12/09/2010

The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It's about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.


***

It's like this with every crossing, and with nearly every story too. You paddle until you no longer believe you can go any farther. And then suddenly, well after you thought it would happen, the other shore starts to grow, and it grows fast. The trees get taller and you can make out the crags in the cliffs, and then the shore reaches out to you, to welcome you home, almost pulling your boat onto the sand.


***

I remembered about story, about how every conflict, no matter how hard, comes back to bless the protagonist if he will face his fate with courage. There is no conflict man can endure that will not produce a blessing. And I smiled. I'm not saying I was happy, but for some reason I smiled. It hurts now, but I'll love this memory, I thought to myself. And I do.


***

Job calls out to God, asking why God would let this happen.


God does not answer Job's question. It's as though God starts off his message to the world by explaining there are painful realities in life we cannot and will never understand. Instead, he appears to Job in a whirlwind and asks if Job knows who stops the waves on the shore of stores the snow in Wichita every winter. He asks Job who manages the constellations that reel through the night sky.


And that is essentially all God says to Job. God doesn't explain philosophically or even list its benefits. God says to Job, Job, I know what I am doing, and this whole thing isn't about you.


***

I didn't want to get well, because if I got well, nobody would come and save me anymore. And I didn't want to get well, because while I could not control my happiness, I could control my misery, and I would rather have had control than live in the tension of what if. A chance of hope is no pacifier against a sure tragedy.


But Victor Frankl whispered in my ear all the same. He said to me I was a tree in a story about a foster, and that it was arrogant of me to believe any differently. And he told me the story of the forest is better than the story of the tree.






Some books are meant to be read. Other books are meant to read us. How a book functions depends on the person holding it and turning the pages. For now, this book is meant to read me.

12/08/2010

together we will rise out of our night minds

picture found here

Over the weekend, we finished all of our Christmas shopping. We spent the majority of time pursuing the toy and craft aisles at Hobby Lobby, selecting gifts we thought were equally cute and creative for children currently in foster care. The plan is to either attend the Christmas extravaganza at Oklahome Employees Credit Union tomorrow evening and enjoy free beer and wine and music or to drp the presents off at another time. However they are delivered, we are excited that we had the chance to assist gathering presents for children who might not have received gifts otherwise.

The rest of time was spent looking through the books on sale at Mardel. There were a few arguments and tension thrown into the mix as well. Arguments and tension about the same things there always are.

We've become ensnared in a pattern, and we are desperately trying to break out of it. I think it's a pattern many married couples fall into. A pattern of expectations, failed expectations, comparisons to each other and to other couples, and finally the busyness of life.

This pattern that we are in makes it difficult to have grace with one another. There is some grace, but it does not abound the way it should. Instead it comes with words of hurt and frustration and apologies. We have been talking so much, opening the lines of communication as wide as we can, that we are both sick of the words we say and the way we say them. I am tired of talking about it and am ready for our actions to speak loudly enough that words will not be necessary.

In the midst of this, I began reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. My husband is re-reading it for a second time. Our plan is to discuss it as we read it. I've been hesitant to read this book as I have never read Blue Like Jazz, though is on my list, but it seems like right now is the perfect time for me to dive into a book that talks about writing, stories, and how they relate to our lives.

I'm a writer, and one day, I hope my title of writer will pay the bills instead of the title being only a very part-time job. But even though I consider myself a writer, I don't commit myself to all that being a writer entails. I let days and week and sometimes month pass without revisiting my characters. Then I might spend two days churning out 20 pages only to return to months of silence. It's not fair to the story I am telling or to the characters who are allowing me to tell their story.

In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller describes God as the great author of all our stories. It's a comparison I have heard (and used) countless times, but the way Donald Miller talks about God as the author has me thinking.

When writing, the characters often times dictate the way the story goes. The author might know best, but the characters have minds of their own and want things to happen their way. The same is true for life. And lately, I'm becoming more and more aware of how much I veer away from the story God wants to tell through me. I discussed this with my husband last night, as we ate chilli, and it continues to resonate with me this morning.

God seems to be showing and telling us both what to do. In many ways, we clearly recognize the steps God is asking us to take. He wants us to follow a specific path in order to arrive at the place He has designed, but just like my characters often do, we're worried about taking those steps and wonder if our ideas are possibly better than His.

Donald Miller talks a lot about saying "no" to God. I'm good at saying "no" as well. I am also good at asking "are you sure" as well as taking my time to move towards the things He is calling me to, the things He clearly places on my heart. 

It's easy enough to talk about, to admit my shortcomings and the things I need to work on, but I still struggle with lifting my chin and taking that first step. Being aware of this inability or unwillingness (or whatever you want to call it) to take that first step angers me. I'm glad to see it but frustrated with the fear that continues to freeze me in place.

This fear keeps me from doing the things God calls me to. It also keeps me from living a life of adventure, a life of joy, a life of meaning. I don't expect life to be easy simply because I am no longer afraid. I think life might be more difficult because there will be more to lose. But my life would be worth reading about. It would be a life worth living. In the book, Donald Miller says that if something wouldn't be worth reading in a book than it probably isn't a life worth living. He says we're a character in God's story and that our characters should be rich and round.

I want that for my life. I want the cycles we are ensnared in to be positive driving forces. We know things need to change. This knowledge is an inciting action for our lives, and now it's up to us to decide what that action will be.

(title from "night minds" by missy higgins)

12/02/2010

looking for color in a shade of grey

picture found here
We spend our Wednesday nights at church, helping with the youth group. On Sunday nights, we open our house to the youth group and invite them over for fellowship and community. My husband and I also talk about the youth group, the kids who attend, our hopes for them, and etc. on the other five days of the week. Working with teenagers has always been a passion of mine. Even as a teenager, I dreamt of how when I was older I would offer my love and help to others. I just never thought about how hard it would be.

There was a stretch of about 10 months when I wanted nothing to do with children under the age of five, and I have just know gotten to a point where I once again find babies adorable and toddlers not annoying at all. In fact, I almost miss working with children on a daily basis. I never wanted nothing to do with teenagers, though. Teenagers are interesting. Their brains are ready to absorb, and while so much of their personalities are defined, there is so much room for growth. It's the growth that inspires me, that helps me to stay around even when I feel like nothing I do or say will make a difference.

Last night at youth group, though, I finally got to see some growth. Instead of worship and then a message, there was an open discussion. Everyone was invited to participate and offer criticism of the inner-workings of the youth group. Honest conversations were had about Jesus and Christianity. There wasn't one person (leader or teenager) not paying attention. The Holy Spirit was present and moving.

Sometimes I go to youth group with a grudge. I'm tired and worn out from a day of work. I feel like I'm not doing enough at home, at work, or in my spiritual walk. I'm tattered and feel I will always be tattered. Yesterday was one of those days. I was overwhelmed by the upcoming holidays and my disdain for them.

During the open discussion, I paid attention. I listened to the words being shared, but I also took a minute to walk away and spend time away from others. I felt the Holy Spirit speaking to me, moving in me and changing things around yet again. The past several weeks I have asked for direction. I've also understood that, even though I did not want to, I was supposed to remain still. I'm not the most patient person, so I have not been the best at resting and waiting and not moving forward with my own plans.

But it was clear, yet again, last night that I need to continue to let go. My Achille's heel (as my husband has put it) is that I am a motivated individual. I am stubborn and strong and a fighter. It's good for many things but makes letting go of control more difficult. Not only do I need to let go of control for my own life but for other's as well. This was what was spoken to me last night, an honest picture of how my need for control does not help others but can stand in their way. I was heavy and burdened for the rest of the night, on the brink of tears and not understanding why I had to hear from God in the setting of youth group. It didn't fit with my plan, but I know His ways are so much better than my own.

I returned to the open discussion with my heart beating a little faster and lump forming in my throat. The conversation turned to Jesus as a man and the temptations he went through, the hard labor he endured. And the speaking to my heart started again.

I've tried to be optimistic, but I've failed. While it takes less muscles to smile than it does to frown, giving into the exhaustion and frustration often seems so much easier than remaining positive. Letting my shoulders slump requires less work than reminding myself to sit or stand up straight, to smile, to not complain, to give thanks, to do all these things. But smiling and not complaining and giving thanks in all things is what I am called to do. It's one thing I've never done well on my own, and I know it's something I can only do through God.

I'm thankful that God is sovereign. I am thankful that God never forgets. I'm thankful that it hasn't snowed yet in Oklahoma. I'm thankful for two rambunctious dogs who like to cuddle at night. I'm thankful for a husband who works so hard. I'm thankful for a husband who loves me on my best and worst days (and every other day in between). I'm thankful for family who make me laugh and remind me of who I am. I'm thankful for time spent with friends. I'm thankful for a roommate who cleans our house (and has made it look better than ever). I'm thankful for good television shows and nights spent cuddled on the couch. I'm thankful that God blessed everyone with different personalities and talents. I'm thankful for a church that preaches the Gospel and stresses the importance of community. I'm thankful for the written word - both mine and others. I'm thankful for employment, for a house to live in, and food in the refrigerator. I'm thankful that I am learning about life, love, hope, joy, and what really matters - even though the lessons are hard. I'm thankful for the chance to serve in a youth group that teaches me, and I'm thankful for the teenagers of the youth group and that God uses that time to work in their lives as well as in mine.

There's so much more to be thankful for as well. My heart is full.

(title from "closer" by shawn mcdonald)

12/01/2010

hope you find your way

picture found here
December descended today, bringing with it cold air and the promise of Christmas. In years past, I would begin listening to nothing but Christmas music and excitedly decorating. During college, my roommate and I allowed Christmas to take over our apartment, and the decorations we purchased from Hobby Lobby sit in the hall closet. Last year, the decorations remained in the closet, and they will likely remain there this year as well.

I'm not sure what to think of Christmas or the holidays now. To a large extent, they are something for me to get through rather than enjoy. I spent two holiday seasons as a social worker, playing Santa Clause and delivering presents, and also two holiday seasons holding my breath that I would not receive any emergency phone calls over the four-day weekend for Thanksgiving and three-day weekend for Christmas.

This year I still plan on playing Santa Clause. We (my husband and I) decided to purchase presents for children in foster care rather than purchase gifts for one another. There's a part of me that would rather purchase gifts for the children in foster care rather than purchase gifts for anyone, but I'm not sure if we've decided to do that. I just feel burdened by the task of shopping and then wrapping gifts. Not because I don't love my family or have ideas (because I do...) but because I feel like so much of Christmas is lost when the buying and gifting of things becomes the primary focus rather than the primary focus being what Christmas truly means.

I know people are good at heart. I firmly believe that, but I also think the holidays can so easily bring out the worst in people - myself included. So many years were spent counting the gifts under the tree, comparing the number of gifts for myself versus the number of gifts for everyone else. I would strategically plan who would open what, trying my hand at opening the last gift. And most of the gifts I no longer recall. There are a few that stick out, but many have blended together and disappeared from my memory.

It's not just the gifts, though, but the blending of my life with my husband's. Marriage is a tricky thing as it is, but the descending of the holidays seems to make it trickier as our previous traditions crash together. This will be the third year we spend Christmas in Oklahoma. It is also our third year as a married couple on Christmas. And while I do get to see my family for part of the holiday season, it still hurts to know I won't be decorating the tree, attending church on Christmas Eve, or opening presents from Santa Clause with them and then eating eggs benedict the morning of Christmas Day. I also won't be there to witness my father passing out Christmas presents with his Santa Clause hat that reads "ho ho ho."

There are new traditions now in Oklahoma. Traditions of Christmas Eve at his grandmother's house and playing Dirty Santa. Though last year we never made it to Christmas Eve due to the blizzard. There are two playful puppies to buy presents for and Christmas movies to watch on Netflix. But I still can't seem to find the joy that once accompanied the holidays.

I talked some about my near dread of the holidays last night at Community Group, and my husband has heard more than enough about my lack of festive cheer. I'm hoping that I can soon find joy in the season, that I can rediscover some of the magic Christmas once held - like the Christmas Eves spent searching the sky Rudolph pulling the sleigh.

A large piece of me desperately wants to believe in Santa Clause and Christmas miracles. It's the piece of me that is waiting, with bated breath and hope, for good things to crash down and for our luck to be changed. I realize there is so much to be thankful for, that there are so many struggles we are not facing right now, but I still struggle with this nagging feeling that things just are not good, that we are not where we should be.

We've been in this holding pattern for months now, and it's wearing on me and on us. While it was easier to hope and pray and remind each other that something would happen in August, we are now at a point where we are tired of hoping for something better and tired of the disappointment. Maybe, just maybe, Christmas will provide us with a reason to not be tired. Maybe my bah humbug attitude will be met with ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future that sing of joy.

Maybe.

(title from "these friends of mine" by rosie thomas)

11/25/2010

a divine conspiracy (the story of us: part 6)

I had been at my first grown-up job for a week when he suggested that we take a day trip to Fort Worth, TX. Knowing it was approximately two hours worth of a drive, I said I would have to think about it. I loved Fort Worth for the Whole Foods, for the water gardens, for the memories he shared of his summer spent working with inner-city youth there, but I didn't feel up to the trip. While the hard part of my job had not yet started (responsibility for kids and case work), I was already exhausted.

He did not relent, and having a suspicion that something was up, I agreed to go.

In the days leading up to the day trip, I could tell he was up to something. I did something no girl should ever do and stole his cell phone while he was in mid-text. He was sending a message to a friend of his in a band (who we both love), and he got angry with me for looking. The anger tipped me off some, and I went to work the next day with a smile and comments to my co-workers that I thought I would be getting engaged over the weekend.

When we left for Fort Worth on Saturday, my now husband mentioned to me that his friend in a band would be attending a funeral that day. His fiance's grandfather had died. To be honest, I had forgotten about the text message by this point but was now back on high alert.

Our first stop in Fort Worth was The Fort Worth Botanical Garden. He had borrowed his parents camera and asked me to take pictures of the flowers as we walked around. I snapped shots of roses and other flowers I don't know the names of. The garden was empty of people for the most part, and I enjoyed strolling in such a beautiful place, holding his hand.

We came to a bridge. With no one in sight, he stopped and turned around to look at me. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you," he said.

A puzzle expression crossed my face. My heart stopped beating. I had talked about this moment happening, but still, it didn't quite seem real.

"I want to spend the rest of my life with you too," I said.

"But I don't want to wait any longer." He dropped to one knee and pulled out a purple ring box. The box opened. "Will you marry me?"

I said yes. He placed the ring on my finger. We hugged and kissed. After saying yes, a couple walked up and offered to take our picture. Our smiles were big and tears were in our eyes. I sent text messages out and phoned the important people. None of it seemed quite real. We continued our walk through the gardens, and I looked down at my hand every so often to see the sunlight catch the diamonds and to make sure it didn't fall off my left hand.

I remember thinking and talking about how it was perfect, this engagement of his. And he smiled. It wasn't over yet.

What I later learned was that he had not planned to propose at the botanical gardens. Rather that was a side trip meant to throw me off the scent of the rest of his plans.

He had enlisted the help of several friends. Over the course of the day, we would be serenaded at the Fort Worth Water Gardens by his friends in the band and enjoy a romantic dinner at an Italian eatery in downtown Fort Worth. Even though I snooped and did not allow the engagement to be a complete surprise, he did better than I expected. To me, it doesn't get much more romantic than a private concert of a few of my favorite songs.

Almost immediately, we began talking about the wedding. I was living in a shabby apartment, and he was graduating in three months. We knew we didn't want a long engagement or an extravagant wedding. Truthfully, I didn't really want a wedding at all - just a ceremony on the beach.

We didn't have the ceremony on the beach, but we did have a beautiful wedding in an outdoor garden.

(title from "god gave me you" by dave barnes)

This post is part of a series. It is a snapshot of how I met (and married) my husband. To read the entire series, click here.

11/24/2010

light a fire in the cold

picture found here.
Every morning, on my way to work, I pass several billboards proclaiming the millions of dollars one can win by buying a $1 lottery ticket. I struggle with whether or not it is okay for me to want to play to lottery and to want to win just a fraction of the millions available.

I wouldn't spend the money on frivolous things like DVDs or clothes or shoes. I wouldn't even spend all the money on myself. But still, I'm not sure if it's okay for me to want things like money. Money won't fix all the problems of the world. But I know it would help.

If I had the money, I would fix our house and then sell our house. We'd purchase a much bigger house - one that could house children in foster care and children we'd adopt from Ethiopia and China. The house could house people who needed a little help getting back on their feet. We could even purchase a second house meant just for individuals needing assistance to get them out of a desparate situation or off the streets.

I would send money to Africa and help build orphanages for the 53 million orphaned children. I would go to Africa as well and experience life there so I would know what help the country really needed - not just the ideas I hear on the radio. I'd give money away to those who needed it. I'd start as many non-profits as I could to reach as many people as I could. I'd fulfill some of my lifelong dreams which include opening a group home for girls and helping others recover from things like anorexia and bullimia. I'd take the money and spend it on hope amd love.

I would hold onto just enough to meet our own needs and then the rest would be given to others. That's what I long to do, what my heart is striving for. But I do wonder if my heart would be able to remain that pure if $200,000 or $20,000,000 were to be deposited into my bank accounty.

Money won't fix everything, and sometimes, money causes more problems than it fixes. But I like to dream about the things we could do, the people we could help, the lives we could change with extra dollars floating in our checking account.

If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money? Months ago (and especially years ago), I would have bought a new wardrobe and a new car and lots of gadgets. I do still struggle with wanting some of those things. I think I always will. But I wouldn't be able to spend it all on those sorts of things - not with the knowledge of just how far thousands and millions could go.

I don't think it's wrong to own things. We own more than we need to. I also don't think it's wrong to spend money on things for yourself. I am just at a point where all of those things, which were once so important to me, hold no value.

I am especially struck with this now that Christmas is near and Black Friday is looming. I looked through the ad for Target and saw nothing that excited me. I've seen the sales many stores are offering, and while I wanted as much as I could get last year, I want nothing now - at least not anything that the stores are selling.

I guess you could say my priorities have changed. It's funny how that happens, how God knocks sense into you about what is important even when you spend years ignoring His words about the things of this world are nothing compared to the things of Him.

(title from "hope" by alli rogers)

11/23/2010

the end of fear is where we begin

picture found here
The past weekend was exhausting. It was full of discussions, small arguments, more discussions, and the list goes on. I think I communicated more with my husband than I have in some time. We talk daily (multiple times a day), but sometimes, we don't fully communicate. It's not necessarily for lack of trying (though sometimes it is) but more from not knowing how to form words and sentences that express how we truly feel or think.

I'm a person who likes to have everything planned out, and I do not do well when things do not go according to plan. I am also a person who works, works, works, and then collapses from the exhaustion and stress I have put on myself. I also overthink every little thing. And I overworry.

My husband is a hard worker. He will follow a plan, but his plans are more fluid while mine are more rigid. He doesn't worry the way I do or overthink things.

In many ways, it's good that we are opposites. A house of two of me or two of him would likely not function as efficiently as it should. A house of one of me and one of him is more efficient but also makes communicating more difficult. It's hard for me to understand where he is coming from and also hard for him to understand where he is coming from. Which is how we got to this weekend.

We talk a lot. But we don't always listen. We talk a lot. But we don't always communicate. And after a busy week, after feeling overloaded in every department of my life, after holding on too tightly to how I think things should go, I lost it. A few times. And he was there - to break through every wall I built up (even though I did my best to get him to just let me be).

That's how real communication should be. While it's good to give each other time to rest, sometimes we need someone ot force the issue at hand until we are forced to let go of all the things we've held back. It's not pretty, but it's necessary. And our communication wasn't pretty, but it was necessary.

I don't really know how it all started or why I held so much in. But I know this much: it was my fault. I put on the mask that everything was going well. I talked about how much faith and trust I had in God, in the fact that everything would work out. I talked and talked and talked, but there was very little truth behind the talking. I wanted it to be true, but I was holding onto my plans, my desires, my fears, my everything - instead of letting go and opening up to the possibilities God had in store.

Now that it is all out in the open, I feel exposed - in a way I never have before. And it's scary. It's terrifying to know that God knows, that my husband knows the truth - the truth I thought I could keep to myself. And when I wake up every morning, there is a little panic that goes along with having people know how you really think and how you really feel. Every morning, I ask God to help me continue to trust Him. Every morning, I remind myself that I do trust Him. I repeat those words often so that they will become solid truth in my life.

When things started to happen on Saturday morning, I read a post on incourage.me about trusting God through the trials. My husband was at work that morning, and I commented to our roommate about how the post resonated with me. And it did. Though now it resonates even more.

Like I discussed earlier, I am reading Deutoronomy, and I am learning how much it speaks to my life. The lessons are hard but relevant. And reading about someone else's struggles to trust God through difficult times is relevant. Even more relevant now than I thought it was when I first read it. Right or wrong, I want God to lead me into easier times. I am ready for His blessings and His peace and His promises, but just as the Israelites traveled the desert in wait, I also have to wait.

I talked about some of this with a friend last night, and she asked me if I truly felt like God were leading me somewhere currently. I thought about the question for a moment before I answered. I'm not sure. It almost feels like we are right where He wants us to be. But I do not want to be here. I am trying to learn to accept where we are, but it's a struggle.

This friend of mine is currently living overseas. We spent a summer teaching in China together, and our friendship bloomed from that time. Now that she is halfway across the world, instead of a two-hour drive away, our friendship is deepening. Her words and stories about her travels speak to me because they remind me of how many different ways God can teach us all the same things. He just tailors the lessons to our specific needs.

So now I am trying. I am trying to not leap but to sit. I am trying to not run but to wait. I am trying to not close my eyes but to trust.

(title from "let love in" by the goo goo dolls)

11/21/2010

we're asking why this happens

picture found here

For years, many things moved me to tears. Things like movies, like books, like songs.  I found something beautiful or sad or poetic in just about everything including movies like Monsters, Inc. And then something happened (or rather a series of somethings), and I stopped. Tears no longer formed. While there were still poetic moments, they were fewer and farther in between.

I've remained in this state for some time now. I've hoped to move forward from it, and I've similarly held onto the emotional distance I've created. The reasons for this are many. But the reasons for this are not true to who I am, to who I am created to be.

So much has been brewing for the past few weeks. So much has happened, and yet, so much has remained the same. I've grown discontent (again). I've struggled with understanding where God is leading. I've been filled with anger and with jealousy. I've tricked myself into thinking I was leaning into Him, that I was being honest and open with my struggles, but I realized last night that I haven't trusted God the way I need to.

I try. I do. But I try with distance. Because I am afraid - afraid to follow when I do not know where He is leading, afraid to follow and then enter the desert rather than the Promised Land, afraid to follow and then to have to wait.

God put it on my heart a week ago to read Deuteronomy. I listened. I am still working through the book. I'm not normally one to read the Old Testament. I struggle to understand the words, the traditions, and how it applies to my life. But this time it is all too clear.

Since beginning my journey into the life of Moses and the Israelites, the parallels have become clear. The truth has resonated in my heart. And my prayer has been the same: please let me not be like the Israelites. It has been a heartfelt prayer, but it has not been honest enough. I've missed the point (until last night).

The point is, at least from what I can gather right now, that I am like the Israelites. I am quick to trust in a time when His glory is shining, when He is slaying my enemies and providing me with a clear way of travel. But in times of uncertainty and times of not seeing His glory, I am slow to trust. I agonize and worry and grow angry and weary. It's not a pretty sight.

I've prayed that it won't take 40 years to get to where He is leading. I've begged that I will not have to wander the dessert. But I haven't allowed Him to lead me through the desert. It could very well be that in my prayers and frustrations that I have kept myself in the desert due to my need to pray against things and fight against where He might be leading me.

I just don't know how to open my hands, open my heart, and truly trust in Him. I struggle with how to lean into the struggle and remember that this life of following Jesus does not promise ease but promises difficulty. But it also promises that He is there through all difficulty and that He will carry you through. I'm so ready to open my hands and believe this, but there is this fear that sits in the pit of my stomach.

So I am learning. Slowly. I'm calling out in the darkness and searching for the light. I am reading the words of Deuteronomy (sometimes twice and thrice) and allowing the words to pierce my heart, to remind me that God uses the times in the desert to turn our hearts to Him. And God, in His goodness, is keeping His promise and answering my calls (even if the answers do not come in the way I want - which is an audible voice). He's giving me songs that speak of where I am, songs that chronicle my thoughts and emotions. He's giving me blogs to read, words that remind me and show me that He has led others through the desert and then into their own promises land. He's reminding me that I am not alone, that He is there and so are others.

(title from "held" by natalie grant)

10/31/2010

we're bent by our own plans

thanks to click flash photos
Words seem harder to come by these days. Plenty of thoughts swirl in my head, but I struggle with how to put thoughts into words and words onto website. Some of it stems from wondering how much is too much to share. Some of it stems from just not knowing what to say. And lastly, some of it stems from simply waiting and asking for patience. There's only so much, I feel, I can say about needing patience and giving up worldly goods. The more I talk about it, the more I worry it loses its authenticity.

I know none of this is easy. But we are never promised an easy life or a comfortable life. We're promised a God who loves us, who works all things together for our good. We're promised that God will be present in every situation and that if we seek Him, we will find Him.

Right now, we are seeking. We know He is working. We know He has a plan, but we're not quite sure what it is. Not that it really matters that we know His plans; it just matters that we go where He send us.

I'm a planner by nature. I like to have a firm grasp on how things will play out and when things will happen. You would think that I would have learned that I can't have a firm grasp on everything, but I continue to struggle with clutching onto my timing when God is beckoning me to let go and to follow Him, to allow His timing to be the timing I turn to.

At church this morning, we sang about God's will being the will we ask to be done. Those words are often terrifying to say, and I've struggled with asking His will to be done because so often, I want His will to be my will. This morning, though, I allowed the words to whisper to my heart, and I let go. I hope I don't re-grip my will as I know His will is the one I need to work towards.

We don't know where He leads. But we do know that He is good and that He wants only good things for us. That is in His word and sprinkled throughout conversations I have had this week. I know He is working, shedding light on our path, and helping us to know where to step and when to stop, and I pray He is doing the same for you, leading you to where you need to go.

It's a leap of faith. This letting go and saying "thy will be done." A simple (but difficult and terrifying) leap of faith. We jump into oceans and lakes, trusting we won't crash into rocks or be swept under the water, so why do we struggle with jumping into the life He has planned for us and then following the path He laid out?

Sometimes, for me, it's because I feel alone. Because I'm scared I might be wrong about where He is calling me. Because I don't know if I can actually do it. Then, I remember, that it's not about me; it's about Him. And even though I feel alone, He has equipped me with people to help me, to pray for me, and to love me. Sometimes those people are friends; other times they are people I meet one morning who tell me that they believe God wants to use me (and my husband) to do something great, that He wants to bless us.

So if you feel alone and need or want someone to pray for you as you take a leap of faith and travel the path He has set for you, feel free to email me. I don't have much figured out other than the fact that God loves you (and me and all of us) and that He wants what is best for us - even if we have to travel a long and weather road to arrive at His destination.

(title from "it's out of my hands" by jars of clay)

10/25/2010

no one can take your place

oklahoma sunrise. found here.
I donated three bags of clothes to Goodwill on Saturday. On Sunday evening, we packed two boxes full of DVDs and set the boxes down in the parking lot of an apartment complex. We had considered trading the DVDs in for store credit or money but decided it would be more therapeutic to just give them away. We I also decided it would help us to remain true to my pledge to not shop for DVDs, clothes, shoes, or accessories for the next nine months.

I don't need anything. And I am starting to get to the point where I don't really want anything either. All those years spent of buying, buying, buying hav finally caught up with me. And I know now that I placed too much importance on having things than on what I had. I'm already weighed down by enough things and by enough debt. I'm ready to purge myself of the excess.

I still have excess. Had it not been for my husband's annoying (but loving) prodding I would still have more excess. But rather than holding onto some of the DVDs, I gave them away. And I feel just a bit lighter from it all. I feel like now I have more time to enjoy life, to focus on the things that matter, and to not feel like I have to watch this or watch that. I feel like now I have a reason to be creative with how I wear my clothes and how I spend my time.

Many of the things I gave away were things I said I would wear, said I would watch and then didn't. As I went through my closet and then through our DVD collection, it hit me just how much money and how much time has been wasted on things that have no true weight.

Looking back, we've slowly made our way to this point. Had it been up to my husband, we would have gotten here much more quickly, but I clung to material possessions even though in my heart I wanted to let go earlier. I guess I just wasn't quite ready.

I hope this will continue to spill over and into all our aspects of our lives. Already, we've cut back on eating out (though we still have a ways to go), and it's been almost two months since I last drank Starbucks. At least I think it has been almost two months. I honestly do not remember the last time I ordered a soy vanilla latte from Starbucks.

I'm probably the worst when it comes to eating out during the week. When I get home from work, sometimes I just don't feel like cooking or like having my husband make something. It seems so much easier to drive to Wendy's and order a chicken sandwich. But I know this is also something we need (and want) to cut back on.

Over the weekend, we only ate out once, and the meal we ate out was free as it was for a friend's wedding. The other nights, I cooked, and I received compliments on both meals. I might have a chef somewhere inside of me yet!

I can't do any of this on my own. And I know that while I am doing this for my own good, it is also because I feel the calling on my heart to truly give up the things I've held onto for so long. My husband feels the same, though I can not speak for him on many of these matters. We just know God is leading us to something and that we need to listen to His voice and respond rather than putting it off for another day or time or season in our lives.

I contemplated much of this on my drive to work this morning. I also contemplated other things God is doing, asking for His guidance on decisions we make for our lives. I noticed the sunrise this morning and stopped the contemplating. I simply thanked Him for His beauty and marveled at how intricate the sunrises are every morning. There are no two sunrises that are alike, and this morning, I was able to experience what felt like two sunrises. The east half of the sky was blue with whisps of peach, white and gray clouds. The west half of the sky was pink, purple, and orange. In the center, one cloud extended from the east to the west, joining the two sides and creating the perfect balance of peach with orange, white with pink, and gray with purple.

He's always working, and sometimes, His ways create two beautiful pictures all at once.

Have you considered giving up "stuff"? Why have you or why have you not? Feel free to join me on this journey, and please feel free to hold me accountable!

(title from "forgiven" by skillet)

10/21/2010

I attended the Carrie Underwood concert last night. It was an evening of fun spent with my sister-in-law. Tonight, I ate dinner with friends and then attended a Derek Webb and Shane & Shane concert. My heart is shifting and God is speaking. I'm trying to be quiet in an effort to receive His words. I'm hoping to have something more to write in the next few days, but for now, I wait.

10/17/2010

i will be still

picture found here.
Last night, my husband and I drove north to Edmond and experience worship and a sermon. The worship was led by Jami Smith, a local Christian artist. I've seen Jami Smith perform on one other occasion - outside in Livingston, TX during one of the summers I worked at a camp. Her lyrics are heartfelt, and when you watch her perform, you see Jesus.

Having seen her before made me want to arrive on time to the event. While there were ups and downs and a battle with our toilet earlier in the morning, we made it just in time. My heart was moved by the Lord with worship. I felt Him continuing to stir my heart, continuing to remind me that He has a plan and a purpose for this season in my life. He told me over and over that my worries and struggles and fear were not in vain.

After worship, we fellowshipped with friends and also with others we did not know. We snacked on cheese and crackers, fruit and vegetables, and sipped pink lemonade. Then it was time for the sermon.

Earlier last week, I wrote about my desire to simplify. I mentioned the book The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne. Last night, we listened to Shane Clairborne speak. He talked about living our lives out as ordinary radicals and shared some of the stories from his book as well as other stories. When I wrote the post on October 12th, I did not know days later I would have a chance to hear Shane Claiborne speak. I think, though, the thoughts placed on my heart on Monday were God's way of beginning to prepare me for Saturday night.

After he shared, there was a chance to ask questions and hear his responses. God told me to ask a question, though I wasn't sure what to say. Mine was the last question. The burden was heavy but evidently the Lord. I mentioned my work as a social worker and asked about how to not become hardened with the work of serving others as well as how he has (or if he has) seen a change in families who are struggling within his community. His answer was one I needed to hear, and afterwards, my husband and I had a chance to speak to him outside of the sanctuary.

It's rare to speak with someone and feel like you are in the presence of God. There are many times on Sunday mornings, when we listen to the sermon on Sunday morning and participate in worship, that I am aware of God's presence in the room. But last night was one of the first times I saw Jesus shining through another individual. It was evident how much He was working in and through Shane's life.

I want that. I want to do away with the things of this world and allow for Jesus to shine through. I may not be destined for the life Shane Claiborne leads, but I know God is calling me to lay everything else down. And I am hopeful that with His strength and grace, I will be able.

This morning, Shane Claiborne is preaching at a Methodist church in Norman, and this afternoon, he will speak at Oklahoma City University. We plan to attend the event at Oklahoma City University this afternoon.

God is still sorting out the things that happened last night. He is still filling me up with Him and pushing out the worldliness I lived in for much my life. There is much to pray through. Like so many other times, as well, it is likely that I will not understand all that happened last night (or will happen later today) for right away.

I had the chance to talk through much of it with my husband in the car last night. His heart was equally stirred. He felt an equal calling on his life, a calling which has been occurring over the past several months. Then, I was given the opportunity to speak with a friend who is currently serving overseas. She had seen Shane Claiborne speak as a freshman in college, and it was a blessing to be able to share with her and converse with her about his speaking as well as about the things the Lord is doing in both our lives.

It's not always evident how God is working. I think that's part of His beauty as well as part of the frustration we have. But every now and then, He sheds some light on His ways. I am thankful for those moments and thankful I was given the opportunity to have my heart pierced last night.

(title from "tower" by brad kilman)

10/14/2010

hope is springing up from this old ground

suttons bay, mi sunset.
A little over a month ago, the most amazing thing happened. It was (and still is) unlike anything I have ever experienced. The events of that night changed my life then and continue to change my life now.

For one, I appreciate both the sunrise (which I see on my way to work in the mornings) and the sunset more thna I ever have. I now see those daily events as a remind of God's beauty and His promises. I also see those daily events as a symbol of how, no matter what the circumstances, life continues on. The sun will rise and set no matter the weather, no matter the horrible situations of the world, no matter how willingly (or unwillingly) I get out of bed. There's beauty in that, so much beauty. Sunrises and sunsets are also a reminded that after the darkness there is light. Always.

That night continues to come back to me. Sometimes it sweeps over me and fills me with grace and wonder and love. Sometimes, when I remember, I am filled with impatience and wondering when those promises will come true. Last night, and then this morning when I made coffee and lunch for my husband, I was filled with impatience.

Impatience. And frustration. And discontent. And anger. Then more impatience, more frustration, more discontent, and more anger.

In the past, I've asked for these feelings to be lifted from me. I have asked for direction. And I've gotten some relief and some direction. This morning, though, as I laid in bed with the dogs and remained warm under the covers, I told God about how much I wanted to go out and spend money. I was open with my anger and my frustration. I explained that I was not strong enough to do any of it on my own. I said I wanted to do things my way, in my time, but that I couldn't anymore. And He met me right where I was.

Actually, that's a lie. He more than met me. He showed me my past mistakes, my past attempts at doing things my way (and how they ultimately failed). He then showed me His grace and how, even though I didn't wait for Him as He asked, He loves me enough to care for me even when I push away from Him.

Then, He made me a promise. In my sleepy stupor, He promised that everything would be all right. He promised that He would care for the brokenness, and that He would step in. I'm not sure how it will happen, but I know it will happen. And really that is all I need.

I also know that with this promise comes responsibilty. I have a responsibilty to Him and to follow through with the things He has laid on my heart. Things like living in minalism. Things like pursuing Him and not things of the world. Things like opening my home to others and loving people where they are.

I'm not strong enough to do any of this, but He is. Just as He makes the sun rise and set every day, He will meet me every day I ask and provide me with the strength I need. He will also provide me with the clarity I need, and He will remove the fear I have over letting go of the things of this world in order to make more room for the things of Him.

I won't be perfect through it all, but He will be. I won't be a beautiful sunrise every morning or a peaceful sunset every evening. But He will work through all of my dirt, dust and pollution; and He will clear it all away to make room for a beautiful sunrise and sunset.

(title from "beautiful things" by gungor)

10/12/2010

a song for a heart so big

wichita mountains, oklahoma. 2006.
My husband and I met on a blind date. I called him when I arrived at Barnes and Noble, and we talked on the phone until we were finally face to face. It was an awkward, movie-like meeting. He held in his hand a book - The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne. I didn't pay much attention to the book or to my husband to be honest. I was ready to finish the date and go out with my girlfriends.

I learned later that he bought the book for a friend, the friend who set us up on the blind date to be exact. I also learned later that my husband purposefully purchased the book with me present as a way to impress me. It didn't work then, but I do appreciate the gesture now.

We have a copy of the book. The cover is tattered and worn from my husband reading it. I tried to read it once and then stopped; the book is currently on the floorboard of my car collecting dirt and dust.

Every morning and every afternoon, I see the book in the car. I consider reading it or at least taking it inside after the work day. But I forget to grab it every day. Currently, I am thinking about giving it another chance. I've felt the calling lately to simplify - to really simplify and not just say I need to simplify, and while I know I will not agree with everything in the book (or any book for that matter), I feel like it might be a good start.

I'm far too worried and consumed by the standards of the American dream and how my life measures up. None of it matters, but somehow, I tricked myself into thinking it matters what shoes I wear, how many shoes are in my closet, how often I change my purse, and so one. For years, I shopped when I wanted to or when I felt sad. I used material possession as a way to lift myself up. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work.

I've talked before about simplifying. I've gone so far as to discuss how I can do it, and while I am by no means perfect, I'm slowly getting there. I have not had a drink from Starbucks in over a month. And honestly, I don't miss the vanilla soy lattes. I am perfectly content with the freshly brewed at home coffee and vanilla creamer. I'll miss gingerbread lattes this year, but I don't need them. I also haven't visited Sonic's happy hour in almost a month. There are no new clothes (at least not new in the sense that they were purchased within the last two months) in my closet or new shoes or new purses. I've worn the same purse almost daily for the past two months. It's the little things.

I wish it were easier to not spend money, to be content. And I am sure as more time passes, it will become a bit easier. But right now, it's still a struggle though I am certain that now is the time for me to let go of my love of wordly possessions and find contentment in the things I already have.

It doesn't mean that I just sit at home. I'll still spend weekends at the movies. I'll enjoy a nice dinner out with my husband. In fact, I did all those things this weekend. But it's different because I realize I do not need to do those things in order to be happy.

It's hard to explain, honestly. How do I go from loving fashion and shopping and all those things to suddenly figuring our that none of it really matters? How do I go from feeling like I need a pedicure once a month to deciding to paint my own toenails, even if I do get polish all over my feet? How do you go from eating out 75% of the time to cooking at home and actually eating the lunch you bring to work? It's a choice - just like everything else in life.

There is a quote I have displayed (somewhere) in our house that says the richest person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least. When I purchased the plaque, I thought it was a nice idea; that was years ago. The truth in those words is finally beginning to resonate.

At the end of the day, nothing we have on earth is ours. It won't go with us when we die. And while, yes, things can make our lives more comfortable, things also lead to this need to have more and more and more. Things also lead to the need to compare ourselves to others.

My house might not be the nicest. There is a constant draft, and the floors creak and moan. The house itself is leaning to the left; the floors slope. We're constantly cold in the winter. But this is the house I have. And at least I have a house. The same can be said for everything else.

I probably won't be a revolutionary like Shane Claiborne. I might not (and probably won't) give up everything I won. But I can at least continue to remind myself of what matters in this world. I can at least lift up the things that will always remain with me.

So here I go with my adventure - the adventure of not spending and not looking and not wanting. Will it be hard? Yes. Will I whine? Yes. Can I do it? Yes.

Here's to hoping you also discover the things that matter most to you. Let me know if you need accountability. I am sure I will.

(title from "hear you me" by jimmy eat world)

10/11/2010

out of chaos life is being found

We had the pleasure of worshipping with a new band on Sunday morning. Our church will soon open a second campus in Oklahoma, and the band from this second campus played on Sunday morning. The worship was heartfelt. Watching the band, I could tell their heart was in the right place - with God. Mine wasn't on Sunday morning. To be honest, my heart hasn't been in the right place for the last several days.

It's not for lack of trying. I want my heart to line up with His desires. I want to shake off the negativity, the worry, the endless questions and just rest in His promises and His presence.

I think He's working in me right now. In fact, I know He is. I can feel Him pushing aside so many things and doing His best to show me what is important in life. He's providing me with the choice to stop and watch His work or to keep going and miss His calling.

I am doing my best to stop and watch. I am praying for patience, for understanding, for a chance to stand still. I am journaling and hoping.

One of the songs from Sunday speaks of how God is making beautiful things out of the dust and out of us. I listened to it twice last night before falling asleep and have played in at least ten twenty times this morning. The lyrics are calming my nerves, reminding me I am not the only one who feels like dust, who wonders if anything worthwhile will grow from the garden of my life. The lyrics are also doing their best to help me to stop and to remember what all He has done so far.

flowers in fishtown, mi
  I've attempted more silence over the past few days in an effort to hear from God, to be reminded by Him of what He is doing. I have also attempted more whispered prayers. So far, I have not received a response, but I am hopeful. He knows what He is doing. So for now, I wait to see what will spring up from the ground.

(title from "beautiful things" by gungor)

10/06/2010

it's more than you can see

Yesterday a friend of mine posed a question on her blog. The question was what would you do if you knew you could not fail. The blog post and subsequent responses can be found here.

The question is one I have asked myself in the past. I even have a decorative plaque in my house with the same question. But for some reason, it fully resonated with me yesterday and settled into the depths of my heart. I've re-asked myself the question and re-answered it as well over the past twenty-four hours.

There are several things I would do. Some are silly, some are serious, and some I am not quite sure what to think.

I would love to: dye my hair pink (at least some streaks), pierce my nose, drive to Michigan this weekend, jump in the freezing cold ocean, get another tattoo, wrestle with the dogs on the floor, paint, take more pictures, and it goes on and on. Those are things I would love to do, things that wouldn't result in failure, but things I want to do but don't.

If failure were not an option, I would play the lottery for one. If I knew I couldn't fail, then I would win. And I wouldn't necessarily need to win the entire lottery. $200,000 (minus the taxes) would be enough for me. It would provide me the money to fix our house, to pay off our debts, to give generously to those in need, and to have an extra cushion wherein we would not have to worry about money. It's strange to say all that since living in US puts us within the most rich out of the entire world, but there it is all the same.

I would also stop making excuses. I would live recklessly and stop holding myself back. This would spill into all aspect of my life including my walk with Jesus, caring for others, working with the youth group at our church, and my friendships. So often, I keep myself at bay and try to quiet my desires because of fear that things would not work out the way I hoped they would.

I would also let go. I would stop feeling as though I needed to be in control. This is such a struggle for me. I want to control every aspect of the life I live and the aspects of life around me. And it's tiring. It is also the exact opposite of what God calls us to be. He's slowly teaching me (and also forcing me) to relinquish control. But, still, there are times when the panic rises up and I grab back onto the control rather than allowing God to guide me through life, my hands open to receive His blessings rather than closed around the things I feel need attention.

I would laugh more. And smile more. Maybe even dance more. And sing more loudly. I don't dance or sing as often/ as loudly as I would like because I am afraid. Afraid of failure silly enough. I'm not as talented in the dancing and singing department as some, and I worry others are judging my lack of talent. So I don't dance or sing. How lovely it would be to no longer care what others thought and just let go! This would open up a whole new world for me and for my walk with Jesus. If I stopped caring about what others thought, my life would blossom like a flower after a fresh spring rain.

And I would write. Preferably full-time but most certainly part-time. Writing is in my blood. I can quiet it sometimes, but the urge and desire to spill words and stories across the page still exists. I think it always has. Even before I would type or write out the letters, I spun stories and tales. I wrote (and illustrated) my first book at a young age about a skunk who gets stuck in a high school and then has adventures in said high school. I spent my adolescent years and well into my college years writing fan fiction and then also writing true fiction. I even took extra English and writing classes in college. And I ultimately graduated with a degree in writing.

But I don't do these things. Instead, I let the fear of failure and of the unknown and of what other people might think grip me. And I think that's why this question resonates so much - especially now.

I desperately want the life I am meant to live. This could be it, my life right now, but it could also be so much more than my human mind can imagine. I fully believe God has a purpose for every life, and I fully believe that the purpose for my life is much more than what I give it credit for.

My husband and I both feel this way. We both feel like there is more out there, but we don't know what. We both desire to not feel stuck (as we often do) in this life, in this house, in this state, and in our jobs. We want freedom, and I think much of our freedom (and the freedom for others) could very well come from no longer being afraid and acting as though we can not fail.

It doesn't mean that we quit our jobs and stop paying our bills or that we run from responsibility. It simply means we figure out our true hopes and dreams and desires and pursue them fully - not in a way that looks like pursual but still leaves us feeling stuck.

I know not all things will happen. It's unlikely that I will win even $100 in the lottery let alone $200,000. But I can do my best to stop making excuses. I can smile more. I can laugh more. I can sing and dance like there is no one else and then not apologize for making anyone feel uncomfortable. And I can write.

I just wish it all weren't so frightening.

(title from "i said" by michelle featherstone)

And now, I pass the question onto all of you. What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

10/04/2010

what can you do with a day

I spent this past weekend doing everything not on my to-do list. This means I didn't get the laundry washed, dried, folded, and put away. I also didn't sweep all the wood floors or dust our windows. And I didn't spend hours writing or reading. Instead, I slept in on Saturday morning and pampered myself with a hair cut and color. I relaxed with my husband that afternoon, and then spent the evening with my sister-in-law and her husband, watching our dogs chase each other around their backyard. We ate homemade venison chili and roasted marshmellows in their firepit. My husband and I went to bed early Saturday night and slept in on Sunday morning. We took our time getting ready for church and then spent a relaxing afternoon at his parent's house before a shopping trip to Target.

It's been a long time since we went to Target together. In the past, when our finances were more insecure than secure, we did our best to stay away from luxuries like shopping trips to Target. Even now, with things slowly working themselves out, we struggle with remembering that sometimes it is okay to purchase a new lamp or a candle.

I'm a self-professed shop-a-holic. If I stay away from stores, it's easier because I don't feel the need to shop or spend money, but lately, I've re-acquainted myself with Internet shopping. So far, I have yet to make any real purchases, but I know that clicking through the pretty clothes and shoes is dangerous. Just as even glancing at the real estate listings on Craigslist is dangerous.

I have enough self-restraint to not shop. I also have enough self-restraint and awareness to understand that purchasing a new home is not going to happen now or anytime soon. It's not the purchasing I am worried about; it's the wanting.

My flesh weighs heavy on me, especially when it comes to wanting things. It's always been a struggle for me - this need to shop and to have the next thing. My younger self used shopping as therapy. It was a wonderful way to recover from a bad day, but I've found that shopping as therapy never fixes anything. It only leads to owning more than I need, which eventually leads to stress as I try to figure out what to donate, what to throw away, and what to keep as well as where to store the items I keep.

Yesterday, I didn't need anything we purchased. It was helpful to get new lamps for our bedroom since our dogs knocked our original bedroom lamp over and broke it, along with a vase, on Saturday morning. I didn't need to purchase the pumpkin pie candle or the nail polish. I recognize that. And I also recognize that I am done with shopping for non-necessities for this month. Completely done.

And so, my flesh hangs heavy on me. This is not who I want to be, this person who compares myself and my life and my things to other people and their lives and their things. Life is not a competition, even though I often live it like it is.

I made a decision yesterday that for the month of October I would not look at real estate listings. It's not good for my mind or my soul when I do. Instead, I am going to focus on loving our house and making a list of the improvement projects we will eventually get to. I need a goal to work towards and that goal should (and will) be improving our house - not purchasing a new home.

It's hard to feel positive about much right now. There is so much good, yes, but today my flesh hangs heavy on me. And this morning, I rolled my right ankle on my way out to my car. I sat on the damp grass, my lunch and purse spilling out around me, my coffee thankfully not spilled but sitting in it's mug on the sidewalk. I prayed that I would be okay, and after a few minutes, I stood up. I limped to the car and tossed my belongings into the passenger seat, and then I limped back inside to find a brace for my ankle. The pain was there but tolerable.

I'm at work now. I've spent the majority of the day without shoes on, my ankle propped on a cardboard box sitting on a chair. I've iced it some and limped around the office when needed. It hurts; it's swollen, but so far no bruising. I am just praying it's a sprain and that I'll be healed.

So as I take it easy on wanting things, on searching the Internet and on shopping, I am also taking it easy on my body. There won't be much cleaning of the house this afternoon. There will be no lunchtime workout. There will just be rest and icing and elevation.

The last time I hurt myself was months before I left for China. I tripped and fell over an oversized stuffed duck. There were four broken bones in my right foot, and I was in a walking boot for over six-weeks. I'm praying there will never be another break like that, but I do know that during that time I learned to lean on others for support and spent more time with Jesus than I had in the past.

I know this injury will be used. It might be the catalyst to make me slow down in my daily life and to cease my pridefulness in wanting things done a certain way. Or it just might be a chance for me to further learn about and see how God can heal our brokenness. I'm just praying for a quick recovery, for no further injuries, and for patience on my part.

(title from "closer to me" by dar williams)

9/30/2010

a divine conspiracy (the story of us: part 5)

The last few months of college and my relationship prior to the engagement are somewhat of a blur. They were important, yes, but also difficult to remember due to the overwhelming number of changes I experienced durng that time. My life, in many ways, was shaped by our relationship. Writing that is difficult because I do not define myself by my marriage. It is a part of who I am, but it does not encompass me.

Still, I am not the same person I was when we met. I am a brunette now; I was blonde then. I am a little less tan and a little more plump than I was when we met as well. And my faith has increased by leaps and bounds. Some of these changes are good - like my faith, and others I could do without. But they are there none the less.

There are moments I remember of our last few months as boyfriend and girlfriend. Some of those moments were spent with friends; some were shared between just us two.

We shared a lot of laughs then. We attended a date party with his fraternity in Guthrie, OK. It was dinner at a tea room and then seeing the musical "Peter Pan." One of our favorite things to do is attend plays and musicals. That night we were surrounded by his friends and their dates for the evenings. We were all dressed up and bundled up in coats due to the chill in the Spring air.

Many of the friends we were with that night are still our friends today. We see them less now, but many of us are still in Oklahoma City area, working through life after college and getting by.

We spent at least one weekend together in Fort Worth, TX - a city that holds so much meaning for us both. It's the city where he spent time interning at a youth development center for two summers, and it's the city where he would eventually propose. Spending time in that city, watching him interact with the children from the development center and seeing his bonds with the people there, still makes my heart flutter the tiniest bit. His true self shined through during those moments, a self that is as caring and generous as they come.

We attended birthday parties together and dinners out with friends. We both gave up some of our friendships for one another, and we forged new relationships and friendships together. It's not that we had to give up anything for the other, but it happened as we grew closer together and grew up as well.

We spent my final Spring Break together in Texas. There was a trip to Moody Gardens and the aquarium, eating real Tex-Mex, and enjoying nights on the couch watching movies. It was the second time he met my parents and spent a consistent amount of time with them. Two short months later, he would meet my aunt, my grandparents, and my Nana when I accepted my diploma and bid farewell to the freedom college provided.

I had options when I graduated college. Not necessarily options in the job department but options for where to move to. I chose to remain in Oklahoma and accepted a job as a social worker before I graduated. It was simultaneously the hardest decision I ever made and also the easiest.

That decision was truly a turning point in my life and in my relationship. Without that job, I likely wouldn't be married or living in Oklahoma. Without that job, I would have made a different decision which would have led me on a different path. Sometimes, I wonder where that path would have gone. It could be that it would have led me right back to where I am right now. Or my life could have been completely different. I try not to focus on the "what if's" though I do sometimes struggle with wanting to know how things might have been.

My graduation was a day I both couldn't wait for and wasn't ready for. It was the ending of college, of friendships, of a chapter in my life that I was both ready to be done with and scared to leave. I was lucky enough to graduate from a small college within the university, and following the ceremony, we ate dinner with my family. It was an eventful day, filled with love and good memories and finally being able to share a part of my life in Oklahoma with everyone.

A week later, give or take a few days, I began settling into my new apartment, and a week after that, I was given a very special ring.

(title from "god gave me you" by dave barnes)

This post is part of a series. It is a snapshot of how I met (and married) my husband. To read the entire series, click here.

9/29/2010

a divine conspiracy (the story of us: part 4)

It was winter when he first met my parents. One of his Christmas presents was a one-way ticket from Oklahoma City, OK to Houston, TX. Days after Christmas, I waited for him in the airport. We kissed and hugged and walked away from the terminal holding my hands. The plan was to meet my parents for dinner.

He spent several days with my family. It was the first time I had really intoduced my parents to someone. Past relationships had included quick introductions, but never had there been someone so important to me that I wanted them to spend days with both my parents.

We ate with my parents, told stories, and also spent time on our own. There were trips to the Kemah Boardwalk and a trip to Galveston, TX. It was sunny that day but chilly and windy. We took pictures by the beach, squinting our eyes and smiling. In so many ways, it was a dream come true. I had always wanted someone to share memories with, and I finally had that person.

"The Great Debaters" had opened recently, and we decided to spend part of the day in the theatre. I remember that is was while we watched that movie that it hit me. This was it. This was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I'm not sure why it happened at that exact moment, but I shared the revelation with him while we sat in an abandoned parking lot, looking at the canals in my parent's neighborhood. Things have never been the same since then.

We both had a lot of growing up to do at that point. Even now, we still have a lot of growing up to do. But that is what marriage is. It is not simply growing old together; it is also growing up and growing closer together.

We drove back to Oklahoma together, and then went our separate ways when he returned to his school and I to mine. The next month is somewhat of a blur. We spent as much time together as we could, but we were both busy with classes.

Our first Valentine's Day together I had high expectations. I wanted all the romance in the world, it being my first time to spend the holiday with someone special, but in the middle of the day, I received a text message that said he wasn't sure he would be able to make it out to see me. I was crushed but did my best to go through the rest of the day not thinking about it.

I left work around 5:30pm that day. I was tired and dressed not too attractively as I worked at a daycare at the time. When I reached the parking lot, he drove up. He handed me a card. It was taped to the window of the car but had blown off in the wind. He purchased two tickets to see "Definitely Maybe" and said we would spend the evening beforehand at my apartment, eating our favorite pizza.

A simple Valentine's Day. But really all our Valentine's Days have been simple. Looking back on it now, I think it was for the best. I wanted all the flowers and candies and candlit dinners I could find, but I don't think any of those would have spoken to my heart like pizza and cuddling in the movie theatre.

We were three months away from getting engaged at that time. But I didn't know it yet. I was also three months away from graduating college at that time with no sense of direction, but that didn't matter. I had someone who cared for me, and that is really the most important thing in the world. Because if you have love, you can make it through almost anything. Not that it's easy because it's not. But what is worth having that is easy?

(title from "god gave me you" by dave barnes)

This post is part of a series. It is a snapshot of how I met (and married) my husband. To read the entire series, click here.

9/23/2010

the signs are nowhere on this road

I've had a rough week. Just rough. The week has been full of 4am wake-up calls, making coffee and lunch for my husband, going back to bed and cuddling with the dogs (which makes it harder to wake-up again at 6am or 6:30am), cooking dinner every night (turkey chili, chicken with macaroni and cheese and green beans, dumplings), and working. I was able to take off half a day on Tuesday, and I am scheduled to have the day off on Friday. And boy do I need it.

For years, I went at least 100 miles a minute. In college, I worked a total of three jobs and passed (with only one C - the rest were As and Bs) all my classes. I also had a social life. I sniffled more then and required more NyQuil in the evenings, but I was always on the move.

For the first year-and-a-half after college, I also went at least 100 miles a minute, but it took a greater toll on me. My job became my life. I chose working 45 to 50 hours a week, into the late evenings, over spending time writing and spending time with my husband. Sometimes it wasn't a choice but a necessity, but often times, I chose to complete late night visits and spend more time with my clients rather than taking only the needed information and high-tailing it out of here. For my job, this was the right choice; it helped me to know and assist my clients. But for the rest of my life, it was the wrong choice. It kept me from cooking dinner, from spending time with friends and family, and it stopped me from enjoying the time I did have off from work. I regularly needed a week or two off just to decompress and pull myself together. Now, though, just a few hours off and maybe a full day on top of the regular weekend, is enough. That's one good thing about slowing down.

It's been a struggle to let go of going 100 miles a minute. Sometimes I just can't do it; it's as though I have to have something to worry about or overthink. It's like I have to find things to fill my time up with. At the same time, though, I love the slower pace, and sometimes, I let too many responsibilities go in order to just sit and do nothing.

I am realizing how much of a balancing act it all is. When you go through life so quickly, it's easier. It's easier because you don't have (or take) the time to notice that some priorities are off. And if you do notice, you have an excuse. Often times, the excuse is one others can't really argue with. And so, you survive. You make it, and you have a reason not to have your priorities in line. It's not a way of life I would recommend, but it's how things often go. I did years of this - starting probably in high school. And through all of it, God took several attempts at getting me to slow down. There was knee surgery the summer before I started college and breaking my foot my junior year of college and on and on. I never really learned, though.

Now, I am doing my best to slow down enough but to not become complacenet with where I am in life. And it is hard. Because there is so much uncertainty right now, and I have no choice but to stare the uncertainty in the face and wonder how I can change it. When I was going a 100 miles a minute, I didn't have the time to deal with the uncertainty; I just kept moving forward.

How I wish there were a quick way to understand and master looking uncertainty in the face and knowing God's in control. How I wish there were a way to let go of the reins and be done with it. See that, God, I let go, so now You can ease up a little. But that's not the way it works.

Over the past few weeks, I have felt a lot of peace about our situation. A lot of good things have happened as well. God has stepped in and provided for us every step of the way. His provisions have not been instant or all encompassing, but that's okay. He knows best.

A lot of this hit me last night. It just hit me. All of the sudden I was overcome with this weight. And there was joy in it, too. But so much heaviness. There was no specific reason for it. I talked it over in my head and with my husband some last night. And I cried a lot (though I tried to keep the tears at bay). At the end of it, I felt a bit freer. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was craving the quick pace, that I wanted to return to the quick pace and let go of all the stuff that comes with going through life at a normal pace.

But God knows what I need, and He knows it isn't running a 100 miles a minute. He knows the only way I can hear Him to slow down and to be still. Last night, I was more still. I knew He was present in my letting go and opening up to Him.

I'm not sure where all of this is leading. I want to know, but I understand that I don't necessarily need the knowledge. I need to trust in Him and follow Him. I can question it some but not so much that I start to pull away. He's brought us this far. I have no reason to doubt Him now.

(title from "light up the sky" by the afters)

9/21/2010

when darkness turns to light

Just a few minutes ago, I finished reading After You by Julie Buxbaum. I read her first novel, The Opposite of Love, several months ago, and upon finishing it, I rushed to the bookstore in hopes of finding another book of hers. Now that I am done reading both novels I feel almost empty. The end of a novel, a really good novel, is the sweetest and most bittersweet moment.

For a week, my world collided with the world written of in After You. I felt what the characters felt, lived their lives alongside them. I ached when I wasn't reading, as I always do, because I so desperately want to return to their world. That's what a novel is meant to do. It's what I feel the first draft of my novel lacked and what I hope this next draft will provide.

Sometimes reading other novels helps to inspire my writing. Other times, reading makes me wonder why I try - thinking my words will never provide the sort of escape that others have provided me. But I remember, sometimes by my husband reminding me and sometimes by the little voice inside of me, that every writer and every story is different. It's not that my words need to be as good as or better than those of another writer's. What I need is to remain true to the character, to remain true to the story, and to remain true to myself - the author that the story chose.

I was able to take off half a day of work today. We've had structural engineers and foundation companies at our house, in an attempt to figure out what exactly to do with our situation. It was a much needed break, a chance to just be at home on a weekday with my husband. We watched Hawaii Five-0 together, ate lunch, and then enjoyed being under the same roof for the afternoon. He napped, and I wrote and read. It was amazing.

These are things we often do on the weekends, but for some reason, they felt more special, more important on this average Tuesday. And I think that's what I want so desperately for my writing. I want to take the things that are often seen as normal and remind others of how special and important they can be.

In college, I was taught that there is a formula for every genre of writing. I was taught that often one has to follow the formula the first time around with writing. While I flirted with (and sometimes still flirt with) the idea of nursing school, I was never particularly good at math or science - which is why I dropped nursing after barely passing chemistry and dropping out of anatomy and physiology. To be honest, I don't know what genre I am writing, which means I am unsure of the prescribed formula. It could be that I am adding in all the necessary ingredients in the correct order, or it could be that I am adding a dash too much of that and too little of this.

But I don't think it really matters. Because regardless of the formula, there is a story to be told. The characters are turning into people I care about, and the emotions, which in many ways mirror emotions I waded through years ago, are real. And these characters and emotions have somehow chosen me to be the storyteller. Hopefully, I won't let them down.

(title from "it ends tonight" by the all-american rejects)

9/19/2010

the path is clear

I completed the first official edits of my novel on Friday evening, and last night, I began rewriting the novel. It wasn't my intention to rewrite 206 pages, but the voice feels right, in comparison to the first draft. Such is the life of a writer, I suppose. I am now seven pages into novel and enjoying the sound of Snow Patrol playing on the speaks and my fingers hitting the keys on my computer.

A feeling of peace and of knowing that this time in my life where I need to be washed over me this morning at church. It's a feeling I've clung to for the past several weeks, but this morning it took me by surprise.

I'm thankful for the feeling. The uncertainty and struggle is still fresh in my mind, and I know how dark and destructive the uncertainty and struggle can be. I also know that without the uncertainty and struggle I would be unable to recognize the peace and certainty.

For the first time in months and months, light is shining down on us and on our path. There are still shadows, but I can see where God is leading us - more than just one step at a time. I firmly believe writing has much to do with this because I know the call of the written word was placed on my heart upon my creation; it's just taken me several years to fully consent to the call.

When I wrote this specific novel the first time, I was a senior in college. I had just returned from China. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment with my best friend (and roommate of three years). I worked in a daycare. I spent a lot of nights (and money) on Campus Corner. I was constantly moving and changing and thinking and going, going, going. Now, I am married. I live in a 1700 sq. ft. hours with my husband. I work in social services. I spend my evenings either at home, with our community group, with our church youth group, and so on. It is the first time in my life that I am not going, going, going. I think the stark differences will lead to a much different perspective with the novel, and I hope this is a good thing.

Most authors will tell you that the setting of where the writing takes place is important. And it is. I am still finding my setting for writing. Currently, it is in the corner of our sectional couch. I am hoping this is the right place.

Most authors will also tell you that music is important, and it is. I am currently putting together a playlist specifically meant for times spent writing and thinking about my novel. Much of the music is music I have listened to for years and years, and while I love it, while it inspires me, I need help finding other music. I am going to include a few of the songs I am currently listening to in hopes that I can hear some new suggestions.

  1. "Simple Together" Alanis Morissette. You've been my golden best friend. Now with post-demise at hand, can't go to you for consolation 'cause we're off limits during this transition.
  2. "Just Say Yes" Snow Patrol. I'm running out of ways to make you see. I want you to stay here beside me. I won't be ok and I won't pretend I am, so just tell me today and take my hand.
  3. "I Never Told You" Colbie Caillat. I see your blue eyes everytime I close mine. You make it hard to see where I belong to when I'm not around you. It's like I'm alone with me.
  4. "On Your Way" eastmountainsouth. All the nights reflecting in our chance connecting help me find the meaning in the life I had with you.
  5. "Resolution" Nick Lachey. Living life without a plan, finding solace where I stand and learning how to love again, and all I want is something real that I can feel.
  6. "Beautiful Disaster" Jon McLaughlin. She's giving boys what they want, tries to act so nonchalant, afraid to see that she's lost her direction. She never stays the same for long, assuming that she'll get it wrong.
  7. "Comin' Home" City and Colour. I've seen a palace in London. I've seen a castle in Wales. But I'd rather wake up beside you and breathe that ol' familiar smell. I never thought you could leave me; I figured I was the one.
  8. "Dream" Priscilla Ahn. Now I'm old and feeling grey. I don't know what's left to say about this life I'm willing to leave. I lived it full, and I lived it well; there's many tales I've lived to tell.
  9. "Been a Long Day" Rosi Galan. I'm finally feeling like its ok to break into a thousand pieces no one can replace. Only I can find my way.
  10. "Days Like This" Kim Taylor. And all I wanna do is live my life honestly. I just wanna wake up and see your face next to me. Every regret I have, I will go set it free. It will be good for me.
(title from "just say yes" by snow patrol)

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