I Had to Share: February 2015

Evan bought me the most beautiful tulips for Valentines Day. Tulips make my heart happy.
Evan bought me the most beautiful tulips for Valentines Day. Tulips make my heart happy.

Some of the wonderful stuff I read on the internet last month:

On Calling, Direction, and Moving Forward (which I am thinking about a lot lately, because I am leaving my job in just a few short weeks, and I don’t know how to feel about it.)

“The Surprising Truth About Finding My Calling” by Emily Freeman

“When Way Closes” by Parker Palmer

“You’re Never Going to be Fully Ready” by Shauna Niequist for Storyline

On Minimalism & Essentialism & Decision Fatigue (which I have also been thinking about lately, as many of my friends know, but I should probably start writing about it soon)

“Spending Time” from Design for Mankind: “If I have learned anything from the rat race – both our grandmothers’ and our own – it is that I no longer believe time can be saved if it is not later more wisely spent; if it is not kept, and held, and treasured. If it is not carried, weighty in our hands, worn as a backpack for exploration or inspiration, adventure or action, service or surrender.”

“7 ways I’m minimizing decision fatigue in my daily life” by Modern Mrs. Darcy

Miscellaneous:

“Why I’m doing something I don’t like doing today,” from Jon Acuff.  “Want a grateful 16 year old? Teach a 6 year old gratitude and give him 10 years to practice.” Boom.

“26 worst things that can happen to a book lover” via BuzzFeed.  (This is not on the list, but: one time in college, I was eating my lunch while studying in the library, and I spilled my salad dressing into my backpack, which included a book I was borrowing from my sister. Yup.)

Moleskine Photo Notebook from Paislee Press: You guys. One of you out there knew that Moleskine made photo books and did not tell me. How rude.

Psalm 1: Walk, Stand, or Sit

Blessed is the one

who does not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take

or sit in the company of mockers,

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,

and who meditates on his law day and night.

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither–

whatever they do prospers.

     —Psalm 1:1-3

Normally, I get a little bit queasy whenever Scripture starts mentioning “the wicked.” It’s no secret that I’m a grace person rather than a truth person, which I think is a desperate attempt to compensate for the legalism of my past. Admittedly, I cringe when I read “the wicked,” because I would hate for someone to read that and assume that God doesn’t love them, labeling them as a evil with a broad stroke.

But, as always, when I sit down to my journaling Bible with a pen in hand, I pay better attention and realize there’s far more to see and consider than I initially realized. I’ve come to understand that there’s more for me to learn when I stop asking, “What would other people think if they read this?” and ask, “What does God want to say to me today?” And when I asked that question, I found myself reading these 3 brief verses over and over and over again, because they had so much to say.

Walk.

Stand.

Sit.

I’d like to think that I’m not someone who “walks in step with the wicked.” I’d like to think that I pursue justice and mercy and humility: after all, I sponsor a kid and I shop local and I don’t cuss (except for, admittedly, the one 4 letter word I tend to say when I get scared for cut off in traffic) and I try to be nice to people. Walking I understand. It implies action, participation, movement in a certain direction.

But you know what? David doesn’t say I only need to avoid walking with the wicked.

I’m not even supposed to sit in their company. Even my passivity can implicate me in their schemes.

I’m wondering: where am I sitting in the company of wickedness? What areas of my life are ruled by passivity and apathy and ignorance, separating me in some way from the building of God’s kingdom?

When I consider those questions, I know, deep down and with conviction, that YES—I choose passivity often.

  • I don’t pay much attention to where my clothes are manufactured or by whom, almost always choosing cheap over ethical. 
  • I eat chocolate and drink coffee without consideration for the men and women (or, God forbid, children) who harvested it.
  • When grocery shopping, I normally choose convenience and affordability over sustainability.
  • I pay lots of attention to non-profits and organizations doing good work around the world, but I rarely participate, donate, or engage.

And so I wonder: am I complicit?

When Jesus was walking and talking among us, He did not sit around with His fisherman friends philosophizing and pontificating on the injustice and depravity of the world around them. No. He was a man of action. He walked among those who needed to know they are loved, He embraced the ignored and despised. He had dinner with sinners. He healed and comforted and served.

I’m recognizing that my complacency is as meaningful as blatantly walking in the wrong direction. I’m sitting in the company of the wicked, not necessarily intentionally participating but doing little to slow the tide of evil or destruction or injustice.

psalm1_prayer

Make Space to Rejoice

Wooden Cross

“Are you Catholic now or something?”

My mom and I were on the phone a Wednesday afternoon four years ago, and she asked about my plans for the evening.

“Going to an Ash Wednesday service at church,” I told her. Admittedly, it was the first time I was going to attend such a service, and I was uneasy about what it would entail. I grew up in a church that wasn’t particularly innovative —there were Christmas productions and VBS and a sinner’s prayer without fail—but I think, at the very least, they wanted to appear modern. I never once sang a hymn—not even “Amazing Grace”—until I was a college student. A college friend of mine attended with me one Sunday while visiting and after service said, “Well, that was trendy.”

In that environment, no mention was ever made of the church calendar.

I knew of Lent only because of Erin and Amethyst, my two Catholic friends. They abstained from chocolate or soda and the like each spring. Occasionally (though not often), I’d see people walking around the grocery store with ashes on their foreheads. But that was that.

During the spring of my freshman year, my community group leader, Sandy, told us she would be fasting during Lent and asked if we’d like to participate. I remember sitting on the floor, leaning against Joelle’s big gray couch, as Sandy explained what this meant to her. I think she was giving up Facebook that year and told us, “Each time I want to sign on, I’ll pray instead. I’ll think about Jesus and try drawing closer to Him.” This was my introduction to fasting: simple and profound.

Don’t we often overcomplicate these things? We make rules about the days and times when it is or isn’t acceptable to indulge, and we can’t sign off social media without changing our profile pictures and publishing a few status updates first. I overcomplicate things by riddling them with “should” and a fear of failure so strong, it’s easier to never even give it a shot. I choose to give up what makes me feel guilty, and I believe the lie that a “successful” fast will earn me more favor with God. I talk myself in and out of things depending on the day, and I’m rarely motivated by the simple and easy and graceful yoke of Christ.

This year, I’m reattempting the fast I started for Lent last spring. I only made it 2 days last year before throwing in the towel, and in the sense of full disclosure, I’m not doing so great this year either. I don’t think it’s because I’ve chosen something particularly difficult, but it is an area of my life where I lack self-discipline, and it’s an area I’ve felt convicted about for a long time.

Richard Foster says that in pursuing a discipline like fasting, “the primary requirement is a longing after God.” That’s what I’m hoping for this Lenten season: a greater and deeper longing after God. I want to miss Him the way I miss Ian when he’s off at daycare: with an ache in my heart and thoughts that quickly return to Him throughout the day.

Truthfully, though, I’m too easily distracted for this. I’m derailed by to-do lists and push notifications and appointments and traffic. I’m caught up going to work or making dinner or playing with Ian. If I’m not careful, my days get away from me, and before long, entire seasons have flown by.

I love paying attention to the church calendar because it necessitates that I stop and ask, “God, what are You up to today? What have You been using this day to teach me, just has You’ve used it in the Church for hundreds of years?”

Lent asks me to consider my own sin, mortality, and need for the Cross, so by nature it’s humbling, quiet, and downright somber. Still, I love this season because it helps me make space in my life for joy. I can’t rejoice on Easter if I haven’t first acknowledged my very real need for the Cross, the ways in which I’m prone to wander, and the fact that without the resurrection, I’m simply lost. But if I don’t ever intentionally pause, life will keep moving, and I’ll mindlessly flip to the next calendar page without once stopping to ask what it all means.

By fasting, I decide to remove excess and distraction to make more room for Jesus. Less than 40 days from now, He will die a very real death and be buried in a very real tomb of my own making, and I don’t want to forget it. Because then…

Then comes the morning, the rejoicing, the astonishing wonder of a risen Man.

I don’t want to miss it. I’m making space.

I just had to share! (January 2015)

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I’m taking today to share some of things I’ve been loving lately.

Listen:

The Longest Shortest Time: I subscribed to this podcast a long time ago (just before she launched her Kickstarter, and before WNYC picked it up), but I just recently started listening to more episodes. The stories told are universal, and it has super high production quality. But more than that, can I just say HOORAY for parenting-related content that is targeted to both moms and dads, and enjoyable and relevant to parents of kids of all ages.

Spotify’s Winter Acoustic Playlist: You don’t need me to tell you that Florida’s winter is a sorry excuse for the season. The weather doesn’t cooperate, and I catch myself jumping to Spring right after the new year: spring colors, spring decorating, spring cleaning. I’ve been trying to stay more in tune with the rhythm of the seasons, and so I’m trying to hang on to winter. This playlist helps.

See:

ESPN’s tribute to Stuart Scott: I guess it’s a bit late to share this now, but if you didn’t watch ESPN’s 15-minute tribute to the life and work of Stuart Scott, you should.

The Best Photographs of 2014, according to The Guardian: These photos are awe-inspiring and heartbreaking. Come, Lord Jesus.

Read:

Burn the Candles, from Shauna Niequist.

How I Plan to Stay Sane on the Internet in 2015, from Emily Freeman.

A Surprising thing that creates the best kind of freedom, from Tsh Oxenreider.

Geese, by Faith Shearin.

Other Good Stuff:

Ali Edwards’ One Little Word workshop: This workshop helped me keep my word front and center last year, and it pushed my creativity. I’m not taking it again this year because I actually still have content from 2014 I want to work through, but I highly recommend it.

On The Nester’s recommendation, I just ordered these stainless steel drinking straws. I’m taking my iced coffee game to the next level.

Speaking of iced coffee, if you live in Tampa, you need to go to Buddy Brew. They have iced coffee on tap, y’all. I haven’t stopped thinking about it for 2 weeks.

Freedom: On to 2015

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This week, I’ve been sharing about my 2014 One Little Word: free. This is the last post in that series, though I’m certain it won’t be the last time I write about the freedom I’ve found.

It’s only in the past few weeks that I’ve realized how profoundly choosing “free” in 2014 has changed my life.

I’m a resolution junkie. Every November or December, I start putting together my list of goals and plans for the following year. Whether financial or physical or vocational or personal, it’s always been easy to identify a list of not good enoughs and could be betters. My perfectionism gets the best of me at this time of year, as does my strange affinity for the word “should.”

This year has been different. For the past several weeks, I have been wracking my brain for resolutions and projects. A few things came to mind: Evan and I want to keep decluttering and minimizing, I want to continue writing and blogging, I’d like to read one poem each day, and I want to continue working through my journaling Bible.

This list is different than every other list of resolutions I’ve ever had, and here’s why: each item starts with “I want to.” Not one of them emerged from a feeling of “should.” I mean, read a poem a day? That actually sounds fun.

For the first time, I don’t see shortcomings as my most defining characteristics, so my resolutions are things that bring me joy. My resolutions are all about tapping more into the person God made me to be, instead of who I think I should be.

Hallelujah and amen.

It is so simple, yet it feels like a seismic shift in my soul. I look at the year ahead and feel mostly peace and eager anticipation, rather than dread about all I’ll surely fail to do.

Sounds like freedom to me.

Free was so impactful that I couldn’t not choose a new word for 2015. I pulled out my journal and brainstormed. I tried words on for size, considering what they would mean and how they would manifest themselves. I looked out for words as I read Scripture and listened to podcasts. I read through the list of words on Ali Edwards’ site. I know that there is no perfect word, but I watched for something to stand out, for the quiet whisper saying, “Here it is.”

A few contenders emerged…Center. Look. Less. Savor. Simple.

All perfectly fine. No doubt, many or all of them will work their way into my life this year. Still, I couldn’t settle on any of them.

But do you know what word hasn’t stopped popping up, hasn’t stopped teaching me, hasn’t stopped resonating? Free.

So, I am taking the easy way out. Or rather, I am choosing to keep walking down the path I’ve started on, and I’m sticking with “free” for the second year in a row.

I don’t think Jesus is done teaching me about this word just yet.

Cheers to 2015, and cheers to freedom.

Freedom: Where I Landed

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This week, I’m sharing about my journey with the word “free.” It was my “one little word” for 2014, and it was a game changer. 

A few weeks ago, I read in a devotional that all God’s promises find their “yes” in Jesus.

So much of Scripture is about setting people free. Stories of prison and slavery abound–from the Israelites in Egypt and Babylon to Paul & Silas in the prison yard. Jesus tells us that His burden is light; there is no slavery or captivity in relationship with him.

Freedom feels like a promise. Paul wrote that anywhere we find the Spirit of the Lord, there is freedom. Peter tells us that when in relationship with Jesus, we can live as if we are a people set free.

But I felt stuck.

The promise–freedom–wasn’t true for me.

At the end of 2013, a lot of circumstances beyond my control had left me a reeling: I was clinging ever-more tightly to my perfectionism and need for approval, and it was stifling. I felt stuck and suffocated. I was anxious and afraid and felt like a failure.

I was standing in a Sunday evening service last winter–in our normal spot, middle left of the sanctuary–with my hands on the back of the chair in front of me. Together, we sang an All Sons and Daughters song, alluding to Paul’s words to the Galatians.

“It is for freedom that we are set free.”

The words flooded my mind, an extemporaneous prayer, and I couldn’t shake them:

“I have no idea what that means.”

I knew, as certainly as if Jesus Himself had whispered it in my ear, that I needed “free” to be my word of the year.

In 2014, I wanted freedom. I could feel it in my heart and in my soul and in my bones. I was tired of living less than what God had for me. I wanted to be free from some patterns and behaviors in my life and free to do and be other things.

Free from guilt.

Free from fear.

Free from shame.

Free from approval-seeking.

Free from “should.”

Free from perfectionism.

Free to be myself.

Free to say what I really mean.

Free to want what I want and need what I need and not beat myself up about it.

Free to risk and try new things.

Free to fail.

Last December I used some Christmas money to enroll in Ali Edwards’ One Little Word workshop. I wanted to make sure that my word as at the forefront of my mind and heart as I went through the year. Somehow, I sensed that “free” was more important and significant than the words I’d chosen in the past, and I didn’t want the opportunity to pass me by.

I began taking note of each time I read or heard that word pop up: in Scripture, in songs, in blog posts, in novels, in conversation. Of course, many people quipped about my word, asking if I took greater advantage of BOGOs at Publix and if I was taking up extreme couponing. I probably should have.

At any rate, I read and heard about freedom everywhere I looked. And more than that, I began to pray, all day long, every day, “Lord, help me embrace freedom. Help me live like I’ve been set free. Let me be free.” It became the liturgy of my life. Feel stress? Say a prayer for freedom. Feel afraid? Say a prayer for freedom. Caught in a bought of perfectionism? Say a prayer for freedom.

I wish I could say it was more complicated or profound than that. I didn’t read the Greek and Hebrew versions of Scripture and uncover some connection that tied it all together (a la Ann Voskamp’s eucharisteo), and I didn’t join a worldwide movement to end slavery or something.

But in the small, still, quiet moments of my life, I found it. I found freedom. Or rather, I discovered how to tap into the freedom that was already mine.

Freedom: The Backstory

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For a few years now, in the midst of making my resolutions and goals, I’ve chosen a word of the year. In 2013, my word was “grow” (because, you know, pregnancy). In 2012, it was “abide.” I’m fairly confident I had a word for 2011, but I can’t remember what it was now, which is almost embarrassing.  But I’ve never really done much with my words (beside, you know, having a baby) until this year.

My One Little Word for 2014 was “free.” When I started thinking about my 2015 word, I realized that I still had quite a lot to say about free and what it’s meant to me. First: the backstory. Because we can’t know where we are until we understand where we’ve been.

I got in trouble 3 times during my school career. One time in first grade, I had to move my card from green to yellow for talking to Lindsay Pikos, who sat in the desk to my left. In third grade, I called Jake Schwartz a cry baby and my progress report stated that I “needed improvement” in demonstrating respect to my classmates. Later that year, I was embarrassed about something I had done and lied to my mom about the circumstances, blaming it on the teachers who were supervising, and ended up writing apology letters to the principal and the group of teachers I had accused.

When I think back on these three stories (which I recall in almost excruciating detail, replaying them like a movie in my mind), I feel nauseous. All these years later, these very minor infractions make me feel so guilty that I actually want to throw up.

If you talked to me in middle or high school, I would have repeated the church answer I heard growing up: Christianity is not about religion; it’s about a relationship. Yet it was very much a religion to me: a set of rules and rights and wrongs and behaviors to engage in or not engage in so that people would love me and I would get to heaven. I was not in love with Jesus, but I was terrified of hell and not earning the approval of others. So, those times I messed up? Wrecked me.

That pattern continued into adulthood: a desperate clinging to the rules, to accomplishments, and to accolades as a manner of securing the approval of man and the approval of God.

I came to a point that when I looked around at the end of most days, I felt liked a failure. I failed to do enough cleaning or enough work. I failed to respond appropriately in a conversation with a friend. I failed to spend enough time in the Word or in prayer. I failed to cook well-balanced meal for my family. I failed to spend enough time with Ian. I failed to publish a blog post and failed to write much of anything at all. The dishes remained piled in the sink and the appointments left unmade. Failure all around.

My poor husband was left bewildered by all this–at the end of the day (many more days than I care to admit), he would hold me and hug me while I cried, trying to assure me that I had done enough and been enough for one 24 hour period. Yet, I couldn’t believe him. “Who said you have to do all these things?” he would ask. “No one,” I would sheepishly reply, “but that’s not the point.”

I couldn’t justify or explain why I felt this way, but I knew that it was perfectionism at it’s finest. My pursuit of perfect was suffocating me, sucking the joy out of life, and making it incredibly difficult for me to connect with my husband and with my friends and with God.

So you see?

Freedom is hardly a concept I’ve resonated with.