Category Archives: pain

God Is Not Threatened When We Leave the Church

{An Abstraction on Lipstick}




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}



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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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

Women, Listen Up: Where Is God Moving Next? {An Abstraction on Listen}

sit in front of her in the old linoleum-floor bathroom, squatted low on a stool, and think how this is the way it ought to be, I, made low, serving the least of these, and wonder why I can’t do it more often. I zip up her footie pajama, and push my face into her hair. I’m drunk with her still-fresh from heaven, fresh from night time bath tub scent. She lures me in with it, and I know this is the very best moment of my day, and maybe I’m a fortune teller because I can see it’s also perhaps the best minute of my life, excepting only the second she slipped out, warm and wet, the doctor needing me to hold her in for safety’s sake, me begging to let her go, to have a chance in this world. Yes, her chance. Me and God, co-conspirators, creating life together.

Yes, do you see it friends? How beautiful a chance at life is?

I warm up a leftover quesadilla for myself and we lie on the couch together, and though she’s eaten earlier, she snuggles up to me, Mama, you gonna eat all o’ dat? 

Yes. I inhale an intoxicating bite and she asks Is that yummy?

Yes, baby. You want Mama to share? She nods. I’ll share with you, baby, okay?

Because you love me. Forking a scrumptious bite of my small dinner into her waiting tiny mouth, I melt into a million dissolved pieces, like chocolate on a stove. Oh yes, baby I do. 

Moments. Some days are so chock full of these that make us love and be loved, that it makes me listen more intently. It hushes me and makes me wonder where I went wrong in those days that felt love-less. I know He’s here, always, but sometimes, I get to feel the glory-weight, and it’s His hand upon my heart, upon my moments, blessing me fully. Fully here, fully human.

I wander outside in the cold stillness of dark, and inhale and exhale. I remember to look up, because this is what listening to the stillness does to me, and I’m surprised to see a star-lit sky after many days of shrouded, blanketed veil. Through her bare-naked branches, reaching up to Him, scrony, dry and thirsty–a little like the way I feel–the half moon winks down at me from her throne in the expansive universe. I feel so small, like the not quite awakened buds on tree’s branches that speckle across her glowing orb. Dogs bark in the neighborhood nearby, a train rattles in the distance, but all feels still and holy. I just notice, listen and breathe. I pay close attention. This is how I pray, silently.

In the grocery store on Saturday, I’m a little bit of a mess, and I do my best to be calm, energetic daughter by my side, asking for candy and other things I can’t afford.

A dear family friend sees me, comes over, and asks how we’re doing, asks about my tiny Lilly who was a shrunken newborn, mal-nourished, the bones in her forehead protruding and my milk the only thing her stomach could take, but it wasn’t enough. I tell her she’s great, about to go to preschool this fall–she’s almost five, and her birthday comes late. She tells me her daughter, one of my best friends, has a fibroid tumor the doctors just found. Is there a worry for cancer, I ask. Says she isn’t sure. And I tell her I know, how I know, when life is a heavy weight, how it can suffocate, and it’s impossible to even pick up the phone to call a friend. She asks me to pray–I say I will. She’s had so many problems–she doesn’t need anymore –I’m thinking of four years ago, when her only child, only three days old, died, and how then and only then, did she get to hold her in her loving mother arms–and I break.

The tears stream down my crumpled face, and her mother catches me in her arms. I love her so much I whisper into her shoulder. Thank you for being a good friend to my daughter, she tells me, holds me close. I feel the weight of glory, God so close, Emmanuel.

I think of that embrace later, when I walk into the house, putting away toilet paper. My lips don’t move at all. But my heart beats with this desperate plea–God, be with her, she needs you now. She needs your healing hands in a most powerful way. 

This is how I worship. I know no other way. Because the dancing, the raising of hands {though you can find me lifting them from time to time because I can’t help myself}, the conjuring of His presence–they just don’t cut it. I hope you don’t mind me saying, they don’t work for me anymore.

No, I listen instead.

So, on bright, clear Sunday morning, I call this new friend God’s given. She’s an old friend, and a new friend. New, because we’ve bonded more recently, and these relationships online–this community He’s given? Miracle being worked out–Him working all things together for good, because I love him, because He loves me.

She says so tell me what’s going on, what you’re thinkin’. She jumps right into the frying pan with me, right in the middle of the sticky stuff, the very messy, screwed-up stuff no one really wants to hear–my kinda girl. I tell her I’m having faith God will complete the good work He began, and I’m holding on hard, to grace. That’s all I can do. She cries with me, laughs so hard with me, and prophesies His goodness, the love He has for me, over me.

We talk about listening. I tell her what the Spirit is saying. And how do we know what the Spirit is saying–when it’s Him speaking? He comes to me in a cave, and asks me what I’m doing. It makes me pay attention, makes me take notice, makes me think.

You’ve heard from God. And it’s that one statement I can’t get out of my head–no, two statements.

You are capable–from every side, you’re being told you aren’t capable, but you so are.

I listen. Hard. With the phone up to my ear, so hot, my soul is hungry for living bread, and she breaks it open with me, piping hot, shows me where freedom is and where to plant my feet. This step here, then that one there. See, friend? See how God wants you to not only be delivered, but also free?

I don’t have much {beautiful laugh}, but I have this: stories, stories that you and I share. Her southern accent, so dripping sweet and soft, sings sweet peace over me like a lullaby.

Women, listen up: Let’s be this kind of friend to one another? The kind that can listen to the pain. And be okay with it. Laugh with me. Cry with me. Don’t balk when you see something brassy or bold. No, call it what it is–the way God did in the beginning–call out the good in me. Can we do this for one another?

Listen. Yes, let’s listen. To the stars, to the spirit, to the trees, to the pain, to the beauty, the glory and the mess, the screwed-upness, and the words that aren’t being said. Perk up your ears, soldier-sister. Where is God moving next?

Just Listen with me.

***Will you do this with me, friends? Let’s explore the practice of listening! This week, before you write, take a walk, in the woods, at the lake or park, down your neighborhood road, 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– Our prompt is Serve, but our focus is on the practice of listening and then writing. Excited? We’ll connect on twitter and facebook with the hashtag, #listentoyourlife 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 Listen. GO!

**{This link up will run until next Sunday, the 16th, 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 & then, I will read your stories and highlight one of them from this link-up on social media. On the 17th, the prompt will be SERVE .}