May 19, 2017
We hold the key to lasting happiness in our own hands. For it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.
— David Steindi-Rast, in Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer
I’ve felt a bit spiritually lost lately.
I recently left my evangelical church for a progressive one in the United Church of Christ, and everything seemed to tilt a little.
Suddenly, there were no more praise bands or the raising of hands during bass-heavy songs; no more loud cheering or live-feed video of the preacher on large projector screens.
I looked up and realized I was in a real-life, actual church built from dark stone and rich wood, light streaming in through the high stained-glass windows. The pastor preaches from a pulpit and wears white robes with a bright red stole, simple organ music bounces around the sanctuary and it is beautiful.
And I still feel wildly out-of-place.
These in-between places are breath-taking and scary and exhilarating all at once. Every time I find myself here, yet again, suspended between what has been for so long and what will be soon, I begin reaching for anything to steady me. I want to lean into the free-fall, the zip-line ride from one platform to the next, but I instinctively reach for the trees, for tried and true, for the familiar.
Joy is hard in the uncertain spaces. Yet I’m craving it and, if joy truly comes from gratitude, I will give thanks in everything.
Today, I say thank you for:
I feel God most strongly, most steadily when I’m in God’s creation. When I’m wandering through the woods, stretched out on the cool grass, and floating in the water – I can feel God. The Spirit whispers to my heart through the wind in my hair and Jesus comes alive for me in the trees. Sometimes, a fallen tree becomes my alter and the sky becomes my cathedral.
My literary agent.
I’ve been working through the first round of edits on my book proposal AND IT’S SO HARD. My agent, Adria, is pushing me and challenging me and midwifing me through the painful birthing of the best work I have to offer. Bottom line: she’s awesome. I’m not sure how editing can simultaneously my least favorite and most favorite part of the process, but it is. (Also, I would like to speak with whoever forgot to tell me that “being a writer” really means spending only 20% of my time writing and 80% of my time researching, editing, and platform-building.)
The Prince of Peace.
This has always been one of my favorite names for Jesus. After my first few Sundays in this new church, I realized that I wasn’t looking for a better way of doing church; I was looking for a new way of finding Jesus. All I want is Jesus – the One who said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you … Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Peace: the thing we’re all searching for, every day, with every breath. It’s my favorite word (after joy, of course). Peace is quiet, steady, gracious. It gives me security and safety. Assured peace guides me through my days; softening my tongue, giving me the freedom to laugh, roll down the windows, dance in the kitchen just because. It’s one of the greatest gifts in life, and all I can say is thank you.
Sunshine & blue skies.
Need I say more? It’s finally warming up in my spot on the map, and I can almost taste summer.
People who courageously, gently ask the hard questions.
In my quest for the end of this in-between space, I found myself asking questions I’ve had for years but was too afraid to ask: Is God really male? Why do we take communion? Is the Prayer of Salvation really necessary to go to heaven? Is it okay to wonder if hell is even real? Does the Bible actually mean THAT? Who translated the Bible anyway? Sarah Bessey, through her book, Out of Sorts, is slowly teaching me that questions are good and God is great. God can handle even our hardest, scariest questions; God is big enough for us all.
Real-life, stone-and-wood churches.
I started my church-life in a tiny, one-room Lutheran church sandwiched in on all sides by the fields my family has farmed for generations. In third grade, my parents started taking us to another small church a few miles away and we became United Methodists; here, I learned Old Testament Bible stories and found my own way to Jesus, separate from my parents’ faith. In middle school, we merged with another church in town and built a new, modern church, where we worshiped in chairs set up like pews on a basketball court. In college, I found my way to a non-denominational church which met in a movie theater right off campus with loud music, light shows, and all the passion I was searching for.
By the time I ended up in an United Church of Christ church, it had been over a decade since I had attended church in what I call a “real-life church”. Church is about people and Jesus, I know, not the building – but there is something surprisingly humbling and sweet about walking in large doors and what I can only describe as “the smell of church”, lingering from previous generations. I think I’m finding my way back to Jesus there.
This is part of a link-up with Leanna over at for the birds. We’re giving thanks every Friday in 2017 because gratitude gives birth to joy.