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.

it’s back: what i’m listening to, watching, and reading | february

It’s been a while, and I’ve missed doing these posts. In many ways, they serve as a reminder for me of how I’ve grown, what I’ve learned, and ways I’ve continued to change. So I’m bringing it back! Here’s what I’ve been listening to, watching, and reading this past month.

Listening… These days, it’s all about podcasts. For everything. Spiritual growth, parenting, friendship, writing, literature, family dynamics–you name it, there’s a podcast for it. When I’m home with Keegan, doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc., I’ve started listening to podcasts in the background as a way of practicing soul-care.

Watching… Parenthood took a little hiatus this month for the Olympics and so television has fallen to the wayside. Have I ever told you all about how my extended family keeps a running email dialog about The Bachelor? Well, they do, and it’s amazing (my grandmother has the best commentary of all). I tried to watch this season just to keep up, but I was so bored I fell asleep. So I’ve been watching recaps from Kristen and Sarah because they’re far more entertaining and I have a friend-crush on them both.

Reading… In case you missed it, Kyle and I are in the middle of a little reading challenge, so I started off with The Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book. And I love itAlso on my nightstand now is Song of the Exile by Karen Davenport and a couple other books for work. I confess: it’s been almost four years since I’ve read a fiction novel, which is just gross. I’m back in the groove and it feels good.

Eating… It’s true, I needed some extra incentive to lose the baby weight from Keegan. I mean–let’s just call a spade a spade, I gained 70 (!) pounds during pregnancy. It was outrageous. So I’ve been using Weight Watchers for the past six months and I love it! It helps me keep a balanced perspective when it comes to my body and lose weight in a healthy way.

Wearing… Stitchfix. I went on a purging rampage this past fall and got rid of so much stuff. And this sounds ironic, right? Like I purged everything to just buy more things? It’s actually been the opposite. I got rid of the sizes that will never fit me again, the clothes that just look ridiculous, stopped shopping clearance racks, and got rid of anything that had been sitting on a hanger for a year. If I hadn’t worn it, I said goodbye to it. Extra bonus? I consigned as much as I could and earned some extra cash. Insert Stitchfix. It really is like it sounds: a personal stylist delivered to your door. I’ve only done it a couple of times, and probably won’t for another year or so, but the items they sent me (particularly pants because wow pants and I struggle) fit so well and I wear them nonstop. If you do decide to do it, here’s my advice: be as specific as possible, use Pinterest to your advantage (the stylists look at your style board to get inspiration for what to send you), and put a realistic price for your budget.

Needing… To start and finish the laundry. We’ve got a situation here, people.

Feeling… Grateful and excited about things to come. I’ve joined a writing group and continue to learn from the amazing women from The Influence Network. We had a local meet-up recently (photo by Kaitlyn Meeks) and it was fun to just learn and hear about what other women in my community are doing.

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Enjoying…My job. I get to work with an unbelievable team of creative people and can be found pinching myself on a weekly basis.

What about you? What are you enjoying these days? Listening to? Reading?

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.

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bread & wine: review

As a long-time fan of Shauna Niequist, I was ecstatic to receive Bread & Wine a couple of months early to read and review. Don’t tell her, but in my mind, we’re actually really close friends and her books are just emails she’s written to me.

Is that indicative of how brilliant she is as a writer, or just creepy of me? I’ll never know.

Anyway, as my life would have it, I received it about three days after giving birth, so it took me a while to pick it up. Okay, I lied. I picked it up that day, but cried almost enough tears to fill the Nile River through the introduction, so I decided my hormones needed some space.

Nearly two months and happy hormones later, I got to reading. And for the first fifty pages or so, I started feeling ravenous/overwhelmed, and thought to myself, “I picked the wrong time to read a book about life around the table.” Lately I’ve been caught stuffing PB&J down my face around 2pm, after I realize I have forsaken lunch. I kept wishing I could bring a post full of pictures of a fancy dinner party, with laughter, lush appetizers and way too much dessert. Then I read this on page 71…

“We all have those stretches–busy parenting seasons where the nights feel like a blink and the days wear on and on, or work deadlines that throw off our routines, or extended family commitments that pull us in a thousand directions. What heals me on those days when it all feels chaotic and swirling is the simplicity of home, morning prayer, tea, and breakfast quinoa.”

And hope was restored.

So early Easter morning, I got up and adventurous with some delicious breakfast quinoa.
Here’s how.

First, take a trip to Trader Joe’s.

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Here’s what’s in the bag:

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You’ll need approximately 4 eggs, 1 large onion, a package of chicken apple sausage, 2 cups quinoa, 4 cups water, 1 tablespoon olive oil, goat cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.
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A protein explosion, basically.

Next, get out your copy of Bread & Wine and turn to page 72. Wipe the olive oil/tears/grease off the page and get to cooking.

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Slice and soften the onion in olive oil in a pan over medium-low heat. Then slice the sausage and add it to the same pan. Watch it cook and let your mouth water.

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Next, make sure you occupy your baby/dog/spouse/roommate. And take a few photos of them.

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Pour quinoa and water into a small pot. Bring it to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer for about 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and let it cool for 5 minutes. Oh, and start the tea.

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Scoop quinoa into bowls and then stir a scoop of onions and sausage slices into each one. In the onion & sausage pan, prepare the eggs however you wish–fried or scrambled. We chose scrambled, and we also cheated. The recipe calls for one egg per bowl, we went with two. After they’re cooked, scoop those on top of the rest and add a handful of goat cheese to each bowl.

IMG_0679Eat it by yourself with a book and cup of tea, at the table with your spouse, or on your front porch with friends. Then go buy Bread & Wine, and whatever season you find yourself in . . . entertaining friends, survival-mode, or in-need-of-spiritual-refreshment, read. Then cook. Then eat your way back to sanity.

on boundaries: no one’s above it

Yesterday as I was perusing the interweb, I stumbled upon a site called The Good Women Project. Their mission? “We exist to restore a woman’s identity as God created her to be.” That sounds beautiful and simple, right? But then their mission says this, “We are adamant believers that good women have the most fun, the best sex, and most fulfilling lives.” 

Okay, now you’re listening.

So they allow guest submissions and post their topics ahead of time for people to write their thoughts and submit them in, with the hopes (but no promise) of being published to their site. That quickly appealed to me, so I wrote this for April’s upcoming topic: Boundaries. I’m testing it here. I wrote a while back a reactive response to this, but here are some more formulated thoughts.

——-

Sitting across the table from my friend, Pam, I heard it for the first time.

“I think you need to set some boundaries.” 

I had just moved to a new city for an internship and found Pam, a friend from home, was living about an hour from me. I asked her to mentor me and she gladly accepted. So, we met once a month at Starbucks halfway between my home and hers and got to talking, growing, and laughing.

One Thursday morning, she asked how work was going when I casually mentioned that I had just been to a one-day conference with my co-worker, who happened to be a man. She got a bit of a nervous look and said,

“Did you drive together?”

To which I casually and confusingly replied, “Well, yes, it was over an hour away, so it would’ve been silly to drive by ourselves.” 

“Were you the only ones in the car?” 

“Um, yes….” 

“Is he married?” 

“Yes, why?” At this point I began to clue in that, I, unknowingly and naïvely, had crossed a boundary.

She looked at me sympathetically and then launched into the speech: the one about boundaries in dating, work relationships, and marriage. I would’ve liked to think that I was privy to boundaries. I didn’t hang out with married men or ask them personal questions about their lives. I had no desire for any of the men I worked with, nor did I seek their interest. The very thought of a romantic relationship with any of them made me feel nauseous. So why was I getting a speech like I’m the other woman? Because although I my intentions were pure, no one wakes up to an affair. It is a slow process of boundary-less decisions. 

And so, with the help of Pam, here are some boundaries I adopted as a single woman. Some of these may seem obvious, and some extreme, but here they are:

    • Never ride alone in the car with a married man. Even though it’s innocent, car rides can be long and isolated. Inside jokes are created and a deeper form of friendship comes through being alone together. If he’s married, there’s no need for him to have that kind of relationship with any woman except his wife.
    • Don’t be in the office alone with a married man. If there’s only two of us left in the office, one of us needs to leave. Or ask another co-worker to stay. I know this creates an awkward dynamic at first, but once it’s the standard, it becomes second-nature. Even if it’s only because of the pretense of what could be happening and definitely isn’t, it doesn’t matter. It’s worth the safety-net.
    • If someone who is married begins to complain to me about their spouse, check out of the conversation and end it immediately. Say it’s inappropriate and that it makes me uncomfortable. If I were to tell my 18-year-old self one thing, it would’ve been that. I listened to far too many wife-bashing stories that I now, as a wife, really regret listening to. They have plenty of male friends they can talk with, and if they don’t, they can find some.
    • Don’t text, instant message, or communicate with a married man unless his wife is present, or I know she could read everything I saying without questioning my integrity or intentions.
    • Because my job lends me to work with more men than women, one of my “boundaries” is to intentionally befriend the wives of men I work with. Not in manipulation, but as a way of reassuring them and allowing them to feel safe and comfortable with me. This actually quickly became a requirement when looking for a potential job. One of my internal “required” questions was, “Could I be friends with his wife? Is she welcoming of me, or threatened by a female’s presence?” If the answer to the last question was yes, I committed to say no to the job. My reason? It’s not worth becoming the target of someone else’s insecurity, if I can help it.

When my husband and I got married, the boundaries changed more. As someone who grew up in the home of divorce, it’s entirely worth it. I know neither of my parents said “I do,” thinking someday they would live separately and drop their kids off at each other’s houses.

None of these are 11th Commandments, or necessary for every couple on the planet, but for us, they are agreements we made for the sake of protecting and nurturing our marriage.  A wise person told me once that no one is above an affair. And I think they are right. When we become invincible in our minds, we let lies seep in, ignore our intuition that quietly says, “mayday!” and excuse it for self-consciousness. If my heart skips a couple of negative beats before making a decision, that’s the Divine telling me to run. Or the Word becoming flesh in my subconscious. Or the Holy Spirit. All of those are viable options.

And so, as a married person, here are some of our boundaries:

    • No communication with exes, from any stage of life. The heart can be an absolute fool. What happens when you and your spouse are in an argument that goes on for days, you feel under-appreciated and an ex tells you how beautiful and wonderful you are? Only a few more steps into an affair. How many stories have you heard/seen about people who reconnected via Facebook and left their spouse? I’ve heard too many. And I doubt that any of them were planning to end up in affairs on their wedding day.
    • Never ride alone in the car with someone of the opposite sex. This is about the spirit of the Law more than the letter of the it. Again, this can be the starting place for an isolated relationship with a man other than my husband. I don’t think driving in the car is the danger, but the togetherness a car ride can bring. For that matter, the same principle applies–don’t be at work alone with a male co-worker, or vice versa. Scratch that–if you are married, just don’t hang out by yourself with someone of the opposite sex.
    • When it comes to friendships, if you’re a woman, be friends with women. That’s not to say you cannot have male friends. But please do not be one of the girls that say, “I just can’t get along with women.” Do you know that means you are probably the problem in that equation? I have no doubts that women have hurt you and been cruel. But I also know a lot of great women who encourage and strengthen. So don’t stop at the “I don’t like women,” door; push beyond it and seek out deep, meaningful friendships with other women.
    • This may seem like, “duh,” but we try very hard not to put down (even in a joking way) each other around other people, not knowing how they would receive it. My friend says it this way–when she was pregnant, one of her husband’s co-workers asked, “So, is your wife getting really moody and hard to deal with as her pregnancy ticks on?” Even though in other settings they could all laugh and poke fun at the ridiculousness, her husband gave a short, “Nope, we’re just thankful she’s been able to carry her this long.” I really respect that.
    • Don’t go to bed without saying I’m sorry and/or I love you. In our 2 and 1/2 years of marriage, we’ve had our minor blow-outs. Anyone can tell you–I’m a difficult person (and I’m guessing you are, too!) and so I have my fair share of life to apologize for. Humility and forgiveness has paved such an open dialogue and space for apology.
    • Love each other like crazy. Don’t withhold love, apology, or grace.

If you’re thinking by now that I have surely lost my mind, that I wear jeans up to my bra, and that I haven’t had my hair styled since 1996, you’re wrong. I’m actually kind of cool. I teeter on the edge of hip (can you be hip and use the word “teeter?”). And would you know it? I want a healthy marriage. I wish healthy marriages were written about, talked about, filmed around… but I know why they’re not. They’re boring! Who wants to read a novel about my boundary-filled, healthy life? About a couple making a meal together at night in their home, planning the month’s budget, investing their lives in their jobs, friends, Church, and community…? You’re already falling asleep. But that’s because it’s only boring to the outsider. On the inside, it’s freeing and incredible. Mumford & Sons sings it like this (told you I’m cool):

Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment, a cry
At my heart you see
The beauty of love as it was made to be
(Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons)

Love sets us free. Free to laugh, cry, dream, give, and receive. In a paranoid, nervous relationship, you are placed in a hopeless cage of anxiety and guilt. Boundaries set you free to love your spouse in a way you can never love anyone else. Trust, loyalty, and promise win out over the flesh. . . and that is something to be celebrated.

——

What’s your opinion on boundaries in marriage, dating, work relationships, friendship? Do you have any you try to keep? Which boundaries seem too extreme? Why?

what I learned from my family

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1. It’s okay to cry once a day, even if it’s over a good song. Durhams have loose tear-ducts, it’s just the way it goes.

2. “Oh, Heck” is the best card game ever invented.

3. It’s perfectly acceptable to get emotionally wrapped up in trashy shows like The Bachelorette.

4. Everything is more fun when everyone decides to be low-maintenance.

5. Barking out commands isn’t really that bossy… some of us just struggle saying “please.”

6. You’re as happy as you make your mind up to be.

7. The beach, cold drinks, umbrellas & chairs are the perfect recipe for an afternoon of reminiscing.

8. Durham women… we get it from our Gram.

Thanks, Durhams, for always making family so much fun.