Thoughts on safe spaces and how to survive the world.

I wake up early, turning my alarm off and scrolling to see that #HowToSurviveTwitter is trending. The irony of this isn’t lost on me: these social networks designed to bring us closer together are actually enabling seeds of bitterness and division to flourish. My heart feels so heavy lately that I wonder if any words will wander in at all, for fear that this weight in my chest will suck the life right out of them. And I don’t know if I can handle any more death. Some days, it feels like nothing is safe or sacred or beautiful anymore, and I know when I get these spirally feelings, the only sure solution is to unplug — to immerse myself in scripture and an extra hot bath.

 

The truth is, I’ve spent most of my life trying to save myself. Trying to measure up. Trying to prove to you that I am worthy of love and that I’m not too much trouble. I’ve been trying to preserve my own way of thinking and acting and I hold onto my own comfort so tightly that my hands burn and blister raw. I’ve looked for safety in all the wrong places.

Isn’t that all we want at the end of the day? Isn’t safety the driving force behind everything we do, from buying organic eggs to dropping bombs?

Our craving for safety leads us to lock our doors, and fear bullies us into locking our hearts. What we don’t realize when we throw away the key, though, is that we haven’t only insulated ourselves from brokenness — we’ve also actively refused the remedy for our anxieties.

He who wishes to save his life must lose it.

 

If there’s one thing I know for sure now, it is that the answers are rarely as simple as we want them to be. An old friend told me recently that we are all being thrown into shades of gray, and I tend to believe that’s true. So I’m trying not to be too prescriptive these days — except when it comes to love. I believe that we can choose to love because God loved us first, and he so loved our world.

 

Love begins with the willingness to see. And when we open our eyes, we will see the brokenness of the world — the differences that seem to refuse reconciliation. That same friend asked me the other day how we can choose to love each other in spite of these differences, and my only thought was that we simply hold onto each other, leaning into the tension together until all is reconciled. Because we know that the story ends at the table, with a family. We know that in the end, all will be made well. Fear has an expiration date. When we open up our eyes, we will see the beautiful parts of the world — the evidence of redemption. And sometimes, we will see that the line between ugly and beautiful gets blurry — like how the scorch of the forest fire makes the soil more fertile, or how a seed must be buried and break open in order for what’s inside to reach the surface.

And we can choose to be kind, because there isn’t one of us who isn’t feeling more than a little buried and broken, and sometimes it is hard to know which way is up.

 

We can go out on a limb and tell the truth when someone asks us how we’re doing. Sure, it might be shocking at first, but I’m learning that it is only when we lay down our own fig leaves of fine that other people will feel freed up to do the same. Instead of shouting our opinions from the rooftops of Facebook and Twitter, we can choose to boldly whisper our stories in the presence of friends. We can put down our devices long enough to learn the names of our neighbors and listen to the worries of our kids.

When we open our eyes and our ears and our hands, we begin to see that the issues we go on and on about affect real people on our own streets, and I’m convinced there’s something about looking into someone else’s eyes that shocks our own hearts into rhythm. When we crack open the doors to our own truths in the presence of others, we crack open the doors to healing. This is how we move from being spectators to the redemption story to being participants with Christ.

He looked us in the eyes wasn’t afraid of us sticking our hands in his wounds.

 

I know that living this way, broken wide open, will hurt, and I can’t tell you with any certainty that it will ever hurt less. That is the ugly-beautiful tension of it all: the surgeon’s cut is always the first step towards surviving and healing.

 

This isn’t meant to be a political statement. I just mean to say that I’m tired of being afraid. The days of injustice are numbered, but love lasts. And don’t we all want to be part of something that lasts? I’m learning how to be a safe space for the people I love. And I’m learning how to find safe spaces in them as well. The world needs safe spaces. Because I know that if we are going to survive, it will be together.

With each other and for each other. And that will be enough.

 

How to start a blog: 8 steps to telling your story.

 

I have been something of a wallflower in the blogosphere for more than eleven years now. What began as a space to overshare bad poetry and an abundance of teen angst has, over the past decade, turned into a haven for me to grow and change and break and heal and learn. It has helped me stretch my wings and build community, and it has seen me finally find my footing just to leap all over again. And lately, I’ve been asked a handful of times, often by people I haven’t seen in years, how to start blogging. In fact, I’ve fielded the question so many times that I thought it would be best for me to just go ahead and share some thoughts and tips here. I am by no means an expert — these are just little pieces of advice that I have collected over the years and found to be helpful in my own writing and blogging. They’re not meant to be prescriptive, so by all means, feel free to pick and choose what you think will work best for you.

 

Number one: pick a platform

Over the past 11 years, I have used Tumblr, LiveJournal, Blogspot, and WordPress.com (all free), and now a self-hosted site through WordPress.org (paid). I know a ton of people who have used Squarespace, but I don’t have any experience using it, so for the purposes of this post, I’ll stick to what I know, which is WP. While it might not be the most user-friendly, I have found that if I am willing to do a little bit of research and put in some elbow grease, I can generally get the look and feel that I want.

 

Number two: own your name.

As perhaps you can imagine, my blog has undergone as many identity changes as it has platform swaps. This was, at least in part, due to the fact that I was trying on new identities, too. For example, for awhile, my blog was called Egypt and Courage, and then it was called A Life like the Lilies (which is now the working title for the book I’m fantasizing about). But now, eleven years later, I feel like the only thing that fits is my own name. Claiming my own name has helped this space feel more settled and more like home.

 

Number three: choose a theme/design based on how you want your blog to feel to both you and your reader.

For my tastes, this means a theme/design with a lot of white space (which feels like fresh air to me), but your own tastes might be totally different. The great part is that if you’re willing to stretch yourself and put in the time, you can come up with a design that is totally you. WordPress has a ton of free themes that you can practice on, several of which are super customizable. And I’ll let you in on a little secret about me: I know next to nothing about HTML and CSS coding. My blog looks the way it does right now thanks to a few hours of copying and pasting and searching forums for answers to questions like how to center my post title and how to widen page margins. Don’t fret when it comes time to ask for help, because chances are, someone has already asked the question you have, and with any luck, it has already been answered.

Tip: it has helped me to check out a few blogs here and there for decoration inspo. Here are a few of my faves: 

Hannah Brencher

Jess Connolly

Erin @ Reading My Tea Leaves

Bailey @ LoveBaileyJean

Alannah @ Rose & Bliss

 

Number four: ditch the niche. Burn down the wheelhouse.

This is where I often get stuck, to be perfectly honest. Because there’s nothing I love more than writing about Jesus, but I also really like this lipstick, and one of my recent guilty pleasures are those “what’s in my handbag” posts. I’m also interested in politics and would like to highlight causes that are important to me. And I would love to do a home tour (provided I would ever clean my house, but I digress!). But then I get a little dizzy and start feeling a bit guilty, because those things aren’t my “wheelhouse.” More and more, I see people telling bloggers to stick to what they know, and it is absolutely infuriating to me, because we are multifaceted human beings with diverse gifts and interests. So if you want to write about your faith and your latest ride or die mascara, that is what you should write about. If you want to write about politics and that incredible pair of jeggings you picked up last week, then please write about those things. If you want to write poetry or creative fiction and do a home tour, you would be doing us all a great disservice to not write about those things. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t share on your blog.

 

Number five: just start.

Let’s just get this itchy fact out of the way: your blog won’t be perfect. But don’t ever let that stop you from writing. 11 years later, there are still things I want to change about my site, and I still find plenty of typos in my posts. If you spend your time freaking out about the things you want to change, you’ll lose focus on why you started blogging in the first place, which is to tell your story.

 

Number six: click publish and share your story with the world.

Trust me when I say that it is so incredibly easy to fall victim to the lie that there is not enough room for you at the table. There are other people who are better writers, take better pictures, and have more followers — so what makes you think you can cut it? If no one has ever told you this before, allow me the honor: the world needs your story. It sounds wildly cliche to say that there is only one you, but it is true. No one else can tell the story the way you can. Let me say it again. The world needs your story. 

 

Number seven: remember that the numbers mean nothing.

This is, of course, not the case if you’re trying to monetize your blog. WP has a statistics page which shows you how many people have viewed your site, which post they looked at, how they got there, and where in the world they are reading from. This is a really cool feature, but it can quickly become dangerous if you start to find your worth in it. So as a general rule, I try to avoid looking at my statistics page, but honestly, I’m not always successful in this. A few months ago, I shared a letter I wrote that meant a lot to me. To this day, it is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, but the stats on it aren’t all that great. I had to muddle through my disappointment for a few days before realizing that regardless of who did or didn’t read the post, writing it had changed me. And that was enough.

 

Number eight: keep a junk drawer and write it down now.

Have an open document, either a draft on your blog or a file on your computer of words that haven’t found a home yet. You never know when you could be working on something new and find the perfect place for those words that you worried would never belong. And if something comes to mind that you want to share, don’t wait to make a note of it. I can’t tell you how many times I have stumbled upon some new idea that I wanted to write about here and then forgotten it completely because I failed to write it down somewhere since it came at a time when I wasn’t able to craft an entire blog post.

 

Last words:

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”
— Ernest Hemingway

 


If you’re curious about more specifics about WP
or how I started blogging, I’d love to chat with you.
Feel free to drop me a line here.

Coffee Date No. 12

 

If we were on a coffee date, I would invite you over to my new apartment. We love our new place, and being done with this move just feels so freeing. We haven’t quite finished unpacking all of the boxes, but I cannot wait another minute to have people over. Naturally, I’d have my playlist from Lent on in the background, and I’d have some chocolate chip cookies to go with our Caribou (or whatever brand is currently sitting next to my coffee pot). There’s really nothing I love more than having people in my home.

 

If we were on a coffee date, I would ask you about what you’re learning lately. What is the Lord revealing to you in scripture or through the people in your circles? Recently he has been showing me areas where I have been holding back in community. We talked community in church yesterday morning, and Meredith said there were three tiers to being known: people knowing your name, people knowing your story, and people knowing your secrets. Brad added an innermost tier, which was people knowing our needs. It is a scary, humbling thing to think about someone peeling back our carefully constructed layers of protection to get to the heart of where we’re really at, but it’s like Hannah Brencher said: if you want to be found, you have to be honest about where you are. And I really want to be found. Meredith also pointed out that our union was the last thing Jesus prayed for before he went to the cross. And if unity was the last thing he prayed for, it should be the first thing we fight for (serious mic drop).

 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d timidly admit that I’m trying to unplug again. Why is this so hard? I want to stay informed now more than I ever have before, and I want my voice to be light — but the honest truth is that I’m just so frustrated with the world and the church right now, and I’m struggling to see where Jesus is. I feel like my blood has been at a steady temperature of 211 degrees, and the next tweet or status I read is just going to send me over the edge, and when this happens, I know that the best thing I can do is to just shut it down.

 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask what books are currently making themselves at home on your nightstand. I have Nish Weiseth’s Speak, Glennon Doyle Melton’s Carry On Warrior (which admittedly, I’ve also been listening to on Audible, and ya’ll, it is just so good), and Jennie Allen’s Nothing to Prove. 

 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you that I’ve TiVo’d all things Princess Diana. We have satellite television now, and along with new episodes of Chopped, I am obsessed with Di. I feel like she is just one of the most fascinating human beings of our time, and I so wish that she was still here.

 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask what you’re working on right now that brings you to life. Because we need to do more of the things that make our lungs swell big with oxygen and gratitude and the scent of home. And I’d laugh when I told you to look around at my unfinished apartment. Making home is what has been keeping me settled lately. I put on an audiobook and do dishes by hand and try to figure out where to put this or that homeless knickknack (sometimes they wind up in the trash or the Goodwill bin). And I feel like I can breathe.

 

If we were on a coffee date, you’d be welcome to stay as long as you’d like. Because there’s nothing that I don’t want to hear about what has been going on in your life lately. The hard parts and the beautiful parts and everything in between.

 

What would you tell me if we were on a coffee date?
Share all the things in the comments below OR by linking up with your own post!

Coffee Date No. 11

 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask if we could sit outside. After a few days of really precarious weather, including a bitter cold front and the greatest risk for tornadoes in South Carolina in something like a decade, the air is finally warm and the sun sits high in cloudless skies. Also, I would, at long last, be drinking something iced.

 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d share that I haven’t been perfect at Lent this year. But really, am I ever? I decided to give up social networks this year, and honestly, while I have logged on occasionally, it hasn’t been nearly as often or for as long as it used to be. And even though I feel a bit uninformed, I feel lighter. Besides, it is not my responsibility to respond to every single thing going on in the world — nor is it healthy to even attempt to. 

 

If we were on a coffee date, I would ask about your margin. Lately, mine has felt kind of nonexistent. Even though my plate has been spilling over with good things, my soul still feels a bit edgy. I didn’t realize until this moment that it is possible to have a full and glad heart and at the same time have a soul that resides on the border of chaos. What I can tell you is that I know that God has given me some supernatural energy this past week, and that I need a double dose this week because we are moving to a new place this weekend. It is a new start that feels like grace, and hopefully, once we return the keys to the U-Haul, we will be able to breathe again.

 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d admit that my word for 2017 hasn’t gotten a lot of love. I landed on rhythm for the year and had all sorts of good intentions for planning out a budget and a better morning routine and actually following the cleaning schedule on the fridge, but literally none of that has happened. But I think (I pray that) this move will help me to dig deeper into the discipline. And of course, I’d ask how things are going with your word, because there’s nothing I love more than stories of becoming rooted and established, and I think that’s what our words help us to become.

 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask if you have an accountability partner in any area of your life. What is that relationship like? How did you go about finding and asking that person to keep you accountable? Honestly, accountability makes my skin crawl, but I know that I need it in order to be the person I want to be for myself and those around me. Once we finish with this move, I would really like to get back in the gym. I haven’t been since the holidays, so there’s that. Also, I really need to be better about getting in the Word. I started a Bible in a Year plan on January 1, but can we all just admit that trudging through parts of Deuteronomy and Numbers is a bit reminiscent of trying to get through Captain Ahab’s monolog about whale blubber? Anyway, I digress. The point is, I am longing for someone to stand beside me and say “hey, I see you, and I know you can do this because it is worth it.”

 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask you about your normal, but I wouldn’t try to compare it to my own. It is so dangerous to assume that our normal is the same as the person across the table or across the globe. And I’ve been trying hard to avoid blanket statements in my conversations because I just find them to be ignorant and irresponsible. My friend Kristen recently wrote an incredible blog post about this very topic, and her timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you how wonderful I think you are. And I would mean it. When I look at the people I count as friends, both online and IRL, I could not be more grateful. There’s this line in a song in Hamilton that has been hanging out in the recesses of my heart lately: let this be the first chapter where you decide to stay. And I think that’s beautiful. Here is where I would very much like to stay.

 

What would you share on our coffee date? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Coffee Date No. 10

 

If we were on a coffee date, I would tell you that I’ve given up social networks for Lent. If you’ve clicked over from Facebook or Twitter, you might be wondering how and why it appears that I’m posting to the sites, and the answer is the publicize feature on my blog. It allows me to share posts to Facebook and Twitter without actually having to visit those sites. Anyway, I would tell you that I looked up the rules for Lent, because I thought that Sundays were exempt from fasting. The site I looked up said that whether or not someone fasts on Sunday is up to their individual conscience. Knowing my own lack of self-discipline, this made me more than a little itchy, so I just decided to give it up for good, with no off days, until Easter. What makes this hard is that I basically have zero accountability. I’m alone for long spans during the day, so if I were to log in, there wouldn’t be anyone to call me out. But I have to say, I have made it this far (almost a week as of the day I’m writing this section) and thanks to Hulu, it hasn’t been that difficult.

 

If we were on a coffee date, I would ask what your thoughts are on Lent. I guess I never really understood it until I became an adult, and until God sweetly and patiently started showing me the areas in my life where I was worshipping other things. I used to think that that sounded really extreme, but the devil is way more sneaky. I see what other people have, and am quick to believe that I will be more whole once I attain those things. I believe they will make me feel better, but in the end, I only feel the holy conviction that comes with realizing that Jesus is the only true life-giving thing, and that I should be craving more of him.

 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d share that my husband’s hard work and dedication at his new(ish) job was met with the word salary a couple weeks ago. I cannot put into words how proud I am of him. This feels a bit like coming full circle after everything that happened in October. If not full circle, then the home stretch, at least. I’ll be honest, I still don’t know what God’s plans were when C lost his job five months ago, but he has done more than enough to prove himself a faithful provider in the weeks and months since. Even though most days my mind was fraught with worry, my heart knew that we would be taken care of. The company he is working with is a very small business, but they have felt like family from day one, and they have been so gracious to make room for us. I couldn’t be more grateful.

 

If we were on a coffee date, I would gush about the latest episode of This is Us. No spoilers, but of course, I sobbed. The scene with the mailman was especially poignant, because it made me really think about how my life has the potential to impact the lives of those around me. I want to be the kind of neighbor who people can come and ask to borrow a cup of sugar from, and it makes me sad that we don’t really do that anymore. In the spirit of transparency, I don’t know a single one of our neighbors. We’re all so busy coming and going that we forget the simple truth that we belong to each other. Do you know your neighbors?

 

If we were on a coffee date, I might tell you about a conversation I had with a girlfriend recently about having children. Specifically, about the kind of children we want to raise. My ideal picture of having a family currently looks like adopting in addition to having my own children. I think I’ve always liked the idea of adopting, but over the past few years, the Lord has really laid it on my heart to open my home to children who don’t share my DNA and might not look like me. Anyway, I told my friend that I don’t care what they look like, what they wind up being good at, or who they wind up choosing to love.  All I want is to raise my babies to be kind and generous people who follow Jesus.

 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask how your heart is. What you’re praying for, if you feel seen, how you’re growing in ways that surprise you, what you’re struggling with, and what you’re celebrating. And I’d try to be honest when I tell you about mine. We wouldn’t talk about how God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, because in my experience (and I’m guessing, yours too) God is always gently nudging me farther and farther away from my comfort zone. I wouldn’t offer any bumper sticker slogans, because they just don’t cut it. Instead, I would ask how I can pray for you, and I would pray right then and there. And I would probably cry, because when am I not crying?

 

What would you tell me on our coffee date?
Spill your guts in the comments, link up your own post,
or, you can always email me.

Lent in Photos, Mostly (Week 2)

05: River Street Sweets in Savannah (good thing I didn’t decide to give up chocolate!).
Made an impromptu trip down to see some family.

 

06: Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, perhaps the most beautiful church I have ever seen.

 

Let the measure of success be the measure
to which you love Jesus more. — Jennie Allen

07: Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home. Flannery will always be my main squeeze.

 

My friends and I would love it if you would join us for coffee.

 

08: LG is obsessed with doing everything herself now. Upon successfully reaching the top of the slide without help, she confidently announced “I climbed the mountain!” I just couldn’t love her more.

 

Lent in photos, mostly. (Week 1)

01: Ash Wednesday in the front yard with LG. Warm enough for tee shirts and bare toes.

 

02: When friends have bad days, my first response is always “want to get sushi?”

 

Discipline, in the spiritual life, is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master. — Henri Nouwen

 

03: Lent reading, courtesy of my friends at Lifeway and B&H Publishing.

 

04: Sunday at my favorite little coffee shop.

 

A love letter to those who want to take back Lent, by the beautiful Ann Voskamp.

 

A Lent soundtrack just for you. ♥

A few things I learned this winter.

In case you haven’t been around these parts for very long, let me explain. One of my favorite writers, Emily P. Freeman, periodically shares a list of things that she has been learning (in the past she has done this monthly, but I think she recently decided to share them seasonally instead). They always include a healthy mix of the serious and the silly, the poignant and the frivolous. You can find her lists and lots of other beautiful things over on her blog.

So, without further ado, here are a few of the things I’ve learned over the winter.

 

1. Minimalism is less about what you possess and more about what possesses you. This realization is totally changing the way I think about my stuff. I watched the Minimalism documentary on Netflix and was stunned when they said “you can never get enough of what you don’t really want.” Um, ouch. What makes this lesson all the more important is The Contentment Challenge and really gaining an understanding of the truth that things will never be able to fill and heal me the way that Jesus and his body do.

 

2. Taking chances on people is always worth it. A couple months ago, I started looking for a local simulcast of IF: Gathering and found one at a tiny storefront church in Clemson. I signed up immediately, without knowing a single person who attended the church or was attending the gathering. And it was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time. The women who hosted were some of the warmest and most welcoming that I’ve ever encountered. Since then, C and I have had dinner with one of the hosts and her husband, and another attendee and I are planning on getting coffee next week.  Another friend and I had an impromptu lunch date after bumping into each other at the hair salon and just getting to spend the time getting to know her better was such a gift to me.

 

3. The TV show Lost isn’t quite as intimidating as I originally thought it would be. I don’t know why I do this, you guys, but I let hype intimidate me. It really is ridiculous, and I know there’s a lot I’m probably missing out on that I would really enjoy because of this. C introduced me to Lost last weekend, and we’ve almost reached the end of the first season. I honestly thought I wouldn’t understand it, but so far, it isn’t so bad. I just wonder if there will ever come a time when I don’t hate every single person on the island with the exception of Jack and Sayid.

 

4. The best remedy for being overwhelmed by the tension is to do small things with great love. I cannot tell you how much this has healed my heart, you guys. A couple months ago, a friend shared that she, her husband, and their daughter were all battling the same stubborn flu. So I offered to bring over dinner, and I think I ended up being more blessed than they were. It’s why I love writing love letters with MLL and picking up the tab when I can and just being more willing and more open with my own brokenness.

 

5. Confession is a big deal. Lately, my car has looked like a confession booth. As a recovering good girl, I have to admit that confession never used to feel like a big deal. It wasn’t as if I had a lengthy rap sheet, after all. But recently, I have started to simply confess my need for Jesus. And the fact that my life is usually plagued by mixed up priorities, and all the times I feed my gifts, my body, my marriage, my identity, my relationships to shame. Just saying it out loud while driving to Target or the post office helps me to feel lighter.

 

6. As a low energy person, I must take advantage of days when I’m feeling motivated. Speaking of confessing, there were a handful of days over the past month or so that I really felt driven to get things done, but instead, I clicked next episode. Inevitably, I ended up hating myself for this. So I’m really going to try to be intentional about how I steward those days in the future.

 

7.  Maybe people see me after all, and that’s really okay. I am used to being the needed, rather than needy. My preference always leans more towards wanting to help others before I am helped. Perhaps the most simple way to put it is that my most prominent spiritual gifts are hospitality and service. Which is great, except for the fact that it means I struggle alone more often than not. But a couple weeks ago, a friend texted me after seeing C at work and basically said hey, I know that things aren’t easy and I know you must be hurting, but I just want you to know that I see you guys and I appreciate you. Cue the ugly crying.

 

8. The word panic actually comes from the name of the false god Pan. You guys, could Jesus be more kind? Could he have made this any more simple and obvious? All my panic is directly correlated to my tendency to drift towards lesser loves.


 

What are some things you’ve learned lately?
Let me know in the comments below.