you my new friend, and who I can tell will be a forever-friend, Lisha Epperson. We’ve already gotten the hard stuff out of the way—this is a woman whom I already admire for her courage, her heart, and how she shows that she is so very human. She is audacious in her words here, and they challenge and inspire me. 

Mine and Lisha’s heart beat for the same thing: real change. We ache for it. Please listen to her story with a wide-open heart, and show her some love in the comments. I have gotten to know Lisha and I know where she is coming from here—from love, the kind that Jesus poured out and you couldn’t help but be changed. That is what is present here today. I pray we are all challenged and changed by her words.


                          
                                                                photo credit–Flickr CC gollygforce 


I call myself an accidental writer.

Suffocating in my minivan one summer, the summer my youngest turned 1, midlife motherhood wrecked and wrung me….left me stranded in the loneliest season of my life. God whispered the idea. “Write” he said, an unexpected answer to my desperate question. As I watched my mommy friends dash off for coffee again, without me, I wondered.. “How can I make this time useful? What can I do?”
I’d drop off the tweens and find my self stuck – in sandmans’ land with the littlest Lovelies. Fiddling around on Facebook led to twinklings on Twitter and the next thing you know…I had a blog.
A year in, and I’m still in love, still excited by the shaping of words like so many dancers in the beautiful synchronicity of choreography. But for a while fear was part of the journey…and expectation and comparison, and doubt. The initial rush and sweaty palms developed into a rapidly beating heart. I got scared.
That first post was thrilling in that jumping tandem way. I took the leap with God and felt confident of his presence. Sending my words out in cyberspace was a blast. But I lacked focus . I walked the unfamiliar halls of the blogging world glancing back at every sound. To break through the web of cries and catcalls for attention I had to hear His heartbeat. Respond only…to echoes of His voice.
So I developed a mantra…
1,2,3 Jesus. I count and let his name escape my lips. My rhythmical ritual, my soft silent prayer before posting. Every word is important and every offering good in a God way. I’m at a point in this relationship where what I thought was a fling feels like forever. It’s bigger and more important and I pray for the confidence commitment brings.
I’m still trying to find my voice. And beyond encouragement, struggle to write anything tangibly resourceful. I don’t know if I have a niche and wonder how one monetizes a ministry of words. Is it possible I’ve stumbled into my calling? In literally oceans of talent have I found my wave?
And then there’s this…I wonder if it’s too late and if there’s room.  Christians haven’t escaped the polarized packaged perfection of the typical Western experience. By and large, it’s the same old, same old. With few exceptions it’s segregated…by age and race. The subtle maybe even subliminal message for women my age and ethnicity is “prepare for landing” or “this” is not for you. The words may never be spoken…but they’re implied. When I walk into a room of 500 and see only a handful of people of color…I feel it. It’s what I think when I see a conference line up features only one face of color or platforms only thirty somethings.
As for race, Dr. King highlighted the sad fact of our separation as Christians. And too much of its broken truth is part of our online world today. Our continued division perpetuates the worlds narrative about people of color and the value of older women. We have to intentionally do better. Everything about our walk with Christ has to be intentional…especially if our goal is unification of the body.
And who’s doing the planning anyway? And is there really only room for one? One woman of color? One fabulously silver saint? It’s hard to say this because I know there’s grace for growth on all sides but it’s something we have to address. These words, from Holly Gerth and Brene Brown, inspired me to to push the envelope a little bit further today. Maybe cause a conversation. Incite a beautiful revolution. Take a stab at true diversity.


Fear will always tell you to keep quiet.
But love will always ask you to speak up.
And we need your story.
– Holly Gerth
Is there anything braver than asking for what we need and owning our story? I don’t think so.  – Brene Brown
And so I pose the question. I prayerfully voice my concerns as a new blogger. I’m taking in the landscape and I’m looking for level ground. Ground we’ve worn down with love…together. And I want to see me…standing…with you. Because this experience has birthed new sisters and I’m grateful for open doors and opportunities. I love ya’ll.
Still….Every woman of color might not express it but I know she’s thinking it. And every woman over 45 wonders if she’ll be the oldest woman in the conference hall. Our eyes meet between sessions and we laugh nervously about which of us is the oldest. Or we share a knowing glance or nod of solidarity. Your story, my story is part of the universal canvas. We can’t do this walk…in love….in the name of Christ…without each other.

sixinthestixlove
I want to attend Christian conferences for women. We may be in different seasons but we all benefit when we stretch and shift our minds to accommodate the perspective of another. Lets not perpetuate the problem by pushing ourselves into corners with our “own” clubs.
Here’s the deal.. honestly, it hurts to attend events where the only other faces of color are onscreen….when slides from a missions trip are run. I want to attend a Christian conference. If I’m “the only” , and others are “the only” where they are, then we need to all ask ourselves this question: is this true community? And without true community, I can’t receive the breadth of Christ’s provision…which is offered for all.
I’m a Titus 2 woman circling the sun in brown skin. I’m living the concrete beauty of a human experience. My life is full. Things you have to live to know? I know. But for me age is only a number and I understand the universality of many experiences. Is there a limit or line to cross to know the split wide Red Sea drama of motherhood, or the soul crush of NO in answer to your greatest wish. Or to know waiting.
No. Does He have a word for everyone but people of color? Middle-aged mamas/women?Did He not pour out his love, creativity, compassion, grace, peace, wisdom on all?
God is on the move. We’re living in an amazing era with an unprecedented capacity to reach people for Christ. We can’t limit him by caging his plans with barriers based on our minuscule vision of what He Can Do. A myopic gathering will not serve the nations and I can’t sit back and let this wave of goodness wash over without engaging in the beauty of its baptism. I should be in the water. I can show you what it looks like to believe because faith taught me to swim.
So we write anyway, don’t we? Because He says so and pray this experience of platforms and tweets is indeed a sacred offering. A place to wash the feet of others as he strips us bare. Every blogger I’ve connected with shares a story of the breakdown before birth. The breakthrough happens after an avalanche of truth. We won’t make it without authenticity. Because this is holy hard work and we don’t want to just be the next one. We have to be called of The One.
I told a friend whats happening to me online is a mirroring of what God is doing in my life spiritually. Its a holy integration of life and faith, head and heart. This journey takes place in real time. It’s holy and holistic.
Above all else we have to be found in his presence…before the throne and digging in hard. Planting feet, soul, heart…deep. Listening. Wholly immersed and grounded in His magnificent all inclusive plan. This is the forever I’ve been searching for. It’s eternal. An offering of words for such a time as this… I’ll keep writing. Will you?
p.s. Deidra Riggs did a fabulous job of highlighting conferences that are making an effort to do the hard work of diversity.  You can read that here.






View More: http://kimdeloachphoto.pass.us/allumeheadshots

Lisha Epperson writes the stories of her life on the couch, in the car or at the kitchen table. Scratching out bits and pieces of grace while homeschooling 4 of the 5 children she affectionately calls the Lovelies. ….. you’ll usually find her with a  cold cup of coffee nearby, dreaming about the beautiful choreography of words. It isn’t easy to carve out a modern Christian lifestyle in NYC but that’s what she’s doing. Lisha is passionate about marriage, motherhood, nutrition and her Christian faith. She makes room for her journey through infertility and adoption and shares a warrior song about this experience as an encouragement to women at www.lishaepperson.com  God has opened doors for her to participate in loving dialogue on race in the Christian community. She hopes you’ll join her in those discussions. In other travels, Lisha                                                                 was a ballet dancer and clothing designer.

linking with friends, MichelleHolleyEmilyJennifer and Outside the City Gate
{**Have you seen Kelli Woodford’s series: Brave Words? 
                 It’sback again! And I wrote there yesterday, in case you missed it! This whole series is delicious. Please stop over there today and give her some loveClick here.}

**This here is a series on writing–Let’s all gather around the table in the comments and discuss! Next week, on Thursday, the 10th, to wrap up the series, Kelli Woodford and I are writing a collaborated post, and hosting a link-up here for you to share your own stories of your writing and blogging journey. Kelli and I will choose one *amazing* story from the link-up to feature on both of our blogs! So, what are the issues we face and deal with as writers? Please keep this theme in mind, and think of how you’d like to share your own story or journey of blogging/writing with us!

**{Requirements for link-up: Please no maligning/no mention in a negative manner of other blogs/authors/writers/brothers & sisters in Christ. Hurt does happen in community, and if we write about that, one option is to change the name/situation/dates, so that the people involved remain anonymous and are protected. “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9}

Other posts in this series below 

In Which I Invite Us All to the Table –Nacole Simmons

A Hand In Your Own — a guest post from Kelli Woodford


A Divided Loyalty and the Stinging Truth –a guest post from Michelle DeRusha   

Rooted In A Tangible Grace — Kelli Woodford   

On Prostitution: Cheap Grace and One Word: Enough –Nacole Simmons

In The End, Three Things Remain –a guest post from Holly Grantham

What I Want You to Know About Mental Illness, Social Media, and Community –Nacole Simmons

On Vulnerability and Boundaries –a guest post from Diana Trautwein

A Gentle Life, A Legacy of Love {An Abstraction on Bend}

I open wire gate, walk through tiny garden and white azaleas toward the kitchen. Her soft, croaky voice, with it’s high notes, weathered with time, wafts out the screen door as she instructs the children that have already flown inside to her, ahead of me.

This is not the home of my childhood that I remember, but she cooks for us here and makes her days here, and so it will do.

Dumplings and chicken piled high in the pot, the steam rising, she’s slightly bent over the counter in the tightly spaced kitchen, beautiful white hair slightly coiffed from church that morning, rolling dough out in flour, the dough that my grandfather said she rolled way too thin. Less meat, more dumplins, he tells her. This would become the center of discussion and debate at the table.

“Ah! You are making chicken and dumplings!” She nods–I see the twinkle of pride in her eyes. She knows it’s my favorite and I had asked for it weeks ago when I was sick but she couldn’t come because she was too.

I set about the hard task of putting myself right into the work, a hard thing to do when you are used to your Granny always waiting on you, for all those years, and she never asked, really always discouraged help.

But I can’t bear sitting while she bends and breaks, so I plant myself right in her way and throw the soft unbaked bread on white powder and roll it out with 50 year old wood, careful of the sink water two inches away from floured paper.

The old wood, full of family history–it feels perfect in my hands and I watch the way the thick stuff flattens and smooths. We work side-by-side, Sunday afternoon sun streaming in through screen door, hitting our backs, and she willingly waits for the dough, throws it into boiling broth while I do the bending and smoothing.

She and I strain pears, that good juice running down the drain making no sense to me, and I call the girls in for them to pile the grainy sweetness on plate with mayo and cheese. The pears, they shine in the Sabbath sun. We do the most important and holiest of work and teach them a poor man’s {or hurried woman’s} Southern dessert.

I go to the hall closet in search of some stain remover for baby’s dress, and I see a woman’s tireless work, how she chooses to walk out her days, always working, serving, never giving up and there they are, staring out at me–clean, plush towels lined up neatly row after row, her bottles of cleaning supplies tucked in here and there. She has touched deep places of influence in me she will never know anything of.

In the kitchen, we cluck and cackle over sweet tea–has the sugar been added?–where the children will eat, girls, set the table, ice for glasses, and I take Granddaddy’s tea to his chair. The kids will have the little table in the kitchen.

Granny steps to the living room, and addresses Granddaddy: “What do you want now?!” We laugh at their old-couple squabble and we all gather around with trays and talk important matters, including whether the dumplings should have been thicker, and our stomachs are nourished with flavors of the South, that soul food warm all the way down.

Granny gets enough of Granddaddy’s complaining and in her feisty way, tells him she was aimin’ for healthier.

After the plates are cleaned, Husband needs a t-shirt for football with the church men, and Granddaddy says look in the second drawer. Underneath several bottles of cologne for a man who enjoys smelling good, I open drawer and pick up soft, worn t-shirts one by one, reminded of when I was a little girl, needing a t-shirt for staying over-night. They all say XL, and I know that will not fit my man.

I search and in the back, in shadows, a card with cute purses on the front sticks out between folds–I know immediately it was the card I gave him years ago. My heart hammers a little harder as I hold it up, open it, and I am so touched that he has kept it safely tucked away in his drawerthe place all men keep things close to their hearts.

The greatness of these two people stands above me, looming, but I try to tell them in scrawled words–loops and crosses a little unsure and timid but knowing what is in the heart to say–how I sit and think sometimes of the beauty of how they live out the gospel in their livesthat they may never have been missionaries, or involved in some limelight ministry, but their family–through addiction, disagreements and irreparable fall-outs– has been their mission field, quietly and consistently, unconditionally. 

They never stop giving even after they’ve given all–they have fleshed out Matt 5:38-42. They have brought glory to God, our very realest purpose, and I tell them this is the greatest compliment you could ever be paid– because I wonder–

Do they know? Do they know what they’ve done? They’ve left a legacy of God-honoring, a life gently-lived with love. They’ve given til it hurts.   

“You have heard it said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” –Matthew 5:38-42

Husband finds me standing at the drawer, asks if I found anything. He sees the tears brimming, wants to know what this is about. I show him the card and he says, “Who is this from?” He watches my eyes, looks into me. Nothing gets his attention like the wet pouring down his wife’s cheeks.

A little shyly–“Me.” I pick up a bottle of cologne and inhale, and try to remember.

He reads the first few lines and skims it over, smiling. He reads the date, “2007…” his voice a little unsteady. I wonder if he is remembering the year that we had Isabella, when we were still at our old church with our beloved Pastor and his wife, when we were married to a church body, before spiritual devastation happened, when life was very, very good and God’s graces flowed abundantly. Like babes, we ignorantly lapped it up, not fully knowing what we had.

I reach up into the closet shelf where a soft, worn t-shirt, something close to cadet blue, peeks out and I look at the tag, oh, a Large, this will have to do.

I walk into the living room, right up to the man and hand him the card, tell him it made me cry to find it there, to read it, bend down and take his face in my hands and tell him he is a wonderful Granddaddy, my body bent over and my heart bent over in all this weeping reality, all this gospel light, all this love.

Instead of looking at me and acknowledging, he makes some remark about how not everybody thinks he’s so great. But I know it’s hit it’s mark–right there in the softness of his heart the arrow pierced–I can see that little bit of twinkle in his eye, the smile dancing slightly just there in the corner, that he won’t let have center-stage.

He avoids my eyes, but I know he hears me. These are the only words he ever wanted to hear in the whole of his life.

I lay down in the dark coolness of their room with baby girl next to me, and she fidgets some, but like me, her body soon gives way to Granny’s high thread-count sheets, shadow’s cool of blankets piled high atop us.

I lie there thinking as I drift off, how many graces God has given, how He has bent low and heard me, listened to my heart’s cry, that mighty God himself would bend over, heart exploding for me– this is extravagant grace that I can hardly imagine or fully allow.

But in spite of me, His arrow has hit it’s mark and I gush over and out and I can do nothing but fling arms open wide to all this love.

                                                                          *an edited re-post

linking with friends, MichelleLaura, and Heather

***Will you do this with me, friends? Let’s explore the practice of Awakening to God–this still ties into listening! This week, before you write, take a walk, in the woods, at the lake or park, down your neighborhood road, ride a bike, play tag, listen for the wind, watch the trees, the sky, pay attention to the small, seemingly unnecessary details of your day. It is here you will find wholeness, here you will find strength, beauty, brokenness, goodness, joy, pain… Here you will find God. THEN write about it–Let’s not choose to only see Him on Sunday mornings-let’s not confine Him to a sermon or a prayer or a devotional, but let’s see Him in everything. Our prompt is Bend (next week’s is below), but our focus is on the practice of listening, awakening to God, and then writing. Excited? We’ll connect on twitter and facebook with the hashtag, #listeningtoyourlife and of course as always, #concretewords. Do me a favor and use these on social media and share with friends–invite them?

What this link-up is about: We “write out spirit” by practicing writing about the invisible using concrete words. In case you are going “what in the world is a concrete word?!“–this just means (using the prompt to inspire) write out what’s around us–concrete words make the senses come alive, gives place. In every story, there is always an above and beneath, a beside, something tucked away, aromas in the air, something calling in the trees or from the street, notes in our pocket, rocks in our shoes, sand between our toes. Go here to see Amber’s take on this. It was very helpful to me–I think it will be beneficial for you, too.


A few simple guidelines:       1. Be sure you link up the URL to your Concrete Words
                                             post and not just your blog home page URL.
                                         2. Put a link to this post on your blog so that others
                                             can find their way back here.
                                         3. Try to visit one or two others and encourage their efforts
                                         4. Please write along with us, using concrete words–
                                             and the prompt–Please no entries with how-to’s, advertising,
                                             or sponsored posts
                                         5. We connect on twitter with the hashtag #concretewords–
                                               please share so others can join!

Today’s prompt is Bend. GO!


{**This link-up will run until next Sunday, the 6th at 11:59 pm, giving you plenty of time to write and link up before the next concrete words is posted the following day. Sometime between now and then, I will read your stories and try to highlight one of them on social media! On the 7th, the prompt will be Bloom.} 

**An Announcement about the Writing Series: You are invited to come back here for the continuing writing series, in which I’ll have an amazing guest-writer here this coming Wednesday! Next week, on Thursday, the 10th, Kelli Woodford and I will be wrapping up the series with a collaborated post, and a link-up for all of you to share your writing journey! Be thinking of what you’d like to write and get your stories ready! We’ll highlight our favorite and feature it on our blogs!!
*

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