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.

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.

2017, your name is Rhythm.

rhythm /ˈriT͟Həm/
noun. 

repeated pattern of movement.
systematic arrangement.
measured flow.
harmonious sequence.

2016 was a bittersweet year. I heard more of God’s voice this year than ever before. I found myself digging through scripture in search of God knows what. 26 years worth of hard questions that well meaning Bible belt Sunday school teachers never taught me how to ask, much less find the answers to.

When real life seemed to be tracking with my best laid plans, feeling light was nearly effortless. On the good days, faith didn’t seem to demand my blood, sweat, and tears. I took leaps and did things that I was afraid to do. I tried, and I tried again. And then, October hit. I say it hit because it came in like a wrecking ball, demolishing those best laid plans. A “dream job” in ministry was lost, we watched our hard won community wither up. There were days when I couldn’t go for more than 17 minutes without crying, days it was actually physically painful to hope — to think it anything other than a total loss. There were rogue feelings of humiliation and betrayal, the ever present temptation to scream at the next person who found me in the shower curtain aisle of Target and offered some pat explanation for our jagged circumstances.

On the not so good days, I chased a lot of the wrong things. Relationships, money, accolades, shiny possessions. I thought 2016 would be the year that I reinvented myself — the year I made my debut as the woman who finally, at long last, had it all together. Like a phoenix risen from the ashes.

What I didn’t realize, of course, is that even though the world loves a good comeback story, no one needs the woman who has it all together. Least of all, me.

What was it that Sabrina Ward Harrison said? Rhythm is in the missed beats.

 

It wasn’t a pretty three months. We argued, trying to memorize all of the ways we kept each other grounded (mostly him keeping me grounded) even though focusing on all the tiny, cutting faults seemed easier. But it was real. And Jesus did show up — in songs and skylines and tiny love letters written in Expo marker on our splotchy bathroom mirror. He was near in ways that I didn’t know how to ask for.

 

The year 2016 was named beloved. And there was evidence of my belovedness at every turn. I could feel myself being chosen, blessed, broken, and given. And the evidence hardly ever showed up in the way I thought it would. God and his kingdom are like that, though, always defying expectations. He has gently reminded me every step of the way that just because the story doesn’t read like I thought it would or think it should doesn’t mean that its all been for naught.

 

I learned this year that walking into the holy, naked intimacy of belovedness looks like laying a lot of things down. It looks a lot like stepping into the light, even though you’re terrified of leaving the safety (or, what feels like safety) of the dark.

2016 is part of the story now, for better or worse. And no matter what 2017 holds, beloved is here to stay. Beloved will be the soil from which everything else grows.

 

That being said, I’m ready to turn the page. It doesn’t feel like a fresh start so much as the next hard step into the light. No fireworks, no accolades, just the next small step towards the person I know I was created to be.

 

Rhythm requires intention and purpose to create something beautiful out of what’s there and what’s not. It demands creativity and perseverance to sift through what truly holds weight in a life, and courage and grace to grieve and let go of those things that never did.

How I treat my body, and how I don’t.

Where I spend my money, and where I don’t.

The thoughts that I choose to fill my mind with, and the ones I don’t.

How I use the time I’ve been given, and how I don’t.

How I make a home in a world that’s not my home.

It all adds up to how this one wild life is poured out. 

 

These days, I find myself craving a slower pace. More simplicity. More on earth as it is in heaven, please. I find the desire to claim my land, to plant seeds. This will be the year I walk out of the woods.

This will be the year that I say no, its okay — we have time for this. 

Time to laugh.

To hold on with open hands.

Time to grow.

For little by little, inch by inch. 

For champagne, even if we drink it out of juice glasses.

Time to fight (sometimes with each other, but always for each other).

Time to give.

Time to pay attention.

For 1,000 piece puzzles on lazy Sunday afternoons.

Time to realize that we are not missing pieces.

 

To shut the door to a life of scarcity and being scared. 

Because what we have right now, today, really is enough.

 

Because we know that being made well always requires that we take up our mats and walk — and that things almost always get messier before they get better. We know that easy and tidy were never the most worthwhile. The gold is found in the cracks, and all that will remain is what I love.

Our cups are spilling over, cracked though they may be.


I was graciously given an advanced copy of my friend Erin Loechner‘s new book, Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey off the Beaten PathI was not required to post a review, however, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It was an honor to hold Erin’s heart in my hands and have the opportunity to share them with you. A creator and a curator, Erin’s words are so timely — a much needed balm for this battle weary soul. She offers this book as a love letter to you, from someone who knows both the highs and the lows and the struggle to maintain some semblance of balance and order in the midst of life’s unpredictable circumstances. Chasing Slow is nothing short of a gift, one that I hope you will mosey on over to Amazon and preorder for yourself and your friends and your neighbor and your sister and the lady at the coffee shop. Or, you can find it at a bookstore near you on January 10, 2017. Your heart and soul will thank you for it. 

Currently | November

loving | Dreaming up possibilities, The Bible, online shopping, rearranging our furniture, hearing this little girl say “thank you, mama,” getting hugged by Ann Voskamp, turning 26, snail mail from friends who just get it, seeing Switchfoot in Atlanta, the kind words of strangers, getting to be wife to this one.

wanting |More of Jesus all the time, community, deep roots.

needing | All of the above + a week’s worth of rain.

watching | The Crown. So beautiful. Law & Order SVU, of course. And all the trailers and interviews for Jackie.

listening | Jon Foreman, Colin & Caroline, and The Mowgli’s.

reading | The Broken Way — life changing. Also Hannah Brencher’s 13 thoughts on mental health, Erin Boyle’s peace and justice advent calendar.

learning | The importance of slowing down, being generous, honoring myself and others by being wholly present, the beauty of the upside down kingdom.

feeling | Rested, for the most part, after Thanksgiving. Grateful for family, excited and nervous for the future.

craving | A lifetime supply of chestnut praline lattes.

laughing at | Dad jokes in the car with my eight year old brother in law, hearing LG call pickles “tickles,” new and old cartoons with C.

Tell me all the things about your November. 

5 places to give it forward on this #GivingTuesday

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

Preemptive Love // Guys, my heart breaks for Aleppo. The thought of mamas carrying their children’s dreams and everything they have in a single backpack as they search for a safe place to lay their heads at night, people being killed in the streets, and babies washing up on the beach — and I think why me? Why have I been chosen for this skin, this land? Why will my babies grow up in a place where, by and large, peace and prosperity still reign? For the price we pay for our skinny jeans, a family could be fed for a month. Priorities. 

A21 // In 2016, there are still an estimated 45 million people enslaved. Slavery isn’t just something happening overseas — it is in our backyard.  And we cannot afford to be silent. We cannot put off our calling to proclaim freedom until tomorrow.

The Compassion Collective // This organization donates 100% of all money that comes in to help unaccompanied or orphaned refugee children as well as homeless children in America. In 2015, they raised over a million dollars in less than 48 hours through $25 donations. Every last penny counts.

To Write Love on Her Arms // According to ASFP, 55% of people know someone who is thinking about, has attempted, or has died by suicide. As a teenager who struggled with depression and a twentysomething that struggles with depression and anxiety, this organization has been a safe haven for me and so many others for more than a decade.

The World Needs More Love Letters // Save someone’s life at the cost of a postage stamp? Yes, please! Handwriting these letters has been so rewarding, and as someone who has felt the sting of loneliness and hopelessness, to know that I can encourage someone going through a rough patch simply by saying “me, too,” and “you’re not alone” has truly been one of the greatest gifts.

 

You can also give back by purchasing this year’s Christmas gifts from charitable organizations like FashionABLE, The Giving Keys, Toms, and Noonday.

 

We cannot claim to make room for Jesus without also making room for those that he brings with him: the battered and busted up, the hungry, the tired, the dirty, the child, the person right in front of us. 

It is more blessed to give than to receive. 

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us.