Make me a refuge: a Sunday prayer.

Lord, even as you breathe, all of creation breathes in sync. As you stretch out your hand, creation reaches to meet you. May I live out my days in a perpetual posture of reaching out to meet you. 

Lord, even as you are a refuge for the seeking, make me a refuge for the seeking. Even as Christ is bread and wine to me, make my life bread and wine to those who hunger and thirst. 

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Lord, as you are Creator, make me creative. Give me the courage and the grace to fashion beauty where there once was chaos and speak light where there once was dark. Create in me a heart that is eager to assume the role you have given me in the redemption story.

Lord, as you are faithful, make me faithful. May my life be inextricably tied to that which is merciful and just and good, as you are merciful and just and good. As you were born into obscurity and rejected notoriety, may I, too, live humbly and void of self-interest. Rather, may my words and actions reveal your greatness in me and in the world.

Lord, as you speak truth to the proud and the oppressive, may I have the Spirit-filled audacity to lay bare the systemic brokenness and sickness of the empire and stand with those who are marginalized by it. May I fling the doors wide open and go looking for those on the outskirts because there is a banquet to be had and all are welcome here.

Lord, as you took on human flesh and bent down low, risking certain discomfort and yet, dispassionate towards traditional ideas of success, may I always be willing to forsake upward mobility for the sake of agreeing with who you say that I already am in this moment. May I always be ready to serve gladly and give generously of the abundance that is mine in you. 

Lord, as you have taken on our burdens and continue to carry us, may I always be willing to lighten the load of the person in front of me. May I be ready and willing to wash the feet of the traveler, to mourn with those who mourn, and to believe for and celebrate the coming of the harvest. Bring to life in me a spirit that is willing to persevere.

Lord, even as your love sees all of it, may I be unafraid of seeing and being seen. Strengthen me, even as the weight of the world often leaves my heart feeling weary and ill-equipped. As you refuse to turn away, may I also refuse to turn a blind eye to the suffering and the afflicted, but instead, to use the esteem that you have given me to esteem others as being of even greater importance than me. May my heart be constantly attuned to the leading of your Spirit. 

May it be where my feet are as it is in heaven. 

Amen.

A lifeboat for July: 31 in 31 with me and Rachel Dawson

On our way to the grocery the other day, I told C that I have been struggling to find the light lately. I don't know if it's just a hard season, or if it's rooted a little more deeply than that, but I've found myself groping around for a little bit of hope. What I do know is that I'm not alone. A handful of friends both online and IRL have expressed that they, too, are feeling anxious or depressed or in need of something to look forward to to help them keep going lately.

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So my friend Rachel and I decided to join forces. Rachel is one of the loveliest people on the planet and a dear, dear friend of mine -- someone I can be totally honest with no matter what and who I can count on to be totally honest with me. After chatting and finding ourselves in the same boat, we challenged each other to come up with a list of 31 things that we were looking forward to or hoping to accomplish during the month of July. They can be silly or serious or anything in between. We get that summer can be a busy time, but we also know that, looking around, we aren't the only ones who could use a steady IV of hope and encouragement right now -- so we didn't want to keep this to ourselves. We're inviting YOU.

Even if you don't find yourself feeling down these days, this can be a great way to invigorate your summer with some fun goals! We want everyone who wants to be a part of this project to feel completely welcome wherever they are right now. 

Rachel made a handful of beautiful graphics for this project, which you can find and download here and fill in with your own list of 31 things. We also have a Facebook group that you can be part of to let us know that you're along for the ride so we can encourage you and cheer you on. We'll be hanging out with you throughout the month to let you know how our lists are going, and at the end of the month, we'll do a giveaway! 

 

Onto the list! Here's what made mine:

1. Go to 5 yoga classes. 
2. Purge my closet.
3. Follow a "photo a day" prompt. 
4. Host a girls night at my house. 
5. Publish 3 blog posts. 
6. Go through a She Reads Truth study.
7. Read 3 books. 
8. Cook 5 new recipes. 
9. Print photos for a gallery wall. 
10. Complete a 1,000 piece puzzle. 
11. Try a new local restaurant. 
12. Have two "zero dollar days" per week. 
13. Send love letters to 4 friends. 
14. Buy and wear a watch (so I don't always have to look at my phone for the time!). 
15. Do something that scares me. 
16. Actually find my foundation match. 
17. Spend 20 minutes per day in the sun. 
18. Watch 3 new documentaries. 
19. Buy someone flowers. 
20. Keep a gratitude journal (logging at least 3 things a day). 
21. Wake up earlier. 
22. Go to bed earlier. 
23. Try a new workout class. 
24. Do a wine tasting. 
25. See a movie in the theater. 
26. Review my core desired feelings. 
27. Take a nap on a Sunday. 
28. Save $500. 
29. Go on a walk with C. 
30. Visit a new local bookstore. 
31. Recite a mantra daily. 

 

Now, all you have to do is make your own list and come hang out with us! We want July to be a month of encouragement and growth and we would love nothing more than for you to be part of it! You can also find us hanging out on Twitter (me + Rachel) and Instagram (me + Rachel). Let's go be hopeful and get stuff done! 

What came after the chaos: a psalm of lament.

They call what came first chaos, 
said You were there, hovering --
waiting for the perfect moment
to unleash the light and make
something out of all our nothing.

They tell me when You made us,
You held us up to the light and smiled
because we looked just like You,
but most days, I struggle to see any resemblance.

We’re a long way from Your garden.

 

I’ve built my heart on fault lines, so
it shakes a lot, and I know where the cracks are.
My hands bear the scars from
too many nights spent trying to
burn myself down.

 

Do I still look like You?


 

I watch as Your people take up
Your name in vanity --
in their fight for the sanctity of life,
they dismember their neighbors.

Your people, they don't look like You.

They praise the powerful as
they trample the lowly,
the echoes of their shouts
sound like cries for crucifixion.
They build their walls, trusting only
what their eyes can see.
They call Your gospel delusional
and mock me for believing
that You might have actually meant it
when you said

blessed are the peacemakers

forsake all for the sake of the poor

love your neighbor as you love yourself.

They say I’m crazy to pray
for Your kingdom to come,
but my heart is too claustrophobic
to live anywhere else.

 

Your book says woe to those who find comfort in Zion.
 

So many of Your people turned a blind eye
when Alan Kurdi’s tiny, lifeless body
washed up on the beach in Turkey.
He was three, but he was brown, and
Your people had to protect their own,
but who knew that protecting your own
looked so much like doing nothing
as they’re slaughtered
in schools,
nightclubs,
grocery stores,
concert venues,
movie theaters,
and church sanctuaries?

Apparently, those lives are the price we pay for freedom,
but who knew that freedom looked so much like
two and a half million people incarcerated?

Your people, they’re willing to fight to the death
to keep their arsenals of AR-15’s,
to keep the gays from getting wedding cakes,
to keep all the brown people out,
to keep trans kids from using the bathroom,
and to keep the Confederate flag flying
over the capital of South Carolina,
and they call it patriotism.

In South Carolina last week,
a white man offered cash
to anyone willing to lynch his black neighbor.
My mother, she still calls white privilege a myth.

 

But You? You were willing to fight
to the death to get to us,
to tear down the walls,
and I can hear the echoes of freedom
in the sound of demolition --
your perfect love casting out fear,
reminding us who we are
before anyone else had the chance to call us
too liberal,
too gay,
too dirty,
too stupid,
too slutty,
too poor,
too foreign.
You were a foreigner in the world
so that we could be citizens of the Kingdom,
and Your hands, they bear the scars.

You died to name us Beloved.


So they can have the momentary comfort of Zion,
but give me the Jesus who fought
to the death to send death to hell.

Give me the Jesus who walked
out of the grave and into a garden.
You were always a gardener at heart,
speaking light into the darkness and
loving dead things like me back to life.

 

__________________________________________________

This piece was originally shared as part of Downtown Community Fellowship's summer psalm series. 

A few things that are saving my life right now.

The truth is, I've been feeling a bit blue -- a bit out of sorts and off-key lately. And on the days when life doesn't look the way I thought it would or think that it should, I try to remind myself of the ways God is showing up where I am with generous extra helpings of shalom. 

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Faith Unraveled, by Rachel Held Evans

The subtitle for this one is "how a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask questions," and you guys, I'm telling you, as someone who often feels like I don't fit into the theological or political norms of where I live, Rachel Held Evans has done a phenomenal job at making me feel less crazy and less alone. In Faith Unraveled, Rachel writes about her roots in the church (which are essentially the same as mine) and how she had to learn over time how to untangle them and, as I have often put it, live the truest thing. She writes that she is "convinced that what drives most people away from Christianity isn't the cost of discipleship, but rather the cost of false fundamentals." 

 

Hello, new favorite jeans

Its been awhile since I've stumbled on jeans I really love. These are so comfy, I want to wear them every single day. Actually, please hold while I shamelessly buy another pair, because y'all, they are under $25. The closeted fashion blogger (see what I did there?) in me is so happy. 

 

The wisdom of my friend Alia. 

Her thoughts on tenderness here are spot on. Sometimes being bruised is the price that we pay for letting our truest selves wander freely in the open. Also, a public service announcement: Alia has a book coming out, and I can basically guarantee that you're going to need it in your life. 

 

All things GoodGoodGood

GoodGoodGood exists because it's easy to get bogged down by all the fear and the hustle and the ugly, and our souls are in desperate need of some real relief. Branden and the gang have made it their mission to hunt down and celebrate people who are fighting for justice and love and abundance. 

 

The Undoingby Steffany Gretzinger.

This album is basically all I've listened to in terms of music lately. It's like Steffany has been listening in on my prayers and reading my journals lately and wrote The Undoing just for me. 

 

Our church's rhythms. 

A handful of months ago, I wrote about how we were taking a break from church. It was a hard season, to be certain, but it was not an empty one. God met us and walked with us in ways we had never experienced and perhaps never would have if we had continued to hold onto the status quo with white-knuckled fervor. Now, we've come out on the other side of that season. These days, home looks like the most beautiful little fellowship of people who are committed to living out the actual gospel -- no frills, no pretense. And we could not be more grateful. Yesterday, one of our graduating seniors stood up in front of the congregation and said that it was what church should be. In our experience, truer words have never been spoken. 

 

What are some of the things that have made you come alive lately? I'd love it if you'd share them in the comments below. 

On sun salutations, springtime, and the spiritual discipline of slowness.

There's this beautiful old tree overlooking the Reedy River and Falls Park that has affectionately been named The Medusa Tree. It stands, all of its roots exposed from soil erosion and weathered storms, with a quiet sort of dignity that makes my breath catch every time I stop to look. For me, the tree serves as a bit of an altar, reminding me that growth really is worth the risk of vulnerability. 

I've been thinking a lot about discipline lately. Specifically, the spiritual discipline of slow growth. 

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In the spirit of transparency, there are a whole host of reasons that I would simply rather not write about this -- namely that I am so painfully aware of my own lack of discipline. I suppose the bottom line is that there are still so many things that I am learning to love about living in this skin and bones. Self-compassion and patience with the process have never been my default, simply because I don't want to need them as much as I do. I don't want to be this messy work in progress. On my best days, living into the tension of being and becoming is uncomfortable and revealing. On my worst days, when I haven't been sleeping enough or drinking enough water and I've spent too much time on the internet, the tension crashes into my anxiety and shame and feels excruciatingly lonely, and I exhaust myself running the rat race. In an effort to keep up, I wonder if I am enough -- tempering here and blurring there to make myself more palatable (and for whom?). I still want to believe that I have, somehow, arrived. I keep trying to hold myself together, and this perfect love keeps showing up to undo me. 

The ever-present temptation is to pick up my fig leaves and hide, attempting to cover up my own need by saying and doing all the right things, as if the empty spaces in my soul could be magically filled up by my own ability to be enough. I am the naked garden daughter, greedily choking down the flesh of too many lies -- hands wrung, eyes fixed on the ground, terrified and longing for the safety of a home I traded away in an effort to know it all, have it all, and be it all. 

 

I've read all the books and heard all the sermons about life in the arena, but at the end of the day, it is still up to me to wake up every day and commit to doing the hard and holy work of cultivating the kind of life I want. Some days, I wonder if it is truly worth it to lay down my pride and pick up a cross. Can I shed this layer of protection so that you can see and touch the spaces where I'm wounded and still being redeemed -- still learning to be kind? Will I survive if I put my whole unprotected self out there? 

Maybe not, but perhaps that's the point -- this death to the ideal self so that the truest self might be brought to fullness of life. 

I've spent the past two Saturday mornings physically and mentally stretching myself in yoga class. I've found beauty and grace in the slow, rhythmic repetition of movements, the gentle building of endurance as I try to reach a little bit farther than before. Last week, our instructor, Nancy, shared about how the body always wants to take the path of least resistance. Choosing to bring it into correct posture and alignment isn't always glamorous -- often, it's wobbly and awkward, and sometimes we forget how to breathe. 

Sometimes it's late in the afternoon before I realize I've been holding my breath all day. I forget that the rise and fall of my chest with each inhale and exhale declares His name: YHWH. So I go to yoga and do crossword puzzles and kiss my husband and drink the wine and wash the dishes by hand and close the computer and decide to focus on the rhythm and sound of my own breathing.

And sometimes, springtime sneaks up to remind me that the rest of creation is reaching upward with me, synapses firing as we are, all of us, alive -- empty and full and still being emptied and filled. In the end, it turns out to be more than just enough. 

Dear Mother Church: an open letter on guns and going home again.

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Dear you, dear me, dear us, 

I've lived in a three-hour radius nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains for my entire life. Growing up, my friends and I stayed out past dark playing in our neighborhood's lazy loops and stealing crabapples from an elderly neighbor's front yard, only breaking up the party when someone's mama whistled that it was time to come in. We spent our days wading and making mud pies in the Little Tennessee River, going downtown for "Pickin' on the Square," visiting the Biltmore House on school field trips, and drinking tea as sweet as maple syrup. A teenager couldn't hide a speeding ticket even if they tried because chances are, the cop that pulled them over went to high school with their daddy and still ran into him once a week during the rush hour at everyone's favorite restaurant. My hometown, named best small town by some outdoorsy magazine in 2016, was painted red and white to cheer on the football team every Friday night, and on Sundays, nearly all of the town's 3,940 residents could be found sitting in church pews scattered on every street corner.

I've seen community at it's very best: bridal showers and baby dedications, houses flipped for new associate pastors coming from out of town, benefits with cakewalks and raffles to raise money for the cousin that has been diagnosed with cancer, meal trains coordinated for tired new mamas or grieving widowers or the neighbor who lost their home to a fire, and I'll never forget the day I found out that our pastor's wife stopped in to my orthodontist's office to contribute a hundred dollars towards the bill for my braces. 

Admittedly, I tend to romanticize, but I can assure you: I'm not overselling this. It sounds idyllic and antiquated because it really was. And it was the whole world, as far as I knew it then. 

 

 

It felt like my sleepy North Carolina town was an entire world away from the Denver, Colorado suburb where two teenaged boys killed thirteen people before ending their own lives at Columbine High School. 

I was sensitive and curious and eight years old, and I had certainly never heard of kids being shot at school. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was writing pieces about gun violence for the student section of my town's newspaper and having regular nightmares about it happening in our town. Because it's never your town -- until it is.

I'm 27 now, and in the years since Columbine, nearly two hundred more primary and secondary schools have experienced shootings. More than 180,000 students ranging from kindergarten to postgraduate have lived through school shootings. That figure doesn't even take into account the shootings that have occurred in churches, grocery stores, movie theaters, and concerts. 

People are calling the generation that came after me "Generation Columbine." 

I've lived within a three-hour radius in the corners of North Carolina, Georgia, and now, South Carolina -- and they've all felt virtually the same.  But now, my eyes have opened wide enough to see the world that has always existed right outside the bubble of my own childish naivete. It has taken me this long to understand the old adage about not being able to go home again. 

 

 

Suffice it to say that since my proverbial leaving home, I have been around the block enough times to realize that my thoughts about guns are not the same as the thoughts of most of the people living in these cute little towns. For that matter, neither are my thoughts on DACA, health care, LGBT+ rights, and other social justice issues, but those are stories for another day. 

Today, I'm writing to you about guns. But more than that, I'm writing to you about power and fear. 

I'm writing to you about us, Mother Church. Because when I was a kid, my mom was everyone's mom and my dad was everyone's dad, so that makes us family -- for better or for worse. Or, at least that's the way I learned. But it doesn't seem to be that way anymore.

 

 

A cursory glance through my social networking feeds would reveal my heartbroken responses to the latest mass shootings. Inevitably, what you will also find is the tsunami of comments from people I went to college with, former colleagues of my parents, the mom of that guy from church that I had casually dated for a couple years, a couple of leaders from my old youth group, a guy that my husband played church softball with, a few strangers, and even my own relatives -- all self-professing followers of the man called the Prince of Peace. Here is a real-life sampling of my Facebook feed:

"Guns are not the issue, the depreciation of morals and the lack of valuing life are the issues." 

 "Drugs have always been illegal, yet they are in plentiful supply and easy to get."

"Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

"Crazy people will always find a way around laws. If you ban guns, they will just use knives" 

"Guns aren't the problem, mental illness is the problem."

"But don't you think the constitution was written by some of the most brilliant Christians of all time?" 

"I just don't think this is the time to debate about guns." 

"Taking away people's rights won't fix anything." 

"What retard goes out to march for his rights to be taken away?" 

"But what about the guns?"

 

What. About. The. Guns. 

I've heard it said more than once that owning a gun is our God-given right, and I have to wonder if, in our nationalistic fervor, the perceived power of the gun has become a new golden calf we bow down to in worship.

We sacrifice our children to the gun god, their lifeless bodies laid prostrate on sidewalks and crouched in terror under classroom desks and the sticky floors of movie theaters and even our own church pews. We tweet our thoughts and prayers and then have the audacity to call the lives of elementary school children the price we pay for the freedoms we enjoy.

Everything has a price, or so I have been told. 

 

 

When twenty kindergarten and first-grade students and six educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, many thought that surely that would be the end of it. I will never forget seeing President Obama weep for the loss of those precious lives, and hearing that each of them had sustained at least three gunshot wounds -- with tiny Noah Pozner being shot eleven times. And in the wake of that tragedy, nearly every state passed new gun legislation -- but those laws made it easier to purchase guns, not more difficult. 

Then came Charleston, where the perpetrator gunned down 9 black churchgoers during a Bible study. He was able to buy his guns because of a loophole in the background check system.

And San Bernardino, where 14 people were killed and 24 were injured by a man who was not required to pass a background check when he purchased two semi-automatic rifles from a friend. 

And Orlando, where 50 people were killed by a man who was no stranger to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but was able to purchase firearms because he was not on any watch lists.  

And Las Vegas, where 58 people died and over 400 were shot. Instead of admitting that guns might be the problem, many people blamed a lack of security in the hotel from which the perpetrator was able to carry out the shooting -- anything to take the focus off of the almighty gun. 

And Southerland Springs, where entire families were decimated by a man who yelled "die motherfuckers" as they worshiped

And Parkland. 

And all the shootings in between that have since been forgotten by the media and the public.

Even as I write, the headlines reveal that yet another school shooting has taken place in Maryland. 

 

 

But the truth is, even though they seem so tragically common today, mass shootings account for a relatively small percentage of gun-related deaths. So far in 2018, one website reports that there have been 3,157 gun related deaths

3,157 mamas and daddies and grandparents and aunts and uncles and sons and daughters and neighbors and friends that will never go home again. It is the 81st day of the year. 

This averages out to be 39 people per day being killed by gunshot wounds. Some researchers say the number has been as high as 96 people per day -- sacrificed to the gun god to pay our admission into a depraved promised land. 

 

 

The price is too high. The system to dismantle the gun god is grievously broken, and we like it that way. 

 

Americans are twenty-five times more likely to be killed by a gun than citizens of any other developed country. It is a figure that haunts me, especially in light of many of my neighbors' thoughts about immigration and people of Muslim faith.

Recently, I saw someone that I used to go to church with in my hometown share some thoughts on Dreamers. Her posts highlighted two gruesome, violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants and suggested that the individuals responsible for those crimes should be seen as fitting representatives of the entire immigrant population.

It is an all too common response to the gun control debate to claim that we as citizens should be toting military grade weapons in order to protect ourselves from Muslim and immigrant terrorists. Amy Sullivan, a Christian journalist who has spent her entire career reporting on religion and politics, heard this argument when she traveled to North Dakota to cover an event at a Bible college where a documentary was being shown that argued that evangelicals and other people who consider themselves to be pro-life should incorporate opposition to the proliferation of guns into that view. She was met with what she describes as a shocking strain of fear that she was previously not aware of in evangelical circles.

I see it, too. I wish there were words to convey the sick feeling I get when I see that yet another person who I trusted as a child to lead me and shepherd my heart towards the abundance given to us in Christ has displayed a radical lack of that abundance in their own life. It has happened too many times, and each one seems to cut deeper than the last. 

You really can't go home again. 

There are news outlets that will tell you to be afraid, people whose livelihoods depend on your fear. They will tell us not to get too close to each other, because they know that when you can see close up, everything changes. They’ll tell you that people who don’t look like you or worship the same way you do are out to get you, and who knows if they are lurking around the next corner waiting for an opportunity to attack? 

What you're not likely to hear on the news is that the actual chances of being killed by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion, and the chances of being killed by an illegal immigrant is, according to the CATO Institute, an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion. It is absolutely worth noting that the overwhelming majority of these attacks are carried out by white men who have been radicalized -- not by some foreign religious tradition, but by fantasies of power and xenophobia common enough to call garden variety. In addition, despite the fact that multiple marginalized groups are in favor of stronger gun control laws, an overwhelming majority of white evangelicals remain defiant in their opposition. 

The survivors of Parkland are receiving death threats because they are leading the way and unashamedly standing up for what they and so many others believe.

 

 

The wall proposed by President Trump is nothing compared to the walls we've already built within our own hearts to hoard our own power and keep the other out

We're afraid, because rather than living in abundance, Mother Church, we're continuing to rely on the advice to the snake -- believing that God is holding out on us and that there is only so much power to go around. So we hoard our guns, claiming that it is our God-given right to defend ourselves should anyone threaten to take what we feel we are entitled to. 

However, our race to the perceived top has resulted in nothing less than bloodlust. "There's a chance we've become our own terrorists," a favorite poet of mine wrote. 

I hardly recognize you, Mother Church. Is this who you are, who you have always been? Was I wrong to trust you all those years?

 

 

When we worship power, we're given over to the belief that anything and anyone is a potential threat to defend ourselves against.

Mother Church, when we worship power, our neighbors -- the image of a God who relinquished his own power in favor of love -- walk around with targets on their backs. 

 

 

We can call it a heart issue all we want, but until we realize that the issue is with our own hearts, this will continue to be an increasingly normal part of our lives. We will live by the gun and we will die by it, too -- and we'll keep on sending thoughts and prayers and scratching our heads as if we don't know why it is happening.

 

 

Now, I am certainly not naive enough to believe that legislation alone will put an end to gun violence. I've never made such a claim. Nor have I made the claim that any solution will be perfect. A multifaceted issue can only be solved by the creation of a multifaceted solution, and that will require all of us -- young and old, men and women, black and white, democrats and republicans and every single person in between. We must come together not just on policies regarding guns, but on health care, education, poverty, reformation of the justice system, and equality. Because if we advocate for the unborn only to abandon each other on this side of the womb, can we really say we're fighting for life, Mother Church?

Perhaps none of us can go home again once our eyes are opened to the great, wide world just beyond the bubbles that house our own coddled ideals. But even though some have tried to convince me otherwise, I still believe that we can build a new home from the rubble of our past lives -- because the One who sustains all of life told us that we could. Not only that, he told us how to do it. He never leaves us alone to figure things out. We can admit that we've been wrong, and that our pride has been our downfall. We can get to know each other again, and then, we can march towards a different promised land together, where all can flourish and thrive, free of the targets on their backs.

Perhaps it won't be perfect -- the seed of brokenness still lives in us. But so does the Spirit of God, and my Bible says that the darkness has not overcome the light. The light is, of course, the only place truly worth living in until we can go back Home again.

 


 

 

For your continued viewing and reading: 
These thoughts on shame and activism from Brene Brown
The Armor of Light (film -- available on Netflix)
Newtown (film -- available on Netflix)
Under the Gun (film -- available on Hulu)
Should Christians be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?, by John Piper via Desiring God
Why Dreamers and Parkland Survivors Will Change America, by Jorge Ramos
Why Do Christians Respond So Poorly to Tragedies Like the Parkland Shooting?, by Kaitlyn Schiess
Gun Violence by the Numbers, by Everytown for Gun Safety
Stop Saying Crazy, by To Write Love on Her Arms
Proximity > Politics, by Shannan Martin
The Light is Winning, by Zach Hoag

How you can help today:
To donate to help To Write Love on Her Arms provide hope and healing for Las Vegas, click here.
To donate to the verified GoFundMe page for the Holcombe family in Southerland Springs, click here.
Call your representatives to let them know you support common-sense gun legislation (find them here).
Fight to destigmatize mental health issues by going with a friend to their counseling appointment.
Send a love letter to the Stoneman Douglas community.

Disclaimer: I welcome conversation, simply because I believe that telling our stories is the only way to bridge the gap between us. I'm going to leave the comments open on this post, but please know that if you post something rude or hateful or troll just for the sake of creating division or shame here, your comment WILL BE REMOVED, and I won't feel the least bit upset about doing it. The definition of these terms is left solely to me. If you must critique, please do so constructively.  Let's share our stories in this space before we share our opinions -- not to prove a point or promote an agenda,  but to move closer to one another.

A full life in the empty places.

This space has been quiet for two months now as I have tried to learn what my friend Alia so beautifully calls "the fluency of hope." There are days now and then when 2:30 hits and I realize I have forgotten how to breathe and have to rediscover the rhythm of my lungs inhaling and exhaling. My body has been tired, and my spirit, more so. The inevitable temptation is to numb out. Even as I begin to write, there are so many other places crying out for my attention, and I want to settle in and click "next episode" one more time. I scour through Instagram for decorating tips and pretty penmanship and people whose words seem to fit together better than mine. Oh, how I have searched for words that fit just right -- but the truth is, nothing about this wilderness fits, and it wasn't made to. The wilderness is a birthing process -- the only way out is through, and it's never pretty, but it can be beautiful. 

I came here to tell you about what I learned in the wilderness. 

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At the end of last year, I felt a keen sense that my time in the woods was coming to a close and that I was about to enter what some theologians have called the second half of life. If you've never heard that phrase before (I hadn't until recently), let me clarify: the second half of life has nothing to do with age. Some teenagers are already there, while some in their old age will never get there. The second half of life is simply a shift in how you see yourself and the world from an emphasis on doing to an emphasis on being. It is the space we occupy when we learn to live in the balance of the now and the not yet, the process of the scales being removed from our eyes and the ruining of everything we have clung to in a desperate attempt to cover our nakedness. It is the seeing of oneself and others with new eyes -- with Kingdom eyes. 

It snuck up on me the way spring sneaks up on the longest winter. When I thought I would be in the woods forever, all of the sudden, I stumbled onto the edge of myself. 

Perhaps the strangest realization is that I don't miss the person I was before I took that first step, before I realized that every moment of this life is strung together with the threads of choosing, blessing, breaking, and giving. I'd been living asleep and unaware, but now I am awake and that person is gone. Ashes to ashes. 

"Love," Buddy Wakefield says, "love can see all of it. I am determined to see all of it -- I do not get to go blind again." 

It has been about three years, give or take, with the most intense leg of the journey taking place in the past year and a half. These days have been spent opening my eyes and loosening my grip. I've counted the cost, and now I'm letting go, leaning into this gray middle where truth and beauty still find space to grow. And last year, I learned the true purpose of the wilderness. 

 

Upon their exodus from Egypt, God's people spent 40 years wandering in the desert. He had provided for them, displaying his goodness and power in unmistakeable signs and wonders, yet they did not listen to his voice saying "you are my people and I am your God."

The wilderness has always been a space where the realest identity is affirmed. 

You are my people, and I am your God. 

There is no need to be afraid anymore, because you are free. 

There is no fear in love. 

Love can see all of it. 

 

Most days I still don't get this right. The news outlets and my Facebook feed tells me to be afraid, be very afraid, because the people who don't look like me or vote like me or have sex like me or worship like me or live on the same side of town as me are out to get me. It isn't safe here, they say. We must always be on our guard, ready to defend ourselves against whatever might be lurking around the next corner. But I have spent too much of my life being afraid -- too many years have been wasted accepting less than the fullness I've been brought to, too much time settling for less than the deepest cravings of my soul. 

We've been mercifully, lovingly called out of the grave and into the light, but still, we wear our grave clothes like security blankets because we're terrified of what the light might reveal, but fear will only ever betray us and leave us cold. 

And love? Love can see all of it. I don't ever want to be too comfortable in my own fear-induced paralysis that I forget about the healing and abundance that is already mine in Christ. 

 

Perhaps we have forgotten about abundance, about the God who is close enough to number the hairs on our head and bottle our tears and yet even still, his eyes are on the birds and the flowers. He has given us everything we need, revealed to us his very nature and told us not to be afraid. Our God, he is not a God of chaos and scarcity and panic. 

He invites us to seek a different kingdom, to leave our grave clothes behind and in our nakedness, step into the communion of the Real and find that all of our needs are met. We are people of plenty. 

Our inheritance is a Kingdom that will never pass away, and yet, somehow, we still fear that God's love will run out. We hoard our power, trampling over our neighbors and the least of these -- the living breathing image of God in our communities that we are called to love -- on our way to a perceived top that, in the economy of heaven, is actually the bottom. We live in perpetual anxiety that if our neighbors thrive, there will be less for us. 

But there is a different way to live. I've tasted and seen it and now I couldn't go back even if I wanted to. We don't have to buy into the fear that our news networks and Facebook feeds are trying to sell us. 

You don't have to buy into the fear that your news networks and Facebook feed is trying to sell you. 

There is no fear in love. 

Love can see all of it, and love never shies away -- instead, it comes all the way. Love saw weakness as being such an integral part of being alive that it chose to put on this skin, even the skin of those who fundamentally disagreed with it. Most of us can't even stomach seeing the opinions of people who don't vote the way we do on Twitter. We don't dare put ourselves in someone else's shoes. But we can do better. We were made to do better. 

This isn't a political statement -- it's a biblical one. There is full life to be had right here and now, and it comes when we get fired up enough about the rampant injustice in our world to actually do something about it. It comes when we share what we have with the poor and the widow and the orphan, and the traveler knowing that giving is the real secret to having more than enough. We can build something better here from the rubble of our past, something stronger, something resembling heaven -- but first, we must be willing to look our own fear in the eye and evict it for good. We must be willing to face our own hearts, our own depravity, our own poorness of spirit. 

Love already sees it. 

Love sees past all our attempts to be impressive or remain in control -- beyond the mountain of trepidation we've placed between our hearts and vulnerability. 

 

The Israelites loathed the wilderness sustenance, but my soul is hungry for the mystery. I tell God to show up however he wants to. I tell him that I'm so, so hungry. I tell him that I'm ready to fall upwards into love. 

I accept the invitation to go in and take the land.

Someday, there will be a garden here.

The anti-resolution (a few things I learned to love about myself in 2017).

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A few years ago, my friend Erin Loechner over at Design for Mankind chose to end her year by doing something kind of crazy. She shared a list of non-goals -- things about her life that she was resolving to keep exactly the same. It's no secret that this time of year, we come back to the drawing board with lengthy lists of things we're dissatisfied with. We plan to finally lose the weight, clean up the junk drawer, ask that person on a date, read through The Bible, paint the den. We show up on January 1 armed with the newest dating apps, planners, wrinkle creams, fad diets, personality quizzes, and a thousand other tools that we think will make us who we really want to be when, yeah, all we really want to be is seen and known and loved anyway. 

So this year, I thought I would follow suit and share my own list of things about myself and this year that I wouldn't change or take back if I had the chance. 2017 has been a hard and beautiful year that has left me breathless more times than I can count. I still have so much growing to do, but for now, I want to take this time to count the fruit. 

Without further ado...

 

This year, I prayed for a thick skin and a soft heart -- and I think God really answered that prayer, because all year long, I stood more unashamedly than ever for the things that matter most to me. It didn't matter who called me a moron or told me I was being divisive. (Because, let's be real, that's code for hey, I don't like that you're so sure in standing up for a belief that's different than mine and I'd be more comfortable if you just shut up, thank you.) I erred on the side of love and learned to be kind in my refusal to back down and compassionate in my demand for more. And I haven't given up hope, even though circumstances have often told me to. 

I learned the beauty of honoring my seasons. Lord willing, I will always remember the day when I finally learned the purpose of the wilderness. After that, I pressed in and walked with a new and steady hunger, and a patience that I'd never seen in myself before. I learned how to pray and dig deep and deeper still, and I learned how to trust and meditate on the goodness and sovereignty of God. And now, I know that I am deeply cherished and beloved, which is probably the greatest truth I could have asked for. 

I gave up on the race and got picky about my circles. Because there will always be another line to cross and another well meaning stranger who feels it is their responsibility to remind me about ticking clocks and expectations. But this year, I decided to let the opinions of those who have no investment in me fall by the wayside, and I'm freer for it. A few deeper friendships will always be more worthwhile than many shallow ones. And that whole "being all things to all people" thing is pretty much impossible -- but what is possible is loving the people right in front of me, and I can even go out of my way when an opportunity presents itself for me to bless someone on the fringes. 

I told fear to go to hell. Out loud and often -- at the kitchen sink, in the car, in the shower, when looking in the mirror, meeting new people, opening the mail, and a thousand other unseen places. And honestly, I'll probably have to keep doing it every single day for the rest of my life, but the point is, now that I've started, it's becoming second nature. 

 

And, for good measure, a list of things that I don't regret about 2017: 

  • Going back to brunette.
  • Reconnecting with my mom.
  • Publishing a blog post about racism.
  • Taking a break from church. Seriously, I have learned more about God and the Kingdom and myself in the past few months than ever before.
  • Deleting Facebook and Twitter for a month. Amen to not feeling like I have to solve the whole world's problems before lunch. 
  • Going to the top of The Rockefeller building in NYC
  • Screaming at the top of my lungs whenever Atlanta United scored. 
  • Fundraising and donating for causes I care about. 
  • Scheduling a cyber prayer meeting with my friend Megan. Changed. Everything.
  • Reading more about The Enneagram.
  • Coffee dates with Sandy, lunch dates with Devonne, dinners with Nell. Lots of chats about books.
  • Diversifying my social media follows, and unfriending/unfollowing a few negative voices.
  • Throwing a surprise birthday party for Craig.
  • Showing up alone at a conference where I didn't know anyone. 
  • Reading all the books. 
  • The handful of Saturdays we spent doing absolutely nothing. 
  • The Lumineers on repeat. 
  • Hosting a 4th of July barbecue with our favorite people. 

 

What about you, friend? What are you learning to love about yourself and your corner of the world? Tell me all the things.

 

Psssst! Have you decided on your word for 2018? Mine is garden