Life Lessons from Zumba - #4: Never Underestimate The Power Of Sheer Determination

I'm telling you, sometimes determination is all it takes.

There's this one routine we've been doing in Zumba this semester that I have absolutely detested from the first time we did it.  It has jumping jacks in it.  Not just ordinary run of the mill jumping jacks, either.  These are jumping jacks that require you to cross your feet, and there are 4 or 5 of them in very quick succession, in between these hoppy little knee lifts, and if you miss one, it's hard to catch up.

Can I just tell you that at 37, jumping jacks - especially tricky little fast ones - are a lot harder than they were when I was 7?

(Ok, you can stop laughing now.)

I'm not kidding, I have not once made it all the way through this routine all semester and actually accomplished all the jumping jacks.  And it's been soooo frustrating.  I can be a bit of an  overachiever (the first step is admitting the problem, right?) - and it can drive me a little nuts when I run into something that I can't do (but think I should be able to do).  And this routine is so demanding that by the end of it I am usually dripping with sweat and feeling like the most uncoordinated person on the planet.

Until today.  I made my usual protest at the beginning of the song.  Was outvoted by a roomful of women who can actually do jumping jacks without feeling like they're going to fall over.  And decided that today was the day.

I missed a couple other things in the routine here and there, but I nailed every single jack today.  And it felt amazing.

Never underestimate the power of sheer determination.

Now granted, there are going to be days when it isn't enough.  Days when you can will yourself to accomplish something all you want, and yet fail utterly.  I lucked out.  Today wasn't that day.  But there have been other days when I've thrown myself at a problem or a task, determined to conquer it - and fallen very, very short.

But here's the thing.  It's better than not trying.

Because at least if you tried - you did something.  You didn't just sit by passively and let life happen to you.  You went out and did something.  And maybe even learned something along the way from your mistakes and failures.

Determination was the key to getting thru that routine today - but eight weeks of showing up to class and trying (even on the weeks when it didn't go well) was the discipline that made me strong enough for determination to finally win out.

Where do you need to "show up" and put in a little more discipline to build the strength you need for your life?  (And how rewarding will it be the next time you throw a little sheer determination at something you want to but aren't sure you can do - and succeed?)

"You've all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race.  Everyone runs; one wins.  Run to win.  All good athletes train hard.  They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades.  You're after one that's gold eternally.

I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line.  I'm giving it everything I've got."
- 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 (The Message)

Other "Life Lessons from Zumba" Posts:
# 3 - It Doesn't Always Go Well
# 2 - Don't Think About The Six-Step
# 1 - The Five Minute Rule of Survival

Rest With Us

"So it was, whenever the ark set out, that Moses said:
       "Rise up, O Lord!  Let Your enemies be                      scattered,
        And let those who hate You flee before You."
And when it rested, he said:
       "Return, O Lord,
        To the many thousands of Israel."
                        - Numbers 10: 35-36 (NKJV)

God had rescued the people of Israel from Egypt.  They were on their way to the promised land. - and they had the most interesting way of getting directions.

The presence of God was dwelling with them in a tent called the Tabernacle - by day it looked like a cloud; by night it looked like fire.  When the cloud lifted, and began to move - they followed it.  When it stopped, they stopped.  The Bible tells us that "whether it was two days, a month, or a year that the cloud remained above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would remain encamped and not journey; but when it was taken up, they would journey." (Numbers 9:22 NKJV)  

It struck me this morning what a very simple way to follow God this is - and how much more complicated we make it some days.

The children of Israel knew generally where they were going.  But they didn't spend 40 years wandering aimlessly in the desert to get there.  There was purpose and intentionality to their movements - but it wasn't purpose and intentionality they brought to the plan - it was God's directions they followed.  Sometimes they journeyed and sometimes they camped - and sometimes it was two days and sometimes it was a year.  God alone knows why His directions were what they were - but He had his reasons, and Israel's job was to journey and camp as they were directed.  So they followed the Presence - and in the end, came to the place they were meant to be.

How often do I try to depend on my own strengths, my own gifts, and my own ability to figure things out in an attempt to get where I think I'm going?  When really, those strengths, gifts and abilities aren't truly mine to begin with, but a gift in the first place?  And when really, what's needed isn't a plan, but the willingness to follow where He's leading (or not leading) that day - regardless of whether or not I know the reasons for what we're doing in that day?  I spend so much time trying to sort it all out, making it far more complicated than it needs to be, when what I really need to do is to "cease striving and know that [He] is God." (Psalm 46:10a NASB).

I love how Eugene Peterson re-worded what Moses said in Numbers 10:36 of the Message Paraphrase:

"And when the Chest was set down, he would say:
       "Rest with us, God.
        Stay with the many,
        Many thousands of Israel."

Rest with us, God.

Oh, would You come and do that today?  Would you come and rest with us, and teach us to rest in You?

Life Lessons From Zumba: #3 - It Doesn't Always Go Well

One of the things Zumba class requires is a great deal of energy.  (In case you're not familiar with Zumba, it's mostly Latin dance steps mixed in with a good blend of aerobics, kickboxing and hip hop.)  It's super-fun - unless you walk into class utterly exhausted.  If you walk in tired - well, be prepared.  Zumba will kick your ... um.  Well, let's just say it won't likely go all that well.

Today was one of those days when Zumba just didn't go well.  I walked in already tired.  I thought several times about just cutting out early - and honestly, today, I didn't stay because of what people would think if I left.  I think I stayed mostly to see if I could.  And I did actually make it all the way through the class.

But let me tell you: there were some less than stellar moments.  I tripped more than once.  There were dances and steps I just couldn't seem to master today - even though none of them were new.  I made so many mistakes, and found myself relying more heavily than usual on the instructor's encouragement and smiles.  (She's really awesome that way.)  I had to remind myself to smile.  It wasn't fun, most of the time today.  It was work, and it was exhausting, and it was very hard to remember that the point is to have fun and keep moving as I watched myself make error after error.  For some reason, most of my injuries from my bike accident chose today to be achy, which affected my concentration and added to the discouragement I felt.  There were a few moments here and there when I found something positive to focus on - things like "my Zumba shoes are really cute" or "I didn't trip that time" or enjoying the camaraderie that exists between those of us who have been taking this class together for awhile.  But mostly it was just a long haul for an hour, and I was glad when it was over and I could retreat to the introvert heaven that the rest of this day has been.

And life's like that.  There are days when you get up and everything just seems to go wrong.  You wake up tired, you push too hard, you overcommit, and your responsibility streak won't let you drop things you promised you'd do because people are counting on you, even tho dropping them would be the best possible thing for you.  You forget things - important things - and it affects other people negatively.  (Which makes you feel worse.)  You make mistakes, and you say the wrong things and you send text messages you shouldn't send.  Your emotions get out of control and you spew negativity. People don't respond the way you wish they would and old wounds surface and try to declare themselves unable to heal, ever.  Life seems suddenly overwhelming and obstacles insurmountable.

But the truth is: it isn't and they're not.  You can do this.  You just need to give yourself a little grace.  Be okay with not being perfect.  Be okay with not getting it right all the time.  Trust in His grace.  And trust your friends to love you enough to be gracious to you even when you're having a rotten day and not being the best version of yourself.

And call it when you need to.  Check out.  Take a nap.  Read a book (for fun).  Watch a movie.  Take another nap.  Be an introvert.  Ask God to speak.  Listen for His voice.

And know that while it doesn't always go well (welcome to life on a fallen planet) - there will be other days and other dances, and life isn't going to permanently kick your anything.  You'll get back out there, and it will be fun again.

vamos a cantar

Come, let us sing...

Rehearsal this week was amazing, and I am so looking forward to worship tomorrow!  I've been leading worship for a long time, but tomorrow is a day that holds a bit of new territory: we're doing an entire song in Spanish.

It was a challenge, learning a song in a language I don't speak - but it was a ton of fun (and Pedro says I did okay - yay!).  It will be a challenge, trying to sum up in the 30 seconds or less I usually take for a song intro, why we're doing it, and coaching our people into the moment.  It's new territory for our entire congregation - but it's territory worth entering, and here's why:

1) Singing a song in another language broadens our horizons.  It reminds us that the kingdom of God is so much bigger than just our church - His bride is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and wonderfully diverse.  His word says that every tribe and every tongue will one day bow before Him - and singing in another language orients us towards the beauty of that truth.

2) We have families in our congregation whose native language isn't English.  They come every week and sing in English, and they do it cheerfully and with abandon - but it's just love towards our brothers and sisters to sing in their languages, too.

3) One of the things Torch wants to be is "simply different" - we refuse to be a holy huddle.  We are a church that reaches out, and stays focused on reaching the lost.  We're planted in the middle of an area that demographically includes Hispanic families.  If we want to be a neighborhood church - the kind of place where people in our neighborhood feel comfortable just walking in, then there need to be elements of how we do things that make it feel like home to our neighbors.  Singing some of our songs in Spanish sometimes is a way to do that for some of our neighbors.

Sure, there will be people in our congregation who will find it hard to connect during that particular song.  We're going to try to help by singing a song that's familiar and putting the English words on screen along with the Spanish words.  But the truth is, there are always going to be songs that we do/don't connect with, and a lot of the time that's dependent on the season we're in or personal taste/preference in music, etc. - and at the end of the day, worship is about the glory of God, not our subjective whims.  If we truly desire to worship the Lord, and worship is happening around us in another language - we can connect.  We might not understand the words, but we will sense the heart of worship in them - and we can enter into that with our own words or even in joyful, surrendered silence.  And there will be other songs that say everything we wanted to say in better words than we could have ever expressed it, and we'll connect then.

So I'm excited.  Tomorrow is going to be a breakthrough day for a lot of us, for a lot of reasons - and one of those reasons is that our perspective is going to shift a little.  It's going to be amazing.  Hope to see you there!

Life lessons from Zumba: #2 - Don't Think About The Six-Step

One of the steps I've had to learn for a number of routines in Zumba is called the "six-step."  It's literally six steps.  How hard is it to take six steps?

Well - when you're supposed to be twisting from your waist (tighten up those abs!) and moving your arms a certain way, and two of those steps involve crossing your feet, and you're doing it all really fast to music that's in 6/8 time when you've been listening to music in 4/4 all day, and you're thinking really hard about where your feet are supposed to go and trying to watch your instructor and not crash into the person next to you who is also falling over their feet... you might be surprised how challenging those six steps can be.  And you generally end up needing to do 4-8 sets of steps, really, and then transition right into another kind of step, and then transition back into it - and it can all be very confusing.

But here's the key, believe it or not: once you quit thinking about it, it gets a whole lot easier.

Learning the six step is actually as easy as counting to six while not looking at your feet.  I know that sounds crazy.  But it's true.  If I try to think, "right, left, cross, left, right, cross" while watching my feet, I will screw it up.  But if I count to six and keep my eyes on the instructor - it's not that hard.

Life comes with a whole lot of six-step moments.  Moments that arrive and leave you wondering what in the world you're supposed to do next, which direction you're even supposed to be going.  Moments that leave you feeling like you're getting everything wrong, moments where you stumble, moments you wish you'd transitioned into with a little more grace and decorum, and moments you really wish you could transition out of because you just can't figure out what to do right now.  Moments you have over-analyzed your next steps (literally and figuratively) to the point where all you can do is just stop because you have no idea where you are anymore.

In moments like that, there's only one thing to do: Don't Think About The Six-Step.

Quit thinking about it.  Quit overanalyzing it.  Stop.  Look at your Teacher.  Watch the Teacher's feet.  Follow where the Teacher leads.  And if you're still not sure how to get back into the dance - look for the Cross; begin there.  And then just move.  Don't think about it.  Just look at the Teacher and dance.  Do what you see the Teacher doing - all the while keeping your eyes fixed on the Teacher, and not on yourself.  And all of a sudden, you'll find you've mastered the steps.  (The metaphors seem obvious here...)

Now all you have to do is figure out that tricky double-tap-cross salsa step...

"A man's steps are directed by the Lord.  How then can anyone understand his own way?" - Proverbs 20:24

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." - Hebrews 12:1-3

Life lessons from Zumba: #1 - The Five Minute Rule of Survival

There have been moments in just about every Zumba class I've taken so far in which I've pretty much just wanted to die.  I mean, seriously.  What sane woman gets in her car and drives 20 minutes for the privilege of dripping with sweat and looking ridiculous for an hour?  (This is the sort of question I am usually asking myself about 10 minutes in...)

Zumba is hard.  It's fast-paced.  It's intense.  It requires you to be confident.  (More on that in another post.)  It takes a great deal of energy and concentration, and a certain degree of coordination.  And there are moments when the sole thing that prevents me from just quitting in the middle of some of those complicated routines is my concern about what a roomful of women I don't really know would think if I did.  (I realize this is illogical.  And unhealthy.  But hey, it works...)

But here's the thing: no matter how hard a dance is - no matter how tricky the footwork, how complicated the combination, how much my muscles scream in protest, how tired I am, how uncoordinated I am, or how embarrassed I feel - the truth is, it's going to be over in five minutes.  The song will end, we'll take a breather and get a drink of water and we'll move on to something else.  And it might be an easier dance, or it might be one that's even more difficult - but either way, that'll only be five minutes, too.  You can do anything for five minutes.  String twelve sets of five minutes together, and congratulations, you just survived a Zumba class.  Again.  (Insert sense of accomplishment here.)

There are moments in life that are a little like that moment of "Wow, I must be insane" in Zumba class.  There are things that happen that we wish hadn't.  Conversations that don't go well.  Emotions that overwhelm us.  Patterns we can't seem to break.  Trials that feel like they will never end.

But news flash: they will.  They're not here to stay.  This is only a season.  It's a metaphorical five minutes.  You will get through this.

So whatever it is for you - whatever the current trial(s) is(are) - look at those things and remember the Five Minute Rule of Survival:

You can do anything for five minutes.

And when it's over?  You'll have persevered - and won.  It's worth pushing through to get there.

"Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." - 2 Corinthians 7:14

creative encouragement

Came across this today via a guest post from Lucille Zimmerman on Michael Hyatt's blog.  It's brilliant, creative, and incredibly encouraging.  Thanks, Copyblogger.

How to Break Out of a Creative Rut
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

reflections on creativity

Our church started a two-year year-thru-the-Bible plan today.  (If you're interested in joining us, you can learn more here.)

Today's passages were the first version of the creation story and Psalm 1.  Two of my favorites.  I've been fascinated with the creation story since the first time I read it in one of those illustrated picture books, probably when I was 4 or 5.  It came into even clearer focus during one of the best preaching classes I've ever had the privilege to attend.

Our professor came to class a little late one day (intentionally), poked his head into the classroom, grinned, and said, "Come and follow me."  And left.  We all looked at each other, and then packed up our stuff and followed him.  He took us to the Chapel.  Sat on the top step.  We all sat down around him - at his feet.  And he began to teach.  He told us the creation story - from memory.  And then he told us John 1 - also from memory.  And all of a sudden, there were pieces of the story, patterns, rhythms, parallels that I'd never seen before.  It was incredible.  Beautiful.  Creative.  Inspiring.

I love that God's Word is that creative.  (He's the God who creates by speaking - it makes sense that His Book would be creative, too.)

And His Word says that we're created in His image - something about us reflects, mirrors, images Him.  A piece of that is that we are all creative - we love to make things, think things up, do things - we have to.  It's who we are.   Painters, dancers, construction workers, software engineers, architects, inventors, scientists, musicians, writers - we all wake up every day with the ability and desire to create.... something.

It is one of the reasons why, when we are not creating, when we are just going thru the motions, just doing our jobs, focused on task lists and getting thru the day, that we become restless, unhappy, and less ourselves.

I have not been very creative these past few months.  There are reasons for that.  Some of them valid.  Most of them lame.  Last night I sat down intentionally and spent an hour working on a song.  There's only a verse and a chorus and two lines of another verse to show for it (and of course they're lines for the middle of the verse, so the challenge now is how to get to them logically and creatively) - but they're lines worth keeping.  And I felt more like myself than I have in a really long time.

I love the poetic beauty of the lines in Psalm 1.  God's children are like trees, planted by water, that bring forth fruit in their season.  In season.  Mmm.  Sometimes I forget in those dry, unhappy seasons that they are only that - seasons.  My roots, tho, go deep, and the river of life from which I draw my life is a flawless source - He never fails.

And on that note:

Have a wonderful, creative, and spring-like day!


i went adventuring today.

it was... fun.  wet, mind you.  but fun.

a few weeks ago, a good friend and i went on what we called a "pseudo-epic Sabbath adventure." it was amazing.  literally one of the best days of my life.  (i hope to (finally) be able to write about it soon.)

and one of the places we went that day was a neighborhood in Chi-town called "Wicker Park."  it's super-trendy; known for music, fashion and art - totally my kind of place.  honestly - i'm a country girl at heart, but if i were ever to live in a city, this is one of the places in which i'd be at home.

so i went back today.  i had three possible destinations in mind.  one of them was The Boring Store.  it was one of the places my friend and i had meant to go, but they were closed by the time we got there.  i thought about stopping in - i mean, it's amazing, and i really want to go - but it just didn't feel right, going without him.  so i skipped it, and headed directly to one of the other places on my list: Myopic Books.  so glad i did.  i was literally less than a block from the store when one of the biggest storms i've seen for awhile swept through town. granted, we haven't seen a lot of storms this summer, but it was big enough that i got completely covered in dirt from the wind that whipped thru before the rain started, and i was extremely grateful to be indoors during the worst of the downpour.

and it was a lovely place to be stranded.

80,000+ titles to choose from.  super-cool building - it used to be a jewelry shop, and the iron bars that used to section off part of the store are still there, and the mystery section is in the vault downstairs (sadly, it was closed today, so i didn't get to see it, but how cool is that?!).  jazz music.  reading nooks.  did i mention 80,000+ titles to choose from?  just imagine how many shelves that takes, and how lost you can get in them...

i came home with 2 "new" used treasures:  A Live Coal in the Sea - a Madeleine L'Engle book I haven't read yet!!  and Gluten-Free Girl - which I am totally looking forward to reading.  a healthier lifestyle is on the horizon, and I think this book (and her blog) may be key to it.

the other place i meant to go (and didn't) was a coffee house called "SIP" - but as it was raining, and part of the charm is their garden, i decided to skip it.  we'll save that for a day when i have a sunny afternoon to spend blogging outdoors.  so i ended up at Starbucks, as usual, because i had a gift card and the chai was therefore "free" (yay!) - and because it was less than 20 yards from the parking spot i'd snagged (after much driving about).

it probably wasn't the holiest Sabbath ever.  but being out of the house - out of town, even - was a very good thing after this long, long week.  i needed a change of scene, and He knew it.  and i'm betting the books i found will be worth the long drive.  even the drive itself was worth it...

i've missed taking road trips with Jesus.  so many of them lately have been so short.  i am long overdue for a week-long one.  maybe in September.  maybe.  spiritually - it's a really great idea.  financially - maybe not so much....  :/

so that's one for the prayer hopper....

anyway.  not much of an update, i know.  but that was my day.  and somehow... somehow today mattered.  and i wanted to write about it.  so there you are.

maybe it's just that i'm learning again to have fun by myself.  so much of the past 7 months have been about learning to connect, building meaningful relationships, having (local, and deep) community again for the first time in a really long time.  today i ditched that and went back to a little bit of what my old life (a more introverted, more artsy, more solitary life) was like.  and it was good.  not great - and not without its lonelier moments - but good.  and i'm glad.

Sabbath delight ... and disappointment

Dan Allender asked me a question a little over a year ago, on page 15 of his book, Sabbath - a book that is still transforming my life.  I'll confess - I didn't have the courage to answer it then (nor did I have the courage to admit that I didn't have the courage to answer it).  I just... shied away from it.  Decided to read the rest of the book in the hopes that I might find the "right" answer.  And never really came back to it.

I'm still not sure I have the courage to really go there (tho I guess we'll find out).  Or that it's the "right" answer.  I think, honestly... my answer to this question will change over time - maybe even weekly.  I don't know.  But for the first time since I dared to open this half-inch thick compass toward life transformation, I looked at the question and tried to give it a valid answer.

Q: "What would I do for a 24-hour period of time if the only criteria was to pursue my deepest joy?"
A: Define... "joy."

(ok, so, yeah, i know... that answer falls under the category of "not courageous.")

But still.  And wouldn't ya know.  The fourth definition of joy is "a state of happiness" or "felicity."

Q: So what would I do for a 24-hour period of time when I was most me - my ontological self?
A: ...I don't know?

Except...  except maybe I do know.  At least for one day:

I would sleep in a bit, and wake up without an alarm clock, feeling rested.  I'd go out for breakfast (at the Midwest Breakfast Company, of course), and in late spring, summer or fall, I'd wander over to Stade's Farm and buy enough fruits and vegetables to last the week.  I would spend time reading a book I wanted to read and listening to music.  And maybe take a nap.

And - I find this a little surprising, since so often of late my Sabbath has morphed into introvert time - but on this particular perfect day, I wouldn't be alone.  I'd spend that reading time curled up on a couch with a cup of tea, enjoying the sunshine streaming in the windows and completely content to be spending the morning with a good friend - the kind of friend with whom I could spend an entire morning not talking and yet we'd both still feel like it was one of the best mornings ever.  Wordless quality time.  :)

And then we'd have lunch.  And go for a walk, or a leisurely bike ride.  Talk about things.  Tell stories.  Marvel at the beauty and intricacy of creation.  Pray: aloud, together.   Maybe drive out to the Lake.  And then we'd go home, to one of our houses, and grill out.  (There would be definitely be steak.)  We'd sing.  Tell more stories.  And watch the stars come out, remembering that the love and mercy of God is so much more vast than even the heavens.

I would love a day like that.

But the question is: why?
What about that day is a pursuit of "my deepest joy"?
What is my deepest joy?

At its core, I guess I would say my deepest joy is worship.  "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever," right?  (Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1)

And a day spent like that would be a day spent in worship: honoring Him by keeping the Sabbath and truly being at rest, praising Him for His beauty and creativity reflected all around us in creation, experiencing His presence in both solitude and community.  It would involve silence and expression, music and reflection.  Reading, singing, taking a walk, biking, cooking, enjoying good food and great company - these are all activities in which I typically am able to downshift into being mostly my real self, completely authentic and relaxed and at rest in Him.  They are vehicles by which I become aware of His presence with me as my soul gets quiet and unwinds.  To experience them all on one day... well, I have, a handful of times, and they've been some of the best days ever.

So what keeps me from planning for it every week?

Dan Allender suggest that it is pride, distractions, and/or fear (on pages 18-26 of Sabbath) - and in exploring the idea that it is fear which prevents us, he says this: "We have learned to manage our disappointment with God, and we don't want our desire for delight to seduce us again."  Ooooh.  Ouch.  That hits home.

"We have learned to manage our disappointment with God..."

I think the single toughest thing about that statement is that it requires me to admit that I've experienced disappointment with God.  It takes courage to own that.  I've known for a long time that God can take my anger (thank you, Madeleine L'Engle) - but coming to a place where I understand on a heart level that He can handle my disappointment is something I find more challenging.

I mean, anger's one thing.  It's a substitute emotion, when it comes right down to it.  It exists to mask hurt or fear, to protect us from them.  It's an emotion that makes sense, and I know that God understands it when I'm angry.  But disappointment?  That's just saying to the God of the Universe: "You didn't know best.  You didn't do what I wanted you to do, and I'm unhappy.  You let me down."  Which is not something I really want to say.  Because there's all sorts of theological issues with that perspective, and I know better.  God is God, not a magician bound to make all my whims and wishes come true, and He can do as He likes, and He can do as He likes with my life.  So to say, "I'm disappointed, God.  I'm not happy with the way You've planned my life.  I like my plan better," is a very dangerous thing.


But it's honest, some days.

You know, I actually started writing this post quite some time ago.  Everything prior to the above sentence was written long before I pitched head-first over the handlebars of my bicycle and into a long, long journey of healing that is far from over.

And yes.  I am disappointed.  No.  This is not the path/direction I would have chosen.  If I'd been able to see the future, I would not have gotten on a bicycle at all on April 15th.  I would have stayed home.  I would have called my friend Cheryl and talked, instead of trying to work things out on my own with the Lord while out biking.  I would not have chosen an ER trip without health insurance, a broken finger that didn't heal right, or the scars I still bear (and likely always will).

And I would not have chosen to give up something I love.

But I can't do it.  I can't get back on my bicycle.
That isn't to say that I won't ever ride again.
I want to.
But on that bike?
Can't do it.

So I gave it away today, in the middle of my Sabbath day.

It seemed appropriate, to own what feels like failure in the middle of a day focused on celebration and redemption.  I can't mourn it today.  Today it just is what it is - toa es toa - and I might mourn it tomorrow, but today I have to celebrate that there will be a day when "this" (saying goodbye to a bicycle that in so many ways was my refuge, my sanctuary, over the past few years) will not have mattered.

But I'm still disappointed.

And I'm not sure what to do with that.

But I will yet praise Him for being the God who ordains all of our steps.  I will worship Him for being the God of all wisdom, who knows far better than I do what is best for me.  And I will wait on Him, choosing to be comfortable with the silence that exists between us sometimes about all of this, knowing that He knows what He's doing and that even in all of "this" - there is a plan and a purpose that I cannot yet see - and that somehow, it will one day bring Him glory.

an amazing gift

I was given an amazing gift last night.

For the past couple of weeks, I've been spending inordinate amounts of time at coffee shops, mostly for the use of their internet (as ours has been extremely unreliable), but with the added allure of the bottomless cup of coffee.  A lot of my job for the church can feel relatively isolated - a ton of communication, but mostly over email - not a lot of actual personal interaction. So being at a coffee shop at least gives me the chance to be around people.  The baristas mostly know what I'll order depending on what time I walk in, and how hot it is outside.  Several of them know my name, and pieces of my story.  This isn't a bad thing.  It's kind of a nice small town thing, actually.  

But it's still lonely, a little bit, sitting there at my usual table, working, by myself.  I'm working 60-65 hours a week this summer, between both of my jobs, so working is pretty much all I do.  I know this is neither healthy, nor sustainable.  But because of the accident and its associated bills, and because my expenses will go up just as my income goes down when my second job comes to an end in less than two months, I don't have a lot of choice.  It's one of those moments in time when this usually independent woman is tempted to sigh and admit that it would be awfully nice if Mr. Darcy showed up right about now.  But it seems fairly obvious that he isn't going to, and life goes on and bills must be paid, so off to work - a lot - I go.

Yesterday, halfway thru a day which for various reasons involved frequent and extremely frustrating interruptions to my workflow, leaving me to face yet another evening at a coffee shop, just to finish the things that absolutely had to get done, I received an email from a friend, offering me an alternative place to work that night.  So I said yes, and showed up around seven.

To find that he'd made me an "office."  Granted, it was a kitchen table and a chair in the middle of a room under construction, but for three and a half hours I was given a space in which to work that was quiet and uninterrupted, a space I felt totally at home in - with a friend nearby who sees what my life is like right now and wanted to do something to help make it better, and did.  He even brought me dinner (which I mostly forgot to eat because I was working).  And I don't really know how to explain why it mattered so much - I mean, it was just a room and a couple of hours, right?  But that space became sacred for those few hours, because of the love and the thoughtfulness behind the gesture.  The fact that someone cared enough to do something so simple and practical and kind - something that rescued me from my routine and reoriented me to the truth that as lonely as it feels sometimes, I am not, actually, in this alone - that mattered.  A lot.  It pretty much made my day, actually.

So thanks, friend.  I don't know if you knew how amazing the gift of your time, your thoughtfulness and the use of that space would be - you probably did.  I mean, you know everything.  But in case you didn't...  Thanks for giving me a place to be, for the privilege of calling you my friend, and for making me feel so incredibly cared for.  (You're really good at that.)

250 awesome friend points.  (You win.)

more than you know

sometimes the words you say have so much more of an impact than you could possibly know.

a couple of days ago, i sent an email to a friend, questioning my own sanity as i looked at a task that seemed insurmountable.

he replied the next day, and one of the things he said was, "know that i am praying for you."

he's one of those people that when he says it, i know he means it.  he was praying for me.  is.  will be.

i may currently have those words posted on a sticky note, assigned to float over any open windows on my desktop.

they've sustained me, these past few days, because they point me to the God who sustains me, and remind me that i am not alone.

so if you feel like maybe you should say something - you should say it.  even if it feels small and insignificant or obvious to you.  you never know how much of an impact even seven little words could have.

how to fall off your bike

For those of you who haven't heard already, I had my first major biking accident since high school yesterday evening.  I'll be honest - I don't remember a lot of it.  But for those who have asked, here's what I can remember:

I was biking pretty fast down a trail somewhere close to my neighborhood; it was starting to rain, and I wanted to get home without getting drenched.  I remember braking, and registering in a split second that either my back brakes hadn't locked, or I'd not hit them hard enough, but my front tire locked just as I hit a patch of dirt and gravel, and I went flying over my handlebars.

I don't really remember much after that.  I don't remember hitting the ground, or anything of the accident.  I do remember sitting up and looking around, and realizing that I had absolutely no idea where I was or how to get home.  I didn't have my cell phone - I'd left it at home because rain was a possibility.  That was probably the scariest moment of the entire thing - being that disoriented and not having a way to get help - other than to pray.

The next thing I remember is sitting on the floor in a house I didn't recognize.  I'm told that I wandered into a nearby neighborhood, and knocked on some guy's door to ask for help.  (He looked the slightest bit like Santa.)  I remember a few things vaguely - trying to convince him that I was fine and just needed a ride home and could he call someone for me.  He was nice about it, but he called for an ambulance anyway.  I remember a police officer showing up and asking a lot of questions.  The paramedics taking me to the hospital.  Lots of lights.  Telling the paramedics that my friends call me Happy.  "I can see why," one of them said.  So at least somewhere in the midst of everything, I was still being myself.  ;)

I remember a series of nurses, and an incredibly kind doctor.  A CAT scan, X-rays, a steady flow of Torchers who'd heard and shown up and come to make sure I knew I wasn't in this alone.  (You guys are amazing, by the way.  I know how frightful I look, and I'm sure it was even worse last night before they'd cleaned me up and I still had gravel in my face...  Thanks for not freaking out.  Tho it would have been fine if you had!  I would have completely understood.)  I also remember one of my nurses, asking if I wanted more visitors, and making a comment that made me ask - are you a Christian?  She was.  She actually goes to the Chapel.  (Small world.)  :)

There may have been a rumor circulating in the ER lobby amongst my friends at one point that what actually happened was that I got in a bar fight and threw a bicycle at someone.  We won't say who started that one.  It was pretty funny tho.  And the first in a long line of comments and conversations that made me laugh and helped keep me positive through one of the longest nights of my life.  I'm not going to lie.  My face hurts.  My shoulder and a bunch of other random scrapes and a broken finger hurt, too, but mostly my face hurts.  I do look like I've been in a brawl - and a cat-fight.  With a literal cat.  But the company of some of the people I love best in the world and their dedication to not letting me be alone long enough to start feeling sorry for myself was an incredible gift.

So thank you - to those of you who were there, or who heard and started praying.  The number of texts and messages and calls I've gotten today are simply evidence that I have some pretty amazing friends.  I am blessed beyond measure to have all of you in my life.  My road to recovery is going to be a little on the long side, but I will be okay.  If I've come to any conclusions (I'm sorry, Arman, but I had to use the word, I just had it's that stopping your trajectory with your face after pitching off your bicycle is a really dumb idea.  I'm probably going to have evidence of that staring back at me every time I look in a mirror for the rest of my life.

But you know what?  I'm alive.  And I encountered kindness at the hands of complete strangers and witnessed the depth of the love that some of the people I care about most in the world have for me.  I have an excuse to eat an entire gallon of ice cream this week and take naps.  And there wasn't a moment in that entire situation that God didn't know about beforehand.  I could wish it hadn't happened, I could waste time thinking about all the things I could have done differently, but it did happen and there's nothing to be done.  All that's left is what is - and what's next.  And how I handle it matters.

I stood in front of our church yesterday and said that there wasn't a situation in life that we could possibly go thru with which Jesus couldn't empathize, and that sometimes humility looks like saying, "I can't do this myself; I need help."  And there I was, eight hours later, in a position where I couldn't possibly say anything else.  And I'm so grateful that while 1/2 of the evening is a blur (and I apparently said and did some things I don't remember),  I can say with confidence that I didn't lose sight of Whose I am.  I remembered to thank people for their kindness and to smile and be patient and crack jokes.   And I let people take care of me.  (This doesn't happen often.  It's usually very much the other way around.  Because I am "tough" and independent and well, let's just call it prideful enough to think that I don't really need anyone to take care of me.)

So pride goeth before a fall and all that... sometimes literally, I guess.

And today?  Today I'm learning to live with the reality that my face is just going to hurt for awhile, remembering that being alive at all is truly a gift, and trusting (albeit imperfectly) in God's sovereignty  I'm also just humbled and honored beyond belief by the love and kindness I've encountered in the past 28 hours.

Thanks, friends.   You truly are the hands and feet of Christ.

random ramblings, vol. 12

it's been a month and a half (or more)?  how did that happen (again)?

so, quickly!  without further ado:  random ramblings, vol. 12:

1) on the gift of this rainy Sabbath Saturday, i've spent a lovely afternoon catching up on my blog crawl.  as ever, there was so much wisdom and encouragement to be found!  here are just a few of the posts i'd recommend:

- for those going through a tough season in ministry and feeling the weight of their calling: Carrying My Cross, by Kathryn over at Good in Parts  (i also loved her post on Mothering Sunday)

- wondering if that simple act of kindness you felt compelled toward will really matter?  it will.  check out this awesome video in Robb's post about Kindness

- on prayer and authenticity: hey, i'll pray for you by T at

- on pretty-ing up the clutter (can't wait to borrow this idea for my desk!): Simple Clutter Buster: A Kids' Art Center from Wendy at The Shabby Nest

- on the creative process: 5 Brainstorming Techniques I Stole For You by Carlos Whittaker at Ragamuffin Soul

- for your theological entertainment: John vs. John: Stop the Presses: John Piper Thinks Christianity Is Masculine - John Stackhouse responds to yet another poorly argued point by John Piper (who does, by the way, love Jesus and means well, even when he (somewhat frequently) misses it, like the rest of us often do)

- for further theological entertainment: Moses Was A Wuss & Potential Viral Sensation by Aaron Earls, guest-posted on Jon Acuff's Stuff Christians Like

2) this year has been ...  well, insane.  as usual.  in somewhat unusual ways.  but its chief blessing thus far has been an absolutely unexpected and amazing friendship with an incredible man who speaks life, truth, encouragement and freedom into me on pretty much a daily basis.  #blessedbeyondmeasure
in truth: i'm not entirely sure i believe him when he says he gets a great friendship out of this, too - he's sure as heck seen a lot more of my dark side than i have of his! - but i am truly grateful for the gift that his friendship has become - and it's been a gift straight from heaven, no mistake

3) for the first time in years, i am taking a road trip with Jesus AND people.  lol.  a few of us are heading south for the first two days of spring break to the Catalyst conference in Alpharetta, GA.  can't wait - both for the fun that 28+ hours in a van with 5 soon-to-be-dearer friends will be, and for the breath of life and inspiration that the conference itself will be to our leadership team!

4) book reviews pending - i'm reading (or have read and not yet blogged about) a ton of inspirational stuff right now, and am looking forward to reviewing these books for you shortly:

Close Enough To Hear God Breathe - by Greg Paul
How I Changed My Mind About Women In Leadership - by a collection of prominent evangelicals
Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Exploring The Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women - by Dan Brennan

5) Sabbath - can i just tell you how grateful i am for this day?!  because i am.

6) introvert meets pastoral ministry: ugh.  and ... oh, wow.  at the same time.  and not necessarily always in that order.  had an absolutely wonderful time last night, hanging out with two of my closest friends and a new friend: a woman from my church i'd only ever talked to once, but have found in such a short span of time to be such a kindred spirit.  can't wait to spend more time with her and her amazing family.  (after i recover from that many hours in the presence of actual people...)  ;-)

7) food. is. awesome.

there's nothing like fasting for an extended period of time to make you appreciate the nutritional gift and visible beauty that food does actually hold.  i am more grateful (halfway thru this current fast) for protein, color, and taste than i have been in a very long time.  looking forward to the wonderment that comes every summer during weekly trips to Stade's Farm, and to celebrating on every Sabbath Saturday the beauty of creation reflected in anything as simple and complex as the amazing meal we call "dinner"...

and there you have it.  random ramblings - (almost) concluded.

except i do have one final thing to say:

8) my friend-whom-i-have-never-met, Barry, paid me the highest compliment a few weeks ago (see the comments section of his post).  when i first "met" Barry, he was blogging at Honest Faith.  now he blogs at Atheos (Godless).  both blogs are well worth your time, regardless of what you believe.

Farewell, Guinevere

I'll never forget the first time I saw a musical production of Camelot.  From that moment on, I was absolutely hooked.  I read every King Arthur book I could get my hands on.  (The Once and Future King is still one of my all-time favorites).  I memorized all of the songs from the musical, and wished I'd been born twenty years sooner, so I could have seen Julie Andrews and Richard Burton bring down the house at the Majestic.  First Knight became one my top ten favorite movies (and still is).  There's just something about Camelot... its magic and mystery, its idealism and foundation on justice and love...

But here's the thing about Guinevere.  As a teenager, I thought she was pretty amazing - and she is rather interesting in terms of being a complex character in a story - but the older I get, the more I've come to the conclusion that regardless of the circumstances that led her to the choices she made, she was an idiot.  (Sorry, Gwen.  But really?  Lancelot was a dumb decision.)

There's this song by the Eli Young Band called Guinevere, and I've had it stuck in my head all week long, ever since about 2 minutes before someone asked me on Sunday (or maybe it was Monday?) if I had an anthem - a song that was central to and/or helping me thru the season I'm in.  All artists need their art to express and clarify and sometimes even teach them truth, and I am no different.  There have almost always been songs that I've turned to, and if I can't find a song that says what I need to say, then I write one.  So when a song shows up on repeat in my head, I've learned to pay attention.

Here's what I've learned from four days of sitting with this song:

1) I've changed.  And this is a really good thing.  There was a day when the girl in this song and I had far more in common than we do now, and it is the healing grace of God that's brought me this far.  That's just awesome.

2) Un-forgiveness is no longer my main issue.  I've learned so much about the true meaning of forgiveness over the past 15 years, and even when I do become angry with someone (and remember: anger is almost always a secondary emotion - meant to protect us from hurt or fear) - I'm pretty quick now to try to see the situation from their perspective, to remember that I'm human too, and to not hold (whatever it is) against them.  The practicalities of working thru tough situations - now that can still be challenging (I really dislike conflict!) - but I've made a lot of progress, and I am celebrating that.  I'm sure there's still a lot of room to grow here - and probably always will be - but progress is definitely worth celebrating.

3) Healing takes time.  This whole idea of trying to "find something quicker than Heaven, to make the damage of [our] days disappear" - isn't it so true of us?  We want a quick fix - we just want to be better.  Open-heart surgery and months of recovery are not on our agenda.  When we're hurting, we just want to stop hurting, and we forget that healing is a process - sometimes a very long and slow one.  There are things we can do towards it, but like Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we cannot un-dragon ourselves.  We need Heaven to do that, and it's probably going to hurt like anything when He does.  And sometimes it just takes a really long time.   I am tempted, often, to be exasperated by my own inability to heal completely.  Something comes up and it turns out to be tied to something I thought I'd worked through and gotten past and it turns out there's another round of un-dragon-ing fun to go, and I just get mad at myself about it, instead of recognizing that (sigh) this part of the journey is just not yet over.  But Heaven knows (far better than I do) how and when to heal me, and His ways are perfect.

4) Running.  I'm still incredibly inclined to do that, emotionally.  I'm ... working on it.  In the most recent situation in which I've found myself tempted to run... I chose not to.  Mostly because God said, "No."  And I'm finding that being "still here" is... okay.  If slightly terrifying.  Because rejection remains possible.  And that would suck.  But not running is ... well, better.  And an adventure worth its inherent risks.  

So... farewell, Guinevere.  No more running, no more trying to fix myself.  Not as a way of life - tho I'm sure I will probably try to do both again at some point...  (sigh)

Nevertheless, I think... I think I'd rather just stay in Camelot.

random ramblings, vol. 11

It's been awhile, so here we are.  Random Ramblings - vol. 11.  :)

1) For all my friends who are moms, or who are wondering what life will be like if and when they are moms:  this article is for you.  There is no "right" way (in terms of working or staying at home); it's all hard.  So thanks for doing what you do the way you do it.  All of our daughters, sisters, cousins, etc. will benefit from watching you navigate life with the grace (and sometimes lack thereof) with which you do.  You are gutsy, women of God.  And we're blessed to know you.  Thanks for living your life so boldly and transparently.

2) Sunshine is... lovely.  Especially at the end of January in the Midwest.  Check out these awesome reflections from my friend Arman at The Edge of Clarity  - inspired by the sun, and by the Son.

3) I am so grateful for the myriad of voices that have shaped my faith and helped me to find my own voice.  Shout-outs today to Nancy Beach, Bill Hybels, Madeleine L'Engle, Sarah Ban Breathnach, and Matt McMann, for being 5 of the best coaches ever.  Even when they didn't know they were coaching me.

4) While I recognize that the whole image/exercise thing can be an idol (thanks, J-squared - I do need to watch it) - I am very, very grateful for Zumba these days.  There's a piece of me that thinks (during every class): "Good Christian girls do NOT dance like this..." - but I love it, nonetheless.  (Tho you may note that I have not yet announced to my class that I am on staff at a  Hm.  Maybe I should!  They might actually come, then...)

What I love most about Zumba is that you can't do it well without at least pretending to be confident - and as you pretend, somehow you cross over to actually being confident.  Zumba is ridiculously sexy.  As a single woman, I feel quasi-ridiculous dancing like that.  And I'm quite grateful that my class is mostly women - well, and Pete.  (A very nice, pot-bellied, and older gentleman who shows up in a sweatsuit, which is not standard Zumba attire.  I have no idea why he comes to Zumba, but he makes me smile.)  I walk out of every class feeling better, and better about myself.  And today - Barry, you'd be so proud - I was in the front row.  :)  And I didn't mind!!!   This is progress.  Lol.

5) I've been thinking a lot about vision lately.  Re-reading Andy Stanley's Visioneering.  Reflecting on the verse in Scripture that says that without vision, people perish (Proverbs 29:18, KJV).  I've let a lot of things steal my joy and my vision lately.  It's time to redefine it.

6) Last year I went on a retreat at the beginning of February last year that redefined a lot of things for me, particularly the definition and practice of Sabbath-keeping.  I'm very sorry to say I've lost sight - no, not sight.  practice - of that particular vision - but I am nonetheless dedicated to reclaiming it.  Most definitely looking forward to this year's retreat at the end of February, and the redefinition of this year's path forward that will inevitably come.

7) I was talking earlier this week with my absolute BFF, Sara - and I just have to say: there's something incredibly awesome about knowing someone who's known you for more than 1/2 of your life, has seen you at your absolute worst (and oh, heck, yes, she has!!!) - and knowing that they still love you.  In spite of that fact that you (and I quote) "attract drama."  lol.  okay.  so I do.  but someday it will be worth writing about.  ;)  And in the meantime, even if I do not provide legitimate literarily resourceful material... It's still awesome knowing that someone can see past all my failings to what I will be in Him someday.  I love that, actually.  :)

And there you are.  Random Ramblings, vol. 11.



"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." - Luke 2:19

Every now and again, God sends someone into my life who, for whatever reason, just seems to know what to say.  Some say that's the prophetic in action.  I don't care what you call it - I'm just glad it happens.

I woke up early yesterday, and one of the first things I read was an email from... well, a friend, for sure - but an unexpected one.  I'm not even 100% sure how we went from being people who knew the same people at church to being friends, but we're definitely there - and this morning's email was proof positive.

They were just two words in the middle of a letter, but they shaped my entire day: "You're important."


Can I just tell you, I really can't honestly remember the last time anyone said anything even remotely like that to me?


From a traditional religious perspective, that word carries all kinds of danger and warning with it.  The Pharisees and Sadducees - they were important, right?  (Mild sarcasm alert:)  So by all means, belittle yourself, so you won't be caught in that trap.

And yet...

Jesus spent His entire time here on earth walking among and ministering to "the least of these."  Women, children, lepers - you name them - if they were outcasts of society, you could bet Jesus was spending time with them.  And He wasn't just around - He was doing things.  Like healing them.  Defending them.  Telling the self-righteous, arrogant people who knew how to "get it right" and therefore felt justified in judging others to take a flying leap, and to look in a mirror on the way.   He gave dignity and hope to everyone He encountered (well... except maybe to the self-righteous, who didn't think they needed it).

Dignity.  Hope.  Importance.

I'm not sure it was possible to know Jesus and not feel valued.  (Sidenote:  I think even the people He yelled at were people He valued.  He wanted them to get their heads out of their rule books and change their attitudes so they could actually see and know God.  Even when they killed Him, His heart toward them was compassionate and forgiving...)

Maybe it's just because we don't want to risk being Pharisees, or maybe it's because no one thinks to remind us and so we forget, but I think it's possible that we don't always really understand that we're important.  The Bible tells us that God knows how much hair we have (which is really impressive, when you think about it), that He knows the plans He has for us (do you know how many people there are on the planet?), that we're a part of what He's doing in the world to draw all people to Himself; theologians call mankind "the pinnacle of creation."  And it's easy for me to look at other people and see their value, to see someone hurting or stressed out and take an extra 5 minutes to say, "Hey, you're not alone in this. I'm with you.  I'm praying for you."  But for whatever reason, I'm somewhat floored when someone does the same thing for me.  I get it that "people" are valuable to God; but I don't think I always get it that I'm actually one of them.

So those two words yesterday were life to my soul.  I carried them around all day - listening to God whisper their truth to my heart.  I'm ... important.  Not in some puffed up, obnoxious way - but in a quiet, loved-deeply and individually valued-by-God way.  I think if you'd asked me if I knew I was important to Him, I would have said yes in a heart-beat, but yesterday I realized that I tend to measure my value by what I do.  I have people in my life who are awesome about saying "thank you" and "great job" - but so often it's about what I've done, and not who I am.  And I guess that's what was so life-giving about hearing those words from my friend.  Those words, in their original context, weren't about what I could do.  They were about me.

It was pretty amazing.

And I love how God took those two little words and turned them into a day-long conversation.  I think it was Rob Harrison who once reminded me that even Karl Barth could sum up all his theology by saying, "Jesus loves me, this I know."  Sometimes I think we really do just have to ditch all the complicated whatnot of our lives and go back to that, and like Mary, just treasure that truth, and ponder it in our hearts.

So if you've been in a season lately where you've just felt devalued, or if you feel as if you are valued more for your usefulness than for who you are, I'd encourage you: Remember that you're important.  Before He created you, He knew you (Psalm 51).  You were born on purpose, with purpose, yes - but the point is, you were born.  The God of the universe thought you up, and made you - and He loves you tremendously.  Just for who you are.  As you are.  With no conditions or escape clauses, no opting out, and no regrets.

Jesus loves you, this I know - for the Bible tells me so.  And He is with you, always.  Whatever this day may bring.

when God asked me: "...why?"

Solitude and silence are two disciplines that I often practice together.  They can be separated, but it takes a lot of intentionality to practice silence in a group, and solitude just lends itself to being quiet.  Saturdays, as my current Sabbath day, usually have a good chunk of time built in for both these disciplines, but I try to find time during the week, simply for my sanity as an introvert, to be quiet and alone, too - and one of the easiest ways I know of doing that is turning off the radio when I'm driving, and letting my car become a sanctuary of sorts.  I don't always pay attention to what's happening - or what could happen - in that silence.  Sometimes it is simply a refuge from the noise of life, and I don't spend my time in silence listening at all - I spend it mentally reviewing and processing through events and conversations, and forget to ask God what He thinks about any of it.  But one of the most awesome things about silence is that it creates the opportunity for Him to speak with a higher probability that I'll  hear it.  (Which makes the discipline of practicing solitude and silence totally worth it.)

I was driving home from my Zumba class the other day in the quietness of a cold winter's night.  The stars were shining; there was snow on the ground.  The YMCA where I take my class is out in the middle of ... well, I'm sure it's somewhere.  ;)  But it means that the drive home is on a winding road through large forested properties, and it's absolutely beautiful.  As I was driving home that night, I looked to my left, and there was a large log cabin-like home just visible through the snow-covered trees, with its porch lights on, and it looked so incredibly welcoming and ... well, homey.

And out of nowhere, it hit me.  This deep, intense longing:

I want that.

...oh.  God... I am so sorry....

And there was like this pause in the Spirit (for lack of a better way to describe it), and then He said, "... why?"  

It wasn't quite an incredulous sort of question - because He's God, and He knows everything, so He couldn't be incredulous about anything - but there was very definitely an element of kind challenge and serious questioning in the tone of His question.

I had an instant answer, of course.  Ruth Haley Barton says in her book, Sacred Rhythms, that our souls have no safe places to speak - that the minute they try, we meet them with instant judgment and commentary.  That was very true for me in that moment.

"It's coveting, God!  It's wanting something I don't have.  It's discontentment with where I am in life, with what You've given me.  It's sin!"

Oh, Hap.  

It's not like you want that specific house.  You're not asking to trade lives with those people.  You don't want their lives.  You want what that house represents to you: a home.  marriage, kids - a family.  love.  blessing.  prosperity.  hospitality - and the ability to offer it freely.  And those are actually good things to want!  They are things I made you for - things that I call "good."  

Wanting them is not a sin.  You are not coveting - you are longing.  

There's a difference.

That was hard for me to get my head around.  I'm still working on it, actually.  But here's the thing:

Psalm 37:4 says that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our hearts.  There are two ways I've heard that interpreted.  The first (and most common) is that if you make God your One Thing - if your absolute first priority in life is spending time with Him, and putting Him first in everything, then He's going to give you your heart's desires.

But here's the second (and I think possibly a more accurate) interpretation: that if you delight yourself in the Lord - if you are happy to be with Him - then He will give your heart the very desires it has.

Do you see the difference?

It's not just about getting what you want - it's about the very things you want being from Him in the first place.

I'm not sure what to think about that conversation.  It's not like there's honestly much I can do about it.  But it is definitely food for thought.

What do you think?

2012: Shifting Into A New Reality

Doesn't that sound trendy?  ;)

Believe me, I titled this post tongue-in-cheek, thinking about how "culturally relevant" it sounded - but God willing, it's not quite as full of hot air as it could be.  :)

I read one of the most incredibly profound books while I was flying to and from the East Coast over the holidays, and I hope that if you get a chance, you will go to your nearest local bookstore and order a copy (if they don't already have it in stock).  It's called SHIFT, by Peter Arnell.   I could summarize it for you, but I think Peter does a way better job of it himself:

For a number of reasons, towards the end of 2011, I found myself increasingly un-Happy.  Part of it, honestly, was just imbalance on my part - being too busy, being busy doing the wrong things, not having enough downtime to meet the needs of my inner introvert, and accidentally but subconsciously beginning to identify myself by what I do, and not by Whose I am.  Reading Peter's book was inspiring and timely and as far as I can tell, God-orchestrated.  (I mean, really - what was I doing in the business section of Barnes and Noble?!  How did I end up there?!)  Lol.

I came away from reading this book confident of two things: 1) change is possible; and 2) I'm going to need some help.

There are a lot of things in my life that I wish would just shift by themselves.
They're not going to.
If I want to see things change, I'm going to have to do something.

Some of the negatives are circumstances that I simply cannot do anything about, except pray.  Only God can move those mountains, and if/when He's ready to, He will.  But there are things I can change.  Things I can control.  Things I can do.

So as I took my annual beginning of the year retreat to finish Peter's book and pray over this coming year, here are the things I've determined that I would like to either see shift or to see God do in me, as we stand at this year's annual crossroads, choose a path and start walking into 2012:

1) I want to be more present.
     - Paying attention to the moment.
     - Really listening to people.
     - Enjoying what I'm eating, and stopping when I'm full.
     - Noticing nature; taking time to look at the stars.

2) I want to be more silent.
     - Listening to what I'm actually thinking, and what it reveals about my heart.
     - Listening for His voice; learning to know Him better.

3) I want to be more intentionally grateful.
     - I need to write it down: what am I thankful for today?

4) I want to make some personal shifts in how I structure my lifestyle:
     - Diet: I need to eat things that are good for me, that promote health.
     - Exercise: I need to try to exercise at least 2x a week (if not more).
     - Image: I've always wanted to dress with a little more style.  This is my year to do a little bit of shopping - to buy clothes that flatter and fit.  I will always be most comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt, but as I start to eat better and exercise more, I know from experience that I will feel more confident, and I want to look it.  I can't go nuts; my debt-reduction plan needs to stay in place - but I need to give myself permission to look nice.  And I needed a new haircut.  Which I got today.  (And I feel fabulous.)   :)

5) I want to read and study more.  (Leadership books and stories.)

6) I want to write more.  And maybe finally take the risk and see if I can sell it.

7) I want to go deeper with Jesus, and fall more in love with Him than I have ever been.
     - Listen.  Pray.  Fast.  Wait.  Worship.
     - Dwell in the shelter of the Most High.
     - Walk into my calling.
     - Live with purpose. Live with joy.

So that's the new reality; at least, it's what I'm hoping for this year.  I don't know when/how/what it will all look like - but because He is with me on this journey, I know it's going to be full of adventure and fun and learning and grace, and an experience far greater than anything I can imagine now.

Please feel free to check in with me from time to time, and ask me how it's going.  And go read the book.  You won't regret it.  :)

Happy New Year, friends.  Be blessed.