When the Results Aren’t What You Expected: A Labyrinth Walk

The first time I heard of a labyrinth walk, the idea peaked my curiosity. I filed it away in the part of my brain where I keep a small collection of things I want to experience someday–like photographing a hummingbird or growing a blowsy, lush rose bush with blooms the color of sunset.

I’ve yet to have luck with either the hummingbird or the roses, but my husband and I stumbled upon a labyrinth a few months ago while hiking on a weekend getaway. It sat tucked in the woods and wound around and around–a maze of brown and gray stone. The Lotus Labyrinth, so named for the inlaid lotus at both the entrance and exit, was set in a clearing, and surrounded by trees.

I pulled my husband towards the entrance, and we slowly wound our way towards the pile of stones in the center to the sound of the wind making music of dried leaves. Small signposts explained that upon entering, we should take note of any heaviness or emotional weight we carried. On reaching the center, we were to release the things that weighed us down, as if laying them down on an altar. Then, as we wound our way to the exit, with slow measured steps, we would symbolically leave behind the thoughts, fears, or false beliefs we had carried in.

My husband sped through the rest and sat down on a nearby boulder to wait for me. I took my time circling around and around, stopping to pray in the center, then circling back out again until my feet found the final lotus. I took a deep breath and surveyed my feelings. I felt exactly the same as when I entered the labyrinth. I had arrived carrying the weight of a few things, and I had carried them right back out again.

I didn’t experience a spiritual epiphany or feel God’s presence in any discernible way. My soul didn’t feel lighter, and my concerns followed me from entrance to exit to the hike home again.

My labyrinth walk comes to mind every so often, and I’ve asked myself if it was worth doing if I didn’t experience the peace it promised. It’s a small thing–inconsequential, really. But it brings to mind all of the small physical acts that I hope will bear fruit in the long term, despite their small beginnings.

The hug I give to my stiff and reluctant teenager. The quiet moments of prayer with no obvious answers. The folding of clothes that end up crumpled again. The pose of a warrior on the yoga mat with a persistent wobble. The chop and stir preparation for a meal gone in minutes. The phone call to an elected official who refuses to listen. The typing of words destined for deletion.

When the results hold no promise, these become small acts of obedience and resistance. We resist the urge to allow life to happen to us. Instead, we press on and create our lives out of these small acts strung together with purpose. We obey the needs of our bodies, our minds, and our spirits, and we acknowledge there will be disappointments. The act itself is rarely pointless, rather it points to something bigger.

If I walk a labyrinth again, I will enter it knowing that the action speaks more than the end results.

One Word 2017: Artist

“I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ” Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.” And the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses…” ~Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water

In ancient Judaism, Jewish men bound small boxes, called tefillim or phylacteries, to their forehead and their arm. These boxes contained words of the Torah printed on scraps of paper, and they served as a reminder that the words of God should be at the forefront of our minds and the inspiration for the work of our hands.

I chose the word Restore as my touchstone word for 2016, a word I believed was birthed in the heart of God for me, and I carried it with me throughout the year. I wore it strapped to my heart like a tefillin wraps around the forehead or the arm of a devout believer. I wore Restore as a symbol, a beacon to guide me in prayer, in thought, and in action. For most of the year, I wore it with desperation, while so much of what I hoped for was stripped away. A job offer, a book proposal, my confidence as a parent, a friendship, peace of mind, my voice, a sense of hope–all disappeared under the weight of this word.

I thought I held a promise, and instead I clung to a word that brought doubt and defeat. It was a difficult year of waiting and watering seeds that never seemed to grow. And yet, as the year draws to a close, I see restoration taking root. A few opportunities slipped into my open hands. Prayers for my children bore fruit. I wrote words and released them into the world. I discovered points of light guiding me in the darkness.

During this dark, imperceptible work of restoration, a deeper longing began to grow, and it birthed a word to carry with me into 2017. “Artist” is my touchstone for the New Year, the word that will serve as a beacon and symbol–a phylactery bound to my hands and feet and chest. This is a year of becoming, of creating courageous art because creation requires more than imagination, it requires a lionhearted act of courage. It is about consuming art not as a diversion, but as inspiration to create more of my own.

“And the idea of being named for an artist. A person could be reborn on the strength of that.” ~Barbara Kingsolver in Flight Pattern

I have always coveted the name Artist, but I’ve felt embarrassed and ashamed of this desire. Ashamed that I couldn’t claim this name for myself, but rather waited for someone else to give me permission and to name me.

Shame forces us into the shadows, and this year I am stepping out of the shadows and into starlight and sun. I want to live into the fullness of myself as an artist, rather than in the shadows of others’ art. This feels very vulnerable to admit out loud on the internet, but it is a first step towards a reclamation of my name. A first step towards creating courageous art.

I don’t know what this becoming will look like, but I stand ready to embrace imagination and discipline my way towards acts of creation, to step out of the shadows, to drink of the light, and let it pour out like drops feeding the lake of good and true and incarnational art.

“All of writing (and art) is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake.” ~Jean Rhys in the Paris Review

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Your word for the year may not relate to art in any way, but I want to encourage you as you enter the new year, to begin looking for ways to bring light into the shadows. Where do you find yourself hiding? What would a courageous next step look like for you in 2017? Once you’ve identified it, write it down and bind it to your heart in some way. Give yourself the name you’ve always longed to hear, feed the lake of your passion, embody courage.

Five Steps to Walking the Path of Peace this Christmas

With the holiday season in full swing, I find myself spending an absurd amount of mental energy on twinkle light to branch ratios and how to hide packages from prying eyes. I also find myself in a tug-of-war with my inner self, the self that longs for peace, and my outer self, the self that lives in the real world of holiday hustle.

As we move into Advent, a time of expectant waiting for the coming Christ, I find myself longing more and more for the arrival of the Prince of Peace. This is the name for Jesus that I want to embody this Christmas. It’s the name I want to hang like a banner over our home, over my family, over my heart.

In an effort to hang the banner of peace over my heart, I’m taking a few small steps of intention this season. I won’t add “Stop yelling at the kids” because we all know that’s a given. Join me on walking the path to peace?

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Five Steps to Walking the Path of Peace

Receive: Set aside time for silence.

Wake up a few minutes before the rest of house, wrap yourself in a blanket, switch on the twinkle lights, and sit with yourself in the quiet. I like to sit with my palms open and facing up, in a posture of receiving whatever God has for me this day. If morning isn’t your sweet spot, turn off the Christmas tunes and the third showing of Elf in the evening. We’re so quick to fill every inch of space with ourselves–our anxieties, our to-do list, our feelings. Find a few moments in your day that allow for your restless soul chatter to come to a still point, and allow it to wait expectantly. Christ is coming.

Reveal: Spend time in Scripture

Eugene Peterson says that reading scripture is a way of “listening to God revealing God”, rather than a means of fact gathering or processing information. Approaching scripture from a posture of listening for God’s revelation of himself has the power to transform our understanding of the Bible. Rather than collecting stories, facts, and rules, we read with an ear to the ground, waiting for the thump and vibration of God’s footprints here on earth. This too is waiting. This too brings us to the still point of peace.

Renew: See God’s handiwork in nature

I think we all know the power of a good walk around the block, but I want to experience more than the wonder of my neighbor’s crooked wreaths and leaf piles. A reading of Psalm 8 is good place to start, so is the starlit fabric of the night sky, the small copse of trees in the backyard, a local pine scented garden center, a hike beside a reflective stream. The Psalmist David writes of nature’s ability to stir him to faith and thanksgiving. I find it not only stirs these healthy emotions, but it also hushes the ones that pull at the fine threads of peace.

Re-connect: Surrender through worship

“The heart of worship is surrender, ” writes Rick Warren, and while I absolutely agree, I also absolutely struggle to find listen-able Christian music. Enter Christmas. I’m currently listening to Josh Garrel’s new album The Light Came Down, as well as a stunning selection of Christmas tunes recommended by Kendra at The Lazy Genius (sign up for her email list. It doesn’t disappoint.), and they are watering my parched, worship-hungry soul. Surrender is allowing God to be fully himself, outside of the boxes we’ve constructed for him. It is resting in his sovereignty, and in his plan for the salvation of this world in the form of a flesh and blood child.

Root yourself: Seek out community 

This sounds counter-intuitive, especially for the introverts among us (raises hand), however peace walks hand in hand with belonging. Loneliness does not lead to peace. Rootedness, a deep knowing that there is space for you in this world, calms the restless heart. Lean hard into your places of belonging during this season, they will be a balm to the wounds and bruises we accumulate throughout the year. Walk with a friend, enjoy a quiet conversation, cozy up with your spouse on the sofa, snuggle the kids a little longer, visit your mama, attend the candlelight service at church. Forget the gatherings that stir up insecurities, and instead gather with those who make you feel most yourself, who also walk the path of peace.

When the Weight of the World Weighs Heavy

The world weighs heavy on you. You turn from page to page, you scroll past outrage, you watch images that flicker like a film strip behind your eyes when you close them at night. You want to turn away, hide your face from the latest stories because they make a fool of your tears. Tears solve nothing, but they water the seeds of compassion in your spirit. You must let the tears do their inner work because it is a holy one.

You want to wring your hands, as your heart twists into pretzel shapes inside your chest. You want to heave the weight of the world off your shoulders because you realize this yoke is too heavy to bear. This is not the light burden, the easy yoke we were promised. It is the full weight of evil unleashed on an unsuspecting world, and you, you are caught between tears and hand-wringing. Fear and apathy.

Here is how you carry the weight of the world. You lay it down. You water it with your tears. You pray for Shalom. You offer what little you have to give–whether it is time on your knees, money for a cause, beauty for brokenness, words for the weary, or unity in sorrow. You offer Jesus, the one who picks up the burden as you lay it down. You pick up these words instead.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

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Repost from the archives: I wrote these words exactly one year ago, but they feel fitting for today. What burdens are you laying down?

On Wholeness and Healing

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“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”” ~Revelation 21:5

This week, I wrote three terrible poems, stalked my littlest big kid and her friends via Find My Phone while trick or treating, fought with my husband, contemplated whether or not I’m depressed, packed for a trip, made up with my husband, recorded a podcast in which I couldn’t unearth anything worth saying, and accidentally got a new puppy. Throw in some laundry and errands, and you have what feels like the longest week in a very long year full of long, hard months.

I’m not depressed, although my feelings seem to speak to the contrary. I am tired. I am disappointed. I am grieving this year before the crystal ball countdown and champagne toasts and midnight kisses. When January began, I named 2016 my “Year of Restoration”. In a twist of irony even I couldn’t have predicted, February to October proceeded to mock me with their middle finger.

On Monday, I reminded God that there are only a few weeks left for a successful finish to the Restoration Project. Which means I’d like a sense of peace, a bold voice, joy, meaningful work, a tricky relationship, and a good night’s sleep restored to me. I want the backside I had in my twenties, motivation to keep running the race of faith, patience for parenting, creative inspiration, and hope for the troubled state of humanity.

Is this too much to ask? Probably. But, I’m asking anyway because I am tired of penning poor poetry. I’m weary of stuffing down my desires, of hiding the longing for wholeness and healing for every part of me. Desire is rarely seen as something holy, but I believe it can be. Brokenness in our relationships, emotional health, and calling can masquerade as something to be celebrated. I have brokenness in my life, but I won’t waste time bowing down to it when my deepest need is healing.

I fell in love with Amsterdam when we visited years ago. Marijuana and red-light district aside, it is a lovely city hallmarked by ever-present bicycles and criss-cross canals. The two appear to be mutually exclusive, one is made for traversing cobblestone streets, and the other made for gliding swans and scenic sightseeing. In a city of nearly one million bikes, 15,000 are discovered submerged in the canal every year. It’s become a tourist attraction of sorts: a “fishing” company pulling bent frames, rusted spokes, and flat tires out from the murky water daily. No one knows how the bikes end up there, whether through negligence or more nefarious means.

This submersion and hidden brokenness brings to mind a baptism of sorts, only in Amsterdam, when the hydraulic claw draws the bicycles up from their watery grave, they are broken beyond fixing. In contrast, baptism is an agent of change and healing. What enters the grave, comes out redeemed and renewed. I believe in this wholeness and healing. I have hope that, with two months to go, restoration of my desires is still possible. I can choose to focus on what is still broken in my life, or I can choose to submit my desires to a baptism. I can submerge them in Living Water, and trust they will break through the surface renewed, revitalized, and holy. All things made new.

Restoration Project is a go.