(One Word): 2017

Had I known how the events of last year were going to flip my life upside down, I would have been far more nervous about embracing my #OneWord. I probably would have been very wary of the whole concept.

2016’s word was unbound.

And 2016 undoubtedly was full of un-binding. So much so that I couldn’t even begin to list examples.

Every bit of the growth required from becoming unbound was beneficial, though often painful. Growing pains are real, y’all.

Last year also brought a secondary word with it—brave.

All year long, people told me I was brave, encouraged me to keep being brave. But being brave is hard because it mostly means doing things afraid—with your heart threatening to march out of your chest, your knees knocking, and your stomach turning flips.

Frankly. I got sick and tired of being brave. There’s a page in one of my notebooks where I scrawled in large, frustrated letters “I’m tired of being BRAVE” after someone sent me a text telling me I am brave.


I was DONE with brave by the time December rolled around.
Then my sister gave me a ring for Christmas that was engraved with the words “Be Brave.”

This ring, that phrase from the bravest person I know right now—my sister who is fighting a ridiculously rare cancer and all that it brings with it. Those two words inscribed on a piece of metal that sits wrapped around my left pointer finger on a daily basis have given me permission to continue living unbound—even when it means doing so in Texas rather than South Carolina.

In my Unbound blog last year, I referenced the story of Lazarus being raised from the grave. Can you imagine him awakening to the grave clothes binding him? Did he have to be loosed from them? Did they fall off on their own? I don’t know. But the image that came to mind as I asked God for an explanation of “unbound” was of Lazarus being shed of his grave clothes. Strips of cloth being loosened from his wrists, falling from his head and around his shoulders, piling around his feet.

He was unbound from death.

I was being unbound from fear, anxiety, depression.

That kind of freedom is exhilarating, for sure—but it requires walking in a new way and changing how you’ve thought about the world around you. When you’re stuck in darkness and suddenly there’s a glorious light filling the space you’ve occupied for a significant amount of time—you squint; you allow your eyes to adjust to the brightness.



It seems as though I’ve been squinting an awful lot over the last year—staring at brilliantly lit truths that have been revealed until my eyes have adjusted to the reality—truths that reveal who God is and how He sees me as His daughter.

As the new year approached, I was actively seeking my word for 2017. Within a few days, I thought I’d found it, but I didn’t tell anyone. When I got back to Texas, Anna asked me if I knew what my word was.

“I think so—but I don’t want it. I’m already sick of it.”

What is it?” she asked

“Brave,” I exasperatedly spit out.

Brave.

It fit. I’m going to need some brave this year.

But as the first week of 2017 passed, it didn’t feel like it was quite the right word.
I made lists of words that came to mind. I looked up their meanings, their origins. None of them stuck.

I stopped trying to figure it out. I thought maybe brave was it after all.
Then a few nights ago, I was sitting at the kitchen table and it struck me. Like unbound, I’m not even sure how it came about, but suddenly the word was in my spirit and I knew it was the one. As the word planted itself in my mind, I scrawled it on a notecard and wrote the reference to one of the verses I tucked into my heart at the beginning of last year—Romans 7:6—underneath it.

Immediately, words started forming in my mind and I flipped the card over to write then down:

When you become free, the ties that once bound you, that held you captive—whether mentally, physically, or spiritually—must be untied, unbound. Once they’re unbound, they must be released, because even if they no longer bind you, you cannot be truly free unless you let them go.

 

Consider this: Let’s say Lazarus gets a little help from his friends with unbinding himself from his grave clothes. But he’s eventually left standing outside the tomb. What if he ended up with a fistful or two of the cloth that had bound him in death and the darkness of the tomb. What does he do? Take off walking around town with those (smelly) strips of fabric in his hands? Carry them around for the rest of his days?

Or does he drop them as he steps away from the tomb?

Does he cast them aside?

Does he release them from his possession?

I may have been unbound from the chains of depression, and I may be walking a new path, but there are still many things—material possessions, messed-up thought processes, and comfort-zone coping mechanisms to start with—that I’m still holding onto. When you’ve been held captive for a while, freedom is a bit intimidating.

But living in-between captivity and freedom is not where I want to settle in—and if I sit back and don’t step into 2017 with the intention of working toward fully becoming who I was created to be, then I will likely remain in that spot.

I’ve come too far to keep holding onto those old rags.

They’ve got to go.

Which means I have to let them go.

So I’m stepping into my RELEASE year.

2016 Reading List


January

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner


I was on the launch team for this book in November and December 2015. It was the first “official” launch team I’d been on and it whet my literary appetite for spreading the word about awesome books. As part of the launch team, I’d already read the advance reader copy (ARC) of Wariner’s memoir, but that didn’t stop me from reading it again once the hardcover was in my hands. And this time I was able to slow down and take in the harrowing journey Ruth and her siblings took through their childhoods. (During the launch, we were passing 20 ARCs to approximately 100 people through the mail, so it was a speed-reading free for all. I read the ARC in one emotionally-exhausting night.) If you’d like to read my original review of The Sound of Gravel from earlier this year, you can read it here.

 

February

The End of the World by Amy Matayo (Advance Reader PDF)


This is the first book I read by Matayo. She writes realistically and develops solid, relatable characters. The End of the World is based on some sensitive subject matter, including foster care and child neglect. It was a heavy read. But one that gripped my attention early on and kept it. It’s told from the perspective of two main characters and Matayo seamlessly switches between points-of-view. It is a sweet story of friendship between two teenagers amidst a backdrop of a less-than-ideal foster care situation.
The Blood Covenant by Rena Chynoweth

Besides The Sound of Gravel and one other memoir, this was the only book I’ve read about the LeBaron family and those related to them. Rena was the youngest wife of infamous cult-leader Ervil LeBaron. In this book, she tells her perspective of living under his influence. It is both riveting and appalling. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down and read it in two days.


Stones of Remembrance
by Julie Presley

Julie Presley is my new favorite fiction author. She’s also a good friend. Julie is a self-proclaimed “edgy Christian romance author.” She writes real, relatable stories that speak truth and healing into the hearts of her readers. Her characters are those that you find yourself thinking about as though they are your actual friends. Julie writes each scene with depth; her use of imagery pulls you into the story. She has found a perfect balance between believable characters and riveting plot lines. She builds in scriptural truths without sounding cheesy, old-fashioned, or pious. And when it comes to relational tension? She’s got that down, too. You can find a more detailed review of Stones of Remembrance here.

Breaking Busy by Alli Worthington

From the very beginning, Alli writes with an honest wit, using her own life as an example of how to “break busy;” she encourages her readers to examine the things they do because they “should” and how pouring their energy into those areas leave us depleted when it come to the things that not only fulfill us, but also actually enjoy participating in. Each chapter concludes with a set of questions that allow us to dig deeper into figuring out why we’re piling on the busyness and provide action steps to change our behaviors and thought patterns.

 

March

Curious Faith by Logan Wolfram

Have you ever finished a book that you didn’t want to end and feel like you need to begin re-reading it immediately? Curious Faith is one of those books for me. I started reading it several month ago, but set it aside a few weeks later because it was hitting to close to home regarding some areas of crisis that were developing in my personal life. I needed to read Logan Wolfram’s words, but I didn’t necessarily want to hear them. I picked it back up once again a few weeks ago, and it couldn’t have been more perfect timing. (And I got to meet Logan at a local book signing—bonus!)


In Curious Faith, Wolfram shares her journey of becoming more curious about God and the life paths He was leading her down. She writes with enthusiastic passion, gentle instruction, and accessible vulnerability–particularly in sharing her experiences with miscarriage and infertility. She encourages her readers to think outside the box of preconceived ideas about how God works.

 

April

What to Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn) by Seth Godin

I brought this one home from Texas (it was an Anna-suggested read) and am still working my way through it. Apparently I need to digest its contents slowly.

May

Nor Forsake by Julie Presley (Advance Reader PDF)


Another favorite fiction selection by Julie Presley. As in Stones of Remembrance, Presley writes characters with relatable struggles. It’s not the usual sappy, plastic storyline. It’s real. And the way she weaves Libby’s story with Sarah’s story is well-crafted and artfully done. In Nor Forsake, you get not only one story, but two! Presley has earned a spot on my favorite writers’ list, for sure.

June

The Go-GetterPeter B. Kyne

Healing From Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse Shannon Thomas (Advance Reader PDF)

When I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Shannon Thomas’ book, I accepted not because I considered myself in need of the subject matter, but because I thought it might be a good resource I could recommend to people in the future. I was dead wrong in assuming this subject did not pertain to me.

Within the first few pages of the introduction, as Thomas writes about the nature of psychological abusers (or “toxic people” as she frequently refers to them), I realized that I had, indeed, encountered these people—and they were people who had significant roles in my life. Once I got over the shock of that realization and could continue reading the book, I found it to be a treasure trove of information and encouragement.

In a conversational tone, Thomas walks the reader through six stages that help the reader understand the tactics abusers use and how survivors can create healthy boundaries for themselves as they begin to heal from the damage inflicted through psychological abuse. She provides solid, relatable examples of this type of abuse and assures the reader that they are not at fault for having been targeted. Included at the end of the book are journal prompts for each of the six stages, a helpful tool the reader can use to process his or her own experiences. I highly recommend Healing From Hidden Abuse—whether you think you need to read it or not—as a resource for your own recovery or as an informative guide to walk alongside someone else on their journey to recovery.
Unfrozen: Stop Holding Back and Release the Real You by Andrea Wenburg (Advance Reader PDF)

Wenberg tells her story of feeling as though her deep desire to connect with others was “too much” for those around her to handle. She recounts her journey from childhood to adulthood, and how she learned not only to embrace her true self, but also to relate to others from a place of confidence in knowing that, because God created her as He did, she “can risk everything to show the kind of love Jesus has for me.”

If you have ever felt like you have something to give the world, but have been bound by fear–the fear of your voice being too loud or too quiet, the fear of being too much or too little, I would encourage you to read this book. Though the subtitle is indicative of a book of a self-help nature, it reads more like a conversational memoir.

July

I Don’t Wait Anymore: Letting Go of Expectations and Grasping God’s Adventure for You by Grace Thornton


A Mile Wide: Trading a Shallow Religion for a Deeper Faith by Brandon Hatmaker (Advance Reader Copy)

You might remember that time last year when I joined a second-string launch team and rogue-launched Jen Hatmaker’s book, For the Love. This year, Jen’s husband Brandon selected that same team (#the4500) to be his launch team (the A-team, this time around) for A Mile Wide. That was pretty cool—as was participating in two of Brandon’s book tour events—one in Houston and one in Dallas.


In the first section of the book, Brandon Hatmaker challenges us to look a bit deeper at our faith while also simplifying the true intent of the gospel. Rather than seeking out the “do’s” and “don’ts” of following Jesus, Hatmaker encourages us to look to Jesus’s interactions with people and how he met them where they were instead of requiring them to check off a bunch of good behavior/expectation boxes before interacting with them.

In the second section of A Mile Wide, Hatmaker discusses the need for community among believers and non-believers. He is passionate in his belief that the church should be missional, not sequestering themselves in a church building all the time, but intentionally serving others in the local community. Hatmaker extols the benefits of varying the types, locations, and venues for small group meetings and service projects, stressing that the meeting people where they are, like Jesus exemplified in the gospel, is the key to building relationships with them: “Jesus almost always met people at their greatest felt need as a part of addressing their spiritual need. He had compassion that allowed him to see through people and speak their language. Community and commission is that shared language between believers and nonbelievers.”

With a tone that is more conversational than condemning (you won’t find condemning words here, convicting, perhaps, but not condemning), A Mile Wide is a must read for anyone who desires to live out their faith in more missional-minded way.

 

August

The Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo (Advance Reader PDF)

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield


 

September

Watching the Tree Limbs by Mary DeMuth

Until a friend loaned me this book, I didn’t know Mary DeMuth had written fiction. I’m so happy to have made this discovery! Watching the Tree Limbs weaves tragedy, mystery, hope, and truth together in an enchanting way. DeMuth is an enticing storyteller; every time a new clue or hint showed up to unravel the mystery of one of the characters, I thought I’d figured it out…until another surprising development came along. I loved this raw, gritty yet redemptive story and will definitely read more of DeMuth’s fiction.

The Undoing of Saint Silvanus by Beth Moore

Moore’s first foray into fiction was an intriguing read. A suspenseful plotline and plenty of spicy characters held my attention from early on. There were a few twists that I saw coming, but some that surprised me. There was a lot happening in the plot and because it all needed to be tied up at the end, the conclusion was a little anticlimactic. Still, The Undoing is a book I’ll likely read again. (Also—the fact that I met Beth Moore at a local book signing was totally awesome! She’s delightful!)

October

How To Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White (Advance Reader Copy)


Is your house out of control? Cluttered? Messy? Disorganized? Driving you crazy? Dana K. White has tips and tricks that will help you get your space back on track. And she’s FUNNY. A book about housekeeping that’s also an enjoyable read? Yes! White provides lighthearted motivation to get out of your housekeeping ruts, de-clutter your home, and streamline your home-management routines without making you feel like a domestic failure. A must-read for anyone who feels overwhelmed by their daily chores!

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls


The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life by Ann Voskamp

The Broken Way is an offering of hope and healing amid hardship, hurt, and heartbreak. Voskamp strips her own heart bare as she related the struggle of finding her way through breaking upon breaking, In One Thousand Gifts, she taught us to live full of gratitude; in The Broken Way, Voskamp reveals that the only way to be fully abundant is to pour thankfulness, love, and grace over those around us. With lyrical prose and understanding born only from living through broken places, Voskamp once again speaks deeply to the heart of her reader. (Ann Voskamp is also delightful in person.)

November

Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

I just finished this book a few weeks ago and I already need to read It again—this time preferably with my own copy and pen in hand to take notes in the margins.

 

December

The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa TerKeurst

I’m halfway through this one and am finding it a very timely and useful book in this transitional season.

The Polygamist’s Daughter: A Memoir by Anna LeBaron and Leslie Wilson (Advance Reader Copy)


This book is, by far, my favorite one of 2016. I wrote a blog about it here that tells why (in case you haven’t already heard and want to know!). Anna’s book is a memoir of her childhood growing up in a violent, polygamist cult and how she escaped it at the tender age of thirteen. She tells of horrific events she witnessed and the hope of not only having lived through them, but also of finding healing as she grew into adulthood. I can’t say enough about this book. It’s compelling, harrowing, hopeful, and redemptive. You’ll want to read it. (Releases March 21, 2016)

 

Although I didn’t meet my reading goals for the year, I’ve read a lot of great books, been on some fun launch teams, and met a lot of wonderful authors.

What was your favorite book of 2016?
 

 

Dear 2016, I Don’t Know What To Do With You

I really have no idea where this is going to go.

With only one day left in the year, there are far too many thoughts rolling around in my head to record them all.

Sitting in the recesses of the notes app on my phone is a moderately long list of topics and thoughts for blog posts that haven’t made it out of my brain yet. They need out. Desperately. But lately it’s been really hard to focus on writing. I fight the actual act of sitting down and writing so adamantly.

Pouring your heart out into words is hard work. It takes effort and energy—both of which are in short supply these days. Just keeping my head above water is all I can do some days.

2016 has been such a weird year.

It’s been a really freeing year.

I gained a tribe of internet friends who have become real-life heart friends.

I got rid of my stuff, moved across the country, and embarked on a journey that has taken me places I never imagined in the last six months.

I found pieces of me that were seemingly lost.
2016 has grown me in remarkable ways that have left me in awe of who I am these days. It’s given me confidence and backbone.

But 2016 has really sucked, too. 

Earlier this year, my sister was diagnosed with a rare abdominal cancer. It’s a disease that doctors don’t even really know what to do with.

I’ve been vague and mostly quiet about that aspect of the year, because it isn’t my story to tell. It’s a story that greatly affects me, but it isn’t my story.

This part of the story has required me to take every day on step, one minute, one hour at a time.

 

I don’t quite know what to do with 2016.
I can’t tie it up with a pretty bow—or even a lopsided one.

I’m anxious to see it go, but grateful for the good moments it brought.
And if I’m completely honest, I’m a bit apprehensive about 2017.

Starting tomorrow, I’m joining a group of new friends (half of whom I haven’t actually met yet) to work through a goal-setting webinar over the next few days. The coming year is full of possibilities—most of which are going to require more leaps of faith off scary cliffs. (And I thought moving to Texas was the hard part. Ha.)

I’ve also been trying to land on my One Word for 2017.

This year’s word (UNBOUND) came out of the blue and gave me a run for my money.
It turned out to be a fairly accurate guide for 2016.
I think I already know what 2017’s word is, but I’m not positive yet.

Or maybe I’m just afraid to declare it…

The Polygamist’s Daughter: A Powerful Story of Hope and Healing

Life is full of wearying circumstances that we sometimes can’t find any understanding of why we’re faced with such pain. But there are other times when…we can eventually see that our journey has brought us full circle. Anna’s story is coming full circle with the publication of The Polygamist’s Daughter.

Let’s get right to it.

I got some fun mail yesterday:


After a full year of anxiously anticipating it, I received an advance copy of my friend Anna LeBaron’s book, The Polygamist’s Daughter, in the mail yesterday. I was literally jumping up and down and squealing. I haven’t yet found a way to put all my feelings about this book into words. But here, I’m going to try.


Anna’s book is a memoir of her childhood growing up in a violent, polygamist cult and how she escaped it at the tender age of thirteen. She tells of horrific events she witnessed and the hope of not only having lived through them, but also of finding healing as she grew into adulthood.

I’ve had the great privilege of witnessing the tail-end of Anna’s journey to publication a little more closely than others. I’ve sat with her through endless hours of edits and reminded her numerous times that her story matters. In some ways, I feel like this book contains chunks of my heart. (That is probably true for a lot of people who have met and lived life with Anna, though.)
When I was little—maybe seven or eight—I went through a phase of wanting to be a doctor or nurse—specifically, a “baby doctor or nurse.” It didn’t last long, but I’ve always remembered how obsessed I was with that train of thought. In the case of this book, I told Anna that I feel like a proud aunt over the birth of this “book baby.”


She replied that not only am I a proud aunt, but also a book doula. So, I guess maybe I’m a baby doctor/nurse of sorts, after all.

Life is full of wearying circumstances that we sometimes can’t find any understanding of why we’re faced with such pain. But there are other times when, if we walk the path long enough—and trust the process of navigating our way through the rocky terrain, the loss of directions, and the questioning of whether we’ll ever make it out of the valley—we can eventually see that our journey has brought us full circle. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that it brought us back to our starting point, but rather it has connected our beginning point to another beginning point…and so on. A circle, by virtue of its character, doesn’t have a beginning or end point; it flows fluidly together in a continuous line.



The stories of humanity have been interconnected since the beginning of time and continue to weave through and around every person on this planet. We will never really know how intertwined our stories are to one another; however, occasionally our stories intersect with another’s in such a way that it brings us full circle in some aspect of our lives.

There have been many times over the past two years when I’ve stared ahead at the rocky path and wondered where exactly this road was leading. Being lost and without direction isn’t something I struggle with as much these days, but it rears its head occasionally. There are still deep valleys that I must walk through. But I’m beginning to see the fluidity of the circuitous path I’ve been wandering the last few years.


Part of that journey has been intersected by the journey of this woman who I’ve quickly come to know as a heart-friend.  (Anna’s name has appeared on this blog numerous times, partly because her encouragement has given me the courage to own my brave.) A month ago, the two of us attended a retreat (Splendid By The Sea) in coastal North Carolina. At the end of the retreat, circumstances allowed us to drive several hours inland together before we parted ways. As we drove, we marveled at the fact that we’d road-tripped to another Splendid retreat together just six months before. And here we were again.

A couple of hours later, we arrived at her hotel—the same one where we’d met just nine months before in the middle of Snowpocalypse 2016. We squealed a bit and laughed incredulously as we parked the car, darted inside the lobby, and took a quick selfie in approximately the same place we’d become internet-friends-turned-real-life-friends.


Once we were back in the car, I commented that we’d come full circle.
The fluidity of the circle doesn’t stop there, because after all—it is a circle.

Anna’s story is one that is coming full circle with the publication of The Polygamist’s Daughter.


As the back cover copy on the advance copy says, “my father had thirteen wives and more than fifty children. My childhood was filled with terror, desperation, and confusion. I barely knew who my family really was. The life we led made my stomach ache…but I never said a word.”

The censor bars covering her six-year-old mouth and eyes on the book cover are a chilling representation of the horrors she saw and the secrets she was forced to keep.

No more.

She has found the freedom and courage to tell her story.

Anna has overcome the aftermath of a multitude of tragedy. It will always be a part of her story. She will always be the polygamist’s daughter, biologically.

But it does not define her.

What defines her is her hope, her joy, and her genuine desire to love those around her fiercely. She lavishes these things on everyone she meets and leaves a trail of light wherever she goes.

I’m so blessed to be alongside her on this journey. It has been both an eye-opening and inspiring experience for me.
If you’d like to know more about Anna and her book, please visit her website, www.AnnaLeBaron.com.
The Polygamist’s Daughter officially releases March 21, 2017—check back here for my “official review” then!

Unbound: Significant & Irreplaceable

When I wrote about choosing my word for 2016, I had every intention of following it up with a six-month update.

But then I threw my life into the spin cycle when I returned from Splendid in the Hills and moved to Texas in June. Suddenly, it’s November and I don’t even know where to begin.

In January, I had no idea that this year would bring such radical change. I knew it was going to be different; I did not expect to spend most of it in Texas.

I never thought I’d make it this far. I expected myself to have already given up and run back to the Carolina mountains. I didn’t think I had it in me.

From the moment I decided to move to Texas, I told myself it was only for the summer, maybe part of the fall, but it was just an exploratory journey that would end with me back in SC by the end of the year.

Increasingly, I’m discovering just how capable I am.

Capable of wrestling with my emotions and wounds of the past that haunt me.

Capable of following through and accomplishing the goals I set for myself.

Capable of standing on my own two feet.

I’m capable of all those things—and so much more because I have a place of position in My Father’s kingdom. Everything I need to pursue His business has been provisioned to me. I have the authority to operate under His name.

Know what that means?

This:

I am a woman who has significance and is irreplaceable.

I am a SIGNIFICANT and irreplaceable woman.

I have a place as the daughter of the King on the throne.


And I am choosing to acknowledge that, to accept that, to own that, because that is who I am.

I am approved, I am significant, I am irreplaceable.

I am not the little girl who is trying to seek approval and prove herself as a valid daughter.

I already have that position.

It’s not up for grabs, for consideration; it’s not up for any kind of argument.

It is TRUTH.

It is what IS.

And I am choosing to walk in that.

I am choosing to own that territory and walk in that. 

Because that’s who I am.

I am a daughter of the King.

Anything less is not who I am. 
I am unbound.

Autumn Arrives Again

It was a year ago today.

After too little sleep due to a rare and lengthy late night phone call, I’d poured my coffee on the counter rather than in a mug that morning.

I’d gone to work and taught my littles in a bewildered haze over the conversation I’d had with a new friend the night before.

My thoughts were frantically searching for order at the edges of my brain.

The weight of change hung in the air, palpable yet mysterious.

There was a drive to begin processing the innermost chambers of myself that had been buried deep.

I was sitting in a hard wooden chair in a quiet library.

In South Carolina.

My fingers pounded angrily at my keyboard.

Earbuds muffled the sound of my audible sighs.

The error message flashed before my eyes again and again:

Username and password do not match.

Locked out.

I’d tried every possible combination, but couldn’t remember the right password.
The email I’d used to create the account was no longer accessible and customer support was no help.
Reviving the old blog was not happening.
Two years of absenteeism from writing meant I couldn’t find my way back to my blog. I could read what was there, but editing and adding to it was out of the question.
But the burning desire to write was back. I needed an outlet.

So I started over.

On the first day of a new Season.

Little did I know how vast a season of change I was headed into that day as I wrote:

It’s Fall.

Autumn.

A new season.

Isn’t it interesting when the changing of a season actually coincides with new seasons of our lives?

(And the creation of a new blog because you’re locked out of your previous one. Grr.)

I’m finding myself there today…

anticipating the growth of new friendships

as the leaves go dormant for winter;

celebrating the domino effect of God-breathed events over close-held prayer

as the leaves begin to blaze radiant and descend their lofty perches.

The air is crisp,

with more than a hint of expectancy drifting along for the ride.

And, for a change, I’m attempting to drift with it,

without the usual anxiety, excuses, foreboding, etc.

that comes when newness is on the horizon.

Today, I’m sitting in a comfy recliner in a living room.

In Texas.

With last year’s “new friend” on the couch beside me.

The sound of planes flying overhead reminds me of my first-time flight back in April.

These days, the error message I’m fighting most persistently is the one that says this can’t possibly be my actual life. That at any moment I could wake up and discover this entire year has been a dream. (On some fronts, that would be a relief.)

My fingers roam the keyboard now because the words in my brain need out. They beg to be uncaged and given a voice.

Today, it’s the third…

(Geez. I have to stop and tell you that in itself is actually relevant. Three is the prophetic number of confirmation. And today was a day that held a bit of significant confirmation for me. As I typed the word “third” I laughed aloud when I realized it, because OF COURSE. One day, I might manage to form a coherent explanation of the ways that number has followed me around this year.)
Anyway.

It’s the third day of Autumn.

And I’m neck deep in the season of change that has been developing these last twelve months. I feels like I’ve covered more ground in the last year than I have in my entire life—spiritually, mentally, physically, relationally, emotionally, and geographically.

And I don’t expect it to taper off anytime soon.

Amazingly, I’m far more at peace with that expectation than I would have ever dreamed.

Book Review: A Mile Wide, Brandon Hatmaker

What in the world did I do with my free time before I became a book launching enthusiast?

My T0-Be-Read stack is perpetually out of control. Seriously. Every time I get wind of another launch team opportunity, I have to seriously evaluate how much time I actually have to commit to another book.

This is the good kind of problem to have.


If you’ve followed this blog, or any of my social media, for awhile, you’ve heard a thing or two about #the4500. If you’re new–well, it’s a long story. Here’s a very brief recap:

March 2015–Jen Hatmaker gathered a launch team for her book, For The Love. She amassed 5,000 applicants for 500 spots. She sent a very sweet apology email to those who didn’t make the cut. (I got that email.) One of those rejectees tweeted Jen, telling her “#the4500…are still your people.” Another one (Tracy) thieved that hashtag and ran to FB with it, creating a group and inviting people to come help launch Jen’s book unofficially. (I joined that group.) We went rogue, and together with the official launch team, we sent For the Love to bestseller status.

Fast forward a few months to the end of 2015…when we heard that Jen’s husband, Brandon, wanted #the4500 to be his official launch team. Our rogue, second string, B-team group was now the A-team. (#BDogsATeam, more specifically.)


We’d realized long before that getting a no from Jen’s launch team was actually the best yes any of us could’ve imagined. And now that Mr. Hatmaker wanted us to help him get his book into the world?

We’ve come full circle.

Before JHat’s launch team application and the birth of #the4500, I’d only followed Jen’s FB page for about a year. These days, I adore the Hatmakers. They seem like such real, down-to-earth people who truly strive to make a difference in both their local community and the global community. They are world changers, supporting a variety of social justice causes, as well as forming their own initiative, The Legacy Collective, whose mission is “to engage systemic problems related to social issues by resourcing what we believe to be the most innovative efforts and funding the most critical projects.”

I am thrilled to finally bring you my review of A Mile Wide: Trading A Shallow Religion For A Deeper Faith:

In the first section of the book, Brandon Hatmaker challenges us to look a bit deeper at our faith while also simplifying the true intent of the gospel. Rather than seeking out the “do’s” and “don’ts” of following Jesus, Hatmaker encourages us to look to Jesus’s interactions with people and how he met them where they were instead of requiring them to check off a bunch of good behavior/expectation boxes before interacting with them.

In the second section of A Mile Wide, Hatmaker discusses the need for community among believers and non-believers. He is passionate in his belief that the church should be missional, not sequestering themselves in a church building all the time, but intentionally serving others in the local community. Hatmaker extols the benefits of varying the types, locations, and venues for small group meetings and service projects, stressing that the meeting people where they are, like Jesus exemplified in the gospel, is the key to building relationships with them: “Jesus almost always met people at their greatest felt need as a part of addressing their spiritual need. He had compassion that allowed him to see through people and speak their language. Community and commission is that shared language between believers and nonbelievers.”

With a tone that is more conversational than condemning (you won’t find condemning words here, convicting, perhaps, but not condemning), A Mile Wide is a must read for anyone who desires to live out their faith in more missionally-minded ways.

I highly recoomend this book!

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of A Mile Wide in exchange for my honest review.

You can learn more about A Mile Wide here.

Significance in Numbers

For someone who hates math as much as I do, and for as much as I’m a words girl, I pay attention to numbers. Dates, particularly. (Important ones and not-so-important ones alike are seared into my brain. Scarily so, at times.) I can still tell you off the top of my head that my sister, cousin, and I attended an N*Sync concert on February 5, 1999. (Not-so-significant.) I can tell you that my acceptance letter to NGU arrived the day before my birthday (July 22nd) in 2005. (Significant.) I am the date keeper in my family, and given my ability to support my memories with contextual evidence, it’s not often that my mother or sister can argue with me when I ascribe a date to a particular event. It’s a gift. (Or a weird talent?)

Dates matter to me. Always have and likely always will. They are not only markers of time, but placeholders for significant moments along the timeline of my story.

I just realized that today is significant. It’s a date I’ve been holding out for all summer. It’s a date that says I’m more capable and a bit braver than I thought I might be.  And while it’s felt like an ever-more-ordinary Sunday, it’s one that holds a little more significance.

When I decided I was making the leap and moving to Texas, my brain wouldn’t quite let me commit fully. When I met with my bosses to resign from my job, I told them it was possible I’d be back at the end of the summer, but understood that they would need to find my replacement. When I broke the news to my grandparents, I assured them that this was a trial run “for the summer.” And I even told myself that I just needed to stay for “three to six months.” And because I already knew I had plans to return to the Carolinas for the fall Splendid retreat, I had a built-in safety net of coming home in November.

I arrived in Texas on June 11th. Today is September 11th. (Yes, it’s a day that holds a lot of significance for our nation. May we never forget that day 15 years ago—I was lying in the living room floor doing biology work when the news hit the Today show.) Three months I’ve been here in the great state of Texas. Three months of vacillating between wondering why I’m here and believing I’m supposed to be here.

For most of July, I was ready to get on a plane back to South Carolina. August consisted mostly of just putting one foot in front of the other and getting through each day, hour by hour. As September has arrived, I feel as though I’ve turned a corner.

Last Thursday morning, this bustling house I’ve been so generously welcomed into was empty and quiet. As I sat in the corner of the living room, sipping my coffee, I checked my countdown app. Within this app is a list of events I have the opportunity to attend here in Texas over the next few months—reminders that each of them is a time-marker during my three-to-six-month trial period. The last of those events is the Splendid Retreat in North Carolina in November. As I scrolled through the events, I stopped on the countdown for Splendid: 63 days. Just over two months.

I closed the app and stared at the wall in front of me, my thoughts drifting over the last few months and the upcoming ones as well. 63 days. What if that’s it? If I decide I’m not coming back after Splendid, I only have 63 days left. Then, as unassuming and quietly as could be, the words settled in my mind: I want to come back.

Oh. I do? I’m not ready to call it quits and take this as an out? I want to come back?

 Yes. Yes, I do.

When I came to Texas for the first time back in April, I had no idea what a wild, life-altering ride I was in for. When I returned to South Carolina a week later, it was not the way I came. And a week later, I was preparing to move to Texas for the summer.

Three weeks after the Splendid retreat in Texas, I agreed to meet a new friend (that I’d not yet met in real life) for dinner. C and I hit it off immediately and got straight to the heart of matters. She’d already heard part of what unfolded at Splendid and wanted to know more about why I was moving to Texas. As I told her how I’d ended up signing three times during the retreat and how I believed that those three times signified the three years I’d lost to depression and lies, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Do you know what the number three represents?”

“I used to. Refresh my memory.”

“It’s the number of confirmation.”

Oh. Well, of course it is!

Three.

The number of confirmation.

September.

My three-month-aversary in Texas.

The realization that 63 days is not enough time left to be okay with bailing.

Confirmation?

Time will tell.

This Is The Sign For Drowning, part 2

The roar in her ears is muffled now, the sounds of the shore distant and hollow. The water forces her down, her back slamming against the gritty bottom. Eyes clenched shut, the world around her is dark.  Her throat burns; her lungs scream for air.

Above her, the surface plays an elusive game of peekaboo as each new wave dangles the possibility of her mouth and nose breaking the barrier between water and sky.

The barrier between watery grave and sun-kissed life.

Panic wells in her chest. Her mind races.

This cannot be how it ends.

She will not succumb to these monstrous depths.

Forcing her eyes open, she gathers what little strength she has left.

She is determined.

The next wave slams her back into the ocean floor; she skids toward the shore on its current.

The monster doesn’t realize it’s helping her now.
A lull. She twists against the water, willing her feet to touch the bottom.

The next wave crashes and in the second it passes, the current sends her downward, toes brushing the sand.

She springs upward, breaking the surface, arms moving in familiar repetition, stroking the current beneath her.

She is exhausted, but she can see the shore.

With a few more strokes, she’s back in quieter waters.

She reaches with her toes…

…a few more inches.

There.

Lungs gasping at the pure air, she looks out at the horizon. The waves build and break around her.

With aching arms, she lifts her hands. Right hand fingertips to left palm, firm, steady.

This is the sign for standing.

The Fascination and Fear of Waves

Of all the elements of nature, water is my favorite. Maybe it’s because my name is Cherokee for “falling water” or maybe it’s just coincidence, but I’ve always been drawn to water. Rain, Creeks. Pools. Lakes. Oceans.  Even now, as I write this post, the sky roars with thunder and raindrops rush to the ground, calming my thoughts.

I was two or three years old the first time I went to the beach. My parents were chaperoning a singles retreat and brought me along. There are few things I remember about that trip—mostly just that I fed a flock of greedy seagulls the French fries from my Happy Meal and soaked up the attention and adoration of the group of twenty-somethings poolside. I don’t remember seeing the ocean for the first time or sticking my toes in the surf.

While I don’t remember that initial trip well, I can recall my second trip to the beach.
I was eleven. It was September—still balmy enough in South Carolina to enjoy being on the beach and in the water, but not oppressively hot like July and August. This was the trip during which I fell in love with the ocean. It’s vastness and mystery issued an invitation and claimed my heart. Since that trip, the beach has continuously beckoned me back, its pull a little stronger each time the gritty sand slides between my toes, the sticky salt air tickles my nose, the steady heartbeat of the waves echoes in my ears. When I’m standing on the edge of the ocean, a sense of calm washes over me. It’s a security blanket for my soul.

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As deeply as the ocean drew me in, it also terrified me. The sheer force of it repeatedly crashing against the shore. The unending vastness.

One day that week, my father and I were wading out into the waves. I was knee-deep in the surf and happy to be there. I didn’t trust the unpredictability of the waves I hadn’t yet learned to read. And I wasn’t all that trustful that my dad wouldn’t let me go under either. Eventually though, and with much apprehension, I managed to brave the looming waves and wade into waist deep water.

~*~
Keeping my eyes locked on the horizon line and the larger waves forming a little farther out, I was poised to run for the shore at the sight of any threat of going under. My dad was a few feet away in slightly deeper water when I felt it brush my leg. Panic rose in my chest as I glanced down at the creature circling my legs, its distinctive dorsal fin just inches below the water’s surface. It swam away just as my brain registered “run!” And run I did. I fought those waves, my feet sliding against the shifting sand beneath my feet as I moved as fast as I could toward the shore.

~*~

It was just a baby shark…maybe three feet long. But it was big enough to make me afraid of deeper waters. That was the last time I waded farther than thigh-deep in the ocean for more than a decade.

~*~

Earlier this year, during Spring Break, I found myself standing in the waves again, eyes locked on the horizon line. It was the end of March and the water was still quite chilled. A restlessness stirred in my soul, my heart felt like it was breaking into a thousand pieces, and salty tears glistened in the eyes hidden beneath my sunglasses. As I stood on the Carolina coast, two dear friends in two opposite directions were walking through very hard days. My heart ached to be with both of them, my mind hyper aware of the distance that separated us. And my own family had recently been slammed with a grim diagnosis. I was numb and carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders at the same time.

~*~

The waves gathered strength and crested all around me, beating themselves against my legs and stomach. My feet shifted in the sand, my muscles aching as they braced against the ocean’s continuous attempts to shove me under the water. Drowned out by the roar of the waves, I sang the same two lines over and over and over: “So I will call upon Your name/ And keep my eyes above the waves.” Over and over and over. I stood there until my legs, chilled to the bone, began to give way. I turned and stumbled back to the shore, where I continued staring at the horizon line.

~*~

For weeks, I’ve sat in drought-ridden northern Texas and thought of the ocean. I’ve written and re-written a dozen metaphors to parallel this particular incongruity.

And for the first time in a long time—maybe ever—I’m allowing myself to both feel and display the depth of my emotions. I’ve spent decades suppressing them, stuffing them down, terrified of what I might find if I wade out a little deeper—what startling creatures are lurking in the depths of my soul? Do I trust my Father enough to allow Him to lead me out farther—where the waves are less predictable and seem more likely to drown me? What will people think if I let these pockets of pain and weakness bob up to the surface? Can I keep my eyes fixed on the horizon of truth and not be thrown into a panic when something unexpected or unpleasant brushes up against me? Am I strong enough to withstand the repeated battering of the waves?

Fighting the waves is exhausting. When you’ve stood in the waves for a while and head back to shore, your legs feel shaky and your body feels heavier. No longer buoyed by the waves, exhaustion rushes in. Fighting emotion and vulnerability and honesty is also exhausting. But so is walking through it.

~*~

Raindrops fall softly on the parched grass. The sky is gray and dotted with heavy clouds. Sitting on the porch, feet propped on the table, my eyes are fixed on the horizon line. There are no ocean waves here, but the internal waves build and crest, battering my heart and mind. Some days my legs give way and I feel as though I am drowning, swept under by the weight of the water. I am exhausted. But tonight, I choose to let them carry me. Tomorrow is another day.