Day 31: Here, at the End of This Thing

31 Days in the Word

One month ago, I spontaneously decided to join with hundreds of other bloggers and accept the challenge to post a blog every single day of October. My series would be called 31 Days in the Word, and it would be a way to hold myself accountable to reading the Bible daily.

Well, I have blogged every single day, but it didn’t take long before “31 Days in the Word” turned into more of a “31 Days of Whatever-the-Heck-I-Can-Think-Of.” What with working almost full-time, as well as juggling multiple other commitments this month, blogging daily became a major consumer of my time, and, if I’m honest, a burden. I’m a slow writer, especially at the end of long days.

Perhaps inevitably, this blogging experiment often turned Bible-reading into a pressure-filled, obligatory chore. Whenever I would read the Bible before writing a blog post, I couldn’t focus on Scripture without thinking, What am I going to pull out of this to write about today? That’s part of the reason why my blogs, for the most part, became less about what I was reading in the Bible, and more about what was going on in my life and mind and heart at the time. Sometimes it was Bible-related, sometimes it wasn’t, but being real was more important to me than fitting into a mold.

And I wrote many real words that flowed from my life and mind and heart, and that maybe wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t been blogging so often.

As the month went along, however, I found that my writing and my life were becoming a bit disproportional. This quote from Sarah Bessey that I shared last week sums this up excellently:

Sometimes, I find if I’m writing too much and not living my life enough I have nothing to write about. Writer’s block and that place where I’m feeling stuck and where I feel I have nothing to say, it’s usually because I have nothing that I’m living and nothing I’m experiencing and nothing I’m taking in. You can’t really write out of an empty well. … I can’t write about church and community when I’m not making time for church and community in my life.

Will I ever do a 31-day series again? Right now, it seems very unlikely, but if I ever do it will not be a decision made without serious consideration regarding both subject matter specifically, and whether or not I am up for such high-frequency writing.

Thanks for joining me on this journey! To give both you and me a break, I’ll be resting from blogging this Friday, but will resume my pre-October Tuesday/Friday blogging schedule on Tuesday, November 5.

If you missed some of this month’s posts, you can find a full list of them here. These are a few (okay, eleven) of my favorites:

Day 30: Pieces of an October

Ozzie, the dog, and me
Ozzie and me

Cookies sliding into the oven while the phone is sandwiched between my shoulder and ear. I am laughing and the batch is small because I eat so much of the dough.

The black-and-white dog I am growing to love walking fast with me in the waning twilight. I think we both prefer the longer loop.

Long conversations filling my heart like music and love, and mingling with music and love.

Cell phone reaching its text message capacity yet again, bursting with precious words waiting to be transplanted into the safety of a Word document.

My voice spreading out over the airwaves from our old station and old microphone, and I still can’t explain why it’s so easy to be on the radio most days.

Firewood finding its way into the woodshed in the rain and shine of summer and fall, filling two nostrils and one face with dirt and accomplishment.

A cat waking me up and a junior-high boy introducing me to anime and two houses of new responsibility weaving into real life.

Boxes of crackers and other scrounged-up snacks being passed into the hands of adolescents in my Sunday school class after we act out Bible stories together. Still, I miss grown-up church.

Thin Bible pages turning to Isaiah and the Psalms and the Gospel of John, mostly, in the shades of evening. I rejoiced the few times it didn’t feel like an assignment. I longed for freedom and I longed for true rest.

A girl with wet hair and a too-big T-shirt drifting off to sleep in an empty house. She is ready for tomorrow.

Day 25: Public Speaking and Other “Performances”

speaking at my high school graduation
Speaking at my high school graduation. Back when the fear still dominated.

I’ve had so much trembling fear as I’ve stood in front of people.

I was 14 years old when I started going to a “real” school after a lifetime of homeschool. That first year, I was in a Bible class where we each had to memorize and then recite a Bible verse every week. We also had to come up with an application for our chosen verse, though that part didn’t have to be memorized.

I would always say my verse and application fast. One day, someone decided to race me, and so the competition was on, and oh what fun memories I have of stopwatches and rapt attention and a friendly rivalry.

The reason I started saying them fast in the first place, though, wasn’t because I was trying to set a record. It wasn’t even just because I was nervous. It was because I didn’t want people to listen too closely to my application. What if my application was dumb? So I would read it as quickly as possible so people hopefully wouldn’t be able to fully process what I was saying and, thus, wouldn’t be able to judge me.

I didn’t believe my words had worth.

I’ve done the same thing with creative writing assignments in school. Especially when I know I’ll have to read them out loud. Panic would lock up my creative process and I would struggle to bring a word, a sentence, an idea past my freaked-out filter and onto the page. They’ll think this is terrible, I couldn’t help but think, and there would be no enjoyment in the writing.

So much of this fear of mine can be traced back to viewing my words as performances instead of as conversations. I wrote about this on Wednesday, but today I’m making it more personal.

In performances, you can’t mess up. In performances, everyone is watching you and no one’s talking with you and there’s no us, only a very separated you and them. In performances, it’s all or nothing.

I was insecure, and I believed the lie that I wasn’t good enough and my words weren’t good enough.

In school, even preparing for a speech days in advance was enough to fill me with fear. During and since my life-changing trip overseas with YWAM, though, I’ve felt a strange desire to do the very thing that had so terrified me. I spoke at youth groups and church meetings a few times in Asia, and even though I was always nervous right before going to the front, I was able to prepare without fear. There’s something exhilarating about stepping way out of your comfort zone, but it’s more than that. I think speaking and I have some kind of future together.

Anyway, since then, I’ve taught Sunday school regularly, co-preached a sermon in a Mexican church (complete with a translator!), given a toast at a wedding, and of course been on the radio. Sometimes I was still nervous, but I was almost always the one eagerly volunteering to speak, and I never regretted it.

What changed?

My identity changed, in ways I can’t fully put into words. I believe that I am someone worth liking, worth loving, worth listening to. My words aren’t in competition with anyone else’s words (though I do need reminding of this quite often). I can speak or write and not know everything and even make mistakes and it doesn’t make me a failure.

Some people will never enjoy speaking in front of big groups. It’s just not who they are. But I’m beginning to think that I’m not one of those people (two years ago, I never would’ve believed I would be saying this!). I’m beginning to see that speaking and teaching don’t have to be performances; they can be conversations. And I like conversations.

Wedding toast for a friend
Making a toast at a friend’s wedding last month. When the fear no longer dominated.

This is day 25 of 31 Days in the Word.

Day 24: When November 1st Can’t Come Soon Enough

Christmassy socks
Yes, these are the very socks I mention, in this photo taken just for this blog post.

I woke up an hour early this morning. I’m still in my pajamas, wearing a hoodie and thick Christmassy socks even though the warmth outside will reach the mid 80s by the time the sun has finished its work for the day.

I know it’s not the end of the month, not the final entry of 31 Days in the Word, but I need to reflect on this whole thing a bit. I hope you don’t mind.

Yesterday, I knew that I had long since reached a point where I needed to be in the Word, needed to pursue community, needed to put ideals and plans and goals into real-life action instead of just writing about them.

In an interview about writing, Sarah Bessey said, “Sometimes, I find if I’m writing too much and not living my life enough I have nothing to write about. Writer’s block and  that place where I’m feeling stuck and where I feel I have nothing to say, it’s usually because I have nothing that I’m living and nothing I’m experiencing and nothing I’m taking in. You can’t really write out of an empty well. … I can’t write about church and community when I’m not making time for church and community in my life.”

I very much resonated with this. I am a slow writer, often. Especially after spending seven or eight hours at work before trying to pull words out and meet the daily quota.

How glad I will be when there no longer is a daily quota!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did this experiment, and I’ve written many things that I’m proud of, many things I probably wouldn’t have written otherwise. But I will be glad when November arrives and I can settle back into my twice-a-week postings and “living my life” won’t have to feverishly try in vain to stay ahead of — or at least neck-and-neck with — my writing.

Last night, I was tired and sitting bleary-eyed in front of my computer, wondering what I would write about, and then I thought, You know what? I’m just going to spend some time with God and go to bed.

Best decision ever.

Day 23: Performance vs. Conversation

In the studio
Me in the studio during last year’s fall Share-a-thon.

I don’t like performing.

It’s one thing to sit in the studio at the radio station where I work with the door closed tight as I leisurely read a devotional or even go off-script with a “Lizzie original.” I’ll sing lustily or let the music play in the background as I mark up my paper with the adjusted start and end times of my voice tracks. My mental math has improved over the months.

When I misspeak or lose my train of thought, I’ll pause and then carry on when ready. I’ll edit out the mistakes and silence later. My favorite moments are usually those off-the-cuff ones, when I’m speaking or praying unrehearsed words from the heart.

Put another person in the room, and it changes everything.

Even if we’re only talking for a minute or two about a subject I’m quite familiar with by now (like our upcoming Share-a-thon), I’m nervous. I’m afraid of making a mistake, so I try to plan out everything I’m going to say and exactly how I’m going to say it. I turn it into a performance.

Strangely, this usually only happens when it’s prerecorded. On live radio, I’m much more comfortable. You’d think it’d be the opposite, wouldn’t you? That not being able to go back and fix it, that having no safety net for my words, would be asphyxiating. I won’t say that I can always think of things to say or that I never feel the pressure, but our live radio atmosphere is one of grace and conversation and sharing, and I find myself relaxing into it and finding the freedom to just talk.

I can be more real when I’m live because it feels more like a natural conversation. Instead of “oh wait, mistake, must stop and start over,” I can laugh and say, “Oh, whoops, this is what I meant to say…”. And that’s what conversations in real life look like too. The way we do live radio takes away the barrier, the pretense of polished perfection. Conversations aren’t meant to be perfect performances. They’re meant to be unpredictable and messy and all over the place. And beautiful. Beautiful because of all those things!

In some of those prerecorded conversations and interviews, though, it feels less like a conversation and more like a performance.

I think we sometimes turn what should be a conversation into a performance. When I care about you and what you’re saying, that’s a conversation. When I’m focused on myself and what I’m saying and on impressing you, that’s a performance. And when I’m making a speech, if I’m excited to share these words or stories or this information with you, and if I’m curious to hear what you have to say on this subject as well, that’s a conversation. But if I’m focused on appearance and perfect diction and how I have to be the best at saying this and how if I do this right there will be nothing more to say on the subject, that’s a performance.

Even when it should be a performance — i.e. in theatre, in music, in dance — I think incorporating elements of conversation (such as engaging with your audience and wanting to share with them and help them experience what has touched you so deeply) can only improve the performance.

What do you think? When are performances good? Is art more like a performance or a conversation?

This is day 23 of 31 Days in the Word … though this post may be more inspired by personal experience and, to an extent, by Emily Freeman’s 31-day series on living art than strictly fitting into a “31 Days in the Word” box. But hey, I’ve been spending more time reading the Bible this month than I was before, and if this series has lately been “more about the-girl-who-is-reading rather than the-God-she-is-reading-about, that’s okay.”

Day 22: I need you.

at the wheel of a plane
photo by robef on flickr’s creative commons

I live so much of my life alone and on autopilot.

Being on autopilot acts as the sometimes-cure to my sometimes-loneliness.

I am alone in a big house right now, sprawled across a curved sofa with only the hum of the appliances and the occasional chiming of the clock to keep me company. Even the dog doesn’t bark much.

Alone in the studio at work, alone in the planning of Sunday school lessons, alone in the reading and writing and clicking and posting.

Even when I’m with people, I often feel alone. The surface conversations and prayer requests, the friendships that are confined to a certain time and place, my own sense of self-sufficiency and independence that push back the hard thoughts and the deep thoughts and the creative, life-giving thoughts because I’m on autopilot and too busy for them. Too busy for God, even.

We get so comfortable in our routines, even the ones that don’t feel exactly right.

For probably a year now, I’ve been talking about how I want to join a small group, how I want to make new friends and get to know more people on a deeper level, but it’s been a long time since I’ve done anything about that. It’s been a long time since I’ve started anything new.

Every six months, I’ll look at what I’m doing and decide if there’s anything I need to change, I told myself in April when a class I was taking ended.

Not much has changed since then.

Oh, I’ll fly across the country for a wedding with less than two months’ notice, I’ll say “yes” to going to the youth group winter camps, I’ll housesit.

But that’s not the same as making a change that affects what I do every day, or every Tuesday night, or every Sunday morning.

This isn’t about saying “yes” to one activity and “no” to another, though; it’s about saying “yes” to people. It’s about relationship and needing real live people no matter how long — or not — I’m going to be in this town.

I need you. I really need you. Not just to bring a snack or cover for me when I’m out of town. Not just to tell me how great I sound on the radio or how wonderful my writing is. I need you. I know I haven’t done a good job of communicating this to either of us. I know I often live as if I don’t need anyone.

As if I were a secret room with the doors shut and the music muffled, basking in my own beauty without eyes for anyone else’s.

As if I were a far-away island daring another landmass or boat to come by and disturb me.

As if I were the strong foundation of a modern building rejecting all offers of help.

But I’m not any of those things. I’m simply a girl with many flaws who often looks more put-together than she actually is. And who needs people.

 

I’m so grateful for the friends I do have, near and far. Thank you for your love and support!

Day 19: A Saturday for Leaving

Packing
photo by WordRidden on flickr’s creative commons.

As I write this, half of my clothes are in the wash, and the other half are spread across my bed next to a big stack of books.

For the next two and a half weeks, I’ll be waking up and writing my blogs and doing life in a different place. I’ll be caring for a dog and a cat and a house as their owners are on vacation.

For the most part, I’m looking forward to this. I’m looking forward to the change of scenery and the change of pace. I’m looking forward to more reading and more rest and less time on the road.

And yet I am ever-aware of the possibility of loneliness. I love my alone time, but I’ll miss the very presence of my parents. Even when I’m glued to this screen, their movements and presence and conversation in the background are reminders that I’m not alone … reminders I’ve just been realizing are indeed welcome even when I bristle at being disturbed.

While greater rest may be on the horizon, greater busyness is as well. I hope to learn how to embrace true rest even amidst the many things.

God bless you this weekend! Come back tomorrow for a Sunday blessing.

This is day 19 of 31 Days in the Word.

 

 

 

 

Day 16: Was I Ever on Fire?

When We Were On Fire synchroblogMy hands are covering my face. Or they were before I removed them to type these words.

I don’t know where to begin this story of my life in a first-generation Christian family. There is too much, and there is too little. How can I bring it all together into a coherent whole?

Honestly, I don’t like thinking about my childhood. The bad memories overshadow the good ones. Memories of hiding and oh-so-much-guilt and shattered innocence and the ugly mess of my own angry words stick around as the good ones grow dim.

But those aren’t the stories I want to tell you, not now.

This is the story of how I played the perfect little Christian girl, and how, ultimately, that didn’t work.

I memorized the Bible verses, I did all the Sunday school and Awana assignments, I was the “smart, quiet one.” At home, I shouted, I refused, I glared with my fiery firstborn eyes. At church, I was good.

“Your knowledge of the Word always showed in your sharing in class,” my 6th grade Sunday school teacher wrote in the front inside cover of What the Bible is All About (the King James Version, of course) — a prize for my diligent performance.

I “prayed the prayer” at age 3 or 4, but I don’t remember it. I was baptized young and became a church member young. It was what you did. Baptism was supposed to precede communion, I knew, so I always looked down my nose at the unsubmerged kids who helped themselves to the holy bread squares.

I wrote letters to my unsaved grandparents full of Bible verses and the plan of salvation and matter-of-fact statements that they should become Christians and go to church.

My mom had grown up smack-dab in the middle of pain and brokenness, and her modus operandi in parenting was “shelter them!”

So my sister and I wore our matching jean jumpers to our non-denominational-but-basically-Baptist church, around which our social lives were centered. We were homeschooled. We sang, “Stop! And let me tell you, what the Lord has done for me!” until we were sick of it, we listened to Adventures in Odyssey on the radio most afternoons but never got sick of it, and we were not allowed to watch Pokémon or read Harry Potter or listen to ‘N Sync. But that was okay because we believed our parents when they said those things were bad.

In high school, I left my isolated homeschooling life in the woods and transitioned to a Christian school.

Again, I distinguished myself as the “smart, quiet one”; again I tried to please everyone; again I wore a mask.

It was worse this time, though. When I was younger, I sometimes slipped up and sulked at camp or insisted on my own way during a piano lesson. But in high school, I got better and better at adding mildness to my list of accomplishments. I was the “nice, smart, quiet girl.”

Life rolled along, and I rolled with it. I was living a fully inherited faith with a fully intact mask.

When the full weight of this hit me my freshman year of college, I felt like a failure. I had never “made my faith my own.” My testimony wasn’t victorious. I couldn’t think of any real spiritual turning points.

Insecurity had always been my faithful companion, but college was the worst. I never despised or compared or isolated myself as much as I did then. I was sure that if people knew the “real me,” they would reject me. I couldn’t open up, I couldn’t take off the mask, and I was depressed. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be, and I was starting to believe I never would be.

And today?

I have hope again. I took off my mask, and nobody ran away. I asked hard questions, and I didn’t shock anyone. But even if I had shocked or they had run, that wouldn’t have changed my identity as a person of worth. I’m finally learning who I am, and I finally like myself. But God … he seems so much more confusing and uncertain than he used to, and so does, well, everything.

I want to be on fire, I want to “taste and see,” but I won’t fake it again. I won’t be the perfect little Christian girl again.

The journey continues. I am here, and I am me, and right now, that is enough.

This is day 16 of 31 Days in the Word … and this is also a synchroblog to celebrate the release of Addie Zierman’s memoir, When We Were On Fire. Click here and scroll down to read the stories of others’ faith journeys.

Day 15: Lectio Divina and a Lost Conference

flowersYou are planted here.

Those were the words I felt in my spirit during Sunday night youth group as I lay on the church sanctuary floor.

A few of us read Psalm 1 out loud, silently asking God to highlight a word or phrase or picture. Then we each retreated to separate corners to meditate and ask and rest in the living word with the living God. In other words, we practiced lectio divina (Latin for “divine reading”), the ancient monastic practice.

Part of the third verse jumped off the page into my waiting self: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water.”

You are planted here.

Those words came back to me yesterday morning as I was fighting back tears of disappointment and frustration. A work meeting at 9 o’clock, 15 minutes of forgetfulness, and twelve hundred other women who were more on top of things than I was, and suddenly the IF Gathering in Austin, Texas, was no longer a possibility for me.

This was to be another adventure with a far-away friend, but more than that it was to be a coming together of women to be real together, to wrestle together, to ask questions and seek God and discover purpose and build each other up. And as the IF Gathering became less of a typical-conference thing and more of a stepping-out-in-faith thing, my excitement grew.

And then it was gone.

But folding hundreds of Share-a-thon letters in a quiet room is very therapeutic. I prayed and processed through this unwelcome turn of events, and my sadness and guilt and frustration melted into peace.

You are planted here.

The IF Gathering isn’t just a Texas-only event; it’s being opened to others around the world via webcast.

Maybe this is an opportunity for her to get to know people in Texas; maybe this is an opportunity for me to get to know people here.

“You’re always going somewhere,” I’m often told. I try to deny it, but looking back over the last year, back at England and Chicago and Alaska and Mexico and the Pacific Northwest and Pennsylvania (not to mention China the year before), I can’t.

Maybe I need this reminder that it’s okay to stay put. I don’t need a plane trip and a change of scenery to grow or make a difference or see God in a new way.

I wouldn’t have chosen it like this, but I am planted here, and I am at peace.

This is day 15 of 31 Days in the Word.

Day 14: I am not a Sunday-school-teacher robot

My first teaching experience
(deathly afraid) 11-year-old me teaching a short lesson as part of an Awana assignment.

This is day 14 of 31 Days in the Word.

I teach my church’s small group of middle schoolers Sunday mornings, one month on, one month off. I don’t like to improvise and go off script because I’m not very good at it. At least, that’s what I used to think. I’ve been questioning that heretofore defining characteristic of mine lately, in part because I don’t like teaching from a curriculum.

I thought I would, but I don’t. Maybe it would be different if the group were bigger or I had a greater variety of curriculum options or I wasn’t such a procrastinator.

But you’d think a procrastinator would prefer the ready-made lessons, wouldn’t you? I thought those lessons with the pre-written discussion questions and the “say something like this” paragraphs and the starter activities would make this introverted first-time teacher breathe a sigh of relief.

And they did, at first.

Now, though, homemade lessons are my preference, and most of the time they even take less time to prepare.

Being creative helps, sure, but the biggest factor here is that I want to be real with the kids. I want to ask questions and share with them words and stories that resonate with me.

I can’t just come in cold with somebody else’s lesson and not feel disingenuous.

This is not where I’m at. This story doesn’t resonate with where I am right now, even if it is true.

Now, maybe it would be different if I spent more time with the lesson and the Bible passage and made it my own. I’ve done that before, and it’s worked. But it’s harder that way, and I’d rather share with them something that, from the start, I can connect with.

Because I’m not a teacher robot, programmed to read Bible verses and say borderline clichés with a smile. Not every story is easy to understand, not every verse feels good or has only one possible interpretation, not every message can be easily wrapped up, resolved, and applied in 45 minutes.

And even with 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds, I won’t pretend those things aren’t true. I won’t pretend that I know everything. I’ll say, “I don’t know,” and I won’t be in a rush to tie up every loose end into a neat little bow.

Let’s teach our children to really engage with Scripture, even when it means they’ll ask us questions we don’t know the answers to. Our minds and their minds are not the enemy.