35.

I am 35 today. Relatively speaking, it is quite young. Not even half my life. (I hope). But my heart tells a different story entirely. I feel old inside. Tired of nonsense and people who do not value others. And yet experiencing a growing sense of compassion towards people who are doing the best they can with what they have. Because one time I was on a dark road on a different path and it was the people who offered me compassion, grace, and tough love that got me through. People put there, I believe, by the God I seek to serve, whose heart I hunger for.

If you know me, you know I should not be here. I have no experience or action that should have led me to where I am today. I deserve nothing. Absolutely nothing. My life should be very very different than what it is. And here is what it has been the last few days: fresh flowers, time well-spent with a dear fellow traveler who listens as intently as he talks, long talks with people I love driving down back roads, written words, having a frou-frou morning and enjoying mimosas and pedicures in a chandelier-lit spa with a lovely soul, reveling in a new frilly wrap dress and heels, stealing a few moments alone with the azaleas and sunshine this afternoon, and getting more birthday messages than I know what to do with.

I want to make sense of the goodness of my life, of the goodness of the last few days. It is impractical, beyond all imagination, evidence of answered prayers like you would not believe, and wholly undeserved. I do not mean it as a boast, I mean it as a “I cannot believe this is my life or my heart. I am in awe of how the Lord has brought me here and that He brought me at all.” If you only knew me twelve years ago or four years ago or even just a year ago. Life has carved deep ruts in my too-tender heart and my too-thin skin. I am too much for most people, bleeding heart that I am.

For the second year in a row, I forgot to steal away to watch the sun rise this morning, to remember a very particular morning twelve years ago, to trace the fading tattoo on my wrist that serves as a reminder of what I have survived…and what I have been forgiven. And yet, evening has come and I think it is okay. Because I whispered a lot of gratefulness today, even in the midst of imperfect moments. And if you know my story, you know I do not deserve even that.

Not a birthday goes by that I do not remember grace. Not a day goes by that I forget it. Somehow, in some way, the God of all creation in His goodness reminds me EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. that I am alive. I am breathing. I am laughing. I smile at the most mundane, ordinary things because they speak grace to me. A baby’s laugh. A sweet story. A sunrise. A sunset. Holding hands. Shared smiles. Whispers. And this is grace. All of it. Every bit. Even in the most awful of days, the days where I do not think I can possibly go on, days where the people who are supposed to love me hurt me most, days where I get caught back up in my old habits that threaten to destroy…there is grace. Wholly undeserved. Freely given. Wildly thirsted for.

I have been dreading turning 35. I do not mind the getting older and the passing of time, but my expectations for this season in my life have been unmet. My prayers unanswered. My hopes seemingly unaccounted for. But I was reminded yesterday evening that all is truly as it should be in this time. I do not know what is ahead. But I know where I have been and I know I have never, not for one moment, been alone in any of it. It is fitting this year that my birthday fell on Holy Saturday, tucked between the darkest day in history and the brightest day in eternity. Happy birthday. All is grace.

birthday cake

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You can rest here.

My mind was spinning in a million directions today – so much so that I couldn’t get all of my words out to my assistant to tell her what to do for the day. Grad research, applications, life decisions, work challenges, the trials and tribulations of my tribe…I was thinking perhaps a little too hard about all the responsibilities and things that MUST. GET. DONE.

“Come as you are. Your breath can rest here.” That was all it said. A little post in my Instagram feed as I scrolled mindlessly while I waited for a document to upload. That still small voice, though? In whatever form it comes, it will take your breath away.

I spent much of my undergraduate work feverishly researching the discipline of rest. Ironic, I know. As a self-proclaimed Martha-girl (you know, the girl who runs about getting all the things done and not stopping for the important things [reference Luke 10:38-42]), I was determined to find out what my God said about rest. Turns out He said a whole lot, but the one bit that always gave me cause to pause was this: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NASB).

I am a lifelong insomniac, a perpetually absentminded chaotic dreamer, and a woman who, as one friend puts it, lives “balls to the wall 150% of the time.” Rest, for me, is struggle. A rare gift. Sometimes a prayed-for, wept-for, long-awaited necessity. It is a practice in self-discipline. From the God who loves and saves and who has my heart, though, it is also a command of the gentlest and absolutely necessary variety.

Because we are beings who need our rest. We need our sleep. We need our quiet. Yes, even my beloved extroverts. Y’all need your quiet, too. We need our carefully cultivated spaces to find our breath. This was my folly today. Not only did I not rest, but even when I realized I needed to take a deep breath and CHILL THE HECK OUT for a moment so I could be fully present, I still did not do it. Which made people around me antsy and wired. Deep cries out to deep, and sometimes with negative consequences.

Hence the still, small voice. I’ve been with my God for a long while now and I do not know how He puts up with me. I run away a lot. I forget what I have learned in the light when things drift into dark. I worry about my people. Lord, do I worry. But He is always there. Always. Always inviting me to rest. To take deep breaths. To take up the easy yoke and the light burden and not the motherlode I insist on dragging around. He is always present in the quiet ways that make me pause and listen.

Come as you are. Your breath can rest here. This is the only invitation I will ever need to receive, the only drink I will need to overfill my cup, the only bread I will need to savor with every bite. This is the promise of my God. You can rest here.

YOU CAN REST HERE BLOG IMAGE

How a white-Cherokee-Apache-Baptist-Wesleyan-straight-introvert-girl woke up.

I had a bit of a lightbulb moment this morning over my cup of coffee. Preface: Even if I agree at some level with much of the movements taking place across the US right now, I tend to shy away from the methods espoused to me on television and social media. I prefer the quiet work behind the scenes, the things no one sees or hears but, I hope, will someday benefit from.

This morning I was reading an article about the roots of the black feminism movement and how women of color felt left out of both the feminist movement (mostly white, and largely privileged) and the black equality movement (mostly men with deeply entrenched sexism – I read the pamphlets and cried), and created their own blend of the two to include a marginalized portion of society with a voice of their own. And it occurred to me that I do not march or scream or go on Facebook rants or shout at people or throw things or set things on fire, and how this perceived complicit silence has garnered me more than one critic.

In truth, I want more than some politician I’ve never met smugly signing a bill into law while surrounded by a group of the very people the law is supposed to help, but who will probably never benefit from it. I want more than yelling and screaming and bodily injury to someone who looks/acts/thinks differently than another. I want more than calculated prayers and warm thoughts and Facebook likes sent your way.

I want change from the ground up. I want the insides of every person to recognize their own humanity and, in turn, recognize the humanity of those around them. I want hurt people to stop hurting people and to instead reach out and grab a hand. I want ordinary, everyday, mundane interactions to be more compassionate, more kind, more contemplative before speaking. I want us to heed stories that look different than our own.

My silence gets me critics outside the church. My voice gives me heat inside it. I have had some tell me, rather hatefully, that I sound like a liberal. I have had others say that my faith as a Christian does not intersect in any way with the culture of the US today. Really? Because the Jesus I have heard of my whole life, confessed to and asked forgiveness from 30 years ago, in whose Name I was baptized 23 years ago, and have studied academically for the last 13 years tells me a different story. Because that Jesus, that One I claim to seek after and try to love like, well, He loved people in every group you can imagine. And He listened. Surely we can at least do that as His followers. As believers in His love and His sacrifice on the cross.

No, I don’t march or shout or throw things or post long, winding Facebook rants about the injustices of our culture. But I listen. I learn. I offer advice if I am asked. I thoughtfully consider how people are treated. I ask questions so as to gain understanding. Even if we are different, I want you to know you are heard, you are recognized, you are known, and you are loved. By a God who saved a wretch like even me.

So when you return home from your march, voice lost from shouting and heart uplifted from being around people who think like you do, I will gladly curl up in a pair of oversized chairs, offer you a mug of something warm, and listen to your story. Because at the end of the day, I care much more for your heart than our differences. Much, much more.

Grace (and grit) under fire.

It has been one of those days. Those days where my heart aches and my mind wanders and I wonder if this is all there is, or ever will be. I was so deep in my thoughts today that I did not even take a moment to mourn yet another Valentine’s Day with no one to share it with. I couldn’t think about that today. I had other things on my mind.

It was Ash Wednesday, for one. I apparently can no longer get through an Ash Wednesday without weeping over something. I am a Baptist girl so Lent isn’t something I participate in, but I love Ash Wednesday. I think there is something so beautifully sacred about intentional communion with other believers and preparing one’s heart for Easter in practice and thought.

On top of that, some things came to light today that I wish I didn’t know. I wish people would prove my instincts wrong once in awhile. But today, I was all too right about people’s characters and their actions and I just wept at my desk with the weight of it. I said a few choice words. And accidentally spilled an entire cup of hot coffee right in my lap when I went to angrily move my notes out of my way.

And then some lies were told. Not lies about me or anyone, really. Just lies people believe that they want me to believe. And I refuse. I’ll be damned, quite literally damned, if I start down that path that the Lord plucked me from all those years ago. So I refuse.

Today made me angry. Angry at people. Angry at the way they are, as one of my dear friends once told me, like crabs in a bucket. Watch crabs in a bucket sometime. When one starts climbing out, the others start climbing on him in their haste to leave until the whole lot falls back in. I was angry at the way people get mad when I choose to believe, live, and love differently than they do. I was angry at the injustices I around them and the fact that I feel powerless to stop them because all of my attempts have failed. I feel gritty. Like in a “grit your teeth and bear it” kind of way. No grin. Just grit.

What I want, more than anything, is to feel grace. Grace like rain. Grace like the grace shown to me. Grace like the unending grace offered me by a good God who loves and saves.

I don’t feel it, though. Not even a little. Too much grit right now.

So I knelt ever so slowly and begrudgingly at the cross tonight. And these truths were graciously offered:

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. – Exodus 14:14

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. – Isaiah 40:31

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. – Isaiah 43:2

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. – Isaiah 54:10

And so on and so forth.

It wasn’t this wild, earth-shattering revelation about the character of God or His promises. Nothing got fixed. But He who drew me near to Himself so long ago has promised me peace this year. Not peaceful days. Just peace. The kind that fills up your heart with calm waters and lets your shoulders be so rooted in order to bear the weight of others’ sorrows and lets you dwell in His love in such a way that you are protected not from all of life’s happenings, but from the way you used to react to it. That kind of peace. And His covenant will not be removed.

Amen.

 

Make new friends (but keep the old).

I was in Girl Scouts for several years growing up. Being the caramel-skinned, curly-haired, chubby-cheeked, bespectacled nerd with braces that I was, I barely tolerated all the activities except summer horse camps and the songs. I couldn’t tell you the name of a single girl in any of my troops, but I can still remember those horses’ names and the songs. We used to sing this one in a round:

“Make new friends

But keep the old

One is silver

And the other’s gold.”

Simple? Yes.

Profound? Twenty or so years later, yes.

I started humming this song while I was cleaning up the various trappings around my office from the past year. It is a habit of mine to cherish cards and letters for a year and then to let them go to make room for new words and new thoughts. Last year was something of an emotional bloodletting for me in the new friend department. It was hard. It was hurtful.

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But the old friends saw me through. Like G, who has sent me fresh flowers on my birthday for years. Without expectation, reservation, or hesitation. She knows my favorite gift in the world and she obliges.

Or take R, for instance. We go way back, back before I knew myself and my God. We’ve sang a lot of songs together and taken a lot of walks and laughed and cried in equal measure. Among the things I took down today were one of her beard compilations (and a bare-chested Mike Rowe) designed to make my soul chuckle with glee.

Then there’s K, who used to be one of my students a long time ago and has turned out to be one of my dearest friends in the world. She likes snail mail like me and even though she is tearing it up in Nashville, she still takes the time to encourage me in my wellness journey like no one else.

And from M and S and T, I have numerous cards and letters letting me in on their lives and giving me truthful words and honest perspectives and love sprinkled throughout the year.

Among them were various gratefulness notes I had written to myself about the sparse, but cherished, moments I had had last year with the people I love. From my love-packed summer trip to my alma mater to an unexpected but welcome evening with two of the best gentlemen I know, I had written just enough to smile again over the memories and be thankful for those bits of shared life.

For the tribe I have cultivated, I am grateful. For the longevity of the intertwined journeys wound so lovingly through the tapestry of my life by the grace of God, I am even more so. Solid gold.

Great Expectations: Unmet. A Year in Review.

As is the norm when one works in higher education, I have this whole week off and I am also slowly, ever so slowly, recovering from coming down with influenza a few days before staff winter break, so I have had lots of time to be quiet and weigh the whole of this year in a feverish stupor. A recent trip to Walmart led to a three-hour recovery nap and a change of clothes because I had sweated through the others just from the exertion. For someone who, as a dear friend once described me, lives balls to the wall 150% of the time, this forced laying about has been most maddening. But it has also opened up space for me to think, to acknowledge the presence of the Lord, and to make some decisions in light of all that has occurred this past year. 2017 was the year of great unmet expectations, the year that pushed me harder professionally than ever before, the year that made people’s intentions known, the year that held its own quietness, but also made me terribly restless, the year that, in a final breath, pushed some old, dead things out and made space for something new. Details below.

Expectation #1: I would be present. I haven’t even finished the book yet that inspired me to try this, but I am happy to say that the art of being present this year turned out to be my best success and my biggest failure. I wanted to show up for my tribe this year and send more letters and take more trips and make more of an effort to be present and available to the people I love. And I did. I sent more letters and took a couple trips and made sure that when a member of my tribe crossed my mind, I reached out and made myself available to them and tried to affirm and encourage them. People get on me for saying “I love you!” too much, but I believe we don’t say it nearly often enough to the people who need to hear it. Assuming our love is implied is assuming far too much. Some people need to be told, sometimes over and over, and tell them I did. Not flippantly, absolutely genuinely, and as often as I could. It was fun, that. I learned a lot about living up the expectations of my own words, and undoing the generational practice in all sides of my family of not expressing love.

I thought that by loving others, acting lovingly towards others, being present with others would somehow be enough to love myself, too. This is where I erred, much to my own demise. I got lost in all that being present with other people, to the point that I was no longer present with myself. Which meant I wasn’t present with the Lord I claim to seek and serve. It also meant that I lost my footing in who I am as a person and who I want to be, who I have to work so hard to be sometimes. I used my prayer journal less this year than any year since I started journaling 22 years ago. I have missed more corporate worship services at my church since August due to exhaustion or illness more times than I think I have missed church in my whole life combined. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore. I’m walking around feeling like a prisoner in a body I have never known to look this way and I am bone-tired. My dear friend/mentor/sort-of-mom gently reminds me that Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.” I’ve been watching over other people’s hearts and not my own. And little good has come of it.

Expectation #2: I had friends in my office. I started this year feeling as though I had hit a real lucky streak with my coworkers because I was able to call them friends, too. And I thought some of us were pretty close. As I discovered this summer, that was an unmerited, and ultimately unmet, expectation. I found that I cannot expect of other people what they are unable to give, even when it is professionalism and common decency and thoughtfulness. Further, I do not have to meet their expectations, either, particularly when it might force me to ignore my values and beliefs. Coworkers are just that: coworkers. It doesn’t mean that I care for them less. It simply means that they have no right to my life and I have no right to theirs. We still get along and all that and there are a few, I suspect, who think they know more about me than they do. I spend a lot of time with the office door shut these days; largely because of the confidentiality of my job, and thankfully so because there are some unedifying and unfortunate things I want no part of. I’ll find my friends elsewhere, hopefully where souls run a little deeper and no knives get lodged in my back.

Expectation #3: My prayers would be answered. Except they weren’t. Not even a little bit. I’m not talking about the needs prayers – those were absolutely handled and I am grateful. I have been blessed beyond measure. I am talking about the ones I have been breathing out for years in the hopes God hears them. I believe He did and does. I am confused, and more than a little hurt, because I don’t know why He didn’t take visible action. Again. The holidays always make me painfully aware of this one. Particularly when it has been a year where so many I know have seen the chapters of their own love stories and birthing their own babies. I am not jealous. I rejoice with my people when they rejoice. I just wonder when (or IF) I will ever have my own story to tell and how I made it through yet another year without even reading the introduction. I am not a discontent singleton. I am a singleton who knows what she wants, isn’t afraid to wait for it on God’s time, and isn’t in a rush. I am also a woman with a bleeding, too-big heart who wants to share her adventures and cups of coffee with a God-loving fellow. And perhaps a wee babe or two. Also, if you are in your 20s, or if you have been married for awhile but were single before that, please do not tell me that you get it. You don’t. Being single-never-married in your 30s is very different than being single in your 20s. It doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Expectation #4: I would get my stuff together.  Well, I didn’t. My material belongings are still scattered across 800 miles, and I often mourn that I don’t have a space to call my own. My folks and I are currently splitting living expenses and while it has its benefits, monetarily and the fact that I get time with my people, I long for my own front door. But when I say stuff, I don’t just mean the physical stuff I own. I mean myself, my life, my goals. I started a second Master’s program, which was a goal, but I’m just going through the motions and none of it, academically speaking, feels like it means anything. I will be done this year and I cannot wait. I also wanted to return to a fitness routine, but that proved to be nearly impossible and was shut down at every turn for reasons too numerous to list here.

Expectation #5: My tribe would be there for me. This one surprised me most of all. It wasn’t everyone. It is just that the people I thought would make an effort didn’t, and the people who did show up were not the ones I expected. I found out who my friends are this year. Strangely enough, the realization that I was wrong about some people has been a gift in itself.

Expectation #6: I would make a move. Like a physical, pack up my house and move to another part of the country, move. I didn’t. And it is more than okay. I do not know how long the Lord will have me tucked away in East Texas, but here I am. I love living here and it does feel like home, unmet expectations aside. I love the chivalry, the manners, the whispery gentleness of this place. But I am getting antsy again to see new territory. I feel it in my bones. Perhaps this one would be best saved for 2018.

I began this past year with a sense of peace that was quickly wrecked the first week. I am beginning this year with a restless feeling and a fair amount of ready. I don’t know what to expect and that is a beautiful place to be. Better get my boots on, y’all.

Martha-ish.

What a day. I do not usually subscribe to the idea that Mondays are the worst, but today sure felt like it. I overextended myself considerably in an effort to make it all work for everyone else’s schedule and a lack of saying no and I am bone tired. Teary tired. Even as I am writing this, the memories of frustration are causing this lump to settle in my throat.

I work with college students and that requires a certain level of flexibility. I am not inflexible per se, but I have a low (make that zero) tolerance for ambiguity and nonsense. I hide it well, but it manifests itself in ways no one can see, through the aforementioned lump and the knot between my shoulders and the imperceptible tears brimming at the corners of my eyes. Today garnered all three and then some. The setup for my first event was wrong, the catering was delivered so early for my second workshop that it was cold by the time we began, a girl flat out interrupted that workshop by walking into the room in the middle of it and walking across the front of the room (where I was presenting) and walking into a storage closet only to walk back out and tell me she was looking for a room that was in a different part of the building (yes, I cursed internally at that one), the catering was an hour late for my last workshop of the day and only three students showed up for a speaker who had flown in from Houston. At the end, one student declared, “In the nicest way possible, I don’t know who is in charge of your marketing, but they need to do a better job.” I’m in charge of it, child. I am. But please, in your complete lack of professional work and your claims to know everything at 23, please tell me how I am really supposed to do it. Of course, I didn’t say that, but I wanted to. It was right there. Bless her little heart. And then I promptly spilled two chafing dishes full of hot water down the front of my blouse and trousers when cleaning up.

To make matters worse, I am a department of one so all set up and tear down and clean up is on me. I am frustrated with colleagues for not showing me professional courtesy. I am tired of being there for them with their events and then them not being there for me. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

So all of this was building up over the last twelve hours and I was real done with this day and sat down in my sopping wet pants to work on packaging the untouched catering from tonight and trying to sort through three workshops worth of assessment and fliers when I stopped for a moment to look at Instagram. Because my sweet friends make adorable children and there is nothing like smiling babies and a loved tribe to brighten my day. But instead, the first thing in my feed was a quote from dear (and dead) Oswald Chambers, “There is only one thing God wants of us, and that is our unconditional surrender.

Ouch. I immediately remembered the day some ten years ago when I learned the difference between Mary and Martha. For my un-Bible friends, a little recap: Mary and Martha were sisters who welcomed Jesus into their home. While Martha ran around and cleaned and served food and got mad, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened. Martha’s mad spilled over and she asked Jesus why Mary could get away with being so lazy. “But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

I spent most of my life, both childhood and adulthood, being mad at Mary…and Jesus for enabling her. I am a do-er of things and not always a listener of truth. I despise laziness in word and deed and thought. I am better now, but sometimes I fall into my old ruts. Like today. Lots of rushing about. Not a lot of taking the time to heed what the Lord was teaching me in every moment. Even though I know better and I have learned a better way, I am still a hot mess of curls and wild dreams and too much perfectionist demands. That’s a painful truth after a painful day.

So back to dear old Oswald. God doesn’t want my rushing about. He just wants my heart. Every bit. I don’t measure success by the number of people attending my workshops or how high I rate in my boss’s estimation of my work or how well my student’s rate their level of satisfaction. All I want is to lay down to sleep at night knowing I was kind and gracious with each person in my path and somehow mimicked the love of Christ that I have been freely given. I don’t do it well. I know this. I can be most Martha-ish in chaos. And yet God is ever there, gently reminding me (okay, maybe sometimes not real gently, because I don’t always listen) that He just wants my heart. He doesn’t care how I measure up in others’ eyes either. He just wants my heart. My life. My all. My surrender.

Amen to that.