Category Archives: secular and sacred

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

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Brokenness, A Grace-Bathed Thread

{The Conundrums of Writing and Blogging: A Series}

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

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

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

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

  
~by Kelli Woodford

——————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the table, together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~by Nacole Simmons

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






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





linking with friends, MichelleHolleyEmilyJennifer and Outside the City Gate

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

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

Other posts in this series below  

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

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


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

Rooted In A Tangible Grace — Kelli Woodford   

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

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

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

On Vulnerability and Boundaries –a guest post from Diana Trautwein 

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


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


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

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

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

Just–what a weary day, huh?

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

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

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

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

Love always, always wins. Every time.

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

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

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

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

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

Every good thing I begin, I bring to completion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloom.

——————————————————————————————————-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Today’s prompt is Bloom. GO!


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

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


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

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


A passion to follow Jesus. 

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

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

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 .}