When you wake in the morning with first thoughts of
fear for tender lives in your care,
or with the day’s tasks
racing past your face on a hopped-up assembly line,
or with pain over that relationship
or horrible misunderstanding,
and all you can do is sort of groan-pray-worry;
when you sit in the dark quiet and feel your own
weakness press like a heavy hand on your chest,
and you wonder how you’ll muster this day;
This morning, I’m pleased to share a piece I wrote for Sunday Circle Group — a new collective for which I’m a contributor — about meeting God in the bathtub.
Sunday Circle Group is an extension of Outside the City Gate and is made up of “a team of artisans: wordsmiths, musicians, poets, visual artists, who collectively bring us together for a Sunday post that is quietly delivered to those who are displaced from church community, feel lost in their own, or for anybody who needs a circle of faith builders in their lives with a community of dreamers.”
You can click here to become part of the circle, which is open to all.
After going through a painful church transition just over a year ago with my family, and feeling the loss and sorrow of displacement, I felt a special nudge to join with this team (as a “wordsmith” — love that word) to come alongside those who might feel on the outside or are simply seeking God “on the backroads of faith,” as they say at Outside the City Gate.
Here is my offering this morning. I wrote it several weeks ago, and so it is a sort of prelude to my thoughts on fearlessness Friday because receiving rest and the truth of my belovedness do precede my being able to walk forth in courage. Perhaps that’s true for you?
I’ll be contributing to the Sunday Circle every six weeks or so, but if you want to receive these small and encouraging Sunday emails, which include visual art, photography, poetry and song, please do go here to subscribe. We’d love to have you!
“It’s like I’m being remade on the inside,” I told my friend this morning at the end of our walk, standing in front of my house in the crisp winter air, just past the reach of the crabapple and its naked, low-hanging branches.
“I know it’s really good work that God is doing, and I’m also so, so tired,” I told her, and she nodded, tenderness in her eyes. I referred to many things in that moment, and she understood that, too. This doing the next thing and then the rapid-fire next, this taking courage while literally shaking fear, this choice to believe what God says moment to moment when well-worn pathways of self-condemnation and worry feel like home.
An hour later, I returned to a quiet house after taking my girls to school, ideas and responsibilities clambering, and I sat with a cup of coffee and some favorite words, recognized anxiety doing its thing in the fibers just below my skin.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” I repeated Julian of Norwich’s words to myself – this recently reemerging as a favorite mantra, along with “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
When you’re being remade, you talk to yourself a lot, putting on truth like clothes, seeking to claim life that shines through lies.
I looked through the window to the bright blue sky and thought of all I needed to do, about the push-back I’ve been getting on a big project and how much it all makes me want to rest. And I spoke from the thinking-out-loud-mixed-with-prayer place that has become regular for me during the weekdays, now that I’m regularly alone at home for the first time in nearly 13 years (my three girls all at the K-8 school down the street).
“I need to take a shower and get ready, so I can have a fresh start on the day,” I said. “It just sounds so nice to get into a hot bath with a magazine,” I added, sort of longingly.
And I clearly felt God say, Do it.
Now, please. You are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Receive my rest.
With all the big risks of my past year and the many ways I feel poured out, it took me by surprise how risky and lavish a filled bathtub seemed.
For more than three years, this place has been a sacred one for me, where we listen and respond and share and hear “me too” in the comments and pay attention to the small ordinary moments as a way of seeing through to the bigger ones. I’ve missed joining with you here over the last few weeks, and I just had to check in this morning, though I’ve only got a few minutes.
Since I last wrote, I’ve been in the midst of projects and stepping out on foreign lands. I speak before a group of women tomorrow for whom I’ll be leading a retreat in a few more months. These are the biggest speaking things I’ve ever done.
I’ve been praying and writing and writing and praying and living and remembering God is a god of abundant supply. I am trying to open my heart wide, not hoard my energies or my gifts, and it feels most everything is tinged with newness, including the faces I see in front of me.
I’m learning to say, “God, I can’t wait to see how we’re going to do this together,” rather than “God, how will I ever be able to do this?” (Thank you to the wise one who gave me those words. They are so woven into my fibers over this last month that I don’t even know their origin anymore.)
I’ve been undone and stitched back together during this time, these last weeks, and though I’ve not had opportunity to write it here, I’m journaling my way through and plan to share more soon.
Friends, God is so faithful. Those aches of your heart, those resigned pains, those monstrous fears, those insecurities that leave canyons straight through your center….our Creator wants to heal. He is mighty to save. His presence is peace, his yoke is light. Your Maker is faithful to keep you when you feel you’re going to break and when you receive a new layer of healing and the bandages are peeled away and when you take the next step you know to take.
While Michael built a bonfire, and the girls constructed a playground from driftwood, I took a brief walk down the beach, through packed sand, over piles of strewn logs and past tide pools.
It was a day of transition — the year’s newness still palpable, changing weather patterns settling in clouds and newly-insulated air. I felt both content and restless, a deeper stirring I couldn’t quite identify, and in a moment felt the urge to look back at the ocean in the direction from which I’d come.
The cloudy sky held a gap, like a seam ripped open. And through that space, the hidden sun shone in directed beams, touching surrounding sky pink and casting what I can’t help but call God Light upon a small fishing boat, bobbing on the vast sea.
Hello, dear friends. I posted this short piece yesterday, but was having some technical problems on the blog, so many subscribers didn’t see it. This is for you today — if you’re wandering, feeling overwhelmed or are grateful for light come down. Merry Christmas, dear ones.
I met Christie Purifoy through our common friend, Shelly Miller, when we were a part of a team of writers (led by Shelly) called Living the Story. Though Christie and I have never met, I look forward to the day we can connect face to face. Christie writes exquisitely from her old brick farmhouse in Pennsylvania and is a kind, thoughtful and deep soul, filled with wisdom and much grace. It’s an honor to share my words at her blog today…
We drive I-5 through Oregon’s mid-section, far from major cities, and the sky is pitch, punctuated occasionally by lines of Christmas lights and the glow of solitary windows.
For hours, days, anxiety has coursed through my body, and now in the silence of our car, I feel I may succumb to overwhelm – so many details and inadequacies pressing down on my shoulders, shouting through the quiet.
But the light finds me in the calls of the dark, and then my eyes are downright searching for the light – this steadying hand, this hope slicing through.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5
Out the window I see a curtain of pitch night, and then a parting to reveal the light. Light, light, light. Night.
As we follow the winding freeway, I wonder at those who traveled hundreds of miles on foot and animal back, following the light, not a road, to their destination. Keeping course by the new star on a journey itself until it came to the One worthy of all praise.
Every year I need to remind myself in the season of waiting that Advent is not truly the forced-happy and frantic countdown to Christmas that I can sometimes make it.
Advent is anticipation and longing, the days of earth’s groaning and our own unmet yearnings. It is run-down, weary and hope-starved bodies taking the journey to the manger like heavily pregnant women, dirt-caked shepherds, step by step.
Christmastime is for those able to walk in the joys of the season, recounting memories of blissful days and stringing sugarplum visions on twinkly lights, but it might be more for those who cannot. For without unveiled eyes to see how a broken world is met in love come down, any yuletide beauty is transitory and ultimately pointless.
If Christmas is not for the jacked-up and worn down desperate, it lacks true power to change this world. How would it change me if I believed Christmas was not the perfect end to every longing, so much as a holy response to the continual ache?
Kari speaks life, love and truth as she so freely celebrates others. She walks with faithfulness to God while serving with unmistakable joy. I am grateful for the ways my friend, Kari, spoke to the little (speaker) seed that God placed in me and said, “Grow, grow.”
This morning I am sharing at Kari’s blog, The Sacred Mundane, about recognizing gifts in the chaos of our days, giving thanks for the everyday small, seeing the beauty of flowers in the face of the mighty sea. I hope this message of Thanks-living encourages you today that the small matters, and your small matters. Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends!
I look out a large window upon the vast and mighty Pacific Ocean. The weather is stormy, the waves churning. I am captivated by this power because it causes me to consider afresh the One who set all of creation into motion and continues to be Lord of the wind and waves.
This morning, I am captivated by something else, as well. Framing the view of the sea is a fringe of commonplace beach plants – grasses and bushes whipped by wind and salt air. The vegetation is easy enough to look past in search of the Pacific, but when I slow to see, I recognize the beauty inherent in each detail. For these plants also speak to the Creator, the one who harnessed the full measure of his power and chose to paint the leaves glossy green, the small flowers lipstick pink, the grasses autumn gold.
While the mountains, skies and canyons are fully worthy of our attention and wonder because they point to an almighty God, so, too, do tender shoots, blinking eyes and the shocking coral leaves of fall.
How often does our North American culture (at times, including the church) celebrate grand gestures while dismissing the gift of the small? How often does each of us look to be wowed while gazing straight past the miracle of the ordinary, or the “sacred mundane,” as my dear friend Kari calls it?
We can struggle to see the everyday as miracle because it is filled with much work for us – and the same kinds of work, again and again. The wiping and washing and parenting and managing of jobs and life details are often behind-the-scenes unseen, and we often mistake monotony for meaninglessness.
Without recognizing it, we equate small with unimportant. We forget that loving, tending and creating are some of the most vital work of all, as we cooperate with God in making his Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.
My oldest daughter, Sicily, is an up-front, confident leader who knows who she is and to Whom she belongs. At the age of 12, she consistently works hard and follows through on her commitments with a unique combination of humility and strength.
This past summer, Sicily offered to help during our church’s weeklong vacation bible school. Because we were fairly new to the church, Sicily signed up for more behind-the-scenes work than that to which she might normally be drawn. She volunteered to work as an assistant in the little twos and threes class – a group that turned out to be mostly composed of VBS leaders’ children.
Practically, this meant she kept the littlest ones occupied and their eyes away from their working mamas and daddies, because, as we know, once toddlers and wobblers set eyes on their people, it’s all over.
While other VBS helpers her age were passing out prizes and belting out raucous praise with other little kids upstairs, Sicily worked in the basement, doing her best to busy the smallest ones, far beyond many of their usual bedtimes.
By the third night of VBS, the work had taken its toll. As I tucked my girl in that night, she broke down: “I don’t know if I can do this anymore. It doesn’t even matter! I’m taking care of these kids who I guarantee will not even remember me when this is over. I’m stuck in this basement and missing out on all the fun!”
My girl believed the lie that her ordinary work was without meaning. At an age where FOMS (Fear of Missing Something) is especially acute, she believed all the nose wiping, hand holding and story reading wasn’t the real stuff because the important stuff, the juicy stuff, the loud and fun stuff was happening upstairs.
How often have I felt the same? As a 40-year-old stay-at-home mom, wrapping up the young child season of mothering, how often have I conveyed (through my thoughts, attitude or actions) that I am missing out on something better?
In my figurative and literal basement time, in my unseen house cleaning, owie kissing and tantrum calming days, how often have I viewed my work as something to endure to get to the real deal?
How often have I looked past the tender pink flower in search of the ocean?
Particularly this time of year when needs and commitments chomp at our heels, and days can drag long and weary, I’d like to encourage you to seek Jesus, asking what he would say to you about your everyday service.
Ask for his affirmation and encouragement of you as his daughter, as one doing holy work. Ask him to give you eyes to see where you can let go or ask for help. Ask him to renew and sustain you.
Remember that God’s eyes are tenderly upon you right where you are – arms deep in turkey and meltdowns and forgotten side dishes. Remember the way your Lord is and has always been the God who sees (Genesis 16:13) and that he is the One who offers rest for your weary soul (Matthew 11:28).
May you recognize your preparations and the gift of your engaged presence as offerings of worship, when done as unto the Lord. Colossians 3:17 reminds us that every act and word of our lives can be done in the name of Jesus, “giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
So let us give thanks. While life’s waters churn, may we be still enough to notice and express our gratitude for his round cheeks, her laughter like music, the wafting smell of pumpkin pie, the hands of beautiful and imperfect people clasped together around the table.
And, sisters, let’s not only give thanks, but continue to live it – to his glory.
I am marking last night as one of the times in my life when I felt the earth shift, the internal structures of my heart made utterly NEW.
This is years of process — this rejecting of lies, this saying yes to God’s ways for me — but I’m saying yes really big this time. Not only for the next step the way I usually try to do with fear and trembling, but to all of it — regardless of outcomes, my picture of success or the risk required. I’m willing to look a fool.
When Christal Jenkins spoke right to my core last night: “Your idea coming out is connected to someone else’s purpose,” I saw for the first time my denial of the seemingly crazy God ideas in me as an outright rejection of someone else in need.
Because who am I to say my bread is not good enough for her table when she’s hungry? Who am I to say my words or thoughts are not complete enough when you’re right starving for hope? Who are any of us, drawn up in love and imbued with holy gifts, to deny another what and Whom we have to share?
I’ve been terrified of failing in the spoken and written word, but last night I knew it. I’m done placing my performance on the throne. I surrender.
For days frigid winds whip through trees, blowing leaves into whirling cyclones, and we head for cover, blankets, hot cider, snuggles. This morning, a hush covers our neighborhood. All is calm.
I long for this calm, miss it like a faraway friend, because inside these walls I am a spinning circle of fallen things myself. I try to order crunchy leaves in pleasing rows, but the wind churns again, kicks my accomplishments sideways. They’re not really what I want, I suppose.
It’s September, and I am weaving through the classroom, sidling up beside kids one at a time.
Lala is my third child enjoying kindergarten with Ms. Foster, and so for the third school year, I have the privilege of assisting this wondrously talented veteran teacher during Writing Workshop. When I first helped with writing eight years ago, I wondered if it was even “right” to make such small people write in lined journals. But I’ve watched little round faces and still dimpled hands dance with letters forming words, shaping sentences, sharing story. This is not drudgery, but joy.
Each time, I approach children, I ask them to tell me what they’re writing, to count out the words in their sentence.
“I am going to the pa-ark,” one boy counts on his fingers, arriving at seven. Because, he seems to figure, park is an important word, a big one — at least worth two slots.
“Close. That’s actually six,” I count out for him, drawing lines with an orange marker for each word he’ll write with the big blue pencil in his journal.
I smile, and he nods in somewhat confused agreement.
Most of the kindergarteners are only beginning to form letters, many using squiggles in place of letters they don’t know or can’t yet stretch out. It is completely encouraged as part of the progress. Not surprisingly, this early in the year few kids write anything that resembles what we’d call sentences.
Suddenly, a little blonde-haired girl stands next to me, tears falling from saucer eyes.
“I can’t write anything,” she says. “I don’t know how to do it.”
I pull her aside and get low. “Honey, you are doing it,” I say. “You’re learning. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.”
Her mouth draws further down at the corners, and I continue.
“You are becoming a writer, and that takes time, but you’ll be amazed, bit by bit, you’ll learn more,” I say. “I can’t wait to see how your writing grows this year.”
She heads back to her desk, looks up at the ceiling.