Weekend Letter, Vol. 2 (on why we don’t have to hide)

Dear friends,

Many moons ago, during college days, I worked part-time for a chaplain. I so admired her — the way she read deeply, was not afraid of hard conversations, and looked at the world with uninhibited compassion. If I had known her at another time in my life, I think I would have taken every opportunity to get to know her better and to learn from her.

But during those months that I spent helping out in her office, I was also going through one of the biggest struggles of my life. And because shame convinced me that I could not let anyone know about my internal crisis, I repeatedly backed away from her attempts to connect.

Looking back, I think she knew that my heart-and-mind reality did not match the everything-is-okay surface I was trying so desperately to maintain. She’d ask questions, offer books, try to engage me in a conversation about more than the day’s tasks. I felt so alone but I didn’t want to let anyone get close, didn’t want to be honest about my mixed-up emotions…and I stayed quiet.

One of the last moments we had together was after a mountain retreat that she’d led over a weekend (one that I was invited to attend but didn’t for all of the above reasons). She brought this stone back for me, a simple smooth stone with the word peace etched into its surface.

After all the turned-away gestures, stunted conversations, quick getaways from the office…still, she reached out. Still, she thought of me.

It was a moment of grace that has stayed with me all these years. I couldn’t find the words to tell her then, but it was more than I felt I deserved. It was more than a simple gift.

It was Love not giving up on me even when I felt entirely unlovable. It was an offer of peace when I had none. It was being seen, just as I was in all my imperfection, and still welcomed…even when I couldn’t find the courage to respond.

That chaplain moved on and I don’t know where she is today…but if I could find her, I would tell her how grateful I was for that simple gesture that felt like a little beam of hope into my darkness.

I still hold onto it when I need to remember that I’m not alone, that God sees me exactly where (and how) I am…and is holding onto me.

I can’t give you a reminder-stone of your own this morning, but I can offer these words from my hands to yours…you are not alone, friend. You don’t have to hide.

I know it can feel so scary to be honest about our struggles. But when we start to share our stories, we find out that we are not the only ones who don’t have it all together. Not one of us does.

And no matter what we have or haven’t done, no matter what other people might try to say, no matter how we feel about ourselves— we are still loved. Our feelings don’t alter His truth — Jesus gave His life so we would know that we have been loved from beginning to end. And in the sometimes-messy-middle, we are still held by the God who sees us, knows us, and calls us His own.

In the light, in the darkness, in the chaos, in peace, in the victories, in the mistakes, in gladness, in beauty, in ashes, when we don’t feel like we deserve it — ALWAYS — we are loved.

We always have been. We always will be.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 8:38-39

 

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Weekend Letter, Vol. 1 (on learning to dance through dead-end doorways)

 

Dear friends,

The calendar and the baked-in heat in the air tell me that we’re drawing near to summer’s end.

I don’t like to think about it. I prefer the deep heat, everything green, the sky holding its light until bedtime.

With all the wonderful things fall brings, it also means that winter is on the way with its short days, early darkness, cold temperatures, and the end of wildflowers.

But it’s the rhythm of the year. It’s the balance of earth — every season needed, turns of weather with purpose.

Living with balance, keeping step with a rhythm greater than my own…it’s a life lesson I am always in the process of learning.

*****

Back in February of 2017, I was so excited to let all of you know that I had signed a contract with an independent press and was on the journey to have a book published. It seemed like the dream I’d carried in my heart since the second grade was coming true and I was so grateful.

But about six months later, that independent press closed its doors. This meant, of course, that the work-in-progress on that particular book came to an abrupt end.

I had a lot of emotions that came along with this unexpected turn. I was sad, disappointed, confused. I knew it wasn’t anything I’d done wrong, but I was even embarrassed. It felt like I’d gotten my hopes up, gotten everyone excited along with me, and had nothing to show for it. It felt like a failure.

BUT. Here’s the thing. I’d also spent 2017 with the word sustain…it was the word so strong in my heart at the beginning of the year that I’d been leaning into it, understanding day-by-day dependence on God. I’d been pondering, for months, what His promise to provide for me really meant.

So in one hand, I held disappointment of a dead-end dream. In the other hand, I held the promise of God’s faithfulness.

And, beneath my feet, was this word sustain…the assurance that I had a Father who was there to give support, to supply, to nourish, to keep up, to support. In other words, my hands were full of what seemed like conflicting realities but I was still being held by a God who hadn’t changed. And He met me there, with all of my not-pretty feelings and tears and frustrated moments. He walked through every bit of it with me.

*****

I tried to keep working on that book. I kept surrendering all of those scattered emotions and tried to put my focus on the words in front of me and the purpose I’d prayed they would one day serve. But as hard as I tried, I was creating out of disappointment when I wanted to create out of hope. So I knew I had to lay that book aside.

I sat in the rubble of the future I’d been so sure of and wondered what was next. The truth was that I had no idea. And it was scary. What I’d wanted for so long had been in my grasp and then…just like that…it was gone.

*****

It took a while for the dust to settle. And this isn’t one of those stories that you hear about with a resolved ending…I’m not writing this with a new book contract in the works.

What I DO have is the assurance, for various reasons, that the leadership of that particular company wasn’t the right fit for my work. It was a door shut for my good and I can say that now with full confidence.

And even better? I was given the unexpected gift of a writing family. I wasn’t the only writer under contract with that company…the press was dissolved, but seven of us unified into a community. I have friends that understand the journey, offer support along the way, and bring joy into my life on a regular basis.

 *****

As for the writing? I didn’t know what to do next. I let go of that particular version of my dream. I had no plan, for the first time in a long time. And it felt like exactly the place I needed to be, as uncomfortable as it was.

I needed, again, to surrender control.

And surrendering control is scary.  It can feel like anxiety and it can feel like only being able to move one small lit-up step at a time.

But it can also feel like a fresh wind blowing through.

It can feel like staying present in the moment and having that moment be enough.

It can be letting go of self-imposed expectation and feeling the weight of all that yearning fall off the heart.

It can feel like an open path for something new.

It can feel like wild hope.  It can feel like freedom. 

*****

I still don’t have answers. I don’t have a plan.

And that’s okay. Sometimes we need to stay quiet to hear His voice. Sometimes we have to release our dreams to trust His.

Following is not an exact science. It requires giving up  perfectionism…trusting that His love is big enough to catch us even when we mess up, even if we fall.

It’s believing that we are enough, just us – as He made us, in our simple being – for Him to take delight in us without our performance, without our achievements, without what we can do.  It’s giving up the deeply planted idea that success only looks a certain way.

It’s giving up the idea of our strength but still knowing we are strong. It’s understanding  the source of our strength.

It’s giving up obsession with end results and finding joy in the process.

It’s coming back to a first love that reminds me that no matter what else falls away, He remains.  

*****

So that’s where I am….I’m writing out of delight, stringing poems together, taking pictures that catch my eye on Instagram. I’m dancing more. I’m doing my best to follow the wind of the Spirit, reading widely, listening more than I speak, looking for wonder, letting my roots sink deeper and deeper into Love.

I’m trusting the seasons as they come…they all have beauty. They all have something I need. I’m leaning into that greater rhythm..letting go of the lead…believing that I can’t take a step without His love going before me…putting my heart in the hands of that wild hope.

And I feel free. 

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”-Matt.11:28, MSG

The Love I Know

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Before my cells were strung together, before blood began to flow through tiny veins, before my eyes opened, before oxygen filled my lungs, before my parents spoke my name —

He already knew me.

Before I walked a faltering first step, before sentences slipped from my lips, before I knew His story —

He already knew mine.

Before I could love Him, He already loved me.

This is how I have been loved: nothing-held-back, in-all-things, whether-or-not-I-deserved-it.

His love is never-earned, never-condemning, never-faltering.

He lifts my head to see His face; it’s His smile that shatters my shame.

He takes my worn-out, try-hard, never-enough spirit of despair and gives me His own righteousness to wear.

He shows up in my weakness. He takes away my fear, never growing weary of my need. He forgives me when I am wrong. He teaches me what I need to know, sometimes over and over again. He doesn’t give up on me.

He is compassion when I am hurting. He is peace in my heartbreak. He is joy even in my sorrow. He is light when all I see darkness.

When I was alone and broken, He saw His child that needed to be held close, restored, and not just put back together but made new.

Before I could choose to love Him, He chose to suffer so I can be made whole. He chose to die so I can live.

This is the love I know: Patient. Kind. Without envy. Not self-serving. Love that is not boastful, proud, or rude. Love that does not demand its own way, love that is not irritable. It keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.

This love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. It never fails.

This is how He has loved me. This is how He loves you.

Stay in My love, He says. Abide here.

And go love everyone else like I have loved you.

*********
In the noise and the chaos of these days, in this time when darkness is pressing in — it’s my own heart where I have to begin asking questions, where I ask that my eyes will be opened until I see everything clearly in the light of His love.

Am I acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God?

Am I loving like I have been loved?

Tell Your Story

Every day, we decide how to use our voices.

Have you ever felt, though, like you aren’t sure what you want to say? Sometimes, it can feel like we don’t have anything to give that might matter to someone else…sometimes, it seems like anything worth saying has already been said, like the noisy world doesn’t need our words. Sometimes it feels safer to retreat into our routines and keep our stories to ourselves. Sometimes, it’s easier to stay quiet.

But through your actions, through your silence, through your words, through your art, through your work — you are going to tell your story to the world around you, one way or another. We are placed wherever we are, in this moment, for this time. So what you choose to say matters. Your voice DOES make a difference…and, YES, you have something worthwhile to offer.

Friends, we are hope-bearers.

We hold the wonder of God’s perfect love, the beauty of heart-changing mercy, the peace of our Savior’s presence.

We have words of grace, of healing, of compassion. We have Love that turns stories of sin, pain, and brokenness into stories of all-things-made-new salvation, mourning-into-dancing, ashes-into-beauty, death-into-life.

Christ within us, the love of the Father, the gift of redemption – this is the story that is needed. It is the story that matters most.

And it is yours to tell. It is mine to tell. We are children of the light, the redeemed, the beloved…and it is time for our lives to say so. May we choose, every day, His words of life. May we choose, every day, to act in His love. May we choose, every day, to allow the story of our lives to tell His.

*****
One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts. I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works. Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts, and I will declare Your greatness. They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness, and shall sing of Your righteousness…The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. All Your works shall praise You, O Lord, and Your saints shall bless You. They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom, and talk of Your power, to make known to the sons of men His mighty acts…my mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord.” –from Psalm 145

#speaklove #tellyourstory

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Following Close Behind

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It has been a noisy week. As I sit down to write this post, I still have all of these words scrambling around in my mind…words I’ve heard, words I’ve read, words I’ve spoken, words I’m trying to figure out how to express.

And as I come into this space…I’m yearning for quiet. I’m yearning for stillness. I’m yearning for less of me. I’m tired of my words.

It’s a sure sign that I need to hear His.

As we move into the weekend, maybe you (like me) are feeling that your brain is over-crowded and your heart is feeling a little weary.

We all need Sabbath-rest, friends.

So I’ll leave words here from the Psalmist, words to help my eyes re-focus on Him…and maybe take a walk, let everything else fade away for a little while, and leave room for the Father’s still, small voice.

May you find some room for quiet this weekend, some rest for your heart, some time to let everything around you fall to a hush for even just a little while…let’s leave space for His words, room for His presence.

My heart is confident in you, O God;
    my heart is confident.
    No wonder I can sing your praises!
Wake up, my heart!
Wake up, O lyre and harp!
I will wake the dawn with my song.    

 I will thank you, Lord, among all the people.
    I will sing your praises among the nations.
For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens.
    Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens.
    May Your glory shine over all the earth. – Psalm 57:7-11

Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
    how I praise you!
I will praise you as long as I live,
    lifting up my hands to you in prayer.
You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
    I will praise you with songs of joy…

Because You have been my help, Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me. -Psalm 63:3-5,7-8

 

Don’t Be Afraid of Taking It Slow

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When I was in fifth-grade, my class spent a day planting pine tree seedlings to fill areas of a local forest left bare by a lumber company cutting down trees. It was our Earth Day project and I was so excited to get out into the woods. I was even more excited when we were all given a few baby trees to take at the end of the afternoon so that we could plant them wherever we chose.

My parents helped me plant my bundle of pine trees on the border of our property. It wasn’t too long afterwards that we moved away from that house and that town…but my grandparents, uncles, and aunts remained there, living on that stretch of land where I’d ran so many times from my house to theirs. So, over the years, I’d go back to visit our family and always take a look at my trees, too. It felt good to have left something behind, something good that could keep growing; I didn’t live there anymore, but my trees did…so I felt like I was still a part of that land.

I remember when they were knee-high…I remember how impressed I was when they grew to reach my shoulders…I remember how delighted I felt, years later, when I first saw that they had finally outgrown me.

It sometimes feels like it wasn’t really that long ago when I first placed their roots in the ground, but since I’ve planted those trees? I’ve lived in no less than seven new towns, graduated from high school, moved out of my parent’s house to start college, got married and had three babies, watched my little sisters and brother grow up to start families and careers. My oldest baby started high school and my youngest is already 9. 

It has been twenty-four years since I planted those seedlings.

And last week, I stood in that old yard of mine and looked up in awe at those same trees. These trees of such fragile beginnings, once so carefully carried by my ten-year-old hands, are now strong and deeply rooted. They’ve survived snow and thunderstorms, the heat of twenty-four North Carolina summers. The fragile limbs I once knew are now thick branches — and they’re home to birds, to insects, serve as the playground of happy squirrels.

The same trees that I once held in my lap on the ride home from school now touch the sky.  

I haven’t been able to get those trees off my mind since I came home from that visit. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how many years have passed and all that was changing in my life while all the while, those trees were steadily digging roots into earth, drinking in sunshine and rain, stretching inch by inch, reaching higher and higher. They never tired of holding their ground. No matter how many days and weeks and years passed, they simply stood taller.

They had small beginnings, those trees. Little hands planted them and then I had to leave them, trusting them to my grandparents and to their Creator to watch over them as they grew. I can’t pinpoint when it happened, not exactly. I can’t tell you in what year they changed from seedlings or lanky adolescents into mature pines that thrive on their own. All I know is that they stand now in the fullness of what they were created to be.

It took time, and maybe that’s why I can’t get them off my mind — because it’s something I’m learning over and over again…the things that matter, the growth that matters — it all takes time and, usually, more than we expect.

It can be so, so easy to get caught up in looking for quick results. It can become a daily race to make sure we get the right numbers, the right boxes checked off, the right amount of accomplishment. There’s a feeling of urgency to succeed, a worrisome hum in the air that we’re going to get too old to matter, that there are too many people ready to take our place if we don’t out-speak and out-do them right now, right this instant. We feel guilty if we don’t finish our ideas or achieve our goals within the time-frame our culture (and our own panicked selves) expect of us…

But, most often, the truly good things in this life do take time.  The garden of nourishing greens, the caterpillar’s transformation to butterfly, a baby in the womb, a child growing day by day, long-lasting friendships, a forest filled with trees…real growth and real maturity requires time.

And while we grow frustrated with anything that feels too slow, God is patient. And although He can (and sometimes does) change things in an instant, He is interested in consequences that are eternal.  

He cares about the single seeds that are planted. He tends them, watches them grow, looks for harvest that endures.  

The earth is layer over layer, soil rich with yesterday nourishing today.

The stars go on further and there are more of them than we can imagine and not a one of them panics that their light isn’t significant. It takes a sky full to light up the night.

He tells His story through generation upon generation, never growing weary of reaching us with His love.

There is space for you, for us, for our lives. Don’t be afraid of losing your place. Don’t be afraid of running out of time.  

God has entrusted you with a dream, with the work in your hands, with the relationships in your life — be patient with these sacred gifts. Our time is in His hands…so don’t fear the passing of seasons. When we live surrendered to Him, He never wastes time. He uses it to help us grow…what He asks of us is that we follow His leading and do what He enables us to do in the day we are living now.  Offer your best while you entrust Him with the enduring and eternal harvest…He promises to finish the good work He begins in us.

When we believe that it’s all up to us and that it only matters if we get it done as soon as possible – and the sooner, the better – we will begin to live, create, and love surface-deep.

When we begin to believe that our words are important only if they’re the loudest in the room, we’ll get caught up in the clamor and miss the still, small voice that matters most.

If we believe that small beginnings aren’t worth our time and effort, then we’ll never see how beauty can grow.

When we try so hard to keep up with the pace of the crowd, we will lose step with Him.

Let’s be brave enough to get quiet and listen. Let’s be brave enough to take our time. Let’s move to the rhythm He sets for us, His melody of grace.

Let’s be brave enough to trust Him.

Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year – keep digging roots deep into love, keep nourishing your life with Light, keep drinking in the water that you never have to fear will run dry, keep reaching out toward the heavens.

In this simple way, with patience and perseverance, we will hold our ground through every storm and the change of every season…through it all, our Creator will sustain us and we will bear the fruit He intends for us to share.  

Steadily, inch by inch, we’ll keep growing into the fullness of who our God has created us to be.

They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.-Jeremiah 17:8

Encircle Me

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There are some days that are harder than others. There are some days when self-doubt and fear drum away in the corner of my mind. There are some days when accusation and anxiety clash their cymbals over and over again, raising a ruckus. There are some days when a chorus of insecurity plays over and over again.

The longer I let myself sit as an audience to this band of reproach, the louder and more enthusiastically they play.

So here’s what I do these days. I reach for God’s Word. I reach for the words of Spirit and Life.  When I refuse to give ear to the uninvited band and open my heart to the voice of Jesus, a different song begins to play.

When I encircle myself with the truth of what God speaks to me, about me, and for me, insecurity becomes confidence in who He is, in who He says I am.  Self-doubt becomes His perfect strength in my weakness. Accusation becomes my story of redemption, the melody of grace.  Anxiety becomes faith in His goodness, in His purpose for me. The fullness of His love leaves no room for fear.

It’s a choice for me – and some days it’s a fight – to resist the lies and to purposefully tune into the words of truth.

But these words are our defense and our greatest weapon against the darkness that tries to infiltrate our hearts. And when we pick them up, when we open our ears to Him and ask Him for a new song – even in the presence of our enemies, He lifts up our heads and puts our feet on steady ground. He is near to us when we call Him, our help and our strong Deliverer. We are more than conquerors – we have overwhelming victory – over all these things through the Savior who loves us.

I’m holding onto this book even more tightly these days, and His words daily hold me together.

Wrap us in Your truth, God. Hold our hands steady as we hold Your word. Open our ears to hear the song You sing over us, the song of deliverance and delight. 

For the Lord your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With His love, He will calm all your fears.
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”-Zephaniah 3:17, NLT