Category Archives: religious forms

Brokenness, A Grace-Bathed Thread

{The Conundrums of Writing and Blogging: A Series}

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

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

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

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

  
~by Kelli Woodford

——————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the table, together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~by Nacole Simmons

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






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





linking with friends, MichelleHolleyEmilyJennifer and Outside the City Gate

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

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

Other posts in this series below  

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

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


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

Rooted In A Tangible Grace — Kelli Woodford   

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

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

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

On Vulnerability and Boundaries –a guest post from Diana Trautwein 

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


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


Rambling Vignettes of Listening {An Abstraction on Slippers}




I walk to the bathroom in my slippers at 6 pm, when my back feels like it will break, and bend over the bathtub anyway. Water and giggles splash me awake. I gently coerse them to their feet for a slathering of soap and the wash rag slides over their little bodies, and it’s like a good cleansing of my soul.

I do these things over and over—heat up the pajamas over the free-standing oil heater, slide them on, zip them up, then roughly towel-dry their heads and comb through wet hair. These rituals are quieting and peaceful, the heater a make-shift altar, the stool a pew, and the careful zipping and closure of buttons a concrete theology of the only kind that makes any sense to me—love. The theology that puts clothes on bare backs, brings a glass of water to the lips of the thirsty, washes the dirt of the unclean, and wraps arms round the filthy, looks into their eyes and accepts them the way they are.
Still in my pink and white furry slippers, plaid pajama pants, and stained Aeropostale hoodie, I dump can after can of tomatoes, beans, chilis and olives into a stock-pot large enough to feed a family of six for two nights. The soup simmers and warms the kitchen and my heart.
It’s difficult to pull myself away from the computer with all my adult friends, who make me feel so validated, and to ring my hands in prayer, in these rote routines that are never-ending. As soon as I wash and fold the clothes,  they are in the dirty pile again. I don’t get to leave home much, so it’s hard to stop “involving myself” in adult things. But living in this gentle, patient way requires that I turn off the noise and listen to my little people. And what I hear is beautiful in the silence, in the waiting, in the serving.
I practice the discipline of going outside, even when it’s cold. I don’t let myself be overcome with angst and melancholy. I look at the stars, and wait, because God speaks to me there.
I practice cutting off a conversation I’d really like to have on messenger, and walk outside because I can hear the giggles wafting in through my window from the trampoline, and don’t fancy myself too dignified to jump up on the trampoline and play silly games.
These are my altars, they are my sanctuaries, they are my church, my holy place.
This weekend I went on a bike ride with my daughter again to the store. This time it was the six year old. She is so fearless and brave. Not once did she say, Mama wait, or Mama I can’t keep up, or Don’t leave me. She cheerfully stayed behind, or sped on ahead, a huge proud grin spread wide across her face, and I, warily aware of cars that might come our way any moment, constantly tried to hold her back, or pull her up with me. Her bravery makes me come to a stop, and really take a look at my own courage, or lack thereof.
We all went to the playground on Sunday, and there was lots of sunshine there, as if it was waiting for us. It had not been beaming as brightly before.
Their smiles when I took pictures of them soaring on the swings found me in my stalled faith and depressed mood, and startled me awake and once again, I found a reason to believe.





I’ve struggled in my relationship with God, because I am afraid when I step out onto that limb in shaky belief, that He will leave me hanging, that I’ll be left alone, in jadedness and hurt.
For about a week, I could not hear Him at all, I thought. It seemed my heart was overwhelmed, confused, muddled. I worried, I doubted. I walked outside late one night, bundled up, and everything was still and my heart felt dead along with all the winter barrenness buried deep under the cold, wet ground. All the life had been beat down by freezing rain and all felt numb and desolate.
I let the sterile sleepiness overtake me for a moment. I felt abandoned. Then I surrendered, and looked up and the stars jolted me with their twinkling, their stark loveliness. I knew He was waiting. I said out loud, which is rare for me, Talk to me, GodWhat do I do with this?
And you know what? He didn’t leave me hanging. No friend, He comes on wings of love. He said to me, crystal clear, You are worrying over things you have no business worrying over. I am going to take care of it. Trust me, and stop worrying.
And he spoke something with limpid lucidity—grace.  And—love.
Yes, Father, I know. I see. I hear. And just like that, my fear was dissolved. In His hands, picking me up off that shaky limb.
I may have a relationship with Him now, all on my own, without someone else telling me what that should look like. Seriously. This is not blowing smoke, y’ know? No, for the first time, I mean it.
I thought I meant it long ago,  and I think in some ways I did. But– and here’s the really honest part– I was following someone else’s leading. I was doing it because I felt I had to– the advent, the lent, the praying, the homemaking (making cookies, folding clothes, and all the things). It was never enough unless I was doing IT ALL. I thought I was finding God in that. And in a way, I did. But maybe it was only a glimpse. I limited him, boxed him in, not in the ways I always had, but in a different way. I just gave him a new box.
Now, I’m listening. I’m not making idols, not play-acting, not doing Lent just because I’m thinking how much content it will offer my writing. I’m listening to the Spirit. I used to HATE it when people said that. Because I’m a rebel, and spiritual talk felt so superficial to me.
Oh, what I was missing out on, and then again, I wasn’t missing anything. Because I’ve travelled this roving path, like a gypsy desperately seeking the spark of life, and I’m listening. He is in the pain, the mess, the times I have too much to drink and go to bed drowsy, He’s in the words that aren’t being said when I’m talking to a friend, and I have to listen  for them, because then I get to hear HIM.

He is in the beauty, He is in the homework I don’t want to do with kids. He is in that beautiful dimpled smile my girl gives me, so proud of herself, when she reads her kindergarten reader.
I don’t care about prayer rituals. I don’t care about church services. I don’t care if my blog sounds dignified or if a lot of people read, or if I EVER write a book. Because these altars, on this sacred ground of wet bath-time tile floor? They teach me something a church service never could.
I want to listen, and I want to learn to be brave, and to be who He made me to be. And I don’t want to miss one precious moment. Oh, and believe me, I miss plenty.
But there’s the beauty in the mess, right there. I get to start all over the very second I pull myself away from my selfishness. Full Stop. Grace.


I guess I’m just talking about being set free.

To be free, we have to strip down bare, shirk of all that entangles. The noise, the comparisons, the selfishness, and the bitterness too–let’s throw them off. Those things keep you from listening, they keep you from freedom, and they keep you from creating the way He meant for me and for you to do. I know, because for a time when I allowed those things to consume, I just could  not write. My ears were stopped up, and I was caged inside the prison I had constructed for myself. 

Now I will embrace fearlessness. 

The courage I find in a bike ride teaches me to be brave enough to step out on the shaky limb, to believe and to say it out loud, that He speaks to me when I take notice, and that it’s in the red-winged bird’s flight, the rock song playing on the radio as we all bump along down the highway and it’s in the text messages a friend sends, holding fast with me in prayer and trust before God that His promise was never that things would be easy, but that He would finish all good things He has begun. 

He has spoken. I hear Him. 
What do you hear Him saying?




***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, ride a bike, play tag, listen for the wind, watch the trees, the sky, pay attention to the small, seemingly unnecessary details of your day. It is here you will find wholeness, here you will find strength, beauty, brokenness, goodness, joy, pain… Here you will find God. THEN write about it– Our prompt is Serve (next week’s is below), but our focus is on the practice of listening and then writing. Excited? We’ll connect on twitter and facebook with the hashtag, #listeningtoyourlife and of course as always, #concretewords. Do me a favor and use these on social media and share with friends–invite them?

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


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

Today’s prompt is Slippers. GO!


**{This link up will run until next Monday, the 10th, 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 10th, the prompt will be Altar .}


Kingdom Come:: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

                       
                                                                                                photo credit


There is a way for us to behold glory, and it looks like reaching across the table and just crying with someone who’s hurting, not saying much.

Sometimes all you can say, your arms around them, is this sucks.

I understand what it means to be angry at God–I’ve been there–it’s okay.

Because really, that’s what God wants to say to them if He could, audibly, but He wants to use us.

Jumping into someone’s life and offering advice is a sacred thing. They’re making room for you in their secret places, their inner chambers, their heart of hearts, letting you see all their dirt and grime, the dust on the furniture, the stack of food-crusted dishes in the sink. And the last thing they want you to do is point it out, or to look embarrassed when they make apologies. It’s best to just give some serious disclosure —girl, look, you don’t even want to see my dishes right now–they are way worse.

There is a way to behold glory and it’s not in pretending we are righteous. It’s not in our walls and our thick layers that protect and our fears that keep others at a distance.

See, I have this huge dream to behold glory, to see Kingdom come here on earth. It’s a scary dream really, because I’ve been burned enough to put my faith right out.

But that’s the thing about hope–it’s stronger than fear. It just keeps enduring, keeps flickering back on and won’t be snuffed out. Satan hates this, I think.

There is a way to behold  glory and this dream is that The Church will trust God to save the millions, and stop marching forward with our crusade in haste, leaving the wounded and the weak in faith falling to the sides in our wake. I hope that we will love well the few right around us, that we will make the time to reach across tables, across pews, across airplane aisles and checkout counters, really see the people behind the eyes we are looking into.

I don’t like conquests just for conquest’s sake, and I don’t think God does either.




{I’m over at Outside the City Gate blog today–will you join us over there for the rest of the story–and discussion?}

***Also–don’t forget to link up your stories all week, HERE, on our prompt for concrete words: DIRT!

The series on writing continues tomorrow with the lovely Kelli Woodford guest-posting, and around the end of Feb/first of March, we’ll host a huge link-up for everyone to share their stories/hardships/journey of writing and blogging! Get your stories ready–we want to hear them–and we will choose one to be featured at our blogs! **

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! 

In Which I Invite *All* of us to the Table {The Conundrums of Christian Writing and Blogging: A Series}



You know these lines that seem to sometimes be drawn hard? They make me heart-sick, make me long for Home. I’m talking about up there, in the sky, where there is no camp of beliefs, there is no side, there is no arguing, there is no pushing others out for the sake of our own theology. I think this makes God very small, not that it changes Him, but who He is to us and them almost becomes obsolete, something we so easily discard for the glitz of new-fangled theologies and shoring up our traditional beliefs that have taken a battering.

There, where there is no camp, where He sits on the throne, and His Son, the darling of Heaven, illuminates everything, there will be no darkness in us and we’ll see clearly.

G.K. Chesterson said “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair”.

If religion really is about the way we love God and people, following the two greatest commandments our Saviour asked of us, how can we live this out?

Do we get too caught up in wrong and right, black and white? Do we divide and separate, hurt people in the pursuit of being right in our own religion?

When it comes to our brothers and sisters who are creating art alongside us, are we judging too harshly what others are bringing to the table because of our own likes, dislikes, beliefs and experience? Are we in actuality, because we believe our highest calling is to honor truth and religion as we see it done correctly, pushing the chair back in, and excusing people from the table, leaving them nowhere to partake in the body of Christ?

Are we making them feel uncomfortable in our piety, or by telling them that the pie on the buffet table they just dug into was special-made by a caterer for a church meeting and cost $20?

Our words, and the way we use them at any given time, can be so damaging to people’s hearts and dreams, and we need to be careful how we use those words on social media.

Have we broadcast a party, off in our secret corners, and made them feel uninvited? Have we made it for the elite only, for the rich, for the clean, for the holy, for the ones like-minded?

Does God want more from us?

There have been times I thought for sure I’d happened upon a community of believers that was for me, a place where it was safe, until I found, of course, that it was not safe, and hurt happens everywhere, and hurting people hurt people. It’s been hard for me to navigate the sometimes treacherous, sometimes loving, but always the very human waters of community.

I don’t know much, but I am sure we spend way too much time scrutinizing one another’s art, words, and lives, and not near enough time just loving.

I’d love to see us read, share and write in such a way that we look at it as exploring the many faces of God, because he has as many as there are on this great, spinning orb at this very moment.

I want to pay attention to every life I come in contact with, because they may not be here tomorrow, and they were the face of God for me, uniquely, in a way I’ll never get the opportunity to see again.

Why do we feel the need to be God, to call someone out, to correct, to criticize, to stifle their creativity? Whatever wrong we are so convinced we see in their art, or their lives, through our own filter, when we question their theology, their motives, their calling, we have become self-important and we take on a role only God was meant to have–the role of just judge. And we ask them to quit, tell them they aren’t good enough. We humiliate them, assault their human dignity in the name of truth telling.

Friends, this is the basest form of love, which really isn’t love at all. It’s more akin to apathy, because we’re serving our own purposes.

All I want to do is bend low and wash feet.

When walls keep getting thicker and higher, and lines keep being drawn hard, sides are taken, it becomes harder to wash feet, doesn’t it? If we’re honest, it becomes impossible.

I can’t help but walk around with this ache, thinking this isn’t what Jesus wanted. And this ache, it has no description.

I don’t have a church because I just don’t know how to anymore. I get online to find some community and I see my people scrutinizing one another, talking in whispers, off somewhere in a seemingly private corner, but oh, we must remember, everyone sees, others hear, and it hurts. It’s painful, y’all.

Let’s not whisper in corners. Let’s be bigger than that.

Can we be people who heal?

Let’s not ask one another to quit asking the hard questions. Let’s not ask one another to change theology in exchange for love and acceptance. Let’s not ask one another to quit writing, or creating, or living life audaciously. No, lets’s tell one another the sky’s the limit, because really, it is.

And please, for all that is holy, let’s not excuse someone from the table. They are the face of God, and we need God at the table. I beg of us, to be reverent, to be kind, to protect one another, to be the face of God for one another.

I beg of us to love.

During the meal, Jesus took and blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples: 

Take, eat.

This is my body.

Taking the cup and thanking God, he gave it to them: 

Drink this, all of you.

This is my blood, God’s covenant poured out for many people
for the forgiveness of sins.  

I’ll not be drinking wine from this cup again until that day when I’ll drink with you in the kingdom of my Father.” –Matt. 26:26-29; The Message

For When You’re Feeling Hopeless {and Smoking Doesn’t Mean You’re Going to Hell}



She tells herself to walk outside to get her mind off of things and knows her feet will get wet, but she wants to see her spider lilies that have shot up through the ground with all the hard rain.

The spider lilies they are nostalgic for her, bringing up things within that once were and always will be. They make her want fall to last forever, a season of change, a beautiful relaxed part of her soul that only comes out when the time is right.

The red webbed fingers, they point and speak to her–she knows, winter is coming. It is bittersweet because she knows that life can’t last forever, and yet, there is such beauty here. Neither can the dead things last forever, and she is dead, if she is seeing it clearly.

This world, it is a dark glass, and only on that one day will she see things for what they really are. Then the veil will be pulled back but for now, she wanders and thinks on the life and the dead things, how the life will go down to the deep and lie dormant. It must be given a chance to rest and re-seed and grow in harsh cold. Then and only then can life and hope come forth from the bitter ground.

She know in the dark chambers of her heart where only whispers are held and secrets are kept that spider lilies, so delicate and holding such beauty, don’t last forever–they are but a blink, a momentary fore-shadowing of things to come. She wanders through their sprinkled wet path, blowing smoke along the way, thinking of how she shouldn’t smoke, that it’s been 13 years, but the demons they come back and they come back with a vengeance when she isn’t paying attention. She thinks of how we all have a vice, and God’s grace comes to her on the cool breeze of fall air.

Then like a wakening dream she remembers vividly the man and wife she bumped into. She sees the way the man sat down with a smile and said this is good to talk, we need to, we need to let some stuff out, and how she said, with a knowing look, well, bring it, get it out. She sees the wife, how she fidgeted with every little thing, how she nervously glanced here and there, would not look her in the eyes. And how the man, he told her they were in town for a ceremonial ordinance at someone’s property who lived nearby and she cries out yes! I believe in the Sabbath whole-heartedly and love dearly God’s sacred communion and the sacraments. But then how her heart sank to her stomach as he told her, when she talked of grace, that he believed in the law.

She noticed the woman’s cast-down eyes, the speaking to herself under her breath, the head hung low, apologizing to someone unseen. And in her very heartbeat, she can hear the man saying that yes, we are saved by faith, but that is conditional upon our obedience to God’s law, and she hears it resounding in her ear like a drum, the beating of her own heart, and God’s heart, gu-gome. gu-gome. gu-gome. gu-gome. gu-gome. gu-gome. Can you hear it too?

Because she did, as she listened to him, her heart beat harder and harder, faster and faster, but she knew that only God could speak grace to his heart and only God could lift that woman’s head. She told him how she believed in eternal security, how that she knew she could never be plucked out of God’s hand for any reason. And she told him of her uncle who for most of his life was addicted to drugs and because of the law she never believed he was saved, but that at 30 years old, she finally realized that because he had given his heart to Christ and loved him early on in life, that he was indeed written upon God’s hand forever, and we are not to know the condition of his heart, only God can. The only way to know we are really not in God’s hands is to completely deny him, she tells him.

She walks by the weeds grown up in her beautiful beds she worked so fervently on those summers ago, and she knows that weeds, they can sneak up on us when we are not looking and they can choke out a life. They can try to snuff out, but God’s grace is mightier than anything any old demon, no matter how powerful, can throw upon us. We all have our weeds, untended, neglected, and we all have moments in our lives of hard-heart ground. It’s bitter ground, that hangs its head low, and doesn’t even want to look up at God, doesn’t want to pray, doesn’t want to listen to what we must do to be saved.

And the man, he looked her in the eyes and challenged her and said, what about when a man blasphemes against the holy spirit, the unpardonable sin? Do you believe in that? She looks him in the eye and smiles and says, I believe that is the unpardonable sin, denying him.

She walks around and around the lilies and the weeds, thinking of that last challenge, when he said with fire in his eyes, what about when a man shakes his fist at God and says, I hate God?

Actions on the outside and truth in the heart can be two totally different things, she says. Only God knows if the man believes it in his heart or not. 

The man looks stunned, woman sitting with her eyes cast down, and he says to his sister, Yes, possibly it’s a phase and God will bring him back–that’s an idea to think on….

She walks gently over the grass and steps back inside, and she doesn’t forget the man and wife and the heaviness she felt around them. She thinks on them, says a silent prayer, thinks about her own heart, and its vices.

She reads the 23rd Psalm, the 1st Psalm, God’s promises to her, and she picks up Nehemiah where she left off…

The heading in her bible reads, A List of Exiles Who Returned…and the list is long with many descendants of God’s people. And she recalls the scripture His hand had led her heart to…

“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name…” Neh. 1:8-11

She thinks on the men who hung on a cross next to Jesus, who did not deserve a pardon and how one begged to go to Paradise with him that day, and Jesus’ words swell her heart wide open and bursting with peace. Because to this man, that never had a moment to prove his worth or obedience, Jesus simply said to a thief worthy only of death and condemnation dying next to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Such is God’s way with the heart of a man, and she turns it over and over in her mind, a Rubik’s cube, asking questions of her own with answers that are not yet to be seen.

For it is not their due season, but she knows that at the right time, when winter is over, the fruit will come. It will burst forth like a baby slipping out all wet and wailing and beautiful from its mother’s womb.

She crawls into bed next to her baby and sings amazing grace slowly and softly, letting her voice lilt over the words in peaceful praise and thanksgiving for her name upon His hand.

If you’re interested in further research into this topic, a great wise pastor here:

John Piper answers the question can a person be a Christian and drink or smoke:

John Piper preaches on law and grace–powerful!

Disclosure: I am not endorsing Mark Driscoll’s preaching by posting this, but I love what he has to say here, because it’s biblical and shocking to those of us who judge Christians to “look” and “act” a certain way:

{Context here is that Samuel was sent by God to anoint Israel’s next king, and he assumed it must be Eliab, according to his appearance.}
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Sam. 16:7

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 8:37

Related: Seasons

Announcement: #concretewords is back on Monday, Sept 30 or 31st!! It’s a possibility I could be gone because my anniversary falls on the 29th, so have your submission ready and I’ll have the link-up live either Monday or Tues! Sorry I’ve been gone so long. It’s been a rough several months, and things are still on the mend, but I’m finally ready to write.

Concrete Words prompt: SOIL!

Of Things Unseen {An Abstraction on the Cup}

I cannot say how pleased I am to have Kelli Woodford, my dear friend, here today to guest-write for Concrete Words. Her quiet, searching heart stirs me deep. I hope her words move you as much as they do me. And please, be sure to show her some lovin’ for her words here. 





The styrofoam is warm in my hands. It imprints on my fingertips, a liquid story of contents unseen. 

Steam rises like prayers, fogging out the world as I draw the cup close, closer to my lips. I inhale the fluid decadence. Wishing I could ingest it just as slowly, as tangibly, as it escapes–wafting upward, upward. Always the scent lingering somewhere on the edges of time. I close my eyes. 

A chair skids loud across the flecked tile floor. It wakes me from my drifting. 

To the left, three men sit at a table set for four. One is slick bald. He looks like a preacher to me. Oh, not a preacher-comb-the-hair-over, wear-a-tie, King-Jimmy-in-hand preacher, but one of these cool guy preachers. The kind that sport those trendy, dark-rimmed glasses and the baldness without looking older than 40. 

I run the top of my middle finger along the rim of my cup. Circling, circling. My coffee is still too hot to drink, but I’ve nothing to do but sit with it and with my imagination. A mind at play among the rising fog. 

Their conversation is too low for me to make out, and I’m glad I don’t hear it. I think I’d rather invent it. Bits and pieces, that’s all we know, I wonder if he’s saying. As a preacher, I have a responsibility to proclaim what I believe, but God help me if I don’t spend just as much time with my hand clapped over my mouth, aghast at what great folly it is to ever speak with absolute certainty about God Almighty. He is not a tame Lion. No, no…

My imagination runs wild with the hope of what it would be to hear a preacher admit his finite understanding of God. To say what he knows as freely and gently as if whispered over a casket–instead of boisterous and aggressive, as if a little too used to the amplification of a microphone and stage lights. To give respect to the Mystery of all that defies explanation, instead of putting Eternity in a systematic box. But I know it’s just my experience talking. He’s leaning forward now, toward the others. Whatever he’s saying, it’s clear that he means it with all his heart. 

Velvet fingers, mine, stir serendipity into the coffee, sugar melting, sweet and silent. 

And I sense an opening. It’s deep in me. 

Something creaks as mercies widen, unseen changes afoot. 

I raise my cup and lock eyes with the dark-rimmed stranger over yawning styrofoam. His lips and mine receive the contents poured into our respective open spaces. The misty prayers that rise with this touch to my face are less selfish somehow, and more generous. I see his nerves. They play the surface of his face like a guitar solo. He doesn’t see me, I know now. He is looking at them, at himself. He feels the weight of this responsibility. For he holds something heavier in his hand than the cup from which he sips. 

And he deserves, not my contempt, but my compassion. It might not be wine of the covenant, but I feel the solidarity of our drink in tandem. I feel the words spoken in my narrowed places, now more open that empathy has done her work:

Take, drink, this is my blood, shed for you … do this in remembrance. 

I whisper back, the echoes of another prayer uttered long ago, 

and the sound ricochets inside my cup, which now runneth over. 

That we may be one, Lord Jesus, 

that we may be one. 



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ABOUT KELLI WOODFORD
Kelli hopes never to recover from the mighty mercy she has been shown. Although her life is now filled with more diapers than she’d like to count, she carves time out to write about finding God in the simple and the frustrating at Chronicles of Grace. 



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Gratitude: {1109-1118}…
yellow and purple irises blooming in the yard :: how grown up my 12-year-old is–her intuition and quiet nature that are a gift to me :: my little one lying in bed with me in early morning and nuzzling up against my face with her cheek :: shafts of light across the couch :: beauty of early morning sun :: a cozy blanket and warm coffee :: my bible :: the comforting sound of clean, running water :: the cute sneezes of a certain 3-year-old

{This post shared with Ann, Laura, and Michelle} 

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***Dear readers, I had a conversation with the ever-sweet Amber Haines, and her handing over Concrete Words to me is meant to be a permanent deal. sixinthesticks will now be it’s home for good. Amber has said she can no longer do it on her blog. She has asked me to take it and run with it, change it up, make it my own. I hope those of you who have been with Amber the whole time will be along for this wild, fun ride! I’ve never had so much fun with writing!! 
     
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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–
                                             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 the Cup

**Starting next week, Concrete Words will be going live every Sunday evening, sometime between 7 and 10 pm. I cannot promise an exact time, as my weekends are very spontaneous and I’m a little bit of a roving rebel.
The prompt next week is the Afternoon.{I’ll highlight a beautiful post on Friday (and announce it on social media), so come back here to see whose post is highlighted and encourage them!}


In Which I Tell You That You Are Amazing On Mother’s Day {because you need to believe it}



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

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

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

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

Isn’t that usually the way with mothers?

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

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

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

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

maybe we just need to be told we. are. amazing.

Me.

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

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

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

It’s not easy, is it? I know.

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

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

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

But it isn’t how it ends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is why I know, know, know that he doesn’t want us mothers feeling guilty today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He loves you, daughter, infinitely and wondrously.

He sees your struggle, your pain.

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

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

And He says it. is. good. 






{This post shared with The Weekend Brew}

When You Miss Him & Fear of Religious Forms {Day 6}

My pen stalls and it’s stuck to the page, doesn’t want to let any words go. That pen, so stubborn, tattle-telling on my heart.

How does one write about how to have joy in the everyday when joy is so obviously elusive?

Maybe it’s been my heart that has been neglectful of what’s important–resentful of that “great secret” of Christians?

It is easy to avoid the truth and resent reality and so hard to face the stark consequences of every second, every minute, every day. My sin flavors every moment that ticks on that clock, mocking me. 

All I see on those hands are chains that bind, moments wasted, fretted away, moments squelched by my yelling, or my complacency, my apathy, my selfishness, my ingratitude. And there are more ways than one to quench the Holy Spirit.

I always wondered as a child, what does “quenching” mean? What am I doing to the Holy Spirit when I argue with my sister, disobey my parents, talk in church, don’t raise my hands and worship? Not take Him seriously enough? Am I ringing Him out, squeezing Him, hurting Him, making him sad?

As an adult, I get more curious and less assuming that what others tell me is correct.

I look up the meaning, and I find out that “quench” means to put out the light or fire of, to cool suddenly by immersion, to bring to an end, to decrease.

I ponder on this as I wipe tables, and I tell girls to make home clean and good-smelling for Daddy and then when he walks in the door, suddenly I am this sinful wretch, and I disrespect him with my tone when I don’t like his words.

In an unexpected turn, my blind eyes are opened, and I know no home that holds the heavy stench of hateful words can be made good-smelling by candles. 

No amount of Better Home will change this fact, either.

And when children’s hearts nurture their mother’s bad habits of disrespecting their father, in tone, in words, or just in a look– their bodies having been nourished with only healthy, organic foods holds no water.

And when a heart is tarnished with rebellion, no home can shine joy no matter how back-breakingly polished the old floors. 

Really–what good does it do for me to tell my children to make home cheerful and comfortable for Daddy when they see me tear down my home? 

What good is all my polishing, all my scrubbing, all my generosity for guests–if the smile is weakly and fragilely affixed, the one Anchor not holding me, because my gaze is not affixed on Him.

A smile can break so easily and a moment of laughter in this home can be fine china in the pounding wake of my destructive ingratitude. 

And I want to cup it so carefully, and the tighter I try to grasp at it, hoping to save it, it crumbles there like ashes in an unquenchable fire of negativity.

And I’ve learned that quenching the Holy Spirit of God has less to do with whether or not I raise my hands in worship, whether that man steps outside the service for a cigarette, that woman taps on her cell during preaching, or whether I can bring myself to the altar.

It has much less to do with religious forms and much, more to do with the everyday, more with my heart moment by moment.

I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is doing his work in that man’s heart who is holding the cigarette, and He is speaking to the woman’s heart who is holding the cell, though I can’t hear the holy conversation, and I bear more fruit when I am quiet in worship than when I am distracted by a form. 

One thing I’ve learned through a life-time of being in church, is that it’s possible the man who steps outside the service? It’s possible he has more humility than the man inside, praying ’til he’s the last in the building.

It’s why Jesus said it’s hard for the rich to enter heaven–they have no need of it. And when we rely on religious forms, and we think we have it all together, and we believe our prayers inside are better than the man’s outside, well, we are like the rich man who doesn’t need God. 

We think we know God, but we’re working with a hologram, a phantom, and don’t even realize it.

And I’ve come to resent religious forms, “how-to” books, 10 step devotionals–I want only real, only face-plant, I can’t do this without you God, I don’t need 10 steps–

I just need you, a holy God to come near.

And in my resenting, hard-heart ways? God has brought me full-circle.

Quenching the Holy Spirit is about every second, every minute, every hour and every day in the small things. It’s when I make this hallowed ground hell for my family. It’s when I yell at them and then smile for the guests driving up in the yard. It’s when I neglect the sacred moments of snuggling and reading in the dark for the computer. It’s when I isolate, fetal-position curled-up, and I lock myself away, and my family is begging me to come out, chubby hands reaching up, just needing so much love.

And it’s hard to let go of this fear of religious forms, and make this sacred time with God–learn how to get back to joy– but when I learn to reach out, how to let go of all my fears of being used-up and slain, and I lie down and read that book with them instead of something I want to do and it’s when I let go of my fear of religious forms and sing worship, hands in warms suds, it’s when I have gratitude for this moment and I break free in laughter about the baby climbing up and chomping down half a bag of marsh-mellows, that I let the Holy Spirit blaze ’round here.

And when I don’t let worship be tainted–worship I’ve witnessed being made profane–this freedom of me and God walking, Him whispering to me that I’m Beloved, it takes over in absolute joy.

I watch her, little feet pounding across pine floors, so much sunshine in her hair, and through this lens of gratitude, who couldn’t see joy?

Linking up with The Nester, and all the other 31-Dayers.…This ought to be one wild, brave ride…

Also linking with: Ann , Jennifer, & Duane

Do you struggle with fear of religious forms, friend? Does it hold you hostage–keep you from an intimate relationship with Him? What’s your story? How has God redeemed it? Have you found grace? Your comments so encourage me. I draw strength from your kind words and knowing you were here. My faith walk is seasoned with the right ingredients when you hang around…



This is Day 6 of 31 days of Fear. Since I started my Day 1 a little late, my “31 Days” will not have 31 posts. I have chosen to do this one on FEAR, because it seems to be something I keep wrestling with over and over, something that keeps me in chains, pins me down, won’t let me free. I hope you will come with me on this journey–to get a taste of glorious redemption as I soul-search and look for Jesus smack-dab in the middle of my fears. And Jesus sits with sinners. I won’t have to look very far. Couldn’t we all use some freedom from those fear-chains that bind? I pray God gives me the strength and the courage to complete 31 days–y’all, it’s going to be hard on this ‘ol gal to write every.single.day. Pray for me? You can find the entire 31 Day collective here 









Friends, meet my friend, Jennifer. She is so lovely and down-to-earth, a farmer’s wife in Iowa. I just love her, and you will too. If you would so kindly click here and go over to Jennifer’s site for a giveaway–her sweet daughter, Lydia, is having a jewelry party to raise money for a school playground for children in Haiti. We know these children and families have been affected by much suffering after the earthquake. This jewelry is hand-made by our sisters in Haiti–Jennifer has been there, met them, hung out with them in their homes–and this is Jennifer’s project. By buying one of these beautiful necklaces, you will be helping a Haitian woman work to feed her family, AND you will be helping raise money for children to have a place to play! She is also giving away some jewelry, so hurry on over and share on facebook, twitter, etc for your spot in the giveaway! I’m definitely buying one–I hope you do, too!