On Limiting God

June 12, 2017

I have a bad habit of limiting God.

Humanity tends to do that. Rational people typically like to learn and reason until we think we have a handle on the Thing we’re struggling with, until we smash it into a too-small box and tire a bow around it, finally satisfied – but then it inevitably pops open, unable to be contained in such a tiny space, within such a fragile container.

I have called out other people and their theology, their Christology, their beliefs about our Creator and who God is and how we came to be. I knew other people limited God, but I thought I was different, I thought I was doing well.

After all, my God parted the Red Sea and rained manna down in the desert, He healed the blind and the sick, He turned water into wine – my God is the God of Miracles and nothing can contain Him.  

Yet, all along, there it was: me trying to wrangle God into what I thought He was, the plank in my own eye that I was ignoring while worrying about the splinter in everyone else’s. I couldn’t see it until I took a step back from the faith tradition in which I grew up. 

When I stopped going to my evangelical church, I ended up at a progressive United Church of Christ, sitting under high ceilings and stained glass windows, singing hymns of old I couldn’t remember the words to – but my heart remembered the melodies. I sat and I hummed and I waited for God to show up. 

I’m sure He did before I saw Him, but I didn’t recognize it. I was too busy criticizing because this is not where I thought God could move.

It’s a funny thing, wholeheartedly believing and expecting God to show up in one place, among a certain group of people, while being skeptical that He would show up in another way in another place, among another group of people. And why? Because the music is different? Because the pastor wears robes?

We are creations of God, but products of our environment. 

I am evangelical; progressive, perhaps, but I will go to my grave claiming that sect of Christianity as my own. I love literalism. I love reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and imagining the stories playing out exactly as the ancient writers describe: The Spirit hovering over the dark primordial waters, creating light and plants and animals and us from nothing. The plagues brought against the Egyptians to make a way out of slavery for the Israelites. David defeating a giant with just a rock and a slingshot.

I love these stories and the first time I heard literalism seriously criticized was by Rachel Held Evans in a podcast and I almost shut it off because I felt my skin begin to crawl. But as I listened more intently, I realized she wasn’t trying to disprove me or disrespect the Bible – she was simply offering another way to find the same Truth. 

I believe God still performs miracles today, but I sometimes get a little uncomfortable with questions about God’s goodness. Somehow, I inherently know that God is big enough to do the impossible, but I still worry that He is fragile enough to break under our questions. 

I grew up with a male God and my hair still bristles a little when I hear God referred to as female.

I come from worship bands with contemporary music and a centrality around Jesus’ death on the Cross for our sins; from pickup dodge-ball games after Sunday service and an indoor skate park built in a barn behind the church. 

In this new church, the pastor is a woman and wears robes, we use gender-inclusive language and sing traditional hymns with the choir, baptism is a sprinkling of holy water and communion is given saying, “The cup of salvation given for you.”

For weeks, I sat in that sanctuary and waited for God, praying that He would show up, all the while skeptical and guarded, using the entire service to build up my case against progressive Christianity, to spew it all out in a rant of how I didn’t feel that my theology was included there. 

And then, all at once, God showed up in all His glory. There’s nothing like a baptism to remind us of who God is and who we are. 

Suddenly, God was everywhere. He was in the organ music bouncing off the walls, in the Cross at the front of the church, in the light streaming in from the high stained-glass windows. I saw Him in the smiles of the people I thought were too different to be friends, in the eyes of the pastor, in the laughter of the children, in the bulletin: a kid who was getting confirmed that Sunday drew the picture of the Spirit in dove-form that’s on the front. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jesus always shows up. Even if it’s not in the way we expect him to.

If there’s anything I’m learning, it’s that we don’t have any answers. We have faith and questions and wonder and it’s all so good. God is so good. 

So here I am, lost in my questions, still begging God to be big enough to handle them. I am growing used to pastors in stoles and organ music and singing the Doxology every Sunday. I am learning to find rest in the predictability of a more traditional service, of knowing when to stand and when to sit and exactly when all the voices will mix together, boldly praying The Lord’s Prayer.

I’ll admit it: I’m not a progressive yet – but I’ll let the argument pass me by if you question a literal six-day global creation. 

7 Gratitudes: Giving Thanks in the In-between Spaces

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: 

Nature.

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. 

In the Quiet

April 20, 2017

I have always loved the quiet.

I suppose that’s partly my natural preference and partly because I was raised on a farm on the outskirts of Small Town, Ohio. My family values life lived well and slow; we take our time and breathe deep on rainy days because the earth smells like worms.

My mom has always been very particular about her quiet time with God. In the summer, those hours are spent stretched out on a quilt in the backyard, soaking up the words of Jesus and the sunshine from the ball of fire God suspended in the sky for our livelihood and our joy. In the winter, she curls up on the couch with a blanket and a mug of hot tea in front of the wood-burning stove in the living room, seeking refuge in the Lord and the warmth of the fire. In the seasons in between, she wanders outside for a walk in the woods while listening to a sermon on her phone or she settles in on the wooden swing under the cherry trees, Bible and journal in hand. She cherishes her quiet time because she knows that’s how she builds her relationship with Jesus and where she hears God best. 

I think everyone has those quiet spaces, the ones that feel sacred and holy.

My dad’s quiet is found in the barn as he takes apart a truck, a motorcycle, a tractor – and rebuilds it, piece by piece. I used to wonder why he never wanted to turn on the radio while he worked, but now I get it.

My grandma is a fan of long walks through the farmland on which she has lived her entire life; through the fields in which her father and her husband and her son and now her grandson have labored for her livelihood, each generation gently, slowly pouring into the next. Farmers are experts at passing down their knowledge. 

My favorite quiet spaces have always been outside.

I have sat for hours perched in a pine tree in the backyard, balancing high off the ground, creating entire worlds in my mind and my notebook. I have walked along a bubbling creek as I poured out my heart to God. I have read my Bible and asked hard questions beside the pond, watching the wind ripple the water, begging God to move in me. I have spent hours in the horse barn, brushing dark coats in circular motion or untangling manes and tails, mucking stalls and just sitting in the dim quiet as I talked to Jesus. 

I used to call my hometown sleepy, but maybe a better word is quiet. There are quiet streets and quiet fields of corn swaying in the wind; a quiet post office and an even quieter library. 

Sometimes, in the quiet is where we find the truth our hearts are longing for. 

I think Jesus was a fan of quiet.

We read miraculous stories of Jesus’ ministry and it’s easy to hear exclamation points where he may have used a softer tone. 

I used to have this image in my mind of Jesus in front of crowds, shouting Truth and Love like a Southern preacher at a tent revival. Certainly, there were times this would be an accurate portrayal. I’m sure there were times Jesus got a little too excited and shouted a bit.

But Jesus also whispered about Love and Life greater than we can imagine in smaller, more intimate spaces – even from the very beginning. 

God chose to make himself lower and came to us in a burst of water from the holy space of a scared young woman who said yes to Him. In a cave-barn, among the animals, Jesus made his debut – a quiet hello to a world he didn’t have to know in this way; a quiet yes to a world he didn’t have to save.

Jesus taught Nicodemus in the middle of the night as he explained what it means to be born again, to be baptized in both the water and the Spirit. The Son came to give those who believe eternal life, Jesus told him.

In the middle of Samaria, Jesus spoke with a woman at the well, giving her hope and telling her about the water from him that becomes in us a spring welling up to eternal life.

The day after the disciples saw Jesus walk on water in the storm, they found him on the other side of the body of water where he told them about the bread of life. In me, you will never go hungry and you will never be thirsty, he explained to them. There is everlasting life for those who believe.

Just before the Passover feast, Jesus gathered the disciples and began telling story after story, revealing to them truth after truth. I have to go now, he said, but I’m making a way for you to come with me later. Do not be afraid, I’m leaving my peace with you. Love each other. I have overcome the world, Jesus said, have peace. 

And then Jesus died for three days.

But even when he rose again, even during the event that would change the world forever and would save all who were in the world, he did it quietly. 

Early in the morning, he appeared to Mary, speaking only a few words and sending her on a mission. That evening, Jesus found the disciples in a room, the doors locked in fear of the Jews, and showed them the nail scars in his hands: “Peace be with you!” 

A lot of my favorite stories of Jesus happen in the quiet, in the unexpected places. It’s where we listen best. 

Quiet is holy and sacred. Quiet is often where the Truth lies. 

On Good Friday

April 14, 2017

It was the darkest day in all of history. 

The God-Man who had been dwelling on Earth for a little over 30 years was no more. His heart-wrenching question still rang through the minds of those who had been there, at the foot of the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

They could still smell the vinegar which had been offered to the Prince of Peace on a sponge at the end of a stick raised up to his lips.

The Bible tells us that Jesus gave up his spirit then and the curtain of the temple tore in two from top to bottom. Matthew wrote that the earth shook and the rocks split open.

Surely, people had started realizing this was different than any other crucifixion at this point. Certainly they had felt the overwhelming darkness that flooded the earth as God died for a while.

The Gospels tell us that, when Jesus drew his last breath, the centurion and the others guarding him cried in terror, “Surely he was the Son of God!” 

The women stood in the distance. Exhausted from following Jesus to care for his needs on the way to his execution, I’m sure they wept, buried deep in grief.

Still caught up in their love for God-on-earth, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary followed Joseph, one of Jesus’ disciples, and watched as he wrapped the limp body of their beloved in clean linen and carefully placed it in the new tomb Joseph had cut out of the rock, just for this purpose. He rolled a large stone across the opening of the cave and left.

The women stayed, sitting on the ground there, just to be near Jesus a little while longer – even if it was only his earthly body leftover. 

I’m sure the darkness felt like drowning in the sea.

I can only imagine the suffocation of the realization that all hope was lost. I can hear the women and the disciples whispering through tears, “What do we do now?”

Jesus told them he would rise again, but did they understand him? Did they lay in bed, head spinning and heart racing, trying to remember the last words Jesus had spoken to them? Did they fully understand what was coming in just a few days?

I’m sure they were confused and scared and their hearts had been broken open. 

All they could do was wait. 

Today, we do the same. Each of us stand in our own form of the gap of darkness that bridges old life to new. We stand, exhausted but hopeful, waiting with outstretched arms raised to the heavens – crying out for our Savior. 

When the darkness is too deep to wade through…

When the hopelessness feels like a rope snaking around our necks…

When we are certain there is no future for us…

We wait upon the Lord.

Resurrection is coming. 

An Essay: Life Lesson from Water

March 1, 2017

I

One of my earliest memories is sprinting across the yard in front of the old, white farmhouse I grew up in, dodging the cold water as my great-grandmother held her thumb over the end of the water hose, aiming right for me and my cousins. The water, still freezing from it’s time underground in the well in the backyard, fell on hot skin, warmed from the searing summer sun, and we squealed in delight. The water droplets rained down on us, bringing relief from the heat, as my great-grandma Wallace chuckled from her lawn chair. Water brings joy. 

II

I went with my family to Kelley’s Island on Lake Erie every single summer from the time I was an infant until I was 16, which was the first year I had to stay home because high school tennis tryouts were that week. I still remember how the lakewater mist felt on my face as I hung over the railing of the ferry that took us from the Ohio mainland to the island. For me, the lake separated reality from where the magic lived. This island hid unknown paths through the woods, undiscovered treasures on the beach, and magic in every corner. Every year, I would plunge into the water, unaware of the increasing bacteria levels and not paying any attention to the algae across the surface. The murky water hid the creatures that swam with us, but we pointed across the coastline, screaming about mermaids, and it revealed to me the power of imagination. Water hides magic. 

III

There are two ponds on my family’s farm, but we were only allowed to swim in one of them. With each passing year, the water levels lower and the pond itself shrinks, exposing the frogs and the mud in which they live. I used to swim in the one in my backyard with my friends in the summer and skate on it when it froze over in the winter. My dad would test the ice carefully before my siblings and I would charge onto it, sliding across the frozen water, falling every few feet. If we were lucky, my dad would put the “ice tires”  on the motorcycle, which prevented the tires from slipping and sliding out of control, and pull us behind him on a sled. Still to this day, that’s one of the most exhilarating sensations I’ve ever experienced. Water brings people together. 

IV

In middle school, my best friend and I decided to join the local summer swim team. With the intention of getting ready for the high school swim team in the coming years, we excitedly jumped all in (literally). As I learned each stroke, the practices got longer and more intense as I improved my technique, built my endurance, and stoked my passion for the sport. There were mornings I showed up and dove in head-first, ready for anything my coach asked of me, and there were other mornings I dragged myself out of bed and tested the freezing water with my toes, refusing to get in until my coach shoved me from behind straight into the deep end. There were days I loved swimming more than I ever knew I could love a sport and there were days I wondered when I would stop putting myself through such torture – but still, I showed up. Water teaches discipline. 

V

When I was 16 years old, I signed up for a Lifeguard class at the local pool. I remember thinking that I had been competitively swimming for years and I was confident that I would be able to learn the material necessary to pass the course. This was the first time I realized that water is not joyful and magical to everyone. This was the first time I realized that water sometimes presented serious danger. I spent a week practicing the skills I was learning in order to perform the different types of water saves, first aid, and CPR for when things don’t go as planned in the water and I passed the course. I spent the next eight years keeping people safe there. Water demands respect. 

VI

I’ve always loved the rain. At 8, I danced across the horse pasture with my best friend in the rain. At 10, I refused to stop riding my dirtbike when the rain started pouring down. At 12, I stayed in the tiny pool in the backyard of my pastor’s house with his daughter in the rain until we heard thunder. At 14, I found solace in the rain as I hid with my notebook and pens in the one-room cabin my grandpa built back in the woods. At 16, I praised the rain because it meant there would be less people at the pool that day, which meant less work for the lifeguards and more time to spend pretending to clean while chattering incessantly. At 18, I wandered around my new college campus in the gray rain, searching for direction for my life. At 20, I prayed the rain would come on the days I spent 12 hours working in the inpatient psychiatric hospital because I wanted to enjoy the sun on my days off. At 22, I hoped the rain would come on the days I was not at the hospital because my idea of an enjoyable day off was curling up on the couch in my tiny apartment with a good book and an endless supply of hot tea, watching the raindrops roll down the windows.

Today, at 24, I smile at the rain because it means quiet. This morning, I ran through the rain to my car, splashing through puddles, arriving at work in soaked scrubs and with cold feet – and I stopped for a few seconds outside just to feel the rain on my face. Water brings clarity. 

On Inauguration Day: the path to healing

January 20, 2017

After the election in November, I wrote about radical love in a world that’s falling apart.

I wrote about those of us who were – and are – scared, hurting, and confused by the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election.

I wrote about the minorities among a majority which continues to ignore, invalidate, and discredit the ones by whom they are threatened – the ones who challenge the status quo, push the envelope, refuse to bow down to the expectations of society (you are my people; I stand with you). I wrote about rallying together as one people, about choosing to see past our differences, about choosing love, and I meant every word.

But I also meant it when I said that we, the oppressed, are not required to join with our oppressors. I begged you not to ask that of us. We needed time to heal, to piece our hearts back together, to steady our shaking souls. 

But now it’s Inauguration Day and Donald Trump is being sworn into office. I’m not vindictive enough to hope he fails miserably (because then we all fail), and I’m not flippant enough to disrespect him (I respect his humanity, not his ideals).

I am angry enough to join the resistance against the harmful ideas, beliefs, and behavior he has promoted thus far.

The best way I know to do that is simple – and incredibly difficult:

The path to healing is paved with love and lined with community.

I keep seeing my conservative, Republican, often Christian friends and family calling for unity from those of us who just cannot get behind Trump’s message.

They’ve got the right idea – now let’s turn it around. Let’s call for unity from both sides – just because you won an election does not mean that everything you (or your choice of President) has said, done, or believed is right.

Don’t ask us for unity from your side if you aren’t willing to receive the same request from us.

Don’t ask me to join hands with those who were not outraged upon hearing that David Duke supported Trump during the election (“I love it…The fact that Donald Trump’s doing so well, it proves that I’m winning. I am winning.”) if you are not willing to declare “Black lives matter” – because all lives will not matter until Black lives matter.

Don’t ask me to pray with you for our country unless you are willing to protect the religious freedom of those whose faith does not look like yours (you don’t have to agree to defend a principle on which America was founded).

Don’t ask me to stand with you, asking for job creation, if you won’t demand closure of the wage gap for minorities and women.

Don’t ask me to join with you and your beautiful family in celebration if you are unwilling to defend the marriage-rights, family-rights, love-rights for your LGBTQIA neighbors. 

Don’t tell me that my rejection of Trump’s belief’s and actions are anti-American because America was founded by people who envisioned a better way and fought for it.

I think of the people who are standing, and have stood, strong against the culture of society, demanding equality, liberation, and love – and I am reminded of the One after whom many are modeling their peace resistance. 

Jesus was the ultimate Social Justice Revolutionary, and we take our cues from Him. 

It was this God-Man who showed us how to rebel for a greater cause. It was He who spoke out against leaders – political and religious – because He knew of a better way, and we speak out today because the Holy Spirit whispers Love into our hearts and Love without action is dead. 

Yes, now is absolutely the time for unity. Let’s look at our differences, acknowledge them, honor them, celebrate them, and start a meaningful conversation about how to merge into one people committed to America, diversity, life, and love. 

It will be difficult and painful and messy all around. We will have to recognize privilege, lay down defenses, show compassion, shake hands with difference, and choose love when it’s easier to fear. 

But since when has anything worth doing been easy?

Let’s join hands and hearts, make sure we’re on the right side of history, and step into Tomorrow. 

Holy Baptism & the breaking through of life

December 27, 2016

“Nothing can kill my faith.”

She said it softly, fiercely, as her eyes searched mine in the middle of the hospital cafeteria. We were sitting in a building filled with doctors who specialize in cancer treatment, hands wrapped tight around coffee and soup, clinging to what we had in that moment – but she just smiled and reminded me that she was getting baptized that weekend.

She was diagnosed not even a year ago and she’s already in Stage 4.

This year has been one of doctors appointments and wigs and exhaustion. It’s been a year we didn’t expect and we still don’t understand. But it’s also been a year of family and grace and restoration beyond belief – because where Jesus is, there is always redemption.

And we learned this year that Jesus always shows up.

It’s been a year of waiting, hoping, praying, for the breaking through of life.

Now, it’s the middle of Advent, and it’s all about the breaking through of Life into our lives by way of extreme brokenness. And, on the day before churches everywhere began lighting the candle of Hope, she found hers.

She took her last breath of dying-life, of the life that had an expiration date stamped on it, and sank into the holy water that brings about everlasting life. For a split second, she was gone, released from this world, fully submerged in Grace, and then she rose up again – breaking through the surface of the water into Life Eternal. 

It’s all about the breaking through of Life, and what better way for Jesus to break through into our world than to come through the breaking of an earthly body in preparation for her breaking through into Heaven? 

Because, when the Word became flesh, when the Creator of the Universe decided to pull on skin and come into the world through the holiness of a woman, He came to make us whole. Jesus brought grace and truth into the world – not for the righteous, but the sinners; not for the healthy, but the sick. 

Sometimes we need to be reminded that Jesus is always for the broken and on the side of the brokenhearted. He lowered Himself to live with us and walked this earth, dirt caking His heels, hunger pangs through his core, oppression bringing tears to His eyes, and all the while, He continually chose to love us more. 

He sank into the dirt to spend time with the marginalized, the outcasts, to prove to us again that He loves us all – to remind us that we are worthy, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. 

He called out a mob of angry men who wanted to kill a woman and trap Jesus so that we would understand that He believes in second chances – Grace always reigns, and we should pick it up like a holy shield against the poisonous swords of Shame and Hate. 

He healed a blind man to remind us that we are broken – so that God’s glory may be displayed through our lives. 

He lived among us, loving the least of these, dying the most painful death He did not deserve, to rise again, on the third day, to show us His most magnificent love and grace.

He showed Himself to the women and then to The Twelve, probably laughing at Peter jumping into the water, swimming the rest of the way to shore – and then He stopped to reinstate Peter so that we would know that we are worthy, even when we’re sopping wet, exhausted, sitting at His feet, smiling up at Him stupidly because we know that we love Him but we accidentally took the long way there again.

She was baptized on a warm December afternoon, in the middle of Advent and the mountains of Appalachia – and we felt the breaking through of Jesus. There’s a reason John Denver sang about almost Heaven, West Virginia. It’s a state of rocky mountains and wild undergrowth and trees that seem to reach straight into the clouds.

On that day, I watched her die and come back to life through the holy water and the grace of God – and Heaven fell upon us. 

When you need to remember how to dream

December 12, 2016

For someone who finds herself in an anxiety-induced frenzy during the changing of seasons of life, I absolutely adore the changing of the seasons of weather.

I love the thawing of the earth as Winter moves into Spring and new green life peeks through the mud when the rain finally stops pounding the dirt. I love Spring leaping into Summer with magnificent thunderstorms and steamy days spent sweating and smiling and running, determined to soak up every second of sunlight and every minute of the still lengthening days. I love Summer fading into Fall, falling back in time, remembering that sleep is important and watching golden wheat be run down to feed America.

Where I’m from, where people rise before the sun and work straight through lunch and dinner because crops don’t pay attention to the time of day, Harvest is a sacred season. 

There is something beautiful, holy almost, about mowing down still growing life to feed Human Life and it reminds me of a Savior who laid down His life for ours – and I find Love and Grace and Peace in the fields. 

But my favorite season change is Fall into Winter. 

Winter is a quiet season. It makes time and space for reflection and planning and just being. Snow falls thick on the ground and covers the earth like a protective blanket, encasing what creates Life in every other season for a Season of Rest. The dipping temperatures and the low-hanging clouds and the bare tree branches against pale gray skies invite us into a Season of Rest too.

Let the world keep its frantic shopping sprees and jokes about awful in-laws and stressful holidays. Let the world burn with envy if it insists, but give me Rest. 

When Winter blows into my corner of the world, I build a fort to keep me warm and quiet until Spring showers come knocking.

My fort is built of yarn and knitting needles, of twinkling lights and old Christmas records, of blue pens and crinkled paper inked with words that feel too personal to speak aloud, and of hot food cooked in a crock pot and peppermint coffee.

And every year, as I finish my fort and step back to examine my work, I’m reminded that forts are only helpful in the cold and bitter seasons when they are shared. 

So I tidy up a bit and I boldly write the words I want to share large on the walls of my fort. If you were to come visit, you would see them.

Across the door, it’s loud with joy: WELCOME.

Inside, it’s written daringly, scandalously: LOVE RESIDES HERE. PEACE ABOUNDS HERE. GRACE OVERFLOWS HERE.

And I would invite you in. I would wrap you in a hug and a quilt stitched with love from tiny scraps of fabric I found under my bed, like a mosaic of shards from a broken heart sewn into something new. I would stoke the fire and it would roar wildly to remind us that Life does not die in the Winter. 

I would let the tea kettle screech as I whisper the words you need to hear and then pour the hot water into colorful mugs and we would watch the steam curl into the air, like our dreams rising out of the dust.

“Tell me yours,” I would ask, searching your eyes with my own, as if I could use them to peer into your soul. You would whisper softly everything you long for in life and I would smile at your courage.

“Anything is possible,” I would say, daring you to believe.

We would begin speaking it into existence, splashing our dreams bright against the white walls, our voices growing louder and the words coming faster with excitement. We would get caught up in the magic of believing in what the world claims is impossible and suddenly we would look up and see the lives we dream of painted on our hands and engraved on our hearts. 

We would grow quiet again and marvel at the beauty of where we are and where we’re going.

“I can see it!” you would exclaim in surprise.

“So can I,” I would reply, a smile stretching across my face. “This is why Winter comes around every year. To remind us how to dream again.”

Radical love in a world that’s falling apart

November 13, 2016

This is not a political statement. This is a message of radical love. 

This world is broken. So incredibly and devastatingly broken.

And because of this brokenness, there are people who are scared and worried about their futures. 

There are Black people who feel invalidated in a society that still clings to white supremacy, even as it declares all people are created equal.

There are people who are a religious minority who feel like our country is no longer one of inclusiveness and unity.

There are people who are part of the LGBTQ community who feel heartbreakingly unsafe in their own communities because people are holding tight to the old status quo for comfort.

There are people who have been sexually assaulted and are laying in bed at night crying, remembering why they never reported it or maybe remembering the heartache because they never saw justice for their perpetrator.

There are women all over this country who are working diligently in a male-dominated field who feel crushed because we’re beginning to think that glass ceiling is even higher and thicker than we originally thought.

In the aftermath of this election, we are shocked, horrified, scared, hurting, and feeling unloved and unlovable. Listen to us. Don’t silence us with pleas of unity, because the oppressed are not required to join with our oppressors. 

And I get it.

Fear is everywhere. It works its way into all of the spaces of our lives, even the hidden ones we claim do not exist. It’s crippling and we know we are not called to live in a spirit of fear, but it grabs ahold of our minds and ends up in our hearts. We must fight it.

This world is filled with hate. Extreme and all-consuming hate which manifests inself in utter disregard for priceless human life.

And this hate has led to a war I cannot even pretend to understand. This is a war on life, love, hope, faith, joy, peace, home – this is a war on humanity. This is a war designed to tear us apart and pit us against one another, to breed in us fear and hate and selfishness. This is a war which seems impossible to fight.

It’s easy to get caught up in the bad, the unthinkable events taking place all around us. It’s easy to forget how to be compassionate. It’s easy to take up arms and declare war. It’s easy to build walls meant to protect us but which ultimately divide us.

It’s easy to allow our hearts to be hardened.

It’s easy to give up hope.

But, in a world at war, in the midst of horrendous loss, there has to be more . . . To choose compassion? To choose to see past our differences? To rally together as one people? To choose love? To continue on?

That’s incredibly difficult. And yet it may just be part of the solution we’ve been searching for.

This is a call to love. Not a pacifistic, apathetic love which allows us to be mown down, but a magnificent love that leads to justice.

This is a call to action. Love openly. Love deeply. Love indiscriminately. Love freely. Love passionately. Love unabashedly.

Love and love and love some more.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll surprise ourselves and, against all odds, crash across the finish line, arm in arm, singing praises to the One who covers us in grace and gives us the strength to continue forward.

Change is Coming

October 11, 2016

I first heard it as the summer drew to a close, as I ordered my textbooks for my last year of college, and as the sunset came earlier and earlier.

I heard the still, small voice in my heart – and I thought I knew what He meant. I thought that He was preparing me for my new internship, for my last few exams, for my occupation on paperwork to change from Student to Social Worker.

But the changes He is whispering to my heart are so much bigger. 

I realized it as some relationships faded and others grew stronger than they have ever been. I realized it as I sought community from friends of my past. I realized it as joy sprouted within my heart in unexpected places at unexpected times as God showed me the things in which He delights. 

I realized it as I was pulled deeper and deeper into the Word and as I fell into Jesus’ heart so suddenly that I am still reeling from it. 

And it is all good. And it is all hard. 

Change, for me, is much like physical illness. In the same way that physical illness wears down my immune system and makes it easier for germs to enter my body, change wears down the guards around my heart and mind and makes it easier for unhealthy things to enter in. 

When I am physically sick, I take extra precautions to protect myself from outside threats. I wash my hands more often than usual and I feed my body only nutritious food, like noodles and orange juice. I drink a lot of water.

When I am experiencing changes in my life,  I take extra precautions to protect myself from outside threats. I read my Bible more than usual and I only listen to life-giving music, like NEEDTOBREATHE and Lauren Daigle. I drink a lot of the water that Jesus says becomes in me a spring welling up to eternal life. 

When I’m writing, I’m very particular about what I listen to and what I read, because it gets inside, you know? I’m a little more permeable in seasons of writing, and so I want to choose stories and sounds that keep good company, that make me braver and wilder and more honest.   — Shauna Niequist 

She gets it.

When I’m experiencing changes in my life, everything gets inside so easily. The emotions are so much deeper and I find myself in tears of sadness from what used to be, of joy from what is to come, and of gratitude that He is with me still. I’m more permeable in seasons of change, and I want to choose books and music that encourages and loves me through. 

My chicken noodle soup during this particular time of change has been very specific. I find myself reading the same stories over and over and replaying the same songs again and again because I cannot get over the messages they whisper to my soul. They’re too good to let go.

What are your stories and sounds you love when you are most permeable? 

Here are some of mine:

Stories:               

  • Philippians (I cannot get over the ENTIRE BOOK) – “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)                                 

  • Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis – “When have you ever read a story of God’s great work that made a lot of sense, a story that didn’t seem a little over the top, a little impossible? Not often. Radical, extraordinary love just doesn’t make sense in a fallen world; that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. But it is the very nature of God … God is the same yesterday, today, and always … We want big things from God and then think it’s strange when He asks us to build an ark, or feed five thousand or march around a building for seven days with seven priests blowing trumpets made from rams’ horns … I serve the God who used Moses, a murderer, to part the Red Sea; a God who let Peter, who would deny Him, walk on water. A God who looks at me, in all my fallen weakness and says, ‘You can do the impossible.'” 

  • How to Survive a Shipwreck by Jonathon Martin – “The bad news is that this shipwreck feels like death because you really may be dying. The bad news is that old and familiar things you love and that made you what you were are slowly passing away. The good news is you’re being born, and this drowning makes possible the moment when all things become new – most of all, you.”                

  • The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) – “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and will all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” And Jesus answers, “‘Do this and you will live.'”

Sounds:                            

  • My Story by Big Daddy Weave – “If I should speak, let it be of the grace that is greater than all my sin. Of when justice was served and when mercy wins. Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in. Oh, to tell you my story is to tell of Him.”

  • Chain Breaker by Zach Williams – “If you’ve got pain, He’s a pain-taker. If you feel lost, He’s a way-maker. If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior. If you’ve got chains, He’s a chain-breaker.”

  • Dear Younger Me by MercyMe – “You are holy, you are righteous, you are one of the redeemed. Set apart, a brand new heart, you are free indeed. Every mountain, every valley, through each heartache you will see: every moment brings you closer to who you were meant to be.”

  • Stars by Skillet – “And still You come and You’re calling me by name.”

  • The God I Know by Love & The Outcome – “And then I threw my hands up, worries down. I remember when He showed me how to break up with my doubt. Once I was lost but now I’m found. No strings attached when He saved my soul. I want you know the God I know.”

  • Something Beautiful by NEEDTOBREATHE – “Hey now, this is my desire: consume me like a fire because I just want something beautiful to touch me. I know that I’m in reach because I am down on my knees. And I’m waiting for something beautiful for touch me.” 

  • Wake by Hillsong – “You will never fade away, Your love is here to stay. By my side, in my life, shining through me everyday.” 

  • Whom Shall I Fear by Chris Tomlin – “I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side.” 

  • Trust in You by Lauren Daigle – “When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move, when You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through, when You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You – I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You.”