Working Draft

The library wanted their book back. I maxed out the number of renewals allowed (three) and was acutely aware of how many pages I had yet to read (too many to finish without a marathon reading session). So I did what I had to do, stayed in my pajamas, and read.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven captured me – as did one sentence in Chris Cleave’s author’s note. Cleave attributed inspiration for the book to his grandfather, a World War II veteran who passed away before reading the manuscript. Cleave was writing draft three of five and wanted it to be perfect before giving his grandfather access to the words. Here’s what he said about that choice.

“If you will forgive the one piece of advice a writer is qualified to give: never be afraid of showing someone you love a working draft of yourself.”

When congruous ideas pop up all over the place like little conspirators trying to prove a point, we can call it coincidence and brush them away, or pay attention. I’m learning to pay attention. The “working draft” of myself is one such idea. The irony is not lost on me that my quickest reaction to the thought, “I should write about this,” was, “Maybe give it some more time, when you’re not in the middle of it and have more to say.” The working draft. How I like to keep it tucked away.

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The campus ministry calendar begins in August and ends in May. Those weird, sticky, looser months in between are for rest, planning, re-aligning with our purpose, and casting vision for the coming year.

A theme of conversation is always community. We seek to encourage and equip people to love God and love others, but we do so as a church body – a family – and not as individuals marching in the same direction but entirely sufficient in themselves. In order for this to happen, our relationships require vulnerability and honesty. But we don’t just want to talk about these things as ideals for the students we serve. We also want to examine ourselves to discern if we, as individual members of a staff team, practice what we preach.

Do I make intentional effort to know others and be known by them?
Do I voluntarily let people know when I’m sad, angry, or confused?
How well do I accept criticism?
How well do I accept compliments and encouragement?
Do I ask for what I want or need, or resent others for not understanding me?

Do I allow the people I love to not just see the working draft of myself, but speak into it and influence its formation?

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I don’t want to be a woman who is neatly composed outside the walls of my home, being just vulnerable enough to let a friend know I had a hard day but without articulating the reality that I was, in fact, lonely to the point of tears in a way that my introversion rarely manifests.

I don’t want my husband to be the only person who hears my rants. I don’t want to be willing to pray for others but never needing others to pray for me. And I’m realizing that if I feel misunderstood, or even unknown, then maybe I’m clinging too tightly to my working draft and just need to hand over the pages in progress.

I certainly don’t believe we’re called to this level of relational intimacy with everyone; vulnerability also requires discernment. But even revealing our truest selves to the people who love and care for us the most can be uncomfortable and difficult.

Something in our wiring resists. We feel exposed, even ashamed, and possibly afraid that others will be displeased or unimpressed. But the alternative result is a level of connection we couldn’t reach otherwise.

My brother felt led to start a monthly breakfast meet-up for other young, working dads. Over the phone as I wandered the aisles of TJ Maxx, he told me how sharing life honestly comes with some awkwardness and discomfort, and how sometimes it only takes one person’s vulnerability to allow the space for another to be heard and be known. The real stuff of marriage. The real pressure of work. The real struggle of parenthood, of purity, of faith.

What makes it risky is that we still might be misunderstood, and others still might be displeased or unimpressed with us.

But God has spoken to me with the hope of that alternative result. And like most of my journal pages scrawled out in a half-lit room, I want to practice sharing the draft in progress.

Recovering Dependence

I watched my 2.5-year-old niece try to poke the straw into the juice pouch, in equal parts clumsiness and determination. Despite multiple asks on my end – “Nora, can I help you with that?” – her eyes stayed fixed on that stubborn yellow straw held tight between her little fist, prodding, slipping, bending.

This is the girl (like any other toddler?) who has yelled in defiance, “NOOOO, I DO IT!” when something as menial as slipping on sandals becomes cause for a meltdown. She’s a firecracker. My mom noted in passing that she remembers a similarly adamant little girl.

Hint hint.

But this time, after several moments, Nora simply looked up at me and handed over the juice and straw. I plucked it in, gave it back, and off she went.

Scripture calls us to become like little children in the way we approach the Lord, believe in Him, and rely on Him – dependent, needy, all-surrendering. The problem of the Pharisees, and even the disciples arguing about who was the greatest, is that they consistently tried to be good enough to not really need Jesus. They propped themselves up with their self-made righteousness and social status, therefore declaring independence from Christ and disconnecting their need for grace and the God who generously gives help and hope, identity and purpose.

To be independent is to maintain a sense of control and do what I want. To need is to be vulnerable and subject myself to the influence of another – to the care of other people, but also, most profoundly, to the heart of God.

Every time I feel un-kind, disparaging words rise from heart to mouth; every time I desire to know, assuredly, that I did a good job; every time I perceive a task as beyond my capability – I have a choice.

Do I trust Christ in me? Or do I stubbornly fight it out on my own? Do I recall my true identity as a child of God? Or do I will myself to believe I am the master of myself and can do all things by my own strength?

I pray, I pray, I pray that He keeps on cultivating trust in me, a woman who doesn’t despise neediness or resent limits or refuse to be weak, like a child. But one who hands over the straw like sweet Nora, dependent and loved.

Returning & Resting

This Lent, I’m following along with She Reads Truth’s study of Isaiah. The opening paragraph of commentary reads:

“During Lent, Christians traditionally meditate on Scriptures that point us to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we see our desperate need for salvation through the lens of a cross and an empty tomb, we are reminded that nothing we cling to for security outside of Christ Himself can offer us any real or lasting hope.”

Admittedly, as someone who grew up going to church, this message can sit stale in my heart, and I grow distant from the idea of my desperate need. Not that I’m entirely blind to sin and shortcomings, but that (grossly simplified) if my life had a scoreboard, the decent/kind/good parts of me would be winning. Many days, I feel like I’m okay. I’m doing the right things. I’m making my way.

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I circled up with four college students at a retreat house a few weeks ago. We spent nearly two hours on our own in silence – sitting, reading, praying – before coming together and talking about said quietude. Each of us (in some form) spoke of desiring direction for the future and wrestling with anxiety in uncertainty. Don’t we all just want to know the way?

So we make neatly ordered plans (for both self- and circumstantial improvement) and get busy achieving them. And if the achievement – or satisfaction in the pursuit – doesn’t become a reality, we set out to control other seemingly controllable things (consciously or not) like our spouse, our grades, or our weight. To sit down, to be quiet, to rest, and to trust God with any of this uncertainty or doubt appears culturally regressive, irresponsible, and passive.

The lie pulses louder: I’m making my way.

––

“What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”
    says the Lord.
“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
    You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
    thus piling up your sins.
For without consulting me,
    you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
    You have tried to hide in his shade.”

15 This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:
“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.
    But you would have none of it.
16 You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt.’

Isaiah 30 (NLT)

––

One word resounded in my mind the first day of that Lent study. Futility: the quality or state of being ineffective. If my need for a Savior really is desperate, then something in me is not working. Something in me is not effective.

And for the do-er types, this is terrifying. I want to do things the right way, and I want to know the way.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

John 14:6 (NLT)

The promise of Jesus – of God – is His very self.

He does not promise detailed action plans for big decisions, seasons of suffering, or periods of waiting. He does not promise rules to follow in order to be more significant, more powerful, or more loved. He does not promise that I will become more valuable in the Kingdom of God as long as I have the right behavior and right words, and as I long as I don’t screw up on the path to where He wants to lead me.

He promises His presence and says He’s the life. He’s the truth. He’s the way. And for the previously mentioned doer-types, this doesn’t seem very helpful upon first reading. The reality that Jesus is the way, and we don’t have to exhaust our childlike brains creating our own way, seems obscure and intangible and a bit void of practicality. But – if I come to the place where I remember my efforts toward self-made righteousness are ineffective, futile, and I believe Jesus’ words about Him being the way, truth, and life, and I read God’s words in Isaiah that invite me to return and rest and find my strength in quiet confidence – then I begin to realize that trust is a high and holy calling. And that trust often looks like the least productive or effective thing in the world.

Not that the big decisions don’t matter. Not that I’m now responsible for nothing and can do whatever I want. Not that I can watch Grey’s Anatomy for hours and call it real rest.

But rather, we can claim the freedom to acknowledge our limits and surrender them to an unfailingly effective God who promises His presence and says that’s enough.

He designated space for the people of Israel to be, not just do, and I believe He extends the invitation to us.

“Here is a place of rest;
    let the weary rest here.
    This is a place of quiet rest.”

(Isaiah 28:12 NLT)

The next line of that verse is pointed and convicting, simply: “But they would not listen.”

Lord, make us a trusting people.

The Pursuit of Friendship

Cultivating friendship takes work. Amen.

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For two years now, we’ve called a new town “home.” The start of that season was rocky in terms of developing relationships with other women – especially coming from such a devoted, small group of friends two hours away.

But slowly, I started saying “yes” more than “no” to a new community, letting them into my stories and dreams and insecurities. And honestly, the lines around our friendships are more blurred than ever, crossing boundaries of work and church and people who we just can’t stand not to be around.

I wrote a piece for Deeply Rooted Magazine about this process, which you can read here.

Here’s an excerpt:

Self-protection and self-monitoring can be comfortable patterns that seem like wisdom, when turning inward can actually perpetuate the selfishness of insecurity—which is exactly why this passage in James intrigues me:

“But the wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17–18, NLT, emphasis mine).

Wisdom of the Lord means being willing to yield to others. I don’t think James means becoming passive doormats, but rather making ourselves available to be influenced by others, serving them and being transformed by God in the process. Living here for two years, I can name a small handful of women I trust, who affirm my identity in Christ and challenge my fleshly version of wisdom. But I still need to peel back the layers of self-protection and rely on his Spirit within me to resist any lingering fear or apprehension—for the sake of authentic friendship, his glory, and my good.

Maybe you can relate? For me, this is ongoing – one big, unfolding lesson of vulnerability and joy. Again, you can find the whole blog post here.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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

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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.