Archive | moving forward

the ever distant horizon

EP distant horizon

As hot as the days are in July in Texas, I still find myself leaning against the oven while we make dinner. My sister has just come home from work and is unloading groceries. Her husband should be home soon. They’ve been living with us for one of out the three years they’ve been married.

“All those things we talked about the other day, ” I say, glumly. “Aren’t happening. None of them.”

My sister looks up from the task at hand. “I know.” She says sympathetically. “Next time we all get together and talk about the future, let’s all talk about things we know are about to happen!”

“Like, ‘I’m going to go take a shower’?” I joke.

“Yes!”

It has been a year of waiting for all of us. We have no word from Meggie or the adoption agency. The summer days draw out long and warm, like southern slang. We can hardly beat the sun up before it’s beating down, the cicadas singing like the sizzling of our skin. The hottest days are the stillest ones. The days when no wind of change blows through, no leaves rustle in a friendly breeze. The hottest days are the ones in which the sweat just sticks to your skin and the grass seems to succumb to the persistent heat and dry up, frightened stiff.

We wait motionless, hoping we’ll hear the steps of change coming down the road, but the quieter we get, the stiller we stand, the longer we wait, the louder the silence rings in our ears. No word. No word. No word. Eventually, the feeling of anticipation dies down.

We’ve been through this before, but we don’t like to remember how long it took last time. We joke about how we used to think this time it would be different, quick, easy. “But it’s us.” I remind everyone cynically. We do everything the hard way.

No word from Meggie while other kids come home. No move-in date while other homes pop up in town. No new baby, no new job, no new prospects, no new news.

I look out to the ever distant horizon and have to remind myself that nothing has fallen off the horizon like a sailboat. Everything is still there. It’s just that the horizon is further away than we originally thought. I can still see it all there, gleaming in front of the pink sun with tantalizing promises of turning pages, but the chapter goes on and on.

And yet, just when I think nothing can change, that we’ve hit a scratch on the CD and we can’t move on, I see something creeping past. The month of July slipping through my fingers. The “baby” brother’s brown eyes looking down at me. The “baby” sister reading Nancy Drew aloud over the car’s AC as we drive home from the grocery store, barely stumbling over a word.

I have to grab myself by the shoulders at this point and tell myself, things do change. 

They’re changing all the time, all around you. Perhaps there is no easy-bake solution to your seemingly urgent issues, but things change. Perhaps they do not change like you think they will, perhaps it isn’t your own personal paint-by-number life, and instead a more abstract masterpiece, but things do change. Perhaps not when you snap your fingers, perhaps not without a good long sigh of a summer first, but things do and will change.

We go back to the grocery store and fill up the big fridge again. We will eat and get hungry and shop and eat again. Especially that baby brother who is growing like a laundry pile. We all go to our dental appointments and my mom says she shouldn’t be there, she should be traveling by now, but there she is. We pray with fervency and we get lazy and bummed, and then we pray in panicked, antsy, midnight cries. And most of all, we wait.

But we wait for something.

Because things change.

You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here.

2 Corinthians 4:17 (VOICE)

5

the gentle slope

Sunday afternoon, I had come home from church after spending several hours there singing, listening, praying, taking notes, flipping through the pages of my Bible, fellowshipping and attending a lunch meeting. I plopped onto my bed and surveyed my bedspread. Sundays usually find my bed in disarray because I clean primarily on Mondays. A pile of clean laundry perched on one corner, a stack of books where my second pillow should be. I’ve spent too many years sharing a full-sized mattress to ever learn to sleep in the middle, so the other side of my bed always seems to turn into extra storage during the week.

I glanced around at the books that had been left there. The Eleanor Estes book I’m reading aloud to Jubilee, a book on illustrating children’s books, The Christian Writer’s Market Guide from 2011 (which is, as I suspected, quite useless now) and my Bible. I remembered how my class that morning had inspired me to read scripture to myself more often. I’m taking a class on The Creation Issue and our teacher referenced some scriptures I had certainly never considered, much less meditated on. I also remembered how I’d had trouble coming up with a prayer request during our small group time. Was it that there were too many to choose from or that I hadn’t thought much about prayer at all recently?

I should really stop and pray right now. I thought. Not only did I feel that I should, but I knew it would be beneficial to me.  I was just about to stop and grab a pen and open my journal to write out a prayer when I remembered something I needed to do on my computer. It was terribly important that I check my Elance account just then. While I was doing that, I remembered that someone had sent me a message on Facebook I had never responded to. I opened up Facebook on another tab and quickly responded to the note. Wow—how did I already get this many notifications? I proceeded to click on each one and “like” or comment accordingly.

I was suddenly feeling very inspired to chime in on an interesting thread I saw going about writing. I put in my two cents with prolific ease. What was it I was going to blog about? I perused my search history to try to remember. Ah yes! My reading challenge. I wanted to pick up the pace now that June was upon me. I reached for the book on illustration.

Wait a second, wasn’t there something I was going to do?

Now, I don’t know a lot about spiritual warfare other than it exists. I don’t have a theological argument for how The Enemy works or what tools he uses. What I do know is that I suddenly come up with lots of “good” things to do right as I’m about to do the only really vital thing I can do: communicate with The Creator.

In C. S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters, a demonic character writes:

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…

In my experience, Satan does not ever, ever tell me what he’s up to or where I’m headed. When I’m tempted, it comes in the form of half-truths and justifications. I am most often drawn away from God by being distracted with “good.” A good thing to do, a good place to go, a good thought to entertain, a good movie to plop down in front of. It is a very safe road to hell indeed to continually find more and more good things to distract you from the only source of Good we’ve ever known.

At another point in the book, the demon remarks:

It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.

Our hearts are already full of sin and impurity. You don’t have to teach a baby to scream or hit or be possessive or show favoritism. It’s our nature! What is against our nature is to go back to the way we were in The Garden of Eden before the serpent slithered onto the scene. To go back to those thought patterns and actions and culture is to swim upstream. We have to consciously open our spiritual eyes and see God all around us. This sometimes feels like opening one’s eyes underwater, unnatural and highly intimidating. Eyes are so vulnerable, we’d sometimes rather be blind than expose them to the truth.

We have to consciously shut out the impure thoughts and ask God to take them far away. We have to consciously take in the Bible, God’s letter to us, and “hide it” in our hearts. Much of the Bible is unpleasant, confusing, demanding, even gory and erotic. I’m not sure what sort of person, not seeing the living value of it, would choose to read it over and over again as Christians do.

We have to pray in private, knowing that God is always with us, and daily open our eyes under the sea, come sand come salt, and allow God to show us new things. We have to silence our sinful thoughts which want to walk us gently and comfortable into Hell or, in the case of a Christian, into a dormant state of no production or communication, and forcibly open the door for The Holy Spirit. A strange new visitor who does everything backward. Instead of retaliation, submission. Instead of gain, loss. Instead of taking, giving. Instead of hate, love.

EP-come sand come salt

Instead of life and then death, death and then life! You have to retrain your mind to see things backwards and upside down, but when you do, you’ll see things clearer than ever. You’ll realize that the first time you were born, you were born upside down and you’ve been walking around upside down ever since. The real life, the real reality, is the other way around and you must allow yourself to be righted before you can walk that life.

When He [God] talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever. –The Screwtape Letters

You know that you should not sin, but do you know that you should not give, should not go to church, should not smile at a passerby, should not evangelize, should not read Christian literature, should not do a good deed until you have realized that all of that is but clanging symbols without a connection to and a relationship with the source of all that is good? Put down your book, blog, conversation. Put down your list, your calling even. Put it all down and pick up your eyes. Look up to Zion and ask yourself, am I trudging uphill toward a glorious peak, or slowly and comfortable sliding down the gentle slope?

8

daily frights

Someone once said, “do something every day that scares you.” The first time I heard this, I thought it was an awful idea. I imagined myself putting my hand over a wasp nest or jumping in front of a bus on a daily basis. This not only seemed unwise, but I could not see the benefit. Since then, I’ve realized that the message was lost on me. The point isn’t to do dumb, disastrous things every day, but to do things that are worthwhile even if you are afraid, because that’s how we grow.

Well, I’ve never really applied this slogan to my life, but I do seem to have my own. “Do something ever semester that scares you.”

The fact that I am starting to think about life in semesters is scary in-and-of-itself, but life in a college town seems to have that kind of rhythm. Every semester there is the opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to so many things and God continually pulls me toward new things. Bigger things. Scary things.

I have yet to submit my skin to wasp stings or make a flying leap in front of a moving vehicle, but I have allowed myself to be frightened. The amazing thing about this practice is not that I gain confidence, but that I continually have fewer and fewer fears. What scared me a year ago is commonplace now. What scares me about the fall will probably seem simple and not so intimidating by next summer.

I have learned to introduce myself to strangers, to make new friends without the fear of rejection, to voice my opinion in groups. I have been called “a natural leader”–something I never would’ve imagined about myself a few years ago when I was too shy to order my own meals. I have opened up about my goofy habits and confessed my best-hidden sins. I have gone without make-up and not thought about it all day. I have made jokes that nobody laughed at and it didn’t keep me up that night. 

Through the crisis pregnancy center, church small groups, service teams and outreach programs, I have done whatever it was that needed doing, setting my inadequacies aside. I’ve written (closed) letters to officials on issues I care about (having learned that open letters are usually more self-inflation than communication.) I have written notes of encouragement to people I thought might think I was weird for doing so. I have learned to drive without having to pull over for panic attacks, to drop off books on doorsteps where I think they may be welcome, to ask some hard questions I had avoided for a long time. I have learned to give my stuff away without feeling nauseated. I don’t need extra anything.

I wear what I like and don’t think too much about it and I have started to kick the habit of feeling like every acceptable thing I do must be recorded on social media. I get angry and do not sin (I mean, sometimes I do, but anything is progress in this area.) I leave my drawing pad open on my desk and don’t shred my sketches into tiny pieces. I find new recipes and actually try them and sometimes I cook without a recipe.

I work out sometimes, probably not quite enough. I don’t work out to look different, I work out to feel healthier. I eat things like mushrooms and beets and onions without plugging my nose. I actually enjoy these things. To enjoy as many things as possible-this is my goal! And to do this, I must fear fewer and fewer things all the time. I used to fear driving, now I enjoy it. I used to fear onions, now I adore them. I used to fear a busy schedule, but I’m learning to control it. I used to fear speaking in front of groups, but I’m getting over that.

I will never be an extrovert, a high-energy doer or a fearless superhuman. The greatest victory is perhaps that I’m okay with that now. I am not distraught over the fact that I’m a slow, hesitant, introverted, often lazy girl. I don’t feel guilty about being me, because I can tell that I’m trying really hard to be less fearful and more content every semester, every day. And, as strange as it feels to say it, I’m kind of proud of that. What use would I be to the people I love if I never improved or progressed? I don’t want to simply be loved and accepted, but also useful, also helpful.

There will always be pitfalls. I’m sure I’ll discover new fears. But how can you overcome a mountain if you don’t first stand at it’s base and appraise it’s awesomeness? And how can you have a victory, without a battle?

So wasps and buses aside, I’m doing the things that really scare me and becoming all the braver for it.

6

I say “feminism,” you hear…

roles of a woman

man-hater, anti-family, loud-mouth, bible-basher, pro-choice, bra-burning floozy. 

Fill in the blank. I know I did.

Some of you might know that in 2012 I pitched a book to three Christian publishing houses about feminism and legalism in the church. All three rejected it, but one agent stopped my pitch and told me about a conversation she had in the backseat of a car about her niece and college and how hard it was for her to hold her tongue so, “thank you for writing about this.” She almost gave me the deal, but I’m so glad she didn’t. God knew that there was much to teach me, there will always be much to teach me. I hold on to Madeliene L’Engle’s words:

“I do not think that I will ever reach a stage when I will say, “This is what I believe. Finished.”

What I believe is alive … and open to growth”

Oh to be open to growth all my life! That book had some good ideas and some poor applications. In general, it was too small for the topic. All of those words up there? They could apply to a feminist. But just because someone identifies as a feminist doesn’t mean any of those words apply to them. Feminism is one of those hard words that means something different to everyone who uses it. Sarah Bessey’s book, Jesus Feminist rubs people the wrong way with just the title alone. There are people who think, “How dare you put Jesus’ name next to that horrible word?” and people who think, ” I ran away from Jesus for the sole purpose of becoming a feminist. How could the two ever mingle?”

Can we take a deep breath and listen to each person’s definition as we get to know them? Bessey uses feminism to mean “the radical notion that women are people too.” It sounds silly at first, doesn’t it? Like it’s so simple, she’s certainly got the second part of her definition up her sleeve. And yet, with Bessey’s definition, I see Jesus and the word “feminist” going together perfectly. Jesus was completely radical in his treatment of women and those that The Spirit inspired to write the scriptures were extremely brave in how many times they mentioned women in honorable, humane instances. Jesus changed eternity, but he made huge changes to the current reality for women. He gave us dignity for the very first time since Eden.

If your definition of feminism is that women are better than men or that women don’t need men, then I have to disagree with you. If you think that men and women are generally the same or that their roles should be completely reversible, we’re in two different boats. But if you believe that women are highly valued by God and equal to men in their ability to know God and be used by God, I’m with ya. If you think that this world needs to stop objectifying, using, abusing and stifling women, you’re speaking my language.

Being a Godly women doesn’t have any checklists, despite what our Bible study books might tell us. You don’t have to be a wife or a mom to be a Godly woman and you don’t even have to want to be. Biblical womanhood has nothing to do with marriage or motherhood unless that’s what a particular Christian happens to be called to. Bessey writes:

“If the title can’t be enjoyed by a woman in Haiti, or even by the women hailed in scripture, the same way it can by a middle-class woman in Canada, then biblical womanhood must be more than this.”

She also reminds us that if biblical womanhood means being a helpmeet to a man, this excludes 60% of females in the U.S. alone. It can’t be interchangeable with “stay-at-home mom” when the grand majority of women in this world do not have the luxury of choosing whether or not they want to work outside the home.

If you believe there is a certain job description for a biblical woman, you have a lot of Biblical characters to correct. Scripture doesn’t solely glorify motherhood as a role for a woman, but also prophesy, teaching, entrepreneurship and more. These women were merchants, patrons, land-owners, businesswomen, tent-makers, messengers, writers (just taking examples from the New Testament alone!) Women were present during all of Christ’s pinnacle moments, even when the men had fallen away. Jesus used women as a vital part of his ministry and gave them honorable roles. Timothy was taught by his mother and grandmother. Priscilla even corrected Paul in some of his theology! In Philippians chapter four, Paul writes that the women “have labored side-by-side” with him. Is this what feminism means to you?

You see, even though I’m not sure I agree with Sarah Bessey on every point, I loved her book because it encouraged me to live out what Jesus taught us about…us! I am a stay-at-home daughter who aspires to be a stay-at-home mom, but I don’t do these things because I think they’re biblical; I do them because I think they’re good. Just like going to college is good for my friend Megan and overseas mission work is good for my friend Brianna and running a ministry to strippers is good for my friend Kellie.

Are you single? God wants to use you. Are you married? God wants to use you. Do you have kids? God wants to use you. Do you want to travel? God wants to use you. Do you want to study? God wants to use you. Are you a leader? God wants to use you. Are you a teacher? God wants to use you. Do you have business skills? God wants to use you. Do you see the pattern?

The world doesn’t need another loud-mouth, another hater, another burning bra. The world doesn’t need anymore abortion or pride or competition. But the world is in need. Women and girls make up 98% of trafficked people worldwide. Over 50,000 women are trafficked in the US alone each year. 78% of trafficking is for  prostitution or another form of sexual exploitation.

statistic 1

Annually, more than 350,000 women die of pregnancy or birth-related complications. Studies show that 53% of the children denied an education worldwide are girls. Violence against women causes more deaths among women worldwide than war, malaria or traffic accidents. If “feminism” means putting an end to this, then count me in.

Whether or not you believe women should be in places of high authority in our churches and government, can’t we agree that we need to be better represented there? I firmly believe that when we stand before God, He will be silent on the subject of feminism or anti-feminism, complementarianism or egalitarianism or our roles in the church and family. I don’t think we’ll be worried about old blog posts or Facebook arguments. I think, as I stand in line and wait to walk through the throne room doors, I’ll ask myself, “Did I humbly depend on the Lord for my salvation and love like Jesus loved?”

(read my review of Jesus Feminist here.)

8

the one about allume

IMG_0684Last month I had the pleasurable opportunity to attend The Allume Conference in Greenville, South Carolina. My mother accompanied me after rescheduling our family reunion (which includes about fifty people!) so that I wouldn’t have to miss it while I was gone. We had never taken a trip together, just the two of us, and it was odd traveling that way, but also very fun. I should give a shout-out to the nice man who brought our luggage up and down from the overhead storage during our flight. We may be independently minded, but we aren’t very tall.

First of all, Greenville was wonderful. The conference was held at the Hyatt in the middle of downtown and it was the perfect location for two women with no vehicle. We walked from the hotel to an underground coffee shop and a few lovely cafes and shops. We even strolled through Anthropologie once. The area is thick with history and sprinkled with lovely artistic touches. I really loved it and could have spent many more happy days exploring. There is even a natural spring-fed waterfall right in the middle of everything. You should go sometime.

IMG_0686

The conference was a bit intimidating for two (very) introverted women, but I wasn’t at all nervous the way I had been about She Speaks the past two years. The first year it was my first ever conference, I was only nineteen and all alone. The second one I pitching a book for heaven’s sake. I never knew I could be that nervous.

This time, however, it was just fun and relaxing. I had no special agenda there, just learn and make new friends. It was lovely connecting with a few women from my mastermind blogging group. I loved chatting with Shannon on multiple occasions and getting to meet the lovely Kalyn, Christin and September!

The speakers were really wonderful. Some of them I had really anticipated, others were new to me. I saw many faces I recognized and met new people I wish I had known all along. It was lovely to hear Ann speak again, but my favorite session of hers was the Pure Charity panel when no one was scripted and everyone shared the mic. It was so good, I clung at my throat and thought, “I will retain this wisdom if it’s the only thing I do this weekend.”

Ladder Bloggers, Unite!

Ladder Bloggers, Unite!

I am not paid to say this, so please know I am genuine. The conference was spirt-led. I had put on my armor and prepared myself for a commercialized, made up world of blogging bliss. I had imagined the speakers in their white jackets bringing the good word and then disappearing behind stage and onto their plane home. It was not like that. The speakers, who were not told what to speak about or what anyone else was speaking about, had so many common threads, it was amazing. The messages we truly needed to hear were there (sometimes to the surprise of the speaker) and there was no fakey-fakey.

ann and i

The worship leaders all brought some kind of prophesy or gem of wisdom that tied into what God was already teaching me. The teachers all helped me in some unique way. They didn’t stick to the schedule when they felt that God could use their time differently than planned. One of my favorite things is that there were no pedestals. The speakers and worship leaders and presidents of organizations were in the buffet line with me, sat at my table for lunch, roomed next door. They too walked the streets of Greenville and grabbed casual cups of coffee. There were no celebrities. We were all on the same page and with the same goal in mind.

Even though the past couple of weeks have had me thinking that marketing and promotion are not my gift, that mainstream publishing is not my goal and that blogging may not ever be my primary source of income, Allume continues to inspire me. I’ve had some snide remarks and funny looks since I’ve been back. “A blogging conference? Is that like a Pinterest conference?” They ask laughingly. I feel a little fire rising up in me because the men and women I had the privilege of meeting at Allume were straight-up world changers.  There is nothing hokey or selfish or silly about what they do.

And I want to be like that too.

(psst! Super early bird registration for Allume 2014 starts on Black Friday!)

Everly

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