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.
On Sunday, I saw the Tabernacle brought to life physically.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
Hello! Today I’m linking up with one of the bloggers I follow, Emily P. Freeman, and others to share with you ten things I learned in August. Some of them are silly, some of them are serious, some of them are informative, but all of them are true. Enjoy!
1. Playing the License Plate Game around my town all month taught me about living life as an adventure right where I am.
3. A good time to read magazines is while brushing my teeth.
And by “brushing,” I mean brushing, flossing, rubber-tipping, and tooth-picking. I obey my dentist scrupulously. At least, I do now that I’ve invited all my mostly unread Relevant magazines to the party.
4. Joining Goodreads reminded me that I’m insecure about my opinions of books, afraid that my lack of well-reasoned opinions means that I’m not smart (and if I’m not smart, then what?).
I wrote a blog about this recently that resonated with a few people.
“Do I really think that book deserved 5 stars? So-and-so gave it a 3, and, knowing her, she probably had good reasons for doing so. I just click indiscriminately based on half-remembered impressions and loyalties, hardly a proper analysis at all! I can’t even tell you why I gave it 5 stars. What does this say about my tastes? etc., etc.”
5. It’s possible to talk to and pray “with” people who aren’t there and still sound conversational.
This sounds very schizophrenic, I know, but I have a reasonable explanation: I’m a radio host for a small Christian station. I talk between songs during the night, but it’s all prerecorded. So not only am I sitting in a room by myself talking into a microphone, but no one’s even listening on the other end of the radio at the time I’m recording. Still, though, I’ve been working on getting past my plan-out-everything-I’m-going-to-say tendencies and doing more paraphrasing, improvising, and overall just talking-like-I-would-to-anyone else. Some days it works better than others.
On a more serious note, it can be easy to get into a habit of just saying all the right, Christian-y cliches, but I don’t want that. I want the words I speak and the prayers I pray to come from a place of authenticity as much as possible for a radio show with this much on-air time. What good is sounding conversational if I’m just going through the motions?
6. How to get better gas mileage(and not get speeding tickets)
I have a tendency to do whimsical things (other people call them weird things) to save money, test my endurance, or otherwise conserve resources. Since I have to drive 30 miles (each way) to work, finding a way to spend less money on gas became my new mission.
Attempt #1: I didn’t use air-conditioning for two weeks, even though the temperature was usually pushing 100 (°F). Internet research, however, informed me that driving sans air-conditioning doesn’t make that big of a difference.
Attempt #2: I focused on driving slowly, accelerating slowly, turning slowly, slowing down, uh, slowly, and overall treating my sturdy car, Yipo, like he’s made of glass. Noticeable improvement, though not the best way to win friends and influence people on the road.
Solution: In order not to irritate other drivers, I no longer drive like a turtle. More like a squirrel (but one that doesn’t stop every five seconds). I still do everything slowly, but I don’t drive slower than the speed limit. Usually. When no cars are behind me or there’s a passing lane or a very steep uphill grade, I tend to revert to my newfound turtle-like ways.
7. If you actually want to remember what you read and enjoy the reading process, it’s probably not a good idea to catch up on 60+ blog posts in one day.
8. There is one youth group game, and one alone, that makes me incredibly sore for days afterward.
Picture this: empty plastic cups scattered purposefully around a room. Half are face-up, half are face-down. A motley group of people is divided in half and commissioned to turn the cups one way or the other. One minute on the clock, and … GO! And then sixty seconds of run-crouch-stand-run-crouch-stand. Three or four minutes of this is enough to remind me how out of shape I am. I still feel it in my legs, and youth group was on Sunday.
9. Carcassonne is a wonderful game.
I’ll admit, this one’s more of a July discovery than an August one, but since I missed July’s link-up and I can’t not talk about this game, it gets a mention here. If you love Settlers of Catan, you’ll love Carcassonne too. And if you only moderately like Settlers, there’s still a good chance you’ll really like Carcassonne. Like Settlers, Carcassonne is a strategy game. Like Settlers, Carcassonne has a changeable board and involves building cities. But that’s where the similarities end. Carcassonne has less of a learning curve and is easier to jump into and actually understand most of what’s happening on the first go-around, but it’s no less strategic. Plus, there are many expansion packs out there to double the fun!
10. What the Rosary Belt is, why the Israelites started being called Jews, what the results of the Second Vatican Council were, and many other facts about the Bible, Christian history, and other countries.
Oh, and the Israelites started being called “Jews” after they returned from the Babylonian exile because most of those who returned were from the tribe of Judah. The 10 tribes carried away by the Assyrians never returned.
The License Plate Game (if that be its official title) is a legend of road trips, right up there with the Alphabet Game. At least it’s a legend on my road trips, as I try to catch definitive glimpses at the cars whizzing by in the opposite direction — or, if I’m lucky, at the ones creeping past me in the left lane, slow enough for me to get a good, long look at their markings without endangering anyone’s life.
Years ago, I adapted the Alphabet Game for the dentist’s chair. Now, I’ve turned the License Plate Game into a month-long adventure. How many states, I wondered, would I see in 31 days while simply living my life in the town I grew up in?
Forty states and counting.
Granted, I did go on a weekend trip to Washington, and once I drove slowly around the Bethel Church parking lot, but still. I’m amazed at how many out-of-staters I see on a regular basis. Every day I see between five and ten different states represented on the backs of cars and trucks, and not just border states (well, obviously not just border states, as California only has three of those), but some from rather far-flung locations.
Here’s what I’ve learned as I’ve kept my eyes open: Adventure is all around me.
My one year of being back at home is stretching into two. The trees and mountains look the same, the streets and buildings look mostly the same. When you don’t expect much, you won’t see or seek out much. Over the last year, I’ve gotten to know people who are new to my town and excited to be here, and it’s made a world of difference. There’s so much I didn’t know about this place and still don’t know. No, I will never be able to view my town through the fresh eyes of a newcomer, but I don’t have to view it as the place where dreams and adventures go to die. Because it’s not that place.
No place holds that power, unless you give that power to it.
I want my life — wherever I am — to be like a License Plate Game. I want to be straining and slowing to see if there might be a hidden opportunity at that event, a potential friend in that person, unwrapped joy in that stepping out and starting something. Maybe there won’t be. Maybe it will just be another California and I’ll purse my lips and turn back to the road. But I will keep going, and I will keep looking, because there are more cars. There’s always more. And anyway, there is a time and place for Californias, and Oregons, and Washingtons, and I can learn a lot from them.
But one day I’ll just be driving along, ever-watchful and ever-present and ever-hopeful, and New York will appear and my heart will beat faster and I’ll realize that this, this is what life is about. Life doesn’t just happen out there on the road on set adventures. Life happens here. It’s full of routines and it’s full of familiarity, but it’s also full of surprises and newness and unexpected blessings. It’s full of people and its full of God, and that’s enough.
Wherever you’re doing life can be a place of adventure, if you let it.
When everything you think about seems too big and too overwhelming and too stressful — even the tried & true happy subjects — you know it’s time for sleep.
That was me 24 hours ago, and sleep I did. I awoke to more rain, but less disorientation.
The rain is unusual this time of year. I’m not a huge fan of rain (nor a huge opponent either), but knowing that this may very well be the last precipitation I see for three or four months gives me fonder feelings for those spontaneous droplets. And I welcome any respite from the over-the-top heat native to my brown, pastoral home.
I am still recovering from my back-to-back weeks of adventure in Mexico and Alaska. I suppose that’s only natural since I just got back two days ago.
One week of desert heat and desert cold, followed by one week of balmy midnight sun and green and mountains. One week of beans and rice, tortillas and soupy meat; one week of heavy-on-the-fish American fare. One week of making concrete and playing with kids whom I barely understood; one week of seeing breathtaking views and reuniting with old friends.
In August, I plan to start blogging regularly, making good on my desire to find a small group, and replanting my feet in work and church and life routines here. In August. But until then I still have mini-trips and a special visit and summer weddings smilingly withholding my routines from me. And I don’t mind one bit. I smile right back — smile even more broadly than they are — and speak words of warmest, eagerest welcome.
But this week, this is my week in between all of the glorious moments and soon-to-be’s of July. This is my week to rest, to breathe, to pray.
If you need me, that’s where I’ll be. And if I’m not there, if you discover that I’m doing too much, kindly advise me to ease back on all the mile-a-minute planning and preparing. It will get done.
They weren’t actually my birds, but it felt like they were.
Last month, a pair of blue jays built their nest right up against my house on top of two floodlights. Another pair of jays had done the same thing five years earlier, but we hadn’t known it until we’d heard the chirp-chirp right outside our kitchen window.
This time, we realized what was going on much sooner. I was overjoyed to see the parent birds fly by the window carrying twigs and grass. When I didn’t see them at work for a few days, I was afraid they had changed their minds. When they set to work again, I cheered.
I love spring. The greens, the freshness, the new life unfolding and awakening all around me.
I loved adopting these wild birds and getting a front row seat to their little lives for this time. I had such joy watching them. I named them Lipton and Twining (after the brands of tea), I pondered names for their future children, I pressed my face against the glass and peered at the nest with increasingly greater anticipation, straining to see new movement, new life.
On Sunday, I saw the first sign of life: a little beak protruding upward, barely visible from where I stood outside on my green plastic chair. I didn’t know how many babies there were, or if all of them had hatched yet, but I had most of the names prepared (they were to be named after types of tea).
On Monday afternoon, I arrived home from work and glanced up as I usually do when I’m coming or going.
The nest wasn’t there.
Confusion. My heart and my eyes dropped. Shock. There was the nest, lying on the ground, mostly intact … and there were two mangled baby jays. Disbelief. Anguish.
I don’t consider myself to be an overly emotional person, but this day was different. This day I was sobbing loudly; sobbing with raw, erratic emotion; sobbing for these fragile little ones who had fallen and broken their necks only days after hatching.
I found out later that two other baby birds had fallen from the nest earlier that day.
Four tiny blue jays died that day. I wrote their names on a plain box and buried them behind our house.
I named them Green, Black, Earl, and Oolong.
Before this happened, I was looking forward to writing a blog about these birds. A blog about life. Now, it’s a blog about death.
Or maybe it’s about more than that.
Maybe it’s about the fragility of life, or the importance of having a soft heart that loves deeply even when that means weeping freely. Maybe it’s about the God who holds us in our fragility and cries with us.
I wept for my birds because I knew them and saw them and named them. And yet, their deaths and my sorrow are only a miniscule example of the sadness and suffering in this world.
I don’t cry for those I don’t know, not unless someone tells me their story in a compelling, poignant way. Seeing my birds die, or saying a hard goodbye, or hearing about a friend’s pain breaks my heart, but the suffering and injustice among unfamiliars doesn’t affect me as deeply.
But it should, shouldn’t it?
Life is precious, beautiful, sacred. All life.
I want to weep for the lives I know personally and for the lives I do not know. I want my heart to remain soft, delicate, and yet full of hope. For we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” We can’t fix everything and cure everyone, but we can breathe hope into one life at a time — one moment, one conversation, one helping hand, one word at a time.
I don’t know why the nest fell, and I don’t know why there is so much pain and sorrow in this world. But I know that God cares about it all, and that he doesn’t generalize suffering. He sees each individual life and hears each individual cry.
Matthew 10:29-31: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
An adventure to England. An adventure of 14 days, of the known and the unknown, of sight and sound, of excitement and embraces.
I’m all about adventures.
It’s officially been in the plans for 72 days. But unofficially? Only my heart knows.
And my suitcases are all packed, and my lists are full of horizontal lines, and the voices in my head are quiet now. Now I can stop and reflect. And when I do, I can’t believe that it is today already.
I haven’t written here in more than month. That will change soon, but most likely not until after this adventure. See you on the other side!
Today, I’ve been reading this year’s journals and reflecting more on the past year than perhaps I’ve ever done before on a New Year’s Eve. And I have a few things to share…
12 Changes of 2012
I wrote something similar in the eleventh hour of 2010, two years ago now. Now, after such a landmark year, I think this is an idea whose time has come again.
My three weeks overseas prior to this year has turned into more than seven months this year. I’ve lived in the UK, I’ve lived in China, I’ve tasted and seen and heard the good and the bad music of culture with eyes wide open.
I was used to having friends all over the country, but now I have friends all over the world! It’s been wonderful connecting with people from (sometimes vastly) different cultures and backgrounds.
My outlook on life, myself, and, well, everything has been radically transformed this year. I know myself more, and I am more real with others. It’s all thanks to God, who used my experiences this year to grow me and help me find true freedom in Him. I have more hope and joy than I’ve ever had before.
Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer. At university, I got discouraged and set that dream aside. This year, I’ve dusted off the dream of writingand picked it up again, daring to believe, decrying the fear, dancing in hope. I’m discovering the kind of writing I love to do, and I’ve been doing it in journals, blogs, and devotionals.
In the six months I’ve spent with my parents and sister this year, I’ve realized with great joy that my attitude toward my family has changed, and, thus, that we’re connecting and relating to each other better than ever before. This has been one of the greatest blessings of the last six months.
Through my improved relationship with my family, as well as my improved perspective on life, I’ve been able to “redeem my time” here at home. Incredibly, amazingly, thankfully, I’ve enjoyed living at home for the first time since I left for college six years ago.
“You enjoy meeting new people” reads one of the statements on many job application assessments. Before this year, I wouldn’t have been able to honestly respond with “Strongly agree.” But now I can. I’ve become more outward-focused and more willing to step out of my comfort zone with greater confidence and into new things.
Speaking of stepping out, I’ve found a niche for speaking to and teaching groups, both seen (Sunday School and youth groups) and unseen (radio audiences).
I’m learning how to enjoy and fully live in the present, rather than living off of memories of the past or expectations for the future. There is joy in today.
Head-knowledge has become heart-knowledge in a number of areas. I’ve learned so much more about relationships and communication, what it means to truly love, how to deal with doubt and unbelief, and so much more.
I’m learning how to be more intentional in relationships, and my fears and sense of self-worth are no longer at that all-time low they remained at for so long, freeing me to love and care about others more.
My personal devotional time has exploded! I’ve written through almost three complete journals this year and read a good portion of the Bible. But I can’t stop there. It comes back to relationship: my relationship with God. That is the change I’m really celebrating, and I’m grateful for the means He’s used to bring it about. I’m learning how to seek God with all of me.
And on that note of seeking God, I want to share something I wrote this summer that I rediscovered today. I’ll call it The Greatest Commandment, and it is my prayer for 2013:
To love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, that is more than burnt offerings. Not just to seek You and serve You with all of me, but to love You.
I want to love You with all my heart – to turn my depth of feeling toward You; to trust You with my heart in all its frailty; to give You the outpourings of my heart, and to give them to You first; to experience true joy in You; and to let You awaken my heart.
I want to love you with all my soul – to pray to You; to listen for Your voice and be ready to act when You speak; to lift my soul to You and no other; and to keep coming after You.
I want to love You with all my mind – to use my intelligence for Your glory; to battle through any doubts I have about Your character or Your actions; to think for You, not just feel for You; to come to You with any and all questions; to commit my mental energies to the purpose of knowing you more; and to listen when You speak to me through the logic, the reasoning, the processes of my mind.
I want to love You with all my strength – to run to You with all the speed I can muster; to stand up again each time I fall, even when it feels like the weight of the world is pressing upon me; to do everything for Your glory; to not give up, or believe the lies that I am not strong enough and never will be; to live the truth that I can do all things through You who strengthen me; and to step out to You and for You, even when it seems like all the odds are against me.