A Moment to Breathe: A Book Giveaway

***This giveaway in now CLOSED. Congrats to our winners, Sandra and Sierra!***

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“Inside, I’m dying with fear,” he said. “I think we all are.”

I read these words in a recent NY Times article, spoken by a seventeen year old boy living in a tumultuous political climate, and I felt them bore deep into my body. Every time I read the news or turn to twitter or scroll through my Facebook feed, my bones melt under the flame of fear. I struggle to stand beneath the weight of all the hard news, the horror, and the helplessness I feel in the face of it.

Inside, I am dying with fear. Fear that I know too much to be silent. Fear that I don’t. Fear that hand wringing and pearl clutching will become my permanent posture. Fear that I’ve given up hope. Fear that this is my children’s inheritance–a broken world of cracked images. Fear that if we no longer recognize the Imago Dei, how will they?

Frederick Buechner wrote “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” and I cling to these words as if they came straight from the mouth of God himself. Perhaps they resonate because this is the essence of the message we discover in God’s love letter to us. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. But, Jesus. The Christ. Redemption. Don’t be afraid.

When the cares of the world of the world feel like too much, I take solace in scripture. I find myself most often in the Psalms, where I reach across centuries and cultures to knit my soul to those experiencing every emotion from lament and anguish, to joy and triumph. I know we need action and real solutions, but this is the place where my heart releases the posture of wrung out hands and embraces a posture of possibility.

I need the words of the Psalmists of the past to speak into my present and remind me that there is nothing new under the sun.  Beautiful and terrible things have happened and will continue to do so. How will I be a part of creating beauty? How will I seek redemption for God’s kingdom here and now, while holding onto hope for the not yet?

I believe my place is to speak peace to the rising fear. It is to speak Jesus to the terror and horror of the news cycle. And not only to speak to the larger-than-life fears, but to speak to the small fears that blister our souls with their heat. I want to speak peace and hope to the fear that we are not enough, we are unlovable, we can’t change, we aren’t a good friend, mother, daughter, wife, Christian. These too are the fears that melt our bones, and keep us from becoming warriors for shalom in our own homes.

I recently had the pleasure of contributing to a beautiful devotional called “A Moment to Breathe: 365 devotions that meet you in your everyday mess.” curated by the (in)courage community. It releases today, and I’d love to give two copies away to readers. Eighty women contributed their words to create this devotional as a means of reaching across the divide. Just as the Psalmists are my companions, the writers of “A Moment to Breathe” would like to become your everyday companions too. We may not have the divine inspiration or the poetic cadence of the Psalms, but we have our hearts, handed to you across the page.

If you’re in need of a moment to catch your breath between news cycles and outrage and dishes and deadlines, please leave a comment below to enter your name for the book giveaway. If you prefer to get on with it, you can purchase a copy for yourself (and perhaps a sister/co-worker/friend?) wherever books are sold.

I will choose two winners to receive one book each by the completely unscientific method of pulling your names out of a hat. Or, more likely, a salad bowl. Giveaway closes on Tuesday, October 10th. Leave a comment below telling me how you combat fear in an age hell-bent on inflaming it.

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When Waiting is Your Destination

I recently lamented to a friend about my growing sense of impatience with the current state of my work life. I no longer have any deadlines circled on the calendar–every paper, article, and book project has reached a stage of completion or been scrapped entirely. Without dates scribbled and double-starred in black pen, I find myself at loose ends, wondering what comes next. The words of Patti Smith come to mind as my calendar–starless as a cloud-cloaked sky–fills with the redundant tasks of daily life.

Smith writes, “No one expected me. Everything awaited me.

It is the most radical thought I’ve had in recent weeks. After wrestling (with much fanfare and melodrama) through the stages of grief over the loss of a professional dream, and spending too much time stroking the wild-haired head of anger, I find myself once again in a place of waiting.

As I lament the familiarity of this space, my friend reminds me that waiting isn’t a passageway to a more spacious place. It is more than a temporary hold on forward motion.

Waiting is its own destination.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon wrote, “Waiting is the rust of the soul, implying that waiting is a time of decay, a time of gathering rust and dust, rather than a time of expectancy. Action doesn’t exist in decay, and waiting is a word of action. It requires an active and ready posture. It is an open-handed pause with the expectation that everything on the other side waits for your arrival once the good, hard work of waiting is complete.

No one expects me. No deadlines anticipate my pen to strike them through. I have no idea what comes next, and I’m beginning to see the freedom that comes with this active posture. Rather than inviting rust, I feel the slow rumble of ideas gathering in the sky. Creativity grows best in uncomfortable spaces.

Relief returns as I remind myself this is a place for renewal and strength-gathering. On the other side, everything awaits me.

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“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.”

~Isaiah 40:31

How to Sit with both Sadness and Hope

 

“Grief may be joy misunderstood…” ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

It’s nearly autumn in New Jersey. I sit under a canopy of leaves and watch as a single orange-tipped leaf floats to the ground in slow motion. It’s a season of small, delicate deaths–where the joy of reaping a harvest mingles with the sadness of the ground turning fallow once again.

This summer, my heart cradled hope in full bloom, like a basket of fresh-cut flowers. Yet, autumn has ushered in a season of dying one small death after another.

After months of planning and preparing, I opened the door on a classroom of college freshman and stepped in as a teacher rather than a student. I soon discovered teaching isn’t a part of my natural skill set. Rather than opening the door to an assumed strength, I opened the door to a weakness–the kind of weakness that makes me want to cut and run. I died to the confident vision I had of myself every time I stand behind the desk and sweat through a session.

Despite this rough start in the classroom, my inner self hummed and painted blooms on the walls of my heart. I carried inside me a private joy the color of blush pink English ramblers. After years of writing and re-writing content, my book proposal had finally made its way into the hands of publishers months earlier. All summer, I waited for news.

I learned this fall that my book will not be published. Nor will the next book I propose. Or the next. The reasons are best left contained within a trail of sad phone calls and emails. Again, I died to the vision I had of myself holding a copy of my book and smiling for the camera.

As these dreams have died, I’ve spent countless hours trying to spin new ones. But, it is autumn. A single leaf drops to remind me. In my sadness, I have found myself drawn to the story of Sarah, a woman who longed for and dreamed of children to circle around her ankles and call her Mama. A woman who, in her weakness, began to spin dreams that were birthed in grief rather than joy. For years, God’s promise to her went unfulfilled. She dreamt in partial solutions, and Ishmael was the result.

In my disappointment, I have wanted to force an Ishmael into my life. I have turned in circles looking for partial solutions when the only answer is to sit with my sadness and wait. I sit with Sarah and watch autumn unfold as summer dies to itself. I don’t want to force an answer apart from the will of God, and so I pray for a spirit of steadfastness and resilience instead.

The joy Elizabeth Barrett Browning speaks of lies in the knowledge that autumn lasts for a season. Spring and summer will come again. Warm winds will blow and seeds will bloom, but first autumn and winter. First dying to self, first sitting with sadness, understanding the heart of Sarah.

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Scripture as an Antidote for Despair

I am a glutton. I have gorged myself on the news, on social media, on outrage and hatred and lies and righteous anger. Consuming all of these words as I scroll and click has cost me words of my own. I am full on a steady diet of rage, and it has stirred up both the holy and the unholy in me–neither of which I’ve been able to express in a way that inspires hope rather than despair. If hope is an anchor for the soul, then the rope tethering me to hope is worn and frayed.

I could choose to turn off the news and shut down social media, but I know in doing so, I risk becoming apathetic towards evil as it crawls out and raises its middle finger to the light. And so I read, I watch, I absorb because it is the bruised places which create the most tender hearts.

In my effort to understand and grow tender in my hardened places, I can’t purge everything I’ve consumed. By rejecting what I’ve read and seen, I would become the priest and the Levite who walked by the bloody and beaten man on the road to Jericho, averting their gaze.

But, while I carry these hard things inside of me, this steady diet of despair keeps me from envisioning a future where we love our neighbors as ourselves. My vision for a world where we fight racism and we right injustice and we repent of our sins is clouded.

I need renewed sight, and so I return to the scriptures where I meet Jesus all over again. I meet the man who flipped tables at the evil found in his Father’s house. The man who drew letters in the sand and who refused to cast the first stone. The man who turned the other cheek. The man who called religious leaders a brood of vipers and who called entire cities to repent with sackcloth and ashes. The man who healed.

In the scriptures, I meet the Jesus who died on a cross and calls me to pick up my own. As I sit with his words, I begin to assume his vision for equality, justice, and peace. I am able to release my flawed vision, driven by my emotions and outrage, and assume a vision driven by a God who is Justice, and whose very name means Peace.

If you find yourself full on a steady diet of despair and rage, don’t turn away from the hard things. Don’t cross the street and look the other way. Instead, meet the face of injustice and hate with the words of Christ. Not the words of someone talking about Christ, but the words of Jesus himself. Allow him to renew your sight, uncover truth, and stir up a vision where we recognize the face of God in every person we meet.

On Giving Up Vague Prayers for a Well-Defined Faith

While the house sleeps, I curl up in the stuffed green chair to pray on quiet summer mornings. I find myself searching for words beyond the perfunctory request for God to “bless” my day, my children, my endeavors. “Bless” is shorthand for all of the needs around which I can’t form words. I don’t even know what it means, or what I want him to do for me. My prayers carry a vague notion of wanting–desires unformed and ill-defined.

This summer our family sits in an ellipses, those three small dots that indicates a pause before the end of a sentence. Autumn will enter with a flurry of change for each one of us: two new schools, new family dynamics, a new vocation. We need more than the blessing of God. We need wisdom, comfort, peace, and guidance. We need eyes and ears attuned to the Holy Spirit. We need each other. New friends. Courage. Confidence in Christ. We need a renewed reverence and the ancient words of scripture buried bone-deep from which our muscle memory rises.

We need more than blessings. We need answers.

Shelly Miller’s book Rhythms of Resthas been a faithful companion this summer, and her words have encouraged me to find words of my own as I pray. She writes:

I’m learning to say what I want with greater clarity and definition, even when it feels uncomfortable and presumptuous, because I don’t want a mediocre life as a result of vague prayers and ill-defined faith. When you are tired, depleted, worn out, and weary, imagine Jesus asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”

What do you want me to do for you? Jesus often receives one’s question by responding with another. I feel this question, rather than hear it, as I re-learn how to pray. What is it I want? By sitting with this question all summer, and allowing it to take root in the deepest parts of me, I discover with greater clarity what we want and need as a family. I discover that the things I thought I wanted are not always the things God wants for me. I discover that prayer is less a vague collection of “bless me’s” and more of a conversation.

The “God bless…” prayers feel like throwing a handful of dust in the wind. The wind sweeps them away, and I am left holding nothing but unknowns. As I become more specific in prayer, and I define my needs before God, I find the words to tether me to Him. I know what it is I want–wisdom, a friend for my child, an open door, a willing spirit–and I ask for it. When Jesus asks “What do you want me to do for you?” I sit with open palms and robust prayers as I wait for him to answer.

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Do Shelly’s words resonate with you too? Do you pray in generalities or with a well-defined faith? How have your prayers changed as you’ve grown in faith?