Category Archives: community

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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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.

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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.






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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

In the End, Three Things Remain

{The Conundrums of Christian Writing and Blogging: A Series}


                                                                             photo credit 
                                                                    


This quote appeared on my Pinterest feed a couple of weeks ago and, like a chill breeze that steals in under the warped door frame, it has descended down deep into my marrow. For you see, I have been awash in brackish thoughts of late.

With a few exceptions, I have taken a step back from my online presence the last six months. Five months ago, I gave birth to my third son. Three months ago, my mother began another round of chemotherapy. My withdrawal from the non-stop traffic of the internet was both a conscious and inevitable choice. I do not regret my decision but I would be lying through my teeth if I didn’t admit that, ever since, I have been at battle with doubt and envy.

My biggest frustration with the world of writing and platform building and influence is that what it requires seems so far removed from a life that bears the fruit worth reading about—a life of depth and stillness and meaning.

Writing, for me, has always felt like an intimate dinner party, hemmed in by golden light and the clink of dishes, measured in the crumbs stolen away on fingertips and the slow warmth from poured wine. There are the moments of sure knowing just as there are the heavy silences that come from the unknowing. But always, there is the table– worn and steady, wide and open.

But my attempts to translate that way of being to the online world feel antiquated and stilted, at best.

It feels like sidling up to a busy counter with a bustling lunch crowd. Bread is broken and laughter distilled, yes, but the din of conversation is confusing to this ambivert who simultaneously wants to try new dishes and run out the door, hands pressed over her ears.

I want to join in, truly I do, but sometimes it seems that in order to he heard anymore you just have to keep talking. And if you aren’t talking, others start walking.

That reality is the crack through which doubt and envy seep in, staining fabric already worn a bit thin. It’s also the tender spot struck silent by the quote above.

The last few months I have watched those whose words I love and champion take wing and fly and it has been glorious for the grand knowing of the gift that is to the world. But it has also been gut-wrenching. For as genuinely as I have exalted in their successes, I have also stood silent in the space that has opened up between us, tasting the char left in their wake. It has been difficult not to feel left behind.

To admit this feels anathema to all that I believe is good about the world of writing and blogging. I have become connected to an online community of writers (hereand hereand here, just to name a few) that, most assuredly, is a profound gift in my life. I have been encouraged and uplifted, loved and cherished, prayed for and buoyed by dozens of folks I’ve never met in real life. My identity as a writer, woman, spiritual being and friend, has been shaped immeasurably by my connections online. This is as true as the day is long.

So feeling jealous of others’ success–others who have lavished me with love and support, again and again–is a tell tale sign that something significant is amiss. I’ve lost my center, it seems, if it has become more about me and less about revelation and glory.

Since reading that quote from Buddha I’ve been meditating on the implications of what it would mean to fully embrace its truth. And I’ve been asking myself some hard questions.

What if I decided, right here and right now, to let go of the desires for applause and acclaim?

What if I decided, instead, to release my words to the world in an effort to sow love in greater measure? What if I chose to string together word upon word as a discipline in gentleness? And what if—what if—I honed my craft for the sheer love of art and I let that, and that alone, reveal the path meant for me?

I’m not sure how the answers to those questions will fair in a parley with the platform and influence jockeys. They might not even get an audience.

But I’m trying to be one that doesn’t care about all of that. For, in the end, there’s no greater platform than love, gentleness and grace.



Selah.






A classical piece {only the first piece in the video–the rest, you can listen to, if you enjoy doing so}, hand-picked by Holly, something she relates to–she says this is where her writer muse lives, in between the sad notes. What a beautiful soul she is. 







Holly is a wife, very relaxed homeschooling mom of three boys, snapper of photos, coming of age writer and a soul drowning in grace. After years in Atlanta where she attended college, married the love of her life and lived in an intentional community, she found her way back to her home state of Missouri. She now lives in an antebellum stone house, raises chickens (sometimes) and pretends that she lives in the country. You can find more of her astoundingly gorgeous words here on her blog, A Lifetime of Days,  or you can find her twittering here, and                                            facebooking here




**This is a series on writing–Let’s all gather around the table in the comments and discuss! And I hope you’ll be back next week, for more delving into this. At the end of the series, Kelli Woodford and I are 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 sometime around the end of March. (nailed-down dates to come). 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}
Here are the other posts in this series:

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


Rooted in a Tangible Grace {The Conundrums of Christian Writing and Blogging:: A Series}




It’s ten o’clock in the morning and I’m still in my pajamas. (That is one part confession and two parts bragging.) There’s clean laundry on the dresser. It has been sitting there all week. I am getting used to it. I think I might actually come to like it there. Kind of a relaxed decorating scheme. The same pervasive ornamentation dons the kitchen. Except in there, it speaks to me in the language of crumbs rather than cloth. Unswept bits of last night’s bread and stew, cheerios as far as the eye can see, and an apple core in the corner – just shy of the garbage can.
I plead with you: are these not somehow beautiful … ? Ah, to cultivate the eye of the beholder.
Because “laziness” is not always what it seems. My children are sick. We have been sitting on the plump blue couch keeping each other warm in more ways than one. Fevered bodies make for workable furnaces and fuzzy blankets with satin trim bring us comfort of the lasting kind. One boy has animals on his pajamas. He is angular under the thin fabric and it hangs loose around his shoulders and chicken legs. He loves dinosaurs more than life itself, I think. He also has the longest eyelashes the world has ever seen. The Boy Who Is Made of Skin, Bones, and Eyelashes. Yep.
The other boy is his antithesis. A soft, round belly protrudes gently between the spaceship on his pajama shirt and the top of his diaper. His fingers are still dimpled and his hair crumples in every direction when he gets up in the morning from the crazy nocturnal circus this kid performs in his crib. Oh, and appearance isn’t the only way in which he resembles a teddy bear. His warm forehead pressed against my shoulder is a sensation I could get used to, but pray I never will. Because I don’t want to take these daily graces for granted. He is the one who spontaneously kisses me. Like all the time. The one with sticky lips who likes his face so close I can taste his tears. It’s not just his fever that warms me, as I said.
************
Y’know, writing is not always about the big issues. Oh, I have written about them. (Some of themanyway.) And I believe there’s a place for that. But I also believe in writing as a lens. A tool. A way to practice living intentionally. Or better yet: A way to come home to our own ambivalent selves and the messy lives that ache with fever and rattle with clutter, and there see intentionally what is the holy, hidden heart of it all.
The words I tapped out above are not clever or pointed. They do not argue for a higher perspective or a deeper love. They neither deconstruct debates nor purport them. They have no side to offer, no club to join, no cause to uphold. They simply rejoice in what is. I once read that journalism is that which is devoured quickly and then disposed of, while literature is that which one returns to over and again, being filled anew each time. And without putting on airs, may I say that I know which description I’d like my words to resemble? I will read above words like these again not because I must glean information from them, but because I feel the existential truth in them. It is good for my soul to remember the way these days bump and sway and lay themselves out under my feet, so I can walk one step at a time. This is how I remember my size. And my need. I come to terms with – no, I make friends with – the limitations of my experience.
I will return to words like these because they remind me that I have not only been loved, but I have loved. And by reading of this mild interchange, I still smell the soggy Cheerios on spaceship pajamas and I taste the salt from his tears on my lips. Through these physical descriptions, I am rooted in a tangible grace that holds place for me on the darkest days. Days when I forget that love is more satisfying than being right. Days when present emptiness threatens to steal what once was. Grasping days. For the darkness obscures what I knew so securely in the light and sometimes I find hope emerge brightest by looking behind — at the having-been-ness of these moments. Which can never be taken away.
I have loved, therefore I have lived. Full stop.
I will also return to them because they remind me that life is indeed a holy experience. Even in the ordinary. Even in the necessary. Even in the ugly. Tears stand unshed, hemmed in by eyelash sentinels. Jaws set and arms sometimes cross. I’ve desecrated these most human of all places by their exile, instead of hallowing them by a full-frontal embrace. There is a tendency to divorce writing well from living well and I’m as prone to it as anyone. But present tense words written simply in the tone of observation bring me back. Their power, at least in part, is that they must be written one. at. a. time. They quietly usher in wholeness. They remind me that good writing doesn’t fragment us from our earthenware lives in these bodies, as if holiness is made of only starshine, but rather propels us back into the humdrum – to roll up our sleeves and catch snowflakes on our tongues and tickle baby toes – and to do it with open eyes.

To illuminate our blindness and wake the sleeping beholder in us all.

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 their 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 out here on Twitter and Facebook.  

This is a series on writing–here are the other posts in this series:

In Which I Invite Us All to the Table

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

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

A Divided Loyalty and the Stinging Truth

{The Conundrums of Christian Writing and Blogging: A Series}



                                                                                                                            photo credit

Two weeks ago I watched as the endorsements deadline for my first book came and went. I watched the deadline pass, knowing seven authors hadn’t responded.


Endorsements are the pithy accolades that appear in the opening pages and on the front and back covers of a book. Two months ago I learned from my publisher that it’s the author’s responsibility to ask other writers if they might be willing to take a look at the book and write an endorsement. The emails I dutifully typed to more than a dozen authors were among the most awkward I have ever written, because when it comes right down to it, asking for an endorsement for your book is asking for praise, and asking for praise places you in a position of vulnerability and weakness. Not my favorite place.

I waited. And I cried tears of relief and joy as I read some of the early endorsements that came in. I felt a little like Sally Field at the Oscars. People like my book, they like it, they really like it!

Until, that is, the endorsements stopped coming, and the deadline passed.

They’re busy, I told myself. They have their own deadlines, their own jobs, their own families to feed and socks to match and dry cleaning to retrieve. It’s not all about you.

Rationally, intellectually, I knew this was true. But emotionally I tumbled fast, head over heels down the slippery slope in a blur of self-pity and sorrow.


                                                                                                                photo credit 

I had always assumed that once I passed a “certain point” – landed an agent or sold a book or achieved a certain number of readers or blog subscribers – I would miraculously be able to let it all go. I assumed the insecurities would diminish, comparisons would fade away, envy would subside. I assumed I would reach a point of satisfaction, of enough.


But that hasn’t been the case for me. Because there is always the next thing.

The week the deadline passed and the endorsements didn’t come, I read the Book of James from start to finish every morning for seven days straight. The following week, when the endorsements still didn’t come, I read the Book of James from start to finish every morning for seven days straight.

“Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? …Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.”(James 4:4, 4:8)

I needed to read these words again and again, to hammer them into my mind and heart. I needed to awaken every morning and read these same words because I knew I was losing the battle, succumbing to temptation, letting my desire for worldly achievement win. And I knew I couldn’t save myself.

Friends, hear this: nothing will cease the cycle of not enough — not your next achievement or your next success; not the fanciest accolade or the highest praise. Nothing will haul you out of the pit of self-pity, not even the one-pound bar of dark chocolate your husband brings home from Trader Joe’s.

Nothing, that is, but God.

The Bible isn’t a quick fix for me. That’s why I have to read it every day. That’s why I have to read the same verses for fourteen days straight. My Bible is not a balm, but a hammer — pounding , repeating, forcing the hard, beautiful truth deep into my mind and heart one verse, one word, one syllable at a time.

I received one more eleventh-hour endorsement for the book on the morning it was scheduled to go to press. The remaining endorsements never came. And I won’t tell you it didn’t hurt; I won’t tell you it wasn’t a crushing blow. But I will tell you this: I came closer to God in those weeks of waiting. His truth was hard; it stung. But as I came closer to God, he pulled me closer to him. And then he shored me up and gently pushed me back out again, armed with new courage and fresh strength.      






A Massachusetts native, Michelle DeRusha moved to Nebraska in 2001, where she discovered the Great Plains, grasshoppers the size of Cornish hens … and God. Michelle writes about finding and keeping faith in the everyday at michellederusha.com, as well as for the Lincoln Journal Star, Prodigal Magazine and The High Calling. She’s mom to two bug-loving boys, Noah and Rowan, and is married to Brad, an English professor who reads Moby Dick for fun. Her first book, Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith, will be published in April 2014. She hangs out here on facebook and twitter.



Hey–isn’t Michelle awesome? I *so* love her honesty, y’all. Do you struggle with this as a writer? Or just in life in general? Let’s discuss this in the comments! 

**This is a series–I hope you’ll be back next week, for more delving into this. At the end of the series, Kelli Woodford and I are hosting a link-up here for you to share your own stories of what makes Christian writing and blogging hard for you. Kelli and I will choose one *amazing* story from the link-up to feature on both of our blogs sometime around the end of February (nailed-down dates to come). 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}












       

A Hand in Your Own {The Conundrums of Christian Writing and Blogging: A Series}


                                                                                                 photo credit


“Some good words from my pastors this morning,” I smirk as I enter the room where my husband is sleeping. The word “pastors” is slurred into paaaastuers and I’m facetious at best. Not exactly sarcastic, but then, what do I know of the response he’ll muster? This one who I’ve watched wear the title and then discard it (and all its clinging tendrils) when it ceased to fit properly.

He opens one sleepy eye.

But the silence sits on me hard. And I pause. “No. There’s something wrong about that,” I shake my head and squint at the flecked gold knob on the closet door, bending down to untie the knots in my running shoes. He knows I’m not referring to preaching ministers at a church when I say “pastors,” he knows I mean the men and women whose writing I read online and the ensuing conversations which I have come to cherish as part of my spiritual food on a near-daily basis. The threaded laces are stubborn beneath my fingers, but pulling on them somehow loosens me in all the right ways. Suddenly, there’s lightning, “I bet they wouldn’t like me to call them that …”


“They’d rather me call them ‘friends.’ “

I slide the closet shut around the words. His work boots oppose me, sticking their toes toward the cracks, but a shove does the trick, and she’s closed. I turn around and lean against it. Letting the words that just escaped my lips saturate my soul.

********

Maybe I’m the only one who has been wounded by the power-plays so common among the leadership of the church and the name-dropping and the ladder-climbing. Maybe I am alone here, still feeling the prick of loss when followers of the Servant-King use position as a means of personal gain. Those who, instead of gently guiding their flock, are fleecing them blind for the allegiance they give. For the control that is surrendered … Maybe. But I doubt it.

And internet writing is a messy, tricky thing. We bring our own back-story and half-healed scars to every piece we read. I can’t say that many out in the great cloud of witnesses called the blogosphere have been “pastors” to me in any holy sense of the word, but here and there in a thousand private messages and a million blog comments and a handful of face-to-face meetings, are a good number of those who I would consider to be “friends.” And since we’re all straddling the overlap between writing and faith – a place brimful with its own brand of power-plays and name-dropping and ladder-climbing – I’d say that’s not such a little thing.

In fact, the writers I love to read are men and women who write their posts and sing their songs and live their art not for the respect they can earn or the title they can solicit or the money with which they can fill their pockets. They have a heart to walk alongside. They are knowable, relate-able. They tell their stories with dirt under their nails and southern drawls dripping heavy from their honest, unedited lips. They write from the deep and the burdened places we all know – and they write it real. As real as a hand in your own.

Somehow they seem to grasp intuitively that the greatest gift they can give to the world has a whole lot more to do with sharing the specifics (even the gritty ones) of their personal stories than by quoting the worn-out platitudes or theological moral-isms by which they might exalt themselves over their readers.

No. If that’s what “pastor” means, they are never that to me.

I repeatedly watch them take the low road. They don’t live for the pedestals or the red carpets. They’d just as likely hug your neck and share a beer as shake your hand and hold your baby. They’re not untouchable. They’re not perfect. And – by far the most rare – they’re not afraid to come out of hiding and let you know it.

**********

And the shower steams hot. While I let muscles relax in the aftermath of my run, I remember my own limitedness and the finite experience of life within this skin. But I also feel the plea for human connection that rises up within my own story, asking to be made known. Why is it easier to give someone a formula to fix their aching heart than it is to get down into it with them and feel ALL THE FEELINGS alongside? I can’t say I know. But that is what makes a writer – a professional – cross the bridge into becoming a friend. The telling of the secrets that we think are only our own is the exact reason why I’ve come to relate deeply to so many whose breath I’ve never smelled and whose tears I’ve never wiped, who live worlds away from this mid-western farmhouse.

We are wired for connection, not only perfunctory answers.

For bearing each other’s burdens and holding close the broken, not for sanitary scripturized cliches.

Because love is always more satisfying than being right – hard as it is to believe sometimes.

It’s true for all of us: the gift of our lives to this world community is not given in spite of our humanness – as if that takes away from the poignancy of the message – but because of it. Because of the Babel places where we try to climb to God on steps of our own making and our Damascus roads where we are blind to all but the frightening light of a hairy paradigm-shift. Because of our willingness to accept ourselves and the dirt under our nails and the ins and outs of our messy narratives.

( … which might sound a lot like a tiny little mystery known as the Incarnation, if we listen long enough.)

There is a beautiful one-piece garment that transcends the in spite of’s and because of’s and waits with bated breath for the way redemption will shine through cracks in the one who dares to bare the soul: Whole.

And here I want to turn to you, dear reader, dear writer, dear friend, 

I want to say that in the kind of moxie that it takes for YOU to tell your tales and tell them real, I find my own story. Your secrets are mine. Your fallings and failures and glories. It’s there that I finger the edges of making peace with myself and an expansive hope comes just into view right next to a love that tears down walls. If beauty bursting through is true for you, couldn’t it also be true for me … ?

All of us belong to each other in this very way. Oh, how the world needs your wild.

Because this is the kind of courage that gives birth to a deeply personal bravery; this is not only the discovery of our humanness – but the necessary making friends with it; this is the kind of being known that inspires the greatest and least alike to call vulnerability out on her dare; to surrender all the ways we try so hard to impress everyone around us with our words and our art …

And to live as friends.



“I have called you friends … Now, go and do likewise.”
-Jesus of Nazareth






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 their seven blue-eyed children. You can catch her hanging out on Facebook, Twitter, or see more of her astounding words at her blog, chronicles of grace






This is a series–I hope you’ll be back next week, for more delving into this. At the end of the series, I’m going to have a link-up for you to share your own stories of what makes Christian writing and blogging hard for you. What are the issues we face and deal with? This is not a place for maligning anyone in our writing and link-up or to debate in the comments. No mentions, please, of other blogs, quotes from other blogs, etc. These are the requirements for the link-up. Please keep this theme and discussion in mind, and think of how you’d  like to begin writing your own story, or journey of blogging. I’d love to hear it! I’ll choose one story to be featured here the following week, and on social media! 

When You Need A Cure {An Abstraction on Come}

The visit–it woke me. And her question in that letter that traveled several thousand miles to get to me? Pierced the heart.

It was a joy to read your last blog post…I rejoice with you at the depth and tenderness of our Father’s care for your soul in this. I know the fruit of His Spirit in you was hard-borne, but it is so beautiful, and its sweetness has His aroma dripping from it. How have you been growing and testing the sweetness of His care for you since writing your last post? 

That poignant question.

I’m not the same I was this time last year. And I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. It feels bad.

We had made a pact that next Christmas would be different, standing there in the middle of the kitchen, cans lining the shelf, oatmeal, bag of sugar left opened, the grains scattered out, and two bags of rice because we forgot we already bought one. And the cabinets with no doors that bother me so badly, they an eye-sore, give away what’s obvious and wants to be hidden. The food stares back at us.

All of my choices face me. Pumpkin. Maple. Spicy chili mix. Oats. Corn. Green beans. Dark cocoa.

And children in the slums today, their only choices are garbage or rotten garbage.

We said we wanted it to be different, without all the hustle and stress of picking out gifts last minute, and long lists that don’t really satisfy the soul. We wanted it to be about more than just the sweet soft melt-in-your-mouth peppermint sticks filling our Christmas sugar bowl, the beautiful Nutcracker soldiers standing guard by the tree, or even toys and lovely stockings filled to the brim from Santa.

We said we wanted a Christmas overflowing with a different kind of joy –we would choose gifts from the magazine instead, a goat or a pack of seeds that would be planted and meet daily needs somewhere across the ocean for years to come, not for someone with a long Christmas list, but for a family who just needs to eat.

And the tall girl, the first born who came into the world wailing for months straight and sweetly suckling at my breast, the one I smile at and softly stroke her forehead as I tell her I didn’t mind how much she screamed–I just nursed her again– and her face illuminates like Christmas balls on a prickly pine tree at my admittance–

she had given us the magazine, put it on the counter by her daddy’s things, next to his keys, worn leather wallet, and hat, to remind us of our choices.

Choices at Christmas time. How they can entangle.

I’ve been dead and I just. need. to. wake. up.

I get up out of bed to answer the door, and there stands my friend, dark hair and her eyes asking, and her husband just there behind her, and my first thought is how my hair is a rat’s nest and I didn’t shower the night before, and haven’t brushed my teeth yet, and my life is chaotic and….the room spins a little… How can I invite them into all this mess? Surely they’ll be embarrassed to see? And me–ashamed.

But they give a big smile and warm hug, say they stopped by from their trip back home just to pray for me and talk for a few minutes.

He anoints my head with the oil, and it’s like a soothing salve. The care of Christ’s body is healing to the soul. They pray with me and we talk about forgiveness and grace. I feel God’s presence so strongly when they leave. I know I’ve entered in, talked and walked with God. I easily forget.

I’m a lost Israeli daughter. Always forgetting. Always hoping. Always looking to the horizon, aching for a hope, shuffling my feet in the dirt again, dust veiling my eyes.

What will save me next? The newest book out on Amazon? I find nothing to cheer or comfort me in their thin, wanting pages.

Calling up my friend and talking about my struggles? Venting? That relieves the moment, but what
will keep me secure and grounded, not today, but tomorrow and every day?

Christmas cheer leaves me feeling empty without the Savior.

I keep thinking that there must be some answer and I feel stupidly ridiculous for needing a cure, but it just. won’t. go. away.

This need to do something other than just sit here, in this dead skin, moving my limbs through rote tasks every day as if grace is not real, as if sacred breath was not breathed into my body by a Holy God, and crackers and cheese and orange juice with children around my kitchen island are not Christ’s body and the new wine.

As if every day that I wake up is not a miracle.

The man, he said he had tried everything there is to try on earth, and he found life meaningless.

And the longer I live, the more I see that I’m just searching through a fog of fleeting moments, one vapor disappearing, and my eyes are drawn to yet another. This is not real. This is not the answer, these fleeting things that do not satisfy the soul.

A book, new music, a conference, a new activity, presents under the tree in shiny paper, even people being changed by our words–all of it is meaningless without Christ. Because without Him, it’s just a fleeting happiness, a vapor that is gone in the wake of another high.

The kids–they have a long list. The tree was too bare the past few Christmases, they said, prickly cold branches with nothing underneath to warm it’s girth, to fill the laughing belly. It didn’t feel like Christmas at all. And I have a long list too–of failures. They wrap around me, knot up and as far as I can see, there are all the things I do wrong. And I keep tripping over them everyday.

Entangled.

It seems I’m stumbling and heading straight into Christmas–the momentum is unstoppable and a crash is inevitable. No planning, no thoughtful meditation, no change-the-world-ideas.

There’s just me, and all this failing.

I stand at the sink in front of that little blue canvas that reads– Dare to make that difference ~ take that step ~ follow that dream ~  and I think of all those failings. As I scrub, my mind is working fast and hard, reminding me, and then something hits me in the face. Pop–and wakes me up. Stunned, I peer closer, really seeing, and notice what I hadn’t before. All the bubbles, floating up, all around, and they’re landing on me, tiny iridescent orbs dancing, teasing, mesmerizing. But I hadn’t even seen it before. And I wonder, Is this what Ann was talking about? I look at the little blue canvas and just smile to myself like a big dork.

I need Him to come. Yes, though I don’t want to admit it, because I’d like it to be easier–He is still the answer. There isn’t some easier way to the deepest satisfaction of a full life. I have to give my whole heart.

He’s a bit mysterious and it requires me to soften my heart. His Otherness requires just a bit of effort on my part–faith. But oh, how I need Him to come. And maybe, just maybe He will do the softening and changing.

So, being the lost daughter that I am, I’m desperately looking up, and with all my Jewish and Greek family, all of the bloodline and the ones grafted in, of past and present, I hope.

Oh, Emmanuel come. Here, now.

And while I’m hoping and asking that He will come, friends, I can no longer just sit here in this deadness and pretend there’s no miracle and ba-hum-bug my way through Christmas. So…in an effort to let the Creator to do something through me, I’m using my creativity and posting a photo of me (hopefully a fashionable one) in a dress every day to help free women and girls (and boys too) from sex trafficking and slavery. The project is called Dressember and you can go here to find out more, or go here to sponsor me and help me raise funds to offer Christ’s freedom to these in need of rescue. I’ll be writing more about my experiences and struggles with this very soon, so be on the look-out for a post on that! I owe it to my friend, Deidra, for igniting the desire to do this. If you’re interested in the jute bag in the picture, they’re made by Free Set, a fair trade company who gives jobs to women who’ve been rescued from the sex trade. If you’re interested in “picking out gifts” for a family in need, you can go to Compassion International’s website or World Hope’s gift catalog . Ann Voskamp and friends of mine work with all of these organizations mentioned in this post, and they’re legit.

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 Come


{I will highlight a beautiful post from this link-up on Friday (and announce it on social media), so visit back here to see whose post is highlighted and encourage them!}

Gulping From the Cup {On God Using Community to Heal Us From Bad Community}

I sat there on the plane, next to him, not knowing who he was, my arms waving in circles, exclaiming wildly with too-hoarse voice, and this is what he heard me say, as our plane backed out of the terminal at the Omaha Airport.

Why are we so afraid to say ‘I’m a writer, to say that what I do, what I create–is good’? I just really think God has so much grace for us that we’ve yet to grasp or tap into. There is so much freedom in God. Why are we afraid to accept and own that freedom? We wear this heavy cloak of guilt and shame for who we are, and we think that’s humility. But God doesn’t want us going around to everyone apologizing, ‘I’m not good enough’. 

It’s like God’s saying dance wild in my freedom, in a field of wild flowers.

And I’m on the edge of the field, dipping my toes into soft wet clover, and timidly testing it out. I’m wild with fear, wondering what huge thing is going to come across that field at me.

We think the shame of ourselves and our fear, our timidity, makes us more holy. But Jesus said blessed are the meek, not the timid. When we are meek, it means we know our might and our power to crush, to control, to correct, but we hold it back with gentle force in respect.

The true humility God wants us to wear says ‘I’m redeemed’, I’m God’s and because of His bloody and bruised sacrifice, my heart is bowed low and because He says I’m beloved, my head is held high.

And yet, we wear that heavy cloak anyway. It’s weighing us down. It’s a cloak of shame, of fear, of unworthiness, of “I’m not good enough”, of a humility that isn’t true.

Why do we keep putting it back on?

I walk over and hang it on the coat rack, thinking I’ve really laid it down, but God wants me to get rid of the coat rack, because everytime I walk out that door, I pick it up. And I just keep wearing it, over and over. And I think it fits so pretty and so snug, but Father-God who knit my pieces together, says “No, daughter, this shame-cloak is not made for you.”

I feel Him gently pull it off, His mighty strength holding back the darkness that tears at my soul, and with the weight off of what didn’t belong to me, I feel so free.

And I’m longingly looking to Him with adoration.

I look at him, in that tight small space, and he looks at me, asks me to share. I look away, maybe for a way out, but I know, in an instant, without thinking, it’s really God asking me to share, because He’d been doing it all weekend.

I tell him, timidly, laying my life in someone else’s hands, wondering what they will do with it.

I tell of why I can’t go to church, why worship is hard for me, what being a pastor’s daughter did to me, and how people in the Body of Christ pushing me away once they encountered the real me–how that all made me jaded.

He said he admired me, people like me, he said, who have more than they deserve dumped on them and yet they keep loving anyway.

This made me balk and want to hide somewhere. I had never heard these words from other Christians in the body before, and if I had, I had brushed them off, thinking surely they weren’t real.

There were so many others, ones who looked me straight in the eye, when I said I had no idea what I was doing, and said You know exactly what you’re doing. You’re in a very good place.

Ones who looked me in the eye, said they were just an email away, told me to let them know if I needed prayer for any reason. Ones who looked me in the eye, said, I’m here for you.

There were others who looked at me, said, Yes, you do, when I said I don’t do community well, that I don’t do relationships with women well.

And the truth is, I don’t. My heart is black when it comes to community–I run from it with a fierce determination, afraid for my life, a deer being hunted, panicking, heart thumping loudly.

But that’s my truth, not God’s truth. And these women–and men? They spoke God’s truth to me. They looked at my heart, not at all the things I did or said wrong, stumbling around, but they looked at the potential, at what God has placed in me. And they saw something good there. They championed my heart and my dreams.

They said no to the lie and yes to God has made me and said it was good.

There was one who looked into my eyes as I began to tell her how much I respected her work, how she had a passion for encouraging women, and how I avoided those forums, because community is hard for me. I told her how God had begun to set that free in me this weekend, something I never thought would happen. The tears poured and the ugly-cry came in spite of me, and I apologized, said, I just wanted to snap a picture–I didn’t mean to do this!

She shook her beautiful auburn hair, No, these are the things that I want to hear from you, from women, because these are the things I work for, these are the important stories, they are the things that encourage me, to know that God heals, that God redeems.

There was the one who had me at hello, before ever meeting her in real life, and because of her daring, wonderful, crazy vision to invite some writers and bloggers to Nebraska, now I can dream too.

I can’t forget the precious woman I affectionately call “roomie”, who is in all my dreams and waking thoughts, who has my heart, and she had it before she ever stepped out of that car, sunglasses over her baby blues at the airport. She was the one who said God saved my roommate for me until I was ready.

Ready to step out on that shaky limb, ready to say yes to God, ready to have faith, to believe in my dreams.

I watched all of them, the ones I rubbed shoulders and hearts with. I marveled at them, listened to their heart, how they lean in towards people, how their gentle eyes see into souls, how they went right past small talk and asked the important questions, the ones that made me shake in my cowgirl boots, the kinds of questions that let you really know someone intimately.

There were sacred moments, uncensored, organic conversation in front of a fireplace, everyone gathered and leaning in, really seeing, really listening, and not judging.

Those moments changed me forever. As one friend put it so well, it was most probably a turning point in my story. I know it in my soul deep, even though my mind says be watchful, be careful, you can’t trust–God’s spirit was made strong in me through that moment and now the spirit knows something powerful in me–that God’s people are beautiful. And because of faith, I can trust.

What gorgeous souls they all were and still are. Meeting them in real life was beautiful and did more for me than they could ever imagine. This stone-cold, black heart, so afraid of people, of relationship, of church–it was broken right open and poured out in spite of me.

One lovely woman of God, she shepherded us, led us right up to the Shepherd’s feet. She led my weary, wary, jaded and undecided heart. She made me feel his rod and staff, and oh they are good. Knowing Him in that way had seemed out of my grasp for so long and then came the beautiful liturgical rhythm of her sermons, the worship songs, and then her prayers, an oasis in my desert.

Her radiant confidence in a wonderful Savior moved me and how can I possibly explain the sacredness of that moment when she broke the bread and held up the cup for us to come, all tearing a piece off–I had to tear it hard– Christ’s body ripping and being broken for me.

I drank from the cup, all of us drinking from the same, and I felt unworthy, unclean, and unsure all of us drawing from the same well, and in swallowing that red drink down, I willingly swallowed down community, all of us one and the same, unclean but made clean in Him, all of us pieces torn hard, made whole as a part of a Larger Whole, unworthy, but called Son and Daughter and given not a cloak of shame, but a robe of righteousness to wear, a ring, and a feast, and an inheritance of the largest kingdom this world has ever known.

We are hidden on high with Him.



Then there was one who stood before us and she worshipped. There was no song, or guitar, or piano, or dancing. She worshipped with her heart, with her words, with the call that she urged us all with. This is what she said:

“Whether you’ve been the big “somebody”, or have believed that you’re a nobody, you’ve got a role in the Christ-body, and that means everybody. 

 
You’ve been bullied by fear, discouragement, comparison, unbelief, and a hundred other ‘Not Enoughs’. 


We’ve had Enough of the ‘Not Enoughs’. 


Jesus is not intimidated…He might just ask you to use a rock to slay a giant. And He’s been known to roll certain stones away.”–Jennifer Lee

Tears rolled down my face, as I held the rock in my hand that bore the words fear and unbelief on them, the rock she said that her and her precious daughter would take down to the lake and throw in.

I had never forgotten the prayer she had prayed for me all that time long ago, and as she talked, I felt her worshipping, and that was the first time I worshipped that weekend, that I had let myself at all in a really long time. I let it all go, and the warm ran down cheeks onto collarbones. And it just ran, like a life-giving well, bubbling up and out, running down and out and up to God.

I watched one walk down the aisle with our Pastor, lay their stones in the basket together. Those stones that carry our “Not Enoughs”.  I saw hugs and tears and prayers, and the pain and grief and love was tangible in that place.

There was something so palpable in the room as I sat there and listened to that gorgeous courier carrying God’s message, I could almost reach out and touch it, and she was an angel, God using her to place his hand on my heart, to touch the pain searing there.

I left branded a new woman, all of these lives seared onto mine.

Yes, I have people now. After all the tearing, I’m apart of a Body now, and I’m gulping from that cup.

                                                      photo credit: used w/ permission by the lovely Laura Boggess

“The thing that wounds us is often the thing that God will walk us through again to heal us. And I’ve learned the beautiful truth and the tragic truth that God uses community to heal us from bad community.”–Mary Demuth


This post shared with Jennifer for #TellHisStory, Shelly & Duane for Wonderstruck, Emily, & Jen & Heather for the EO

A Beautiful Tapestry Not Of My Own Making {Patron Saints & Spiritual Midwives}

I sit here, in my pajamas, staring at a computer screen, at Sarah’s call for us to celebrate International Women’s Day, and my mind goes back in time. When it comes to women who have blazed a trail before and taught me what they know, there is really only one woman who comes to mind. She was my pastor’s wife, and we were close, probably much closer than she knew, because I clung to her in my heart as a child does.

She became my spiritual mother, she nurtured me, she took time with me, talked me through hurtful issues in my marriage, depression, and an inability to gain any semblance of control of my life for the happiness of my family. She taught me to be strong, to be the kind of woman who when her feet hit the floor in the morning, Satan says “Oh no! She’s up!”, she taught me to go to my word first thing in the morning, to cling to Christ, to look to Him to fill an insatiable appetite, to plan my day so that my family is fulfilled and nurtured on earthly bread and the nourishment of the Word.

I watched her worship, her expressions wild with adoration and like she was right before the throne and I watched her love and I watched her hold her tongue when that was not her nature, I watched her strong and protective, her support of her husband powerful, I watched her back not break and I watched her have humility enough to ask me if she looked appropriate when I told her she looked cute in her new jeans. She was real, and she was bold, and she was grace. For the first time I learned those things could co-exist. In fact, they should.

She has really been my spiritual midwife.

She birthed the girl you know now, the one set free from legalism, the one who knows to look up to Christ at my first breath, the one who talks to my kids about the gospel and Christ’s bleeding out when I’ve failed them and fallen far short of being the mom I want to be.

She was the first to place a book into my hands on parenting and to teach me how to look to books as a mentor, to gain wisdom from them, to seek out God’s wisdom, to desire growth and revelation.

Before I met her, I was confused and lost in a sea of pride and legalism but then my marriage began to strengthen and I began on a journey to learning what being a godly woman really means. And looking back on how young and foolish I was, she was so very gentle with me.

There have been a few other women who have been spiritual midwives. One is my neighbor, an eighty-eight year old widow lady, Mrs. Olive, a sweet ‘lil ‘ole woman who seems fragile upon first glance. She is slightly bent over and her hands are a little gnarled and shake from a stroke and she can barely talk, her communication having returned to that of a toddler. But to stop there and not see more would be sorely underestimating this strong woman. The permanent bend in her back is from so much stooping and serving, the gnarled, shaking hands have penned many beautiful letters to friends and family in calligraphy, a forgotten art form. And her lack of voice? She doesn’t let it stop her from telling me and my girls she loves us, placing her hands over her heart, tears in her eyes.

I have sat on summer and fall afternoons on her screened in wrap-around front porch, us swinging on her oak swing, Mississippi breeze blowing gently, as her voice so shaky and slow, told me of her husband, an alcoholic, and how he beat her. She told me of how the kids would run outside and play up under the house so they wouldn’t have to be around. She told me that she was never free until the day he died, and how she is still married and celebrates her anniversary with him, even in his death. She  lost two adult sons, and another two babies when they were very tiny, and life was full of much trial and pain.

It was really the little things that Mrs. Olive did that taught me so much, changed my theology, sort of turned my world upside down.

She would put her trash out on Tuesdays and write a thank you note to the men that came round that said “Happy Thanksgiving!”

I’d notice when I’d walk over, how she brought out a plate of food to the mailman, every day.

It had never crossed my mind to be generous to these people in my life–I didn’t grow up that way. She touched everyone she had contact with. She didn’t hide inside her home, hoping no one would come knocking. She walked outside with a smile, offered food and warmth and love.

She doesn’t live across the street anymore; she is older now, and lives with her daughter, but I remember weeks when we barely had food, and she would show up on our stoop, her steps unsure, walker in hand, holding out a box of fruit and snacks. She rarely made a cake without sending some over.

Now, because of Mrs. Olive, we try to do the same and love those around us, those who normally might go unseen, unnoticed.

My Granny is another person I greatly respect and admire, a woman who has taught me dignity, respect, graciousness, trust, integrity. She has taught me about love and about servant hood. This is another woman whose strength I look up to and hope to emulate. She prays for her family and has bent over backward many times for all of us.

When I have an appointment, she calls to check in on me so that she can keep the children. She takes care of me. I’m amazed at her ability to care for so many in her life, to cook for, to serve, to bend for, to love.

She has been through much in her life, in her marriage, with her children and in her young life as a child. She still cries at times, at seventy-six, when we talk about the abuse she received from the woman who raised her. That kind of pain never really goes away, not even at her age. But what I see is a woman who has risen above her circumstances and has loved well. So well.

My Mama is another person whom I learned from, from the way she worshiped in the house to how she always had supper on the table for us early in the evening, to how she made sure we had baths every night and rolled our hair for Sunday morning. I remember these routines and rhythms that made me feel secure and held me and I want to give the same to my girls.

I remember my mother very rarely fought with my dad in front of us. This memory guides me when life is full of suffering and confusion and I’m tempted to swerve over into selfishness. It helps me to plant my hands firmly back on the wheel, knowing how I benefited from this as a small child.

Because my mentors have taught me to search out wisdom, I have sought and found that wisdom in resources such as Carolyn Mahaney’s cds, Sally Clarkson’s books and blog, and Ann Voskamp’s blog. Ann has no idea that she has mentored me, but oh she has and it has meant more than she’ll ever know. It was because of her I started writing again after 15-plus years.

Ro Elliot from Tuning My Heart has helped guide me through depression and this blogging world we all write amongst, and there have been other women who have helped steer me along the way, or helped me see through a different lens, or have just been sisters to me and sojourners along my journey. Some of those are L.L. Barkat, Emily Wierenga, Shelley Miller, Elizabeth Marshall, Amber Haines, Kelli Woodford, Nancy Franson, Cora and Susan who have shored me up and poured into me at pivotal moments, Tara Pohlkotte, Holly Grantham, and then there’s Michele Ault, who came along side and helped with homeschooling when I was completely new at it. I’m forever grateful to her for helping me wade through the mess that was my unorganized, confused Mama-self.

All of these beautiful brave women I am so grateful for. I admire the strength, courage, integrity and grace with which they live out their lives and bang on their keyboards.

And you, awesome readers, amazing beautiful you, yes, *you*, you have encouraged and lifted me up, held my arms up when they were tired. There were times I know I would not have continued writing without you. You. Are. Amazing. Wonderful. Spectacular. Loving. Gracious. I’m thankful to God for you.

I have other mentors and friends who’ve walked with me on this earth–I’ve learned from all of them and I’m a blend of a better woman only because of them, a blend of what I pray is a little bit of forgiveness, a dash of wisdom, a generous sprinkle of hope, a smidgen of purity and soberness, and a profane amount of kindness, love, and grace. I’m woven together, and the pieces of me are tattered edges of these women, scraps of themselves they’ve given away, spun here now into a tapestry that I hope glorifies God and gives the earth beauty. And I don’t take it for granted, this heirloom tapestry spun with toil and pain and sacrifice. Neither do I fold it up, lay it down on the end of some bed in a room where it’s rarely seen, for pure beauty’s sake, for looks, no, for this beautiful weave is used everyday in the exhausting, glorifying, body-breaking, bending, serving, hands-lifted-high, heart-poured-out work of being woman.

The women that have been this to me, that have given and have become a part of this woven fabric  are my very good friends Danae, April, Kerry, Joanie, and Markey, and Ro, and I celebrate their love, devotion, honesty, bravery, fearlessness, and the fierce grace and nurturing they lavish on everyone in their lives, including me. I cherish their prayers, their letters, their gifts of time, of things of monetary value, their shoring up and harboring me when I was lost in a storm of suffering, and most of all, I cherish their vulnerable hearts laid out before me. I love you–you ought to know that. And today, I celebrate beautiful you, all of you women so beautiful.

Related: Bending, a story I wrote about my grandmother (and grandfather), the one spiritual midwife that has always been there, and will until she leaves this world. I love you, Granny.

“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….’Ah! You are making chicken and dumplings!’ She nods–I see the twinkle of pride in her eyes.”…….  Click here to read more…

Gratitude: #1049-1066

3 gifts that changed today: Getting to run alone at the lake for the first time in months

Being able to spend a day all to myself, going to the coffee shop to read and write

Reaching out to a new friend, inviting her to meet and her pleasant yes!

Going over to a friend’s house in a heap of a mess and her talking me through it

Keeping four kids for a friend so she and her husband can have time together–the blessing of caring for others

Eight kids under one roof–ahhh!

A special night out under the stars, a bonfire, hot dogs, marshmallows

Telling boys “No, don’t put your feet in the fire, please!” and “Put that back in the fire and don’t pick up anymore planks of wood that are on fire!”

The way a boy took up with my little Lilly, playing with her and how she cozied up to him on the couch to watch a movie

A boy telling me he can take a shower in 2, when asked if he can take one in five, and his beaming smile when I tell him job well done, a shower in two minutes flat!

Husband helping him wash the thick shampoo off under the faucet that was left in his hurry

How my little Lilly looks like a tiny, weightless bunny as she boing-boings on our trampoline, her feet so high in the air

Lilly saying “Back!” which means she wants Daddy to carry her up on his shoulders

Husband carrying Lilly all around the yard on his shoulders while the kids play

Their squeals of “Daddy!” when he walks in the door

Aged asagio cheese, chocolate, and red wine

My yard blooming spring

Feeling better, feeling hope

This post shared with Sarah Bessey‘s International Women’s Day synchroblog, Ann, Laura, Heather,