where else would I go?

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I feel like it is my duty to show you this picture.

I’ve been a journaler since I could write legibly, and I have the elementary pre-teen angst journals to prove it. They’re mostly filled with elaborate stories about boys I liked and American Girl dolls I wanted, but in between all the elementary crazy, there’s a question or two tucked in those pages about the meaning of life and spiritual curiosity. We grew up going to church on occasion, and we always showed up for the big holidays, Christmas and Easter. We dressed in our best, sang carols, and read the story of baby Jesus coming into the world as a yearly tradition.

Ever since I was a little kid, I loved learning about this big, infinite God who created everything there ever was. In my little eyes—I could never get enough of him. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to know God. I’ve been curious about what God had to do with the human existence, if anything at all. As a fourth grader, I can remember being up late at night wondering if life had meaning, if any of this was real, and if the way I saw the color red was the same way someone else saw the color red. I was a spunky, philosophical little thing, asking adults questions like, “Do you think God exists?” as icebreakers to conversation.

During my middle school years, a family friend invited some of us to attend church with them one weekend. I’d never heard of a “Christian” church before, and coming from a very mainline Protestant background–those evangelical-types always seemed a little funny to me. It was everything I didn’t recognize or understand; people were dressed in jeans and approaching God like a familiar friend instead of a frightening man in the sky. I envied the way they spoke of God, as if they are referring to someone they’d just been with that morning, and I wanted to know if I could have access to a God like that.

When the worship leader got up to lead us in music, everyone all around me started singing right out loud, which was startling at first. A few raised their hands, some sang while sitting, and a small crowd quietly hummed to themselves. Because I loved music, I sang along with them, and wondered if the God they were all singing to could hear me, too.

I don’t remember anything about the sermon that day, but I do recall picking up a Bible for myself that morning and reading it with my own eyes. The first thing I read was in Romans 10:11-13, “For the scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” I couldn’t stop reading. I took a Bible home with me that morning and poured over its pages for the next several weeks.

I met Jesus that year.

I was in seventh grade, and seventh grade is a particularly cruel time in anyone’s life—much less a girl’s. Seventh grade was a hard year for me for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because in lots of ways, I felt like I was losing my sense of home. Although my parents tried their best to maintain stability through the divorce (and I can never thank them enough for that), there was an inevitable piece that always felt broken and torn, no matter how much we wanted to put it back together. I had two addresses instead of one, different closets, different school busses—all kinds of different, really, and I had the zits to prove it.

But there on that Sunday morning, Jesus became my home. And every time I come to write, I come back to that truth—that there in my awkward years of wearing leopard-print pants with clogs (true story), Jesus met me. It was a naïve and simple faith, but it was Jesus all the same.

I’ve grown since then. My understanding of who Jesus is has continued to change and evolve, my perspective of God is bigger and richer, and in many ways harder and more complex. I don’t believe there’s a simple answer to everything anymore and there are days I actually long for the simple faith of my youth. But even still–even in the midst of my existential wandering, questions, and doubts, every time I come back to the Word, he is there, reminding me. Jesus is my home.

As I prepare my heart for Advent this year, I’m reminded of the picture at the end of John 6 when Jesus is talking to his disciples. At that point, many of his followers had decided he was no longer worth following, and Jesus says to them, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” And Peter replies, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I relate so much to Peter in this exchange–as I continue to grow and pursue God, I’ve watched people walk away from Jesus or just quietly drift into a faithless sleep. And I’ve drifted, too, of course–I’ve been in and out of a vibrant faith, sometimes even crawling my way back to trusting and believing God. But Peter’s words to Jesus touch me. When the uncertainty or pain of life feels like it might swallow me whole, I am just like Peter, saying, “Where else would I go, Lord? You are my home.”

During this Advent season, it has not escaped me that regardless of our circumstances, or no matter how far away God feels sometimes, he is not like our feelings. He is so much more, so much bigger. We can have as much of God as we want, and he withholds no good thing from us. 

My husband and son, reading Unwrapping The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
My husband and son, reading Unwrapping The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

my word for the week: mundane

my word for the week: mundane

This week, I’m joining my friend Charity from my writing group, Plume, in her space. Charity is one of the most encouraging people I know. A mutual friend describes her as “the kindest person anyone knows,” and I’ve found it to be more than true. So when she offered the opportunity to write a post in her guest series “In Your Own Words,” I was thrilled. I’m honored to be there today. Here’s an excerpt:

Before those years of chaos, I associated mundane with dull. I thought that an adventurous life meant seeking the next thing, running and chasing for more. I didn’t know that the thing that would give us more, what we needed so badly, was to make space for the mundane. I’m learning that when my soul starts itching for more, it’s not more that I usually need. I’m finding that my itch for more is usually an alarm that I need to wake up and see what’s actually right in front of me. Our marriage didn’t need more money, more activities, or more stuff; we needed space to live in the mundane together. I didn’t realize that God wanted to speak to me in the mundane rhythms of my day if only I would make time to listen.

You can read the rest here.

why I’m quiet about my messed up story

why I’m quiet about my messed up story

This past week, my close friend and mentor Kelli wrote an article for Today’s Christian Woman entitled “Your Messed Up Story.” When she originally asked a few us of to consider being interviewed for it, I was in a particularly busy season of life and at first denied the request. Not because I didn’t want to, but I just didn’t have time. But the more I thought about it, I couldn’t put her article out of my mind—mostly because of a promise I made in recovery years ago: I wasn’t going to be defined by my mess, but if there ever came an appropriate time to talk about it and give God glory through it, I would.

Bulimia nervosa is defined as an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging, or consuming a large amount of food in a short amount of time followed by an attempt to get rid of it. I started binging and purging when I was 17, during my senior year of high school. I had started gaining weight due to a back injury from cheerleading, and with a serious shift in metabolism, and I started feeling really out of control. There were a lot of other spiraling circumstances during that time of my life; my body was just one of them. But for whatever reason, I was hyper-focused on my body, and pretty soon I was in over my head. During my freshman year of college, I backed off a bit—making promises to myself that was “my last time.” But you can’t really talk yourself out of a disorder, so by the time summer came, I was back into the routine, and binging and purging had become a “normal” part of my life.

The irony of all of this (besides the obvious) was that I was a biblical studies & ministry major at college, and a ministry intern at a non-profit (and later a church). I feared if I told anyone I would be seen differently and “unfit for ministry,” although I know now that I could have been honest–back then, I was living in a state of anxiety and paranoia. Perhaps what’s most frightening about the whole thing was my ability to hide and pretend. When people asked about my rapid weight loss, I had answers ready. “I’ve been working out,” (total lie) “I’ve been watching what I eat” (kind of the opposite, actually), etc. Perhaps my ability to lie was the scariest part of it all—I was in a giant web and felt like anyone close to me would have walked away had I been honest. How could anyone trust me after I had been so deceptive? I was ministering to teenage girls while I was suffering from an eating disorder, and who would ever hire (or listen to) someone like that?

To sum it up: throughout the next year I was broken in a thousand ways—sharing my struggle with close friends and my then boyfriend (now husband), confessing to my parents, and going through a year of counseling. Oh, and did I mention? I was a resident assistant for our dorm on our Christian campus that year, too, so while I was counseling others and leading them in weekly Bible study, I was going through my own personal hell. Looking back, it would have been more honest to give myself a leadership break, but I didn’t because I felt a compulsion to not let everyone know what a real and serious mess I was.

It’s been seven years since then, and I’m fully recovered. One would think that after the hard work of recovery, I would have no problem sharing my story and giving God the credit for all the ways I’ve been healed—emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But when Kelli’s article released on Thursday, my first reaction was panic. I said to my husband, “Oh… crap.” When he asked what was wrong, I responded, “Oh, well—nothing. Kelli interviewed me for this article and I was really honest and now I kind of regret it.” After reading it, Kyle said, “Wait, why do you regret it? It’s the truth.” “I know,” I said, “But now people will actually know I’m kind of a hot mess.”

“But isn’t that the point?”

Husbands, I tell you.

I don’t talk much about my eating disorder and recovery because—here’s the embarrassing truth—I don’t like how it makes me sound. It makes me feel like a crazy person, or that I’ll be perceived as one, even though I never have perceived anyone else with an eating disorder as crazy. So I’m quiet about it because it’s not really a conversation starter, and I mostly just want to manage the way I’m perceived by telling you all the lovely things about me, first. Which is actually just gross. But I think that’s how all of us are when it comes to our sin, mess, and baggage. We don’t bring it out into the light not just because we’re ashamed of it, or because we don’t believe God can use it, but because—frankly—we’re worried about people’s perceptions. What will people think if they know __________? It sounds so elementary, right? How can we be adults and still be trying to manage people’s perceptions?

What I found on the other side of confession was that no one—not a single person—was as hard on me as I was on myself. And I was met with grace. So much grace. As Kelli so eloquently wrote, “Sharing not just our ‘before and after’ stories but also our ‘in the middle of it’ realities points others not toward ourselves but instead toward the Cross—toward the redemption and grace that saved us and keeps on saving us.” Yes, it would be easier if God took a big magic wand and waved it over this part of my story. He hasn’t. But he continues to save me every day, in the bathroom, at a restaurant, in my kitchen, and in the mirror … directing me back towards someone so much bigger: Jesus. So I should be over perception management and striving for perfection because that’s kind of the entire point: Jesus is perfect and I can never be. So there you have it: I’m kind of a big hot mess and saved by the only One who has ever been perfect—and I continue to be rescued from the darkness that lives inside of all of us.

making room for two

Did I ever tell you about our full-size mattress?

Yes, that’s right. We spent the first four years of our marriage sharing a 20-year-old full-size mattress. Kyle is over 6’ tall. It was stupid, but we didn’t know you could—you know—save and buy a new mattress, so for years we tossed and turned on a little full-size mattress because it seemed good enough and we didn’t really consider doing anything different.

Then we realized (as most grown-ups do) that if we saved a bit every month, we could save long enough to buy our own mattress—and behold, a queen mattress at that! The night we bought it, we slept almost eight hours straight, and were both totally baffled that such a thing was possible.

Is it totally weird that I started this whole thing off with an illustration about our bed?

Sorry.

Now that you’re good and uncomfortable, I’ll tell you that when Kyle and I got engaged over five years ago, we were asking questions and wrestling with decisions that were a lot like fitting two grown adults (and sometimes a dog) onto a full-size mattress. Whose work should we follow? Where should we live? What was God calling us to? In the fall of 2009, we decided to move to Indianapolis—my hometown—because we believed God had given me the opportunity to do what I really loved: minister to middle and high school students and serve the local church. It was a risk for Kyle, because he moved with no job prospects or connections, but he still made a (pretty huge) sacrificial decision for me.

That first year was full of complex questions, crappy part-time jobs, and late night conversations. We wrestled a lot over calling and giftedness, questioning if we had made the wrong decision. We also prayed. A lot. Near the end of that year, Kyle was offered a full-time job that he now loves. And over the past four years, I’ve watched him completely come alive and spill over with passion. But I’d be leaving out a big part of this story if I didn’t tell you that over the last 15 months we’ve found ourselves in familiar territory … full of late night conversations about calling and work, and now there’s a beautiful, little person added in the mix.

If you know me personally, it won’t be a surprise to hear that of the two of us, my personality can be a little on the—what’s the word—commanding side. Up until recently, one of my top five strengths in Strengths Finder was “command.” (I retook it this past fall and all but one and changed. Apparently I am very affected by circumstances.) I push, hustle, and strive. I jump first and think later. I say “yes” without considering the implications on our family life and often find myself with ten too many things on one plate. And it usually lands us in a place of burnout and exhaustion.

So when we had our son and our priorities started shifting and shuffling, we found ourselves a little tangled up in logistics. I was striving again, trying to push forward and do everything and then some, because—you know—that’s what I do! I thought because I was “only” working 20 hours a week that I needed to “fill in” all the other hours with more, more, and more. More accomplishing! More doing! More pushing! We can make this work. I can raise a baby, take care of a house, love a family, work, cook meals, volunteer everywhere, lead a small group, be friends with everyone, get to know all my neighbors, read every book in sight, speak in hyperbole and save the world, yeah?

No. 

I’m trying to say that word out loud a little more, just as practice. Can you hear me hesitantly whispering it? “No… okay maybe! No… no, I can’t, wait, yes I can! No, I so wish I could, but I can’t right now.”

My intentions are good. Almost always. I mean well, of course, and say yes for the right reasons. But I often fail to see that making room for two callings means both people have to say no sometimes when they would otherwise say yes. How many times did Kyle say no to what he wanted or needed in our early days of ministry together? So many. The weeks he went to middle school camp with me, sacrificing time to research, prepare, or rest … the weekends he spent helping me prepare sermons, or came early to help me set up or tear down … the nights he opened our home to people when he was–frankly–exhausted. There are too many to count, and he did it gladly. We both did. Student ministry was hard, to be sure, but it was also so rewarding and so much fun.

(Here’s proof, by the way, that we rocked out the lanyards and backpacks together.)

MS Camp 2011

Before we found out I was pregnant, we were both starting to feel the tension of two callings in one house. And when I’m completely honest, a lot of it had to do with me—overextending myself with a sinfully large view of my own capabilities. I failed to see that God was divinely preparing me for this time… to slow down, to be a mother, to make a house a home, work a little more behind the scenes, and to learn how to be a more present wife.

I’m not saying I’m giving up or bowing out. I believe motherhood and calling can go together, that positions of influence aren’t just reserved for those without logistical challenges, and that there is space for passion and child-rearing. I don’t know what it all looks like yet, but that’s for another day. I just can’t shake it, though–right now, for us personally, it’s time to make room for two callings. And up until the past year, it’s been a little crowded.

It’s been a huge identity shift, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that. But I really believe God has me here and that I have something to learn that otherwise I wouldn’t. I can see now–with a little breathing room–that the incredible gift of motherhood is preparing me for ministry in ways I never dreamed. I’m learning how to love people more deeply because I now know everyone is someone else’s child. Every person has a story, a background, a family, a mother. I knew that before, of course, but now I feel it in my bones. And I have this extraordinary little boy, and I couldn’t love him more. I get a front row seat to his growth and development, and I get to help shape and mold this tiny, fascinating person. But that has also meant I need to slow down and say no to some people and opportunities where I would otherwise say yes. Because if I say yes now, I will sacrifice too much and spend my energy in ways I can’t regenerate for the places I actually need to be.

So we’re in brand new territory again—and what’s in front of me now is huge: a home I get to make a place of respite and joy, a son I get to raise, and a husband I get to support and love. And I’m so grateful for Jesus—who in every season so patiently unearths the prideful parts of me that seek status over His kingdom. I’m thankful for a God who graciously calls me to surrender my will and my pride, and now it’s time to make room for two.

what i’m listening to, watching, and reading | march & april

Spring took a really long time to emerge this year, and I will be the first to say that wow, I was struggling. If I saw snow one more day, the suitcases were coming out. I have always loved cold weather and seasonal change, except this year when the snow held on for dear life, I wondered if my flesh was actually going to leave an imprint on our living room walls. (I clearly do not exaggerate.) And since having a tiny person makes it harder to leave your house in the winter months, we may or may not have made a “game” out of bath time. Twice a day. But actually, we have a pass to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and our church has an unbelievable indoor park, so we took serious advantage of those things the past couple months.

As I look back on the past couple of months, I feel all kinds of grateful. While they have certainly been long and dreary, they have also been full of growth and (necessary) change. And most of it has come from what I’m listening to and reading, so I’m excited to share some of those things with you, as well. Here’s what I’ve been into the past couple of months…

Listening… The podcast rage has continued, so first up, N.T. Wright. One of his fans collected a bunch of his (free) talks/sermons and put them in podcast form. Thank you, fan, I am loving it. Also, The Art of Simple with Tsh Oxenreider. She’s taken a little break from podcasting this month, but since I recently discovered this podcast, I’ve been digging through the archives. There are lots of others I could pass along, but the simpler the better, so we’ll start there.

Watching… Only two shows are happening around these parts, Parenthood and Mad Men. It’s true, I live-tweet my heart out during Parenthood and ruin the show for people with DVR or Hulu+. Apologies all around. The season finale was this past week, which means you are now set free of my Twitter feed. (Although, I won’t be offended if you unfollow me. If it was possible, I would unfollow myself.) And to my fellow Mad Men friends, what did you think about the first episode of Season 7? I have so many thoughts but I want to wait for the next few episodes to flesh them out. I will say this: if the series ends with Don jumping off a building, I will spontaneously combust. (As a side-note: being married to a history teacher and watching Mad Men is the greatest combination. Right when the opening scene started this past week, Kyle casually whispered, “Oh okay, this is right before Nixon’s inauguration.” I’m sorry, what? He just knows everything.)

Reading… Our life group has been going through the gospel of Matthew this month, so that’s been at the top of my list and where my heart is really resting. But the reading challenge continues, and Kyle is winning by a long shot. I’m in the middle of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and he is… almost finished with my list. His self-discipline and fast-reading skills are unmatchable, so I should have known. I’m also reading Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller, Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggeman, and On Writing by Stephen King. And I should also mention here one of my new favorite cookbooks, The Kinfolk Table by Nathan Williams, which is full of unfussy, understated recipes from people all over the world.

Eating… We’ve established that I go in phases, right? Okay, so now I’m in a homemade biscuit, blueberry crisp, and sparkling water phase. All three of those things, all day every day.

Needing… Since I’ve mentioned laundry almost every time here, I will say instead that I clearly need a laundry system. Help, friends. HELP. I am open to all suggestions and will consider throwing out most of our clothes.

Feeling… Grateful for spring, the fresh air, our life group, our church family, and our back porch.

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on Lent: what do you do?

I’ll just come out and say it: this it the time of year I’m a little jealous of my liturgical friends. As an evangelical at heart (and in practice), our church doesn’t practice Lent in the traditional sense … but me? During this season of my life, I’m slowly becoming a sucker for stillness and rhythm, longing for a sense of balance and accountability.

So, I’m curious (you know I love input)–for those of you who practice Lent as a part of your church community and/or in your homes, what do you do (or not do)? What practices do you put in place during this time of year? What habits do you reevaluate or reconsider? And how do you (and your family) intentionally draw closer to Jesus?

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(That’s one of mine, by the way.)

a day late: i want to be daring

This year, I want to be daring.

I probably won’t jump out of a plane, travel the world or hike Kilimanjaro. That’s just not the kind of daring that’s calling me right now.

(Maybe when Keegan starts using the toilet. Then we’ll consider it.)

I’m interested in a whole different kind of daring these days.

About a year ago, Kyle and I read a book together that has radically changed the way we live. Sometimes we read together, it’s true. And in almost every occasion, I make it through about two pages of what his book before I exclaim in a melodramatic voice, “I JUST DON’T GET IT!” He almost always puts my book down after three paragraphs … mostly because of indifference. I love non-fiction like I love tea; give him a novel or biography about someone who’s dead and he’s set for weeks. We’ve reconciled on this–we have different taste in books. But in this particular instance, we both wanted to read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. (Sidenote: I briefly talked about her work last year and how it was changing my life and I was telling people in Target about it, and a year later I can say it has actually changed my life.)

Because see–I read her words about the power of vulnerability, being willing to fail, and letting myself be seen right before I did approximately all of those things. I applied for a new job when I was 41 weeks pregnant (people usually don’t recommend this) and I interviewed when I had slept for just one hour. Dare greatly? Willing to fail? Uh, yeah. We plopped ourselves into a new church community with a newborn and opened ourselves up, willing to be seen. Kyle started grad school and sat in a class where he admittedly felt like a kindergartener and dared so greatly by sitting in a room full of experience. I knew something wasn’t quite right in July when I was still feeling blue, so I said it right out loud and walked myself into a support group for women suffering from postpartum depression, and I’m a better mother for it. During 2013, we most certainly dared greatly.

And so this year as I look ahead, I feel ready to be daring all over again, in lots of other ways. I want to live a less scared life. I want to stop being so afraid of failure, judgment, vulnerability, being seen, and all kinds of other things that hold me back from living a wholehearted life and following Jesus fully. I want to be daring and invite people I know and trust to tell me the hard truth about myself. I want to go through the beautiful (albeit sometimes painful) process of growth and change, because I know there’s nothing sadder than someone who’s decided to stop growing. I’m going to pay attention when I’m tempted to shut down, and learn from my mistakes and failures instead of never take any risks at all.

During a class with the Influence Network a couple of weeks ago, Jessi Connelly said it this way, “There’s no such thing as a perfect mom. So if you can’t be a perfect mom, the other option is being a mom who is unwilling to admit she’s wrong.” I lost my breath for a moment thinking about all the ways I’ve seen relationships fall apart or parents shame their kids simply because of pride. Isn’t it true? Haven’t we all ruined a relationship, burned a bridge, or had to ask for forgiveness because we held on tight to pride and didn’t just say, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake?” I want to be daring and ask for forgiveness, say I’m sorry and mean it, and reconcile when I need to. I want to let other people get a word in and listen more and talk less.

In all these ways, I hope to be daring. So here’s to 2014 and another year of daring greatly.

daring