Saturday, December 28, 2013

the risk of excruciating vulnerability

I discovered this talk a couple of years ago and I watch it pretty regularly. Each time I take away something different. Which I both love and hate.

 “There is only one variable that separated the people who have a sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it and that was that people who have a sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging… the one thing that keeps us out of connection is the fear that we are not worthy of connection.”

What then, are we to do, when someone we desire a connection with doesn’t reciprocate? How do we NOT withdraw again, how do we believe that we are worth connecting with?

“We must be willing to invest in relationships that may or may not work out…”

“…to let ourselves be seen”

These may be my two greatest fears. I am willing to be excruciatingly vulnerable if I knew the other person would not only be ok with it, but would still love me anyway. (And not leave.) Yet her research showed that the way to live is with vulnerability, which is to stop controlling and predicting.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, love, Brown says.  So all the things I really want. But being vulnerable takes all of that out of you. At least for me, most of the time.

One of the greatest powers we are given as human beings is the power to reject others.  I know this because I have been rejected and I know the power it has over me. It’s incredible. We must walk carefully into this power with others, or we leave a wake of broken hearts behind us. I’ve been one of the broken hearts many times. I pray I have not been the one doing the breaking.

Brown also talks about how we cannot selectively numb emotions. She claims we cannot numb fear and rejection without numbing joy and love, too. I realized while watching this for the umpteenth time today how this is powerfully connected to expectations. If you decided not to expect anything (and I know people who try this) the claim is you will never be disappointed. But will you also end up never feeling joy or love, too? I’m thinking and wondering about this potential truth.

Because I want it not to be so. I want to come to a place in my life where I don’t feel disappointed  or rejected (note that I am I am not saying that I wish disappointment or rejection would never actually happen. I’m not that delusional.) But I really want to figure out how not to be devastated by it.

Usually when I work on a post the typing and words come fast and freely at the start. I may go back and do some serious editing, but the typing and emotions come running out so fast I can hardly keep up. This time I am typing with awareness and lots and lots of typos. There is a metaphor here, I’m sure of it. I am so unsure of what I am feeling right now (and yes, a particular person has caused these crazy emotions in me and it makes me want to cut them out of my life. I’m trying to decide if they are a blessing or a lesson right now.) But I am trying very hard to coach myself through it. When I need this, Brown’s TED talk helps.

Vulnerability is courage, Brown says, in another one of her TED talks. I’ve never seen it as a weakness, thankfully. But I do object to the way it makes me feel. Because vulnerability makes me feel known… and when that is rejected, it destroys me. Because I already have a very fragile belief that I am worthy in the first place.

This all boils down to risk. The risk we take when we allow someone to enter into our lives. The risk we take when we remove a wall, brick by brick, to allow someone else to see who you really are. And not just who you are, but also how you feel, and what you feel about them, too.

I’m fully aware that I am talking in circles. I’m just trying to figure out how I feel about all of this. Actually, no. I’m trying to figure a way out of all of these feelings. That’s clearly two different things. My heart desperately wants a way out of these painful emotions and my head is telling me that’s just not going to happen. Perhaps it should be the other way around, but I’ve never been one to do things normally.

I think this is why her second TED talk is about listening to shame. There is shame in rejection. There is shame in not feeling good enough for someone to want to be with you.  

As she says, part of shame is to walk through it and find our way around. I think that’s what I’m trying to do here. While I would prefer to go around the swamp in my soul where shame resides, I think it’s time to put on my boots and find my way around. Not looking forward to it. But my word for 2013 was “anything” and 2013 is still here. I'm now wondering what my word for 2014 will be.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

sentimentality and the death of Christmas idols

I’ve always been a particularly sentimental and nostalgic person, and it has increased significantly since moving away from my family, where this nostalgia is often born. Even as a teenager, I collected and kept things that represent memories and moments that are special to me. I have a keepsake box in my living room – it’s actually one of those old photo boxes you used to be able to purchase at craft stores, but since we no longer print pictures, I’m sure it’s an antiquated reference. However, I love to use them for keepsakes, and every so often I get it out and look through the odd little items from years and years ago and remember. The box contains everything from piles of letters from dear friends to a piece of a broken plate. Other random items: small plastic toy with a particularly funny memory, a sticker from another great moment in life... you get the idea.

 This kind of sentimentality is one of my favorite things about decorating my Christmas tree, as nearly every ornament is attached to a particular season in my life. I buy each one with intention or have received many as gifts from special people in my life, that remind me of them. The night I set aside to decorate my tree is sacred to me, including my favorite Christmas music and a great cup of hot cocoa from Trader Joes. 2013 is the first year of my life I do not get to spend with my family. They planned to come to Arizona early this year for their winter visit, but my dad’s doctors had other plans. While they determine the cause and potentially a course of treatment his irregular heart beat (which he was born with, so my dad is sure they will find nothing out of the ordinary) mom and dad are grounded in the cold Nebraska winter. They didn’t even put up a Christmas tree or decorate the house for the season. I think mom is just as disappointed as I am. I, however, have a full house decorated in anticipation of them coming, including brand new stockings for each of us hanging from one of my bookcases. I purchased a new Christmas tree, planned meals, made LOTS of Christmas cookies, some chex mix… the list goes on and on.

 I was preparing.

 I was already wondering how I would deal with an Arizona Christmas, as I’ve never had one before. But I’m not completely inadaptable to change, so this year I went back for Nebraska for Thanksgiving in exchange for them coming early. But now they are not coming at all. We will facetime each other this evening so we can at least “pretend” to be together this Christmas. Last year I remember being in the wrapping paper section at Target, and weirdly, finding an idol. This Christmas, with death, tragedy, people plowing into the relatives of my small group friends, causing them to be in the ICU, no mom and dad to spend Christmas with… well. It suddenly felt pretty much not like Christmas.

 And then I remember this:


 And I uncovered another idol.

What is Christmas, anyway? This is the hard question I've been asking myself these past several days. In the last 5 years, since I moved away from my family, Christmas has been about seeing them. It’s the only time I get to see most of them in the year. I'm close with my family and they mean a lot to me. I know this is rare for many, and that is perhaps why I cherish it so much. But the Christmas season became preparing to see them... making plans to see them... I got excited to see them. In other words, in my heart, Christmas hasn’t really been about Jesus. Ooof. It's very hard for me to admit that, because I don't believe I've forgotten the amazing gift of Jesus Christ. But I have not placed Jesus in the forefront of my own heart.

Two weeks ago I gave a message from Matthew 3, about how preparing for the Messiah looks like repentance and producing fruit. Well, as lonely as I will be this Christmas, I have much to repent of in my heart. Not my favorite way to spend Christmas, but certainly a way that will help me grow. Uncovering idols tend to do that. I hate it, but there it is.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

disappointment, love and being an INFJ

It’s been a while since I've talked about disappointment in a post. And I’m experiencing it in spades right now, so that usually means I needs to write about it. So I can figure out how I feel. Yes, this is how an INFJ works.

I have a friend in my life that regularly disappoints me. Not because of unrealistic expectations, but because he says he is going to do something and he doesn't do it.

It ranges from telling me, “I’ll call you tomorrow.” to “We are going to watch that movie together. I can’t believe you haven’t seen it.” To then things like, “I’ll come by and see you.” And other kinds of statements. Nothing huge. But little things add up to a lot.

Oh, there is that evil math again.

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. -1 Corinthians 5:13 (NIV)

NERD ALERT: I prefer the ESV most of the time, but with the Greek word, I think the NIV is a bit more faithful to the original meeting.  Logizomai means to reckon, count, compute. The ESV translates it as irritable. Keeps no record seems more faithful to me. But then again, I’m not a bible translator.

So I don’t want to keep a record of all the times he has said he was going to do something and didn't, (though, obviously I have) because we’re told that’s not how love behaves. But I also wonder about keeping my friend accountable, wanting to be his sister in Christ. I know he wants to be a better man, but I am also asking myself, “What is my responsibility here? What is the right thing to do?”

I am grieving today. And in the last 48 hours I've had to tell a number of congregation members about the death of an entire family that is a significant part of our church. There were dearly cherished and loved by many. So I grieve. But I've had to grieve on my own. I've had to be pastoral to those with which I’ve broken the news, and in the process have not been able to break down with someone with which I feel safe.

I recognize this is part of being in ministry. But that’s also why I cherish the small number of friends I do have, because I can be safe with them. These are the spaces I need to grieve in – in places of love and safety and comfort. Because my friend did not follow through with a promise, I haven’t been able to grieve with someone safe today. I am leading worship tomorrow, singing the matriarch of the family’s favorite song. I doubt I will get through it, and I was hoping that safe place would help me prepare. But my friend disappointed me today.

This is a wrong I’m keeping track of, and it doesn't feel like love. It feels like a sacrifice I don’t want to make. Sometimes I would like others to sacrifice for me. And when I ask for it, I try not to ask for too much. But I’m often let down.

“Consequently, most INFJs are protective of their inner selves, sharing only what they choose to share when they choose to share it. They are deep, complex individuals, who are quite private and typically difficult to understand.” (From the above link, profile of an INFJ.)  

This makes it really hard for me to find friends, which is why I am so careful with the ones I do have. This kind of turmoil is my least favorite kind, because I don’t know what to do. And I long to know what to do.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

when I get to guest post for Preston Yancey

Earlier this year, I was chosen to be one of 12 for a guest post series author Preston Yancey was doing while he finished his book this summer, Tables in the Wilderness, with Zondervan. After some extenuating circumstances, it is now on his website, but part of a different guest post series than planned. I am humbled to have been chosen by him, as his words are beautiful and real. He said he finds my words the same. What?!? Craziness.

You can read it here: so i had to bake a peach pie

Monday, October 14, 2013

in repair

You may have noticed something different around here.

I’ve always, for the last several years of blogging, tried my best to be honest in my writing. Part of it is exposing what is inside of me to the outside world, and figuring out just how I feel can only be done by writing it out. (Mostly.)

There has been of shift of late, particularly in the last several months. I’m making more time to write like I used to, but I am shifting into something that may not seem like a big deal to you, but oh… it is to me.
Remember my word for 2013? Anything? I had something else in mind entirely when that word presented itself to me, which sort of defeats the point. But I am reminded that I did pray that word to God, promising him that whatever he would be up to, I would do it if he asked. God has been whispering some big truths to me, since about March of this year, that I now seem to find everywhere. In things I read, classes I teach, sermons I listen to, books I finish and bible studies I work on. I’m still working on processing these truths, so it is too soon to reveal them to you right now, although many of them have been expressed here over the years because they are a deep part of who I am. I am just now connecting them to my emotions. Big stuff here.

But this shift is intentional. It is part of the hard heart stuff that a child of God must work through, especially one like me, that often lives as an orphan. The shift: I am trying to write more courageously.

This goes beyond being honest and authentic, I believe. I can be those things and still not be 100% transparent. I can write in that way but not reveal the tough feelings that may bring a reader down. (And me, when I writing them.) But I’m trying to remember that this kind of courage is less about who sees this and reads this, which makes me feel vulnerable and scared.

This is about admitting these things to myself.

And feelings are always far more real when you tell others. Far more real when you allow the words to tumble out of your heart, through your fingers tips, onto a keyboard and appear on a computer screen. This kind of writing is forcing me to examine all that is inside and lay it all out there so I can look at it and say to myself, “There. This is truth. It’s messy. It’s sad. It’s got some self-pity, some love… It’s painful. So. What are you going to do with it now?”

When I first started writing in this format, I remember that the name for this blog didn’t take any time at all to settle on. (I just wish blogspot would delete comewhatmay, which has been inactive for many years, so that I can have it.) I guess that title really isn't all that different from “anything” now that I think about it. But I am trying to take it a step further… by being more honest and transparent about the darkness in my heart so that Christ may shine a light through it in some way.

“I am in repair – I’m not together, but I’m getting there.”

Saturday, October 12, 2013

being tethered

…and so it begins.

This is the time of year I start to feel homesick. 2 years ago it hit me very hard around this time, so last year I went home in September to stave off these emotions. This year, I went home in the summer because hadn’t seen the corn grow and I wanted to see the stocks tall and bending in the summer wind. But now, the holidays are coming. Harvest is happening right now. I can picture my brother out in the field, my family making meals for all the guys to take out there late at night. I want to smell the cool crisp air of autumn, see the beauty of orange and red leaves and cloudy skies. And I’m longing to dress myself in head-to-toe red and go to a Husker game.

But instead, I go outside to dust storms, skies with no clouds, and brown. Everywhere.

I’m certain that God decided to have a good laugh when he created this introvert with the love language of quality time, because once again, these opposite sides of myself are at war and all I want to do is be with people who love me. (And then go take a nap, because they make me so tired.)

I desperately long for a “replacement” family here in the desert. One that will take me to their own family events, no matter how menial to me they think it seems. One that will invite me to family meals on Sundays after church – something I miss so much about my own family.  I want to find a family that won’t mind if I show up at their house just so I can hang out in their backyard with a glass of iced tea and a book. I want to find a dad or a brother with a pick-up truck who will take me along to a drive out to the farm and just talk crops to me. Even though I doubt I will understand what they are saying.

They say homesickness is a real thing; that it happens in people who have little experience being away from home (not me) unsupportive parenting (also not me) and in those not finding close friends in whom they can confide (the kicker for me.) I have some friends like this who don’t live near me, so that really doesn’t work. For me, it’s that no one around here has their family far away. Most of the people I am close to here have family within driving distance. They don’t have the emotions I experience on their radar. They simply forget that I can’t just see my family by taking a short drive. They can’t see into the emotion I want them to, which is completely unfair of me. But there it is.

I know that for many people, being with family is a stressful experience. And mine can be sometimes, too. But mostly there is just ease and love. They ease the pain I often have being a ministry leader, an INFJ (who feels life far too strongly) and simply being me. Their grace to me is unequivocally and spectacularly generous and of course, undeserved. Perhaps it is simply that place where grace resides is where I long to be. But it is also in the place of family ties, which ground me. I am tethered to them during this season of my life where floating aimless seems to be the norm.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

tight corners, feelings and self-talk

It’s always been a little been hard for me to be truly authentic with people when I feel hurt by them.
Much of this is part of my own story, going back years and years of being taught that I was too sensitive and therefore, my feelings about things were not only “over the top” and “dramatic”, but also not relevant and necessary to have.

So I shut down.

When someone hurts me, I bottle up every emotion experienced and tuck them away into the smallest and tightest corner of my soul. For years, I assumed this was the best way to operate in order to be a functioning citizen of this world.

What this told me, inadvertently, was “don’t bother anyone with who you are… just get out of the way.” This has led to much heartbreak and relationship deficiency. I’m truly sorry to all the people who have chosen to stick it out with me and be a friend. It cannot be easy. Many of the great have tried and fallen in the process.

This has also led me to, throughout my day, talking to myself in strange ways. When a car comes up behind me because they are driving faster than me, my self-talk goes something like this: “I’m driving the speed limit. They can’t be upset at me for going too slow.”

Or when I stop to look at the selection of vegetables in a grocery isle and someone is coming from the opposite direction, I move my cart toward me as far as possible and say to myself, “They can’t be angry with me that I've slowed up their passing through; I moved out of their way.”

I've not written about my self-talk at all here, and it’s partly because I’m still processing and paying attention to how it works in my life. My therapist in seminary gave me the assignment of playing close attention to how I talk to myself, and all I remember was talking in lists of things I had to do. But, then, at that time I had three jobs and was going to school full-time.

But since then I still occasionally work on listening to my self-talk. And what I shared above is by far the most common kind. It sounds so ridiculous to write it out, but it’s never felt ridiculous for me to say it… to me. Because all I've ever understood in this world is that my presence in it is a bother to others and that I should do what I can to justify my existence here.

yeah.  so… there’s that.

All the things in life that hurt me and pain me (and so much of which is the result of my motivational gift of mercy) have, for so long, been feelings I've turned numb toward. I've not dealt with them, and kept them back in that tight corner. And now that I am trying so hard to come out of this, in an effort to be more emotionally and spiritually healthy individual, I find myself “feeling” my emotions in a strange way. (If that makes any kind of sense.) Today, after a few days of some trying and difficult ministry work, I was feeling panic. Not it an overly dramatic in-the-moment kind of way (which rarely happens to me, but does sometimes. I’m pretty even-keeled.) but in a pit of the stomach, “I don’t know what to do with my feelings right now” kind of way. Some wise and thoughtful friends talked it out with me on the phone and I was able to organize my thoughts. I can honestly say that I've never processed my emotions like that before.  Ever. I hope and pray this is a victory for my healing process, because taking my feelings to others is a step toward acknowledging that they matter. After years of being taught they don’t.

Wrecked by the ravages of the Fall. But searching to find hope in Jesus’ redemption of me.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

on feeling marginalized

mar·gin·al·ize: treat (a person, group, or concept) as insignificant or peripheral.

Most of my life I’ve felt like a social pariah.  In high school, I was never pretty enough or athletic enough to be accepted. (I wish I’d known then the importance of music and that it would one day become a career for me, so that I would have felt less horrible about it. None of the popular kids in school use their athletic ability or good looks in their career, which makes me sound petty and small, but let’s face it, all us social pariahs think this way. … if we’re being honest.)

And I really thought the social pariah status would go away at some point in my life. But then this happened.  And two big emotions caught me as a result: in the moment, complete relief. As my post says, I actually felt a weight lift from my shoulders when I was told that there was a reason no one understood me and it wasn’t my entire fault. In the years since, though, I’ve also settled into a rather unsettling emotion: insecurity.

Now that I understand there is little I can do about my status as a social pariah, I am far more aware that I ever have been in my life in how others see me. And since I am the rarest of all personality types, others see me and go, “huh?” Or others see me and dismiss me, which causes me to crawl into the dark corners of my heart and ask, “Is it something I am?” all the while knowing there is little I can do to change how God wired me. All of this equals a lot of insecurity.

I’ve reached a point in my life that when moments of marginalization occur towards me, I can step back from the situation and do my best to be objective. Though my emotions are often intense and deep, I know this happens in part because of my past experience with being that social pariah. And some of it now is also because I am a social pariah. It’s just so… confusing. People don’t get me.

So I process. Part of this is simply trying to give people the benefit of the doubt and think the best: that they did not intend to make me feel the way I do. I have to own the feelings I have and figure out which are justified feelings of marginalization and which simply stem from past experience.

(I’m starting to wish I’d taken my professor’s advice and taken the degree in counseling. Perhaps I would be less of a mess.)

But here’s the rub, and I think this is true for just about everyone:  We all just want to be known.
And when you break that down, all that means is that you want to find your place. You want to belong. I am in a place in my own life where I just want that to point to Jesus. But I also want to stop these feelings of sadness, frustration, acceptance, vulnerability and insecurity.

This last May, I was told by a blogger I admire greatly and love reading, that of just under 100 submissions , I was one chosen to guest post while he took a break from blogging to write his book. Week after week I watched a guest post go up… and four months later mine is still not up. I still have the email where he told me I would be one of the few, so I have to remind myself I’m not delusional. But there is also part of me that finds herself feeling like that 14-year old girl who cries and says, “Why is it always me that is rejected?” Left out? The freak?”

Being vulnerable is never easy; it’s especially difficult for someone who struggles to suppress her idol of reputation. (Ahem, me.) And what I hate is that my idol here is most likely A DIRECT RESULT of being a social pariah; marginalized, and seen as “less than” most of my life.

To be known. What is it, really? How does it happen? Why is it so important? We want to be people who matter. And it is hard to see that outside of who we are. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

beauty, mess and being left out

Being left out is one of the worst feeling in the world.

Yes, as an adult, I still really believe that.

Perhaps it's because of how often I was left out of things in my childhood that makes this still a challenge today. And there is such a part of me right now that is screaming, "Won't you ever grow up? Won't you ever just get over it?"

As children, we are told by our parents that being left out is "their loss" and the familiar, "they don't know what they will be missing" and then, of course, "You're too good for them anyway" would often come from the mouths of friends. Which means nothing when you are at your grandmother's house after school and her next door neighbor is a classmate having a birthday party that she did not invite you to. My 4th grade heart was crushed. I still remember standing in my grandma's driveway while I watched all the other girls in my class run around in the yard playing games, without me, birthday hats on. I was just stuck waiting for my mom to pick me up.

I wonder what it takes to grow out of that tiny child inside of you that says, "Not fair!" "Why is it always me?" "Why doesn't anyone like me?" - when all that is truly happening is a heart aching and some tiny little tears welling up in the corners of my eyes.

"When will I overcome the hurt and pain of not being included?" is really what my heart is asking. A far more interesting and pensive question for a Thursday night.

Today was a fascinating day. I was asked a powerful and challenging question that I'd never considered before. Fellow introverts join me in saying, "Oh, no!" Because, as a general rule, we just don't do well on our feet. But this person often asks me these kinds of questions, and what happened today is what I find happening every time I'm faced with such a challenging question: the Holy Spirit intervenes.

As the words tumbled out of the mouth and I didn't even realize what I was saying, I just closed my eyes and my memory went back to a place of rejection. A place where several people treated me as less than because I was not part of their denomination. (Yes, being left out can happen in places such as this.)I recalled one moment where I was conversing with a fellow seminary student about difficult question, and I raised one that I'd heard recently in the membership class I was attending. "Who created sin?" the person had asked... so I ask my fellow student the same one.

Now, I realize this is a bit of a loaded and pretty three-dimensional question. I also knew how I would answer it if I was being asked. My fellow student did not know that. For all he knew, I was genuinely asking.

"Well, now that's just a stupid question. The issue is really this..." was his response. He went on to repeat something one of our professors had no doubt said at some point.

 At that point, it didn't really matter to me what he said. All I could think was, "I really hope that's not how he addresses a future congregation member when he is the pastor of a church."

I went on, for the next year and a half of school learning how to ask great questions... how to make connections between things that people don't always see... how to care for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and what that really means in educational ministry. "Making Room"

But most of all, I learned how to look beneath the surface of what was really going on.

And that is how the Holy Spirit worked today. When asked such a challenging question, posed by a congregation member to an elder, who then in turn asked me, I was able to say that perhaps the better question to ask was something else. That painful experience with my fellow seminary student was redeemed by Christ today. I do not believe the experience was given to me just so the conversation today could happen and the wisdom could be passed on. I do not believe God works like that.

But I do believe he makes beauty out of mess. How lovely. How wonderful.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Remnants and Stories

One of the most interesting aspects of my job involves remnants.

It's amazing what you find when you are cleaning and sorting through a church cabinet or closet. Everything from old bandages from a first aid kit to curriculum from 1987 to pictures of kids in the nursery from 10 years ago to construction paper scraps are discovered. There are keys to things we don't know about (see above pic) and crayons. Each person who touched those items, each kid who used them in Sunday school… they are part of the larger story of the body of Christ and the kingdom work God is doing in this place.

One of my favorite ways to decorate any space around me, whether it be my office at work or my home living space, is to fill is with things that have memories attached to them. I love looking up from my desk at work and seeing a frame piece of parchment paper with the lyrics to Amazing Grace on it. I love it because it causes me to remember the church I served in Nebraska for many years that gave it to me when I left to attend seminary. The reason why they chose “Amazing Grace” is a particularly sweet and wonderful story (that will bring my dad to tears if you tell it.)

These are the remnants we leave behind.

When I find an old craft from VBS, or a unknown key to a cabinet, guitar chord sheets from songs in 1998, I am reminded of the many that came before me. I am reminded of the faithful souls who serve the people of this church far before I ever arrived. And thus, I think of those who will come after me when I am long gone.

These remnants, as well as the items we place around ourselves that mean something sweet to us, are identifiers in a way. They represent a small part of who we are, who we want to be, and who we were. They represent a season in the life of a church and who it used to be. The phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants” could not be more appropriate here. I am here because Jesus loves me and has given me the grace to be able to serve in this place in this time. If you were to go back to Nebraska or St. Louis, I’m sure there are a few remnants of my time there as well. I guess I don’t see that as a “legacy” or “making my mark” but more as leaving a piece of myself behind, and this is far more for myself than for the sake of others. These remnants tell a story, an important one, about the body of Christ.

May I never loose the importance of these stories.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Our Inextricable Connection

When I grabbed my phone off the charger this morning to toss it in my purse and head out the door to work, I glanced at it briefly and discovered my entire screen filled up with facebook messages from high school classmates.

The group had been trying to plan a reunion, so it wasn't unusual to see these messages on my phone’s screen. But the message this time carried much different news than reunion plans.

Grief is a strange thing. We've lost two classmates already to unexpected, early deaths. Other classmates have lost parents and other family members. But now, one of us had lost a child.

It’s probably been ten years since I have seen anyone from my graduating class. I’ve moved around a lot – Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and now Arizona. And since I wasn't particularly close to anyone in my class, I haven’t made an effort to call or exchange emails over the years. I left high school behind the year I graduated and haven’t really looked back.

My class was small because the town was small. 20 kids. So we all knew each other. And 13 of those 20 kids that all graduated together started Kindergarten together. We shared 13 years in that small school, all in one building. We walked the halls together, decorated our lockers with the latest trend, we ran laps together in gym class, shared blow dyers and suffered through an eccentric science teacher, a grumpy math teacher, and a few others that helped define our high school experience. We played kickball in the 4th grade, held mock elections together in the 5th, and shoved our desks together in the 6th grade.

Whether we like it our not, we are connected because of this shared experience.

I have not been shy about my high school experience. I wasn’t a fan of most of it, which is why I left it behind without regret. But these people are still connected to me. Facebook has made that physically possible. But emotionally, the connection is a far more intrinsic and mysterious then I can even begin to understand.

Because when I read that one of my classmates lost a child, not only did my jaw drop in disbelief, but my heart caved in grief for her and her family. I am not close friend with her, but she is my classmate, my comrade… we went through the foxhole of Loomis Public School together for 13 years. We are connected, inextricably. I hurt because she is hurting. But not just by virtue of this being a tragedy, but in that we are bound together because of where we are all from.

There are no words to say to comfort in a time like this. I can offer up prayers to the God who created me and save me, the God I love and worship for this family, with the peace of knowing that He is walking beside her in this grief. I am angry at a fallen world that is the cause of car wrecks. I am sad for someone that I do not really know, but am linked to in an unexplained way. Sad that she has to go through the loss of a child so young. I can rail at the unfairness of this tragedy, knowing that “fairness” really has nothing to do with it at all.

And I will do this from afar, probably without her ever knowing. But that’s okay. We are tied in a way I don’t understand, and that is why I do it all in the first place.

Monday, August 05, 2013

the slow art of mending

When I find myself trying not to look across the room, wondering. When I find myself waiting for that acceptance in some form of contact. When I find myself assuming rather than knowing. When I find myself waiting and hoping that this isn’t really rejection but just miscommunication.

When I find myself asking “was it something I did?”

When deep down I am really just asking myself “is it something I am?”

Everyone hates rejection. That does not make me special. The desperate pain we all feel when rejection hits our hearts and the ache causes our chests to cave in and our breathing to become shallow. This is real.

But perhaps I am the only one who feels this way.

I find myself desperate to mend the feelings of rejection that seems ingrained in my soul… that crop up when an expectation isn’t met, when an invitation isn’t extended. When leaving feels like rejection, even though it isn’t always. When criticism tears open a wound where a freshly healed scar was mended by a prayer. I want to mend, I want to take the bleeding wound and cover it with gauze in the form of anything but what it should be covered with just to stop the bleeding.

I so want to be that person that finds contentment in every moment given by a person. That is happy with the time given. But I am not. I feel insecure when an expectation isn’t met. I feel rejected most of the time. Security in friendships very rarely exists for me. Yet I am forced to play the part of secure so my anxiety is hidden underneath a calm exterior with a coffee cup in my hand and an even expression on my face.

This is more than understanding who I am in Christ. This is more than just believing that I am his child and that he accepts me totally and completely. I know this deep down.

But I also know the rest of the world doesn’t.

My whole life I’ve been telling myself that I am known and loved by Christ. But this has not changed my desire to be accepted by the rest of the world – especially by the ones that mean the most to me. It’s much easier for me to find my identity in those that fill the rest of my world, and to allow what they do to change the way I see myself. All the while knowing how Christ sees me. I manage to separate what was never meant to be separated.

I ask God to stitch together these wounds with words on paper, with prayers murmured, with music that allows salient tears to form in the corners of my eyes and drop down onto the back of my hands. The slow mending works to heal several times each week, but as disconnected as I end up from the reality of what is happening, my irrational feelings surface and they are masters at opening more wounds.

So the mending is slow. But it is deliberate. I am inching ever closer to the “joy that seekest me through pain.” There is a love that will not let me go.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

pragmatism and the lavish love of God

I grew up on a farm.

That doesn't mean much in my life now, for I’ve always been a city kind of girl. My mom made sure there was more than just farm culture in my life growing up and I have fond memories of trips to see the Nutcracker, Broadway shows, museums and all others kinds of things that she believed would make me a more well-rounded person.

I was still the girl who had to get up at 6am in the summer and help her brother irrigate. The girl who rode on the back of pickup truck and shucked sweet corn after a morning in the field, picking it by hand. I was still the girl who mowed an acre and half of lawn on the homestead, rode horses when she could, and had a chore list.

I was also the girl that got lost in the music of Miss Saigon and Les Miserabl├ęs, lived my life with rich imagination (okay, it was more like my version of a pop music video but… whatever) and wanted to know more about Van Gogh, devoured The Catcher in the Rye and was often brought to tears by sections of Rachmaninoff’s Themes on Paganini.

Growing up on a farm meant we lived our life simply but not without some splurging. Both my parents are intensely practical (which was not my bent) and for the most part, I lived by the rule of “If you want it, you need to earn it.” I never did without, and having a pragmatic temperament was how I was raised.

I took a week off from work at the end of June to fly home to Nebraska and spend some time with my family on the farm. I checked the weather before I left and planned for almost 100 degrees, which is incredibly rare for that time of year. And I was disheartened, because it was 110 in the desert and I was ready for a reprieve.

But it wasn't that hot the whole time I was there. Nearly each day was 80 or 85 degrees, with a perfect gentle breeze. The lazy mornings on my parents’ deck were 65 degrees, which found me bundled up in a blanket with a cup of coffee and The Signature of Jesus by Brennan Manning. This is book about discipleship, but because it’s Brennan Manning, you cannot miss his heart for teaching us the spectacular, lavishing love of Jesus Christ.  Not in a “yeah, he loves the world” kind of way, but in a heart-crushing, mind-wrecking, hits-you-right-between the eyes “He loves me” kind of way.

One day during vacation, on my way to have coffee with a friend, I rolled the car window down and actually remember feeling hugged by God. It was as if he knew I needed to be refreshed and that the weather was the way my soul would be rejuvenated.

The idea that God would provide beautiful weather while I'm in Nebraska seems ridiculous from a pragmatic point of view. Why would God make the weather beautiful for me?  That just seems silly. And when I say it out loud to my family I wonder if they have an element of disbelief in their minds. It's almost as if I can see them smirking and saying “Doesn’t God have better things to do?”

But he doesn’t.

“Nothing is more puzzling to me than our massive resistance to the inbreak of God’s love. Why are we so churlish to receive? Are we afraid of becoming vulnerable, of losing control of our lives, of acknowledging our weakness and need? Do we keep God at a safe distance to protect the illusion of our independence?” – Brennan Manning writes in The Signature of Jesus.

For me it’s some of what we mentioned, but far more. For me, it’s my practical and sensible side insisting that I am not important enough to have such a frivolous prayer answered.  This is all rooted in the belief that my desire for comfort is not a way God will show me his extravagant love… that I am too insignificant for this to really matter to God.

But I am not.

Every day during this week, I would arise around 7:30, grab a coffee cup from the kitchen, and putter my way through the house and make my way out to the deck (I learned after the second day to grab a blanket), join my parents for coffee and bird watching. It was perfect weather. 

And there were moments that I dismissed the feelings of “God is being so gracious to me right now with the weather because he knew I needed a reprieve so much…” -  thinking to myself, “Why would God do something as trivial as give me nice weather while I’m on vacation?”

The night time included more time on the deck with more time reading (I finished three books) with lightening bugs, crickets, frogs jumping around my feet, oak trees as high as the heavens and green, green, green grass. None of that exists here in the desert, and I miss it desperately.

Because of my upbringing, I approach most of my life in a very pragmatic way. I also approach my feelings in a very pragmatic way.  (Which is a real challenge when you are a very sensitive person.) So when I have these kinds of feelings about God’s everlasting, , crazy and frivolous love for me – well, those feelings seem silly.

But the Bible says differently. If the cross taught us anything it's that God loves us deeply and passionately… and he will go to any depth to show us how much he loves us.  If he would allow his son to die for that love, why wouldn't he make the weather pleasant for me on my vacation because he knew I needed a break from the Arizona desert weather? It sounds crazy to think this, yet God’s love for us just that - crazy.

It is a challenge for me to live and rest in this kind of love. I’m not completely sure it can ever been understood, and sometimes the most important thing in my life is to understand things. Understanding helps lead me to acceptance. And that is a barrier I am facing right now.

“The most difficult thing in mature believing is to accept that I am an object of God’s delight.” – Alan Jones

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth in named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3: 14-19

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Of Influence, Change, and Loss

I've been refreshing my mind on adaptive leadership of late, as some significant changes are happening in my job. Three themes are on my heart today, and when something is on my heart I will loos sleep until I write about it.


I've been placed in a position of great influence, pretty much by accident (on my part.) But I am aware of the power I now hold and have been prayerfully processing how best to use this in grace, challenge and love. Influence must never been abused, and must always be used selflessly and with wise discretion.

There is another term for this kind of influence - most of the terms are nouns. Some call it a "power-broker" (I first heard this when I read the book "Transitioning" by Dan Southland). PBS went so far as to call it "The Merchants of Cool" in one of their best episodes. Some simply may call them influencers or leaders.

I call it terrifying.

I've spent a fair amount of time in the last six weeks or so asking God and asking my friends, "Why me?" Once I realized God was calling me into this place of influence that I never intended to be in, I was brought to my knees. I've never been ambitious career-wise. i have firmly believed that God will place where he wants me. I have, however, always been a leader in the midst of conflict. (I'm terrible on the fly, but give me time to think and prepare to deal with a conflict - that's something I understand how to do.) This doesn't make it any less terrifying.

Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky wrote a great book through Harvard Business Press called "The Practice of Adaptive Leadership" and one of  the many great truths I've been processing today is how people view change. Most people, according to their research, don't fear change. They fear the loss that accompanies it.

Change and Loss

The resistance that comes when change is proposed actually stems from a fear of loss.This is a game-changer, especially in a church culture. Churches are notorious for being slow to change and some churches deserve this reputation. Some do not. I'm currently in a church culture that typically embraces change - mainly due to its transient culture of people - but also because the changes we make are changes that disrupt the culture too much. I think that its here we find the challenge of loss.

Change that doesn't disrupt too much doesn't bring much loss. But this begs the questions: is it truly change? If there is not loss of the ways things use to be, then aren't we still holding on deeply to a structure or purpose that may still be lurking in the background, but that shouldn't be lurking there?

As leaders seek to practice adaptive change within the ministry and mission of the church, we cannot and must not lose an understanding any of all three: change, loss and influence. All three must be used wisely, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to fulfill the mission of the church for God's people.

I am fearful of my own loss right now. This is my revelation for this moment. I am fearful of the loss that may come in this job that - while I wasn't entirely comfortable in - I still felt like I had footing in. This will likely be changing soon. I am fearful the loss of my own comfort in that.

I'm just going to say it: boo.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Prayer, Silence, and Kneading

Week 3 into "Sacramental Baking" course I'm taking online and finding this week particularly tough... and it's only day 2 1/2 since we've received our assignment.

Week 1 was particularly sweet, because it was the epitome of everything I wanted to get out of the course - take me out of my comfort zone (baking bread) and quiet myself (pray while kneading and practicing examen prayer). My time of kneading and praying was so sweet. It's something I want to do every day, except that I would have so much bread I wouldn't know what to do with it all.

This week, even though I'm an introvert, I know is going to be difficult for me. We are to practice silence.

I'm okay with learning how to quiet myself, as long as I am doing things that come pretty easy to me. I'm such a hypocrite. Really.

My parents and my brothers are here in Arizona, staying in my house, until Thursday. My dad and my brother are very extroverted, needing to be around people to get their energy  While my mom thinks she's an introvert, she nowhere near the introvert I am, so my house is very noisy this week. I used to a pretty quiet house (so I thought) until I realize just how much I DO have noise in my life. Music is almost always on, if the TV isn't. I listen to music while I read, clean, etc. Goodness, I even have a noise machine that I claim to have purchased to drown out the incredibly loud sound of the crickets in the summertime. But I still use it during the other months.

My life just isn't silent. So for this week, when it's especially not silent due to visitors, I have to laugh a little. This is just such a God thing... he knows how stubborn I am. He also knows I'm pretty ready for a challenge (at least, most kinds) so I just know he really wanted to make sure that the week I would struggle with the most he would put more obstacles in my way. This is how I learn best. I don't learn just by trying and practicing something. I learn by uncovering all the stuff that lies on top of the thing I need to learn. I have to dig in order to "get it."

Oh, Heavenly Father, you really get me, don't you?


Saturday, January 19, 2013

my umbrella for 2013


In many ways, I am happily leaving 2012 behind. In other ways, I’m scared for what this means for 2013.

My first two years in vocational full-time ministry have been painful. They’ve been a struggle. But I have never loved Jesus more in my life. So it’s impossible to say that I, in some way, have screwed this up. But I sense some pretty big changes ahead. I’m not sure if they will be for me personally or if they will be for this church I serve, but big changes I know will come. As a creature of comfort, change is a scarry thing. As an introvert, there are plenty more things that scare me.

This is why my word for 2013 is what it is.

Let me back up - I’ve been inspired this year to have a word. A word that challenges me, a word that is a prayer, a word that I intentionally allow to play out in my life in 2013. I’ve seen a few other female bloggers do it and I like the idea. For me, I see it like the umbrella I no longer get to hold (I live in the desert now, for heaven’s sake).

But I can still picture myself with a polka dot umbrella over my head, my hand extended to feel it all and this word landing with a thud and then running over the sides of my umbrella and surrounding me.


I am completely committed following of Jesus Christ, but there are still some parts of my heart that I keep off-limits to him. For 2013 I pray that I will not only do anything he asks of me, but that I will embrace the anything he asks of me. Even if it pushes me into the dark places of my heart I am not ready to expose, even if it scares every inch of me, even if I am not ready. I will be and do anything.