For the love of Fall

'Cute Kids in Children's Costumes' photo (c) 2009, epSos .de - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

*If my friends and I were these kids, I’d be the one with the bow.

I realize it’s October.  It’s not lost on me that Halloween is next week.  Tonight even, my friends decided that the four of us needed to dress up and go out to dinner as characters from popular kids’ books this year. Nickie said she’d cover herself in body glitter and call herself a vampire.  Beth said she’d wear her graduation robes, a striped tie, and call herself a student of Hogwarts.  They said our friend Melissa could wear a flowing dress, strap on some pointed ears, and say she’s from Middle Earth.  And they said I could carry our friend’s hunting bow, put my hair in a braid, and be Katniss.  Lucky me.  I don’t really do the dress-up thing so we’ll see if it happens, but I appreciate that they know me well enough to give me the bow and not the pointy ears.

So, yes, it’s October and it’s Halloween time, and the air outside is finally cold enough that you can see your breath at night.  Beer and coffee come flavored like pumpkin, and my clogs have become my everyday footwear.  Everything’s popping with yellows and oranges and reds, and the leaves that fall crunch when you step on them.   This is, hands down, my favorite time of year.

And I’ll be honest, I’m especially happy to see it come this year.  And I’m making every stride to soak in the season for as long as I can, before Fall gives way to Winter and falling leaves give way to falling snow.

I didn’t have the greatest summer, and I think anyone who’s walked any kind of close to me this year would echo that.  My friend’s mom said it best when she said that I seemed distracted all summer.  She said it was like I wasn’t necessarily in a bad place, but that I was always someplace other than where I was.

And when she said that, it was as if she gave words to what I couldn’t say for the last couple of months.  Because I was always someplace other than where I was, because I was always in my own head, always sorting through something, always trying to surrender some part of what I was thinking and feeling to prayer.   Because there was a lot for me to think and feel my way through this summer – like, the ending of things with the nice boy; like, the hard conversation with the BFF that had us on different pages for most the summer; like, the ending of the youth leading part of my life when all my girls left for colleges across the East Coast; like, the continued unemployment; like, the turning 30 and still living with my parents; like, the starting at another new church; or, you know, things like that.

So, I’m convinced that for me this Fall is really about things falling away.  It’s about not feeling any kind of bad feelings about loving someone who wasn’t ready to love me in return. It’s about remembering that hard conversations birth real friendships, and having a real friendship with someone who really believes in you is always going to be worth the fight. It’s about embracing a new kind of relationship with these women now in college, that’s less about leading and more about walking alongside.  It’s about enjoying my parents and the closeness that comes with sharing meals and with sharing a bathroom, as much as I hate the shaving ick my dad leaves in the sink every day.  It’s about believing and hoping and praying that the God who began a good work in my career will finish it through to completion, even if every hiring manager these days seems to think I’m overqualified for every job on the planet in the history of forever.

But mostly, this Fall is about a new season in so many ways. And I’m waking up every day making my very best attempts to pay attention to what it has to offer – like, conversations at dinner tables with hands wrapped around mugs of hot tea; like, pumpkin spice lattes and Pumpkin Harvest Blue Moon ales; like, afternoons spent at apple orchards and pumpkin patches; like, walks through town bundled in hoodies and thick socks; like…dressing up with three of my favorite girlfriends to go out to dinner on Halloween?

Hand me my bow and call me Katniss!

…or maybe not that last one. I’ll let you know next week.

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A year’s worth of lessons

It’s been just about a year since everything changed. A year since a youth minister was fired and arrested, a year since a church experienced the kind of hurt no church should have to experience.

It’s been a year of paying attention, a year of learning.  There are some lessons that I wouldn’t trade for anything, and others that I wished I hadn’t learned at all.

For good or for bad, this is what this year has taught me:

1. Loving two people on two different sides of an argument can be heart-wrenching.  But, it is not impossible.

2. Sometimes you’re going to feel like you have to pick sides. You don’t. Not really.

3. Just because someone is in a position of authority does not mean that they are a leader. Or that you should be following them.

4. Sometimes following Jesus means disappointing people who claim to care for you. It’s just part of it, and it’s okay.

5. People can walk with you for years, even through some of life’s messiest messes, and they still may never see you.  This is okay too.

6. When the bottom falls out, true character is revealed.  Make sure what people are seeing in you is integrity. And Jesus.

7. Real friends have real fights.  And they love each other through them.

8. Relationships are organic things; they need room to grow. So, sometimes there needs to be distance even in the best relationships in order to foster healing. This doesn’t mean the relationship is over. Take a breath, you’ll find even keel again.

9. Sometimes, though, you’ll bank on the wrong people and you will hurt and you will be disappointed. But, you will be better off without people who only take from you and/or who don’t let you be exactly who God designed you to be.

10. Pray.  Pray all the time. Pray about everything.

11. Don’t get so angry that you lose hope.  Hope is what sets us apart.

12. You may not end up where you expect. This might throw you into an existential and spiritual crisis.  And it’s okay.  Because once you’re done spinning, you will nonetheless see that you are someplace good.

Grace is a party.

'Scotch in solo cups' photo (c) 2010, Kevin Galens - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/I talked about craving grace last week, about wanting to find ways to accept it and extend it. And then this weekend, a situation that required more than I had.

A party, a borrowed house, a 1 AM phone call to break up said party at said borrowed house while the owners were away on vacation.

I’ll tell you this much, nothing makes you (or the friend who’s with you) feel more like an adult than yelling at incoherent teenagers phrases like, “It doesn’t matter how I found out, this party is over!” and “I can call the cops or I can call your mom!” and “I don’t care if you can’t get a ride, are your legs broken?”

I’m not at my most gracious at 1 AM.

But then I think about cleaning puke out of the kitchen sink and I think, maybe I am.

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After the kids had been sent home to be someone else’s problem, I stood at my friends’ kitchen sink scrubbing pots of burnt spaghetti and dumping solo cups of a some kind of red alcohol-based punch.  I shook with anger and prayed for calm.

A party. A borrowed house.  Lots of alcohol.

This wasn’t my house, this wasn’t my sink. This was my friends’ house and it had been violated. And I couldn’t make it okay that it happened, but I could make sure their pots and counters were cleaned.

A party. A borrowed house.  Lots of opportunity for grace.

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I realize in this moment that what makes this whole grace thing complicated on the human side of things is…well…the human side of things.  We go with what’s easy, and more often than not avoid what’s hard.  When our friends suffer at the hands of a  teenage party, the grace to clean the puke in their kitchen is easy to find. But, grace for the puker or for the kid who threw the party, that’s harder to come by, maybe even that takes a little bit of work.

My friends’ whose house was violated found grace for the kid who threw the party quickly.  They, of course, issued appropriate consequences, but they also expressed love.  I asked them how they did it, and they answered, “Prayer.”

Prayer, it seems to me, is the work of grace.  And it is only through prayer, through being connected to God Himself, that you can look at a kid who puked in your sink after trashing your kitchen and partying in your house and say, “I love you.”

And maybe, because you’re praying, you’re able to clean the sink at 1 AM after a party in a borrowed house.

But, maybe the point is that both are grace.

Coming down from the high horse

“But, it’s what you blog and tweet about most.  She probably felt like you were getting on your high horse.”

The funny thing about being a blogger is that I forget people are reading sometimes.  Not that I forget that I’m sharing publicly or anything, I just forget that people are putting pieces together on the outside that I can’t see because I’m too inside my own thoughts and feelings and experiences.

My friend is right though, I do write about the same themes a lot – community, friendship, the Church, singleness.  I think that happens to most writers.  You find a passion and you sink your teeth into it and the words just kind of appear, because it’s what you’re thinking about all of the time, and often all that you’re thinking doesn’t make sense until you sit down and put the words on paper.

But, the reality is also that I write about what’s close to my heart.  I write about my friends because I love them, and they’re tangible examples of God’s love, and I think everybody should have those kinds of people in their lives.  I write about church because, as much as it frustrates me sometimes, I love the Church, and I think we can do better by each other than we are right now.  I write about community because, I think, that’s where friendship and church blur together to create the place I’m living right now, and I love this place.  And I write about being single probably because it’s my biggest point of wounding right now.  I write about being single not because I love my singleness, although most days I do, but because I’ve been made to feel small in my community because I’m single, and I don’t think people meant that to happen, and I hope that by writing about it we can start to talk about how we can love each other better, regardless of ring status.

I don’t ever want to sound like I’m getting on my high horse, but I suppose when you’re a blogger, writer, speaker, or any kind of someone who puts their thoughts out there in a way for a people to interact with, you’re going to have high horse moments.   We’re going to have those things that so drive us  to communicate that we’re going to not always get the tone right, or we’re going to be too pointed, or…I don’t know…something.  We’re just not always going to get it right.  For this, I am terribly sorry.

But, I think that’s why we writers and communicators value so desperately the honest feedback of the people who are reading and listening.   Please don’t stop. You are sharpening our thoughts, and challenging us, and making us better people and better writers.  And I promise to listen, and interact with what you’re offering, and come down from my high horse. Or at least, I’ll try.

And I suppose really what I’m asking for is a little more grace between us, a little more space for understanding, a little more hope that we can figure out a way to love each other better.

It’s about patience

I sent out a tweet last night, in the middle of a text-versation with a friend who lives very far away and who knows me really well.  I told her about this thing that’s going on in my life, and she told me, “So then, it’s about patience.” And so, I tweeted:

Patience tweet

Because my friend who lives very far away was the fourth person this week to tell me that this thing is something God is using to teach me patience, and that I can’t just bow out because then I would miss the lesson.

And I see how much this sucks because I really am THE WORST at being patient.  (Ask anyone who rides shotgun in my car when I-95 is backed up.)

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Then, this morning, this image posted on my Facebook wall from a friend I haven’t seen in many moons:

Patience FB graphic

If anyone asks me why I’m a social media junkie, I’m going to remember this moment and this image and this lesson on patience. Because it’s important, and worth remembering.

Because this thing, this thing about patience that I’m supposed to be learning, is really about faith, and is little bit about hope, and is a whole lot about prayer.

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The image from Facebook trivializes so much of what I’m thinking, but basically what I’m thinking is: Yes, God’s got it.

I’ve never been one to put much stock in the idea of anything being “meant to be,” because it sounds so trite and so predestined and so like it’s not going to take a lot of hard work.  Except…now I have this thing in my life, and I really do feel compelled into it, and I really do believe that the Holy Spirit is prompting me into this thing that’s going to make me a little bit more like Jesus.  And while I wouldn’t use this language ordinarily, I guess I do have to admit that I believe it’s “meant to be” because I believe that God is in it so deeply, and that He’s working in me through it in a way that He could through nothing else.

If that’s true, if I believe this thing is of God and that He’s leading me somewhere good by it, then I have no choice but to be patient. And have faith. And hold hope.  And pray.

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So maybe when we talk about patience, what we’re actually talking about is taking a breath in the belief we have in God’s good leading.  Maybe we’re saying that something is happening that is giving us the chance to sit with God in prayer, to talk to Him like we’d talk to our best friend about whatever it is and how it’s making us feel.  Maybe, just maybe, what we’re telling each other when we’re telling each other to be patient is actually to rest in who Jesus is and how He’s moving in our lives.

Because… yes, God’s got it.

And… hang in there. It’s about to get so, so sweet.

You are being sanctified.  You are being made more like Jesus.

(But real talk, let’s do something about those slow drivers on I-95…)

Manifested grace: Ephesians 4:29 and why our words matter

Too many of'Miss A Writes a Song' photo (c) 2012, Denise Krebs - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ us live forgetting that the words we use carry weight, that there is power in what we say and what we write.

We throw out pithy Christian sayings and Bible verses out of context, and we cheat each other out of an authentic encounter with the Living Word of God.  We may quote Ephesians 4:29, encouraging each other to watch what we say and to honor God with our words, but in the next sentence we recklessly recount a man’s sins and cast judgment on the state of someone else’s faith.  And such a thing breeds confusion because there is no edification in condemnation.

And I’m not sure how to see Jesus in this kind of thing.

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Perhaps it’s a sign of getting older and I hope it’s a sign of maturity, of having learned something from the difficult season I’ve found myself in over the last six months, but I’m finding I have less patience for this kind of thing.  Because what I’m craving most these days from my Christian brothers and sisters is consistency. 

I want to know that the person I’m sitting in church with on Sunday is also the same person I’m eating dinner with on Wednesday or having coffee with on Friday.  I want to know that when you say you’re praying for me, it’s because your experience has taught you that prayer changes things.   I want to know that when you quote a verse in a conversation with me, it’s not because you think you need to, but because your own story of faith has shown you its truth.

Because ultimately I need to know that you’re not full of it.

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Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.  -Ephesians 4:29

Ephesians 4:29 is a verse that reminds us that our words carry weight. It reminds us that conversations that happen in a moment can have lasting ramifications that are either discouraging or encouraging.  It reminds us that we should be aimed at edification and at building each other up.  And it reminds us that the way we talk to one another can manifest grace.

And grace manifests when what we say reflects the heart of who we are.

Grace manifests when we refrain from statements loaded with judgment; when we quit talking out of both sides of our mouths; when we stop hurling insults and calling each other names; when we tell each other the truth, even when it’s scary and vulnerable; when we invite one another to share our stories; when we pray for each other; and when we say outright, “I love you.”

And in these kinds of things, I see Jesus.

2013: PRESENCE

(c) RAW Photrography
(c) RAW Photography

“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

– Ephesians 5:14b

2012 was a year of setting priorities. It was a year of making decisions to be the kind of person I wanted to be in the world. That is to say, when 2012 rolled around I found myself spread too thin, giving all of my energies to too many people in too many places, and ultimately not living in a way that reflected what’s most important. So, in 2012 I shifted my focus and made different choices.

I stopped serving out of obligation and guilt, and only said “yes” to the activities and ministries that I could give myself to with a cheerful heart. I challenged myself to soften, and said “yes” to every chance to hang out with my friends and their kids. I disconnected from relationships that ceased to honor God, even when that meant leaving people and a church I’d known for two decades. I wrote with more honesty and vulnerability, and I connected to a group of people who love writing and Jesus and who understand how the two are intimately related. And, ultimately, I prioritized friendships with people who are real, who embrace the grittiness of life without losing God or hope or grace.

I don’t want to stop this in 2013. In fact, I want to do it better. I want to wake up every day paying attention to my life and the people in it. And that’s why my word for 2013 is PRESENCE.

While 2012 was a year of priority-setting for me, 2013 is going to be the year where all the priority-setting plays out. And I want to be present to what the year has to offer, in all the ways I already know it will and in all the ways that it will totally surprise me.

I want to be present to my friends and my family, and to what they’re telling me about who God is through the way that they love me.

I want to be present to my writing, and to the ways that God is weaving Himself in and out of the story I’m telling with my life.

I want to be present to every church I attend as I look for a new place to call home, and to open my eyes to the way God moves in different communities who are gathered in His name.

I want to be present to the moment, and to what God is teaching me about love and grace and mercy and redemption as I walk my days surrendered to His lead.

I want to wake up and attend to the ways that Christ is present with us.