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.

Enough

I’ve clicked through a lot of blog links on Twitter in the past few weeks. Especially the ones that seem geared towards feeling overwhelmed, making big decisions, or being a single parent. I’ve been struggling with writing and just wanted some direction, a filter to make all this nonsense in my mind coalesce into a cohesive post. A flint stone to throw myself at until I spark. I have 8 unfinished drafts in my queue. Not joking. This is the ninth attempt at saying what I’ve been agonizing over for two weeks.

The most significant issue in the mix is my career. One day, driving on the highway, I was so struck with an achingly painful certitude that God made me a writer, I started weeping. Not the pretty, romantic kind of weeping, but the ugly hyperventilating, pull-off-the-side-of-the-road kind of weeping. And as much as I know that’s what I was made to do, I am equally struck by the weight of my responsibilities to provide for Eva. I’m not exactly in a position to drop everything and make it happen. It’s not an impossibility, it just can’t happen today. But I desperately wish it could happen today.

So I kept reading other posts, hoping that maybe someone has said something that will help. Lots of people have said things, good things, but none were the words I needed.

Sunday I arrived at church starved for hope and comfort. I was relatively confident I could find a bit of each while there. Mark, our pastor, passed out a stone to each person before he began his sermon. They were small, smooth black stones, probably something you’d normally use in a decorative water fountain or floral display. He gave no explanation except that we needed to hold on to them. I chose a triangular stone with a little crevice on one side. I held it in my left hand, calmly nestled in my palm through the whole service, as I listened to Mark and tried to sift through everything on my heart.

I’d really hoped that the sermon would be an easy answer to my problems–some variation on “Do what God made you to do” or “Go where the Holy Spirit calls you,” something I could latch on to and run with. But it wasn’t. It was about love. God is love, not just that he loves us, not just that we love him but that everything about love is God and everything about God is love. So my job as someone that follows God is to love. (Yes, the Moulin Rouge soundtrack did just start playing in your head–“The greatest thing you’ll ever know is to love and be loved in return.”)

At first I thought, “God, this is not helpful, this is not an answer.” But then I realized it was an answer that made my question obsolete. To some degree, it doesn’t matter what I do, I am still able to love on people–Eva, my family, my friends, you readers. It doesn’t matter what I do to provide financially, I can still be a writer.

I am already exactly the woman God made me to be.

I’m not perfect, I have so much learning to do, so much faith to grow into, but I am just as capable of living a life set apart for Him now in a job I hate, without a home of my own, with Atlas’ burden on my shoulders, as I would be if I had my dream life. In fact, I might even be better off this way because I am reminded of my desperate need for God every single day. If I had a cushy job, a house, a dog and the stability I crave, would I crave God’s grace so much? Probably not.

So if I am who I need to be, if I have everything I need to love and fulfill that purpose, what is stopping me from feeling fulfilled?

Mark finally told us what the stones were for as the service ended. Each stone represented a fear, just a single fear, and we were supposed to place the fear on the altar and let God deal with it. (Yes, some objects lessons are simplistic but no less meaningful in action.)

And with a rush of clarity as strong as the day I wept in the car, I knew that the only thing holding me back is my fear of not being enough. Not good enough to succeed, not smart enough to make the right decisions, not in tune enough with God’s plan to go the right way, not woman enough to ever be a wife, just simply not enough.

I know exactly where those feelings of inadequacy originate. I know that even though they resulted from real situations and feel like legitimate worries in my mind–they are not legitimate. They are damaging and debilitating. They prevent me from loving myself and loving others because I am too scared to try. They stop me from feeling fulfilled.

I laid the stone of that fear on the altar; I didn’t fully relinquish my fear to God. I acknowledged it. I said to God, “I know this is getting in the way of…everything, help me give it to you. Help me see the opportunities you give me to heal.”

I will struggle to place that fear before God every day. To truly be free to believe I am enough requires a daily overhaul of how I think about myself, but I am going to try. I’ll probably fail more often than not, but I am going to try.

Never Alone

Quote

I graduated from a small, private, Christian college in Tennessee. You’ve probably never heard of it. I tell people it was a great experience because all of my professors knew my name. Well, it took half a semester and a concussion for one of them to remember it… But after everything I put him through in my three and a half years there, he probably wishes he’d kept forgetting.

I enrolled in one of his classes every single semester–including my study abroad term. I think I am his only student to ever manage that so far. I’d sit in the back of the class (because I’m a “W” and grade school alphabetical seating stuck with me) and pass notes, and make snarky remarks, and occasionally have something positive to contribute. He’d teach us about life without us realizing it and then say something about metaphors and sexual relations with roses and we all just loved him more.

He saved me from dropping out my first semester. He passed me when I deserved to fail. He walked with me to my first therapy session. When I showed up to his office 7 months after graduating, I didn’t even have to tell him I was pregnant–he knew. We have an understanding that if his administrative assistant ever decides to quit (God forbid because she holds that department together), I am going to work for him regardless of where I’m living, what I’m doing, or what I’m being paid.

And he introduced me to The Merton Prayer when he knew I needed these words:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

– Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”
© Abbey of Gethsemani

I prayed these words so many times; they carried me through some of my darkest, ugliest times. Still do. My final semester of college was pretty traumatic personally–I can’t even remember what classes I took–my grandfather was diagnosed with brain cancer a week into the term and I had some things happen to me…that nearly drove me over the edge. I would lay on my bedroom floor with my Sacred Heart of Jesus candle burning, holding the piece of paper with this prayer to my chest, tears running down my face, begging God to make these words true. I wasn’t at the point where I desired to please Him, but I did want to learn that desire. I totally believed I was lost and in the shadow of death. And I was certain–without any doubt–that in no way, shape, or form did I know myself.

Oh, but the hope!

It was so tiny, so dim, I didn’t really know it was there. Barely a candle in an empty coliseum. I didn’t feel hopeful, I just felt like maybe I could make it through another night without taking a whole bottle of ibuprofen. That wasn’t a good feeling per se, but I was still breathing and that’s what mattered.

I found my little flicker of hope in two phrases:

“You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it..” and

“..for you are ever with me…”

Believe me, I could do a line-by-line analysis right now and still have more to say about this prayer, but those two phrases… Those two phrases took root deepest in my heart.

When I prayed aloud, I always exhaled through the “know nothing” line because I had to take a deep, reassuring breath before I could say it. That nasty being-in-control issue again. And I could almost never affirm “for you are ever with me” without my voice breaking or tears flowing.

Ever with me?

Really, Lord?

Even when my grandfather is laying in a hospital bed with part of his skull removed and it feels like my family is falling apart? Even when my sister is blacking out for inexplicable, undiagnosed reasons? Even when I have been abused and assaulted? Even when I can’t get out of bed for crying?

Yes.

Even then.

I cannot know where my path leads now, but I know I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for that professor (along with others in that department and the French one, as well). I don’t know that I would have had the courage to keep Eva. He was the one I was scared to disappoint. I knew there was no escaping my parents’ disappointment and anger. I knew that my female professors/mentors would still love and accept me. But if I had disappointed him… oh no, I could not have borne that. But he wasn’t disappointed. In fact, he told me that if he had to pick anyone he knew to be a single mother, he’d pick me.

Without his care and the love of all my mentors there, I don’t even know that I would still believe in God, honestly. That’s how much they have done for me.

I have seen my daughter in his arms when she’d never been in her father’s. I have cried in his office when I felt like i had nowhere else to go. I have gotten better life advice from him in one sentence than in whole discussions with others. And I will never, ever stop being grateful.

So I am returning to this prayer now. One, because I need to practice spiritual discipline and lectio divina is a good way to start. Two, because I am starting to feel lost like that again. And three, because when I hold those words in my hands, I am strengthened by his (and my other mentors’) support. So even when I feel more lonely than seems humanly possible, I know I am never truly alone.

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.

J.O.Y.

Eva’s father sent me a text message yesterday (which I will paraphrase to spare you from his spelling and texting abbreviations) that said, “I know you are mad at me, but I’ve been having a lot of personal issues lately. If I’m not loving myself, I can’t love or help anyone else.”

(Lately meaning “since the 90’s.”)

To which I replied, “That’s interesting because I make sure Eva is taken care of BEFORE I do anything for myself. Glad I’m the one providing for her.”

As much as I know being angry is unproductive and destructive, he makes my blood burn like fire (NOT in the good way!)

In what world do parents take care of themselves first? Seriously? Pretty sure the premise of having children is taking care of them as if they are your own flesh and blood…

Right?

Parents, would you ever eat if your child had none? Would you ever worry about having new clothes if theirs didn’t fit? Would you ever buy yourself something that would prevent you from providing for them?

No. No. No.

Unfortunately, our society actually encourages us to believe that we are worthless to others unless we feel happy and fulfilled. Get all those THINGS and do EVERYTHING you want so you feel better; only happy people contribute! Guess what? THAT’S BACKWARDS. Any good mother will tell you that there are nights she does not want to make/drive through and pick up dinner–but she does it. There are mornings she does not want to get out of bed–but she does it. At one point, we all thought that we weren’t going to make it through the first year alive and/or sane. (I’m still not sure my sanity is what it once was. Sleep deprivation is a killer.) Even for people without children, do you believe that you can’t make a difference if you’re having a bad day?

Eva is my reason. I power through the bad days because even when she is making me crazy (which is way more frequentlysince she turned 4) I love her more than free time, more than disposable income, more than going out with the girls, and more than doing what I want.

I’m not saying all parents should be martyrs to their children, we’re still individuals with needs too, I’m saying that the idea you can’t contribute if life gets hard is just wrong.

The past couple weeks have been really hard for me. As I mentioned in my last post, we are entering a season of change. I don’t know where exactly we’re going but it’s somewhere new. The not knowing stresses me out. My job stresses me out. My personal life stresses me out. And when Eva has a bad day or a temper tantrum, I feel like a bad mother. Which stresses me out. It’s not easy putting a stubborn, willful, cantankerous little girl first. The thanks we receive as parents are hugs, kisses, and the occasional unexpected sweetness. I’m still holding on to Eva telling me I am the best mommy ever from MONTHS AGO to get me through this phase with her. But I would rather die than know I was constantly shorting her to make myself feel better.

At the end of the day, we all need to remember that we can find joy in sacrifices. Maybe not immediately, and certainly not if it is a sacrifice made in resentment, but eventually the reward of joy will come back to find you.

A kitschy song from bible camp is playing in my head now about putting others first.

J is for Jesus / O is for others / Y is for you and you and you.

That is our hierarchy of priorities right there. And during this Easter weekend, when many of us are reflecting on a world-altering sacrifice, I hope I can set my stresses aside, lift up my daughter, my family and my friends and be thankful I have the opportunity to sacrifice for the ones I love. Where would I be if He hadn’t sacrificed for me?

Hope your day is filled with joy.