Friday, November 30, 2012

Once Upon A Time

It's officially the last day of Story Week, although I have one more thought I'd like to share about story on Monday.  Stay tuned for that.  Today, however, I want to say something about my story that you might be surprised to hear me say, but I comfortably believe I am not the only one who has wanted to say as much but has been sort of afraid to.  What I want to say is this:

It really wasn't like that.

See, story is one of those places where memory doesn't always serve us well.  Even eidetic (photographic) memory doesn't work for story because when you remember some of the tough times, some of the pain, some of the hard moments, you can't help but draw your emotion into it, and that tints the story with perspective, which may or may not be all it's cracked up to be.

I wrestled for a long time with whether or not my story was "true."  There were certain events, certain occasions, I could remember with absolute clarity and would never doubt.  There were other times that I had to wonder about, whether it really was what I imagined that it felt like or whether there was something different at play.  These aren't easy questions.

Because you sort of build your life based around your story, whatever your experience of it is, and when you start to have thoughts that might be contradictory, you wonder what that makes of things.  What that makes of you.  Are you a liar?  Are you somehow broken?  Are you deserving of some of your story and not other parts?  Does everything form one linear narrative and if not, how are you supposed to deal with bends in the road?  These are some of the questions I asked.  And deeper, I had to wonder if it betrayed my story at all to discover that not everything necessarily was as it absolutely seemed at the time.  Does one negate the other?

When all you're searching for in your life is some one consistent thing, it's agonizing to discover that your story might not be it.

Here's the conclusion I've come to, dealing with my own story.  I know I'm not alone:

The experiences I have had can probably be whittled down to a handful or a couple of dozen, maybe, significant, profound, painful experiences.  These experiences stretched a certain span of time and many came at vulnerable moments, either by circumstance or by pure developmental milestone.  These big events had no answer for me, not at the time.  There was nothing and no one to swoop in and reassure me that these were anomalies in the story, that this wasn't how things were supposed to be.  My little heart didn't know what to do with some of these things, and so they colored my lenses.

These things that took place Once Upon A Time began to tell the in-between.  They were the perspective through which I had seen every other event, every other moment in my life - often as affirming that narrative.  Because these things which I simply could not make sense of weighed heavy on my everything, and I had to make sense of them.  So I viewed the world in the way that would make these memories make sense, that would tie them into the bigger story.

In doing so, I ended up wrapped in a story I never wanted to be a part of and, had there been anything to tell me this wasn't the story, maybe I wouldn't have been.  But this is life.  This is how story works.

I've found that I was never free to simply live in my story, to experience the things that were contrary to my master narrative as anything tangible or real because my heart still needed to prove the bigger things.  I was living out my Once Upon A Time as fully as I could because that's where my questions remained.  That's where I was still looking for answers.  That's where I believed my story - the truest things about me - was being told.

As a result, I think I've missed out on a lot.  I think I've thrown away a lot of opportunities, a lot of chances, a lot of moments that could have been so much more.  I think I've sold myself short and sold myself out far too often to Once Upon A Time.  I know in the process, I have hurt many others, whose incredible love and patience and mercy I am only beginning to see.  I know I have hurt myself, piling on the pain in this burden of a story that I thought had to be mine because it was the only way that anything else was ever going to make sense.  

It's because these few things, this handful of experiences which I could never doubt and in which I am fully confident, came in such a vulnerable time and in such a powerful way that I felt so small...and these things seemed so big...and they seemed like everything.  So I made them everything and missed out on a lot of better things.

Growing into my story, and through it, and working through what it really means, it's a tough question to face that your big things might not, after all, have been everything.  It's tough to face what you've sacrificed to save a story you never wanted to tell.  It's tough when you have to draw a line between what was and what you brought on yourself.  It's tough to give yourself grace when you realize you were too busy hurting to give grace to anyone else, let alone yourself.  Let alone your story.

But that's what a lot of my narrative was.  It was my hurting too much to see any other word.

Thankfully, it is not my grace that I have to rely on.  It is Grace Himself that draws me through the questions.  It is Mercy that brings me to my knees.  It is Love that opens my eyes to see what things were, and what they are.  It is the Author of Life who sets my story straight.  It is Humility that makes me hungry to eat as many of my words as necessary.

A therapist once told me, and he was absolutely right, that it doesn't much matter whether your story is "true."  What matters is the way your heart is wrapped around it.  That's what makes it real enough to have to deal with, whatever the facts may be.  It is the way you have processed your story that you have to work through because truth or something less, you're sucked in and the pain is absolutely real.

So that's what I've been doing with my own story, all while extending forgiveness to and requesting it from those I have hurt while stuck in my Once Upon A Time.  It has never been my intention to hurt or to smear anyone.  My heart has simply been what it has been, and my sight has been colored by those defining moments that seemed oh so big, but which I wish had not defined me.

But I love my story, too.  As broken, messed-up, and muddled-truthy as it is.  It's a part of this beautiful work God is doing in me, and while I wouldn't choose the hurt, maybe it's almost worth it.  Maybe.

And thanks be to God, the Author of this story, who has set me free from my Once Upon A Time.  Invited into a greater story, into His narrative, I am humbly, mercifully, forgivenly, and brokenly on my way to Happily Ever After.  And I'll take that.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


In keeping with story week, I have been asked to share in greater detail one of the turning points in my story.  And to be honest, since it was included in my interview with Jeremy Statton, it's been on my heart to share a bit more because in such a brief space on the vast Internet, I feel like there was a bit of potential for greater hurt instead of hope.

The story, in its short form as previously shared, is that one October night a few years ago, I was alone in the house when a batch of severe weather stormed through in the dead of night.  The wind, the warning sirens, and the constant television news coverage awoke me, and I just laid in bed cowering for a little bit, shaking.  Scared.  This was in some of the deepest depths of my battle with post-traumatic stress.  After some amount of time of this, with no end to the storms in sight, I had one very clear thought:  "This is stupid."  Followed by, "I can either be afraid or I can be asleep."  That night, I was able to choose - and chose - to be asleep.  When I woke the next morning, I just wasn't scared any more.

That's the short form, the gist of what was shared previously.  What pained me about that interview, and I don't fault Jeremy for this, was that there just wasn't space to really tell the story.  One reader, who had also wrestled with post-traumatic stress disorder and, I assume, was still caught in its troubles, responded with something to the effect of, "Well, how nice it must be for you to just choose not to deal with it.  I can't believe you were ever diagnosed with post-traumatic stress for not even being in a war zone."  He said it with a pain for his own story, and I get that.  But I kind of felt it assaulted my story, as well, although I completely understand where he was coming from.

The short version makes it sound like I flipped a coin, made a choice, simply decided against my story.

...I wish!

The truth is that I was captured by post-traumatic stress, and to the pained but still insensitive comment about reserving such diagnoses for war, let me say that not every war is a declared battle and not every front line is foreign.  PTSD is a very real, very tangible foe for many on our own shores who may never even have touched a gun or heard a gunshot.  Trauma is not a consequence of war; it is an enemy of the heart, and when the heart is crushed, the aftereffects are real.

By God's grace, I had found youth ministers who pointed me to a pastor therapist and subsequently, I found myself with a religious female therapist and another Christian male therapist after that.  Through the grace, honesty, and courage of these three therapists (not all at once, I was not THAT crazy.  Ok, maybe I was, but still not all at once) and people like those youth ministers and others around me, I was coming to understand more of my story.  They were seeing what I plainly could not - that I was hardly in this world at all.

They could see that I was talking to things that nobody else could see.  That I was feeling things that nobody else could feel.  That I was hearing voices that nobody else could hear.  That I was ducking and dodging and couldn't sit still because there was something in my mind that wasn't in my world, and they could see that.  That I was absolutely trapped between this world and the flashbacks, and that most of the time, the flashbacks were winning.  I don't know how tenderness speaks through something so dark and horrid, but I know that as time went by, I was able - in spurts - to sometimes hear their voices.  I was able - at times - to catch enough of a glimpse of reality to for a second at least catch my breath before terror took back over.

It was many years of their constancy, of their gentle attempts to push through, of their patience and mercy, that led me to that stormy night.  It was many years of their reassurance that whatever it was - and I was hardly able to tell them, and often never did - that I thought was happening, that I was fighting against, that I was feeling...was not was many years of that reassurance, which was so hard to grasp onto and so hard to believe and so hard to fathom because it seemed so real, that popped into my mind that stormy night.

It was another voice in the thunder that somehow burst through and said, "This is just a storm," and somehow, I heard that.  And I laid in bed and listened to the thunder and cried and cried and prayed a little and cried some more.  I couldn't get through my tears, and they wouldn't stop coming.  My heart had heard the spoken word - this is just a storm - but I had absolutely no earthly idea how to not be afraid.  You can't just choose against fear, can you?

Thunder again, and that voice.  This is just a storm, and I've got this.  You don't want to be afraid?  Then be asleep.

And I said that out loud.  "I can be afraid.  Or I can be asleep.  This is just a storm...."

That one little second, that one realization of possible peace, that one hint of Presence that I was only able to hear because of many thousands of other days and nights with tender voices around, piercing the storm that was my reality and my heart...that one little second washed over me.  So profound, so peaceful, that I almost couldn't even hear the storm any more.  It seemed to fade into this thing that at the time, I could only describe as "what is" and I rolled over in my bed and went to sleep.

When I woke up, I was not afraid.  That doesn't mean I wasn't post-traumatic; for awhile, I continued to be, but there was new grace.  And God saw fit to lead me through that story over the span of yet another few years in search of healing.  I'm not so post-traumatic any more.  I'm living in this world now, and I've got to tell you - it's kinda nice.  A whole lot quieter.  More colors.  It's beautiful.

That also doesn't mean I never had to choose against fear again.  No.  Like I said the other day in my post about family, fear, too, is not a decision I made one time and never looked back on.  It's a question that comes every day, though not in the same dark way as once upon a storm.  It's just life.  As one of my new favorite songs on the radio says, "This is only a mountain.  You don't have to find your way around it.  Tell it to move, it'll move.  Tell it to fall, it'll fall.  This is only a moment.  You don't have to let your fear control it.  Tell it to move, it'll move.  Tell it to fall, it'll fall."

It still sounds kind of...simple, doesn't it?  For those still struggling in the dark and in the post-traumatic world and in whatever wraps your heart, please don't take offense to my words or my story.  It's impossible to document what every day was like.  What nearly 10 years were like.  Even what grace is like.  If you're not there, you're not there, but there is a measure of grace for you, too.  There is tenderness out there, patience, mercy, and grace...and love...that can slowly eat away at your darkness and help you to hear even one voice outside of it all.  When you finally hear that voice, when you're trained to listen for it, when it has the power to pull you back, I know that you, too, will hear the voice of the One.  And that can be a turning point in your story.

That night, that choice - to be afraid or to be asleep - I didn't feel like I was choosing against my story.  You can't get anywhere going against everything.  I simply chose a better thing, and then came back to my story with grace.  Because if you ever want to tell your story and have it stop telling you, you have to dive straight into it and muddle through until you work it all out in your own heart.  That's the only way.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Remember being a kid and discovering your shadow?  This funny, dark thing that at certain times stretched so much bigger than you, but you could make it move and dance and mock your every movement?  I remember spending hours playing with my shadow.

But I'm 27 years old these days, and my shadows aren't so cute any more.

It's not that there's anything particularly bad or wicked in me.  Nothing deep, dark, and mysterious that I'm hiding.  No dirty secrets that are going to make headlines.  It's just that there are a lot of things in me, areas of woundedness mostly or stories from the past I haven't quite resolved or certain ways that once upon a time, I had to live but I find no longer necessary, that like to creep back up more often than I'd be ok with and try to drag me back down into the abyss from which they've come.

I'm kind of a work in progress.  And most of the time, I'm ok with that.

It's just that I keep looking down and seeing these shadows.  Following me everywhere.  Mocking my every move.  Seeming so much bigger than me, so much bigger than maybe I could ever be.

This is the kind of thing that in my not-too-distant past might have quickly defeated me.  Some days, it still almost does.  Because let's face it: if these were anything to be proud of, they would be milestones or monuments.  Not shadows.  They wouldn't be hiding underneath me; I would be standing on top of them.

Sigh.  Such is life.  These are my shadows.

A few months ago, things were going well.  I mean, really well.  I'm kind of getting back into the same sort of spot again.  Things are looking up; life is looking good; there's promise in my heart and hope in my tomorrow, with a lot of grace in my today.  I get it.  And because of this seemingly simple realization, I've got to tell you:

I'm ready to do a little shadowboxing.

More ready than at any other point in my life, maybe.  More ready to take on the things that, when I've taken on other things, I've allowed to keep lurking because they just seemed so big.  They still seem big, but it's all about perspective.  One simple perspective...the truth about shadows.

Shadows...are proportional only to your position in relation to the light.  Your shadow always seems bigger in the morning and the evening, when the sun is lowest on the horizon.  Around midday, your shadow disappears because with the light noon-high, there's nowhere for darkness to play.

The same is true for the shadows in my life, and in yours.  They'll never seem bigger than when the Son is starting to rise.  When we're starting to make a move with God, when we're starting to let Him rise to His place in us, that's when our darkness stretches the greatest.  That's why these shadows are dangerous - because they're so big precisely when we'd be fooled into thinking they would have to go away.  When we start to think we're past that, we're better than that, we're beyond that.  When God is starting to take hold in our lives and our darkness shouldn't matter.  But there it is, mocking our every move.  And it looks so big.  And it looks just like us.

It's a painful place, watching darkness extend from our very feet, so much a part of us and yet, we long to shake it.  We're looking at the light in our lives and wondering how that can even be with such darkness still emerging from us, with our shadows playing at our feet.

Don't worry.  The two aren't mutually exclusive.  The more you give your heart to God, the more you bring His light into your life, the more that darkness stretches so large.  But not forever.  Once He rises noon-high and your life is centered under Him, there's not going to be anywhere for your darkness to play with you.

In the meantime, God tells us to take a page from the playground and learn to engage even our darkness.  These shadows are something.  They are a part of our story and a part of what God is going to do through soon as we've let Him do it in us.  If we can push past the pain just long enough to engage our darkness, our shadows...we find that we can still make them dance.

Then they're not playing with us so much as we're playing with them, playing them right into the hands of God.  Playing them into purpose.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sitting Empty

The holidays are a tough time.  They are a time that makes me, at least, think about what family is, what that looks like, and how to wrap love around it.  It isn't easy, particularly in these times.

Growing up, we spent every holiday (the big ones and the minor ones, like birthdays and New Year's and Memorial Day) with my dad's side of the family.  We'd all gather at one house, then hop to another house in the afternoon and cram anywhere from 20-30+ people into as tiny a space as it seemed possible and call it a holiday.  Granted, some of those times were great.  Some were not.  More holidays than I like to admit seemed like exercises in loneliness - being talked over and walked around and generally taken or leaven (I made that word up) as the days unfolded.

But I went.  Because they're family, and family is where you go at the big moments in your life.  It's also where you catch a glimpse of just where you got those little things about yourself that you either love or hate.  That's family.

Twelve years ago, however, my dad died.  Holidays just haven't been the same.

You see, I'm hurt.  That's the majority of the problem.  I'm hurt because my dad was diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer when I was a freshman in high school.  I spent as many evenings as I could at his house - the only one of his kids to do so, the only one of his family to do so - and spent as many nights as he needed me.  Cleaning.  Cooking.  Shopping.  Monitoring his medications.  Making him comfortable.  Whatever I could do.  Again, the only member of his family and friends to do so.  I was there when he lost his sight, when he'd hobble around the driveway with a basketball trying to pretend he could still see.  I was there when he was up in the middle of the night with chemo, puking his guts out.  I was there when all he would eat for nearly three months was vanilla wafers.  I was there when nobody else was.  And we can talk about what all that meant for me, for my heart, for God, for Heaven, for forgiveness, for redemption...or the lack of all of the above, but that's not this story.

Four months before he died, someone got it in their head that he wasn't doing well.  (Terminal cancer.  You think?)  Another relative moved in, and with her, she brought a hospital bed.  She confined him to hospice in his own living room literally one day after he'd still be functioning terminally fine.  She started metering when I could see him - because he was tired, because he needed rest, because the game was on and he didn't want to be disturbed - all moments I had shared with him until that day.  I resented that.

The morning he died, I was actually not at his house.  I'd gone back to my mom's for a night of sleep at dad's insistence, and had planned to spend that Saturday with him.  It didn't happen.  They called to inform me he had passed, and I rushed across town where I was met at the door to the house I had grown up in, the house where my dad lay dead in his living room.  Two different relatives pulled me aside and explained that they understood I thought I had to be there, but they didn't know why and that this was a tough time for everyone and the absolute best thing I could do if I decided to stay was to stay...out of the way.  I was not welcome in the house.  They would not allow me to see him.  

I did the only thing I could: I climbed my favorite tree and watched the day unfold.  Save for the two relatives who told me to leave the grieving family alone, the only person who talked to me all day was the funeral director, who was absolutely misinformed about why I was crying so hard.

Planning the funeral, they bypassed my suggestions of dad's favorite songs and favorite poems and went with something that entirely wasn't him.  They tried to convince me maybe I could play the organ for him, which would put me sitting in the very back of the chapel instead of up in the front with the family.  I declined, hurt again.

The day of the funeral, I was three rows back.  Behind "his family," who took the first two rows of seats.

In the months and years to follow, I tried to do my best by him and by that branch of my family tree.  I went to Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I emailed.  I visited.  I called.  I gave them my phone number and email address multiple times after they kept saying they'd lost it.  They never called.  They only emailed in reply, and then it took 6 weeks or longer for even a short word.  When one of my dad's (and my) dogs died, someone informed me via email 7 months later.  Nobody mentioned when the other one died.

When I became seriously ill, I was still talking to them as best I could, and I informed them of the situation.  They said, "Well, let us know how that turns out" and not another word was spoken.  They never wrote, called, or emailed to check in on me.  They never asked how things were going.  When my first book came out last October, I sent notifications and even dropped by a few houses.  I saw them again last May at my nephew's first birthday, where they barely said two words to me.  I asked if they had read my book, and they said no.  Nobody had given them a copy.

All that to say this: This time of year is hard because the simple thing to do would be to say they aren't interested in my being around and simply not go.  But they do have a place set for me.  They do notice that I'm not there, and when I see the out-of-towners in the stores around these times, they always want to know why I'm not coming.  Or why I didn't come.  My grandmother still sends Christmas money and a stocking to me courtesy of my brother, in the hopes that maybe I'll come back.

They have a place for me, but when I show up, it is so totally awkward.  At least for me.  Don't get me wrong: I don't want to be the center of attention.  I just don't want to feel like I'm intruding, either.

And I love them.  I absolutely love them.  Not with the obligatory love of a family, but with the genuine love of just people.  Individually, especially, some of them are an incredible joy to be around.  I love running into them in public.  I just...don't feel like I fit in the group any where.  I'm not sure I ever did, and with so much pain in my heart still over the way things went around the loss of the man that kind of bonded us together, it's a hard place to make myself go right now.

I always think maybe I'll go and just do my best on loving them.  I've tried that; I just feel like I'm constantly in the way.  So maybe that's not it.

Do I forgive them?  Yes.  Do I love them?  Yes.  Would I like to spend more time with them?  Yes.  But is it worth putting my heart through that awkward air just to spend a holiday surrounded by family and yet feeling alone?  That's the question.

It's not something I decided once upon a time and the decision still holds.  It's a decision I make anew, painfully, every year.  Two years ago, I popped into Thanksgiving for a bit.  This year, I had company at my house and so did not.  Christmas is still up in the air.

That doesn't mean it doesn't suck knowing there's a place set for me that sits empty.  That aches my heart.  But some days, it is a place that I just don't want to squeeze myself into knowing it would be uncomfortable for everyone.

A friend of mine questioned a few days ago on Twitter what the protocol is for a dying relative in a family where bitterness and distance seem to reign.  For what it's worth, my friend, my answer is this: 

You do what your heart tells you, and you act out of your love.  Our hearts are connected to people who have held a place in our lives, whether they currently do or for right now don't, whether painfully or mutually agreed-upon, whether by pain or by virtue or by geography or whatever, and those connections are ones we cannot simply let go.  Like I said - I love my family.  And if one of them passes before I have the chance to reconnect in a meaningful way that I feel honors us, I will still honor them.  Because that is what my love says.  Regardless of what my family may ever say.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Crazy Loved

Today, I am honored to share a part of my story on Sarah Bailey Farish's blog as part of her 30 Days of Story project.  Feel free to hop over and read how I get to that place where I AM is where I simply am.

For readers of that story, and for pretty much anyone who has ever heard pieces of my story, it's easy to kind of get lost in this crazy, messed-up love that doesn't always look like love and yes, has not necessarily always felt like love.  Until a few years ago, I would have adamantly, unarguably, woundedly insisted that I had never been loved.

But that's simply not true.  As I'm coming to discover through my own broken love, I have always been crazy loved.  Just emphasize that "crazy" a bit.

The pain, I think, has been from this word "love" being so often disconnected from what I always imagined the experience of love ought to be.  My family never hesitated to say "I love you" when walking out the door, hanging up the phone, sometimes even going to bed at night.  And the truth is that it was explicitly clear that if you're family, we love you.  Regardless of anything else that might ever happen, we love you because you are family, you are a part of us, and even when we don't always like you, we love you.  This has been true from my end, as well.  Love was a noun.

I've known the word love, but I have been so lost on what that looks like.

As I continued to grow through life and through circumstance, I kind of found my own breed of love and started trying to put motion behind my words.  To really love people, as if love were a verb.  I found a few ways to do that, I thought, and it lent more pain to that hollow place in me that had never imagined love could be so....felt.  When I discovered that love ought to be more than just something that sounds good, I couldn't figure out what that four-letter word we'd been using really meant any more.  If it had ever meant anything at all.

Because the more I learned to really love people, the more I longed to be loved.  To have ever been loved.  And I was looking back on a story that didn't look like love to me.

But it was a story I was only beginning to touch.  Time wore on, and I came face-to-face with more of my woundedness, more of my own brokenness, and I caught new eyes to see my greater heart in all of this mess that I had no idea needed so much sorting through, so much touched.  Wrapped up in all that hurt was somehow, somewhere God, and I got this very small taste of what Love really is.

Love embraces the constancy of the noun and the tangible experience of the verb.

I'd been in the battle between them both.  Growing up not feeling it, but knowing it...and somewhere finding it, but not always knowing it.  I'd come to feel like if I wasn't actively loving you, I wasn't loving you at all.  Then I'd suddenly find in all my idleness that of course I love you, but I hadn't been showing it.

My love was as crazy, messed-up, and broken a love as I'd so long resented having in my narrative.  Guilty.

I was able to see, as I continued to dive through my own story, how my own brokenness changed my love.  It changed my motives.  It changed my actions.  It changed the way I was able to relate to the loved and to love itself.  And one day, I looked at some of the very same people - some family, some friends - who I resented for not loving me, and I was able to see through their brokenness what their measure of love was.

I never felt so loved.

I learned to appreciate the kind of crazy love coming from crazy people all around me.  You can't blame people anymore for the broken way they love you when you plainly see that that's the only love they have to give.  When you realize that your crazy, broken love is the only love you have to give. 

At the same time, there was this holy love all around me, this broken, messed-up love wrapped around the core of God's love, which my heart was trying to feel.  I just...couldn't.  I didn't know how.  I still don't know how.  I have all these grand ideas about what love is, what it's supposed to be, what it's supposed to feel like and yet, I can't figure out how to let myself feel loved by that.

I mean, it's there.  It's here.  Pure love is here, and it's absolutely everything I ever imagined it would be.  Perfect.  Peaceful.  Promising.  Present.  I've discovered so much about the perfect love of God, and there's this deep ache as I yearn to let myself settle into that a little.  Take it in.  Trust it.  Believe it.  

It's just so pure.  It's just so fantastically wonderful and everything I could have imagined it would be and so much more, and it's a hard kind of love to let myself get so wrapped up in because it's so radically different than the crazy, messed-up, broken love I can finally appreciate.

But then I think about what this love really is, what this love really means.  I think about what it is that's being loved, this entirety of me as broken, messed-up, and whacked out as I am and about Who it is who's loving, this perfect, passionate, righteous, holy Lord, the very Author of Love who loves me with His fervent, inexplicable Love...and you know what?  That seems sort of crazy, too.  That God would be so crazy about me.

So I can only conclude that this is all that love is - this steadiness of a noun that defines that love simply always is and the experience of the verb that is whatever we bring into it, as both the lover and the loved.  And it's not so hard to see that I have always been crazy loved.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Things Fall Apart

A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor knocked on my door to ask if I had an electric screwdriver.  I don't.  But I asked her why she needed one, and she told me that the side fell off her chair that morning and she was trying to put it back together.

I'd just returned home from another tool-oriented project, so a lot of the stuff I do have was out.  I told her I'd be over in a few minutes.  Ten minutes later, I walked through her front door.

One of her recliners, about 25-years-old, she'd said, was in pieces in the floor.  It's what she told me had happened, but for some reason, I hadn't been expecting quite that.  I'm not sure why.

I proceeded to tinker around a bit, to assist her in searching for the screws that had come out, to assess the situation, and as always, to smile at the baby every time I could catch her glance.  Then something struck me, and I pulled out my ratcheting screwdriver and started to take this chair apart.

Yes, apart.

My neighbor stood nearby, watching with a confused look on her face.  She started to say something about my obvious dis-assembly of the chair, but mid-sentence, she stopped.  And smiled.  She saw what I was up to.  It made perfect sense.

If this chair had any hope of going back together, it had to come further apart.  There simply was no other way.

I say that to say this:

Next week is story week.  I sort of hadn't planned it this way, but this is how such things happen.  On Tuesday (November 27), I will be guest posting on my friend Sarah's blog.  God has opened up this tremendous opportunity for her to use her platform this month for 30 Days of Story.  Each day has been taken by a woman willing to share a part of her story for the sake and the glory of God.  I am honored to be a part of this.

But here's what it's not going to be: it's not going to be the stories you've already heard me tell.  I don't plan on sharing the details of my life so much as the battle in my heart.  Because, at least for those who have been around me for awhile, we all know the details.  I've been broken and humbled by these details, and God has done tremendous work in them and through them in getting to me.

I also, however, feel that so much of story is not about what happens so much as how your heart responds.  My wracked.  In all honesty, I've been wrestling with what piece of my story to tell and how to tell it for several weeks, and this wrestling has resulted in sleepless nights, pure angst, a restlessness within me, an increasing sense of the burden this narrative has had as I've tried to find the words, and just a paralyzing presence in all facets of my life.  It's also made me a little touchy, a little sensitive lately, and I have to issue several apologies to those who have been on the wrong end of that.

In humble apology, I say that I have had no right to ever take the wounding of my heart out on anyone, even on the seemingly guilty.  The only thing I am entitled to do with my heart is to take it to God.

The story I am sharing for Sarah, and the others I will share here, are not my usual words.  They are not narratives that will just pour out of me and be all beautiful and clean and wonderful.  These writings will be as honest, as real, and as raw as I think they must.  I hope you will grant me that grace.

Because as I've allowed these pieces of my story to touch me, there's not an easy answer.  I have sensed my heart breaking all over again as I finally come face-to-face with these not-so-fairy tales and these are pieces I don't feel like I can just pick up and put back together.  This is a heart that's got to be broken down if it ever hopes to be rebuilt.

That said, let me also say this: I have a firm policy about not writing words for you that I ought to be saying to God.  I will not preach before I pray.  I will not share without surrendering.  God is the God who holds the power (and mercy and forgiveness and grace) to mend my wounded heart, and He gets everything first.

Then you get the story.  In the hopes that my honest journey might somehow encourage or strengthen or, I hope, invite you into your own.  May God bless my humble words as I do my best to break this all down and invite Him to build it back up.

And as these things happen, while I'm guest posting for my friend Sarah on Tuesday, I am also...guest posting for my friend...Sarah...on...Tuesday.  Sarah 2 just had her second baby, so I will be sharing a story with her readership about what it's like to be the new baby, and I am equally honored to be a part of that.

I don't know how God works these things out.  I wrote for Sarah (2) probably about 2 months ago, and she's kept it on file until her baby arrived.  Baby is here, so she penciled me in for the 27th.  Then Sarah comes along and schedules out 30 Days of Story on her blog and plugs me into the 27th.  And then, for added measure, another friend told me about a meeting she was having concerning some idea I'd had...she's meeting with that party on the 27th.  So I finally gave in and all I can say is, "Ok, God.  I give.  What's up with the 27th?"  It may be something; it may be nothing.  At the very least, it will be story.  

Stay tuned for story week, where things fall apart.  Right here all week and across the web on Tuesday.  And keep reading through the following Monday, as I have a few words to say on the other end of it all.

As for my neighbor's chair, it's back in one piece.  She's probably sitting in it right now. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

We the People

I wrote earlier this week about persons vs. people and how it's hard for me to wrap an individual, even a group of individuals, into something so vague as a people.  Because in the sense of making an honest connection, you lose something when you do that.

That doesn't mean there's not a place for a people.  Certainly, there is.  Case in point: today.

Today is American Thanksgiving, a nationwide celebration of the mythical feast between Pilgrims and Natives and a tradition honoring what it meant to have landed in this new place of opportunity and freedom.  On this day, we gather - a whole nation - for a day of family, friends, food, and yes, football.  I love this day.  Not just because it's delicious, but because there's something special happening in what we the people are doing in recognizing this moment.

And it just wouldn't be the same if it was anything less than the American people doing it.

That's what being a people is.  It's having these things that draw us together, these stories that are bigger than us that bind us.  These things we do together, even when it sometimes seems we're doing them separately, that honor something.  That something, in this case, is America.  It is that thing which holds us as people.

God knew a thing or two about a people.  One of His most oft-repeated promises is that "I will be your God; you will be my people."

A day like today helps us understand what that means.  It means that collectively, we are together.  We are bound under this thing called God, who holds us as a people.  It means that there are things that we are doing here that are absolutely, undeniably better because we are doing them together.  In community.  As one people.  God's people.

That is the church.  That is worship.  That is service.  That is mission.  That is ministry.  That is love with skin on.  That is what we do.  That is who we are.  That is how we live and celebrate and honor what it is to live under God's reign as God's people.  One people.  (And you thought "people" was plural.  It almost never is.)

The first few times I read those words of God - that we would be His people - I was kind of disappointed.  In my slim knowledge of the Bible, I'd always thought what He actually said was that He would be our God and we would be His children.  So when I kept running up against "people" instead of "children," I thought my Bible must be broken.

But on a very few occasions, God does use "children" and when I saw those, I realized the wisdom in that.  He uses that second promise - that we will be His children - in Revelation and once in the New Testament (to my finding) to refer to the day that He returns.  To refer to our relationship beyond this world and past this life and into eternity.  When God redeems His world, we will be His children.

That one small shift takes us from the temple to the table.  It takes us from the fellowship to the family.    

As children, it is our one heart that matters.  Just as it has always been one heart that matters to God.  He never counts us by the people; He counts us by the one.  

Here, though, in this place where we are not yet children, our one heart so often finds that it still needs another.  It needs more.  It needs backup.  It needs this bigger story.  And it finds tremendous rest, peace, hope, and strength in being a part of this bigger thing doing God together.  It finds its courage to be one heart, oddly enough, by being in the people.

Which is why by divine wisdom, we are today a people.  We need each other right now.  We need to be this community drawn together under God's love, a people bound by His mercy, telling His story.    And it's better because we're doing it together.  We, the people...of God.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Be There

Getting someone to God doesn't mean you have to be a preacher, a door-knocker, a strong witness, or even particularly articulate.  It means that simply, you have to be there.

That's it.  Your presence is the single greatest evangelistic tool you have for bringing persons into the presence of God.

Not because you're so obviously holy.  Not because you're better than the lost sheep.  Not because you understand some hidden mystery of what God is.  Not because your presence is even a millionth of God's presence.

But because it is our presence that answers the two deepest questions people have when they are searching for God:

 - How can I trust a God I have not seen?
- How could my life possibly be better with God in it?

These are two of the common questions that cause the heart to hesitate.  For persons asking the first question - how can I trust I have not seen (and cannot see) - the question is a deeper one of - how can I trust in anything?

A lot of people grow up learning to trust in themselves.  Learning to make their own way.  Learning to lean on a very select few, if any at all.  And they grow old trusting only what they've got their hands on because somewhere, all of us have been disappointed by others we've chosen at one point or another to trust.  We let each other down.  We let ourselves down.  When we trust so deeply in our few and in ourselves and find that even these things are not always faithful, how are we supposed to trust in an other-realmly God we haven't seen, haven't touched, haven't talked to, haven't heard?

Your presence is part of the answer to that question.  It's part of the barrier-breaking process.  Which is why when you decide to step into someone's journey and stand in front of their heart with an open invitation, you absolutely have to follow-through.  You have to stay, even when it feels like you're getting nowhere.  (Until and unless one party makes it clear the invitation is closed.)  If you back down or back out, you are one more reason not to trust anyone...and one more reason not to trust God.  If you stay, maybe you're the person they discover they can lean on.  They, for a minute, don't have to do life themselves any more.  You start to break down that long-held belief that they are all they've got and maybe they start to feel like they don't have to be strong and they don't have to be lonely.

Bonus: The longer you're around, the more they can see you trusting in God, leaning on Him for His wisdom in your presence there.  And they more they start to wonder just how you can trust so easily.  Door. Opened.

The second question is equally painful: people are either so wrapped up in their emptiness or so confident in their circumstance that they don't really see how things would be different if God was present.  They see God as a neutral party in their lives, that however things are is however they are and whoever they are is whoever they are and these things are not going to change.  God is not going to make a difference.

Then you show up.  You get to hang out and be there, and they start to get a glimpse of your life.  They look into the window of you and maybe get a little jealous that you are...whatever you are and they're not...whatever you are.  That thing they've always wanted that they couldn't have, or that thing they have never been and think they could never be.  But the more you're around them, your flaws show.  And they start to see you as a real human being, too.  They start to get a glimpse of your story, of who you are at your core.

Which is frequently very different than who you are after God's gotten into you.  It doesn't have to be dramatic - not everybody is a Saul turned Paul - but some of the more subtle changes matter.  Some of the simple graces.  These are the things that stand out.

Because it doesn't matter how set-in-stone we think our lives are.  There are always these nagging little things we wish we could change about all this.  About us.  The more you give your presence to a seeking heart, the more they see your little changes.  The more they start to thirst for their own.  The more they start to wonder how you did it.  The more you have the chance to just be honest about yourself and share a greater gift - the presence of God.

These things are not a formula.  They aren't a script or even a tract.  The most powerful evangelism you've got is you just being you.  Being everything you are, whatever that looks like, because everyone seeking is everything they are and they're looking for that authenticity.  Just as a mirror, you invite them to see them by just being you.  And being there.  

And they start to get a glimpse of this character greater than both of you, this Father that defines your life and whose greatest potential you see in them.  They start to get an image of God just being God.

Everyone just gets to be.  That's where hearts are opened.  You being you.  Them being them.  God being God.  It's just that simple.

Be there.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Get Thee to the Church in Time

Not a typo.  The title of this post, that is.  I know that the phrase is "on," not "in," but as I mentioned yesterday, there are some people who just weigh on your heart so heavily that you shudder to think you'd be stuck standing there, one minute too late, thinking only "I coulda saved them."

Of course, you and I don't ever save anybody.  That's God's job.  Our job is to get them to God.

Did you catch that?  Our job is to get them to God.  Not to get them to church.

Because here's what happens when you get someone with a fragile, about-to-take-the-leap-of-faith heart to actually go to church with you.  True story:

I had one of these people.  I longed for her to go to church with me, and she finally agreed.  One time. The Christmas Eve service that I happened to be slated to play some welcoming music for, so I warned her that before service and for the first few minutes, I would be otherwise occupied.  I invited her to sit somewhere close and comfortable, and she picked a seat in the back row.  I kept an eye on her, and when I looked up again, she was no longer alone.

Our international missionary, Bible school-teaching, testimony-giving, God-is-so-awesome, concerned-with-your-salvation, completely-uninhibited older church woman had joined her and was already talking her ear off.  Now, I don't know what was said in that conversation. By the time I was able to join them, my invitee's eyes were almost permanently rolled in the back of her head and she just gave me that look.  She has never come back.  (Yet.  I'm still working on it, but she always teases, "What?  So you can leave me with whats-her-name again?") 

There's nothing wrong with getting someone to church, but you have to know when you get them there what they might run up against.  I love our dear older woman and she loves people well, but when I looked up and saw her sitting there with this woman who'd finally agreed to come to church with me, my heart sank.  Judging based on personality alone, I knew she wasn't the kind of woman that my invitee would connect with.  And I was right.  And that one ill-destined moment (which is no one in particular's fault) pained the moment.  It just pained it. 

I should have stayed with her.  I should have found a way to stay with her.  Because my presence might have sheltered her experience and allowed her to focus on the God of the night, the God she was searching for.

That's not to say, though, that when you see a heart poised for Passion, that it's always your responsibility to stand guard and see that heart through to the finish line, protecting it at every turn and dominating its conversion process.

Because there are some hearts that you, personally, will never be able to pull through those final tormented moments of choice.  And many more that you weren't called to.

A woman was in and out of dabbling with Jesus (to my eye.  She may tell it differently.) and I was trying to work on that without making her feel like a project.  Without becoming preachy.  Without making every interaction a theological discussion or a debate about the merits of fellowship.  (She's one of those that insists that church is not necessary for a relationship with God.  I argue otherwise.)  One night, we were sitting in her living room talking when a repairman stopped by for an estimate.  HVAC? Plumber?  I don't remember.

He came back with a bid, then popped a squat on the couch just to chat for awhile.  He wore a cross around his neck, and of course, I couldn't help but mention my newly-published Recess with Jesus book.  Hey, a girl's got to sell.  We talked about that for approximately twenty seconds before he turned to the other woman and started asking about her faith.  They talked for ten minutes, then twenty, then thirty, then forty.  Somewhere near an hour, he just sat talking to her.  Not about his estimate or the problem to be fixed, but about what she was looking for in life and in God and why would she not venture into church.

She admitted that every time she came close to church, she couldn't stop crying.  She started crying just saying those words.  He told her that was her burden being lifted.  It was a freedom in her heart.  And they continued to talk.

It was the coolest moment ever, and I was kind of jealous.  I mean, hey.  I'd been working on her for awhile and this guy just got further in a few minutes than I had in a few years.  But it was so awesome to see her open to the moment like that.  I wanted to cry myself.

He gave her his personal cell phone number, an open invitation to join his family for dinner some night, and a gentle hug with a promise that he'd be in touch.  Then he walked out into the fallen night.  She never heard from him again.

That pained the moment, too.  Because with all of her preconceived notions about Christians, about God, about hypocrisy, about unfaithfulness...she needed to hear from him.  At least one more time.  It just hurt.

We all have these people that pain our hearts.  They are so close and they are so thirsty and they are so hungry and empty for Jesus.  And that's a delicate moment.

We have to remember that our job is more than to get them to church.  We have to get them to God.  We have to get them to that place where they can experience Him - which maybe could be church but doesn't have to be.  And we have to remember that it may not be our job at all.  We may just have to open them to the moment for someone else to step in and break down a new wall.

But we must also remember that when it is we who step in - like the repairman - we can't just step away.  We have to keep our promises.  We have to maintain our presence.  Until and unless one party makes it clear that the invitation, the moment, is passed.  (And sometimes, even after that.)  Because it will be our presence - and not our petitions and not our persistence and not our preaching and not our proclamation and not even our promises - that bring these hearts into His presence.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Several months ago, I was riding in the car with my mother when we ended up behind a garbage truck, which had stopped to pick up the refuse of the house around the corner.  On our way out of town, we'd both sort of noticed this trash and made a mental note to check back on one particular item.  We were too late by less than a minute.

We cringed watching those sanitation workers toss our item - which we could now see plainly was not just any chair, but a cute little rocking chair that needed only a little work - into the back of the truck.  Before I could roll down my window to protest, they initiated those giant garbage truck jaws, and we could only sit there and watch this perfectly good chair get crushed into splinters before our very eyes.

As if having the same inner dialogue, we both moaned out loud, looked at each other and said, "I coulda saved that."

I can't help but have a similar thought these days as I'm looking around me at a few persons in particular.  (I love the word "persons."  Because who wants to be a "people"?  - stay tuned later in the week for more about peoples.)  I find that in the course of my day, I'm off here or on my way there and very often, I see these people and have a thought.  I have a thought Bill Hybels relates in the story of one of Willow Creeks's staffers in his book I'm currently reading (Just Walk Across the Room - a gift from a friend)...I can just see what a totally awesome blessing they'd be if they'd ever let Jesus get a hold on them.

Which is not to say they are not now a blessing.  They absolutely are!  The persons who weigh most heavily on my heart, at least right now, are those who are oh so close to having this radical presence that will come when and if they can only surrender their goodness to pure good.

Maybe that's a reflection on my own evangelistic confidence, that of course I would be drawn to the persons who are "almost there."  But I don't feel like it's the easiest place to pick someone up.

Because let's be honest: the hardest hurdle to get over is the last one.  The hardest string on your heart to cut is the one that's just barely still holding your whole mess together.  The toughest thing to let go of is the last one you feel like you have.

And it absolutely pains me to see these persons in this stage - so close to surrender, to freedom, to grace, even to simple good.  I guess because it makes their burden so painfully clear.  Burdens that often, I know well.  And know the pain.  And know the grip that it has on you.  And that thirst for something more that you're scared to death to satisfy but can no longer ignore.  

These are persons I see torn, though if you were to flat-out ask them, they would deny it.  These are persons who are so achingly hungry for more that at the mere inkling of something holy in the room - a story, a word, a song, a presence - they either erupt in inexplicable anger stemming from their intense sensation of "stuck" or they break down in tears at a burden momentarily lifted through a glimpse of hope.

These are tender moments.  These are the times when these persons need their ache to meet the burden of love and just find grace pouring forth.  I have to admit that when I have these moments, I too often keep going, making a mental note of these places to come back later.  You know, when I'm not busy.  When I'm not on my way somewhere.  When I have better words to say, a better heart to respond to the moment.

But the moment is fleeting and it burdens me that one day, I may be too late.  By even just a minute or less.  That I may have to sit there, helpless, as these persons are manhandled by this world and crushed into splinters.  That I may have to moan out loud for that agonizingly long minute, then wistfully wave the moment goodbye and mourn,

I coulda saved them.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about some of the ways to meet people in these tender moments.  With a hilarious true story about what doesn't work and a heart-touching story of what could have been.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


We all have our reasons.

We say that to mean there must be some good explanation for why we are the way we are, why we choose the things we choose, why we do the things we do.

The reason you choose really depends on what you're trying to prove.  And these reasons typically fall into one of two categories (excluding, of course, things that simply "must" be done).  They are either a chip on our shoulder or a burden on our heart.

We've all had chips on our shoulders.  These chips come from wounded places; they are memories of times when for whatever reason, we didn't measure up.  We weren't good enough.  We didn't try hard enough.  We didn't do well enough.  We fell short.  Or sometimes, we just fell.

When we stand up again, we have all of this energy behind doing better.  That chip rests heavy on us, and we're embarrassed.  We're disappointed.  We're disgraced.  And we're dead-set on doing better.  Whatever it is that we weren't, oh, we will be.  Come Hell or high water, we will absolutely never be not that again.

It's pure motivation, but an impure motive.  It might spur us to success, but to what end?  What is there to gain if for one moment, you weren't and now, you find that you are?  As is so often the case, by the time we get there, the world's long since forgotten and moved on and the only thing we've proven is ourself.  And the only one we've proven it to is...ourself.  So pat on the back, but where do you go from here?  There is no glory but what you see reflected in the mirror.  And let's be honest, it's still not fantastically glorious.

But there is a greater motivator and a pure motive.  That is the burden on our heart.

Burden comes from created places.  It is a glimpse of the intention of our Maker, a taste of purpose.

It's that thing we have to do because it is so perfectly right to do so.  It is that thing we do for the sake of something greater than or beyond ourselves.  And yet, it is that thing that is purely fitting with who we are.  It is that thing that we cannot quite explain and may sometimes struggle to justify, but above all else, it is irrefutably right.

Sometimes, sure, burden comes from woundedness, but it's never out to redeem itself.  It serves not in the name of satisfaction but in pursuit of sanctification.  It is seeing in the world something you see - either met or unmet - in yourself and recognizing that opportunity as a chance.  Just a chance, for a moment, to choose something better.

It is forgiving - whether you've been forgiven or yearn to be - because you see the burden of unforgiveness around you, and that weighs heavy on your heart.  It is befriending - whether you have your own circle or you agonize over loneliness - because you see the burden of abandon around you, and that is a weight too great to bear.  It is loving - whether you know the deepest love or ache from rejection - because you see the burden of an unloving world, and that just won't do.

In the name of burden, you never end up proving yourself.  But that's ok, because you never feel like you have to.  You end up proving greater things - like forgiveness, love, mercy, grace.  God.  And you're proving it beyond the mirror and into the world so that everyone sees what Love is.  

And there is glory.

We all have our reasons.  The question is: what are you trying to prove?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Every once in awhile, it sort of gets to me that I'm a little bit stagnant in this world.  That is, I'm still bouncing around and haven't really "landed" anywhere yet.  I eventually laugh it off as my "starving artist" period because I love what I do, but every once in awhile....

And there's no shortage on theories about what I'm doing "wrong."  (I use that word loosely.  You will see why.)

Last week, someone shared yet another of those theories with me.  "You know," I was told.  "Your Facebook and your blog are probably what's hurting you."  Uhm, my Facebook is private, or supposed to be in whatever definition passes for private in the ever-changing construct of Facebook.  But what's so wrong with my blog?

"People don't want to deal with someone who is so 'religious.'"

I laughed immediately, and it wasn't entirely because she actually used air quotes.  I laughed, looked right back at her and said, "Then that's not a problem.  Because I'm not religious!  ...I'm a Christian, and there's a difference."

She was half-right.  I'll give her that.  Nobody likes to deal with someone who is soooooo religious.  Nobody hangs around with the person who's always harping on you to go to church more.  The one who doesn't cuss and lets you hear about it if you so happen to utter a curse word.  The one who quotes a Scripture for everything that might happen to happen in your life and has a platitude for your every concern but never really any answers.  The one who won't join you in the bar for matters of "principle."  The one ready and willing to remind you that Hell awaits.  The one with their Bible stuffed so far up their...never mind.  You know the kind of people I'm talking about.  The "religious" ones.

As much as I am able, I try not to be like that.  Although, if we're being honest, I think every new convert goes through a religious period.  I'm not particularly proud of mine, but it is what it is.

I guess it goes back to what I was talking about a few days ago, and that is grace.  Grace in words and grace in journey.  The point of my life, and the point of my gift, and the purpose of what I do is not religion.  It's faith.  It's a man named Christ who walked a path through a messy world and got a little gritty with things because that's how it is here.  A Man who wasn't interested in platitudes, but in answers.  A Man who we know said more than a few words that ruffled more than a few feathers.  A Man who would have joined you in the bar if that's where you wanted to talk to Him because He was rock solid in Himself and His Father and wasn't threatened by this world.

I want to be a person not threatened by my world.  I want to be a writer who invites you to be the same.  I labor to be the fullness of who I am, and to live that out loud.  And to some, I guess that looks "religious."  But to me, it doesn't.  To me, and as days go by, I'm getting better at this, it looks like grace.  It looks like relationship.  It looks like invitation.  It looks like mess and grit and confidence and courage.

Yes, I talk about God a lot.  Every day, when I get the chance.  Because I learn something new of Him every day.  Not about Him, but of Him.  That's the essence of Christianity.  And it's about being made right.  The essence of religion is to learn more about Him while knowing very little of Him.  And when we use religion, I find that our focus is not on grace.  It's not on journey.  It's not on love.  It's not on Christ.  When we use religion, our focus becomes telling everyone everything they are doing wrong.

Including, of course, things like being offensively religious.

Which I'd have to argue is not my "problem."  Because I just don't consider myself religious.  I'm a Christian.  And that's the difference.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Isn't It Great?

Sometimes, I forget that this is what I do.  Writing, that is.

A few weeks ago, I took a few sample chapters of my work-in-progress book Prayse to my neighbor, who I'm pretty sure does not even own a computer.  I tried to sneak them in an envelope on the table on her porch, but she heard me prowling around and stood in mock-motherhood at her now-open door.  "Just where do you think you're going?" she asked, one hand on her hip.  I smiled my sheepish smile and stayed for a few minutes to chat.

She always catches me.

A week or two later when I ran into her again (our chance meetings are getting fewer as the weather turns colder, for obvious reason, though we are finding ways to seek each other out), she was gushing over my content.  "This is just fantastic!" she said and continued to go on about how great the few chapters I'd passed on were.

In my best, most humble, completely off-the-cuff, traditional answer, I look her square in the eyes and said, "I know!  Isn't it great?!"  (That is a direct quote.)

It didn't hit me until about fifteen or twenty minutes later, and it still makes me laugh.  Because friends, I am not nearly as arrogant about what I do as I sometimes sound.  Really.

When she made those comments about Prayse, it never once crossed my mind that we were talking about me.  When she referenced the chapters, I was thinking about the story.  I was thinking about the way this or that little detail had captured my heart and stuck with me.  I was thinking about the impact of these little treasures that are just laying right there in Scripture to be plucked and proclaimed and even prayed and just shared.  I was thinking about those same chapters in terms of the very good story  that they are, the story that completely took over me and overwhelmed me and drove me further into my gift, the stories that I labored to do justice to because I agonize over any small chance that my words might get in the way of God's Word.  We were talking about that story and for those few minutes, as so often happens, I completely forgot that I wrote it.

Which is kind of a more common problem than you might think.  I'll just be standing around talking to someone and say, "You know, I read somewhere that..." and then after they leave and the moment is over and the time is gone, I suddenly realize that 'somewhere' was blog.  Or my book.  Or my book-in-progress.  Or some other piece of writing I was tinkering around with.  It's not that I quote myself often, but when I do, I surprisingly frequently forget that it was me.

It's awkward most of the time.  Sometimes, I'll speak in front of my church and someone will come up and start talking to me about what I said.  Then, I start talking about what I said as if I didn't say it.  I think that comes off kind of arrogant, but I don't mean it to be.  It's just that I want to talk about the story, too.  And even if we're talking about a story that I had the opportunity to tell, I want to make sure we're talking about the story.

Lest you get a big head about me.  Or I get a big head about myself.

I love story.  And I love that there is a story so much bigger than my story.  And I'm completely in awe that as a girl who has spent so many years trying to figure out what to do with her own story, God has recruited me to tell this bigger tale.  And I am completely humbled and honored that this is my gift.  Really, it's an awesome gift.  The perfect balance of invitation, burden, and grace...and maybe a bunch of other little things, but those are the three.  For me.

I love story.  And to be honest with you, given the chance to engage in the story, I very often forget that this is what I do.  The writing, that is.  Which is great because it's tempting as a writer to think you're always telling the story.  To always be laboring over how to get it right.  What amazing grace to be able to take that story into my own heart, too, and remember that it's so much beyond my words.

So about that greater story...I know!  Isn't it great?

(Drafted chapters of Prayse are available for preview on the Prayse Project blog.  I'm not perfectly happy with all of them, but they are what they are until I get through to the editing stage.  Feel free to take a look and leave feedback.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Power of Words

This gift of words that God has bestowed upon me is not something I take lightly.  Word have the power to change things, to change people, to influence this world - for the better or for the good, and whenever you choose to use a word, you have to be conscious of that.

I had a class in college in which part of the curriculum was debate.  We paired up and took hot topics and debated them against our partner.  Mine was a very cute boy whose name I don't even remember who just so happened to have the wrong view on every hot button issue, so it was rather fun to put him in his place.  One particular day, we were debating abortion and it hadn't really occurred to me that the whole class had stopped to listen to our little dialogue.  The professor was leaning over my shoulder, listening.  Then she said, "Ok.  Now switch sides."  So I debated the other side of this issue with the young man, and the class just sat there watching.  Ignoring their own assignments to watch.  Afterward in the hallway, a handful of classmates came up to me and said, "You got us.  What do you even believe?"

Words have power, and in debate, it is moreso.  Because debate has emotion and if you can't keep your head and choose your words, then the emotion takes over and the words hurt and there's no such thing as peace.

I don't know anyone who debates without getting carried away, then walks away into a conundrum.  It's a tough moment when you walk out into the hallway after sounding pretty convincing and suddenly find yourself asking, "What do I even believe?"

It happened again last week, as I wrote about the American Story and the election results and our reactions regarding these things.  That post, besides being one of my top posts for the month so far, earned praise for its calm, rational, unbiased presentation of truth.

And the truth is...I believe that truth.  It wasn't something I spouted because it sounded good, because I thought it could somehow dilute the tense situation I was seeing erupt on my Facebook and Twitter feeds.  I honestly believe in what I wrote.  

But neither was it the first thing I believed.  I spent hours on election night wrestling with my own feelings over the situation, knowing there was a world out there that I'd already shut down from for the night, who were rejoicing and crying and mourning and celebrating and excited and confused and optimistic and defeated and basically a mess, and I knew that when I booted back up on Wednesday morning, I was going to run smack into that world.  My gift with words was heavy on my heart because it wouldn't do to just add my words to the mix.  It doesn't help to add one more voice to a shouting match.

The next morning, I was able to honor my gift by choosing words carefully and coming at the story with grace.  By not throwing emotion into the argument but throwing my heart behind my words in such a way that maybe it quieted things down.  Because that's what words do.  They tell, and they can change, the story.  So that maybe we don't have to fight about it so much any more.

I don't take this gift for granted, and that lessens the burden.  It means I don't have to spend my time deciding what I really believe.  Because I'm choosing the words that I believe in.  Sometimes, that means pushing my own emotion aside to get down into the deeper heart, but I don't find that I miss all that emotion.  I don't find that the world misses it either.

This is a world looking for grace in story.  It's something we all have to take seriously, but especially those of us gifted with words.  It's part of the gift.  Those of us who have the chance to pen a piece of the story need to labor over that beautiful place of grace.  Even when it's not necessarily the first thing we believe.

Because words have power.  And at least for me, I am awed at the power of grace and always find that grace is the story I most believe.

Friday, November 9, 2012


The past few weeks, I've been breeding a sort of bitterness in my spirit.  Life just isn't want I want it to be every day.  And it seems sometimes that the closer I get to getting there, the more things seem to just sneak in and take me further away.  Things pop up that require me to take care of them, and somewhere in the midst of all that, I feel like I'm getting taken away and all that purpose, all that peace, all that love that I want to define me gets saddled with this burden of yet something else stealing away from me, and I get bitter.  I resent that.

But the other day, after yet another change of plans, another dilemma, another troubled moment, another expectation that I hadn't planned on, I started thinking about what was really bothering me.

The truth is that this world has never taken anything from me that I wasn't willing to give away.  What I resent, I realized, is the world's taking without giving me the chance to give.  I love being asked; I hate being told.

When someone asks me to do something for them, it opens my heart.  It's an invitation to start looking at myself and figure out what it is that I have to offer.  You want something; do I have it in me?  I get to assess my spirit, take inventory of my skills, investigate my heart to discover something more inside myself.  I get to look deep into everything God made in me, and by doing so, I settle a little more into all that I am.  I settle a little more into created.  I look deeper into the eyes and heart of God, and see something...I don't want to sound vain, but....holy created in me.

It's kind of the answer to life that I think everyone's looking for.  I know I am.  To have that chance to understand created just a little more, to see purpose and plan and promise in your life, to look inside yourself and for a moment, think about what it is to be you outside of all the world's voices and cookie cutters that think you've got to be something else.  Then to decide, yes.  Yes, that is in me.  Yes, I am created to do that.  Yes, I would love to do that for you.  Yes, I would love to love you.  Because I can love; I was created to love.

That's why I love being asked.

That's also why I resent being told.  Told is not an invitation; it is a burden.  It is one more thing that's got to be done, that you, in particular, have to take care of.  It is so completely not about anything created in you that it's offensive.  It is a task.  It is a duty.  And when you're not paying attention, it's really hard to turn that into love.

Sometimes, I get in these hearts where I'm just giving it away and fully engulfed in this spirit of love.  I love loving.  In these times, though, all this burden kicks in because there are people who see that you are doing and will not hesitate to tell you what else you need to put on your list.  And if you're in the spirit of love, it's easy to fool yourself and think that all doing is loving, but that's just not true.  After awhile, it just eats away at you - all this doing - until you start to question the very nature of your love. Is it good enough?  And you start to think you don't love this person or that person or that thing.  Does that make you a bad person?

No.  It just means you've been taken.  Being taken wears you down.  It whittles away at the love that you have until you're firmly stuck in duty.  It's hard to break out of that.

But love requires that you find a way to give it away.  Love requires that you give of yourself.  Not, as many would tell you, that you give yourself away but that you give of yourself.  (If you give yourself, the world will own you.  If you give of yourself, you own your love.)  That's how you find that you always have enough love - by taking the invitation as a chance to discover your love, then giving a little of that away such that in every place, love grows.  It doesn't mean you only do the things you love to do, or even the things you like.  It means that you choose love and regardless of the task at hand, you realize that love is what you do.

Whether love looks like arranging flowers or scrubbing a toilet.

I've been bitter about being told, but it's kind of been my own fault.  I've forgotten the discipline of daily giving it away.  Of giving of myself before it can be taken from me.  And it doesn't have to be something in particular.

It's the simple choice to wake up in the morning and ask God what the world is going to require from me today.  To ask Him what's up, what's going down, what's going on.  To figure out what it might require from me to love this world today.  And to take that invitation to discover what He's created in me, to settle into created and to choose love.

Nobody's ever taken a thing from me that I wasn't willing to give.  So I must decide first to give, and then come what may, I'm ready.  I'm ready to love.  With all the purpose, the peace, and the promise in my heart of a woman created who can do this.  I can do this.

But I still prefer to be asked.