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Through The Wilderness

I grew up in a semi-rural area. Our house was surrounded on three sides by untamed forest for most of my childhood. My sister, our friends, and I spent a hefty chunk of our time roaming a radius of the forest that allowed us to keep the house within sight and the sound of Mom’s yell within hearing. We built forts, played in the creek, constructed bike trails—we even used branches and vines to build a replica wigwam when our home school studies brought us to the lives of Native Americans. We practically lived in those woods. It was our personal wilderness wonderland.
In their own wild way, they provided a safe space to explore, to grow.
Then came the day when the bulldozers and loggers appeared at the top of the ridge overlooking our forested playground. Over the course of a few weeks, what had been a forest peppered with trails, forts, and lush moss beds was ravaged. When the men and machines were gone, all that was left in their wake was a tangle of tree stumps, vines, and the mere memory of untouched wilderness.

The wilderness wonderland turned wilderness wasteland.

~*~

Wilderness.
What pictures, symbols, metaphors grab your attention when you hear or read that word?

Personally, I think of
wandering;
of wild, barren land,
gnarled, tangled branches and briar patches;
of walking in circles.
Going nowhere…fast.

I’m just two months removed from the end of a deep season of depression, and though it seems like I’m on a fast track of momentum regarding my personal growth right now, the truth is that I’ve only just begun processing a great deal of heavy baggage, not only from those two years, but also from the two decades preceding it. Tuning into you after years of shutting yourself down takes work.

But I’m realizing just how important it is to dig up the roots of how you’ve settled into living and transplant them into the fresh soil of possibility prepared by the Holy Spirit;

how liberating it is to poke around the rocks of who you think you’re supposed to be—according to the beliefs of other people—and prod your true God-given identity out of the shadows;

how healthy it is to rake up the dead leaves of discarded dreams, passions, and interests, and work them into fertilizer for the tender green shoots of new opportunities and possibilities.

It’s exhausting work, but it’s also the kind of work that makes you crave more.

Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t really been able to wrap descriptive words around the last two-and-a-half years—other than depression.

But last month, in the days after the first Splendid retreat, some of the 4500 girls who attended were talking about coming out of the wilderness after Hannah Kallio spoke on wandering in the wilderness. I heard two minutes of her talk live (thank you, Periscope and Lizzie!) and it stuck with me. Then after the retreat, several people referenced Hannah’s session and a verse from Song of Songs:

“Who is this, coming up from the wilderness
leaning on her beloved?”
(8:5)

And it stuck with me; as I sat in stillness with this verse, the Spirit gently worked in my heart, whispering Truth that brought many dark moments in that barren season into a new light, making me aware that He was there all along—He hadn’t deserted the hot mess I’d made of me like I’d convinced myself He had.

Last week, Hannah posted a blog (“Making Sense of the Wasteland”) that drew from her Splendid session. (I wholeheartedly recommend her blog—she has a gift for digging into the study of Hebrew words—so much so that I kind of want to learn Hebrew!) Reading her words as she dissected the Hebrew word for “waste,” I realized that this word was exactly how I felt about the season I’d recently emerged from. In the middle of that wilderness wandering, I felt abandoned—left high and dry to fend for myself, wasted and wasteful; empty and dried out.

Hannah went on to explain the Hebrew meaning of waste, and things started clicking into place in my heart and mind. I can’t repeat her entire post here (that’s why you should go read it for yourself), but I will relay the definition of “waste” that she used: “mark of certain attention.”

A mark of certain attention.

As someone who’s been getting the message of “I see you” time and again from the Father over the last weeks, I sat up straighter and let that definition sink in.

Instead of walking away during that season of depression, He had stayed right there; He had not turned His attention from me; He had actually walked me, leaning heavily on Him, right out of that wilderness, and into the second act I’d been unknowingly searching for. 

~*~

The curtain falls.
The audience rustles with whispered anticipation.
The First Act has ended.
The cast of characters will reemerge.
The Second Act awaits.
Tragedy and heartache will befall them.
The Third Act will come.
Resolution will meet them.
And so, they begin again.

The Second Act.
According to a very informal poll on Facebook, my assumptions that we associate the concept of a second act with a new beginning—whether it be a new career, the middle of one’s life, another chance at something you might not have been happy with the first time around.—were correct. (Shout out to Xamayta, Kristin, Sarah, and Tina for taking my bait!)
In a three-act storytelling model, Act 1 sets the stage for the rest of the story—the audience meets the characters, a problem develops; in Act 2, the problem becomes more complicated; finally in Act 3, the protagonist is met with resolution to the problem(s) and often, must pick himself up out of the ashes.
Brené Brown discusses this literary device in her latest book, Rising Strong, in regard to the middle part of any struggle we face—the messy, hard, nonnegotiable middle. She writes:

whatever that middle space is for your own process, is when you’re ‘in the dark’—the door has closed behind you. You’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light…at some point you’re in, it’s dark, and there’s no turning back…It’s not only a dark and vulnerable time, but also one that’s often turbulent. (26-27)

When I got to the end of this chapter, I had an even greater understanding of the importance of the time I spent in darkness, wandering aimlessly in a wilderness wasteland. Was it a pleasant experience? Absolutely not. Do I want to go back and visit that place? Not in a million years.
But it wasn’t wasted. It wasn’t completely barren, because it has birthed a newness of life in my heart and mind.

The end of this second act in the wilderness became what my friend Xamayta defined as “that pivotal moment in which one decides to be who God created us to be” as I have emerged from the mess and become more intentional about how I choose to live.
We so often think of Act 2 as a second chance, and it is—but it’s also often a messy, desolate, dark place we can’t see our way out of; it’s a place where our wilderness wonderland can turn into a wilderness wasteland.

We wrestle with the monsters that take up residence within our psyche, and almost always come away with bruises, scars, and wounds that leave us with the need to lean heavily on the One who has the power to redeem the second act and walk us out of the wilderness and into the promised land of the third act, the next chapter of the story.

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Rising From the Wasteland

Act One
I sat before the computer, awaiting the interview
with the Language Proficiency evaluator.
I was on my way to Gally U.
Then came the critic who said “don’t go.”
Fear crept in; I allowed it.

Act Two
Fear overtook anticipation.
I unpacked my bags, cancelled my plans,
left a chair in a classroom empty.
Retreated into darkness and defeat.
A dream deflated.
Wasted. Broken. Withered. Silenced.

Act Three
I am emerging from
the bramble and briars,
leaning on the One who
redeems and restores.
I have Joy.
I am Alive.
I have risen from the wasteland.
I am growing again.

 

 

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Devout Thanksgiving

For the first time in several years, I am joyfully anticipating the holiday season.

Last year, at this time, I was preparing to move—for the first time since I was 18 months old, at 30. Packing up one’s belongings and relocating is NOT something I recommend tackling during the week of Christmas. (Literally—I was moving boxes into my new apartment all day on Christmas Eve. My only Christmas decoration was a Fresh Balsam candle from Bath and Body Works.) It’ll suck the life right out of your holiday season.

The year before that, I was so mired in depression and the muck of having wasted an opportunity I’d long-awaited, I was miserable. But my people-pleasing, perfectionist tendencies forced me to don the mask of happy and carry on. But it wasn’t authentic; I wasn’t really present.

This year, it’s different.

Bubbling over in my heart is a joy that promises to infuse this season with a renewed sense of wonder. If I weren’t so predisposed to introverted tendencies and expression, I’d be spending a lot of my time shouting, jumping up and down, dancing (say, what?!) and generally acting a fool. (Which might scare some folks who are quite used to a more reserved me!) You probably won’t find me leading revival-esque singing, complete with Scripture recitations at family gatherings as I did as a five-year-old (I used to be bold, y’all—and somewhere, underneath all the baggage of a couple decades, I probably still am.), but you might find me with a bit more lightness of heart around the dinner table.

Forgive me as I ramble.

This season of thankfulness started weeks ago for me. I was given an #ArmyofSisters last March—a gift I didn’t fully realize until months later. And while I’ve yet to meet any of those sisters face-to-face, they have given me the strength, courage, and freedom to re-engage with the people I come in contact with each day.

And this morning, I awoke, just as I have every morning since September 18th, with a deep gratitude for the community of sisters I have been blessed to laugh, cry, love, and pray with these last weeks, for the anticipation of meeting a handful (if you can call 70-something a handful!) of them in April.)

  
I’m continually thankful for the friends who are closer in geographical proximity–the ones I lay eyes on in the flesh each day. They are my family, my coworkers, my friends.

And most of all, I’m thankful for an Abba Father who sees fit to pour out His best for me, time and time again, when I hardly deserve it. He is the Gift that just keeps giving–He makes ALL things new, in His perfect time. And in this season, He’s making me new; I’m just riding the wave of His infinite goodness.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I hope you are surrounded by His presence in every way today.

 

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Mission: The Sound of Gravel Launch Team

An Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner, a memoir of Ruth’s experience growing up in a polygamist colony in Mexico, landed in my hands just more than twelve hours ago.

After reading into the wee hours of the morning and a short three hour “nap,” I read the last words this morning.

And while I can’t offer my thoughts here, yet–I can tell you that this book is worthy of being read, a story worth hearing.

I invite you to follow Ruth’s page on Facebook:

Ruth Wariner on FB
Or visit her website

RuthWariner.com
to pre-order The Sound of Gravel. 

To see what others are saying about the book, search the #hashtags

#SoundofGravel

And

#the4500launches

On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you!

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Daring Greatly: A Review (Of Sorts)

Early in the pages of her new book, Audacious, Beth Moore asserts (yes, I’m prefacing a book review with a quote from another book—I have way too many books open at once these days, but they’re all so good!):

…I believe that God can use a book to mark a life. It doesn’t even have to be a great book. It can just be well-timed. He can cause a set of pages to hit a pair of hands with the kind of timing that sparks a decision that marks a destiny. Something within those pages becomes a catalyst that shapes a calling. (2)

Many books have illustrated that phenomenon for me. Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly has been the most recent—and one of the most powerful—book to fit Moore’s description.

Unpacking all the ways I have “dared greatly” over the past 2 months (ultimately beginning with my applying to be on the For the Love launch team back in March), is almost more than I can process. I’ve had to keep it mostly contained just because I can’t find sufficient words to convey what is happening, but it’s gradually leaking out, one thought, one action, at a time.

When I applied to Jen Hatmaker’s launch team (on a complete whim), I NEVER could have imagined that it would result in such a dramatic change in my heart, I NEVER would have fathomed the doors that have opened, I NEVER would have made all the divinely-appointed connections with women across the country that I have befriended. I NEVER would have considered flying to Texas to meet these women. (Heck, I wouldn’t have even WANTED to fly—period.)

But God, in His all-knowing, ironic, astounding ways, had a different plan. A plan to awaken my heart from the darkness it was lingering in, to restore my faith in Him, to reveal Himself anew. When I think of how close I came to dismissing that launch team application, I shudder—because it was such a catalyst for change. The launch team rejection turned formation of #the4500 was SUCH A BEAUTIFUL GIFT—a gift that just keeps on giving (cliché, but so very true).  (And, I apologize for bringing #the4500 up over and over, but if you knew how incredibly special it was, you’d surely forgive me. #sorrynotsorry)

I recently found myself wading back through posts from #the4500’s first couple of weeks. One of Anna’s many posts about Daring Greatly soon came across my screen, followed by one in which she explained why she kept bumping particular posts: “…I’m also secretly doing it for those of you ‘lurkers’ that read these conversations quietly without commenting, hoping to draw you out. You are part of this group for a reason and your voice matters. If you are afraid to speak out or speak up, that DARING Greatly post I keep bumping IS FOR YOU. YES…YOU! (You know who you are.)” When I saw that post, I could only laugh at the irony.

I’d seen her recommendations imploring folks to read the book from the time I joined the group—and I was intrigued in it from the beginning. But I kept putting it off. Finally, at the end of July, I ordered it. Then the post office screwed up and instead of delivering it, the book was returned to its sender. I re-ordered it, and it finally found its way into my hands at the end of August. It arrived just as I was headed into what was one of the hardest, lowest weeks of the year. That week brought mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. It was one of those weeks you really just don’t know whether you’re going to make it through—where you just want to throw in the towel and be done.

So, I didn’t start reading DG until the second week of September. Getting past the intro and first two chapters was slow-going because there were so many gut-wrenching truths that I had to face about how I’d been living the past two+ years (longer than that, really). But then came the dream I had about meeting Anna and others in #the4500 and ended up texting Anna the night I shared my dream in the group. That was a Friday; by the following Tuesday, I was halfway through the book—and ready to have a conversation about it.

And that’s how I found myself on the phone with Anna for an hour and a half on a mid-September Tuesday. Daring greatly. Having a lengthy conversation with someone I’d never actually met in person. (Still blows my mind to this day…three lengthy phone calls later!)

All the opportunities and revelations that have occurred since that evening have piled into a huge heap of grace—a pile of outrageously daring leaps of faith—long-carried wounds of my heart healed, lessened fear and anxiety, active engagement with the women of #the4500, involvement in an actual book launch team (that one’s already a wild ride I can’t wait to tell you about!), deepening faith, a commitment (and utter excitement about) to Splendid TX, a renewed passion for writing, an openness to showing up for my own life…the list goes on. Sometimes God orchestrates the perfect storm to turn us around and have us head back toward Him, and in this case, #the4500, Anna, and Daring Greatly all collided at the moment my heart was receptive–and gave me the swift kick I desperately needed. I think sometimes we need God to drop someone new into our lives to bring fresh perspective that we wouldn’t be able to hear from a familiar face—because something in that first conversation with Anna unlocked the recesses of my heart that were holding me fearful and captive, a prisoner of circumstance and choice, of perceived failure and wastefulness. It gave me hope.

So, what’s this book about anyway? Well—it’s not a feel-good read, for sure, but if you can really dig in and apply Brown’s principles to your life, it will change you. She’s on a mission to bring the need for vulnerability and shame resilience to everyday life, “to dare to show up and let ourselves be seen,” to practice courage, to own our stories. She encourages us to learn to recognize our “shame tapes” (which she likens to the gremlins in Steven Speilberg’s horror film) and bringing them to light:

Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That’s why it loves perfectionists—it’s so easy to keep us quiet. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to whither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it. (58)

And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last 8 weeks: bringing light to the darkness by wrapping language and story and words—in #the4500, in conversation with Anna, in the pages of this blog, in the more private pages of my computer files—around the gremlins that had burrowed into my heart and mind.

I can’t make you read Daring Greatly. But I can tell you that if you struggle with feeling like you are enough, if you are tired of projecting a false sense of security and contentment to the world around you, if you are looking for a more actively engaged way of life, READ THIS BOOK. (Or Brown’s The Gifts Of Imperfection.) I truly believe Brené Brown is on to something with her work—and I think it is absolutely worthy of sharing.

I’ll leave you with the quote Brown used as the basis for her title (from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech):

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly… (qtd in Brown 1)

Show up.

Be seen.

Own your story.

DARE GREATLY.

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A Pearl & The Cross: A Tribute To My Friend Susan

God knows I don’t understand His plan sometimes. But he does have one—one that doesn’t hinge on our earthly desires, but on His eternal righteousness. I’ve found this to be especially true in the face of watching my dear friend Susan leave this world earlier than we’d ever wanted or imagined. Last spring, Susan left this world and entered the presence of her Savior.

We probably all know of at least one person who loves others so fiercely that it oozes from their very pores. The kind of person who makes everyone feel warm and welcomed, loved and cherished, safe and appreciated. Susan was just such a person. Her soul mirrored the love of Christ, and poured out of her. His grace and mercy was evident even as she faced the end of her battle with pancreatic-turned-lung cancer. She fought more than a good fight—she fought a courageous, inspirational fight. Just two weekends ago, her family and friends gathered to celebrate her life at the memorial service she planned before leaving us. And it was such a sweet and precious gift to know that she had selected her favorite hymns and scriptures to comfort us—because that was exactly the kind of person she was—always looking to be a light to someone else in any way she could.

I met Susan when I was a sophomore in college. My friend Elizabeth, who was a senior preparing to student teach, had been Susan’s kids’ nanny for several years, but needed to focus on her workload as she neared graduation. She suggested to Susan that I might be interested—and I was. So in August 2006, I tagged along with Elizabeth for a day of meeting and caring for Susan’s two kids. I immediately felt welcomed in Susan’s home. I immediately fell in love with her six year old daughter and her seven year old son.

Through my years of nanny-ing for the family, Susan was a constant source of encouragement as I struggled to commit to a major, decide whether to stay at NGU, and whether to pursue teaching. Burned into my memory is particular conversation we had one evening when she and her husband returned from a date night. I was sitting at the breakfast bar in her kitchen, packing up my laptop. We were chatting about the possibility of me transferring schools to pursue a Deaf Ed/Special Ed degree.  Her daughter had recently begun attending a private school dedicated to providing an inclusive environment for students with autism. Susan relentlessly told me how she could picture me working as an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapist with the school’s affiliate therapy program. Before I left that night, she gave me the number of the program’s director, saying, “Call him—you’d be perfect for this kind of work.”

I left that number stuck in my planner for two years; I never called the number, but I kept it. A few weeks after I graduated from college (with an English degree), I mailed a job application to the company and told Susan to pray. Two weeks later I had an interview. The rest, as they say, is history. I’m well into my sixth year at Project Hope Foundation—now as an Assistant Teacher in a classroom at the Academy. Susan was right—I absolutely love working with these kids. I have learned and grown so much in working as both an ABA therapist and a inclusion teacher—and I have Susan’s persistent encouragement to thank for that.

Just a few weeks before she left us, I had the privilege of sitting with Susan one Sunday while her husband took a break and tried to get some rest. An image from that day is forever burned into my memory. Most of the morning, Susan slept off and on in her recliner in the living room. At one point she awoke and mumbled something to me…but the only words I caught were “His eyes are on the sparrow.” Later, she rose and shuffled to the stairs. I met her at the bottom step and told her I was going to help her. She looked at me and started to argue; I firmly, yet gently told her I was going to help her. She looked at me with the most clarity I’d seen in her eyes that day and said, “Yes. I’m sorry, I forget.” As we started up the stairs, my arm tucked around hers, our fingers intertwined, I glanced down at our hands—hers frail and fragile, mine young and strong—and saw the rings I wear on my left hand juxtaposed against her fingers:

photo (2)

A cross and a pearl.

Two symbols that perfectly fit the life Susan led. She was a faithful follower of Christ, living out the freedom she found at the foot of the Cross, pouring the light of Christ on everyone around her. And she was a pearl of great price—a beautiful treasure that God created in His image, a gem that taught us more about grace and peace than many people can in the midst of great battle.

She’s not here with us on this earth anymore, but she is waiting for us at the throne of God. I can imagine her sitting at the feet of Jesus, soaking in His glory. And, in those moments, Heaven doesn’t seem all that far away.

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At the Edge of…Something

I need to acknowledge something that God has been speaking to me, to get it out of my own head, to say it “out loud.”

A few days ago, I had a beautiful  conversation with my friend Anna about hearing God speak and really knowing it’s Him. I walked away from that conversation with the realization that I’ve been hearing Him more than I thought I had, that He never left me in the midst of the wilderness I’d been wandering in, that He is calling me to step up my game in a thousand ways.

The last 6 weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. My heart and my mind have CHANGED. I have jumped on countless opportunities I NEVER would have considered before.

Here’s the thing: I’m a writer. People have been telling me this for years. I love to write. I love words. I love communicating with words. And I’m finally believing that maybe my words are for a larger audience. Several different, unrelated people have asked me about whether I’ve considered pursuing publication, without external prompting.

In recent weeks, I’ve been impressed with the declaration that I have a story–no matter how small. I have a story that is worth telling, a story that someone needs to hear. So, a few weeks ago, I wrote a “Story Manifesto”  here on my blog.

Sunday night, as I invited the Holy Spirit to speak to me, I heard Him say loud and clear in my heart, “The story manifesto was my words, not yours. I spoke that…you are My vessel; I want to fill you.”

Y’all I am wrecked by this.

God has dropped a project idea in my heart that I can’t shake. A project (book? website?! blog community??) that allows women who don’t think their story is “big enough” or “significant enough” to make an impact to TELL. THEIR. STORIES of how they exercise bravery in their ordinary, every day lives. And how it’s okay that their bravery doesn’t look like someone else’s.

I have NO IDEA how to proceed with this, how to seriously pursue this, but it seems like the next step.

The enemy keeps trying to tell me I have no business exploring this realm of writing/ministry/building a platform/etc. But this idea has burrowed its way down into my heart. It’s simmered for weeks, and gets a little clearer every day.

Jesus is up to something. I don’t know what yet, but I’m willing to move as He moves and go along for the ride.

(But I still can’t believe I’m about to post this.)