Stillness

It’s late and the thunder is grumbling at me outside, little cracks of heat lightning here and there, and the proverbial crickets are still chirping.

The world moves when I am still. Life doesn’t stop when we wait.

How does that even work? I’ve been attempting to co-exist with God over the past few weeks, waiting in his silence, and life as I know it hasn’t disintegrated. I’m shocked. Part of me actually believed that if I stopped moving, if I stopped actively propelling myself forward, the time-space continuum would collapse and I would spontaneously combust.

Nope. Didn’t happen. Bummer.

Because now that I know that, I’m obligated to learn from that lesson and I just haven’t come to terms with that yet. Am I really old enough to be patient now? Yeah, I guess I am.

I haven’t been writing. I turned down a job offer. I stopped spending my time dreaming up amazing, fantastic alternate futures in which I save the world. I’ve just lived one day at a time. And you know what? I was happy today.

Whoa.

And not only was I happy, I was at peace.

I was in my car this morning, parked and preparing to meet a buyer, when a woman parked next to me and started getting her two young kids out of the car. The youngest (a ridiculously adorable little boy about 2) somehow slammed the car shut on his finger. I had ice packs to keep my wine samples cool so I grabbed one and jumped out of my car with it to give to him. The mom was so sweet and her son soon calmed once he had the ice. We chatted for a bit. She was interested in the wine business, her oldest–a little girl–is the same age as my daughter and had hair just like hers; we had things in common. I ended up giving her my business card.

Maybe nothing comes of it. Maybe she’ll call me to say she got a job in the business in 3 months. I don’t know. But I left that situation feeling like something real had happened. I held that feeling nestled in my heart all day.

Last Sunday, our church met at a new location–a dedicated church building–because we’ve been invited to share it with the current congregation. It would be a huge change from meeting in an elementary school, but I think it would be a positive step. So we had a trial service. Everything about it was lovely, especially communion which my friend, Bonnie, got to serve.

If you’ve read any of the comments on my blog, you know Bonnie. She’s one of my favorite people in the whole world. Her joy, her passion, and her love for others is awe-inspiring.

I hugged Bonnie before I took the Bread and I felt at home worshipping there. It was special to receive communion from someone so dear. But I found out after the service, it was much more special than that. It was Bonnie’s first time serving communion. She told me she’d always wanted to be asked but over the past 2 years or so just hadn’t been. Not being asked was a disappointment to her; she’s been a part of that family since day one. But when she arrived at the church last Sunday, they chose her. On a very special day. She said it was infinitely sweeter and more meaningful that her first opportunity wasn’t until then.

God did that for her. Bonnie waited. She didn’t ask, she didn’t assert her wishes, she just waited. And it was so much better this way, His way.

He loved her enough to not only give her what she wanted, but to make it better than she imagined it could be.

Bonnie’s experience helped me reconcile myself to this season of waiting. Do I believe that God has something big in store for me? Yes, yes I do. I really felt like it was happening soon. That tomorrow or the next day there would be some big POOF of Holy Spirit glitter and my life would be more meaningful and important. That I could figure out where I’m supposed to go and what I’m supposed to do because I’m actually trying to be committed to my faith and seeking God.

Yeah, it’s not that complicated.

It’s actually quite simple. I typically reject the notion that anything worthwhile could be simple but this concept I like.

Here it is: God loves me. I don’t have to decide. I make decisions in stress and anxiety, that’s not what God wants for me. I don’t have to figure it out; God ALREADY has it figured out. (Although, Big Man, I am cool with you sharing the plan sooner rather than later!) I kept telling myself that I could wait on God and still search for the right way to go. That was in fact code for “still retain some control and mentally jackhammer myself into a rubbled mess.” That’s not resting in Him, that’s not waiting, and it’s definitely not being still. I mean, have you seen a jackhammer in action? That is the opposite of stillness.

So it’s not some big magical overhaul. It’s little moments. Like being there to give a little boy ice for his finger. Like getting to serve communion on a special day. Like being the kind of person that lives one day at time. It’s less stressful and more meaningful. I’ll take that today. And probably tomorrow, too.

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Silence

I get really irritated when God is silent.

There, I said it.

We were doing really well there for a hot minute. Thoughts were churning, mind was turning, heart was burning… then POOF. It all went a bit flat. Maybe it’s my fault. I can be a tad manic with projects. I’ll get really, really excited to begin and then just lose all my oomph. Perhaps the product of never training myself out of procrastinating? In college, I was always a wait-til-the-last-possible-moment kind of girl. Deadlines–and nothing else–made me move.

Now, without enforced due dates, without anyone to impress, and without grades to earn… I kind of fail. Unfinished blog posts in my queue. Ideas for businesses, non-profits, and books. I have not finished one of them. (Although, to be fair to myself, once this is finished, I will have a finished something. Yay?)

Admittedly, the majority of the responsibility rests on my shoulders. But on top of that, the past week or so, I’ve just had a sense of silence. I had moments of, “Ok, here we go…” that felt like the precursor to a “big” moment. But, no. I was wrong. It’s been quiet. Quiet with no indication the Big Thing I’ve felt approaching is any closer.

What does it mean when God is silent? He’s not less present. He’s not punishing me (I think) and He’s not abandoning me. So what is this about?

I don’t know. Honestly. I don’t get what this is about. What lesson am I supposed to be learning? Trust? Faith? Perseverance?

Are my desires getting in the way? I have a deep, deep longing for a home right now. A little house with a big yard where I can plant a big ol’ garden and have play-dates and sleepovers and dinner parties. I’m also just really, really losing my interest in working a traditional job (call me crazy, go ahead). It’s time to start thinking about where Eva will go to Kindergarten (cue mommy tears). I’ve sort of come to terms with staying in North Carolina (now you can really call me crazy). There’s a lot of stuff to think about right now!

Is it that none of the stuff matters? No, I don’t think it’s that extreme. The details of life can be just as meaningful in our interactions with God as the big picture is.

Is that I am going the wrong way? No, I don’t think it’s that either but it could be that I am getting ahead of myself (happens all the time).

Is it that I just need to be still? Yeah, could be that.

Am I not listening hard enough? Maybe? Ok, ok… PROBABLY.

I don’t think God begrudges me my irritation but He probably does take issue with my worry….

Man, that really bites me in the butt every time! Worry! (insert lightbulb clip art here)

Worry gnaws at joy, ruins productivity, stifles creativity, and is just an all-around buzzkiller. Who’s got two thumbs and is guilty?? This girl!

Worry also interferes with worship. Do I believe God cares about all the little details in my life? Absolutely, without a shadow of doubt. Do I also believe that He is way bigger than the  details? Absolutely, without a shadow of doubt. Worry is like making a to-do list for God. “I need _____, _____, and ______ dealt with and while you’re at it, could you please take care of _____ and _____, as well? Thanks.” That has been the majority of my approach to Him lately.

Worship puts everything in perspective. Worship is that part where I step back, lay my concerns aside, and just wonder at the splendor of creation, the unfathomable depth of grace, and the limitless reach of love.

When I think about Him that way, I feel kind of silly complaining about… all of it. And when I think about silence in terms of worship, it all comes together. Be still and know: be silent and learn.

Alright, Lord. I see where you’re going with that. Well-played, sir.

I’m going to go enjoy the sounds of crickets chirping now, thanks.

Setting a Table of Plenty

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. –Virginia Woolf

A good meal is one of life’s greatest pleasures. In a world of fast food, quick service, and complimentary bread baskets, we can quickly lose sight of the joy in planning, preparing, and sharing a meal with others. Having worked in the restaurant industry for a number of years, I’ve seen this first hand. Parents neglecting their children in favor of their iPhones, friends talking to each other without actually having a real conversation, and kids coloring on the windows (even my child has snuck an errant doodle past me). It’s discouraging to see the way people interact with each other in restaurants. Don’t even get me started on their interactions with servers. Many days I left work with no hope for humanity because I’d seen such rude and insincere behavior.

One shared meal banishes thoughts of restaurants and always reestablishes my love for people: church Potluck.

I have vivid memories of potluck meals at my grandparents’ church. A tiny church in a tiny town. Their congregation couldn’t have been more than 100 people of whom the average age was well over 50. But there was always plenty of food, home cooked food. Five kinds of bread, rolls, and biscuits. Three kinds of potatoes. Fried chicken. Casseroles. Green beans. Deviled eggs. And dessert to end all desserts. My mouth starts watering just thinking about them. But the most striking part of the meal wasn’t just how great the food was, but that there was always more than enough. There is nothing more disappointing (even as an adult) than being at the back of the line and finding all the macaroni and cheese pans empty. Never happened there. They made plenty.

Our current church home won us over with their potluck. They share lunch together every Sunday, I don’t know of another congregation that does that. Our first visit, people introduced themselves and made sure we stayed for the meal. Immediate and meaningful hospitality to me; kind words and food. I saw the huge bounty of food prepared and could instinctively gauge the health and vigor of the church. Big potluck = big hearts. They planned on having visitors, on having enough to give to whomever walked through the door. They made plenty.

This past Sunday, the sermon was actually about potluck and how sharing a meal expresses Christ in so many ways. Which initially caused me a little guilt; I’d made cupcakes Saturday from a new recipe and did not take them to church because I thought (a.k.a. my pride and perfectionism told me) they were overcooked. Once I got past that little pang of conviction, I sat through the rest of the message absolutely buzzing.

Remember how I said here the last sermon I heard was one of those indirect answers to my prayers kind of sermons? Well this one was the arrow to my heart, the frying pan to my head, and the chord at which I resonate.

God has not just made me enough, he has given me plenty.

Wait, what crazy thing did I just say? I, single mother living with my parents because I can’t afford an apartment, I have been given plenty?

I have never gone hungry because there wasn’t food available. Thank the Lord, Eva has never gone without a meal because we couldn’t afford it. There are people in this country and many others that go hungry every day. And I just can’t live with knowing that and not do anything about it any longer.

Feeding the hungry is one of the most basic and most loving things I can do. I’m sure it could be as simple as volunteering at the Food Bank but I think God may slowly be revealing something bigger. And it starts with me setting a table of plenty.

It’s been so long since I could visualize my future and now these hopes are bombarding my mind. I have been so hungry for purpose! I thank God for the walk in the desert that has made me long for His plenty. The closer I get to sitting at His table and seeing the bounty there, the more equipped I feel to set my fear and pride aside and say, “Ok, let’s go where you want me to go.” And the more I can affirm that, the more clearly I can see a way.

Help me set the table. I need your support, your thoughts, your prayers and your love. I am terrified of the crazy obedience this journey requires. I’m tired of the bad rap Christians have because not enough of us live in the radically loving way Christ calls us to live. I want to go there even though it’s scary. Once the plans I’m working on come together a bit more, I will share more, but for right now just hang with me and pray that I am going the right way.

False Happiness

What then can God do in our interests but make our own life less agreeable to us and take away the plausible source of false happiness?

–C.S. Lewis

Read it a couple times and think about it before you continue.

What else can He do to draw us closer to him?

I’ll be honest, I don’t really like the way this convicts me. I don’t really want to have my sources of “happiness” and “comfort” and “relief” taken from me for my own good. That just seems downright silly.

But the more I sit and consider it, the more I see that this is the light at the end of my tunnel, not whatever I’m using at the moment to distract/comfort myself.

Things That Provide False Happiness:

-Relationships that are driven by lust, not love
-“Love” that is without commitment or trust
-Comparing one’s self to others in order to feel superior / Gossip
-Retail Therapy (so guilty here)
-Conforming to society’s standards (ie. Keeping up with the Joneses syndrome)
-Food / Drugs / Alcohol
-Escapism
The list goes on…

It’s so easy to take advantage of these avenues to “happiness.” and in the moment, they work really well. Sex feels good. Wearing new clothes feels like a self-esteem booster. Getting shiny, new, brag-worthy things is exciting. Being drunk is fun.

Those feelings don’t last. They each have their own particular brand of hangover that leaves you going back for more to make reality go away again.

Doesn’t it make sense for God to take those opportunities away from us when we can’t stop ourselves? Don’t I hide the scissors from Eva when she cuts her finger even though she loves shredding paper?

Eva had a fever yesterday and I had to miss going out with friends for dinner. Things have been rocky all around for me (job, relationships, parenting, emotions) this week and I was so looking forward to the chance to unwind and socialize. I “needed” it. And even this afternoon, I’m still a little resentful I couldn’t go.

Is it really that a big a deal to never go out on the weekends anymore? No. Would I rather be out than at home being a responsible mother? Heck no. But basically since I wrote the “When No Means Yes” post, I have been scraping the bottom of my hope barrel. And I’ve spent more time today getting cranky at God about it than I have all week.

He took away my stress relief so I took my stress to Him.

Yeah… Shoulda seen that coming, right?

This is by far the hardest thing about following Christ for me. I really like God and I really like Jesus…but I also really like being in control. I try to operate under a “let’s see what I can handle and then you can help me with the rest” approach. Yeah, that sounds more like a group project strategy than how I want God working in my life.

I know I am being challenged to hand over that control, to take a bigger leap of faith than I ever have before. I hear it in my heart; I feel it in my gut. Even becoming a mother, there was so much I could do to prepare: read books, save money, stock up on diapers, plan… I don’t know what I am preparing for right now. That makes me nervous, people! I don’t like not knowing! (You can visualize me stomping my foot on the ground here. Yes, Eva does get her sassiness honestly.)

When it’s all said and done, no matter what God asks of me, whatever sacrifices are required, however painful it is to get past all my willfulness (and it will be painful), the result will inevitably be joy.

Look what he gave me in Eva. Look how wonderful my friends are. Look at the great church we just found. Look back on all those times of provision and blessing. And look at the burden I still make Jesus carry for me.

That’s my real happines; God loves me anyway. Most days, I forget or muddle through passably. Too many days, I do everything my way. Some days, I even blatantly rebel. But that happiness is available every moment of every day.

What does it take to choose it every day?

Not faith, something much more difficult (and scary):

Discipline.

But I didn’t get enough sleep to deal with that too, so I’ll stop here. We’ll save that for a sunny day…

Thanks for walking with me today.

Too Many Options

A friend and I have been talking about relationships a lot lately, I’ve ended one as she has begun one and we use each other as a sounding board a lot.

She is anxious about the future of her relationship (aren’t we all?) and we started discussing it as if she were 7 months in.

“What if we get to November and I realize I don’t like him enough?”

(OK, 8 months in–I prefer to estimate, not count)

Eventually, we realized what we were doing and tried to steer ourselves out of it. Because the deeper we delved, the more we were just trying to solve problems that didn’t exist yet. She and I are both go-getter/problem-solvers and are prone to the same worries. We want to know that things will go as we plan.

Which is to say we don’t always live in the moment. (But to her credit, she is much better at it than I am.)

In this moment, she and her guy are dating and having fun and I am coping as best I can.

We can’t predict what will happen in November. We can’t even predict what will happen tomorrow.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop us from trying…because we are FIXERS. And the thing about fixers is that we love to solve problems–real or imagined. We FIX things because it gives us something to do, a sense of accomplishment, but more importantly a sense that we have returned ourselves to “normalcy.”

For my friend, normal has meant a year of establishing consistency: the same job, the same home, the same routine and no boyfriend. She has a very clear picture of her “normal.”

So she has to decide to change her routine and allow for the possibility that maybe the next year doesn’t look like she thought it would.

Which means that OF COURSE we have to extrapolate and hypothesize exactly how this change will play out so as to ascertain if the change is worth it.

Wooo, controlling the future takes a lot of work!

She and I both had to realize that we needed to reexamine why we were approaching life this way. There are too many options. And having too many options is scary.

The unknown is scary.

Who hasn’t had that realization before? If you haven’t, please return to your regularly scheduled programming–this discussion may not be for you.

So she and I took a step back and reminded ourselves that we can’t anticipate how any of this is going to happen, we can only deal with what we have right now. I think it helped. At least for yesterday.

Deciding to work with what you have in front of you, to be gentle with yourself instead of demanding and critical, to hope and to just breathe… those are are choices that have to be made anew every morning. Some days (ok, almost every day) I forget to make them and I end up panicking, stressed, dejected and on the verge of hyperventilating. Not the attitudes anyone, much less a parent, wants to have.

Today I tried to choose gentleness. I failed a couple (cough_A LOT_cough) of times as I allowed myself to get caught up in all the terrifying potential future choices, the “inevitable” difficulties I’m facing, and even the uncertainty of my own desires. But when I took a deep breath of the spring breeze and focused solely on what I needed to do next to get through the day, I started to make it through.

I’m not saying pretend like you don’t have options; I’m saying don’t get overwhelmed by how many options there are.

Tonight, I have placed a vision in my mind. A beautiful mountain lake, shimmering water, a cool breeze, comfortingly tall trees and Christ standing at the shore. He’s looking at me with so much love and compassion in his eyes as I kneel by the lake. So simplistic, right? But it reminds my that I am seen. He sees me. He sees my heart, he sees my need, he sees my fear. And no matter how ugly or broken I think I look, he keeps his eyes on me.

Tonight, I don’t need lots of options. I don’t even really need answers. I need just ONE option: to let myself be seen and know that, for this moment, that is enough. The unknown is still scary, I still don’t want to go to work tomorrow, I still wish I could snap my fingers and have everything fall magically into place… But instead of running circles in my mind, I am going to be still and be seen. For now, that is enough.