Story as it’s meant to be

old cinema

Last night, I went to the cinema with my dad and sister to see the 50th-anniversary episode of the British television show Doctor Who.

I’d only seen about a dozen episodes in total, and was going mostly for my sister, who wore her Doctor Who T-shirt and carried her sonic screwdriver and cheered at all the right times.

Even as the homages and references and plot points jumped over my head and skated every which way around me, I couldn’t help but feel the momentousness of it all.

We all have stories and characters we love. We move in close to them, pressing in as we would around a fire, hands and faces turned toward the warmth.

Yes, we can get lost in stories and escape in make-believe and find our hands and faces charred in the end.

Story can go wrong, and we can argue endlessly about whether it’s the story’s fault or your fault.

But then, then there are the times when story goes right, when story is as it’s meant to be.

Story as it’s meant to be draws us into its world … and then back out into our own worlds. In some little way or some big way or some unknown way, it connects us with what it means to be human.

We like these stories and characters because somehow, we can connect with them. He said something funny, and I laughed. That look in her eyes almost made me cry too. That story crushed me or resonated with me or reminded me of something important.

But then scripts and performances, editors and formulas, platforms and special effects, audiences and critics, it’s-not-like-the-book and it’s-barely-based-on-a-true-story, politics and hidden agendas … how easy it is to lose the magic of story.

But it’s still there, if we will only be open to it.

We all have moments wrapped in beauty, in the doing and in the thinking and in the living. And we all have moments wrapped in pain.

I drove home with my dad from that Doctor Who special without saying much of anything. Mumford & Sons filled the car and all outside was dark and same. And I was thinking of how characters and stories mean so much to every one of us, and art was alive inside me, and I felt so very full.

Moments like that, where the music and the mind come together to make something rich, even if it stays inside and unspoken, remind me of the other stories on screens and in books. Those started inside someone too, and now here they are.

Story connects us with what it means to be human. It happens when my unspoken meets your spoken, and I am changed.     

(photo credit)

Do what I write, not what I do

The wind is blowing in great gusts, and all the wood above me creaks, and the screen door slams shut and open and then shut again.

I’ve been thinking about what I should write today, what is crawling through me, back and forth from head to heart, what is ready to come forth.

And I keep thinking of the last blog I wrote, the one about making lists and finding meaning in living the well-ordered life and how that doesn’t bring life.

I have a confession to make: When I wrote that blog, I knew, deep down, that I wasn’t going to take my own advice. “It’s time to change the way I view lists,” I wrote. “It’s time to breathe and give myself grace.”

This is what I should do, I thought as I typed.

But it’s so much easier to write than to do.

The truth is, it takes more than inspiring words to dislodge me from this comfortable, sticky hole of mine. You can throw the words “change,” “breathe,” and “grace” at me, or I can throw them at myself, but that’s just the beginning. It takes strategy, resolve, prayer, accountability.

First, though, you have to want to get out.

And I’m not sure I want it enough.

I like the way I stay in touch with people. I like the way I have the ability to see what needs to happen in planning an event or project, and then to make it happen. I like the many blogs I read. I like my clean surfaces and neat, hierarchical folder structures.

Those are all good things.

But I can’t deny they consume me, robotize me, deaden me.

How can I hold on to the good and expunge the bad?

I don’t know how to change.

I can see myself setting the lists and the task obsessions aside for days, weeks, or even months. I can see myself breathing in the cold English air and letting it go and loving every unplanned moment.

But I’m afraid I will always come back to them, always revert to this and other default settings because they are familiar and comfortable.

Then I remember another time, a worse time. A time when I would look at my life and the way I was living it and see nothing I liked.

I didn’t know how to change then either, and like now I was afraid it would never happen.

But I did change. Years and years of stagnation and slipping deeper, and then, for the first time, I knew I was holding change in my hands and I stared and wondered, breathless, if it would last.

I finally got used to it, and I don’t think of it nearly as often as I did then, but it’s lasted.

I remember how change came even from that darkness, and how I’m in a lighter place now. If change could happen then, it can happen now.

It’s so much easier to write than to do, but writing is a step.

When Lists are the Enemy

pile of post-it notesRight now, my eyes are fixed on December 18th — the day I fly to England for my first Christmas away from home. I’m counting down the days, I’m making lists, I’m living the anticipation.

And then I remember what happened the last time I made a list before going on a big trip.

It’s what happens every time: I want to tie up every conceivable loose end before I leave so that I can be fully present while I’m there. It starts out simple enough with items like “do laundry,“ “respond to letters and emails,” and “make an iTunes playlist.” And then, then it turns obsessive-compulsive:

  • Skype with these people
  • Post those pictures on Facebook
  • Read these six books
  • Organize all those files

And on and on and on.

Many of the items on the list aren’t things that need to be done before I leave (not even close), and in fact they keep me from being fully present before leaving. Last time I made one of those lists, I was so focused on getting everything done that I wasn’t even excited until I was on my way to the airport.

So why do I keep making these lists?

Perfectionism.

This is it, I think, this is my chance to get all those things done that I have been putting off for so long.

Perfectionism meets procrastination.

Is this what perfection looks like? When I’ve Skyped with all of my long-distance friends, and there are no emails in my inbox, no books on my nightstand, nothing left to post, organize, or arrange?

Sometimes I think so, as I lean back and admire all my well-ordered surroundings. It is clean, it is finished, and I am complete. The days of mania and obsession seem worth it.

But it only lasts a day, if I’m lucky. The emails continue to fly at me relentlessly, and there are more books to read, and after a while it’s time to Skype again.

This isn’t how I want to find meaning — not in the weeks before the big trips, and not in the rest of life either. After all, how can I savor a conversation or a good book if I’m in a rush to get to the next conversation and the next book so I can reach an elusive “done!”?

I’ve already made my list, and I don’t leave for another month.

I don’t think doing away with lists is the answer. I’m a list girl. I enjoy lists and find them immensely helpful.

But it is time to change the way I view lists. They are “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules,” as the pirates would say.

It’s time to breathe and give myself grace.

Goodness knows there are enough chores and tasks out there without my turning my hobbies and friendships into chores and tasks as well.

Here is what I am reminding myself of today: My worth is not based on the state of my desk, Desktop, or Skype history. It is not based on how many books I read or don’t read, or whether I do this or that.

I am complete right now.

(photo credit)

Admitting my weaknesses and uncertainties

standing alone“I have a lot of doubts about … everything,” I said hesitantly over Skype.

“Like what?” she asked.

“God, the inerrancy of the Bible…” Gender roles. The charismatic movement. If I’ve ever really seen God do anything…

I was waiting for widened eyes and “Oh Liz” and serious and concern and promises to pray for me.

But it didn’t happen. Something else happened.

She understood. She could relate.

The same thing happened when I wrote my last blog about how “I might be a feminist.” The way people understood, the way people could relate to my journey surprised me.

I saw people come alongside me, people willing to share their journeys and how they too had wrestled or were wrestling with this issue. Some of whom I never would have guessed were in this with me.

“There is more power in sharing our weaknesses than our strengths,” wrote Brennan Manning in Reflections for Ragamuffins. He was right.

And I’m finally taking those nervous steps to share my weaknesses, my struggles, my uncertainties.

It started on my YWAM Discipleship Training School. I started actually talking with other people about my struggles, and none of them fainted in shock or distanced themselves from me. But then again, that was YWAM, where we were all a family “in this thing together.”

But out in the real world?

I’ve always known that I’m weak, but I always assumed other people were more confident, certain, and put-together than they probably were. I would hear a lively, opinionated debate between friends who seemed so sure of themselves, and I wouldn’t dare interject my opinion — partly because I didn’t know what my opinion was, and partly because I was afraid of what people would think of me if I disagreed with them — especially if I disagreed without the confidence and certainty that they seemed to have.

A few years ago, I never would’ve admitted such struggles as I’m now admitting in this public forum. I never would’ve said anything controversial unless it was about the TV show Lost, and even then my thin, sensitive skin might’ve bruised a bit if someone had challenged my point.

So there they are, my weaknesses (some of them, at least). I doubt. I’m all over the place. I often don’t know what I believe on issues of secondary and primary importance. I hardly ever read my Bible. My prayer life isn’t as robust as it was last year.

I wish these things weren’t true of me, but at the same time it does no good to hide them from all the eyes.

After I shared some of my struggles in the above-mentioned Skype conversation, I felt such a massive shift like you wouldn’t believe.

She had been speaking with such certainty and confidence, and talking about God and her convictions, and as I nodded along I just felt worse and worse. I knew I was being disingenuous. I was also feeling bad about myself for not having that same strength.

And then I took that tiny step and spoke words I was afraid to speak, and everything changed. I was honest, and she was honest, and suddenly that picture in my mind, of me as the weak one and her as the strong one, disappeared.

I understand now why we’re afraid to admit our weaknesses. We’re afraid what we’ve always feared will now be proven true: that we’re the only ones who struggle like this.

The thing is, though, even if you don’t struggle with the same things I struggle with, you still struggle with something, and there are times when that something seems big and crushing and isolating to you.

But it doesn’t have to isolate you.

I need you, and you need me. Let’s stop pretending we’re perfect and that we have everything figured out. Instead, let’s move toward greater intimacy, even when it’s scary. Freedom is there.

(photo credit)

I might be a feminist

church in NorwayPart of me doesn’t want to write this, not yet. Part of me wants to wait until I have everything decided and sorted out and settled upon, until I am ready to perfectly articulate and defend it all. Then it would be less scary.

I’m not ready, but I have decided to come forward anyway.

Reading what women like Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, and many others here and there and in between have written is changing me.

Love is becoming more important. Grace is becoming more important. Justice is becoming more important. I am open to your stories and your viewpoints; I am ready to wrestle out in the open and be challenged.

And I might be a feminist.

I have always accepted the basic complementarian understanding of gender roles without giving it much thought: Women are to submit to their husbands, and preaching is for men. In this blog post, I’ll be focusing mostly on the second one.

It was never a big issue for anyone around me growing up. It was what it was, and people accepted it, and it seemed normal and uncontroversial. After all, I never wanted to preach, nor did I know any woman who did. It didn’t affect my life as far as I could tell.

Now, I’m starting to question it. I’m finding strict complementarians and those who take Paul’s words on submission to their literal extremes. I’m learning to walk in the freedom and love of Christ. And for the first time, I’m asking questions.

Why can’t a woman preach? I wonder. For the first time, it’s bothering me. Women can do this, but not that or that. Did you know that Wayne Grudem, cofounder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, came up with an 83-item list detailing what women can and cannot do in the church? Why do so many people refuse to accept that a woman might have the gift of preaching (or try to find a way around it by calling it “teaching”)? Why is it considered okay for a woman to preach as a missionary in a developing country, but not here in American churches? Why are so many afraid of her sermons and her leadership and her voice? Why do they say his words are approved by God and hers are not, simply because she is a woman?

Why can’t a woman preach? She is just as much of a person as the man in that pulpit is. Her insights and understanding and voice are just as valid as his. Men and women are co-conspirators in sin … and co-heirs in grace. We have an equal measure of both.

I know many people could come up with Bible verses to “prove” there is no room for questions like these, that Scripture is plain and clear on the subject. Why can’t a woman do that? Well, because the Bible says she can’t, that’s why!

For example, I could say, along with Paul, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” but then you could counter me with this other statement of Paul’s: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

But I think there is room to question, to wrestle, to allow ourselves to consider the possibility that, maybe, the interpretations many of us have grown up with, in one form or another, may not be the right ones.

In her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans showed me that there are strong, biblically based arguments for mutuality … egalitarianism … whatever you want to call it. Other people have also challenged my old assumptions.

One of those people is Sarah Bessey, whose book Jesus Feminist was released one week ago today. In this interview, she defines feminism as “the simple belief that women are people, too. At the core, feminism simply means that we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women. That’s it.”

Her book is called Jesus Feminist because she became a feminist because of Jesus: “I learned about the Kingdom of God, I learned to look at my life and even the world through the lens of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings,” she says in the same interview. “And as I became more active in women’s issues, I began to see specifically how Jesus interacted with women in the Gospels. It was revolutionary. It was profound. It was just plain normal. And I loved it. Jesus thought women were people, too, and at that point, I decided that I wanted to be a feminist in the way that Jesus would be a feminist.”

This is still so new to me. I don’t know all the right definitions and terminologies, let alone how to argue for one side or the other. But maybe it’s not about sides. Maybe it’s okay to be right where I am, right now, with my wondering, questioning heart and my hands empty of weapons and tactics and “all the right answers.” Maybe that’s the best way.

I always want to be open. Even when I reach a read-and-researched-and-thought-and-prayed-through conclusion, I want to be open to the fact that that might change someday. That knowing Jesus might change me in radical ways. And I always want to save room to listen and learn from your story, your interpretation, your relationship with Jesus. I need your voice.

Interested in reading more on this subject? This blog post is one of many in a synchroblog about being a “Jesus feminist.” You can read more about the book Jesus Feminist here. I’m really looking forward to reading it; I hope you check it out too!

Quote from Jesus Feminist

Share-a-thon and Letting Go of Control

microphone

I can’t make things happen. At least, not in an honest, relationships-driven environment.

I don’t think I’ve ever realized this more acutely than during our Share-a-thon fundraisers here at the radio station (we’re just finishing up our fall Share-a-thon today). We ask people to call in, we say the phone numbers every few minutes, we remind them that any amount helps. We encourage, we invite, we repeat, we sound as interesting and persuasive as we can.

Yet even with all this, sometimes nobody calls.

It’s humbling to realize that I can’t control the pace and progress of Share-a-thon as much as I would like to think I can. I can say what I think are “all the right words” in “all the right ways,” but they don’t always bring about the desired results.

And then I had an epiphany. I realized that I enjoy Share-a-thons much more when I let go of this semblance of control. Sure, I would prefer it if people called more often and Share-a-thon wasn’t a two-weeks-long endeavor. However, I don’t want it to be all about the numbers.

It’s so easy to make it all about the numbers, though — to get excited about the matching challenges and the ringing phones and the changing numbers on the screen when we’re gliding effortlessly to the next milestone … and to get discouraged about the silent phones and the unchanging numbers when the next milestone seems stubbornly elusive.

Certainly we can’t forget about the numbers in a fundraiser. But we’re a ministry, and being people-focused means more than just saying all the right words when the microphones are on. I’m more interested in saying the real words.

That’s why I want to focus on being myself and having good conversations. I want to laugh and reminisce and learn more about my co-hosts and our in-studio guests (many of whom are involved in local ministries). I want to be more people-driven than results-driven. I want to be real and not just speak in cheery cliches and “right answers.” When callers do join us on the air, I want to really listen to what they have to say. Yes, I will say the phone numbers often and update you on the stats and invite you to call to “help us out financially” or “share your story.” But I will try not to define the success or failure of my airtime by the numbers. It’s a conversation, not a performance or a sales pitch.

This isn’t so easy. Especially when you’re tired and Share-a-thon is overstaying its welcome and you’re running out of words and starting to feel disingenuous. Combining fundraising and ministry isn’t easy.

But I’ve committed to showing up and sitting in front of the microphone and talking for three or four hours every day. It’s not up to me to make things happen, but I can be there and share from my heart and create a space where you can share from your heart too, and that’s what really matters.

It’s up to God for the rest.

(photo credit)

You are Still Worthy

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart,” said a wooden ornament hanging from a bathroom cabinet.

“The only person I have to be better than is the person I was yesterday,” said a signpost outside a church.

Are these really the best mantras to carry with us?

view from mountain

Growth and maturation happen as life progresses, but often it isn’t tangible and visible and right there. It isn’t like climbing a mountain, where you can look back or unfold a map and see how far you’ve come. Even when your body screams and your throat is dry and your head hurts, you can still see progress.

Real life isn’t like that. Real life is subtle and grey and hazy, even when you look back. Either you don’t have a map, or it doesn’t seem trustworthy anymore. Your body may scream and your throat may be dry and your heart may hurt … and in all this, there is zero concrete evidence of progress.

Sometimes, you will sink down, and it won’t be ladylike (or gentleman-like). The nice bench next to the nice signpost — that acceptable resting place — is just around the bend, but you couldn’t make it that far. You’re a heap on the side of the road, sweaty and red.

What if you’re still there tomorrow? And the next day? And next year?

I must be better than I was yesterday. And you aren’t. At least, not in any way you can see, not even as you rise heavily to your feet. You don’t feel like you are being particularly strengthened, like any character traits have sharpened themselves into any kind of tool. In fact, the ground seems to have given way a bit, and the wind pulled you back down a few hundred yards. If anything, you’re worse off than you were before. You’re not better than yesterday, or the day before, or even the year before.

You might as well lie down again. You aren’t getting any better.

This is why I think comparing oneself with previous versions of oneself is toxic.

In many ways, life is more about the journey than the destination. Maybe the only way to truly be “better than the person you were yesterday” is to forget about that person and forget about that saying.

Just live today, no matter what the world looks like through your half-opened eyes.

God isn’t using his head to handle you and his heart to handle everyone else, so you shouldn’t either. Give yourself as much grace as you possibly can, because that’s what he’s doing.

It’s not about getting to the top of the mountain. It’s not even about making sure you pull yourself a few steps closer to the peak today. What is this “summit of perfection” you’re striving for? Your worth isn’t based on perpetual upward motion!

Be in Christ, even if you’re not better.

Maybe you won’t see growth for a long, long time, but one day you will put your hand at your side and you will feel polished metal. Surprised, you will look down and see new tools in your tool belt that you didn’t realize were there. New bits of wisdom, new confidence, new depths of love and hope and patience.

And yes, another day will come when you will reach down again and some of those tools will seem to be missing, and you won’t know why, and you will feel like all the progress you were making has been lost.

Remember, even in loss you are not lost. Life is subtle and grey and hazy. Hold on to truth and God even when every outward sign of value and progress and comfort is torn away.

You are still worthy.

(photo credit)

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 29: God vs. King (Psalm 2)

throne

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 2

Even if all the kings, presidents, and prime ministers of the world grasped hands and conspired as one, they would be no match for the King of Kings. God isn’t worried that the people of the earth will be able to defeat Him if enough of them unite against Him. If Lucifer couldn’t do it with a host of traitorous angels, then our efforts are less than feeble.

Sometimes, we raise our eyebrows at descriptions of God as One whose “wrath is quickly kindled” and who will “terrify in His fury.” Why must we “serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling,” as this psalm says? How does this jibe with a God of love and compassion and mercy?

Let’s look at the context. This psalm is about the kings of the earth vs. the Lord’s anointed. In the tumultuous years after David’s son Solomon reigned, when the kingdom was divided and many unscrupulous men (and one woman) took turns on the two thrones, the people followed the lead of their monarch.

If the king feared and served the Lord, the people followed his example and repented and turned away from the idols. If he didn’t, they didn’t.

That isn’t to say that the people were blind sheep without minds of their own. God raised up prophets to be messengers of truth to His people, and there were others who served God even in the midst of corrupt, godless leadership. Obadiah, a man high in King Ahab’s court, is one example.

But when there hadn’t been a true witness of God in years, when the king ruled with an iron fist and he and others in his entourage were enticing and intimidating people away from God, it isn’t hard to understand why so many stopped seeking the Lord. And when they stopped seeking Him, they stopped seeing Him.

The story of Elijah’s defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel is a profound example of what happened when the people saw the power of God in a remarkable, irrefutable display: “They fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God’” (1 Kings 18:39), and then they rose up against the prophets of Baal.

But I digress. My point is that rulers are responsible for more people than the average citizen is. They shape the character of their nation, not to mention so many individuals, and if they reject God and spit in His face and plot against Him, it isn’t just they who are affected, but thousands of others!

And God takes that very seriously. He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9b).

Don’t we want a God who will take action when world powers rise up against Him, who will fight for His people when they are on the brink, who is greater than sin and strong enough for us to take refuge in Him?

(photo credit)

This is day 29 of 31 Days in the Word.