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.

……

“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 Navigate a Season of Endings

As summer approaches, bringing with it big changes in the life of our family, I find myself feeling out of sorts. I am graduating from my MFA program, and I don’t know what’s next in my writing life. I will no longer spend long days reading books with a critical eye and writing papers based on them. No one will be waiting at the other end of an email for my next essay. I will have a new degree in creative writing, and no tangible way of putting it to use on paper.

Just as I graduate, so will my seventeen year old daughter. Her entire life spreads out in front of her like a blank canvas. Everything is before her, and this stands in stark contrast to my own experience. I often wonder what lies ahead for me when my own canvas is already full of color, spread in thick strokes towards the outer edges. So much lies behind me. So much of my canvas is already painted.

No one told me that releasing a daughter into the world makes a mother dig deep into her own story of becoming. It is both a rejoicing and a mourning–for who I could have been, for the surprise of who I am today, and for what my girl will be. I don’t think I have the words yet for what it feels like to let her go or how hard it is to set my younger self free in the process.

I’ve reached a season of endings, and I can only see the faint outline of new beginnings ahead. Perhaps you are out of sorts or in a season of endings too. I don’t have five steps to fix it, but I do have a few guiding principles I hope will keep us moving forward into the unknown with more freedom and less fear.

Treat yourself and your open-ended questions with kindness.

In his poem Unquiet Vigil, Brother Paul Quenon writes “Be Kind. Myself, to myself, be kind.” When I read those words, I was most struck by the punctuation. Be Kind. Period. No caveats, no qualifications. Be kind to myself no matter how complicated, effervescent, difficult, or joyful the feelings. Be kind to the past me, the present me, and the me who exists in the future. This feels impossibly hard some days, but with practice, it grows easier.

Learn to love the questions.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”~ Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet.

I want to place these words like beads on a length of string and finger them like beads of prayer. During a season of change, the questions I ask are more important than the answers I think I need. The answers rarely announce themselves, but rather they arrive in the quiet of living into the questions.

Hope and wait quietly.

“It is good that one should hope and wait quietly..” ~Lamentations 3:26. I often wait with fear as my loud companion. Fear drives away quiet, whereas hope invites it in. Living into the questions with a spirit of kindness allows for hope to have its way. I can ask myself questions about the future without giving in to the cacophony they can create in my soul. I do this by entering into a season of unknowns with a posture of open handedness rather than entering with closed fists. I can’t receive my past or my future when I grasp for answers or fight the questions every step of the way.

In this season of endings, I want to enter open, free, unencumbered by a need to orchestrate my own feelings into something like a mathematically correct, classical symphony. This is jazz, baby. There are no neat resolutions, but I’m improvising my way through the notes, receiving them as they come, with hope and kindness and love for unexpected melodies.

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.

A Summer Q&A: Everything You’ve Never Asked Me (Part 2)

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Yesterday, in Part 1, I shared my current reads, instagram inspiration, and thoughts on living abroad. Today, I’m touching on past failures and future projects. Thanks for joining me.

What’s your latest project?

Besides writing dodgy poetry? I’m currently joining my friends Elise Daly Parker, Kimberly Amici, and Noelle Rhodes for the new Slices of Life Podcast. We launched a few weeks ago, and I join them every other week. I have no idea what I’m doing, which you will discover fairly quickly as a listener.

Also, my voice is upsetting on multiple levels.

As is the case with many writers, I’m more articulate when there’s a blank page and a delete button handy, but the other hosts are great. I covet Elise’s radio-ready voice and Kimberly’s ability to summon a proper answer immediately. Every Tuesday, we offer candid conversations to enhance life, grow faith, and build community. Give us a try when you need a companion for your walk, long drive, or while washing the dishes. Find us and subscribe on iTunes.

What is this “bizarre turn of events” of which you speak? (See yesterday’s intro)

Thanks for asking. Over the last year, I’ve had a string of rejections related to my writing. Specifically, I was turned down for a number of writing gigs, ideas I pitched were more often than not rejected, and an editor removed my essay from a recent book release a few months before it was published. A few months ago, I was given the green light on a major project, which promptly took a tailspin when the commissioner of said project changed their mind in a most dramatic fashion. It left me deflated, wounded, and to be honest, kind of a hot mess.

I’m a firm believer in walking through the doors that open, and it seems that publishing has closed most doors to me right now. I’ve prayed for months about my next steps, and a few weeks ago, I was unexpectedly asked to interview for a teaching position at a local university. I interviewed, was hired, and filled out all the paperwork in a single afternoon. I would have settled for a cracked door to cast a single slant of light across the shadows of the past year, but this one swung wide open.

Within two weeks, on the very afternoon I began to prepare the syllabus, I received a phone call rescinding the job offer based on an obscure university policy that only recently came to light. This is not the kind of light I had hoped for, and I stood in a state of shock as the door closed and locked in front of me.

Why am I telling you this? Because it is real and true and crummy. It is the journey this year has taken, the year I named The Year of Restoration. Oh, the irony. Sometimes I want to write words of encouragement, and sometimes I think it’s best to spill the ugly guts of the story. This is the story of beat-up dreams and broken promises, but it’s also a reminder that while this part of my life is messy, there are other areas that are thriving.

I don’t have a beautiful bow to tie on this tale. I don’t have redemption or a job or a book contract. I don’t have the restoration I long for. I have a hoarse voice and a bruised hand from the asking, seeking, and knocking. I have dreams that refuse to die no matter how many stones the world stacks on top of them. I can choose to see these stones as a grave or an altar.

I have one thousand and one reasons why I continue to show up and write here. And I’m so grateful you show up here too.