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 21: Thoughts on balance, rest, and multitasking

bench: "rest here"
photo by oliverkendal on flickr’s creative commons.

Balance is hard when you’re a grown-up. When you have a job and church commitments and writing goals you’ve set for yourself because you want to write.

Rest.

I love it in theory, but am terrible about actually doing it these days.

I think back to this time a year ago, and I miss the time I had to take walks and spend time with people without feeling that push of the schedule, that nudge to end the Skype call or the coffee date not because the conversation had come to a natural end, but because I worried that I wouldn’t get everything else on my list done and still get enough sleep. Relationships are a luxury now.

Maybe it’s not the commitments themselves, though; maybe it’s how I spend my time after and between and before. Usually, it’s not very restful. Usually, I’m better at carving out to-do time rather than to-rest time. And to-do time is usually to-do-many-things time.

Whenever I’m on my computer, I’m always doing many things at once. I start to read or write an email or a blog post, and partway through I check Facebook, or ponder a tweet, or check tomorrow’s weather forecast, or start balancing my checkbook, or clean up the icons on my Desktop. I’m not sure if my ADD is a socially acquired thing or not, but it doesn’t take long before my screen is strewn with many half-finished projects and messages and articles.

It’s not restful, and it’s not even that productive.

Maybe it’s true what Propaganda said at Catalyst two years ago: that “multitasking is a myth. You ain’t doin’ anything good, just everything awful.”

I think of the books I want to read that lie unread as I spend hours “relaxing” on the computer. I think of fall passing me by as I stay indoors behind a microphone or screen, only seeing the changing colors through the car windows. I think of not having time, and priorities, and I realize that the digital world has a strong hold over me and keeps me from the rest I know I need, the rest I desire deep down.

How can I keep from turning rest into tasks to be completed, and how can I find rest in the tasks to be completed? How do you?

This is day 21 of 31 Days in the Word. It’s also the second post in a very loose series about rest. The first was one was called “When the Outcome Matters Most.”

Day 20: Keep running toward love (A Sunday blessing)

1 Corinthians 13:4-7: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Even when you don’t think your love is strong enough, or pure enough, or agape enough, may you keep loving anyway. Even when you struggle and you’re weak and your humanity keeps tripping you up and proving its limitations, may you keep running toward the giving and receiving of love as it’s meant to be given and received. It’s not always easy or risk-free or uncomplicated. It won’t always feel as natural as you want it to. But it’s the only thing that brings life. May you never give up on love.

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 18: Suffering and Adventures in Odyssey

Mother Holding Child

“I’ve heard all the theological explanations: Because we’re in a sinful world. Because we have free will. Or because we don’t have free will. Or because it’s good for us somehow. But when people are really suffering, all those things don’t mean much.”

Connie Kendall

I’ve always loved Adventures in Odyssey, Focus on the Family’s long-running children’s radio drama. But even though I’ve become more rather than less of a fan since I turned adult, the older episodes are the ones I return to the most often, are the ones that find a natural place near my heart.

Then came this three-parter, “Life Expectancy.” I was blown away, and I know it’s not just because of the amazing acting and the emotional resonance and the surprises of this weighty storyline.

For those of you who haven’t heard it and want to, I won’t spoil it for you. This isn’t an episode review, after all, but I had to say a few words about how this episode deals with death and suffering.

Like any good Odyssey episode, “Life Expectancy” centers the conversation around God and biblical truth. But I think what makes these episodes so strong is that they add to conversations rather than finish them, that they value the characters and let them be real people who journey forwards and backwards and side to side rather than props for a sermon illustration who passively receive the “right answers.”

Death and suffering are messy, and even though we hear a few of the Christian characters philosophize about death and suffering, I heard the right context for those musings and words of wisdom. I heard “I see it like this…” rather than “This is how it is….”. Sometimes I heard “I don’t know” and “I can’t explain it.”

It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” It’s okay to really wrestle. And even if you do have peace, it can be hard to know how to explain it. It’s okay. It’s all okay.

It’s not all about having the “right answers” about the whys of suffering, or being able to explain those “right answers” in the smartest, most eloquent, and most convincing way possible.

It’s about being there, and being honest, and asking the hard questions, and listening with discernment. It’s about letting love do its work whether you’re the sufferer or the comforter.

(If you want to listen to “Life Expectancy,” you can do so via the Listen Online links here for at least the next week).

Day 17: Let The Lower Lights Be Burning

Many old hymns are beautiful, but their beauty is often like that of a cathedral or a monastery: Your heart may be filled to the brim, sacredness may be all around you, and reverence and incense may linger in the air. But it’s a beauty that stays on its knees rather than running and jumping and shouting because the joy and passion can’t be expressed any other way.

Have you heard of the hymn “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning”?

I hadn’t either, until a couple months ago when I was recording voice tracks for my radio show and noticed a new song in the rotation. I loved it, and was surprised to find out that it was a hymn. It doesn’t sound like one to me. It sounds beautiful in a way that moves.

It came up again yesterday, and I listened to it all the way through twice, just sitting still behind my microphone, eyes closed and soul open.

The words paint a picture, and the music … the music makes the picture move. Together they bring tears to my eyes, they burn deeply into my heart, they set life before me. I can’t stop listening.

I uploaded this hard-to-find song to YouTube just so I could share it with you. I invite you to listen — it’s only two-and-a-half minutes long.

Let the lower lights be burning! Send a gleam across the wave! Some poor fainting, struggling seaman, you may rescue, you may save.

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.