Saturday, October 31, 2015

October Wrap Up

This is the final post for the 31 Day Challenge. Find all the previous posts here.

Tonight, there will be revelry. Friends and family will gather and costumes adorned. The doorbells will be rung and the candy will be eaten. At the end of the night candy will be strewn all over the bed and floor, wrappers covering children (and parents) as they succumb to sugar comas and then when midnight strikes, we will gain an hour and lose this month. We will officially be entering into November and all the holiday festivities (I received an ad today for a sale on Christmas trees). But before I say adieu to this month, I am going to take a moment to reflect back on what this month has taught me, both the silly and the serious.

Teaching/tutoring takes patience, brain power and time.
 Kudos to every teacher I have ever met and will never get the opportunity. Hats off to your lesson planning, kid wrangling and time managing skills. I do not know how you have time outside of work. I appreciate you.

Meal planning is actually very beneficial.
I'm sure you've had the conversation. The one where you ask, "What do you want to eat?" and your spouse responds, "I don't know. What do you want to eat?" This banter continues until you have circled yourself into a corner of frustration and you just want to eat chocolate chips because you cannot reach an agreement. Hanger is real my friends.

So I decided to take the advice of you amazing women who juggle kids, work and cooking. I made a weekly meal plan. I had my doubts, mostly thinking it would stifle my creativity or I would run out of ideas. In fact, it has been very freeing. I don't end up annoyed when the topic of dinner arises. I have a plan and I can adjust accordingly because I have ingredients for 7 meals. One night we decide to go out? No big deal. We can save that recipe for another day.

Brilliant, I tell you! Genius! Thank you multi-tasking women. Thank you.

Thirty-one days on one topic will reveal patterns to your thinking.
Reflecting on grace has been a great topic for this month, especially as I've transitioned into a new schedule and a new job. But it has also taught me that there are some patterns of thinking that are hard to break. For example, fear of failure. One viewer picked up on this quickly. In every post, I think this wriggling thought made an appearance.

Fear. It boxes you in and shackles you to a wall. Change your perspective and you will free yourself. But that change may take gradual steps forward, so long as movement continues, you will not be the same you today as yesterday. Just keep moving.

I am a writer.
I may not have been a consistent writer but I believe I've found my voice. It's a balance of the fun with the serious. "A Study in Grace" is what I want to embody. I want to always be learning how to be more gracious towards myself and towards others. This life is so much more enjoyable if it is done fluidly while embracing the essence of who we are as well as embracing the gifts that offered. 

The biggest gift I have been given is my passion for the written word. I stand baffled at the idea of children not being able to read and a world without books is my greatest nightmare. I see literature as a commentary and a living history on society and instead of sitting on the sidelines (as I have for years), I want to take part.

I want to join my voice with those already speaking. Every voice is different but every voice is needed. Every gift necessary. Every person important.

I am a writer and I am so glad to finally be embracing it.

What have you learned this month? Share in the comments below. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Saying No to NaNoWriMo

This is Days 25, 26 and 27 of a 31 Day Challenge. Catch up on all the previous posts here.

In less than a week, the 31 Day Challenge will have been completed and NaNoWriMo will charge onto the stage. NaNoWriMo, a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month, occurs every November as a challenge to create a 50,000 word novel by day 30. This boils down to about 1600 words a day culminating in a rough (a very rough) first draft. This is an awesome opportunity to pour onto the page a story that has been running you ragged, or to exercise your writing skills while engaging in the writing community. I encourage you to join the revelry if this intrigues you.

But if you're like me-- a bit weary from the current challenge and little hesitant of engaging in yet another-- you can be a cheerleader on the sidelines, encouraging others to meet their goal while quietly writing at your own pace.

I know. You must be thinking, "But you just introduced an amazing opportunity to do what you've wanted: To write your novel!" And you would be right, except that it's not yet time. I desperately want it to be time to drive into the lands of my imagination and bunker down in my own tent in the company of those amazing writers as they soldier their way through blank pages and crippling writer's block. But I'm being told to wait, to rest, and to move slowly.

With my new job, I'm having to give more time to creating a writer's workshop at school and continuing to establish my footing, which is requiring a lot of learning. I'm loving every minute, but the extra time and research have cut into my time during this challenge. I do not want to set myself up for a stressful month.  Besides, this is my first November in two years where I haven't been working retail and I want to be available this month to fully enjoy the beginning of the holiday season.

So I plan to join the ranks, unofficially, in the quiet of my home and share some of my journey with you here. I may not be able to punch out 1600 words a day, but I will be working each day to progress my story forward. Plus, I will be polishing my writing samples for my graduate application and getting the details of that put together. While it might not be the exact system of NaNoWriMo, it's in the same vein.

If you want to participate officially, head on over to their website here. If you can't participate, but would still like to support the cause, you may give a donation in support of writers participating. Donations help support creating international writing workshops.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Gracious Reads: Grace for the Good Girl

This is Days 23 and 24 of a 31 Day Challenge. Catch up on the previous posts here.

If there is one book that I can say that changed my life, it would be Grace for the Good Girl. I've recommended Emily P. Freeman's most recent book, but this one, her first, was soul food. Like so many of the books that come into my life, this one found me. It was during a period when I was going through counseling, dragging up painful memories and analyzing them to better myself; not an enjoyable process. But Emily's words expressed what I couldn't yet say: I was a good girl trying to maintain a perfect image. I just hadn't realized everything yet.

This is another read to be sipped at and enjoyed leisurely. She uses scripture to show examples and truth, and also describes different ways "good girls" hide (because we can't show our mess). At the end of chapter, she provides a series of questions meant to reflect back over the chapter. Even though I often wanted to skip ahead, furiously desiring to know what else she had to say, I needed those pauses to fully digest everything she had said. 

Those breaths before diving back into her book were like defragging your computer, necessary but it took time to process. All these bits of truth had been cut up and saved in ways that made my brain work harder and slower. I took (and still take) an unnecessary amount of time thinking through why I should or shouldn't do something, thinking through the consequences. 

But as I read Grace for the Good Girl, truth about success and failure started to realign. My heart and head didn't have to work as hard to move forward and I stopped thinking so much. 

I read this two years ago and am meaning to pick it up again before the close of 2015 (crazy to think 2016 is around the corner). I highly suggest this if you are a try-hard perfectionist like myself. If and when you do, I pray that it meets your heart at exactly the right time.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Thieving Trio

This is Days 21 and 22 of a 31 Day Challenge. Catch up on all the previous posts over here.

Photo Credit: Fred Seibert

Last night, I could not rest. I had spent two hours collecting my thoughts and creating a way to keep track of the kids I see each week for tutoring. I need to see students of a certain reading level multiple times each week and maintain a certain quota for grant purposes. But with a lot of kids needing to be seen multiple times, it was a headache to keep all in line.

 So I sat down to create a system to ensure no child falls through the cracks. It was like trying to figure out one of those annoying word problems from elementary school: If Jenny has five apples and Joe has seven oranges, how many drinks can they make if one glass requires 1/2 an apple and 2 oranges? My answer: Save the fruit. Give me wine.

Eventually, a system came together, after two hours and a lot of thinking. I accomplished my task, but then it led to more thoughts about components of tutoring and a writing workshop I'm creating; which then led to me thinking about my own writing-- this blog, my would-be novel, NaNoWriMo, graduate school; which then led to thinking about next year and finances. And on, and on, and on.

 Stress. Anxiety. Worry. These are the thieves of sleep and joy.

I was finally able to sleep, once I read for a while. (Tip: Losing yourself in another world can often adjust your focus enough to ease your anxiety.) Recovering this morning, with tea in hand, I reflected back on those thoughts. All of my emotions were wrapped up in one base motivation: Fear. More than just fear, fear of disapproval and rejection. Cue palm to forehead.

The fear of what people might think and my self judgement overcame my hopes and dreams for the future. If I do this and not that; if I did this and they think that. It's exhausting and frustrating.

I want to tell you that I had a pivotal thought that has utterly transformed my thinking and I will never worry again. In fact, I erased several phrases that said just that, but it wouldn't be the honest truth. I don't have it figured out, not completely. I do recognize that allowing that initial fear in and overwhelm is something to avoid and to fight against. "Get back you thieves!" might be an adequate battle cry to start their retreat. The rest is the hard part of grace: forgiving your mistakes, living the consequences, but then, choosing to not let them define your journey or your identity. The latter is where I struggle most and trench warfare happens.

Any progress forward is good progress in a battle against this thieving trio.

So breathe deep, light some candles and grab a good book. Tomorrow is a new day.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

You Just Gotta Laugh

This is Day 20 of a 31 Day Challenge. Catch up on all the previous posts here.

When my husband and I adopted two small kittens (brothers with a habit of rough wrestling), we knew we would have our hands full. Since we brought them home three years ago, we've had many fun stories that I often share on Facebook and Instagram entitled, The M&M Chronicles (M&M for Milton and Mayhem). I began sharing their antics as a way to laugh about the moments that might have otherwise aggravated. Below is one of their most recent antics.

The guilty party.
The M&M Chronicles:  Donald asked me this morning if Mayhem had gotten hungry in the middle of the night. I didn't know and said as much. Then he showed me the bag with an extra biscuit. Gnaw marks were evident.
To flush out the culprit, I presented Exhibit A to both suspects. Milton wasn't interested at all; Mayhem played it off. Then I laid it on the floor and Mayhem immediately went for it, picking it up and shaking it, batting it back and forth. He has Southern style cravings. Mm.. buttery biscuits. ‪#‎kittytroubles‬ ‪#‎tasteofhome‬
Sometimes you just have to laugh through the aggravation and the mishaps of life. Today was a good reminder of how laughter is a gift born from grace and forgiveness. I could have gotten up in arms about a destroyed pastry (and there have been times I've thought about it), but why?

I so often allow my annoyance to escalate to the point of anger and frustration. Sometimes it's with my husband, the cats and often times myself, but I'm reminded this week that forgiveness is connected to the extension of grace. 
Matthew 6:14-15 "If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins." (NLT)
We must forgive to receive forgiveness, and often, the first step to forgiving is letting out the tension. What better way than to laugh a little? If not at the situation, but just enough to lighten the mood you are prepared to fully unload. 

So go ahead. Watch Ellen scare her guests or read the recent posts about how we are supposed to dress according to Back to the Future. But choose to laugh today. You deserve a giggle.

Grace in the Wait

This is Day 19 of the 31 Day Challenge. To catch up on the previous posts, head over here.

Yesterday, I sat around a table with tutors who have been there for more than a year. I listened as names of students were called out and the tutors grabbed at those names with memories flitting across their faces. We were discussing strategies on how to help our students succeed. As names grew upon the blank pages of my companions, I sat amazed at the breadth of influence and growth they've had. Then when I looked down and saw my own short list, I saw the ghosts of new names to be added. The potential of each student is waiting in the wings of time. Time...

The action of waiting is arduous. As a society who wants things in the now, it's hard to pause and give credence to that season of the wait. But looking at that page and reflecting on the vast knowledge that those tutors have shared with me, I know that time has its own brand of grace.

It carries us along, patiently buoying us to our next destination. In the distance, the land becomes closer, clearer. We cannot always determine the pace or the direction that Time will take, but when we arrive, I cannot deny that we have been equipped with the tools needed for to cultivate that new land.

I'm in the process of cultivating. I've been carried to a new place and season, and right now I'm sowing and planting. I long to race ahead in time to see what God is up to; or, better yet, pull out of time and see how everything is tied together, to see where it's heading. But I can't. I just let the gentle crest of ocean of Time draw me along and use my time in the Now intentionally.

How have you experienced grace in a season of wait? Share with me in the comments below.

Monday, October 19, 2015

This Season's Anthem

This is Day 17 and 18 of a 31 Day Challenge. To catch up on all the previous posts, click here.

These past few days, I've taken more moments to rest than reflect on this space. I needed a break to regroup. Even with the space, I do not have a clearer direction than I originally did when I started this challenge. But tonight, as I was driving home, Hillsong United's "Oceans" came on the radio. It always resonates in my soul but tonight it became an anthem.
"Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders, Let me walk upon the waters, Wherever you would call me. Take me deeper than my feet would ever wander, And my faith will be made stronger, In the presence of my Savior."
 Those words are where I'm at right now. I'm in a job that I've never imagined being capable of performing. I'm following my heart with pursuing a dream of writing. My husband and I are trusting on God's provision for our finances and it's not without it's challenges. Life likes to interject its doubts and pragmatic comments, causing a storm of worry and those plaguing What If? questions.

With each storm, though, there is a transformation and a deepening. Things too heavy get chucked over board. I'm finding that each day, I'm feeling lighter and more myself. God's grace is drawing me into those deep waters of uncertainty and teaching me (yet again) to trust in Him, deeper than before.

As there are two weeks left of this challenge, I hope my reflections will continue to deepen and my faith made stronger in this crucible of change. May we face each moment together.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Gracious Reads: Simply Tuesday

This is Days 15 & 16 of the 31 Day Challenge. To catch up on all the previous posts, click here.

Two nights ago, my husband and I chose to unplug the devices, power down and connect face to face. It took about an hour and a half to two hours to stop twitching a hand towards those darkened screens. The nagging thought of what I might miss or the drive for answers kept me reaching toward "out there" instead of focusing on the man in front of me. But once we stepped away from our "regular routine" of TV time or browsing the internet and started talking, the need to "log on" faded. When the night came to a close, a part of my heart ached; I didn't want it to end.  

How easily I become wrapped up in the world and don't take time to slow down, to connect. This world of ours drives us to multi-task, to juggle, to perform. What we end up with is a husk of exhaustion after we run ourselves ragged. Is this a life of thriving? Nay. It is perhaps one more of surviving and shallow existence.

When I become frantic with hurry, I usually seek solace in a book. This summer I reached for Emily Freeman's newest release, Simply Tuesday. I was lucky enough to receive an Advanced Reader Copy at a time when life was a whirlwind of change and activity. Her words were a soft embrace and a quiet whisper of reassurance about how the smallest moments are the most cherished. 

Simply Tuesday is a not a book to be read through quickly but one to read slowly and meditatively. I've a hankering to read it again this winter and take each chapter in as if sipping a hot cup of tea. I highly suggest picking up a copy if you are need in need of a reprieve from hustle. 

If you'd like to join a community reading Emily's book, (In)courage is hosting a book club on Simply Tuesday. It's easy to sing up and a lot of fun. Or, you can grab a couple of friends and meet up (without screens) and discuss together. Either way, a great way to reconnect with the small moments of life.

Want to know what inspired my "No Screen Thursday"? Read this article. It details how technology can sometimes hurt our communication. I'm still chewing on the words. Leave me a comment down below with your thoughts and reactions.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Call to Rest

This is Day 14 of the 31 Day Challenge. Half way there! To catch up on the previous posts head over here.

Let's take a moment to be honest. This is day fourteen of the 31 Day Challenge and I'm tired. After day 10, I started coming up from the writing well with mere droplets. My words seem repetitious and my inspiration is lacking a thrust of motivation. I've tangoed with that seductress who says to just give up and quit. Thankfully, I'm stubborn but I'm tired and I wonder why.

God whispers, "Because you aren't resting."

Cue conviction.

Having a freer schedule since starting a new job, I feel like I should be as productive with that time as possible. This often translates to filling my nights and days off with activities. They're often good activities, like spending time with friends and keeping up with household chores. Work and play combined, but I'm so focused (again) on the doing, that I'm missing the grander theme of this grace period: rest.

I feel like a two year old child when I hear that word. I pout and stomp my foot. "I don't want to rest. I don't need to rest. You can't make me!" In a real situation, the child usually lays down and is asleep in a few  minutes. But like I said, I'm stubborn and, admittedly, a workaholic. I have to be doing something productive and if I'm not, I really don't do anything. All or nothing mentality.

But just as I'm learning that mistakes are acceptable and looser scheduling has it's merits, so I also see that right now is the time to slow down, to enjoy. Counter nature? Very. Deeply necessary? Absolutely.

Are you hearing the call to slow down, to enjoy the season you are in right now? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Strange Case of Mistakes and Fear

This is Day 13 of a 31 Day Challenge. To catch up on the previous posts, click here.

Today I took a literal stroll down memory lane as I retraced the stomping grounds of my college years. I reminisced on my walk to and from class, my old apartments and roommates, the classes I took. The memories came back softly, a kind reminder of a fun time in life and a transformative one too. When asked if I would change anything about that time, I could think of a few decisions I would like to change, but then I paused. "The Butterfly Affect, though..." and trailed off.

So much of our lives are a accumulation of what has come before to bring us to the now. Mistakes and successes, hardships, loss, change. A life can undergo so many things that to change just one can set of a completely new series of events for the future. If you didn't take this class or date that person, who would you be, who would you know, where would you go?

Thinking back on my journey, the hardest days of loss and struggle have been the most formative. The moments I've fallen were sometimes more of a catalyst than some successes. So if the mistakes of life hone, sharpen and round us, why do I (we) avoid them?


The vein of my writing for the last few days has kept circling around this idea of mistake and fear. They are as attached as Siamese twins; it's hard to separate the two. However, the more I examine this strange case, it becomes clearer that it's possible. Life without fear is possible, probable even.

Here's to a successful surgery to separate fear from mistakes. Cheers!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Muddy Circumstances

This is Day 12 of a 31 Day Challenge. To catch up on the previous posts, click here.
Photo Credit: Rob

One of my favorite cartoons is Avatar: The Last Airbender. If you haven't seen it, I recommend you check it out. The puns, my friends, the puns. But I digress.

The setting is a world in which some individuals manifest the elements of Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. These individuals often exhibit characteristics of that element and they often encounter conflict when introduced to opposing elements. If you were to ask me which element I would personify based on my personality, I would say without a doubt that I am Earth. Solid, reliable, but often also stubborn and gritty. My work environment is very "water" based, fluid and improvisational. Place an Earth persona in a Water environment and you are going to get mud.

I thrive on structure. Neat, clean lines that dictate my movements and frame my day. If there's a "To Do" list, even better. Just tell me what to do and I do it. Adjusting in the moment only becomes comfortable under certain restrictions: I know the script by heart; I have a full understanding of the resources; and finally, I have a personal relationship with all involved. How often do you think that happens?

My new line of work requires adjustment. It's a state of constant fluidity which is jarring to an Earth persona. What you may have originally planned for a lesson (my beloved structure) will have to be tailored to each child in the moment, and sometimes, multiple children at the same time all who are on different reading levels. Couple the fact that I'm still learning all the resources and lingo, and what do you get? Mud.

But, I'm finding it's a muddy environment I need. Pour enough water on earth and it becomes soft enough to mold.Something new is transformed from the old. The process isn't always delightful and it's certainly not always clean, but often it is soo needed.

What element would you say you most closely personify? Leave me a comment down below.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The What If? Plague

This is Day 11 of a 31 Day Challenge. Catch up on all the previous posts here.

What If. What if I choose the wrong graduate program? What if we get pregnant as I'm about to start school again? What if we move away from this city where we've grown roots? What if...?

These questions can peck at my hope until I'm left curled into a fetal position on the floor. The uncertainty of the future creates a monster that grows stronger as the fear deepens. It's the kind of fear epitomized in horror movies. You stare blankly as the demon moves in closer. You know it will steal away your life, or worse, but you can't move. You're paralyzed.

As a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser, the What If? Plague can swiftly descend on me and destroy an entire day. Recently, exploring my dream of writing and researching possible graduate programs has caused a resurgence of Plague days.

Friday was one and yesterday evening another episode.  These moments are punctuated by an overwhelming panic of not knowing what to do. More than not knowing what action to take, is not knowing what will be the right action for myself and our family.  I dwell on the issue until I shut down. If I cannot find a tidy answer, I shelve the issue and walk away. Last night, I drew a swift conclusion that would end the ravages of my plague symptoms: "Maybe now isn't the right time to pursue my dreams."

Can you relate? When things get messy in life and you have no control over the outcome, do you panic, freeze up and not move forward?

 I have only recently discovered the cure to this paralysis. It's to remind myself that failure is an option.Read that one more time. Failure is an option. It's to remind myself that I am still loved even if I take a step out onto the limb and it breaks. The act of stepping out will just propel me forward into the next thing.

So if you're in a similar place, suffering the crippling affects of the plague, remind yourself that you have the permission to fail and also, that God knows the future, and his love will not change. Just keep moving forward.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Gracious Reads: The Relief of Imperfection

This post is both Days 9 and 10 of a 31 Day Challenge. To catch up on all the previous posts, click here.

Yesterday, I reserved the space to rest and recuperate. I was scraping the bottom of a dry well and when I thought about what to share, I came up with zilch. This week marked the first few days of a new job. New people, new surroundings, new career path... I think all the new wore at my emotions and body, so yesterday I vegged in front of the TV catching up on Blindspot and Heroes (the original seasons).

 I'm not going to let myself feel guilty...even though I missed a day and my original plan-- the one plan I actually had-- fell apart due to bad planning and foresight... But, like I said, I'm not going to let myself feel guilty because, grace. We are studying grace.

So, I am adjusting my plans and sharing with you a book that came to me at a time when I was burnt out and struggling to find my voice.

I discovered the book a few years ago, while perusing the Christian/Inspiration section at our local Half Priced Books. I often pop in to check the stacks for a new title to add to my collection (all my bibliophiles say HEY!) and often find myself meandering into the the Christian section when in need a word of encouragement. That day was very much the latter, as I was struggling in my job, often coming home tired and overwhelmed. At work, there had been always so much to do and, at that point in my journey, I didn't know how to share my limitations and say no to anything.

That day I stood before the stacks, looking for a sign. The beautiful green spine caught my eye first, and then the title: The Relief of Imperfection: For Women Who Try Too Hard to Make It Just Right. Those words were a balm to my heart, an answer to many tear streaked prayers thrown at Heaven's door in desperation for hope, for relief. I took it home that night and immediately began reading.

Joan C. Webb splits her work into eight sections covering every facet of our lives, from relationships and work, to church and our dreams. Each section includes several stories from women from all walks of life dealing with the same push pull demands. At the end of each section, she has a "Relief Guide" that takes you through a series of questions to reflect on what you just read. She gives you the choice of when to do the work, detailing that it is not mandatory but may certainly help loosen the tight grip of perfection. Overall, her words weave together the hope that we don't need to be perfect; though it's often hard to change direction, choosing to release the demand is possible.

I often suggest this book, especially when I find friends who are enduring the same exhaustion of maintaining ridiculous standards. This was a pivotal book in helping me see I was living in a state of perfection and ungrace. It sits on my shelf as reminder that I don't need to say yes to everyone and that I can be free from perfection.

Check it out for yourself if you too are finding life's demands to be suffocating. Maybe it too will help you to release your grip of perfection and start breathing freer.

Sidenote:  Doesn't that darker pink puzzle piece on the cover just drive you bonkers? Cruel irony.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Unraveling of a Professional Doer

This is Day 8 of a 31 Day Challenge. Catch up on the rest of the posts at my launch pad here.

"What do you do?"

 Everyone has been asked this question. Usually it is coupled with an awkward event where everyone is clasping a drink for security (be it alcoholic or not) and everyone is dressed to the nines.  No one generally knows anyone else, so we chit chat, pulling out the socially acceptable questions. "What do you do?" is supposed to give a glimpse into the other person. What they "do" must speak to their personality, their likes and dislikes, their level in society. 

But why is it what do you do, and not, who are you becoming?

Doing is my thing. I excel at doing. I do the dishes, the laundry. I do writing and reading challenges. I make the bed, clean the bathroom, help pay the bills... "Cinderelly, Cinderelly, Night and day is Cinderelly..."

I remain busy. Busy I am comfortable with; I can always find something on the "To Do" list, as it is perpetually being refilled and rewritten. I am confident with lists, strategies, and tasks to be completed. Being... not so much.

I recently started a new job in which being is sometimes more important than the doing... and it has been a struggle.  Before I started, everyone would ask, "What will you be doing?" I only had a vague sketch of my tasks and would answer shortly, with a one word description,"Tutoring..." usually trailing off and trying to quickly change the subject. Not knowing made me uncomfortable.

Even as I've begun working, the uncertainty of my job's description and expectations has thrown me into a frenzy.  Not only is my new job in a field I've had no professional training in, I'm also in a completely new environment. My incompetency grins fiendishly back at me. "I don't have a checklist. How will I prove I'm doing the right thing?" Cue panic and anxiety.

I was describing all of this to a friend today and she wisely said, "God is up to something."

A series about grace; a job focused on being a support; a dream about becoming a writer. There are threads in a masterpiece that are beginning to be woven together to reveal a greater design. I see signs pointing toward freedom and independence from a system of legalism and perfection. I'm not sure how it will unfold, but it will be interesting to eventually step back and see how each thread had a piece in a much greater design.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Old Systems Die Hard

This is day 7 of a 31 day challenge. To catch up on all the other posts find them on my launch page here.

Old habits are hard to break. Even harder are old systems of living.

In Galatians 2:1-10, Paul describes in his letter how he went to Jerusalem to do some fact checking. Was in indeed spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ? Would the apostles add anything or reprimand him on something? No. They were on agreement. But Paul mentions how a question arose among some believers concerning circumcision and the language he uses is intriguing.

And they supported me and did not even demand that my companion Titus be circumcised though he was a Gentile.
Even that question came up only because of some so-called Christians there-- false ones, really-- who were secretly brought in. They sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we hav in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations. (Galations 2:3-4, NLT)

Paul sounds infuriated. He doesn't even give credence to their claims as following the true faith. They are "so called" Christians who are trying enslave the believers into an old system. Their false claims end freedom and he will have none of it. Verse 5 continues: "But we refused to give in to them for a single moment. We wanted to preserve the truth of the gospel message for you."

Ouch. I was rallying with the war cry until that sentence. Can we talk about a reality check? When have I entertained a false statement about myself? When have I accepted a new rule of another as my own? Honestly? Probably every single day.

Paul didn't give one inch to those who wanted to reinstall an old system of regulation. They had been given a new code to life by, one pure and free. Any change would corrupt the code.

The grace of God is all encompassing but that foundation of truth that burns so brightly can be snuffed out if we allow our hearts to entertain a falsehood. No wonder so many leaders in the church proclaim to daily renew your mind. It's not just a rule to follow, but wisdom to live by.

This push pull between the old way of life dictated by my regulations of good vs bad and the Code of Conduct file, are hard to demolish. I can promise you that I will continue to chew on this truth and struggle. I might even walk away from this post and start worrying about what people will think, do my words even matter?

 I think the obstacle is common when on Day 7, after accomplishing a full week of writing daily, you are met with discouraging words. But freedom doesn't change and each step forward keeps everything in motion. A body in motion stays in motion, a body at rest, stays at rest.

So just keep moving and let the old systems rest. The upgrade is so much better anyway.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Looking-Glass Reflections

This is Day 6 in the 31 Day Challenge. If you're joining for the first time, head over to my launch page to catch up on my background with grace. Glad you've joined!
"Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife. father, boss, etc) think you are." Philip Yancey from What's So Amazing About Grace?
Credited to Florian Meimberg
 I've been sitting on this quote for two days, gnawing on the truth of it despite the bad taste it exudes. I wish desperately this weren't true for me. I want to declare plainly that I'm in the minority. People's opinions surely have no affect. But glumly, I stare in my own mirror and reflect on my decisions. I admit, I can see a very clear distinction of "important people" influencing my life.Who is influencing them now?

Today I visited a university I'm considering for a graduate degree in creative writing. I have often thought about returning to academia, but it has merely been a fleeting thought. Until recently. I took the plunge, contacted a local university and today I went. I LOVED the department.

Allow for a moment of gushing.

There was a whole floor dedicated to English, an entire building no less! In undergrad, the English department had one office that took up maybe half a floor. I loved my professors and am so thankful for their teaching, but a whole floor! There were, I think, 60 offices for professors of an English background. Squee!

Talking to them about the project I have in mind, the degrees I'm considering (low residency MFA or full residency MA), I felt at home. My family and friends are very supportive of me pursuing this avenue, but when I sat and answered questions about a novel I want to write, I felt so much pride and excitement. Affirming. Yes, very affirming.

I walked away, though, with the problem of deciding which degree to apply for. Certainly, I could apply for both, but which one do I feel would be the best fit for me? And you know what I immediately started doing? Thinking about what others have told me about me. Yes, those influences, those most important people who are so much wiser about me than I am. I added their opinions to the scale. And I've only found myself more confused.

When it comes down to it, they will support whatever decision I make, but I have to make it. Push down the fear of failure, remember you are allowed mistakes and look in the mirror. Who does God say I am? At the core, His Beloved. Actually, bottom line. Beloved.

The grace and truth of my identity may not answer the question to which program to choose, but it stills the panic. I breathe a sigh of relief (for a moment) before continuing to research and reflect. But for that moment, I hold onto the truth and let it simmer.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Permission to Fail

Growing up, my mother always told me to do my best. If my best resulted in a C on a paper, that was okay because I had done everything I could. It was still considered a success because I had tried.

Success is so often the emphasis of our lives. You can find so many articles on how to succeed in school, in your workplace, in your marriage. Everyone is working diligently to move forward. We chase the hope of success but I think what often drives us is the fear of failure. We desire so desperately to get it right, to win the prize, to reach the goal, etc., etc. But do you know a secret? You've been given permission to fail.

Strange, yes?

You see, there is no possible way to avoid failure. None. As a perfectionist, I want to scream and protest, "No! There has to be a way! What do you mean I'm going to fail?!" Anxiety charges through my veins as I grow increasingly more uncomfortable at the thought of failure. But there is freedom to be had if we can grasp that it has never been about arriving. It has always been about the journey.

Philip Yancey puts it plainly in What's So Amazing about Grace?:
The world runs by ungrace. Everything depends on what I do...Jesus' kingdom calls us to another way, one that depends not on our performance but his own. We do not have to achieve but merely follow. He has already earned for us the costly victory of God's acceptance.

In this world, there will always be demands to make the bar, to succeed and gain the acceptance of someone. The desire to earn one's way is hard to shake. Believe me. I am often brought down to depression agonizing over what people think of me and if I can and will succeed.

But today, in the midst of worrying about a new job, I found a sliver of peace to hold in my hands and it was a whisper from God.
"You have my permission to fail. My love is not based on your success. It is founded in who I am and nothing can increase it and nothing can decrease it. My love is infinite."

Perhaps you needed this reminder today too. Cup your cold, working hands around them and let them warm you through and through. You have permission to fail.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Awakening to Grace

This month I'm sharing my reflections and study of grace. See days Two and Three for my history with grace and my struggles with the ever present "to bes".

Awakening to grace is an experience that is slow and gradual. This blog was birthed out of a place of confusion and desperation shortly after I awoke with so many doubts and questions. It's been a place of solitude and rest for my questions. A way to examine what grace can be for myself and others.

I took a six month sabbatical from that campus ministry and ultimately concluded that my time of serving had ended. It was a gentle closure to a time so full of emotion and questions. God was gracious to me.

I struggled with words to share here today. How to conclude a history that hasn't yet finished? The best way is not to and admit that this process is organic, no matter how much I want there to be bookends and flashes of great revelation.

I know that my search this month is, at its core, simply a deeper dive into living and breathing grace. In this moment, I know that I'm going to find new nuggets to add to the treasury into the treasury of my heart.  I choose to rest in that freedom because my history has been written and my future is coming. Today is full of God's grace, as well as all the ones to come and each day simply needs to be experienced. I need not worry about what tomorrow brings.

Today I sit with the following scripture, seeping tea and letting the words soothe away my need to earn the gift that has been so costly but so freely given.
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life."

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Disjointed Grace

Yesterday I detailed my early history with grace.  Head over here if you missed the story.

Reflections on Today

Ephesians 2:8-9. Somehow, for 26 years of my life, I have missed this scripture. I cannot, even now, tell you its context within a swift glance at the chapter. A gift given, no take backs. No strings, no hoops. A free gift without a way to earn the right to have it. It sounds like a very confusing mathematical word problem (ahem, English major) with the answer somehow hidden in between the lines.  What does that scripture even mean?

Reflections on the Past

When I first started grappling over the freedom of God's grace, it was after about a year of marriage while serving in a college ministry.

We had transitioned quickly from college life to adult life, a short turn around of less than two months. I dove into a new job, a new church, a new city, a new community. I longed for familiarity. I decided I should give back to the ministry that had forged so much of my faith during college. It seemed the right thing to do-- and many of my friends were following a similar path.  But serving as a leader in a ministry straight out of college has it's challenges. Slowly, I realized my time at college had reformed and refined my views on Christ, some for the better, some for the worse.

When I say better, I mean that I finally grasped that God is good and that he has never and will never leave me. I found a community of encouraging believers and dug into the movement of the Holy Spirit. That ministry met me at a time when I was on the brink of walking away from God and I will be forever grateful for God directing me into their path.

But, because we are in a fallen world, some things, no matter how well intended, can be misinterpreted. I received a message, somewhere along the way, that to be a "good Christian" one must be serving the church by evangelizing, praying daily, having special quiet times and actively discipling others. These actions were the mark of a devoted Christian.

While these are all good things in and of themselves, I felt shame when  I was not practicing those statutes. Shame came from correction and expectations I interpreted as falling along the lines of my Code of Misconduct clause (remember that file cabinet I mentioned?). Those expectations were not the freedom I needed in my walk. They were just an addition to an already long list of "gotta be's" and in short, restrained my growth rather than encouraging it.

Fast forward to a time when I was now a leader in said ministry, no longer a student. Mistakes would not be accepted. I had "arrived". I believed I was expected to both practice and exemplify those standards, as I was counseling students and propelling a ministry forward. It was my responsibility to excel as a spiritual leader. I floundered under the pressure.

I assumed I needed to be perfect and still being in my early twenties, my beliefs were still forming. I was beginning to see that my faith was, at times, a mere reflection of what someone else told me to believe. As many people experience, I began asking questions, some of which were at the foundation of ministry I was professing to lead and believe. I struggled with suddenly finding myself at odds with understanding how the Holy Spirit moved and how I, as a believer, should be interacting with the world.

Understand, I believed without a doubt that God moved in black and white.  To receive certain gifts from the Holy Spirit one must live and behave a certain way. To a degree, our disipline does determine how close we choose to be to God, but even that statement somehow speaks to a hierarchy that is etched not with grace but with rules and regulations.

I found myself mired in a quandry. If God did move in the gray, and was not, in fact, neatly placed into a box, how was I to share that with those under me? How do you explain a complex God who may not be linear or neat in His movements?

 I began asking more questions. What if grace was not being shown accurately? What if the Holy Spirit simply gave different gifts and there was no next level? What if we were all on an even field but with different roles? What if the way I had been taught to respresent Christ to others, both within and without of that faith community, was somehow turning people off from grace completely?

What  I encountered, was a crisis of faith. I collided with the sound realization that the prize isn't earned through my efforts, but freely given.

Friday, October 2, 2015

You Gotta Be...

"You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser,
You gotta be hard, You gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger..."- Des'ree
If I've mentioned it once, I've mentioned it a dozen times: I struggle with legalism. 

If brains had filing cabinets, mine would have at least two drawers dedicated to the rules and obligations I must keep to maintain a contract for correct behavior. It would list in thorough terms, the expectations of a wife, sister, friend, coworker, boss, and other roles I play, and would detail the results of breaking any line of said contract. For example, if line 257 were broken, which states, "A wife must maintain a clean and orderly house at all times and be able and willing to host any event be it small or large," I would endure a litany of self loathing punishments. It's a terrible state of being.

I'm not sure when it began, but I suspect the roots began as a child. I was a quiet and sensitive child, quickly becoming very empathetic. I learned early on, that people liked me more if I was nice and quiet rather than mean and loud. So I determined observed my surroundings and then adjusted to the standards of each person's definition of good and bad. 

When I initially met Christ for the first time, I knew I needed a Savior. I was in the first grade and the idea seemed simple to understand. Someone die because I had sinned? It hurt me to think of my actions causing pain. Why wouldn't I align myself with Him? 

But what started out pure and uninhibited, became tainted. 

I remember thinking about the standards of Christianity as a teenager on my way back from a Christian music festival. While at the retreat, I noticed that people knew more scripture and more of the popular Christian music than I did. Well, I determined that after rededicating my life to Christ, I needed to show them I too knew the same stuff they did. I went home and preset a Christian station on my radio and determined a Bible reading plan to dismantle my naivete.


I look back at that determination and secretly admire that passion. Even then, the creeping roots of legalism had begun to distort my faith and my understanding of myself. It wasn't until I graduated college that I began to understand that I was missing something very, very important: The Meaning of Grace.

Join me tomorrow as I share how I began to wake up and realize that something was not quite right about my perspective.  Day Three: Disjointed Grace

Thursday, October 1, 2015

31 Days: A Study in Grace

For the past few years I have been grappling with God. I've fought back and nearly walked away because I cannot simply understand or begin to grasp His grace for me. He draws near, I push away. It's a constant cycle of push, pull but today is the start of acceptance, for today is the beginning point for a 31 day study in grace.

This year I'm joining with many other bloggers to take up the challenge to write every day in October. I've desperately wanted to join the revelry for the past two years but something has always gotten in the way. If we're being honest, that something has usually been my own fears. But God has a nagging way of pushing me forward and urging me to write.

So for the next month, I'm going to be reflecting on God's grace for myself and for others. Each week I plan to feature one book that I have read that has helped me along in my journey. Other than that, my plans are few, but I invite you to join me on my reflections and maybe we will discover something new together.

To keep everything organized, you can use this as a launching pad. I will be linking each day's post back here.

Day One: 31 Days: A Study in Grace
Day Two:  You Gotta Be...
Day Three: Disjointed Grace
Day Four: Awakening to Grace
Day Five: Permission to Fail
Day Six: Looking-Glass Reflections 
Day Seven: Old Systems Die Hard
Day Eight: The Unraveling of a Professional Doer
Days Nine & Ten: Gracious Reads: The Relief of Imperfection
Day Eleven: The What If? Plague 
Day Twelve: Muddy Circumstances
Day Thirteen: The Strange Case of Mistakes and Fear
Day Fourteen: A Call to Rest  
Days Fifteen & Sixteen: Gracious Reads: Simply Tuesday
Days Seventeen & Eighteen: This Season's Anthem
Day Nineteen: Grace in the Wait
Day Twenty: You Just Gotta Laugh 
Days Twenty-one & Twenty-two: A Thieving Trio 
Days Twenty-three & Twenty-four: Gracious Reads: Grace for the Good Girl 
Days Twenty-five to Twenty-seven: Saying No to NaNoWriMo
Day Thirty-one (Final post): October Wrap Up

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Falling Forward

It's that time of year again, when the height of expectation hangs in the cool breeze and the sweaters come out with scarves and boots. Fall is on the rise and so is my itch to write.

I've been absent- as seems my trend- due to life. I switched jobs within a matter of five days at the beginning of June. I interviewed on a Thursday, did a working interview on the following Monday, and I started that Wednesday. Since then I've been working 8-11 hour shifts with a 40 hour work week and haven't had the mental capacity for much else. Needless to say, my world has been caught up in a whirlwind. And it's about to happen again.

I'm ready for a change. I've enjoyed the new job but due to the nature of the work and the demands of the practice, I'm pursuing a different avenue. And you know what? I've finally decided to put into action the words that have been echoing in my heart since January: "Quit waiting. Now is the time to write."

"Write what?" you may ask.

I don't know and I'm not sure it matters.

In the past I have been paralyzed by fear, doubt and insecurities. I would often question what I can offer and often dropped the ball on opportunities for advancement of my dreams. I never wanted to move forward without the certainty of security because I was so afraid of making a mistake. I believe I was unconsciously sabotaging myself and stalling. I'm a perfectionist and while many people will say shooting for perfection is admirable, what it really becomes is a shackle and succubus. Perfection doesn't give when pursued from a place of fear. It only steals.

I'm pursuing a new way of thinking and choosing to take initiative. Mistakes are the stone against which we are sharpened, if we allow them to teach us. I may fall but I'm choosing to fall forward into the future instead of falling back into old habits.

Adventure is out there. Now go experience it.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wilderness Lessons

 Earlier this week, my husband, Donald, and I packed up a cooler, loaded the trunk and set out for the wilderness of Red River Gorge. I had been anticipating this trip for three weeks. I needed a vacation... desperately. The clamor and stress of work had shredded me of my patience and passion. I needed a respite from life and we both needed to make a declaration to live in the now and to start letting ourselves indulge in the little things. We were treating ourselves. There was just one problem- "Treat yo'self" is not a part of my common vernacular.

The day we left, I was on edge. I had seven days off and, honestly, I was annoyed that I had scheduled a getaway at the beginning because I had so much TO DO! The car needed checked, the cats needed wet food, I needed an eye appointment, the taxes needed analysis and one cat needed a check up. The list was long and I couldn't complete it because I needed to rest. I have no idea how to do that properly.

Aggravation wasn't going to change the plans, however. We were going away, just the two of us, where no technology could distract or demand our attention. Rest was the "to do" on the list. Since that was the case, I was determined to wring out answers about my life's trajectory and gain solutions to our current problems. That's rest, right? If I couldn't work on my "home" to-do list, we were gonna tackle the life ones, and darn it, there would be answers! I made a mental checklist and was determined to see those items accomplished.

Writing those words makes me both laugh and cringe. But it's the honest truth. I wanted to keep busy, to stay focused because I was afraid of what I would find when all the normal day-to-day trappings were stripped away.

You see, I was desperate to make those few short days away worth it. I was reminded of how during my college years, our campus ministry would go into the wilderness for a weekend to do soul searching. You were filled with the expectation of God showing up and laying out the answers to either your sins or your dreams depending on the intended message/theme of the weekend. I saw this vacation as a similar sojourn into my soul and I would walk away with a load of peace and a timeline of events that would change my life.
While I didn't have a "mountaintop experience" where Jesus solved all my stress ball problems, I did walk away with a few revelations and wilderness lessons.

Wilderness Lesson #1: Don't wait.

About two hours into our drive to our cabin, we received a call from the front desk informing us that our cabin wasn't receiving any water and could we reschedule our visit? Ironically, they had called a few hours before to confirm our visit and yet hadn't informed us of any issues. We had no Plan B, so rescheduling wasn't an option. While our minds raced with worst-case-scenarios and my husband white knuckled the steering wheel, I decided that whatever would happen, would happen. I couldn't control the outcome. (Did I mention I was on edge and also imagining three days without water- peeing in the woods, a chamber pot? Glad I didn't lose my cool.)

In the end, we had water...but it was temperamental at best; there one minute, gone the next. It was like playing Russian Roulette... just not as dangerous. 

On our last evening, I braved a shower that ended with me shivering under a tepid trickle of water. I was clean, but definitely not satisfied. Even so, I seized the opportunity because who knew when the water would return? Procrastination wasn't an option. The water was running, so it was time to act.

And that was, after all, the whole purpose of being there. Instead of waiting until we had better jobs and more money to take a week long vacation, we were acting. We don't have kids yet, cats yes, but they could be watched. We had the opportunity and the water, a necessity of life, reminded me not to wait to take what you need. Whether that's visiting family, taking vacation or just sitting in silence, busyness could wait; pursuing a thriving life cannot.

Wilderness Lesson #2: I attract peculiar insects.

First, some back story.

During our honeymoon, now almost four years ago, we again escaped to a secluded cabin, this time in the hills of Georgia (we are not beach people). On our last night while clearing the sink for dishes, I noticed a small black creature emerging from the drain. At first, I thought it was spider (creepy enough) until I noticed an odd appendage curled upward at the end of its shiny black body. SCORPION! (Insert Kuzco freaking out)

Primal instincts charged onto the stage. I quickly grabbed the wooden chopping block to my right and smashed it to smithereens. #sorrynotsorry

Flash forward to our last morning in our Kentucky cabin. The night before, a wood bee had buzzed its way into the rafters. Knowing it was harmless, but not knowing its origin, we let it bee (bedunk-chink) and went on with our evening.

The next morning, I was once again at the kitchen sink, checking the state of our temperamental water (MIA), when I noticed the same wood bee  shimmied between the drainer and the drain. Confused, I let it wriggle and went back to reading in the living room.

Ten minutes passed. I went back and found its back-end still wriggling its way downward. Maybe it was stuck? I lifted up the drainer and quickly replaced it- wood bee or not, my terror at being stung was still strong- and then I heard a distinctive THUNK! The bee went down the drain! Why is a bee going into the sink? Are there more? Is this going to turn into an attack of drones movie? And what is it with me, and insects and drains in secluded cabins away from emergency medical personnel?  Irony has its own unique humor.

Wilderness Lesson #3: Silence makes me vulnerable.

I talk A LOT, as can be noted by this excessively long post (I commend you for your commitment). I also purposely do a lot. Remember the lists I mentioned going into my getaway? Lists are my thing. I work hard and have a hard time resting. Even while "resting" I can be found watching TV, usually the latest series on Hulu that I'm binge watching; currently all seasons of Army Wives. No rest is complete without some action accompanying, usually folding laundry or browsing job searches...or lazily pinning projects to complete on Pinterest.

I'm a professional multi-tasker, constantly surrounding myself with noise (see above paragraph). The noise drowns out my introspective thinking; no thinking cancels out the digging; no digging means no revealing; no revealing, means no facing the mess of a weary soul. Strip away that clamor and I'm left bare, struggling to comprehend the true feelings and thoughts that are raw and crusty from determined avoidance. Bare, I am left trying to organize and categorize and wash away the crud so I'm left squeaky clean and tidy again. But that process is tiresome, messy and sometimes, downright defeating. So I hug the noise to avoid the mess, like a beautiful ostrich with her head shoved into the sand.

Flash back to the beginning of this story. Imagining three days in nature without distractions, filled me with anxiety. Not only was I frustrated I couldn't be busy, I was afraid that without all that noise, my husband and I would be left staring at each other, speechless. My fears of "What next?" and "What now?" in regards to our life trajectory, shackled to some recent personal disappointments threatened to pull me into the dungeon of depression, a darkness I am terrified to enter and never escape. If it's not obvious, I will put it in plain black and white: I was afraid of being found out and found wanting.

I would love to say that all those fears and anxieties immediately disappeared after a sudden revelation or a sweet word from my loving husband, but they didn't. My husband did help but more with patience than a riveting call to arms speech. The simple silence of the trees, the wind singing over the cliffs, slowly seeped into my heart, a little more each day. The fear eased, Donald and I talked, laughed and connected. I eventually embraced the vulnerability instead of hiding from it, however hesitantly. And even now, three days after I'm still learning to embrace the bare naked emotions and thoughts in moments of silence. The process isn't finished but only begun.

In fact, it wasn't until the day after we returned that I realized the biggest lesson. It didn't appear to me like a shining beacon from on high, but rather more like a shiny button discovered on the sand:

Happiness, I imagine, is the active athlete that runs in Freedom, while Joy, the wise coach, encourages and bolsters from the sidelines. Until I let the fear fade and the drive of being busy ebb, happiness couldn't form. When I strive to do instead of be (be present, be silent, be still), it's shackled. Striving suffocates the opportunity to breathe deep and satisfying the breath of life.

While getting away doesn't solve all of life's problems and mysteries, it can reveal the next steps. Mine are figuring out how to seize hold of the happiness and enjoy those simple, silly moments when life throws wrenches in your plans. 

Happiness is out there! 

Carpe Diem.
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