Posts filed under finding{and telling}your story

vulnerability and blogging.

I miss you writing from what's going on in your heart, the email said. I know how it is to need to sell a product so you can eat but don't neglect that part of your heart. It's endearing. 

I stared at the screen for a few minutes and then shut my laptop, the anxiety rising in my gut. 

It's a romantic notion. Noble, even. Writing your heart for others to read is probably the highest of virtues in the literary world. But how do you capture the violent ways our souls bend and crack? How do you carry well the anticipation of others without folding from the weight of their expectations? 

It used to be easy. 

Before the rent check, before the heartbreak, before the betrayals, before the lynch mobs at the ready. I didn't need to worry about upsetting anyone because my story intersected with a very small radius of people and they rarely visited this space. I could share my heart without telling you specifics and no one would ever know. 

But not now. Now there are ramifications. Now there are risks. I've seen what happens to those who are vilified. 

And so I swallow my words.

I swallow the story of hearing my voice echo across a Texas canyon, coyotes yipping back at me. I swallow the story of friendships that weren't what I thought. I swallow the weight of words thrown carelessly toward another, and the way Failure draped himself over me. I swallow the fire, the anger, the jealousy and the fear. I swallow the emails filled with hatred. I swallow the good things, too. I swallow the flash-mob dance parties and laughing until I cry. I swallow nights filled with wine and art journaling and feeling the way my soul can be known by another. I swallow clarity and purpose and the return of confidence. I swallow the loss of faith and the rush of new birth, sweaty and bloody and wobbly limbed like a day-old colt.

I swallow it all until the belly of my voice is so swollen from lethargy that I can't even whisper the most archaic thought.

Yet while I feast on the words I cannot say, I'm telling you to speak your own.

I recognize the hypocrisy here. I'm working on it. These past few years have been tumultuous at best and there were moments I wondered if I would ever return to this space. But I'm here now, with hundreds of stories waiting their moment. 

And with shaking fingers, I begin.

prostituting the sacred.

A few months ago, I received this question from a reader: What would you tell a writer who wants to write and create and be artistic but doesn't exactly know how to figure out what her specific bent is? Suppose that one is a spiritual writer, then how does one come to terms with the desire to create good content, original art (even if not artistically inclined), and be true to not just their spirituality but to her God without feeling as though one might be prostituting the gift, the call, the talent, or the sacred? 
This is my response. 

I'm thinking of Flannery O'Connor. I'm thinking of the way she captured the Southern gothic without flinching and wrote of the difficulty of finding good men, the impaired view of racism, the all-too quick way we trust others and lose our leg.

In her prayer journals, O'Connor is noted to having lived in "a deeply human world." Her fiction echoed this belief and yet, in her private pages, she begs for deeper meaning — for more stories — to get down under things and find where You are (4). It was a circle: her writing influenced her prayers, and her prayers influenced her writing. 

You ask how to be true — not only to your spirituality but also to your God. I ask, do they have to be separate? 

When I was writing Come Alive, the original draft of Every Shattered Thing, I ended it much like the books of my childhood: clean, pretty, spiritual. That particular scene was very much where I was at personally in my own working through of memories and hurts.

But it wasn't the answer for a deeply human world. I knew almost immediately I'd done wrong to the character, and when I got my rights back from the original publisher, the ending was the first thing I changed. Stephanie's reaction to Kevin is very much born out of her need for deep trust. The more I thought about it, the more I realized: even the first ending, created out of my own psyche and processing, would not hold true to how I would react had I been in Stephanie's exact position. In fact, regardless of my beliefs, I very much would turn and run. 

This is my calling: stay true to my beliefs in word and deed and show the realism of a deeply human world that longs for an even deeper hope.

I prostitute the sacred when I overstep my bounds and spell it out for my reader. I prostitute the sacred when I don't write, don't read, don't enjoy the artistry around me even though it pulses in my veins. Painting is my worship. Art journaling is my prayer. Writing is my witness.

There will be different levels of conviction for different people. For me, spirituality and God are interwoven into this mystical fabric of being. I cannot separate my thoughts from the Spirit — I cannot move away from His presence — I cannot forget about how I'm held in the darkest of nights. To cut that away from me would be to maim me irreparably. I may not write explicitly spiritual pieces of literature, but every word is irrevocably spiritual.

What I'm saying is this: you don't have to write about faith in order for your faith to be seen. 

But what is most important is that you answer this question for yourself. When do you feel as if you're prostituting the gift you've been given? When do you know you've crossed a line in which you feel uncomfortable? We all have different stories, each of them wild and begging for attention. Listen to yours. Keep your eyes on your page. 

Your Spirit will know what to say.

the itching of wings.

When we were younger, I remember climbing the couch all the way to the top and waiting for the itch in our hands to appear before leaping toward the floor. 

We liked to see how far we could fly.

We followed that itch every where. Monkey bars. Swing sets. Backyard pools and tumbling gyms. The higher, the faster, the further? The better. 

We wanted to be a ballerina for a minute. Do you remember that? We loved the way they jumped and twirled and defied gravity in so many ways. We walked into the studio clad in gym shorts and a t-shirt, saw the tights and leotards, and went running the other direction.

I felt you, though. Despite the it's okay, I didn't want to do it anyways, the pinch was there. And when we had a best friend in elementary and middle school leave for ballet class and talk about finally reaching point, we'd smile and wonder. Remember? Instead, we took to cheerleading and became the base. The spotter. We couldn't fly, but we helped every one else get there.

I think that might have been the beginning of the Great Hiding.

There were other factors too—hands in places they didn't belong and words thrown toward you at volumes you weren't meant for—but eventually, the itching went internal.

And instead of your hands reminding you where your wings should be, your heart scratched your insides and begged you to stay safe. That's when you turned to the pantry. 

You learned early on that a cookie worked better to satiate that scratching than anything else. So you ate. You ate the cookies and the tortillas and the peanut butter and the pies in the freezer. You ate the chips and the turkey and the candy bars and the chocolate milk.

And soon, you didn't even try to fly because of how heavy you felt inside.

A few years ago, someone gave you a rope. Do you remember? It was like a piece of red thread connected between here and sanity. 

The Great Hiding looked dark. Lonely. It looked like you may turn to the wallpaper for friends instead of the world outside and that's just not the way to go, you know? And you wanted the girl back—the one who would jump from things without even looking because of course she could fly. She had wings! There was itching to prove it.

That thread was the first broken belt on the strait jacket of invisibility. Nothing was satiating the scratching inside and now you knew it was because it didn't belong there. It didn't belong there and this whole time you thought your heart was working against you but really, she was just trying to get you to hear her because she was caged. 

She was caged and begging to go free.

She knows we're meant to fly.

I found the key, little one.

It's right here. I'm holding it. Are you ready? We were born to risk—to jump—to celebrate the softness of landing in our dreams. 

And today is the day the itching returns to our wings.

 

This post was part of Story Sessions' The Girls We Once Were linkup. Will you join us? 

in defense of the sharp lefts.

The summer sun shone bright through the window in our living room and I eased myself into my favorite chair. It'd been a little over 48 hours since we heard the news that the birth mom would keep her son and every muscle and joint ached as if I carried the weight of a thousand moons.

My friend watched me, a small smile curving her lips. My husband came and sat next to me and piddled with his phone. I don't remember what we were talking about, I just remember mentioning something about "not knowing what's what" and feeling disconnected from the truth I felt so attached to a week ago. 

She caught my eye then. "Do you want to talk about it?"

My face broke into a tight smile and I shrugged. "I mean, we can but I don't know what I would say. We were sure, and then we were wrong. How do I even know which way is up anymore?"

She cleared her throat. 

I pushed down the feeling overtaking my chest: the way grief could unfurl at a moment's notice wasn't new to me, but the strength of this particular strand took my breath away. I focused on the sun's rays dropping through the blinds.

Stay in the light. Stay in the light. Stay in the light. I repeated to myself like a mantra, fingering the bottom hem of my shirt as if they were beads. My friend's voice broke through the silence.

"I don't know how to even categorize this situation, because I heard things too. I believed with you. But I see you in this hallway, and God pointing toward the end saying there. Go there. And you walking toward the light, imagining your destination is so close. When you get to the end though, He says now turn left. And you're left disoriented because wasn't this the end? Wasn't this where He wanted you to go? And it was. You weren't wrong in anything you heard these past few months. He just has more for you to walk. Your ending is actually in a hallway around the corner, and in order to get there, you had to walk down this hallway first."

She shrugged. 

"Maybe that doesn't make sense. Maybe I'm talking out of my ass. That's just been a picture I haven't been able to get out of my head these past few days as I've wondered, what the hell, God?" 

This picture changed everything for me.

In a world of this just wasn't God's will and your child is out there and He takes us through these tests for a reason, my friend offered me an explanation of I don't know—but I do know He sees you.

And that made a world of difference for a faith that was hanging by a thread.

.::.

My life with my husband has always been nothing short of heading down a certain road so we can take a right and at the last minute we realize we need to take a sharp left. 

Every time.

Two years into our marriage, we thought we were moving to San Diego for community. We'd live near our friends, open up a Building 826, and I would serve as the liaison between the center and area schools. We wanted to begin a partnership with students in Haiti and students here, writing books for each other and building relationships with communities across the world. The ideas we had were monumental and beautiful and ground-shaking. I knew we'd get there. I knew we'd be involved some way. 

And then Russ lost his job, and we landed in Austin.

I remember the first night we went out after we moved here. I remember driving with the windows down and feeling the cool breeze on my arms and allowing the beauty of the hill country to completely envelop me. I remember thinking I'm on an adventure with the love of my life. 

Nothing made sense. I was the girl who said, "I would never live in Austin" and now here we were....living here and loving every second of those first few months. I was commuting an hour to and from work, he didn't have a job and was in school, and we put a majority of our groceries on credit cards but dammit if we didn't have a pathway to walk. We finally knew where we were going. 

We joined a local church community about to plant, and became worship leaders. Russ finished out school, and started looking for a job. 

And then.

Seven months into our life in a new city, we were fired from our position at the church. That Sunday, the pastors told the community it had been our choice. 

Sharp left.

We were sent reeling. New Years Eve we cried in each other's arms and kicked the door closed on a season we thought held so much promise. Within a week, we crashed into another church community and felt fed. Connected. Healed.

We got involved with inner city youth ministry. We moved into the neighborhood our church focused on for restoration. We went to Africa with ten teenagers. 

We took in an 18 year old senior who'd stolen our hearts.

And in the fall, when we looked at him and told him we were adopting from Ethiopia, he broke into a pop and lock and smiled. 

"I don't care where you guys adopt from, moms. I just want to be in charge of my little brother or sister's wardrobe."

We laughed and agreed.

Six months after that, the romantic notions we held about moving nto an area for the intent of redemption fell flat. We moved out of the home we thought we'd one day purchase and into an apartment with another couple. Our surrogate son went home with his biological mother in Arkansas. We dropped out of the Ethiopian program and found a home at a domestic agency out of Houston.

Sharp left. Sharp left. Sharp left.

And now? Three years later?

I thought I'd have a book deal. Or rather, I thought the book deal I did have would have led to other offers. I thought I would have written another book by now. I thought we'd be parents by now.

I thought a lot of things, but I wouldn't change anything.

These sharp lefts leave me breathless and sometimes produce an ache in my bones that lasts for days. But, there's not many other moments in which I feel more alive—more human. I spend my hours looking inward and relying on the Spirit to show me where to go. Where I often stumble? When I go too far. When I suppose. When I say tomorrow I will do this or ten years will mean this. 

I mean, these past few years have just about sent me over the edge with when we'd become parents. I spent every waking moment not making decisions because "one day, and surely before that time, we'll have a kid." I can't think about the opportunities I said no to out of fear or expectation. It suffocates me.

But now? Now I know: I can hope. I can dream, even. But the only thing I can do is the next step He's given me.

Sometimes, this just means a whole lotta sharp lefts. 

Posted on February 19, 2014 and filed under finding{and telling}your story.

up in smoke.

We stood at the front of the auditorium, Third Day's You Make Me Mad blaring from the speakers. 

He was singing, and I was watching with a small smile. I always had a thing for musicians. 

"You make me mad....ohhhhhhh......you make me so damn mad...."  

I startled. Laughed a little under my breath.  

"Um. I don't think those are the lyrics." I whispered. 

He shrugged. "Those are the lyrics for me."

I shrank away in disappointment, attention shifting to my friend standing next to me and the story of her latest crush. Musician boy kept singing next to me, altering lyrics as he saw fit. Every time I would wince. Every time I would commit to pray for him—for God to get a hold of him because until he was on fire I couldn't (and wouldn't) consider him a friend.

 .::.

We were on our knees in a side room at another conference.  

Twenty minutes earlier, the band sauntered on stage and in our wisdom, we turned up our noses. 

"Look at how prideful they are...."
 "They just want to entertain us—this so isn't about worship to them." 
 "Ohmigosh did you see him smiling at that girl?!"  

So we left. Two full rows of teenagers packed up our things and walked out of the concert and into a side room to pray for the souls of those on stage.

"Break their hearts, God."
 "Let them know what they're doing is wrong, Father." 
 "Move in every one else—let them see the lies—help them walk out as well." 
 "Send a revival." 

And we stayed that way for the rest of the evening, cheeks red and tear stained, knees stiff from prayer. 

.::. 

Sometimes, looking back on these memories of growing up within evangelical culture, my chest tightens. It's as if we were so on fire we couldn't breathe from the smoke.

Now that I'm out of the fog I can smell the charred remains. 

The Homecoming routine set to Steven Curtis Chapman's Saddle Up Your Horses. 
 
The thousands of people pressing against me as we waited for doors to open at a CARMAN concert.
See You at the Pole rallies.
Prayers desperate for revival and being so convinced there was a taste of it—even if only a morsel—during that worship service the last night of Disciple Now. 
It was the discipleship and mentoring group I so desperately wanted to be a part of and when I got in, felt ill-equipped to lead.
It's teenagers running down the steps at a Billy Graham crusade to lead 60-somethings through the Sinner's prayer.
It's summer mission trips to Mexico and retreats to the hill country.
It's purity cards and True Love Waits conferences and Brio subscriptions. 
It's being good and right and true and pure and checkthatbox right after you checkthisone and strive strive strive and give give give.  
It's crying in the corner of your bathroom, writing in your journal and wondering where you went wrong.

.::. 

Fires have a way of burning off the dead pieces.

What happened to so many of us was that the fire became so entangling that once complete we didn't know who we were anymore.  Lost in the fire we created, there was nothing left to do but wait out the flames. Now, standing in the ashes of faith, we're left with a bit of wonder. 

Where do we go from here?  What did it for us ten years ago sends us reeling now. We can't just host a prayer night or wait with the heavy expectancy of God showing up within an event.

Now, we rest in the vapors.  Everything else is up in smoke. 

Instead of striving, we're resting. 
Instead of checking boxes, we're allowing for blank space.
Instead of judgment, we make room for love.

We know what it's like now to feel His presence during a movie or a book or a song or a conversation with a friend. We know we can meet Him overseas, but He's also in our living room. Sometimes even in our car during commute. 

And when we least expect it, a tendril of flame licks at our hearts. But it's never consuming. It won't ever get that way again—there's nothing left to burn.  

 

This was part of Addie Zierman's When We Were On Fire Synchroblog.  Addie is a dear friend who's book, When We Were on Fire, comes out tomorrow. You need to check this one out—I'm serious. I read it in one sitting and did the whole gamut of emotions: laughed, cried, cringed. If you grew up evangelical, chances are you'll find your story within her words. 

Posted on October 14, 2013 and filed under finding{and telling}your story.