To Remember

We got a new puppy last week.

His name is Dexter, he likes to chew on the leaves of our fig tree and our carpet is a new level of dirty because of him. But he’s an excellent snuggler.

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In part because of him, and in part because of Thomas’ new shift at work that has severely thrown off sleep schedules, I’m coming out of a place of mental exhaustion. Last week, I was especially tired, anxious and homesick. Weary of demands and lacking creative motivation. Craving more.

I’m emerging, slowly, surely. One thing that’s helped has been the act of remembrance – reflecting on what was and noticing what is. Emily Freeman recently wrote in this post, The practice of paying attention serves as an anchor for the soul in a fast-moving world.”

If you’re in a phase of just trying to keep afloat, maybe these practices will help you like they help me. Partnered with some crying, good reading, and a group yoga class to reinforce you’re not alone, they’re pretty much infallible (disclaimer: I’m not a therapist).

1. Remember your “first things.”

A recent sermon at church outlined how Jesus frequently directed people to the one thing that they needed (see Mary and Martha). Instead of being burdened with the distractions of wealth, tasks, popularity or worry, he encouraged people to simply seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. As a follower of Christ, this one thing should be my first thing. Under the realization that Jesus is all I need to thrive, my anxieties can be rightly minimized. Not saying this is easy, but it’s the hierarchy I’m seeking after.

2. Remember to be grateful.

I may not get eight hours of continuous sleep each night. I may be cooking dinner for one most evenings. I may feel confused about what’s next, or nervous to ask myself how our marriage is adjusting to a new season, but at least I feel safe where I live. At least I can eat until I’m full and have socks to cover my cold feet. Life is undeniably kind to me once I get out of the way to notice it.

3. Remember (and trust) your path.

I choose to believe, through any doubt, that God paved the way for where we are right now, in this city, with these jobs and friends and dogs. To back down in fear of what’s foreign would be to deny how He’s worked in us the last two years, and beyond. We’re on a path we like. It’s scary sometimes, but we trust it.

4. Remember your vision.

When we moved to this new-ish place, I had very specific daydreams about cooking in a bigger kitchen, taking walks in the park and hosting friends often. I imagined volunteering and writing and abiding in things I really cared about. When I start thinking negatively and my mood swings low, it’s helped much to remember what I originally desired of this season. Although some of these may take stronger shape than others, it keeps me focused on using time intentionally…not letting days slip by unannounced.

5. Remember weakness is not an enemy.

In fact, weakness is the very thing that keeps us able to relate to other people. I guess two twenty-somethings could bond over their impeccable decorating taste (with what budget?) or how preparing and slicing a perfectly crisp roasted chicken is soooooo simple. But the riskier conversation – the one about loneliness or big choices – will surely lead to a deeper relationship. And that’s the one I want. Expressing even small pieces of what I’m feeling helps. It’s like passing a little palmful of vulnerability to someone and praying they won’t drop it. I’ve found that most of the time, they don’t.

So there you have it. What would you add?

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With Unclenched Fists

I’ve been a conscientious person for as long as I can remember.

From matching outfits since age 2 to feeling sickeningly anxious about going into school without my homework finished, that sort of became my reputation. I liked order, sensibility, and using time – as I saw it – well.

I always had expectations of myself. And that often transferred to me having expectations of (and desiring some control over) how I spent my time – and, specifically, what results I gained from it.

That creates some problems.

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When Thomas and I went to separate colleges, we talked for days about how our weekends together would be. If I made the trip north, I imagined dinner together, splitting a gelato at our favorite coffee house, then waking up early to make breakfast and go to Target and imaginatively pick out what doormat or desk our first house would have.

But I’d get up there, and we’d be indecisive on a restaurant. Then the gelato place would be too crowded with chai latte sippers for us to sit and actually enjoy said gelato. We’d stay up until 2 a.m. watching a movie with a terrible plot and wake up at 10 the next morning – my favorite time of the day sacrificed to sleep. And pretty soon it would be time to leave and I would think, “What happened to our weekend?”

My expectation wasn’t met. The result wasn’t enough.

I was so fixated on the “perfect” plan, making me unavailable to letting the weekend unfold for what it was. An informal dinner, yes. A late night, yes. But still a precious weekend. Not wasted time.

For many of us, the natural reaction is to face new (or even routine) situations with clenched fists, demanding a certain result. Not a loud, openly assertive kind of demanding, but the quieter, passive-aggressive kind.

Maybe you expect vacation to restore you back to zero stress. Maybe you have high hopes for that new job with a vague title. Maybe you’re putting in a whole bunch of time to a project that doesn’t seem to be giving you the results you want.

When we throw weight behind these expectations, consciously or not, our exterior toughens.

Our fists close tighter. We become less open-minded, more resentful, and more tired.

Not that planning is a bad thing, or working hard is useless. I don’t believe that. But my expectations have frequently caused me to be closed off to opportunities that offer inherent beauty – the kind of beauty I don’t see because my hands aren’t open to it.

My goal is unclenched fists.

I still want to be a conscious person; that hasn’t changed. But instead of trying to force the outcomes in a certain direction – my direction – I want to loosen my grip. Accept what happens with grace and humility, rather than stubbornness and irritability.

If we do that, if we can risk not knowing and keeping an open mind and appreciating things for what they are, I think we’ll find beauty.

Writing Update + Reader Survey

Last week, I started an online course called “Find Your Writing Voice.”

The goal is to have a bit more clarity in terms of who I am as writer, what I bring with me to the page, and what I most want to say.

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Lately, I’ve been pulling inward with my writing, penning weekly letters, journaling daily. And now, I’m completing assignments for this course.

It was important for me to sign up for a couple reasons. I want to improve my writing – for me, and for you. And I don’t want my love of writing to go stale. I want to invite you in without giving you fluff, or redundancy, or a shallow, filtered version of what I really want to say.

So, I’m pulling inward. Not indefinitely, but just for right now.

But in the mean time, can you help me? I put together a quick reader survey and would be so appreciative if you took a few minutes to fill it out. I just want to know a bit more about who is reading and how I can try to serve you better.

If you know of anyone else who might enjoy taking a look, feel free to pass it on. And truly, thanks for reading.

What May Not Be Shiny

This weekend helped re-charge me.

Over the last few months – with graduation, moving into a new home and starting a full-time job – I’ve experienced a wide range of emotions.

I’ve been extremely grateful. Anxious about choosing the right path. Hopeful for the future.

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I’m still processing through these things, and I’m not quite sure, at this point in time, what I want to tell you abut them.

But this weekend just filled me up.

It could have been the sleeping in on Saturday morning, Thomas finishing the semester that morning and running errands with him, being witness to a wedding that afternoon or having 20 kids show up for youth group when I normally get 12.

Do you ever catch yourself wishing your days were shinier? Do you consider your routine insignificant or downright boring? Do you wish you lived a different life?

My weekend wasn’t shiny. But it was steady and sure.

That thought’s been rolling around in my head for a few weeks now. Again, I’m not sure what it means yet, but I’m willing to probe.

As you go about this week, remember that it may not be shiny, but that doesn’t make it less important. Your work, your meal planning, your taking the dog out and cheering on nephews at baseball games.

This is the stuff that is steady, sure.

A Place to Gather

When we first got married, I thought I had a “vision” for our home.

I had a subscription to HGTV magazine, was an avid pinner all throughout college and frequented many blogs about home decor, craft projects and furniture makeovers. It was all very aspirational.

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So when we rented our first house, likely styled in 1972, I was a little peeved at my rusting stove, the carpeted bathroom, and the lamp in the corner that looked like it belonged in Narnia.

Despite my home being less than magazine-worthy, I discovered I loved having people over. Parents came for dinner. A sister came to play with the dog. Friends came from out of town to sleep on the floor and hang out with us.

Around the same time, I listened to a podcast with a couple writers who were talking about their homes. One expressed her desire to have a home that is a natural gathering place. Always welcoming. Always available. A place that provided respite for people who just wanted a break.

That podcast gave me some clarity. I realized that regardless of what my home looked like, I could determine how people who entered it would be treated.

Since then, I’ve experienced a cheesy amount of  joy in hosting. You know how some things in life just fill you up? For me, this is one of them.

One of Thom’s friends lives a few hours away. He came to visit a few weeks ago, and a home-cooked meal and a futon with clean sheets seemed to give him a sense of peace…a piece of home.

The very next night, we went to dinner with my brother, his wife, and a couple cousins. Afterwards, they came to our house to eat dessert and play games. We sat on the floor and played Yahtzee, watched basketball and laughed much as everyone confessed quirks they discovered about their spouse upon getting married.

And last weekend, we hosted eight middle-school girls from the youth group. They decorated cupcakes, made a mess of my kitchen and belted out every song lyric from Frozen. Afterwards, one of the youth boys stayed an hour or so – processing what it will be like to go to college next year and telling us his big dreams of inventing electric jets.

This is such good stuff. It’s not perfect, but it’s good.

Cooking dinner or dessert, putting sheets on a spare bed and letting people sit on your couch are small things. Sometimes we turn them into stressful things when we think about how to perfectly time the meal, or how the guest bedroom is a dumping ground for everything that doesn’t have a place and is in no way, shape or form fit for company (just me?). Fight against those stressors.

We don’t vacuum as often we as should, my kitchen sink disposal sometimes smells bad and we still only have two patio chairs that suffice as dining chairs right now.

But we welcome people anyway. That’s my new vision.

Idols

We experience God in different ways.

Obviously.

This past fall, I watched a simulcast conference thing with a couple of hugely popular Christian teachers. They had to decide whether or not the conference would feature a music set. Ultimately, they decided against it, saying that it’s easy to let worship be a result of a specific mood or environment that music often sets. They wanted people to praise God because he’s God. No fancy stuff attached.

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Photo Credit: Wai Shaw of Flickr Creative Commons

So yeah, I sometimes fall into that camp. I like my music, and it definitely draws me near to God when I let myself really listen to the lyrics, the movement.

Books do the same for me. I have a growing list of books I want to read, categorized as Christian non-fiction because I gain a ton from other people’s words and experiences. I love being poured into that way.

I also experience God in hearing how he works in other’s lives. Recently, I’ve felt a lot of joy over Thomas being able to pray with kids at work and give the gospel to them straight. That is so cool.

The heart problem, though, is that all these things have not been God himself. They’ve been substitutes, rather than complements.

I’ve taken my favorite books and made them the bible.

I’ve taken powerful songs and made them prerequisites for drawing near.

In the beginning, there was God. At the end, there will be God. And I think to myself, “Isn’t that enough?”

I’m working on it. Maybe it’s just the human way of seeking something tangible related to faith. I may not see God face to face, but I can read about how he’s moving, regardless. I can listen to something beautiful and be reminded of beauty.

But he alone is enough.

So I’ll repeatedly need to get back to the basics. Just God, and without the fancy stuff.

If any of this relates to you (particularly those of you in modern or contemporary churches), I’d encourage you to read this article. It’s a good one. 

The Art of Discipline

One of my goals for this space is that it is an authentic one.

A place where I can be honest and vulnerable and, just maybe, some of you will be vulnerable with me. I want it to be a place of safety and encouragement and a general openness about what the heck’s going on in our worlds, together and individually.

So let me be honest about where my mind is right now.

I don’t always enjoy sitting down to write. I’m oftentimes not too fond of how my posts unfold – the selection of words to somehow express the thoughts that I hang onto long after conversations have ended, the thoughts that sometimes wake up with me and lay to rest when I do.

And I have this bad habit that can plague a writer – or anyone – to only act upon inspiration. When I actually feel I have something to say.

Lately, I’ve felt “emotionally balled up.” Still not sure exactly what it means, but that’s how I described it to Thomas. Like I’ve been so busy churning out stuff during the day that when I get my couple hours in the evening, I just want to watch Dexter and eat a brownie. Not blog. Because finding the words to explain those thoughts would take too much energy, and it’s already 10pm. That’s what I tell myself.

But those thoughts and questions haven’t gone away. I’m reading Emily Freeman’s book A Million Little Ways right now. In it, she contemplates the art that God charged each one of us to make, though it takes various forms. She talks about the freedom that God gave us to add to creation with our art offerings. It’s prompted me to question what kinds of art I have to offer, if I’m using my skills in the most effective way, and whether I’ll have the courage to step up when it’s time for me to step up. To dream a little.

And that’s where I am. Twenty minutes ago, I had to wash dog poop off my hands (an attempt at a snowy walk that went rogue). Inside my front door, rock salt still needs swept up. But I tell you that to tell you this. Through the mess, it’s easier sometimes for me to throw up my hands at it all and eat the brownie. But here I am, with a quiet moment, letting myself write, and not because I feel inspired. And I already feel a little bit better.

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When The Hype Fades

The beginning of a new year seems to bring to the surface all the motivation we didn’t really know we had.

Suddenly the goals and ambitions that discouragingly crossed our minds in 2013 seem feasible in 2014. We get ambitious. And losing those pounds, starting that project and becoming a better friend/wife/etc. can actually be reached.

So far this month, I’ve read a lot of blog posts and articles about goals and resolutions: the beauty in sharing our personal goals, why not to share our goals, reflections on the past year and things we want to be true of the next one.

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Photo Credit: Emma Bilyeu

I’m a believer in change. I believe that people can reach their goals and they don’t have to let them fizzle as the deadness of winter kicks in.

But here’s the tough part: the deadness of winter kicks in.

We fall back into the comfort of routines. The comfort of worrying only about what’s on our plate each day, rather than what’s on our plate in addition to the fact that we’re not achieving what we’d like to. We get tired. We don’t feel emotionally connected to our goal. And the thing we were so pumped up about a mere month ago again seems like a daunting or logistical mess.

But for the many excuses I make for myself to not just start working towards a goal, there are a million people who I could compare myself to and envy what they have accomplished…simply because I want to achieve it, too. And I start to perceive those people’s lives as easy, glamorous or somehow more enticing than my own. Which is sad.

Jessi Connolly wrote recently, “It’s beautiful when the Lord ignites passion in us to do THINGS but it’s terrible and breaking when we’re measuring our worth against how things they happen for other women.” Read more of that post here.

I am so guilty of this.

In my life, discontentment manifests itself in comparison – and, ultimately, envy. I begin to notice my lack, rather than my plenty. My day as ordinary, rather than a gift. My goal as insignificant, rather than change-generating.

If only the pure energy behind our goals in January remained through the winter. If only we could just remember how good it felt to eat healthy, make tangible progress on our projects and be intentional in our friendships.

Then maybe we wouldn’t be so dead set on looking to others to see if they’re doing any better than us.

It doesn’t have to be like this. I’m sure of it. I’m just still working through how to stay on top of my goals through the blah-ness of winter and keep my zeal through the goodness of spring. And summer. And fall.

Join me in trying to figure this out. What will keep your goals from fizzling out?

Living Outside of Me: Regaining Focus

Have you ever lost focus? Created a goal and lagged behind it?

I chose to give myself a monthly challenge a little while back that focuses my attention on all the people/issues/efforts going on outside of my own life. And sadly, it’s pretty difficult.

In fact, one of the reasons why I haven’t written too many posts on the subject is because I’ve been consumed with – you guessed it – my own life. Which is very contradictory.

“Life” has taken on two spheres – my life that’s right in front of me, and my blog life. In terms of my everyday reality, Thomas and I have been wrapped up in job talk, discussing possible directions and the million unknowns that are ahead. All the while having to decide where we’re going to do laundry each week. I’ve also been thinking a ton about this blog and what kind of space I want it to be.

This is good stuff. It’s productive stuff. But we admitted to each other that we’re not very good at keeping God involved in it. Isn’t that our culture speaking? My default behavior is to be self-sufficient and come up with a solid answer when I want it.

When we remember God, the creator of everything, our wandering and wondering are given a context. And we realize we’re just a subplot in God’s greater story. More on that over at Donald Miller’s blog.

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Sometimes this means taking a step in some direction. Sometimes this means waiting for now. But I have found that the times where I include God in these conversations, I’m more at peace. This month, I want to focus on that.

It’s humbling to remember that I can’t love others well or go about a life of purpose if I’m not connected to the very God who created me and knows me.

Relying on myself is too exhausting.

Do you ever find yourself in a similar situation? Why is it difficult to give up this self-sufficiency?

May’s Commitment (In Progress)

I write this post as a way to hold myself accountable for the mission I set up – and energetically told you about – last month. When I was remarkably tired of being so wrapped up in me all.the.time.

It’s the experiment called Living Outside of Me, and you can read about its origins here. Last month, I aimed to practice more world-focused prayer to get my mind on something way bigger than my own little issues.

As May’s goal, Thomas and I would like to begin sponsoring a child. So many great organizations exist that partner children with adults who have money to give. By cultural standards, we don’t have much. But we definitely have some.

We’re looking into partnering with Destiny Rescue, a nonprofit organization dedicated to literally rescuing women and children from the sex trafficking industry, rehabilitating them and even implementing prevention programs in numerous countries around the world. I heard about DR a few months ago when I came across their presentation on campus and decided to skip class for it. Ha. Worth it.

Destiny Rescue provides two sponsorship options; we can choose to financially support a woman or child that’s been rescued, or invest in a child’s education and trade so he or she never has to resort to that line of work.

We haven’t made a decision yet, but I’ll definitely update you when we do. The thought excites me, knowing that we can have a connection to someone on another continent. Beyond a connection, though, it’s a commitment. And commitments can be daunting sometimes. But they also provide much joy.

Might you consider joining us?

Any comments from current or former sponsors?