It Takes a Village, or So They Say

My freshman year at Baylor University, I got locked inside The Sub, the student designated common area that housed a small cafe, a few couches and computers, and the mail room. It was the Sunday before finals week, and I crept out of the dorm just as the sun peeked up over the horizon, because cramming is an art form, and I’d mastered it.

I wanted some place that I knew I could be alone for several hours to study, so I walked to The Sub and tugged on the back door, and it opened! There were a couple of lights on, but otherwise the room was dark and completely silent. I sat down at one of the tables and pulled out my books and notebooks, then set to work.

Thirty minutes in, a man walked around the corner whistling and nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw me sitting at the table. If we hadn’t been so terrified, I think we both would have laughed.

“You know The Sub is closed until 1:00 on Sundays, right?” he asked. He was the custodian making his final rounds before heading to the next building on campus. I nodded my head in response, but really I had no clue the building was closed on Sunday mornings.

These were the small details of life that eluded eighteen-year-old me.

“I’m just studying for finals,” I replied.

“Well, alright then,” he said, giving me a little wink. “You can stay. Just promise you’ll leave by 11:00 so you don’t scare the woman who unlocks the doors as much as you scared me just now.”

I smiled and nodded, and he moved on. I heard him leave the building, and I dug back into conjugating Russian verbs. Around 10:00, I could feel my eyelids growing heavy. I’d put in nearly four hours of work, and I’d had nothing to eat. It was time for breakfast and a nap. I gathered my things and headed for the door…only to find it locked tight.

I checked every door in The Sub, all of them locked. I was stuck, and at a loss for what to do next. This was 1996, which means I didn’t have a cell phone or Facebook, or really any other means for getting in touch with someone. All I had was the campus phone in the corner.

A phone with a cord attached to it. Good grief I’m old.

It took several attempts, but I finally managed to wake up a friend in the dorm and ask her to come see if she could break me out. Long story short, it took about an hour for her to find someone with a set of keys who could set me free.

That was the day I determined that studying early in the morning could legitimately be hazardous.

Image courtesy of Tammy Labuda Photography

Image courtesy of Tammy Labuda Photography

Sometimes motherhood feels like that morning in The Sub. I start out so many days with such noble purposes, and I enter into the day assuming that it’s all going to go according to plan. Then suddenly it’s all bumbled, and I’m locked down in the decisions and the bickering and the never ending to-do list, and I can’t find my way back out.

That’s when I’m grateful for friends who pick up the phone and hear the panic in my voice, rushing to rescue me from the corner into which I’ve backed myself.

My friend, Wendy, said this once, and I do believe it’s true. Because going it alone in these emotionally exhausting years of raising kids starts to feel claustrophobic. If we’re not careful, we just might blame our kids for locking us in, and where would that leave us?

No, friends who pick up their phones when we call (or text…thank you modern technology) help us keep the doors open. They walk us out into the light, and nourish our starving bodies with laughter, conversation, and encouragement. And so it is that motherhood was never meant to be lived alone, but together, with the doors of life open and unlocked.

So this is my cry of thanks to the village of friends who continually rally around me, making sure I don’t get stuck inside these mothering years. They’re the ones that push wide open the door, keeping fresh air flowing through my days  and making me, in turn, a better mother.

I’m glad I don’t have to go it alone.

I’m also glad that technology has given us phones without cords.

Have you thanked a friend today? Bought her coffee? Sent her a card? Or a text?

Would you?

 

When matters of faith require action

candy

I’ve kept quiet on some of the events that have occupied the attention of our world for the past few weeks. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say on the matter – it’s simply that I’ve learned over the years I don’t always have to interject an opinion.

There are certain topics, however, that captivate me in such a way that I cannot remain silent. I will not be shamed into discussing anything online unless I feel really led to speak on it, and in this instance I’ve found that I cannot keep quiet.

A video began circulating this week of Victoria Osteen, wife of Pastor Joel Osteen, speaking to her husband’s congregation of 10,000 about why they should “do good.” The first time I watched the 36 second clip, I laughed out loud. It wan’t an amused, “Oh isn’t that funny” sort of laugh. It was more of an incredulous, “Did she really just say that out loud?!” sort of laugh.

I watched the clip a second time, and I could not keep my jaw from dropping. From the platform of her pulpit, she may have made one of the boldest, most heretical claims of faith I’ve ever heard, and I could not wrap my mind around such thinking.

In the past nearly seven years since I’ve begun blogging, I’ve tamed a lot in my approach to what I see and read online. I realize more now than I did when I began that words and meanings can be taken out of context, and that the internet, while teeming with good things, can also be insidious and wretched, and wildly unforgiving.

In short, I’ve learned to withhold judgement.

So although my first reaction to her video was to feel true indignation at her horrific message, I quickly stopped, and I reminded myself that sometimes I say stupid things, too. Sometimes I mean to say one thing, and something entirely different comes out of my mouth. So I opened up a new window, and I did a little search to see if maybe my assessment of what she just preached was misunderstood.

I’ve long had a weary opinion of the Osteens. I do not believe in the idea of the prosperity gospel in any way, shape or form. I do not think that God is at all concerned with my happiness, or with my every day being a Friday. There is zero evidence in scripture to support such claims, and so I’ve always taken Joel Osteen quotes with a grain of salt. They are feel good fluff – kind of like cotton candy. Fun to eat, but will rot you from the inside out if you consider it nutritious.

I decided to look up a few more videos of Joel and Victoria Osteen speaking, and I read excerpts of their books available online. After doing that research, I feel much more confident in my assessment of that now infamous Victoria Osteen clip.

It is, indeed, blasphemy, and I do think that the Osteens believe that message with all of their hearts.

Dear Church of God, I come to you begging that you use discernment in such matters of faith. We cannot give ourselves over to this belief that God is  pleased only when we are happy. We cannot for a second accept the notion that we do good, “not for God, but for ourselves.” To believe that it’s about us is not worship – it is destructive, self-serving and the very worst of a Western faith system.

God wants my yes. He wants my obedience. He wants me to give and love and pour myself out for others, not because it makes me feel good or look good or seem “good.” He wants me to pour myself out as a praise offering to Him – so that He gets the glory. I don’t want the glory – I really do not, because it would be a cotton candy faith that dissolves the second I’m faced with any sort of challenge.

Last year was a pivotal year in my walk of faith. For most of 2013, I fought hard against depression. I was angry and confused, and I clung to my God not because He made me happy, because most of my anger was actually directed at Him. No – I clung to Him because I needed to know that He was real. I needed to know that even in the darkest moments, He was who He said He was.

He did not fail my meager test of faith. Indeed, He has proven Himself faithful not because of me, but in spite of me.

The notion that God is glorified when we are happy is a slap in the face of His true nature and character, and I pray that all of us would have eyes to see, and ears to hear, the false teachings of our time. Do not be deceived, fellow believers, by these fluffy, sugary words. They do not hold weight in a world that is crying out.

They hold no weight for the Christians in Iraq being systematically targeted and slaughtered.

They hold no weight for the children of Israel and Gaza.

They hold no weight for the orphans in Russia, or the poverty stricken villages in Africa.

They hold no weight for the single mom fighting to put food on the table.

They hold no weight for the grieving parents who stand at the fresh mound of dirt that covers the body of a beloved child.

God is for you for no other reason than because of His never ceasing goodness and love. Not because of your deeds, your “goodness,” your happiness, or your false beliefs in yourself. The God of the Universe longs to have all of you so that He may be glorified through you, in both the good times and the bad.

It’s all about Him.

It’s all about Him.

Observing the Creative Life

sunsetcruise2

I’m writing a new book, and this time I get to do it with a friend.

Wendy and I have been batting around this idea of inspiration, of motherhood, and of creativity for several years now, and as we continue to flesh it out, a message is taking shape, and together we are diving in so that we can share this message with all of you.

This process is requiring more of my time, but that’s okay. I don’t mind sleeping a little less. I consider it training for bringing home a new baby in a couple of months.

I also find myself researching constantly this idea of creativity, and how it fits into life, into motherhood, and into ministry. Everywhere I turn these days, it seems I run into examples of creative people making big impacts. I can hardly have a conversation anymore without some sort of bell sounding in my head:

This person is a creative. Observe! Observe! Observe!

Historical works and figures are not left out of my observations, either. Yesterday at church we discussed Psalm 22. At one point, one of the women in our group made the observation that David seemed a bit “eccentric.” His writings were revelations, they were songs, they were musings – for heaven’s sake, the man danced in nothing but a linen ephod, despite being king!

As she spoke, I had to bite my tongue to keep from blurting out, “David was a creative!”

Indeed, many creatives can be easily labeled as eccentric. Some may even dance their praise.

Creatives view the world differently, looking at life through a different lens. Writers don’t see words, they see stories that move and come to life. Artists don’t see colors, they see vivid shapes that form on canvas, in marble, and in blocks of wood. Bakers don’t see ingredients, they see bold cakes, artistic cookies, and people gathered to enjoy one another over a scone and some tea. Jewelry makers don’t see a hunk of metal – they see a necklace, a message adorning hope and beauty to the world.

I could go on and on, but the point is this: creative people are everywhere. They are all around us, and the more I observe them, the more I am in awe of this process of creating as an act of praise.

I hear music differently these days, because I imagine the process the songwriter went through to pen those words. (And it’s to be generally understood that I’m talking about good music here – not the teeny bopper pop fluff that my kids force me to listen to on a day to day basis). I feel the rhythms deeper as I imagine the pianist at the helm of her craft, or the drummer pounding in time with his heart.

As I research what it means to live this life with a creative bent, I grow more in awe of my Creator as well. Last night, I had the privilege of enjoying a sunset cruise in the Gulf of Mexico with some friends. As the sun dipped behind the clouds, and the sky around us lit up in red, orange, and yellow, I couldn’t help but smile at the master strokes of the One who Created it all.

It’s a privilege to live this life creatively, and if you are doing so, I urge you to keep doing it. Photographers, keep on capturing God’s creation, and revealing the world through your lens as He sees it through His.

Writers, pen your words as an act of worship.

Singers, do not hold back in fear or shame, but let loose a new song as an offering of praise.

To all my creative friends and readers, I offer you this – your gift is worth sharing with the world, and your eccentricities make your gift that much more beautiful to watch.

As this message and this book continue to come together, I will continue to share encouragement. We get one life – one chance to fully live out that to which we have been called. Creative friends – live your art out loud.  

Dance it if you have to!

The Detestable Art

ScrewtapeLetters

 

Humans are amphibians – half spirit and half animal.

As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation – the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.

…Now it may surprise you to learn that in His (God’s) efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks;some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.

The reason is this. To us (the demons) a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience that the Enemy (God) demands of men is quite a different thing.

One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself – creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.”

C.S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters (emphasis mine)

Life can throw us curveballs when we least expect it. Sometimes we barely manage to push ourselves off our knees before we’re brought low again. We are undulating through life in the ever constant shift between highs and lows, goods and bads, troughs and peaks.

This is where our passions, our imaginations, and our eternal, spiritually connected souls take shape.

I’ve spent the morning digging through The Screwtape Letters once again. When life feels curvy, I find solace in books. My anxious heart calms in the rhythm of the written word. There is equal comfort to be found in music, which Lewis describes in The Screwtape Letters (from a demon’s point of view) as “a detestable art…a meaningless acceleration in the rhythm of celestial experience.”

“Something like it occurs in heaven,” he writes. Then he describes laughter as producing a similar effect on the human soul.

I don’t know where you are in life today, whether you’re down on your knees, trying to dust off yet another disappointment, or recoiling from the aftershocks of unexpected news, but I offer you this encouragement:

Look for comfort in beautifully penned words, and seek the peace of the scriptures.

Listen to music that pulls you into that realm of celestial experience.

And, if at all possible (and it’s always possible), find a way to laugh. Look for fun wherever you might find it, and for however brief a time it may appear, for as Lewis writes, “Fun is closely related to Joy – a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct.”

This is my prayer for you today.

Partners in Dream Chasing

This week, two friends offered me a bit of grace, a little encouragement, and just the kind of nudge I needed to push myself out of my creative funk. How did they do this?

Through a simple text, and a ten minute phone call.

There is no way to really stress the importance of having a few people who “get” you. You need people who will come alongside when you’re feeling discouraged, when you want to give up, when you just feel like it’s never going to happen, and who will remind you why you keep pursuing your dreams.

Jeff Goins calls these people your tribe.

Tribes are how we live our lives. We are constantly banding together with other people to discuss ideas and share information.

Your church is a tribe. Your job is another tribe. Your group of friends is another. You have a tribe. The question is: Do you know it?

Let’s ditch the jargon and just speak in plain English for a second. A tribe isn’t a fan club or mega, super platform; it’s just a group of people who care about something. And we all belong to a few of those, don’t we?”

Encouragers

The benefit to having a tribe, a group of people who will surround you in pursuit of making one another better, is that you’re never really alone. But you must be transparent and let people in. You have to share your dreams, to be open about the things that inspire you toward passionate living, in order for people to walk alongside and help you navigate the path.

For a long time, I was embarrassed to admit that I was writing a novel. I shared the information only with people I knew intimately. My reasons for doing this were not noble or humble. They were riddled in fear.

I was afraid that if I failed, if I never finished the book, or it ended up being terrible, that I would never be able to survive the humiliation. So I shied away from discussing my writing.

I quickly realized, however, that a secret passion is terribly difficult to chase down. Without the benefit of having encouragers by my side, I had no real motivation to press forward with the project. I could see it beginning to die.

So I told a few people, then a few more. Then I shared a few snippets of the book with my readers, and an amazing thing happened.

My confidence grew exponentially, as did the people who were cheering me on. This gave me the momentum I needed to push forward until I could finally type the words, The End.

I couldn’t have done it without my tribe of people cheering me on. And now? Now I’m in the throes of seeking publication. It is a discouraging process, filled with rejection, all of which can leave a writer feeling less than confident.

Just when I began to wonder if maybe I’d made a terrible mistake in trying to publish this story – maybe it wasn’t written as well as I hoped – I received a text from a friend encouraging me not to give up, and offering a prayer for the days when I feel overcome with doubt.

Two days later, a conversation with a mentor and friend who believes in me, and who has been a champion of encouragement to me throughout this writing process, told me he believed in me, and he believed in my book. His gracious words melted the fears and doubts that had crept in over the last few weeks.

Do you see the importance of surrounding yourself with encouragers?

If you have a dream, a goal that you’re working toward, have you shared that? Have you entrusted your pursuit with someone (or multiple someones) who will spur you on toward the accomplishment of that dream? If not, can I ask why?

Don’t be afraid of your dreams, and certainly don’t keep them to yourself, even if they seem lofty, impossible, or ambitious. With the power of a team (a tribe) backing you up, you will find that in the moments you want to give up completely, someone will be there to dust you off, turn you around, and keep pushing you forward.

All the way to The End.

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