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What People Don’t Say about Change

What People Don’t Say about Change

I closed the door behind my parents as they left our two-bedroom apartment near campus.

Bows and wrapping paper, half-eaten cupcakes, stoles cords, and a tassel sprinkled the living room.

I’d gather them later; I just made a beeline to the bedroom.

Still in my graduation dress, I hopped in the bed in the fetal position and sobbed straight into my pillow.

Will and I had only been married six months, but he knew what to ask.

“Do you want to go back to school?”

A muffled “uh-huh” came through sniffs and sobbing.

It felt so alien to embrace a new routine apart from the semester-break-semester-break one I’d known since kindergarten.

A plan was in place, which should’ve provided some comfort. In two weeks, I’d be starting an internship at the college ministry where I was a student. I didn’t even know that one-year internship would precede two more years as the ministry’s assistant director.

I am that woman again (only three years older): the woman furled underneath the covers because her life is changing and a part of her isn’t ready.

Last Friday was my last day at the college ministry. Will and I are moving to New Orleans in July so that I can finish my seminary degree in the classroom rather than on the Internet.

During this season of change, I have closely identified with Isaiah 30:20-21: “Your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.’”

This is the way. I have an undeniable peace in my spirit – a peace that can only be from God.

I reassure myself that change is a good thing – even unavoidable and natural.

But whether I’m coiled up in sheets on graduation day or resignation day, change can still feel less like transition and more like displacement.

Displacement (most of the time) happens to us. We call this a passive verb in English, and this makes sense to my writer’s brain. Writers are encouraged to avoid passive verbs as much as possible.

Maybe this is why the writer in me resists being displaced.

I want to displace my own self.

To displace means “to cause something to move from its proper or usual place.”

It’s in our nature to resist seasons of displacement or change (even the exciting ones like college graduations or big moves) from our usual places. These seasons can feel lonely, uneventful, and unproductive.

I’ve felt so many emotions during the last two weeks as I’ve said goodbyes, cleaned out my desk drawers, and turned in my keys at my (now) former job.

But then I remembered: this displacement feels familiar. I’ve been here before, and I recall graduation day and the days that followed.

“Remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you (Deuteronomy 8:2).” I remember God’s relentless pleas for the Israelites to reflect and remember God’s faithfulness in their displacement time after time.

I take time to remember with God – reminisce with him like an old friend.

I smile at the graduate sobbing in front of her new husband and wanting to go back to school. I smile and thank God for his faithfulness and guidance throughout the years.

Suddenly, displacement isn’t so bad as I remember – take time to remember with God.

But I admit that it’s uncomfortable. I thrive on productivity, but this girl will have no “job” to go into every day for a while (that’s another blog post) besides teaching yoga and writing stories.

When I say seasons of displacement can feel unproductive, I speak from real-time experience. Besides attending seminary full-time, I have no “plan” this time.

But God is the God who sees the woman without a plan. He is the God who meets a pregnant woman in the desert and asks, “Where are you coming from and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:8). Hagar responded to the former part of his question yet couldn’t answer the latter: “Where are you going?”

But God gave her an answer; God answered her with direction and purpose.

Maybe that’s all God asks from us in our seasons of displacement. Maybe all he asks is that we remember where we’ve been with him, and he provides the answers for where we’re going:

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend [or feed on] faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. -Psalm 37:3-4 (ESV)

Feed on faithfulness. Delight in the Lord. These are the commands for a displaced heart ready to receive God’s desires and direction.

For the follower of Christ that abides in him, all fear in “missing God’s will” is cast aside. He is faithful to make our desires his desires.

The mystery of mysteries is the indwelling Spirit of God’s role in all of this. When our pleas for direction, our complaints of displacement, our cries for a plan feel like silent prayers hitting the ceiling, God’s Spirit in our Spirit is acting as a translator.

God’s Spirit is translating our semi-spiritual prayers into supernatural language, and he is getting it right:

“For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words… the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:26-28 (ESV)

In all our displacement and disorientation, God simply asks us to remember. Remember and feed on his faithfulness. Take a drink from the well of his faithfulness like Hagar did in the desert.

He is the one who answers his own question of where we are going. He is the one who replaces our desires with his will. He is the one who translates my half-baked prayers into ready plans.

To the displaced furled underneath covers today, you and I are in Good Hands.

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“This Is Us” and Why Laughter Takes Us by Surprise

“This Is Us” and Why Laughter Takes Us by Surprise

If you’ve followed the new NBC television show, “This Is Us,” then you know how powerfully it speaks of what it means to be human.

Recently, the show exposed Randall’s longstanding battle with anxiety.  Randall was adopted, but his father reconnected with him as a grown man.  While on a road trip together to Memphis, Randall’s father asked about Jack, his deceased father who adopted him.  To Randall, Jack’s shining trait was his laugh: “He had this really great laugh.  It’s like… When he laughed, it was like it almost surprised him, you know.  Like it surprised him that he could laugh so freely.”

On a date one evening during Christmas break, I remember Will taking notice of my laugh.  He said I’d laughed all evening and that he wished I’d do it more.  My laughter took both of us by surprise.

I know this sounds like a downer, but I write this for those of you whose laughter surprises you, too, as if it’s a stranger when it makes its appearance alone or in good company.  I write this so you know you’re not alone.

Laughter – the kind that is free and loud and long – feels hard for me right now.  It feels hard because I am a Randall.

In the car, Randall admitted to his father his lifelong fight against false hopes of perfectionism and control that results in debilitating anxiety.  Running, showering, working late: his anxiety never waits for convenience to break him down.

Anxiety might surface in the forms of heavy breathing, a breakdown, a panic attack or something else, but its roots run much deeper, digging their way into the stuff of the soul.

Your soul stuff buried deep might be this desire for perfection in your performance – the same as Randall’s.  After all, mirages of perfection and control surround us.  “100’s” written in red ink on returned assignments, workout demonstrations in magazine pages with Photoshopped bodies, Instagram filters, and “Pinter-esque” parties tell us perfection is within reach.

If I really dare to dig, I know that my recent struggle with anxiety is rooted in fear.  This is the stuff that’s forced its way into my soul.

My husband and I are in a place of transition.  I shared on social media last week that I am leaving my job in May, and, while we know some details about what’s ahead, there are so many unknowns.

The recovering perfectionist in me doesn’t handle unknowns well.  When fear of anything – whether it’s fear of unknowns and transitions or something else – finds a hole in my soul to settle and grow its roots, it can choke out my laughter.  It can feel as if laughter is an irresponsible answer to the persistent questions at hand.

In fact, I begin to believe that the opposite is true, that the responsible answer is worry, and debilitating anxiety inevitably follows.

But God is reminding me that a soul reclaimed by Christ is not remade for this stuff.  Proverbs 31:25 says that a soul reclaimed by Christ can “laugh without fear of the future.”  Jesus himself said, “Abide in me, and I in you… These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:4,11).

I read these words and realize that this fearlessness of laughter and fullness of joy require active participation from me.  They say that this soul stuff called joy is mine to claim, but it requires replanting my roots of fear in the abiding love of Christ every moment of every day.

But this is honestly where I am right now.  On ordinary days when small panic attacks interrupt workouts or tear-stains soak my textbook or Bible pages, laughter and joy seem inaccessible.

But this is what the Enemy of our souls would like you and me to believe.  I know this, so I preach this gospel of loud laughter and full joy to myself:

God, this is not what you have for me.
You have so much more for me.
God, this is not what you have for me.
You have SO MUCH MORE for me.

A soul abiding in Christ is such an easy thought yet a difficult discipline.  But I believe God wants the souls of His children so tethered to Him that they are Jack’s: their free and loud and long laughter surprises them, too.  Even if I’m not yet in that place where I’m so trusting of God that I am able to laugh at my fears, it does not negate this truth that God wants that for me.  

The God of the Universe wants fullness of joy for you and me.

There is a scene in the movie where young Randall (he’s probably seven or eight years old) is gasping for breath as tears rolls down his cheeks.  Jack simply presses both hands against his cheeks and says, “Breeaathe, son.  Breathe.  Breathe.” They take deep breaths together as young Randall fixes his eyes on his father as his breathing slows.

In moments when our fears silence what we know of our faith, I believe that, in a sense, our loving Father presses his hands on our cheeks wet with tears and says, “Breeaathe.”  He knows we have access to laughter and joy in Him right now, but He is patient with us as we learn what it means to abide in Him throughout this lifetime.

I am offering no glib answers today.  I am not yet in this Promise Land of loud laughter and ceaseless joy.  But I know that this is what God wants for me.

“Worry is the facade of taking action when prayer really is,” Ann Voskamp writes in her book One Thousand Gifts, so I would like to share a prayer with you that I am praying when I feel myself moving towards fear instead of laughter:

God, this angst and worry and anxiousness?  This shame and guilt and sadness? This is not what you have in mind for your children.  You have so much more for me.  You have in mind my laughter – free and loud and long laughter – at my fears of the future.  This laughter is not the goal.  No, it’s just the outward evidence of an inward posture: a soul abiding and trusting in You.  Although there are flickers of deep trust in this soul of mine, I am human: capable of quickly forgetting the progress you and I have made together and replanting my roots in old patterns.  But you are a good Father, patiently grabbing my cheeks and telling me to breeaathe.  You speak words of love and bravery and joy and trust over me.  You remind me that You, too, know what it feels to plead for “this cup of suffering to be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39).  I do not travel this journey alone, and, even if my feelings take longer to catch up to your truth, I will not surrender to the Enemy’s tactics against my soul.  I will choose to abide.  I will choose to trust.  I will choose to laugh.  With your help.  In your strength.  Amen.    

I want to give a disclaimer to my readers.  Anxiety can be very debilitating, and my intention is not to undermine this or offer glib answers in my post.  Sometimes miracles look like asking for help, taking medication or seeking a counselor.  Anxiety is very complex and manifests itself differently in everybody, but I am certain that God wants fullness of joy for his children.  This blog is simply a picture of what it looks like for me in this season of my life.

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The Spiritual Discipline of Earnestness

The Spiritual Discipline of Earnestness

I am late in learning the news that one of my favorite authors is “controversial.”  But, then again, what author who entrusts her words to the world isn’t controversial at some point?

While listening to a podcast a couple of weeks ago featuring Ann Voskamp, she spoke about the pain from misunderstandings, accusations, and dismissals of her book as less than orthodox.  I’d read her book under scrutiny—One Thousand Gifts—myself and closed its back cover with no qualms or critiques.  Even if I would’ve had disagreements, I probably would’ve still finished the book.  After all, there are almost always points of intersection or takeaways from reading anything.

After finishing Voskamp’s interview, I started digging and found the less-than-gracious book review from 2012 that stirred further praises and criticisms from both camps.

I learned something truly beautiful about Voskamp along the way: she emailed the man who reviewed her book–with all of his assumptions and interpretations, published for the world to read–and invited him to dinner at her home.

Then the book reviewer apologized:

“As a writer myself, I ought to remember that words are meaningful and revealing and in some way a part of the person who writes them. Every word comes from somewhere deep inside. Every word of One Thousand Gifts is a part of Voskamp just like every word I write is a part of me.

“I did poorly here and I can see that I need to grow in my ability to critique the ideas in a book even while being kind and loving to its author. There was reason for the shame I felt when I saw [her] name in my inbox. I had put effort into reading the book and understanding and critiquing it, but no real effort into showing love and respect for the author. I had assumed poor motives and, in arrogance and thoughtlessness, had squelched useful discussion of the book’s strengths and weaknesses.”

What an example of reconciliation this was in blogosphere. Rather than returning his hurtful criticisms with more blows, the author welcomed the critic to the table, and the critic asked for forgiveness, humbled his posture, and reoriented his perspective.

Although she didn’t specifically mention the book reviewer by name, Voskamp did publicly respond on her blog and reiterated her tightly held (and orthodox) convictions, all the while privately inviting him to the table.

One writer said Voskamp had exercised “the spiritual discipline of earnestness.”  

Earnestness.  I look up the word’s definition, and it’s “sincere and intense conviction.”  Beyond the art forms of a well-written book, blog, or even Facebook post, this is the art form that’s often missing today around our dinner tables: the centerpiece of earnestness embellished with respect.

I ask myself this question: “How often do I invite those with whom I disagree to my table?” and I’m afraid this is why we often don’t have the chance to practice the spiritual discipline of earnestness–of holding sincere and intense convictions–because our circles are busting at their circumferences with homogeneity: with people who think and believe like us, look like us, act like us, create like us, vote like us, and spend like us.

Will and I visited a church in New Orleans last weekend where the pastor read this short poem:

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
-“Outwitted” by Edwin Markham

The pastor continued and explained that the church strives to be one that is welcoming but not necessarily affirming, meaning that its people will always uphold the respect and dignity of others, even amidst earnestness and even disagreement.

We often buy one of two lies: either we believe we must agree in order to gather around dinner tables, or we believe we must sacrifice either love or conviction in the presence of disagreement.

But what if you and I drew a bigger circle?  What if we pulled up more seats to our tables?  What if the earnestness of others didn’t threaten our own?   What if we invited the book critics of our own stories to dinner?  Even more daring, what if we asked those Facebook friends with whom we disagree if we could meet for coffee rather than un-friending them? What if we remembered that our neighbor is, first and foremost, an image bearer of the invisible God, and our love and respect preceded our knowledge and convictions?

The Enemy of our souls and our Savior celebrates every time we draw small circles; but what if we find the wit to win–to make more room and take people in?

 

“When we practice the discipline of finding, making and cultivating beauty, God allows us to see people and creation as holding higher value than our likeminded circle, our tight grip on political or theological stances.” –Micha Boyett

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On Discomfort

On Discomfort

This blog was in the works longer than I want to admit to you.

It’s actually undergone two redesigns since I stopped writing in my tiny corner of the blogosphere two years ago.

But Facebook updates and Instagram captions can no longer hold space for the words in my head and heart. (I’m sure my Facebook friends are thankful I’ve made this move, since my status updates are oftentimes long enough to be blog posts. This is my attempt to get away from that!)

How does the most comfortable next step for us feel like the most uncomfortable next step for us at the same time?

This is the paradox of writing for me. It’s something that I cannot completely abandon. There’s a sacred comfort in writing for me, yet there’s also a scary discomfort in releasing vulnerable words from the heart and into the world through writing.

But I’m learning that the most uncomfortable thing we’ll ever do can also be the most comfortable thing we’ll ever do—like the familiarity of pulling in your driveway, walking through your front door, and slipping off your shoes after some adventure. It feels like coming home.

It’s most comfortable because it’s that uncomfortable thing that makes you come alive—that nagging of the soul that won’t let it go.

Dare I say it feels like obedience to God Himself?

Among an audience of college students last week, I heard a pastor share three indicators that you’ve found your God-given gift:

  1. You experience joy when you use your gift.
  2. You are equipped for your gift.
  3. God affirms your gift through others.

Writing is a gift to me, and I say this because I feel like it is more of a God-given “get-to” than a me-given gift to Him or you. There is a deeply satisfying joy when we “fan into flame” (as Paul calls it in 2 Timothy 1:6) God’s gift to us.

Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I believe this is what Paul meant when he wrote to Timothy to “fan into flame” his gift.

I think Thurman’s question is important, and writing is what makes me come alive most. It’s that space where comfort and discomfort coexist and obedience is born.

Maybe it’s in that tension between the comfort and discomfort—the now and not-yet, the under-qualified but overjoyed, the fearful but brave—where we uncover our God-gifts and take our faith-leap.

After all, we serve a God more than able to grow our wings on the way down.

What is your faith-leap?

Welcome to mine. I’m so glad you’re here.

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