“F*ck this” and Farandolae – 2016 in Review

I started 2016 off the way I start every January – full of drive and optimism with a carefully color-coded planner and a pile of books to read. I know I’m not unique in this, almost everyone I know becomes more ambitious, dedicated and idealistic as January 1 draws near.

 

I went to Florida last January for a training retreat with a direct sales company I was working for at the time. I was only working the business on the side with no intentions to try to grow it to a full-time income, but I live in Wisconsin and it was an opportunity to go to Florida in January. Reason enough for me.

There were lots of encouraging and empowering talks, mostly about how to grow your business and be more intentional with structuring your time. My biggest takeaway though was finally feeling determined and confident enough to finish filling out my applications for seminary – which I had been halfway kicking around in a Word document for about three years. Being away for the weekend also meant I had time to devote my undivided attention to completing the essay portion of the applications.

My fingers trembled as I wrote.  Once again, I felt myself get swept up in that all to familiar wave of self-doubt and uncertainty. Who am I to think I can do this anyway? 

Lots of people talk about following your dreams; some will even tell you about how much work it takes to achieve them, but I’ve found it’s rare for people to talk about how pursuing your dreams can unleash all kinds of ghosts from your past and skeletons long since buried in your closet.

In A Wrinkle in Time (which I read for the first time in June of 2016, I know.) Madeleine L’Engle compares our lives to sonnets: “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.”

I know myself well enough to know the general form my life has always bent toward, but I struggle sometimes to pick up the pen and write it. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I often operate in such a way that it’s as if the things which are supposed to happen in my life just will – without any effort or alignment on my part at all.

It’s silly to think this, of course, but opening yourself up and actually working to shape your life the way you want it – “writing your sonnet” – requires some level of vulnerability.
If I never actually say what I want out of life; if I never spend the time and energy and work for my dream, then I can’t be broken if (when) I fail.

Again, from A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle writes: “To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.” I have long approached life with a degree of care to not open myself up to too much unknown (or at least, to make sure that God and the universe understands that I am very displeased when my “unknown” quota has been breached).

What if loving yourself and loving this life you’ve been given comes about only through living life with authenticity and vulnerability?

What if self-preservation and image management isn’t the answer, and – in fact – is actually the biggest threat to you living a fulfilled and happy life?

My fear of failure, or of things just turning out differently or less than I imagine them to be will always be present, but that fear doesn’t get to drive my life – or write my sonnet. In 2016 I learned to put fear in the backseat (to borrow from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic), and to embrace the unknowing of opening yourself up.

Over the summer I had the opportunity to practice this openness to unknowing again, when both of my paternal grandparents passed away. I grew up next door to them, and their presence is almost as much a backdrop for my childhood as that of my parents.

Losing my grandparents opened up all kinds of questions about who I am and what kind of legacy I want to leave. If my fear of failure pushed me to answer “what kind of sonnet am I writing?” the loss of my grandparents pushed me to ask “am I writing my sonnet fast enough?” and “is it worth writing at all?”

Grief is often the gateway to the parts of ourselves we had otherwise forgotten. Like a child stumbling into a long-lost secret garden, what we do once we find ourselves thrust through the gateway of grief is crucial.

I chose to dig deep. I started seeing a therapist again. I started writing more, and writing things that it will be a long time before they ever grace the internet – if ever.  I learned that perhaps I hadn’t made as much progress as I’d hoped in my personal growth.

It has been a sobering journey to say the least.

I had been operating under the assumption that I as I worked toward self-knowledge and development, that as I grew spiritually and became more mature that life would somehow get easier and less confusing. The events of 2016 convinced me otherwise.

I found myself thinking over and over again of Farandolae. In L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door these fictitious creatures are beyond microscopic, and yet the fate of the universe rides on their survival. The Farandolae are distracted though, enchanted by the ease and fun of a life skimming above the surface. It is imperative, for the survival of all things, that the Farandolae settle down and “Deepen” but this is the more difficult choice for the tiny creatures. It requires stillness and time, and virtually everything that is not fun or sexy.

I’m coming to realize that growth is less like a flight plan with a determined place of arrival, and more like a Farandolae Deepening – a still, silent, slow journey downward and inward…then outward again.

I’m learning that to grow roots mean that sometimes you have to dig up the hard ground in which you’ve been planted, and that sometimes that process is painful.

I’m learning that leaning in to the wholeness and healing God offers also means becoming acutely aware of where all the missing and wounded pieces are in your life – and that part sucks.

I’m learning that Jesus wasn’t kidding about the denial of self, the carrying of a cross, the losing of life to find it.

It’s all so much less “up and to the right” than I expected grown-up life to be, but somehow that’s still okay.

2016 had many moments that left me swearing under my breath (or not so much under my breath) but it also had so many moments that took my breath away, and pulled me deeper spiritually, mentally, intellectually, emotionally and relationally than I’ve ever been before.

So here’s to both:
The “f*ck its” and the Farandolae,
The discouragement and the Deepening,
and the life that is present in all these things.

Thank you, 2016.

You’re good.

The after school program at the church I serve at kicked off on Wednesday. I have the joy of teaching the K5-2nd grade class. On Wednesday afternoon eleven smiling little faces paraded their way into my classroom for some active learning, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sing-a-long songs.  It was great.

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Toward the end of the night, we got into our Bible story for the week – Creation.  I always, always, ALWAYS start with Creation at the beginning of a new school year because what we believe about how we came to be shapes our life and our beliefs so much. (You can hear more about that here.)

I was reading to the kids from The Jesus Storybook Bible.

They were chanting along “Hello sun! Hello moon!…You’re good!  You’re good!  You’re good!” As I read the Creation account.
The energy was off the charts, joy glowed from each little face.

As we broke up into small groups to discuss the story though the tone changed.

“How do you think God feels about you?”

“Bad,” said the little girl.  1st grade.

“Yeah, we do stuff God doesn’t like.” Added a 2nd grader.

“Well, yes, but God also made you.”

“Yeah.”

“So, do you think that has anything to do with how God thinks about you?”

I spent a decent amount of time in college working with a ministry whose starting point for evangelism was to tell people they were sinners.  While that’s certainly true, the older I get and the more I work with people, I don’t necessarily think people need to be told they’re broken.  We know we’re broken.  We know in the marrow of our bones something is not right.  Even our children understand, “I’m bad.”

But before we were broken, before all the bad, God said “you’re good! you’re very good!”

I think we forget that sometimes…or maybe that’s just me.

I remember the broken, the bad.

I’m keenly aware of my own propensity to self-destruction.

I forget, easily and frequently that I am a beloved person, made in the image of God to lovingly display who God is to those around me.

“You’re good.”

Believe that today.

No matter how far you feel, how messed up it is, how broken…

You were created good.

Listen to the voice that is calling out that name:

“good.”

“good.”

“good.”

Let the echo of those words shake the dust off your soul.

Let their rhythm move your feet to the melodies of a grace that redeems every blessed broken thing.

Dare your heart to believe in a Creator who not only formed you, but loves you still and no matter what.

“You’re good.”

Choosing

My word for 2014 is Joy.

On December 31st though, as Ben and I were out and about eating poutine and visiting friends, a steady, silvery snow fell downy over the city.

I hate snow.

It freaks me out.

I hate driving in it, I hate walking in it, I hate the fact that it’s been cloaking the grass and trees for over a month now.

So 2014 starts covered in a thick and powdery layer of snow.

Roads covered, slushy tracks, threatening drivers “beware.”

“Go ahead and take the RAV,” I told Ben, “I’m not going anywhere today.”

We have two cars.

A ’99 Ford Taurus that has no traction in the snow and a “check engine light” that stays on perpetually at this point in it’s life, and a 2011 Toyota RAV-4 that could carry you to a remote moose-hunting camp in Alaska without batting a wiper blade.

I did it.

I voluntarily stranded myself in the house for a WHOLE DAY.
(which is a very big deal for me.)

I did it out of love.

I did it out of fear.

I hate the snow.

My year of Joy started with me shuffling around the house in my pajamas, drinking coffee till I was jittery and grumpy and being exorbitantly annoyed at Ben, at Cadence, at life generally.

“Try to have a good day, okay?”

I likely replied to his kind sentiments with a glare that would make the Incredible Hulk shrink back down into Bruce Banner.

Joy, joy, joy.

 

I prompted myself.  Fake it till you make it.

I choose joy.

I cleaned the kitchen – like scrub-down-the-walls deep clean.

Joy, joy, joy.

I bundled myself and Cadence and took us out into the snow.

Crawling in bed with the enemy.

Joy, joy, joy.

“HANDS…COLD!!!!!”  she shrieked.

That’s what happens when you take your mittens off and stick your hands in the snow.

I think words about my child I would never say aloud.

Joy, joy, joy.

I rocked and clutched icy hands while she screamed.

Covered in snow and salt, boots dripping on the carpet.

Joy.

And it hit me, that today will never happen again.

And I may hate snow and hate being stranded and hate scrubbing down kitchen walls.

I may be frustrated at life and my child and WHY THE HECK CAN’T YOU JUST LEAVE YOUR MITTENS ON!?

But today will never happen again.

Today is a gift.

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Credit: Jason Meredith via Flickr

Sometimes it may seem like those pink bunny pajama’s in A Christmas Story

It may not fit, it may be the wrong color, it may just be plain wrong

But it’s a gift.

I bet those bunny pajamas were daggone warm.

I can choose to see the undesirable, the putrid, the annoying

or

I can choose joy.

Like any gift, the important thing is less what it is and more if you choose to take it and what you then choose to do with it.

I can see already it isn’t always going to be easy or straightforward.

This year is going to require some creativity

looking over and around and through.

Cosmic hide and seek.

Joy. 

Deeper than Words

There are many things I bemoan in this life, in our U.S. culture.

The divisiveness.  The unrelenting messages we’re fed that we don’t have enough, don’t make enough, and just plain aren’t enough.  The fact that our children are growing up faster and faster, forgetting how to play younger and younger, captivated by screens, tainted by over-sexualization, ingrained with violence.

I mostly lament these things. I pray over them.  I  take whatever small steps I can in my own life and in my family to stand against them.

But every now and again I catch a glimpse that rescue is coming.

That redemption is, indeed, always at work beneath the surface of the day to day.

Last week, that glimpse was in a Zumba class, of all places.

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Ben and I work with a wide variety of kids.  All kinds of backgrounds and passions, talents and abilities, heartaches and shame.

But when the music started, none of these differences mattered.

The pretenses, pride, shame and fear were all left in a collective heap by the door.

All as one, feet shuffled, hands clapped, bodies moved.

One, two, three and four. Five, six, sev-en, eight.

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We relish the moments when the proving and fighting ceases, when the kids get to step out of the grown-up boxes they’ve been shoved into, or stepped into willingly.

It’s amazing to watch a young person become a child, even if for a moment.

We all got to believe, even if only for an afternoon, that we are free.  That we are in this together.  That we are loved and accepted and okay, even if we miss a step or clap off beat.  Because there is something bigger we are all engaged in.

A divine dance that weaves and works its way in and out and up and down.  Shuffling and slow at times; pumping fists and shouting loud others, but always, rhythmically moving us further along this road of redemption.

And sometimes, maybe, I see that more clearly in a Zumba class with 30 kids than I do in the text of my Bible.

Sometimes there are things that reach beyond words, that are too weighty to be contained on a page.

Sometimes you need the words to put on skin and bones and be set to a different tune to be able to finally see what was staring you in the face all along.

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“The creative life invites us to envision and discern what God is trying to accomplish in the world.  It employs the intellect but also takes us beyond it, down into the deeper levels, to the realms of intuition and imagination.  The creative process, in its many forms, involves bringing back the treasures of those realms and offering them to the world.”
(Jan Richardson)

Dangerous Presence: Risk Management

This is the third post in a series discussing the book Dangerous Presence by Jason Butler. You can read more or purchase the book here.

“Americans typically don’t like risk.  We see risk as bad, dangerous.  Risk can get us into trouble, ruin our finances, and mess up our future.  Most of the time, we play it safe – in our finances, careers and businesses…We’re OK with some risk, but not much.”

Butler begins chapter three with a brief examination of American culture, in which “risk management” isn’t just a job description – it’s a lifestyle.  He makes the distinction between “risk” and “greed” in this assessment, saying that “‘risk’ is the danger of losing something” and “‘Greed’ is the desire to gain more.”

American culture is a mess of dichotomies surrounding risk and greed.

On one hand, we’re told that the pot is only so big, that we should work hard, save what we earn, store up for a rainy day, make sure that if we do give any of our money/time/resource away that it is going to something truly worth it.

Scarcity is embedded in the America as inextricably as our fingerprints.

On the other hand though, we are also bombarded dawn to dusk with the message that we need more.  That what we have is not enough, and therefore we are not enough.  We must have the latest, greatest, shiniest, fastest.  Our current home is too small, too old, or in the wrong neighborhood and so we need a new home.  Our current car is not safe enough, consumes too much gas, and is lacking in the latest, life-changing features that will warm our hearts and seats simultaneously.

Protect what you have, but constantly be reaching for more.  No wonder we feel like our hands are so full.

“Because of this matrix of fear, greed, and scarcity, American culture values safety above almost any value.  We want to keep our kids, houses, future, and retirements safe.  We have become so obsessed with safety that we have produced a culture of fear…
…The Bible calls it ‘the way of the world.’ Don’t conform to it.  Repent of it.  Renew your mind out of it.  Sin is dangerous, but fear is like nuclear fallout.”

It’s interesting to think about fear being the way of the world, and not something of God.

I grew up, like I’m sure many of you did, praying for safety over trips our church would take.

Assessing whether or not we should be ministering to certain populations based on how much it may be a detriment to our personal safety, our public image as a church or organization, what people might say or think.

Being instructed not to feed or spend time with the homeless, because it was too risky and just not worth it.

And even now, so many people, people who love Jesus a lot, are floored when they find out where Ben, Cadence and I live.

“Is it safe there?”

No.  Not always.

But someone once told me that the safest place you can be is in the middle of God’s will.

I clung to this for years, through good times and bad, but I’m starting to move away from that idea, because you see

God doesn’t promise us safety.

 

There was a song back in the 90’s that went something like “You created nothing that brings me more pleasure than You, and You won’t give me something that gives me more pleasure than You” (“You Created” – Caedmon’s Call).

I think for most of us in the U.S. we derive more pleasure from our own safety and self-preservation than we do from the Lord Most High. 

Even in saying that the “safest place we could be is in God’s will” is a bending of our knee to the idols of safety and self-preservation.

“Okay God, I will follow you anywhere because the safest place I can be is where you want me to be.”

What if we went wherever God wanted us to be, did whatever God called us to do, loved whoever God wanted us to love even if it wasn’t safe?

And before you protest, may I remind you that our history as followers of Jesus is rife with the death and destruction of our brothers and sisters for the sake of Christ.

The twelve were beaten, exiled, crucified and otherwise killed like the Rabbi they walked so closely with.

You don’t have to look very hard to find countless stories of missionaries who were endangered or killed for their presence.

Lottie Moon marching through a battlefield in China.

Nate Saint, Jim Elliot and others killed for going to reach the unreached, and moreover, their wives and families staying faithful to the tribe that murdered them and bringing a whole group of people to Christ.

When I think about my spiritual heritage, I’m really not doing anything that crazy or dangerous.  Everyone in my neighborhood speaks English.  I have running water and heat and air conditioning.  I have a car.  I eat what I like, whenever I want and drink coffee every morning.

I’m not suffering, but according to so many I’m really living on the edge.

“We come from a long line of risk takers, of great lovers, of those willing to put others in front of themselves, of those willing to pour themselves out for the benefit of others.”

“Where is that risk today?”  Butler asks at the end of this challenging chapter.

“We settle for selfish, individualistic, small lives when God is calling us to live into a bigger story.”

What about you?  Is your walk with Christ more centered on risk management and the pursuit of safety, or the pursuit of Christ wherever God may take you?
Are you worshiping your own self preservation or the God who calls us to love in extraordinary ways, in dangerous places, to broken people whom God Godself is aching and yearning to redeem?

How big is your story?

“You come from a long line of risk takers.  Please don’t settle for safety – take a risk for the kingdom of God.  You were told that the world will know you by your love, not your pursuit of self-satisfaction.  Let go.  Embrace the life God has for you – the life centered around others and not yourself.  Do that and you will have a story to tell, a story of redemption, a story of grace, a story of restoration.

You will lose much, but you just might gain everything.”

Did You Forget?

He’s exactly what you would expect of a 6th grade boy.

High energy, an alternately charming and maddening blend of extreme silliness and budding sarcasm, an affinity for jokes involving rude body noises and a distaste for homework.

He can be tough, he puts effort in to his “devil may care” demeanor.

Tried to cover up his tears when the class watched a documentary on poetry.

He’s an older brother, people look up to him – and he knows it.  He tries to be cool and put together, in his own 6th grade way.

“Did you forget about me?”

He asks with an edge of sarcasm on his voice, but I hear the truth underneath.

We keep a running list of students we work with in our after school and Sunday morning programs who would like to be mentored by an adult in our church.

This boy has been on the list for over a year now.

“Did you forget about me? Kevin told me he would find me a mentor a year ago!”

My heart broke a little.

The excuses are easy when they’re just between you and your calendar, exchanged through phone calls and emails.

“I’m way too busy right now.”

“I just don’t have the time.”

“I don’t really ‘do’ kids.”

“I’m just not interested.”

But now I am staring this boy in the face with nothing but excuses in my hands.

“I’m sorry, but the people who could be your mentor are just too busy, they don’t like kids and they’re not interested in you.”

It won’t work.

So instead I try to explain the process.  I make excuses for my peers who have all survived middle school, figured out the secret to long division and are no longer (as) mystified by the opposite sex.  My peers who have so much to offer this boy, even as they make excuses with plates that are too full and hands that are too empty.

“Well, you see, there are lots of kids who want mentors and not always enough adults who are able to mentor.”

The words sound hollow even as they roll off of my tongue.

He smiles but his eyes are sad, proof that he understands more than what I just said.

This post has also been published on the Transformation City Church blog.

looking back…

As I sit here trying to look back on this past year, I find myself feeling a little lost.

 

I know completely, 100% who I am in this moment. I could tell you what breaks my heart, kick starts my mind or ignites my soul right off the top of my head. I could tell you those things which will keep me up at night, thinking, reading, discussing, bawling my eyes out. And I feel pretty good about that, blessed if you will. Not everyone knows those things about themselves, so I am thankful to have discovered me this year.

 

I also know completely, 100% where I was a year ago. My first post of 2012 was about decorating for Christmas and my breakfast recipes – which is totally fine. I actually highly recommend trying my gorilla bread recipe – as long as you don’t mind potentially developing diabetes.

I feel lost though when I try to think through Point A – Christmas decorations and gorilla bread – to Point B – women’s rights, slavery and assorted other justice-related humanitarian issues. I know there was a baby born, some books read, a few counseling sessions attended, and somewhere in the midst a scorching mama-bear fire lit and soon engulfing the deepest place of me. The details are blurry, but lack of sleep and too much coffee will do such things to a person.

 

A year of “transition” seems altogether wimpy.

“A chaotic hurricane of the soul” or “The alteration of my visceral understanding of myself” would perhaps be more suitable.

 

For the first time in a few years though, I feel like myself.

Like the colors have been filled back in, and not in pale vacant hues longing for the colors of the past.

 

 

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(photo credit: Doreen Piper)

I pushed the most fantastic, spunky – and sometimes infuriating – tiny human out of my body in February. There were no drugs. There was a lot of Misty Edwards and a lot of crying. There were also wonderful women – my dear friends. Eshet Chayil! My own personal women of valor – you know who you are.

 

This transitional season was intense enough that I wrote not one but two posts about trying to discern where my writing should go from here.

 

I read. I read a lot. Books, bloggers, anything I could get my hands on.

I began to see myself in a different light. I began to understand that God’s redemptive act on my life and the lives of my sisters worldwide may be much grander than I had ever imagined or dared to dream.

I started to be proud of the fact that I am a woman.

 

I discovered I have not rid myself of prejudice, only shifted it to another group of people. I still have much to learn.

 

I was convicted by the immense faith this woman.

 

I was honored and giddy beyond belief to be selected to review an advanced copy of Rachel Held Evans book A Year of Biblical Womanhood…and then to be a part of my first ever group blogging project over at Soul Munchies.

 

I got a little angry about the way that most evangelical churches seem to think we should be teaching our kids about Jesus.

 

I tweaked some recipes and put together the most fantastic, perfect, glorious-high-heaven in a cookie. I don’t plan to share a ton of recipes moving forward on this forum, but they were that good.

 

I started rethinking Christmas traditions and as the season grew closer and the tragedies mounted, I found the truth of God in a manger so painfully real for the first time in my 13 years of following Jesus.

 

Trying to be more intentional and disciplined (okay, and really just to keep myself accountable to actually write) I started the Meditation Monday feature. I missed a few, but I at least thought about writing every single Monday.

 

…and I lost all of my baby weight and then some.

(Just because I needed to brag about that a little)

 

 

Thank you for reading as I have journeyed, discovered and weathered this year. Thank you for your encouragement, your comments – in person or on the blog.

Thank you for joining me on this path, here’s to the continued wandering deeper into the heart of Love itself.

 

So what makes it on to your 2012 highlight reel?