For When You Need Quiet

Last week, I felt my body start to give way.

Regular tasks at work took ten times longer than usual. Evenings that typically held loads of laundry and bread-baking were exchanged for early bedtimes due to zero energy. I had no focus to read. The sore throat crept in mid-week, crumminess resigning me to the couch. But even through the weekend, irritability. Exhaustion.

We’re making some big decisions – about homes, work, schooling. These things require a significant amount of brain space and trust and emotional attentiveness in conversation, and last week I felt like I could not carry on well with anything else, as much as I tried to sludge through.

fullsizerender-1

Photo by Caitlin Manning

An introvert and internal processor, I journaled to reflect on the week and noted something glaringly obvious. I had not carved out quiet. Although my schedule was not any more full that particular week, I had not compensated for my busy mind and preoccupied heart by creating extra space for silence amidst the soul-stirring decisions. I needed literal quiet, respite from the noise.

Busyness was not the problem. Noise was. I hashed and re-hashed feelings and opinions and numbers and didn’t realize until much later that I really would have loved two hours in a quiet room to sit with God. Not to read, or make a pros and cons list, but to simply be.

The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring.

Isaiah 58:11 (NLT)

I wonder if the times we most want to keep soldiering on are the times that God wants us to be quiet, so He can minister to us and refresh us and remind us that we’re not machines, but rather living, breathing, beings made in the image of our Creator.

There is permission to change the pace. To sit still and dig deep and not read or accomplish a darn thing.

There is a temptation to call it indulgent, or irresponsible, or whatever else you’re afraid of being named by those around you (or even yourself).

But there is a Voice who loves to speak in silence.

I’m learning how to listen.

Grace That Keeps On Saving

incourage grace

This is the beginning of my post for (in)courage. Read the full article here!

My husband and I planned to meet my family for dinner one evening. To make a long story — filled with blame, self-pity, mental road rage, and maybe a few tears — short, I was late.

Thirty minutes late. Forty minutes late if you count my family arriving early. While I joined the conversation and laughed with the littles, my internal posture was tightened, resentful. I hate being late.

By the next evening, my attitude had improved, but my clarity surrounding the anger had not. Then I remembered how anger is oftentimes a secondary emotion — the outpouring of indwelling shame and fear. As I journaled a confused confession, this phrase emerged on the page before I had the chance to self-edit or deny it:

“I feel like I can’t uphold my end of the deal.”

What deal did I make? Who was involved in this deal that I don’t even remember making?

Me. I make deals with myself all the time. I will be punctual. I will remember to send birthday cards. I won’t let anyone down.

In some form, things like maintaining our commitments and celebrating others reflects the loyalty and intentionality of Christ. But instead of honoring God with my reliability, I often desire to meet expectations to maintain my image and prevent others’ judgments. So I make deals with myself, shaking hands with perfectionism.

But you know one truth I’m continually learning? I will never be able to uphold my end of the deal. And that’s precisely the point.

Read the rest of the post over at (in)courage.

And sign up here to receive free daily encouragement from other (in)courage writers.

In Process

My thoughts on these last few weeks have most certainly followed a non-linear progression – an exasperated ‘not again,’ a quest for facts, misunderstanding and being misunderstood, anger surrounding division, submission to grief, hopes for reconciliation, questions about my role in this.

I am a police officer’s wife. But more than that, I am a Christian, and so the polarizing two-party system the media portrays doesn’t work here. There must be a third way, an additional response.

tuscany

Photo by Emily P. Freeman

Emily Freeman’s response gives me permission to process slowly. I don’t quite have the words yet, but I’m thankful for her reflection (and I’m happy to direct you to her thoughts once again). It’s about the tension, but it’s also about Tuscany, and cultivating the ground in front of you, and listening.

When tragedy strikes, things we know to be true don’t stop being true even if the                                     shock of it shakes the truth right out of our hands.

          Truth might be misplaced for a while.

          But truth is still true.

          God is still good.

If you have a few moments for some storytelling, read the full post: Before Helpless Turns to Hopeless.

On 3 Years of Marriage

We were married three years ago today.

It’s a nice number, if a little awkward. I no longer feel like a newlywed, and yet to be the one giving marriage advice seems a bit presumptuous.

manningweb-573

If you’re curious about our wedding day, you can read all about that here.

I look back at our first anniversary and am reminded that I will forever be growing up. We’ve lived at four addresses now, and I’m still learning that home is so much more complex than any structure with siding and a fenced-in backyard. I’m still discovering what it means to be my husband’s advocate. I’d like to think I’m less offendable and more flexible than I was before wifehood, but the original lessons will ever be in process, unfolding and stretching into new forms.

This year, we’ve given each other permission to be stressed. We’ve been mad at and on behalf of the other. We’ve been on very different planes of joy, trying to authentically reconcile what we feel with what is true. Sometimes the loving is hard.

But sometimes, friends, loving comes easy. You cheer because this year you’ve genuinely enjoyed each other, made unexpected friends, and actually liked your jobs (which is no small thing). And you celebrate by taking vacation seriously and eating at good restaurants and watching 20-minute episodes of network comedies just for the shared laughter before bedtime.

I anticipate every year of marriage will take a slightly different shape, but here are three reminders for myself as we enter the fourth:

Remember to say, “I’m in a bad mood right now, but not because of you.” Your husband is wearing himself out trying to determine what he did to make you so irritable. Diffuse the fruitless arguments, and let him off the hook. But only say it if you’re being honest.

Give your desires a voice. Your longings – to write, to rest, to have fun, to learn something new – are worth putting on the table. Those casual, recurring conversations about France may actually turn into you planning a trip. Your desires may be more parallel than you think.

Trust what Jesus says about abiding in Him. Willing yourself to be patient, kind or attentive? It sometimes works. For about ten minutes. Then you’ll be frustrated that you fail all the time and wonder why isn’t he trying to be patient, kind or attentive to ME? Put all of your cards in your relationship with Christ in order to love well. Experience deep joy as you become more acquainted with God, and watch two glorious things happen. One: you won’t rely on Thomas to give you that joy, so you won’t be as inclined to keep score of all the ways he cannot complete you. Two: deep roots nurtured in right soil results in good, organic fruit. Patience, kindness, attentiveness (and the like) are not elusive little buggers to pin down, but rather the natural overflow of grace you receive from God as a generous gift. Don’t try to turn it into a formula. Invest in Jesus. Your marriage will be fine.

I’ll love you always, Thom.

To The Sea

I went to the beach last week. And when I took one of my morning walks, I remembered I wrote something two winters ago and never shared it. The words of this piece (edited slightly for length) came even before I posted this quote from one of my favorite authors.

The ocean will always stir things up in me, as it may do for you. I hope you have places where this resonates.

My family traveled to the Gulf Coast nearly every summer as I grew up. We always drove the 12 hours by van, complete with a car-top carrier and sometimes an extra vehicle. I remember mere minutes into the trip, we’d scratch off the lottery tickets my dad would buy for all of us, the shrieks of success over $2.00 victories that we probably forgot to cash in when we returned home.

By the end of the drive, the van smelled a bizarre smell I can only describe as peanut M&M’s and Lifesaver gummy rings and the occasional whiff of worn socks. Stepping out into the salty air to catch the view of the sea upon arrival was a welcomed relief.

This pattern is familiar. The smell, too, is familiar. But I never get used to the moment when my toes hit the sand, steps slowing on the walk to the ocean. I immediately wonder how many grains I’m crossing over and how deeply underground the crabs live and how in the world did we get beaches?

The ocean turns me into a curious student, eager to learn and re-learn what it means to be made small.

IMG_5454

Encountering smallness, I’m confronted with the reality that the world is more complex than the one orbiting around my day-to-day. It’s greater than my morning coffee and evening wine, my most fantastical wishes and dysfunctional relationships and bouts of insecurity.

This smallness is no new thing. Escaping ourselves to recognize the universe was created by a God who loves it is as old as time, and we know the world doesn’t revolve around us, obviously. But I seem to need the reminder now and then.

The ocean, for one, gives me that reminder. I stand in the place where my feet slowly submerge into the sand’s density and study the waves – the foamy, bubbling pool left over from the crest that never really seems to recede. More water slinks back under it and comes up over it, but it never leaves. Those waves are constant, reliable and exist entirely without my help.

There is nothing I can do to help the waves keep coming throughout the day; there is nothing I can do to settle them down when my little nephews want to feel a bit safer in the vastness.

In that lack of control, I am made small.

I remember during one trip laying on a towel as the sun was sinking, my head tilted back to get this wacky, front row seat of the horizon. I wondered how many miles out I was viewing. How long a drive? Looking left and right, I was convinced I was witnessing the literal downslope of the earth, its curvature settling on either side.

But I know I cannot see the actual ends of the earth, because I am too small. And yet, here I am, this little creature surviving – daydreaming and reading books and eating pretzel twists – existing in a world that completely does not depend on me to keep things running smoothly.

We tend to overestimate our control, don’t we?

We reject smallness. We rely on ourselves to be independent and powerful and in control because to forfeit those things is to become vulnerable, to need other people, to need a God that holds all things in His hands and at the same time confess that we don’t understand how all those things fit together.

What I’m coming to understand is that the more opportunities I take to be small, to crouch in humility and recover my wonder and admit, “I can’t do this on my own,” the more clearly I see God show up in my little orbit.

As often as I can, I’ll return to the sea, palms up to receive her gifts. I’ll release control and delight in the spaces of freedom, the burden to orchestrate it all, lifted.

In Anticipation of Easter

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5: 3-4

It’s been a while. The first few months of the year have required me to sink in deep each day. Peeling back layers of conversation, stints away from home, the hard work of staying present each day. I’ve been okay with keeping my writing voice quiet, but not today.

I ache for the family of Deputy Carl Koontz, who was shot and killed in the line of duty just two counties over. I’m at once angry and sad, and as a police wife myself, it’s a sobering reminder of what my husband, friends, and friends’ spouses willingly do five nights a week. It’s gut-wrenching.

IMG_5311

I found myself praying portions of Psalm 119 this morning:

“I lie in the dust; revive me by your word…I weep with sorrow; encourage me by your word.”
Psalm 119: 25, 28

And I remembered how when Jesus sat down on the mountainside and began to teach, one of His very first statements addressed the poor in spirit and those who mourn.

I’m participating in a study of the Sermon on the Mount, and we looked up definitions of the word poverty. One such definition was “the state of one with insufficient resources.” To be poor in spirit, then? To be unable to provide hope of my own accord. To be at the end of my rope. To be aware of the faultiness of self-sufficiency and self-effort and self-help because I can’t do enough to clean up the mess, reverse the evil, fix what’s broken.

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven…as Jen Wilkin writes, “the kingdom of grace here, and the kingdom of glory hereafter.” Those who desperately ache for justice and feel hope crumbling beneath their feet – in Christ, they are not bound to this world, as we know it. This may be our current station, but there is more to the story. How I long for reconciliation and the whole story now.

In the midst of whatever we mourn – death, illness, the dissolution of dreams, unmet expectations, dysfunctional relationships, our own sin, or anything else – we can hope in a God that meets us in the dust. Who desires to be present and longs to give us the grace and peace we need today, tomorrow, and the next.

“And emptiness itself can birth the fullness of grace because in the emptiness we have the opportunity to turn to God, the only begetter of grace, and there find all the fullness of joy.”  -Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

As Easter approaches, I’m very aware of Jesus, who can actually clean up the mess, reverse the evil, fix what’s broken. How long, O Lord? How long before we see the kingdom of glory hereafter? How long before we recognize the kingdom of grace right now?

The emptiness of feeling will meet (assuredly, has already met) the emptiness of the tomb and the powerful and compassionate reign of Jesus. Then, now, and hereafter.

On Choosing to Abide

IMG_5074

This is the beginning of my post for (in)courage. Read the full article here!

I am aware of my broken pieces.

I know what pulls at the sleeves of my patience and what triggers my insecurity. I recognize my propensity towards perfectionism and where I’m prone to apathy.

And where there is my sin, there is me: desperately trying to determine the source of those broken pieces to hopefully, eventually, fix myself.

If I could just be more selfless, then I would be more present to my husband.
If I could just be less controlling, then I would stop turning my day into a task list.
If I could just be more patient, then I would not have said those harsh words.

As I grow in awareness of God’s character, the more I see we were never meant to be our own heroes, our own handymen, our own problem-solvers and saviors.

Read the rest of the article over at (in)courage.

I started following (in)courage during my first year of college. Wander around their website, and sign up here to receive free daily encouragement from (in)courage writers.

I’m Not Making a Resolution

When I see articles and blogs and sponsored Instagram posts (bonkers annoying) about resolutions and setting goals for 2016, my head feels all swirly and my heart starts going fast.

I become aware of everything I could be doing, everything I don’t have. It looks like list-making and trying to drag my husband along on my quest for more of one thing, less of another.

Honestly, I’ve asked myself why I’m to act like this year is the year when January 1st comes around every year. What makes this year any different?

And yet, I completely get the appeal of new beginnings, ambitions and anticipation. Vision-casting is practically a planning type’s hobby.

But this year, I’m going in with less of a resolution and, hopefully, more of a direction. I’m saying no to cut-and-dry, numbers-driven goals and yes to less tangible things I believe God has already called me to…things like taking myself less seriously, accepting complexity and engaging whole-heartedly. I suppose my goal would be to remind myself of these things.

At the risk of making you feel over-resourced (me every week), here are two pieces I found helpful entering the new year that didn’t entirely make my head spin:

This printable from Ann Voskamp.

This blog post from Paul Tripp.

Maybe a clear goal is just what you need. Maybe your resolve will make this year markedly different than past ones, and if that’s the case, I am so cheering for you.

For me, I needed wiggle room, allowance for the canvas to be painted differently as the year progresses. I don’t know if 2016 is the year above all years, but it is the one we’re given, and that is a grace in itself.

A Piece On Grace

I’m convinced grace is a big deal.

I’m also still trying to figure it out.

It is, essentially, the Gospel. But its implications are daily and permeate my actions, my thought life and my relationships.

And to consider that accepting grace for myself requires courage? Well, that resonates somewhere deep within me.

I read a ton of articles online regularly, and I keep coming back to this one. It’s called Be Brave Enough to Accept Grace by Nicole Unice. I’d encourage you to find some quiet to read the whole thing, but here’s a short excerpt:

A friend once told me about her grandfather, who was fascinated with radios. His condo was full of broken radios that he insisted on keeping, thinking that the transistor from one would fix the other; that he could cobble the broken parts together and make an old radio new. But despite his good intentions—he just owned broken radios.

Our hearts can be just like that—a storeroom of broken stuff, full of mismatched bits and broken pieces. But we keep adding to the pile, thinking that more life experiences will help us sort out and fix all the broken pieces. We are desperately holding out for the one piece we need to fix ourselves. The problem is, the right piece isn’t in our hearts, and it’s not something we can find on our own. The missing piece—grace—comes from outside ourselves.

3 Resources for Advent

Growing up, I remember the excitement of counting down to Christmas with an Advent calendar. Depending on the year, we’d punch out a piece of chocolate each day or open up a tiny flap to reveal a tiny picture, probably a snowman or nativity. I liked the chocolate ones best.

I haven’t observed Advent with a calendar in years, but lucky for me, I’m continuing to find resources to help draw my attention to the remembrance and anticipation of Christ more than my Amazon orders. Here are a few I plan to explore and wanted to pass along to you.

1. She Reads Truth: Born Is The King

For women, specifically (good thing they also have a He Reads Truth version!). The first few weeks of these daily devotions, which always include tons of Scripture, focus on how Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecies and promises. The second half will go through the Christmas story narrative. I know many women who use SRT throughout the year for regular study, so if you’re interested in a daily plan with pretty pictures, start right here.

SRT - Born Is The King

2. Paul Tripp Advent: The Whole Story

I first heard Paul Tripp speak at a conference a few years ago and still enjoy reading his weekly email newsletter. This is a four-part devotional with questions and full sermons that explore the Christmas story in the context of God’s bigger story of the world. Check it out here.

3. Restoration Living: A Simple Advent Book

This e-book has short daily devotions with prompts for meditation and prayer, centered around Isaiah 9:2-7. Get it right here.

A Simple Advent Book

Happy Advent-ing!