Category: writing

on filling empty spaces

I have a thing that’s holding space. It exists in my life in order to give me something to do while I wait. At it’s best, it’s a distraction from the waiting. It’s not bad or inherently evil. In some ways it connects me to the outside world and (theoretically) helps pay some bills.

But it’s just not mine. It’s not my dream, or my passion. It’s simply holding space for when my dream actualizes—for the thing that lights me up and makes me get out of the bed in the morning. I have glimpses of what it could be…but right now it feels so out reach and unattainable.

So I wait.

And I Noonday.

Over Christmas I felt the Spirit, pressing in asking me to release it back. To let go of this thing that was holding space because somehow it had become more than that. I wrestled, not wanting to give it up. I feel like I am part of something bigger—and it feels good. I don’t know how to fill the empty spaces…I don’t know how to sit in this season of unknowingness. I didn’t want to give it up because at least it’s something.

I whispered the words to a friend testing them out

So, I think I may be done being an ambassador for Noonday. I knew it was a space holder. I just didn’t think it was a one-year thing…

I think we hope our space holders will be more than just temporary. They hold space for a reason, mostly because at some point, it comforts us.

So I loosened my grip and brought myself back into alignment. I remembered who I am at my core. And I felt the invitation to stay here a little longer. It means setting boundaries—not giving all of myself over to this thing that is mine but not. It will mean saying no a lot more and watching some opportunities pass by. But it means I will also be able to say yes to things that matter a little more…and it means I’ll get to go a little deeper when I do say yes.

It means trusting this writing process. So many half-starts and unfinished words littering thousands of spaces on my computer; my dresser drawers over-flow with journals…I let that defeat me. I started to believe that was all I would have to show. Instead of trusting that as long as I come back to this place again and again, it will bear fruit. This is not wasted time, nor wasted effort.

It means getting back to my roots—I’m a story-teller. I’m a lover of words. I’m a lover of collaboration and peace-making. Whatever I do can be a part of that, but writing is my “way back to life” (Stephen King, On Writing). It’s how I make the world make some semblance of sense to me.

What about you? What are the things that are holding space in your life? And how do you come back to yourself when your space holders become more than that?

on Streams of Living Water (a book review)

It’s frustrating thinking you have the world figured out only to have it be turned upside down. In my last post I mentioned that I had spent years trying to fit into an Evangelical mold. This wasn’t anyone’s fault. I grew up in an Evangelical church, and gravitated towards a similar church as a young adult. I thought Evangelical meant Christian: If one wasn’t Evangelical then they were missing the gospel. (The funny part is, I wasn’t even quiet sure what Evangelical meant.) It wasn’t that I thought God only loved Evangelicals…I just thought that the Evangelicals had a “more right” relationship with God—like somehow my/our human choices could make the relationship more right. We had it figured out.

Oh, how pride goes before a fall, little one.

So understandably when I started moving away from an Evangelical tradition, I encountered a crisis of faith. If I didn’t believe this anymore, was I still a Christian? And I know some people walking on the fringes of my life wonder(ed) the same thing.

I made it through. Or, more precisely, I am making it through. I am clinging to Jesus and giving a little more space for him to sort things out. I know a whole hell of a lot less—and I care less about clinging to my “right” answers.

A friend recommended Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water. I held it in my hands and turned it around. I opened the book and didn’t put it down—the words were new and refreshing. It painted a picture of a rich tradition of faith with many different streams: Contemplative, Holiness, Charismatic, Social Justice, Evangelical, and Incarnational. He showed how people connect to God in many different ways, but all were of one body, coming from One source.

I didn’t know that all of these different streams could simultaneously be sacred and holy and good. Foster taught me that as a diverse people we are all going to relate to God in different ways. Each tradition has it’s own strengths—things we can garner and learn and practice—as well as it’s own perils and pit-falls.We are invited to learn from one another, care for one another, serve one another while being gracious and kind.This takes an extra dose of humility—it’s hard when you understand something and think you’re “right,” to hold space for someone else at the table. And I couldn’t/wouldn’t do it when I was younger. My way was the best way, and there was little compassion for another way.

But through Foster’s book about the different streams, I began to appreciate the rich heritage that has gone before me. That at each moment in time, each of these streams has leant itself to the world as the way forward, a light in the darkness. It’s a beautiful picture of what we, the Church, can be.

A few things came about from my time with this book. One, is that I learned that the stream I am most drawn to is the Incarnational. Some of that is because it’s less about doing and more about being. It’s because my mundane, small existence can still be beautiful and wrapped in Jesus. Folding laundry, cooking dinner, baking bread, teaching my kids and drinking coffee with friends become sacraments. Or rather, they are sacraments because I am doing them. I can cease striving to be something I’m not and just live as Christ invites. I find peace and strength in that. The second thing that came about is for the first time in about three years, I felt an invitation to crawl back into Scripture—I could start reading it again. I could sit with my Bible open on my lap and read the words. Instead of obligation I was reminded to appreciate my own Evangelical tradition—this book is holy and sacred and to be taken seriously[1] (thanks to Sarah Bessey for her teaching on this). I wanted to read it again.

And I began to notice and appreciate the way I saw and experienced others wrapping flesh around their faith. Recently, the Pope had the chance to go before some world leaders. Thanks to social media I saw some who were frustrated with him and questioning his love for God because he didn’t share the gospel. The beauty of seeing our faith tradition as different streams all coming from One source, is that we can trust the way God is moving in and around our fellow believers. I don’t have to questions my brother’s faith because he’s not “preaching the gospel.” Instead, I get to appreciate that he’s showing the world how Jesus loves through his own hands and feet—through his compassion.

There is space for all of us at the table, space for our histories, our streams, and our stories. I want to be quick to hear and slow to speak. Quick to hear your experiences and your stories and your practices and how God has met and moved you and slow to offer my own platitudes and judgments. This is hard work. It is holy work, but hard.

[1] Bessey, Sarah. Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith. New York: Howard, 2015. Print.

on epiphanies and transactions

It’s my first year to follow the liturgical calendar and to notice that Christmas ended yesterday. I like the idea that Christmas lasts for twelve days—twelve days of remembering Emmanuel, God with us. Twelve days to wrestle with Creator becoming (sort of) created; divinity wrapping itself in flesh. Twelve days to sit with the mystery and hold the weight that Christmas, so Easter.

And now we enter the season of Epiphany. We talked about epiphanies on Sunday. Today is the first day of Epiphany…I’m still not sure what it means. But I wanted to mark some things, some changes in the way I think about thinking about God.

Growing up I was encouraged, exhorted, taught, convinced that I had to wake up early in the morning and spend time praying and reading my Bible. It was something I strove to bring into focus in my life. I was taught to pray for myself, for my friends, my community, my church, the city, the state, the United States, the world, the planet, the universe AND spend 30 minutes reading the Bible…I think at one point in order to do “all the things” I was having to wake up at 4am. Needless to say it was never a practice that stuck for more than a day or two. Queue the guilt.

When my first was born, and sleeping became erratic, I learned to have “quiet times” when he laid down for his first nap. Epiphany: my time praying and reading didn’t have to happen as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning, just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. It could happen in those quiet moments—whatever quiet moment I carved out of the day. It was sacred and holy time, no matter if I had been awake for a few hours and eaten breakfast, or after running to the grocery store, or worked out, or slept in because hello 2am and 4am feedings. It was my first taste of freedom—my practices aren’t going to look like anyone else’s and that’s OK.

After years of church work and forcing myself to fit an evangelical mold, I crashed and burned. I found Scripture dead and heavy work. I couldn’t pray.  Along the way I learned about breath prayer. I was breathing, at least. So I matched prayer to my breath. It was simple when I needed simple, connecting mind to heart to body to spirit.

I breathe God in.

I breathe God out into the world.

It was the only prayer I could say. Anything else felt forced, contrived and even trite. Who am I to know the heart of God? I didn’t know what to ask for—for you or for me. That breath prayer was the only prayer that felt honest. Epiphany: being me, bringing my full self to the table is more important than any program or structure. I couldn’t read my bible and journal and pray the way I had before. But this time, sometimes only five minutes of breath prayer in a hectic morning, was just as sacred and holy. It carved out space for me to re-center on the One who continually calls me to his side. Another epiphany: God is always waiting for me in those spaces. Lighting a candle and leaving it, coming back to it. That was a picture God gave me—never leaving, always ready and waiting to welcome me back to God’s light and warmth. I can never travel to far or too long. And there is no judgment—I can just slip into God’s arms once again, like sitting in the light of the candle on my couch wrapped in blankets. Warmth and comfort and a welcome back, love. I missed you.

Yet…even in a season of early morning prayers and late night prayers, I find myself experiencing frustration when the promise of peace doesn’t linger. When three minutes after waking up the littles, there are tears and frustrations and fights. And I find myself turning my anger towards God, almost hissing you promised! If I did this, then…

Epiphany: all these years later, I still viewed my relationship with God as transactional. I expected to feel good and for the good feelings to last no matter what. I felt betrayed when it didn’t. Angry when I carved out space and it wasn’t all I wanted it to be, either because the good feelings didn’t come, or they dissipated soon after the chaos from the day began. I don’t even know what to do with that one. I think just leaning into it, confessing and being present in the feelings (frustration, anger, bitterness) as they come. And here it is again…I expected the 30 minutes in the morning to last all day long. I set aside this time for this activity and now I’m good. I worked out for an hour today. I don’t have to do it again.

Epiphany: praying isn’t a work of once and done—it’s a continual state of my heart. I learned this, once, when I read Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God. It radically released me to view mundane tasks as opportunities for prayer. But I still viewed that morning time prayer as more sacred and holy and enough so that I never “had to” think about prayer again. But this is a relationship, not a work out. My people that I’m closest to? We text multiple times throughout the day, checking-in. I can’t wait to tell them the good things. I need their encouragement and exhortation when the bad things rise. I turn immediately to share with them the deepest pieces of my heart. If this thing with God is a relationship…then 10 minutes in the morning is beautiful and sacred. But there will be a continual turning of my heart towards him. In the moments when the feelings rise, turning to the one who knows me and saying, did you see? I feel…THIS IS AMAING…I feel so frustrated!!!…I can’t believe…God, comfort her. Let her feel your presence…

or

when words fail

I breathe God in.

I breathe God out into the world.

I’d love to hear from you—what are your epiphanies? What has woken you up, shifted, or changed the way you either approach God or think about the way you approach God?

bloom

Providence.

I’ve been encountering it a lot lately.

Things lining up in that subtle yet perfectly orchestrated way. I can’t miss the gift given, nor the Giver.

Last night I didn’t want to be alone. My soul felt heavy in my bones. Words were failing and I needed to be out of my own head. I spent an hour trying to find someone to come over and sit with me.

I texted her, some random comment. She’d been here late the night before and had a full day of work. I didn’t want to intrude. If I’m being honest, I feel like I’m sucking out her soul as I’m losing mine. I’m scared she’ll be annoyed with me if I need one more thing from her.

She saw through my words and asked “do I need to come over?”

I laughed. It was funny-not-funny. I whispered yes and wept. This season has been one of starts and stops…things I thought were givens feel like they are turning to dust in my hands. The breath comes, jagged and sharp. But still there. I have hope. It lingers and sparks…I see it in the 11:11 time stamp, forever my reminder to pray.

I see it in the $42 thrifted boots—24 hours after asking for a pair for Christmas.

I see it in the care of friends for my children.

I see it in my husband as love, once waning, is rekindled and burns bright.

I receive the gift and I see the Giver, gracing me with good things that speak only to my soul. There are low moments, moments when I forgot to see and my words become jumbled. Where I listen to my words instead of Wisdom. Where I know I’m forcing instead of receiving.

But that’s life, isn’t it? A journey of starts, stops, falls, and perils. Yet hope blooms forever along the roadside.

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