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.

If You're Running on Empty This Season.

It is December: the season of list making and last minutes, the season of doing and buying and running and trimming. And so often, in our haste to do and buy and run and trim, we trim the margin out of our souls, our resources. We run the risk of running out -- cut down to the quick, we bleed. We're quick to reach the point where we just want to make it through the season unscathed. We dread the thought of having to see that family member, being asked to direct the children's play at church, being asked to bring dessert to the office party. We dread the thought of being alone again and being asked when we're going to bring that special someone home to meet our loved (or, at least tolerated) ones.  But we push through, for appearance's sake.

Its easy to hang a lot of lights and give no thought to the Light. 

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In one of my Old Testament classes in college, I wrote a paper on prophesies foretelling the coming of the Messiah. What I found to be so remarkable as I was doing my research is that the promise of a Savior is made from the very beginning. As soon as sin entered the world, Father God began whispering a way for us to return to Him. Cover to cover, scripture is the story of a Creator who desires to woo His beloved creation. Centuries before the virgin gave birth, redemption was being proclaimed:

For unto us, a child is born; unto us, a son is given.  And the government will be on his shoulders. And he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. {Isaiah 6:9}

For any number of reasons, the holidays can be difficult. We find our Twitter feeds full of gift giving ideas, but also full of the heart cry of a weary world in need of a Savior. Night before last, I found myself sobbing at my own family's brokenness as I drove home from my dad's house in North Carolina. The familiar anger and bitterness towards my mother crept up on me once again, seemingly out of nowhere, eight years after she walked out the door of our home and shut the door of her heart to my dad. She has been with many men since then, and he has stayed faithful to his vows, in spite of his struggles to pay the bills and keep the cupboards stocked since she left.

And my siblings, who have run the gamut of poor choices -- leaving home to flirt and experiment with the world, sneaking back only to steal money from the change jar so that they can afford to turn on their electricity.

So yeah, Christmas this year is going to be hard. The pain weighs in heavily. But the truth is, the mercy of the Lord is soft -- His yoke is easy and His burden is light. 

The truth is that our God never changes -- He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

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He is still the Redeemer who spoke truth to the woman at the well, the Father who never stopped waiting for the return of the prodigal. He still reaches out to calm the crashing waves, the tsunamis that rage through our hurting and hungry souls. He is still the conquering Savior who came to life three days after being crucified and buried. He is still the Provider who multiplies fish and loaves and fills every last jar with oil.

And He sees us. The promise is that when we search for Him, we will find Him. When we remain in Him, anything we ask will be done for us.

He keeps His promises. He is still Emmanuel, God with us. Our hearts must simply make room for Him.

 

On Grieving and New Chapters.

Dearest Hannah, You have graduated from college, and are now in the in between. And let's be honest -- while you have accomplished much, the in between hurts like hell. It feels like all your limbs are being pulled in opposite directions, and you are young and the world is so very big.

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The idea of the quarter-life crisis would never have caught on without people like us. We feel every ounce of the weight of our decisions, and we are young, the world is big, and we can do literally anything we want, but we want to live our one life well.

Blessedly, I had a wedding a month after my college graduation. I emptied myself of energy in preparation, not even allowing my mind to consider what had just happened. It was a cushion for the shock that came in the days after I walked across the stage. A putting off of the inevitable.  After the honeymoon was over and the dust settled on what had become my life, I grieved and grieved hard. If you hear nothing else, hear this: it is okay to grieve.

I spent five months at home before I found a job. Those five months were some of the most difficult, because much of my time was spent alone. My husband had a full time job, and we were in a town where we didn't know anyone.

And then I met you. As much as two people can bump into each other via the internet nowadays, we did. I will always count our meeting among the gifts -- tangible proof that the Lord knew just what I needed.

I had the pleasure of watching you transition to your final year of college, a year that I know has left its mark. You decided, as if out of the clear blue sky, to change your major. Senior year of college, and I know you must have been feeling like your life had been hijacked.

When we're introduced to Abra(ha)m, scripture says "the LORD had said to Abram, 'Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you.'" I think God is still in the business of calling us out of our comfort zones, plucking us from all familiarity and planting us smack dab in the middle of the unknown. 

There's an old proverb that says the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I've learned that great leaps of faith are often disguised by these steps.

And I've learned that at the end of the day, God pulls us out of our comfort zones so we can experience the true meaning of comfort: that the Lord provides all things. I've learned that in the seasons of loneliness, His presence is near, and when we feel empty, He is only preparing to fill us.

I've learned that there are questions. Should I get married? Should I apply for a masters degree? Where should I live? Who am I? And I've learned that He holds the answers.

I've learned that He goes before us, and that everything is held together by His grace. When it seems like our comfort zone is so far out of sight, the Comforter is drawing us closer. When it seems like we're faced with all the questions and none of the answers, we have unadulterated access to the Giver of all wisdom.

We simply have to take the first step. And the real secret? God told Gideon to go in the strength that he had. There's no formula, no code, and blessedly, no scantron. We just move. We put one foot in front of the other, open our hands a little bit more, and a little bit more...

to grace.

 

When You Know its Time to Change Your Mantra

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Five of us women piled laughing into her great big sports utility vehicle. We had been in training together for four weeks, the latest of which brought us to the hustle and chaos of the city. We had taken turns driving each day to a different lunch destination, and as we pulled into the narrow space, I jokingly admitted that I would be afraid to drive such a massive car.

And then it happened.

The one in the front seat turned to me and said “you’ve got to stop saying you’re afraid.”

Ouch. Barely a month after meeting me, she speaks these words. And I wonder how many times a week — a day, even — I say that I am afraid. I know that I am an anxious person, but do I really let that anxiety overflow from my heart and through my lips often enough for her to pick up on it so quickly? I sit quiet though lunch, embarrassed and pondering.

Read more over at (in)courage

in which i go through all five stages of grief.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. They blend like watercolor running down my face. Sometimes, they come like a whirlwind, overwhelming my senses in a matter of minutes. Other times, they move sluggishly through my days and weeks. And even though it is scary and painful, I try, for the life of me, to feel them fully: to turn over each piece and carefully examine and learn from them. No one ever tells you that self-awareness, us-awareness,  is like a geological dig.

I shovel through the layers and discover.

This is not an easy task. It hurts so, because we are missing something way deep down in the marrow of our bones. 

And we try to fill the void: some with sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, and some with rules and standards and expectations.

This is not an open letter, nor is it a passive aggressive response to someone in my past who has hurt me. 

Actually, its the opposite. This is a reminder that I need to hear the truth of the gospel every moment of every day. An etching on my heart that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. A reminder that I must examine my own heart before rushing to question the motives of others.

Sometimes, I wonder at our anxious need to dichotomize so fiercely, and then I remember what Tony Campolo said about movements: they can surely exist without a God, but never without a devil. 

There must be something to blame, to rage with all our might against.

So we turn to other people; perhaps those who interpret scripture differently, those who have different ideas about how the world works, those who love differently than we do. We make devils out of each other, and all the time the real enemy of our souls laughs and basks in the pleasure of our division.

Do we really even need him anymore?

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Admittedly, it has been difficult to shake the anguish that ensued following World Vision's announcement that they would allow people with same sex attraction to work alongside them in meeting the needs of the least of these, and then their reversal of that decision due to the loss of support by thousands of evangelicals. I scrolled through tagged social media posts until the weight of the hate became too much to bear. I have struggled to find words.

I am a sinner. 

Daily I find myself lying, cheating, acting out of spite, and willingly rejecting truth. I am quick to become anxious, quick to say harsh words to my husband, and slow to work my way to a position of humility. I get caught up in discord instead of living peacefully. I rush to point my finger at someone, anyone, else, before even considering admission of my own shortcomings.

A couple weeks back, I journaled that I am tired of being fallen.

I'm also tired of the idea that I am somehow allowed to withhold grace from someone who I find undeserving. I'm physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually wrought from the mentality that we have to hate those we disagree with. I don't know how people live like that.

"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." Martin Luther King Jr.

When WV decided to offer an olive branch to its homosexual employees, Christian leaders everywhere called it a disaster. They said the gospel was at stake. Lifelong supporters revoked their sponsorship of needy kids, numbering up to ten thousand. Social networking was a riot about how WV had given up on not only a biblical view of marriage, but scripture as a whole.

Rarely, if ever, have I seen such a vile response from those who claim to represent Christ.

Christ, who was friend to the tax collector and prostitute. Christ, who turned the tables of the the merchants in the temple. Christ, who, with the last of his breath told the man dying next to him that he would see paradise. He would leave the ninety-nine for one and was always more concerned with those people residing in the fringes.

Christ, who lived and died and returned to redeem me from the grips of my sin.

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I don't write this to stick it to other Christians. Because the truth is, I get it. Somehow or another, I've run the gamut of trying to fill myself up. My pendulum swings the same as everyone else's. When chasing the idea of freedom didn't work, I turned to chase the idea of being able to control my life.

I don't write this to downplay sin. Scripture is very clear that the consequences of sin is death. The death of dreams, the death of relationships, the death of a thousand tiny pieces of our souls before we ever even leave this world and face the ultimate consequences of our decisions. Its happening all the time, and it breaks me in two that we so often put a period where God has placed a comma. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. And why aren't we better at offering the gift?

I don't write this to get a radical response. Writing in the public eye can be incredibly unforgiving. For some people, this could be a deal breaker, and I get that. I also don't expect anyone to rush to agree. I barely even expect anyone to read it. Then again, I could wake up tomorrow and this post be viral. But none of that is the point. I've given up writing to try to change your mind and am beginning to write in order to change mine.

Because I am responsible for changing culture, and I have to start with myself.

I am writing this, screaming it from the rooftop, to say this:the gospel is never at stake when I offer grace to someone I am at odds with. 

Because the heart of the gospel is that God offered grace to those who were at odds with Him.

He offered grace to me. 

May these words be hidden in my heart, lest I forget.

If You Don't Recognize Holy Tonight.

I never used to like the song “Oh Holy Night." When I was a kid, I never understood what the words meant, and it seemed to go on and on

...sort of like my sin. Like the sin of the world that was too great for my feeble understanding at the tender age of twelve.

Long lay the world in sin and error, pining.

I didn't know what it meant to pine for something; to search for and want and need salvation more than the next beat of my heart. My soul had never known weary.

I imagine the very core of the earth heaving a sigh. An overwhelming spirit of heaviness.  And I see the latest news, everything screaming the wild lack of all that is sacred and holy.

But there, in the depth of night, a glimmer. A thrill of hope. 

Salvation came, a bloody and gasping infant. Peace is a person, one who has walked this dusty earth. He traded the entirety of glory for my skin and bones. His name is Emmanuel.

He is still with us.

Did you know that there is a second verse? For the longest time, I didn't.

A lamb without blemish, spread naked across an altar, bore the pain of nails and splinters that should have been mine. A curtain torn from top to bottom, unleashing furious glory over the earth. A crescendo of love, pouring out from the heavens as love won the war.

But it probably didn't seem like that in the immediate, in the carrying of his broken body to the tomb. The twelve huddled, wondering what to do next, some daring to ask if they should part ways and return to their old lives. They knew questions in the deep darkness. They were bound to it for three days.

We know chains. Anxiety, depression, addiction, fear, hopelessness, temptation, judgement, selfishness, lies. They coil around our spirits, threatening to choke the very life from us.

Even after Christ had risen, some had their doubts. Perhaps you've visited those dark corners with me? Some shadows seem heavy enough to dim the truth. Even Mary, as she looked upon her risen Lord, her Savior, did not recognize him.

She probably believed that the final battle had been lost. All hope, all that held her together, had been desecrated.

Sometimes holy is right before our eyes, in the tiny moments when we least expect it. Sometimes holy looks like the gardener. But then comes the beautiful recognition. The life sustaining revelation that he now holds the keys.

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name, all oppression shall cease.

Hallelujah, we are no longer bound. Not only are the chains unlocked, but they are broken.

That, dear friends, is revolutionary. 

Can your soul feel its worth? Oh, that the Creator of this universe, in all of His splendor, would love us so fully.

So if in the hustle and bustle of life, you're missing out on feeling loved, missing out on the joy and the hope and all that is sacred and holy...

just slow down and breathe him in.

Take a few moments, I promise, this is so worth your while.

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