9 Things I Learned in September

For the third time, I’m linking up with fellow blogger Emily Freeman and others to share with you a few of the things I learned this month. I do always look forward to these blog posts (though I can’t believe September is almost over!). Anyway, this is a collection of some of the things I’ve learned, on a head level, a heart level, an experiential level, and a wow-I-never-knew-that-before! level.

1. I can walk in high heels and not look completely unnatural (not to mention not fall over). This may not sound very impressive, until I tell you that I have never owned a pair of heels before, and that these heels were monstrosities! They were the required footwear for a wedding I was bridesmaiding in, and even the hardened high-heel wearers of the group found these heels especially uncomfortable. Looks like all my hours of practice paid off!

me and high heels

2. It feels good to step out of your comfort zone. None of the other bridesmaids were going to give a toast, so I offered to give one. What have I done? I thought for a split second as the bride-to-be made the call to add me to the schedule. And then it passed. I was a little nervous before the DJ handed me the microphone, but in the moment and afterward, I marveled at how natural it all felt, and how glad I was to be able to encourage my friend in this way. Doing hard things is always worth it.

3. You can mute Spotify while it’s playing an ad and not just pause the ad in the process. (I know, I was excited too!). You simply pause the ad, then mute your computer, then press play. Unmute when the music starts again.

4. I am learning how Twitter works. I’ve had an account for a while, but hadn’t really tweeted much until very recently (you can follow me at @lizziegoldsmith if you want). Until a couple days ago, I didn’t know about the “Connect” button and that it lets you see all your interactions with others. Twitter makes so much more sense now.

5. Speaking of Twitter, I’m discovering a tension between social networking to promote myself and my blog, and social networking to connect with others. I don’t want to be a brand and all focused on appearances, but it can be very easy to forget that life is not about me (and neither is the Internet) — to quote my recent blog on the subject. Anyway, I can’t forget that social networking is indeed a helpful tool, but I don’t want to make it all about me and the pursuit of what I want. I want to be real online and seek to understand as well as to be understood. I know this will be something I’ll have to keep coming back to to check and re-check my motives, but it’s worth it.

6. Love is more important than the right words. This is one of the more important blog posts I wrote this month. I was thinking about how to say things in ways people will receive, and then I realized that love is more important than all those strategies. That’s the way to get through to people, and that’s the way to live life to the fullest yourself. “And if you feel like the love is lacking, pray for more love. And if you feel like the love is strong, pray for more love. We always need more love.”

7. I found out what Bluetooth is. In a word: wireless.

8. I’m not where I want to be spiritually, but the longing is there. With the help of my journals over the last few years, I recently took a long, hard look at my spiritual life. I’m not where I want to be. I’m not where I was a year ago when I had just returned home from my Discipleship Training School with YWAM. I doubt. I wonder if I’ve ever really tasted and seen. “I don’t know how I feel about God right now, or where we’re at, or what it will take to get back to a place of intimacy and trust. But I want that.” I can’t go back, but I can go forward!

9. I can blog consistently for a month (and counting)! I had hoped I would be able to say this at the end of this month, and now that it’s here I’m happy to report that I have been blogging consistently twice a week since August. It has been so fulfilling to write more, especially now that the habit is there and the accountability is there.

What did you learn this month? Feel free to share in the comments section!

I am From…

I am from evergreens and cutting down Christmas trees in the backyard and carrying twice my age of firewood up the stairs.

I am from bunk beds and sleigh beds.

I am from the California of snow and mountains and desert summers and Tinkerbell Lane.

Even when I don’t close my eyes at 4:30 p.m., I am from the town of Odyssey and the ice cream shop they call Whit’s End. The old man with the mustache, the young man with the glasses, the girl with the green sweater who is the last to know everything…

I am from televisions that hide behind blankets and know no channels, but that welcome weekend movie nights with that green splotch in the upper-right corner of the screen.

I am from Christmases with few traditions and Thanksgivings at Granny and Poppa’s house with the crepe paper and balloons because it’s my birthday.

I am from a small family, a small town, a small church.

A mother who feels and a father who thinks

A father who runs marathons and a mother who talks marathons

A first-generation Christian family

I am from all-natural soaps and organic everything.

From Honda cars and Ford trucks

Taco meat and Rice Krispies

Jean jumpers and matching clothes and modesty

I am from homeschooling at my little desk, and always wanting to pledge allegiance to the American flag

I am from those who distrusted the Newsboys and then loved the Newsboys.

I am from conservatives and middle-class and Christian bubbles.

I am from angry words and gentle words and too many words and not enough words and sarcasm.

I am from sparse decorations and piles of papers and a certain way to put the dishes in the dishwasher.

I am from hiding away from people and worrying what they think.

I am from the west. I am from the Midwest. I am from the near and the far. I am from deep down and close up and the space between fear and freedom. I am from home, and I am for home.

my family
My family and me in 2006

(speak the truth) IN LOVE

a gift in hand
photo by asenat29 on creative commons (flickr)

I want you to receive this. I’m holding a truth, an oh-so-delicate, important truth, and it’s for you. I know you need it, but you don’t see it, and we’re so different, and I know instinctively that the way I give it to you matters.

Once I let go of it, there’s nothing more I can do. If I do it right, you’ll be looking at the truth in your hands, and it will look to you the same way it looks to me, and you will understand, and you will set it somewhere, somewhere in your mind. And it may only change things one-tenth of a degree, but when you mix in time and life and that one truth and other truths you accumulate, that one-tenth-of-a-degree might blossom into something beautiful neither of us expected. Or maybe it won’t. But that part’s not up to me. All I can do is share with you what I see, and share it in a way you can receive.

Stop.

Stop right there.

Those two paragraphs up there, they were what I originally wanted to arrange this entire blog post around. A day and a half ago, that was my plan, and it seemed so right, and I couldn’t wait to share with you what I’d learned about being pastoral, and learning to speak someone else’s language, and words and messages and truth and receiving.

It wasn’t a bad idea, and I value what I’ve learned on the subject, which is why I left those two paragraphs in.

But sometime last night, I was praying, and there was a shift.

Please, God, help me love this person more. And even in my exhaustion, I sensed the shift, the light bulb: What enables me to speak words of life isn’t strategies and plans and good delivery; it’s love. (And how can I write about strategies and how-to’s when I can write about love?)

Oh, maybe my advice will be long-winded, and I’ll have to search long and hard for the right words, and I won’t even find the best ones. But even if this happens every time, it won’t matter because I love you and you’ll see that I love you and all the strategies in the world can’t hold a candle to that.

Yes, yes, speak the truth in love. But start with love. Always, always, start with love, and then think about the how. 1 Corinthians 13:1 says it best: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Go ahead and reread the rest of that chapter, even if you’ve read it many times before.

When I want to help, the best thing I can do is love. Maybe words will come out of that love, or maybe it will be a silent mouth and busy hands instead, or simply an I’m-with-you smile.

Let love replace worry, let love replace the fix-it tendencies, let love replace the desire to control. I can’t change anyone; I can only love.

And if you feel like the love is lacking, pray for more love. And if you feel like the love is strong, pray for more love. We always need more love.

Life is not about me (and neither is the Internet)

One month ago today, I pressed “publish” and started being a serious blogger. And by “serious blogger,” I don’t mean I started writing about serious things (though my blogs do tend to be about the deeper sides of life), but that I started taking blogging seriously by posting consistently.

Having my own little corner of the Internet has been wonderful and illuminating, and reminds me that writing is what I’m meant to do. And yet I do feel the tension between writing as an overflow of who I am and writing to be read.

a roomThe truth is that I want people to come into my room of words here. The truth is that there are steps I can take, ways I can open the door a little wider and spread the word a bit further, so more people can hear the music and see the lights and smell the aromas of the little party going on here.

And therein lies the problem. Or at least, the tension.

How can we truly care about each other when we all have our own blogs we want people to read? How can we take the common-sense steps to get our blogs out to more people without making it all about our blogs and our readerships? How can we get involved in like-minded online communities without ulterior motives tugging at us?

I think this tug-of-war of seemingly conflicting motives applies to other areas of life too, other vocations. The missionary who sends out newsletters and updates to let people know about his ministry, but also hopes those mailings will bring in more financial support. The aspiring actor or filmmaker or musician trying to get noticed. Everyone struggling with the tension of doing what you love … and then having to promote yourself.

My goal is not to see the others as competition or as a means to an end. I don’t want to compare, I don’t want to maneuver, I don’t want to feel like I have to shout the loudest so people hear me. That makes art ugly. Even the word “networking” puts a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s tempting and romantic to want to close the doors to my little room and keep my eyes fixed on what’s going on here, on making pure art from the fullness and brokenness of who I am. If someone stumbles upon my little nook, great, but that’s not where my attention lies.

But the fact is, creatives (and others) who want to make a living doing what they love usually can’t completely close their eyes to marketing and networking. So how do we put ourselves out there without becoming arrogant and self-focused and losing the purity of the art?

I’m reminded of this quote by Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

It doesn’t stop at my gladness. I want to help you through what I write, not just help myself. I don’t want things to degenerate into “you do this for me and I’ll do this for you.”

I don’t want to follow God as a means to an end. I don’t want to write or spend time with people or do ministry as means to ends. Maybe that logic works for the small things, the little tasks (or maybe it doesn’t). But when it comes to people and purposes, I don’t want to treat them as a means to an end. They are too sacred for that.

Friend, I want to love you and love your calling independent of me and my calling. You were not put on this earth, or in the blogosphere, or in my circle of friends, to prop up my ego, or make me famous, or give meaning to me and my calling.

Life is not about me, and neither is the Internet. It’s not about controlling or conforming to be seen, appreciated, loved.

This is something I know I’ll have to remind myself of again and again as I fight to be authentic and love more. But those things are worth fighting for.

In the Holy of Holies

I know a lot about the Tabernacle. The Brazen Altar. The Laver. The Table of Showbread. The Holy of Holies. Last year, I even participated in an intense, day-long spiritual experience involving Tabernacle imagery and coming to the altar. It brought the fulfilled Tabernacle to life on a spiritual level.

On Sunday, I saw the Tabernacle brought to life physically.

photo by Lyndon Perry on creative commons (flickr)
Similar to the “Tabernacle” I saw, but not the same one. (photo by Lyndon Perry on creative commons – flickr)

I’d been anticipating this for more than a month, but it wasn’t what I expected, not quite, not at first. “The Tabernacle Experience is not a museum. It is not a theatre production. The Tabernacle Experience is an Encounter with the Living God!” says the website for this life-size replica that travels around the country.

I didn’t go to gain more head knowledge, but to gain more heart knowledge. To be transported and transfixed.

I read an oversized pamphlet of information I already knew while we waited our turn to go inside. Maybe it was because of the desert-like heat or my thirsty mouth, but I think it was the audio guide that kept me from fully engaging. Even as I plucked a linen square from the table, tossed a stick onto the fire, washed my hands in the laver, lit a candle, bent over to dip the cracker in the juice, and selected an incense stick to carry into the Holy of Holies, I felt like I was following a script. Because I was. I looked where I was supposed to look, only getting involved when I was told to do so, only walking when the sound of the shofar told me it was time to go to the next station. Everyone else did the same thing. There was no room for quiet and prayer and freedom.

That’s why, at the end of the tour, I retraced my steps alone and without the voice and the shofar. I’m not sure if it was allowed, but I had to.

I found myself drawn, drawn, drawn back to the Holy of Holies. I moved past all the people doing what they were told. I took a smoky incense stick because I wanted to, and entered the Holy of Holies. I was alone this time. Without the well-meaning noise in my ears, I was able to think and pray.

The Ark of the Covenant was a feeble thing of wood and gold paint, unfit even for the B-est of B movies. And yet I reverently touched the wings of the cherubim and placed my hand in the blank space in the middle — the space reserved for Yahweh. And I knelt on the gravel in the dark room and prayed and didn’t want to leave.

When I did leave, this song by Dave Browning came to mind:

Take me past the outer courts
Into the Holy Place
Past the brazen altar
Lord I want to see your face
Pass me by the crowds of people
And the Priests who sing your praise
I hunger and thirst for your righteousness
But it’s only found in one place

Take me into the holy of holies
Take me in by the blood of the lamb
Take me into the holy of holies
Take the coal, touch my lips, here I am

I don’t want to experience a day in the life of an Old Testament priest. Maybe I thought I did, maybe I thought it would be cool, but what I really want is the Holy of Holies. I want to run past everyone, whether they’re carrying bloodied animals or headphones or a long list of rules, run to the Holiest Place of the Tabernacle of my heart, and remain there.

I’m still struggling. This visit didn’t change that, even when my knees were on the ground and my mouth was whispering prayers. I still have a hard time seeing and believing and making sense of it all.

I forget all too often, but that doesn’t change the fact that I want to see and believe and make sense of it all. And being in the Holy of Holies made that clearer than ever.

In which introversion is like a blanket

blanket on the beach
photo by annaink on sxc.hu

Having the introvert’s “rich, inner thought life” is like having a thick, beautiful blanket with you. It serves all sorts of purposes, of carrying and covering, of beautifying and reminding.

It is the blanket you gather yourself into for warmth and comfort in the peace … and to find the peace. You let it envelop you, all the way up to your chin, and you close your eyes.

It is the blanket you tuck behind your back or under your bum to keep from letting the aches and pains of ordinary overwhelm.

It is the blanket you run your hand and your eyes over to remind yourself there is still softness and beauty in the world.

It is the blanket you stuff in cracks and in that thin line between the door and the ground to keep out the cold.

It is the blanket you once used to carry your dolls and stuffed animals and plastic toys with you wherever you went. The blanket transformed them.

It is the blanket that covers your bedridden body, making a time of immobility bearable.

It is the blanket you lie on while gazing at clouds and stars.

It is the blanket you spread over that bare-bones chair to give it beauty and color.

It is the blanket you wrap your burdens and your treasures in, and which is inseparable from both.

It is the blanket you once carried with you in public without a thought, it was so natural. And then you started worrying about what people would think, so you left it at home (or at least tried to hide it). Now you bring it with you again, unapologetic and unafraid.

It is the blanket you were given as a baby, or maybe even before birth. You could never part with it.

The blanket is your most treasured possession and the greatest gift you can give to others. When they are cold, alone, or confused, your blanket is there. You are there. To listen, to share, to muse over the possibilities, to empathize, to dive deep together, to be still together.

That is my gift to you.

Packing Light (a book review)

Packing Light coverAfter reading her book, I feel like I know Ally Vesterfelt.

Even though I know she has a blog (and that I’ve been following said blog for months now) I was sad when the book-story ended, and I wanted to know more of what happened in her life between the end of book-story and now.

But this blog is for you as much as it’s for me, so I need to start at the beginning and say that this is a book review, of sorts, of Allison Vesterfelt’s first book, Packing Light, that came out 10 days ago. In a nutshell, the book tells the story of her 50-state road trip (yes, even to Alaska and Hawaii), and what she learned along the way.

At its core, Packing Light is a book about the things in life you need to leave behind. The rest of the title says it all: Thoughts on living life with less baggage. And she isn’t just talking about physical possessions, though that is a part of it, but the emotional baggage as well, the attitudes and relationships and all the assorted “stuff” we cling to that holds us back from being the people God created us to be. The person God created her to be.

I’d been looking forward to this book for months, and it didn’t disappoint. I loved going on this journey with Ally, almost forgetting it wasn’t a novel as I wondered what would happen next with this character or that conflict. But I never forgot it was a true story, not really. Not when I “know” Ally through her blog, and now know her better still through this book.

It’s easy to get drawn into her stories from the road — of the memorable moments, the people she met, the places she visited — but the heart of the book is the heart of Ally. Without mincing words, without painting the best possible picture of herself, she lets us see herself in all her fears, insecurities, and heartaches. She’s vulnerable. And so when she explains what she learned through a particular experience, you know these aren’t platitudes and “all the right answers,” but rather the hard-won gems of one who has sought and wrestled and shed many tears.

So many times I found myself nodding in agreement, marveling at her way of putting words together with such clarity and eloquence. I’m not well read in the travel memoir genre, but this one was deep, exploring topics such as whether or not to be a “Christian writer,” the people we leave behind, the rules that can misdirect us, learning to live the life we’ve always dreamed of, letting go of fear, and so much more.

Packing Light is fun and friendly, personal and thought provoking. It may be a quick read, but it has a lot to say. I highly recommend it.

****

Ally Vesterfelt

In addition to writing, Ally is also the managing editor of Prodigal Magazine. Check out Ally’s website at http://www.allisonvesterfelt.com, and read more about her book at http://packinglightbook.com

Here Comes Spring?

I had known for a while that I preferred my England journal with the swirls and the pretty birds to the smaller red one, all neat and prim with the typed KJV Bible verses on each page and “Christian art gifts” stamped on the back. For the longest time, though, I thought it was mostly an aesthetic thing: The first journal does look so much better.

But it’s more than that.

I have five journals on my shelf, and each of the five tells a story that has nothing to do with its outward appearance.

Lizzie's five journalsThe first one, after all, is arguably the most beautiful of the three, with its velvety paneling and pink flowers and soft cursive. But its insides are the darkest, full of loneliness and false lights and never finding a way out. It’s my college journal. I wrote in it between 2006 and 2011, and it personifies everything I wish I could change about those years, that winter.

And then spring came in 2012. The second and third journals tell this story, of the awakening of hope. A dear friend gave me the first of the two as a going-away/Christmas present shortly before I left home for my Discipleship Training School (DTS) with YWAM. She lovingly wrote Bible verses on every other page, verses that felt warmer and closer than the staid printed ones on journal #5. (But more on that later.)

This is where it started, I think, as I look at them both … but especially at the second one, the one I picked up in Asia. It was the cheapest journal I could find, and it shows. But I think part of its bedraggled appearance has to do with the fact that I took it everywhere in all kinds of weather. In these journals, descriptions of memorable days and what the lectures were about and oh-isn’t-this-great lists gradually gave way to dialoguing with God in the deepest spiritual intimacy I had ever known. Even when I felt like I had to fight for it, I wrestled honestly through what I knew and what I felt and what I wasn’t sure about. I grew accustomed to going to God first and often — not just with the highest highs and lowest lows — and working through things with him. Even now, knowing how many questions I asked, I know there were plenty of answers too, plenty of epiphanies about him and myself and life.

Spring matured into a summer (journal #4) where the conversations continued as I returned to familiarity — but not to hopelessness! My favorite memories of those first months at home were of my prayer walks. I would talk with God about whatever was on my mind, and I reveled in the ways those walks increased the knowing, lightened my soul, and united my mind and heart in the most joyous of ways.

And then, somewhere along the way, I lost my way.

I miss spring and summer.

For most of this year, I’ve been floundering in autumn. In that fancy, soulless red journal that thinks it knows best. But that’s unkind. I can’t blame the journal for the season. As a matter of fact, I scarcely know this journal. My rate of journaling has noticeably decreased this year. I don’t want to say that how much or how little I write in these precious-or-distant books is a direct reflection of how I’m doing spiritually, but … that does seem to be the pattern.

In making the connection between my life and the seasons, I’m not saying that another winter is inevitable. Or am I? After all, people do go through seasons that, though not as evenly spaced out as the seasons of the year, involve ups and downs, ends and beginnings, and flat middles between all the extremes. Maybe another winter is inevitable, but it won’t be what last winter was. Or maybe what I’ve been calling “autumn” has actually been quite a mild winter, comparatively speaking, and spring is peeking out from behind ice-encrusted leaves and cumulonimbus clouds.

Icy leaf

It certainly feels like spring.

To be writing again feels like spring. To be stepping back into grace feels like spring. To be writing this blog post feels like spring.

I don’t know how I feel about God right now, or where we’re at, or what it will take to get back to a place of intimacy and trust. But I want that. I’m remembering what it was like before, even though it seems so long ago now, and I miss it.

But I can’t go back. This may be a new spring, but it isn’t and can’t be last year’s spring.

Bring me to a new place, and soften me for that bringing.

Sun shining in winter

Pencil Grey

pencil and paper
photo by {Flixelpix} David on creative commons (flickr)

I’m happy. I really am.

I started reading Emily Freeman‘s book Grace for the Good Girl right after I finished writing my last blog about masks and personas and people-pleasing, and even though I knew the book addressed all those things with a breathe of grace, I was surprised by how closely it mirrored my life and my experiences. And that was just the first chapter. My sister and I will be reading that book together, little by little. I think we both need it. (And how wonderful it is to read the books written by my favorite bloggers).

For the first time in a long time, I’m starting to see little hints of mask-removal, little moments of answering honestly and not hiding and not ordering my life around what so-and-so might think. It’s nice, even though I’m sure there are bigger tests to come.

I’m not afraid to tell you that I have doubts about God and my faith, or that I don’t exercise and eat right, or that I waste so much time online long after it stops being fun.

But being real doesn’t always mean serious and vulnerable and big. It also means feeling free to be my whimsical self, or to be less busy, or to step out of the box.

This is what I wrote in my journal one month ago:

The most important thing for me to be doing during this time isn’t to develop more good habits, read and write more, “arrive” more, but rather to spend time with God more and try to see myself the way he sees me: to give myself grace.

To focus on relationship, but without the bar set at perfection.

I want to make this last year at home count, before I jettison off to another state or country for dreams-come-true and everything-being-put-to-the-test.

It’s a delicate balance, that finding of freedom between the pencil-drawn lines. I hold the pencil, and I decide when it’s better for my soul to erase lines and redraw them elsewhere … or not. But there are no pens of any sort here (especially no exacting red pens or permanent markers!). Life is pencil-grey and so am I, and I’m okay with that.

The Lizzie Brand

LG advertising
photo by LGEPR on creative commons (flickr)

I am not a person. I am a brand.

The “Lizzie Brand” demands much and gives little in return, but it’s a drug that’s hard to quit. It calls itself well-rounded and holistic, but it’s unnatural and unsatisfying. It offers me a semblance of control, but instead controls me. Some of its effects look good, but the motives behind them are poisoned. It forces me to meet high quotas while working in a weakened state. The promised victory is a vapid sense of superiority that is short-lived and brings me that much closer to its darker half, inferiority (but aren’t both dark?). And to chaos of the mind and heart. Even in the accomplishing and the doing, the enjoyment is not in the “doing,” but in the “having done.”

The fine print says, This is what’s normal. This is who you are and what you should be good at. If you’re not, where does that leave you?

The Internet helps me perpetuate this brand, this image, this “perfect” persona, but it isn’t the lone culprit.

The culprit is the watered seed-turned-plant of people-pleasing in my heart.

I’ve played the extrovert, but the breezy social butterfly persona has masked a desperate clinging to friendships near and far, deep and shallow, out of fear of losing them, fear of disappointing them.

And yet, as someone prophesied over me last year, “I have so much love for people that I don’t even realize, but it has been twisted by my people-pleasing tendencies.”

I’ve seen it.

I’ve seen the love get drowned out as I struggle to earn love and attention and even a passing glance … as I compare myself to you … as I feel the crush under the weight of pressure and think of myself, myself, and how I’m nothing.

It’s time to throw off the Lizzie Brand. Honestly, I don’t know what that completely looks like on a practical level, but I know it means disconnecting performance from identity. It means that I don’t have to Skype with everyone, I don’t have to say “yes” to everything, I don’t have to be liked by everyone, I don’t have to be the best, I don’t have to apologize for who I am — or even for not knowing who I am yet.

Let the floodgates open and the freedom spill out and the real me emerge.

I am Lizzie. I am not a brand.

I am a person.