Unbound.

I wanted a pretty word—like grace or bravery or joy. A word that didn’t need a lot of explanation, a word that would roll off the tongue effortlessly.

As 2015 wound down, I found myself considering a word that I would carry with me throughout 2016, a word to filter life through in the coming year. This is the first time I’ve been proactive and intentional about choosing a word. Usually, I latch onto a word a few weeks or months into the year—or see my word strung along as a theme at the end of the year.
I wanted a pretty word—like grace or bravery or joy. A word that didn’t need a lot of explanation, a word that would roll off the tongue effortlessly.
We don’t always get what we want, though. None of the pretty words would stick. So, I waited.
Two weeks ago, as I was driving home, I was pondering words again, but couldn’t settle on any particular one. Finally, I half-prayed that God would reveal the word I needed. Within minutes, a word dropped into my heart: “unbound.”

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Unbound?
You mean “free”? It means the same thing, just a little prettier—a little more palatable on the tongue.
No?
Unbound.
Okay.
Why? Why “unbound”?
I didn’t get an answer immediately. A few days later though, an image of Lazarus standing outside his tomb, having been called back from death by Jesus himself, ragged strips of cloth unraveled from his body. And just days after this, a blogger I follow spoke these words to me: “I can imagine you tossing off the ropes that bind and taking flight.”

Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” (John 11:38-44)

Unbound.
Alive again.
Free.
Called back from death and darkness.
Just a few days after this word—unbound—fell into my heart, I read a section titled “It Was For Freedom” in Think Differently, Lead Differently by Bob Hamp. In this section, Hamp relates the truth that freedom comes when the Spirit of the Lord is present and the reality that, often, we become prisoners to thinking that freedom comes from the absence of a behavior or thought pattern:

The Bible is very clear that freedom is not the absence of something; it is the presence of Someone…Where the Spirit of the Lord is…there is freedom. Freedom is not about the control of impulse and behavior; it is about the fulfillment of identity and destiny. Your identity and destiny cannot be restored apart from the presence of God on Earth. Freedom is about being restored to live life as the man or woman God created and redeemed you to be…it is about unleashing the good things for which you were made. (p.40)

Having been bound in the prison of depression, anxiety, disbelief, etc since April 2013, every expression of this freedom—the living, breathing, Spirit of the Lord—was stifled. Bound.
My words were bound.
My mind was bound.
My faith was bound.
My relationships were bound.
My hands, and the language within them, were bound.
My calling was bound.
I was bound,
tethered to the lies, tied to the weight that was drowning me.
Since September, God’s been hard at work on me—drawing me out of that darkness, freeing my mind, heart, and soul.
He has unbound my words from silence.
He has unbound my mind from fear, depression, and anxiety.
He has unbound my faith from lack of trust and inability to view Him as a Father.
He has unbound the relationships I isolated myself from.
He has unbound my hands and the voice within them from the chains of missed opportunity.
He has unbound my calling from perceived death.
I am unbound because He is “unleashing the good things for which [I was made],” and I am becoming who He created and redeemed me to be.

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Playlist
No Longer Slaves, Bethel Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8TkUMJtK5k

~*~

I’m linking up with Kelly Smith over at Mrs. Disciple for the first #FridayFive of 2016. Join us for some encouragement to start the new year?

All the Yeses: 2015 in Review

 

If I’ve learned anything at all this year, it’s been to stay open to the opportunities to say, “Yes!” To say “yes!” repeatedly, enthusiastically, without over-thinking it, without worrying about all the “what ifs” that might happen. Sometimes, you just need to say “yes” and let come what may. Often,  saying “yes” breaks the lock of complacency and throws open the door of opportunity.

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In January, I said “yes” to moving. To packing up, to growing up, and to learning who I want to be. (Really, I moved last December–the week of Christmas–, but I didn’t actually sleep in the new apartment until after the New Year.)
In February, I said “yes” to entering a difficult season of suffering alongside my friend Susan and her family as Susan faced her final battle with cancer. To being present, to offering words of hope and love, and to wrestling through my own faith.
In March, I said “yes,” on a whim, to applying to be on Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love book launch team. And, if you haven’t already heard, that “yes” turned into a “no” that morphed right back into a “yes” via #the4500— a huge, resounding “YES!” Sometimes our “yes” isn’t answered the way we expect it to be. I’m eternally grateful that this one wasn’t!



In April, I said “yes” to accepting a handful of friend requests from strangers (*gasp*) on Facebook. (They were #the4500 admins and members, but not real-life, I’ve-laid-eyes-on-you people.) That in itself was a gigantic leap for me.
I don’t remember any significant “yeses” from May, June, or July. (I’m sure there probably were some, though.)
In August, I finally said “yes” to ordering Daring Greatly by Brené Brown.
In September, I said “yes” to believing in healing of my mental health, to balance and alignment in my mind and spirit. I said “yes” to reading Daring Greatly. Which lead to saying “yes” to calling #the4500 head cat-herder, Anna; which lead to a whole lot of other “yeses.”



“Yes” to the rebirth of my blog.
“Yes” to writing again.
“Yes” to reading again.
“Yes” to believing again.
“Yes” to living again.
In October, I said “YES!” to attending Splendid in The Hills in April. Texas, y’all. I said “yes” to Texas. I said “yes” to getting on a freaking airplane and flying to Texas to meet a bunch of people I’ve never laid eyes on in real life. I said “yes” to contacting a literary agent about a possible meet-up/consultation while she was in town. I said ‘yes” to a meet-up with Anna (that turned into a “no” eventually, but that’s okay—because I’ll meet her in April!)



In November, I said “yes” to launching a book by a woman who escaped a violent, polygamist cult. (The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner.) I said “yes” to changing my perspective of people who have backgrounds far different than my own. I said “yes” to getting serious about writing my own book.
In December, I said “yes’ to bridging the gap in a relationship I’d let slip away over the past two years. I said “yes” to buying plane tickets for the first time ever. I said “yes” to picking up a calling I laid down two years ago.



I said ‘yes” many times this year.
But I also said “no.”

“No” to playing it safe,
“no” to living afraid,
“no” to isolating myself,
“no” to stifling my creativity,
“no” to believing the lies of the enemy that had entrenched me in darkness,
“no” to the expectations of others,
“no” to depression,
“no” to anxiety,
“no” to not living as the person God created and redeemed me to be.

As 2015 draws to a close, I’m so at peace with who I am in Him and how He’s working in my heart and mind. I can’t imagine the wonderful things 2016 has in store, but I’m excited to find out!
What have you said “yes” to this year? What have you said “no” to this year?

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015: A Restored Appetite for Reading

“For the past two years, my reading accomplishments have been dismal. I didn’t have the energy or the desire to read (for the first time in my life!)”

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For the past two years, my reading accomplishments have been dismal. I didn’t have the energy or the desire to read (for the first time in my life!). Depression takes over everything when it has you in its clutches.

I started out this year strong in the fiction world—I needed an escape, more than anything. But then came #the4500 and the numerous titles recommended within the group. Here’s what I’ve been reading, listed by month (as best I can remember):

January

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain—a novel loosely based on the time Ernest Hemingway and his wife spent in Paris while he wrote what would eventually become The Sun Also Rises. A good read for what it is, but not great by any means. It’s definitely not a title I’d put into my repertoire of books I multiple times.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan—a haunting story based on a group of survivors of the Titanic tragedy. It was a little slow-going at times, but based on actual events from the shipwreck, and I’m a sucker for historical fiction, so there’s that. Overall, a good read.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline— This one was a hard read; it’s a very haunting period piece about an older girl who desperately seeks a family to settle with. She faces a lot of tragic circumstances as she is passed from family to family. The setting shifts from mid 20th century to present day as the girl tells her story as a grown woman. I’d recommend this one.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling—The first memoir I’d read in quite awhile. Kaling is witty. And real. I enjoyed this one and want to read her recently released second book.

February

The Young Merlin Trilogy by Jane Yolen—I picked this YA trilogy up five years ago at a literary festival where I met Yolen. (She signed this book for me!) Yolen is a master at weaving an artfully intriguing story—and this one doesn’t disappoint. Great for young readers who like fantasy!

Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor—A raw, interesting look at O’Connor’s life from her perspective as she struggled with her faith. The literary nerd in me ate this one up! If you’re a fan of O’Connor’s work, this is an enlightening insight into her psyche.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin—I don’t remember a lot of details about this one, but I do know I liked it. Again, it’s a historical fiction novel, this time taking place in the south.

March

The Help by Kathryn Stockett—This was a re-read. I read it when it first came out several years ago and picked it up again this year. Loved it even more the second time around!

For the Love (chapter samples) by Jen Hatmaker—Here’s where I applied to be on the FTL launch team and got rejected and then stumbled in to the crazy-awesome group that is #the4500. Jen sent all us rogue, unofficial launch team members four sample chapters to tide us over until we could actually get our hands on the book. (I’ll get to the whole book later—hang on!)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple—One of my favorite fiction reads of the year! Funny, heartbreaking, mysterious, suspenseful—all rolled into these pages. Well-written and engaging—definitely recommended.

April

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd—For all her overly feminist themes (I’m all for feminism, but SMK goes a little overboard sometimes—hello, The Mermaid Chair), Kidd delivers a riveting tale of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, two early feminists and abolitionists in the Charleston, SC area. I’ll probably read it again.

May

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart—A delightful story of spies, a mysterious island-bound school, and a conspiracy to end the world geared toward older elementary readers. I have no idea where I picked this book up, but it was a nice, light read as I eased from the school year into summer.

June

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee—A re-read in preparation for the release of Go Set A Watchman.

July

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee—Honestly, I was very wary of this one. Like many, I was excited to read more of Lee’s words, but apprehensive of the way it came to be published. Did she really want it published? We’ll probably never know for sure. From all the media that preceded the release, I was worried that GSAW would tarnish my respect and view of Atticus as the beloved character he’s been for so many decades. In reality, I’m glad for this new perspective of Atticus—it made him more human and approachable, I think. If you’ve read TKAM, I definitely recommend GSAW. If you haven’t read TKAM, don’t read GSAW until you have!

For The Love (additional e-book chapters) by Jen Hatmaker—Jen’s publisher gifted those of us who pre-ordered FTL with the entire e-book. (I only read a few chapters, because I just need to have an actual book in my hands!)

In The Company of Others by Jan Karon—No year is complete without revisiting Mitford! I started with this one in preparation for her new book’s September release, because I didn’t have time to go all the way back to the first Mitford book. Karon is my favorite contemporary fiction writer, hands down.

August

For the Love (the actual hardcover, finally!) by Jen Hatmaker— After reading the teaser chapters, I was so happy to have this book in my hands. Jen (yeah, we’re on a first name basis now!) is hilarious, literally laugh-out-loud funny. She’ll have you giggling hysterically one moment and bawling your eyes out the next. In essay-format chapters, she covers everything from the problems with short-term missions trips, how our American Christianity callings shouldn’t differ from those of the single mom in Haiti, and living out our faith in our own communities to shouting out the loveliness of turning 40, disdaining the leggings-as-pants (LAP) trend, and tossing out witty Jimmy-Kimmel-esque thank you notes for everything under the sun. READ THIS BOOK—no regrets!

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon

September

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown—This is where we veer quickly to mostly nonfiction. Anna pushed this book “like crack” in #the4500. I avoided it for months, but finally decided it was time in late July. I didn’t actually start reading it until the end of August. And it took most of September to work my way through its pages. I have so many words about this book—many of the m can be found in earlier posts here on my blog. This book literally changed the course of my year and my mindset; it’s the reason I finally connected with Anna via phone and it was the catalyst for reclaiming my mental and spiritual health. Super powerful words in this book—I cannot recommend it enough!

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon—the latest Mitford-based novel, with Dooley and Lace’s wedding as the main event. This one was tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that the focus of the storyline  has shifted away from Father Tim and Cynthia and is nearing the end. Let’s just not think about that, shall we—these characters are among those that become real to you over the course of the series.

 

 

October

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown—Tiny book, but meaty material, indeed. I’m still working my way through this one. For anyone new to Brown’s research and work, I’d recommend starting with this book as it provides a lot of helpful background for her other books.

Audacious by Beth Moore—I adore Beth Moore. I could listen to her speak for hours on end. And yet, this is the first book of hers that I’ve actually read in its entirety. I highlighted almost every word on almost every page. It was that good. Read it!

November

The Sound of Gravel (Advanced Reader Copy) by Ruth Wariner— What an absolute privilege it was to be part of the launch team that received ARCs of Ruth’s debut memoir to read and review. The story behind this one is INCREDIBLE. (And a long story [involving cousins from the same polygamist cult meeting on Twitter and bridging a family rift 40+ years in the making]—so if you really want to know, ask, and I’ll tell you all about it, well, what I know anyway!) My official review of this book will be up on the blog later this week, so you’ll find all my thoughts there!

Rising Strong by Brené Brown—A follow up to Daring Greatly, this book is weighty as well. I’ve slowly waded through the first half of it since Thanksgiving week, but am still working at it. There’s practical, worthy advice on how to apply the principles of Daring Greatly, the Gifts of Imperfection, and the Rising Strong principles introduced in the book. One of my favorites of the year.

December

Think Differently, Lead Differently by Bob Hamp—Listen, this book is literally causing me to think differently about my identity as a daughter of God, to approach my view of the intersection of the natural world vs. the spiritual world differently, and to tap into the Kingdom authority we have as believers in Christ. I’ve been listening to Bob Hamp’s Foundations of Freedom podcasts for a couple of months, and they have broken open the most walled-in places of my heart and soul. The growth I’ve experienced as a direct result of this book and the podcasts are absolutely invaluable. I’m still working through this one, too.

The Storied Life of A.J. Firky by Gabrielle Zevin—This was my attempt at an easy, light fiction selection during Christmas break. Ha. Rising Strong and TDLeadD have taken over. This one is slow-going and I haven’t really gotten into it, but I’ll soldier on ‘til I reach the end!

 

What’s your favorite book you read in 2015?

What are you most looking forward to reading in 2016?

Immanuel, God With Us (Even in the Mess)

The clock ticks down the minutes. Christmas will be here in less than sixty seconds.
I’m sitting at my mom’s kitchen table, talking myself down from the swirl of trying to get everything “just right.” Perfect.
And then I wandered to my blog and the last post I wrote slapped me in the face. The Poison of Perfection.
So, the stockings are not hanging from the mantle, but lost in a box somewhere.
So, the Christmas dishes that I set out every for the breakfast I make every Christmas cannot be found.
So, the presents aren’t all wrapped yet.
It’s okay.
Want to know why?
Christmas is about the mess.
Brené Brown talks about the “magic in the middle” in her book Rising Strong—the magic that happens in the messy, imperfect middle of whatever situation we’re in. She says, “The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens” (12). Slowing down and acknowledging that we’re in the middle where the magic happens in crucial. Otherwise, we will run ourselves ragged trying to live up to our expectations of the perfect holiday environment.
The very essence of Christmas is wrapped up in the mess of a stable, the mess of an unexpected trip to a far-away city, the mess of an engagement-turned-journey-of-inexplicable-faith, the mess of a divine conception, the mess of human depravity that required the Savior to dwell among us as a lowly babe. When you really pause to consider the Nativity of Jesus, it’s an all-around mess by human standards.
Have you ever really pondered how brave Mary had to be to say “yes” when the angel of the Lord appeared before her with the news that she had been chosen to carry the Son of God? She could have said no. But she didn’t. And we know she was afraid:

“The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’
Mary was greatly troubled at his words…” (Luke 1:28-29)

Yet, even through her fear, her uncertainty that she was worthy of such a calling, she chose to step into it—regardless of the mess—declaring, “‘I am the Lord’s servant […] May your word to me be fulfilled.’” She accepted the mess, preparing the way for the magic in the middle.
And then there’s Joseph—just an ordinary guy going about his life, preparing to marry Mary and this angel comes along and drops the news that Mary’s going to be the mother of Jesus, the Messiah. There’s a mess all right. We know Joseph was reluctant to take on this situation:

“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose [Mary] to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Luke 1:19).

Yet, after the angel appeared in his dreams, he “did what the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Luke 1:24).
Eventually, Mary and Joseph found themselves in the middle of a literal mess—a dirty stable in the midst of Bethlehem, with a baby well on His way into the world. But it had to be so, as a way for Jesus to fulfill the prophecy of His position as the Messiah. Bob Hamp puts it like this in his book Think Differently, Lead Differently:

Ever since the first Christ-mas, God has dwelt on Earth with men. For a season, He did so in the physical body of Jesus. Then when Jesus ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to operate as the designated representative of the Godhead on Earth. This restoration of God’s presence with us is one of the most significant parts of Jesus’ mission, because every other part of the restoration process flows out of His presence among His people. (38)

Immanuel. God with us.
He is here.
Here when the stockings are all hung with care.
Here when they’re not.
Here when the dishes are coordinated and Christmasy.
Here when they’re not.
Here when we’re in the Christmas spirit.
Here when we’re not.
Here when all the packages are prettily tied up with string.
Here when they’re not.

He’s always here.
With us in the middle.
With us in the mess.
With us in the magic.

 

The Poison of Perfection

Attention to details. 
Exquisite presentation.
Every little thing—plans, dreams, goals, emotions—in its cookie-cutter place.
Flawless execution.
No room for mistakes, tripping up, falling down.

 
Doesn’t sound so bad on the surface, does it?
The result could only be a job well done, right?
None of these things are bad in and of themselves.
Until we bundle them all together,
tie ourselves to the load
like a prisoner to a ball and chain
and call it
perfectionism.

  

 
My goodness—what a dirty word it is.

 
It sounds pretty.
It even looks pretty.

 
The very formation of it—all those curves and soft edges—make it flow right there on the page.

 
(You’re humming that John Legend song, now—aren’t you? Admit it. I won’t tell.)

 
Perfectionism.
We buy into it.
I bought into it.
We think we have to live up to it.
I thought I had to live up to it.

 
Perfectionism.
It lies to us, friends.
Perfectionism seductively whispers that we have to achieve it in order to be accepted or to be successful.
Perfectionism sneaks into our psyche, often early on in our lives, conditioning us to just try harder to be perfect, unfailingly good at everything.
Perfectionism chokes our ability to admit our helplessness.
Perfectionism paralyzes us with the fear that we can never measure up.

~*~

He sat across the table from me, composition book open before him, pencil in hand.
I spoke softly to him.
“All you have to do is try. It doesn’t have to be right; it doesn’t have to be perfect.
All I want you to do is try.”
His tears fell faster, sobs caught in his chest.
“You can do this. I know you can. I believe in you.”
~*~

Perfectionism is poison.
It makes us believe we can’t succeed before we even try.

I’m a recovering perfectionist who knows this all too well. It’s been an underlying current in my worldview since pre-adolescence years.

I know how difficult it is to live under this largely self-inflicted mandate to be the best at it all, to mask the less-than-pretty emotions, and to strive for impossible standards.

And when I see my students—at the very young, impressionable ages of 5, 6, 7—falling prey to the same mindset, my heart breaks.

It breaks when the simplest task releases a torrent of tears because the student can’t bear the thought of not getting it right.

He doesn’t know what I know, now—that the process of getting it wrong—is exactly how he will learn to get it right; getting it wrong will unlock the freedom to fall and get back up again. Getting it wrong will allow him to learn how strong, how smart, how resilient he is.

  

I sit across that table from him, silently praying for those lies to fall away, willing him to just try. Because I know he will succeed; he won’t get those words spelled correctly every time, but he will succeed. He will succeed because all he has to do is try his best.

~*~
Quietly waiting for him to calm down,
that still small voice whispers to my own heart:
You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have all the answers.
You just have to try.
Listen to what I’m saying to you—and just try.
Don’t fight so hard,
just rest in knowing that I want the best for you.
~*~

Our Heavenly Father doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He knows we can’t be. He came to the cross to be our Perfection through salvation. Any other attempt at achieving perfection is futile. We will chase our proverbial tails until we’re exhausted by pursuing perfection. It’s not worth it. I’d rather be imperfect and free to be who God created me to be than to spend all my energy stuffing that person into a package that appears perfect.

Friends, as we are running headlong into a season of trying to measure up, check all the boxes, prepare all the decorations, gifts, and parties, don’t give in to the lie of perfection. We aren’t perfect. Not one of us. We can’t be; we’re human. We can do our very best to make the most of the season. But what really matters is that we listen for His voice, follow His leading, and lay down our perfectionism for His holiness.