07 August 2010

my mount moriah

It's been awhile, my friends. We each traverse such divergent paths now. Since the last post, so much has happened in each of our lives, and so much more is happening. I send this out to you with tremendous humility, knowing that each of you carries her own burdens, is the thick of her own trials, and in each a different way, is walking through her own dark night.

This is mine. I'm not going to go back and edit, because I really don't care right now how this sounds as a piece of writing. I just need to spill and be raw with you.

bathed in love & light // selfportrait by kirsten michelle (2010)

The closer we get to Ewan's birth (in less than 60 days, I'll be 40 weeks pregnant), the more nervous I am becoming. I am waiting for God's provision, and wondering just how down-the-wire it will get before He unleashes His provision. I am ready and waiting.

I feel this morning like a truck has run me over. Last night in bed, my thoughts turned to that not-so-distant point in time, in a future so near it's impossible not to think about -- Ewan's birth and the seeming madness that will follow. I cried and I wept in a soul-deep way and my face shows it this morning. I feel hung over from it. I feel as though I cannot shake this cloak of dread, no matter how lightly it touches my skin.

I mentioned it very briefly in my most recent post here, but the reality is this: if we do not have another source of income by the time Ewan arrives, I will need to return to work much sooner than taking full advantage of my leave would allow. I'm not talking about returning at eight weeks after his birth, or even six -- but two or three at the most. There is no financial way possible for us to keep our apartment, maintain our current financial obligations, and eat without both streams of income. Assuming Ewan arrives around his due date, I will have about two weeks of personal time that I can apply toward my leave, allowing me to have another full paycheck. After that point, I am eligible to apply for six weeks of disability pay at 60% of my current pay. After that, we are on our own. With bills still to pay, with a child recovering from major surgery (and all the medical bills that go with it), we still have to pay my part of our health insurance premiums ... and the list goes on. That 60% is all well and good and in different circumstances, I'm sure that would feel like a godsend. But it's not enough. It's just not enough.

The job market is dismal. James has networked in a variety of circles, he's talked to recruiters, he's had his resume revamped, he's put himself out there on job search sites. The lack of work is not for lack of trying, nor for that matter, for lack of considering options that we hadn't previously considered (everything from fishing to nursing).

Before we became pregnant, it was always our plan (and our hope, our expectation) that James would have work by the time the little bean arrived on the scene, allowing me to stay home. This was the desire of both our hearts, believing it to be God's ideal for the family and as such, our faith that God would make that possible. In the past several months, it became apparent that I'd need to return to work at least briefly to allow maintenance of our benefits. The cost of Ewan's care is likely to reach into the millions, and now is not the time to lose our benefits.

And now it's becoming apparent as we get closer and closer with still no prospects for James's employment that unless something miraculous happens between now and Ewan's birth, I will need to return before my body has had a chance to settle, while (in all likelihood) he's still in the hospital. Said simply, my heart cannot handle this. My heart absolutely CANNOT handle this. It was with enough grief that we realized me returning to work at all seemed inevitable. And now, this. This ugly reality, this double-knife to my heart.

I wonder just how much God expects me to give up, anyway? How much will he demand of my mother's heart while my firstborn lies in the NICU for weeks on end recovering from heart surgery (HEART SURGERY!!) -- am I really supposed to return to work in the thick of that? No time at home at all with my son?!!? I can never get that time back. Is that really what He wants for our family? The thought that God might be asking this of us puts me so far beyond angry and resentful. I am positively furious, in fact, if this is what God is asking us to do.

It made me think of Abraham and Isaac, God asking him to sacrifice his own son, the evidence of the fulfillment of God's promise to an aged man and his wife. Isaac was a miracle, and more than that, he was a promise: many descendants will come from this son. But descendants don't come from a corpse.

I wonder what Abraham went through emotionally when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac -- to take him up Mt Moriah and hold the knife over him. I can imagine a litany of objections rising in his mind instantly, a host of questions. We're told that he reasoned God was able to raise the dead, and so he obeyed.

I wish it was as simple as all that for me. I wish I could reason that way. I want to have the faith, to trust that our needs will be provided for -- but I also am aware of the reality that some kind of plan needs to be in place before this birth happens -- something needs to be in place so we don't get swept up and lost in the chaos of it, so we don't find ourselves facing mounting expenses with no idea as to how to pay them.

I wonder how long I'll have to hold that knife, how close it will have to get to piercing the skin of those I love most in this world before God will stay my hand.

Or will He? Will He stay my hand? I guess that is the real question I have, the real bone I have to pick.

So many other family things are going on the midst of this, too -- Peder and Annie moving away just in time to miss the birth of this child (I know this is not meant to be intentionally hurtful and I know it has nothing to do with us specifically, but I don't mind telling you since I've already told them: the timing totally, completely, and in all respects stinks), and others in my immediate family are each in their own dire places. It's too much. I find myself falling apart already, and really ... we haven't even gotten to the hard part yet.

And so I put this out here in our collective space -- it has acquired some dust I see, but I know you are still here. I appreciate you reading this when I know each of you is in the thick of her own pain, climbing your own mountains and I'm sure, holding knives of your own. We've found encouragement and strength in the collective before -- just like the three who faced Nebuchadnezzer's flames did. I'm hoping maybe we can find that again.

28 July 2009

miss you*


I just do.

I love these girls.

02 February 2009

consider this

Since I saw this, I've been wondering:
In what ways might grace bring about contentment?

cup of grace, canon 40d

24 December 2008

an answer in winter

Greetings, my lovelies!! I know it's Christmas Eve and it may be awhile before you get a chance to see this, but the month of December was looking rather lonely on this blog of ours. I don't have much to say, but there is something I wanted to share with you.

As much as I don't love how the snow impedes my ability to go about my life as I normally do, it somehow allows me a creative focus above and beyond what I typically possess. The following poem is a fruit of such a time this last week. I still consider it a working draft and have not yet discovered its title, but am still fairly pleased with this current incarnation.

Merry Christmas, my loves!! Hugs and warmth to you.

* * * * *

but for the hiss of snow
melting on my cheeks,
but for the fog of breath
exhaling from my lungs,
a gust of steam in the frozen air.

All is calm.

The landscape is thrown into sharp relief;
hues of brown, green, and blue
each look as black as the other
taking on the weight of white.

All is bright.

I look up:
crowned with the weight of snow
the tops of evergreens bend,
bowing earthward
like magi at the nativity.

18 November 2008


You know how sometimes you think and think and think on something and in the end you still can't quite see it because...well, because you can't SEE it? That's how I feel, like it's time to make all of this more real. So here it is.

I'm beginning to wonder if God has more for me than just writing.

At the end of last week, I spoke to a group of undergrad girls about grief and loss. Not the most...um...winsome of topics and kind of a long story about how I got there speaking on that, but overall a positive experience nonetheless. Usually I start shaking when I speak, and I didn't. Usually I care a lot about how I came across, and I didn't. Usually I feel a deep responsibility that the people I'm talking to really get what I'm trying to say, but this time I felt like I could speak the words I had and let them be received however and leave knowing that I'd done my job. Overall, it was really, really cool.

After that experience, though, I couldn't deny some of the thoughts that have been creeping up on me since I started thinking about this whole writing thing seriously. The thing I keep coming back to is this: I won't be happy just putting words on paper.

For me, the writing that's most life-giving isn't about me putting words on paper. It's not even about me being creative, though I love the fact that I get to be creative when I write. It's about communication, about getting to give other people ideas in ways that might help them see what's true. It's about giving love and grace and growth to hearts that need it. It's about synthesis and packaging things differently than they've been done before and making metaphors that lead others to a deeper understanding. I LOVE writing those things, and I really don't love writing much else. Now, I have a pretty broad understanding of those things I love, but there are still definitely categories of things that don't fit.

And the thing is, speaking to those girls the other day led to similar feelings. It wasn't the same as writing, but I left that small auditorium feeling more full and content and satisfied than I feel when I think about writing articles I don't care about or advertising copy that's supposed to get people to spend their money whether they have it or not.

So I'm beginning to wonder about speaking, about leading retreats and small groups in addition to my writing, about how that would look and how I'd ever get something like that started.

The truth is, I've been resisting some of the parts of the writing career I keep saying I want. I keep wondering why I'm not querying as many editors as I can or approaching more companies about hiring me as a copywriter. And the answer to those wonders seems to be that my heart feels like going after those things would still sell it short. If I'm going to go after my dreams, it says, why not go all out? Why stop at being self-employed when there's really more that I want to do?

"Money," is the first thing that comes to mind, for a lot of different reasons. There's a lot in there--validation, success, and the fact that I can spend more time writing if I can make a living at it, for starters. And there's some truth to that--money is some indication of how many people I'm reaching and how deeply they're being reached. At the same time, I have a decent job that doesn't usually stress me to my limits. If there's a better place to start something when you're not sure where the money will come from, I don't know of one. And money is just money...making more of it doing something that doesn't make me happy won't in itself make me happy.

And then there's the desire to not be pigeon-holed as a Christian. I mean, I am a Christian and I don't mind people knowing that, but I think that I have things to say that can touch non-Christian people as well, and maybe even lead them to a relationship with Christ. I want to be able to say those things and be heard, not stuck in a corner with the other Christians. Many of the things I want to say are Christian-ish or Christian-ly but they don't all apply just to Christians, and I really don't want to wrap myself up in the Christian box and tape down the lid.

And it all sounds so hard. If what I can almost see is really where I'm going, it's quite a trek to get there. Really? That mountain? Are you sure? Because the little foothill I was thinking about before seems plenty big for me. I fear I'll only get halfway, that I'll wander around and get distracted and lost, or that I just won't be up to it and will have to come down in defeat. I wonder if God remembers who he's dealing with here, who she is and what she can do and what she's good at. And part of me dreads the journey. I don't like being wet and cold and stumbling over boulders any more than the next person.

All my mind can do in response to these new thoughts is to generate questions. What does this all mean? Is the call to forego some of the "easier" ways to make money as a writer and put myself fully into this...whatever it is? Does it mean (and this is scary!) that the call isn't just to be a writer but to start a ministry? How do you even DO that? What would all of this do to the timing I want and what would it mean for Dave and the future and everything else? And how long is it going to take me to figure this all out, already?

And thus I'm in a swirl...excited and scared and hopeful and confused, all at once. I feel like I can't even look at it straight-on yet, like I'm seeing something out of the corner of my eye that would be fantastic if it all worked out but I'm not quite ready to give myself to it. Sure, I don't have to figure it all out right now, but I want to. I've gone haring down so many paths in the last couple of years and I'm ready for the one that's really mine. It kind of sucks to feel such intense fear of and desire for something; then again, maybe that's just part of the process.

12 November 2008

the grateful ache

Sometimes my lungs can't find enough air. Sometimes it feels like half of my heart stopped working.

As the days between today and my move venture further from distant future and closer toward imminent reality, as my state of health continues to be volatile and unpredictable, and as I attune myself to interior shifts in my own heart, I've felt increasingly like I just want to give up. I want to take a big cloak of black by the corners, tuck my knees and my chin in toward my chest, cover myself, and be done. No more trying, no more fighting just to keep my head above water. Just stopping, sinking, being swallowed by cool black water. Nothing.

Prayers and tears are simultaneous now, and have been for months. I can't remember the last time I experienced one without the other. The tension that exists between the faith I have that God is good and will deliver on His promises and the overwhelming feeling that He's holding out on me is almost too much. I wonder how much further that tension can be pulled. I've prayed and wondered aloud if God is taking things from me in order to prepare me for future blessing. I'm scared to examine this hope too closely for fear that it will prove false and send me reeling. So I drop it from my hand, wiping my palm brusquely to remove any trace evidence that I held that thought at all.

I feel trapped. I know God too well to doubt His reality and His active presence, but in my own worldly estimation of this situation, I can't see that He's up to much at all. On the days these thoughts and feelings are at the height of their poignancy, I cover myself in layers of numbness so that it does not look like I'm falling apart.

But I still pray. I return to prayers of deliverance from time to time, even though I have little hope they will receive the answer I desire most. I've been asking for what I can see of Him in this place, what I can learn, knowing that these things may not be evident until there is a span of some physical, emotional, and chronological distance between a then I cannot envision and the now that threatens to cripple my heart.

My prayers have gotten a bit crazier, and perhaps what I'm about to share is evidence that my sanity is something less than intact. I've been thanking Him for these things. Opening my hands and asking to learn contentment. I'm thanking Him that though I feel shredded now, He can and will use this. I'm thanking Him because this wouldn't be happening if it wasn't for my own good and for the good of His kingdom. I'm thanking Him because He's present and because I believe Jesus knows exactly what this feels like. I'm thanking Him for how this is shaping me, even though I feel like an amorphous blob right now.

There are a lot of tears with these prayers. The words catch in my throat; I can barely think them without my eyes becoming red-rimmed and wet. But I don't know what else to do. He's not changing the circumstances, so I'm asking Him to change me.

Have mercy, Lord Jesus.

12 October 2008

God in the Launching, in the Leaping, and in the Landing

For a little while now, I've been experiencing an interior shift that I can't quite name except to say that it feels like a gentle nudge to move from a posture of primary preoccupation with myself toward one of giving, offering, and pouring out for the benefit of others. Things I once thought I'd never live without, such as the chronicling of daily life and interior growth on my personal blog, have become less urgent while an awareness of impending participation in the greater mission of Christ has intensified.

As this sense has percolated the past several weeks, I've been content to simply notice its arrival and prepare myself to receive the change it carries. I have felt no need to clutch stubbornly to the way things have always been, and I have felt ready to receive what is new. Slowly, impressions began to form about what those changes could be. Opportunities began to present themselves. Much of this was open-ended and preliminary, and I found myself in a posture of prayer and thoughtfulness about what could eventually emerge.

Then, about a week ago, I found myself feeling confused, frightened, and alone. I found myself feeling small, helpless, and certain of failure. I sat in bed and told Kirk just how little I knew to do. I cried a lot of tears.

The next morning, I met with my spiritual director. I told her I wanted to explore this shift taking place in me and why I had begun to feel so scared and alone in it, when it had been growing quietly and painlessly for weeks. Why had my stress level spiked?

We talked about my experience of God in these places. I felt confident that God was in the nudging, in the preparing of me for this shift in posture, in the ushering in of something new . . . but in the decision-making and the planning and the moving forward, I couldn't sense him at all. I found myself believing he had left me alone to figure it out and make everything come to life. I found myself believing he expected me to get there on my own.

As K. and I kept talking, I discovered this is actually a familiar pattern. I could recall several transition points in my life that I attributed to God's sanctifying work, a prompting toward his intentional growth for my life. I embraced these movements of God in my spirit . . . and then proceeded to "work out" that sanctification process in my own power. When I involved him in the process, it was primarily as though reporting to a figurehead: him a superior to whom I told where I had been and what I had done in the accomplishment of the operation, as though defending just uses of resources given to me and the utilization of my own strong mind and constitution.

K. asked, as she often does, if I could recall a similar circumstance in my history of life experience. Had I ever been entrusted with responsibility and then left alone to carry it out?

While I knew there was likely more than one occasion in which this had happened, one in particular kept presenting itself at the forefront of my mind. In that instance, I'd accepted the responsibility to care for a situation without fully understanding what that responsibility required. In that instance, things got out of control and I was alone in trying to handle it. In that instance, I failed to keep the situation stable, there were dire outcomes, and I was held responsible. In that instance, the situation warranted greater strength than I actually carried, yet I was still entrusted to have been adequately equipped to handle it.

The challenge for me was then discerning where God was when all that happened. I went back into that moment and tried to get a sense of God's presence there. Where was he, and what was he doing? Why did he leave me there? Why did he let that happen?

In my mind's eye, I could see him sitting there with me in the aftermath, listening as I received the reprimand. I could see him nodding at me, telling me he understood the situation was unjust. And yet he did not intervene. He let things crumble around me and did nothing to save it. He let me take the fall and didn't put the truth in place. I carried the burden alone. God didn't lift a finger.

How could I trust he would lift a finger now?

I had to face God's passivity in that moment, and so I let him have it. Why didn't he rescue me that night? Why did he let that burden get handed to me at all? Didn't he see what became of it, how many lies I believed about myself and the rest of the world after that, how many years I believed everything would fall apart if I didn't hold everything together and do everything right?

Maybe we only serve a passive God, a God who spins circumstances into motion and then lets us deal with the rest.

I sat in K.'s living room with my eyes squeezed shut that morning, tears streaming down my face and my thoughts racing with anger and sadness, wondering what God could possibly say to me, wondering if he could possibly say anything at all that would begin to help me understand, that would begin to make anything better.

And slowly, like an onion, I felt him unraveling the cloth strips that were wrapped around my head, covering my eyes, the cause of blindness. Slowly, slowly, he unwrapped them in order to let me see. The weight of the cloths began to fall away. Dots of light began to shimmer on my eyelids. And quietly, gently, I heard him say to me: "My daughter, it is true. I did allow that to happen. I was there, and I did not lift my finger. But you see, I had a greater scope in mind. I saw a vision beyond the story you could see. There is the greater story of your life, and how I've planned to use you. Because of what you've carried, you can come alongside those who also carry these burdens. You can touch them, because you know how they feel. You know what it feels like to be where they are."

It isn't that God was absent. It isn't that he was uncaring. It's that he had a different aim in mind entirely.

In light of this revelation, K. is helping me see that perhaps now, too, I am not alone in what is coming. God does not prepare me for a great leap and then go back to his comfortable house while I make a jump for my life. He is here, the whole way, with me. He will be working his purposes in ways only he can know, in ways that may never be revealed in my lifetime.

As I prepare to take a jump into a whole new realm of being right now, I don't have to figure it all out ahead of time, in order to guard against failure or devastating outcomes. It is not all up to me. I am not alone in this. I can trust that he is with me not just in this preparation to launch, but also as I actually leap across the giant chasm, and eventually as I land on the other side.

Here's to the leaping, hand in hand with God, not having to do it perfectly, not having to do it alone.

07 October 2008

The Plague of Self-Doubt

It would make me angry, the way so many women doubt themselves, except that every time those feelings rise I think, "But is that right, I wonder? Maybe I just see that pattern because I want to see it." Soon my anger's vigor gets swallowed up by that giant sea of uncertainty and I don't say anything.

I've doubted myself for as long as I can remember. I don't pretend to know why, but I do know that self-doubt seems endemic among the women I know. Even the strong, secure, safe ones look at themselves from time to time and say, "Or...well...I don't know." Almost every serious conversation I have with another woman entails some degree of wavering about our perceptions, our feelings, or how we interpret the world in general. I don't even know if this is truly a woman's problem or if I don't hear it in men because it comes out differently.

But I do know a few things.

The ideals of femininity expressed among today's evangelical Christians often reflects values more medieval (or victorian...some of them strike me as exceedingly victorian) than biblical. I don't want to go through the list of "feminine characteristics" here, though I'll allude to a few later on, as examples. It seems sufficient today that most christian girls grow up with an image of what it means to be a christian woman, and they feel like they never attain it.

This seems even worse when girls are influenced by contemporary society. Girls get one message at church, another at school, and sometimes even another at home. What it means to be a woman who loves God fiercely and is willing to work and fight for Him isn't clear. There's not one mold, but several, and what fits in one doesn't fit in the others. What a ripe place for confusion!

Doubt seems to help us walk the lines between the molds. Instead of heeding the call to war and girding our loins to fight the enemy in our own ways if we're so called, many women walk around the house wondering if the desire to go is good or bad. In the end, we don't go because that debate is never over, and in staying home we meet the expectations of the Christians around us. While we don't stay for the right reasons, it's the staying that's important and no one sees the restlessness in our hearts. At the same time, having had the desire to fight and wrestled with it can please a more contemporary mold. We thought about taking our place in the lines, but golly, the fighting was over before we could get there.

Along similar lines to the ones above, self-doubt makes life easier. If we're not sure what to do, self-doubt lets us stick with the status quo. If I'm unsure that God is calling me somewhere that I'd like to go but that is more risky than where I am now, then I don't have to step into that until I'm sure. If I'm never sure, well, then I never have to change. Since following a calling like that often means fighting some non-biblical images of what Christians think a woman should be, and that can be an incredibly hard fight, it might just be easier to remain unsure.

Maybe it's also easier to live unfulfilled lives if we have the reason (excuse?) of not being sure what to do. Dreams are powerful things. They can change the world, if we give them a chance and follow where God leads. They're fulfilling, but they're also dangerous. And, as christian women, we're pretty much taught to avoid danger. So sometimes we face the dillemma of breaking the mold and facing censure for that, or living unfulfilled lives. Maybe having doubt about the call or the dream makes the unfulfillment more palatable, because we're not sure we should have been fulfilled in the first place.

As you think about these things, please know that there are several things I'm not saying here.

I'm not saying that every woman needs to break the mold. If a woman's life is within the mold and she's happy, then I'm happy for her. She's fulfilling God's call on her life--what more could I want for her? On the other hand, I hear more and more frustration about these things. There are enough women wanting to somehow, please, find a new mold, that it seems worth writing these things for them (...for me).

I'm also not advocating a reckless lifestyle or living without discernment. God's voice can be hard to hear, particularly when our own souls make such a racket that we couldn't hear him if he yelled. It's definitely worth it to take the time to hear his heart before we move forward.

Finally, I'm not pretending to know every heart. I'm sure there are a million reasons to doubt oneself, and if these don't fit for you, let me know what does. In fact, I feel more like I'm raising questions than offering answers. Why do women feel this way? Why do we hesitate, hold back and shuffle our feet in the name of uncertainty?

So, friends, women of God, what do you think? Why do we doubt? Because I haven't just heard this from women at large, but from our own mouths. I heard it as we sat around sharing our stories in the middle of the night, as we shared coffee, and as we talk on the phone. It breaks my heart to hear some of the most gifted, beautiful, amazing women I know doubt themselves and their ability to hear God. I want to love others in the name of Jesus as I'm called, and I know you girls do, too. So why does this hold us back? Any thoughts?

03 October 2008

"the seduction of safety"

Note: I thank you for continuing to respect my request not to offer advice or proffer solutions regarding the decision I have to make. I love you girls so much!

I can't get those words out of my head. They are haunting to me.

You may remember them from the John O'Donahue poem that Christianne shared here. I can't get them out of my head because I know they matter for me now. I imagine they will keep swirling through my heart and brain over the 27 days in which I have to make a big decision about how my life will change.

I'm vacillating somewhere between reasonable certainty and paralytic ambiguity when it comes to the choice before me. But in the midst of all the confusion, there is something that is crystal clear to me: whatever choice I make, I'm not going to be unequivocally sure that I made the right or best choice. I'm wondering if this is one of those times where God says: it's choose your own adventure time, and I'm going to bless whichever path you choose.

But I don't even know that for sure.

No matter what I choose, there's not necessarily any safety waiting for me. Going will be an adventure; staying will be one in its own right also. Neither will be particuarly safe. Each path comes with its own share of hazards that I will be responsible for managing.

Something else I'm sure of is that if I should become lulled into a half-conscious state by something that is safe and comfortable, but not where He's going -- if the path I take is going in the opposite direction of where God is headed -- He has a way of turning that around. I think of Paul on the road to Damascus and Jonah in the belly of the whale. Neither of those methods of grabbing my attention seems particularly gentle, and I do want to be attentive to His desires for me. With so many layers of uncertainty, I'm just not sure if there is a "correct" direction and if so, which one it is.

But somehow I know that wherever I end up is where I need to be. Maybe all I can do is embrace the adventure and watch as the world unfolds as new before me.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life's desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.


26 September 2008

treading on mystery

building an ark when there's never even been a drop of rain

going out without a destination in mind

holding a knife against the throat of the life that was promised to you

leaving a life of privilege for one of perceived disgrace

stepping into the flames

offering praise in the lion's den

"This is what the ancients were commended for."
Hebrews 11:2