flowers

Long blogging breaks are never planned. I stop writing one week, and the days start blurring, time gets away from me and before I realize it’s been two months since I last wrote anything. Yes, there are some lines in a journal, but mostly I’ve been writing grocery lists, Facebook messages and emails.

When I went away for three days in July to write, to pray and to think (and to sleep), I was ready to give up writing on a blog or writing for public consumption. Too little time. Too much work. And I could not see or understand the why. There are so many blogs out there – outstanding ones, I should say – why another one? The world is noisy enough, full of opinions about how we live or how to live, and I shudder at the thought of contributing more to the noise in your head and mine. I haven’t doubted that I write or want to write, only doubted the means through which I do that. But I’m still here, there is the seed of writing in this space, I have a home here, one that calls me back time and time again.

So this post is a bit of a free-for-all update, just stopping in to say hello, I am here and missing this space.

I tend to go quiet in November. Two out of the last four years it’s because I was in the first trimester of a pregnancy, and the other two years were for sleep deprivation from a not-sleeping-five-month-old. I am happy to report that this November involved neither of those two things. I played with the boys, I cooked good food and put frozen pizzas in the oven on other days, I worked up a sweat on an elliptical machine, I woke up early and sometimes woke up late.

For the first time in a long time, I can say these few words: I am starting to feel like myself again.

Marriage and motherhood changes us, and when it happens so quickly, the changes swirl around, there is no time to take it in, and for a reflector like me, no time to process and understand. But I know that I didn’t laugh the same way. The spark of life and passion that had always burned somewhere inside, it was gone.

light

We head toward the darkest days of the year now. Light breaks between 8 and 8:30am, and it is dark like the night around 3:30pm with the sun setting (if it is there) around 2:30pm. Trees shed their leaves, the ground begins to freeze, there is death, death and more death. My soul flows with these seasons, last year when November and December rolled around, I wanted to hide somewhere and sleep.

But not this winter. I wish I could tell of some miracle transformation, but in reality it has been slow, steady, hard work. Counseling appointments, going to a small group to discuss and deal with habits, hurts and hangups, steady time alone, sharing my life with a few trusted people, and going to the gym.

I am now a gym person, by the way. I would say I have no idea how that happened except I do. It has free childcare. Every time I walk into this place, I want to cry and thank them because I have energy again, I haven’t noticed the weather, I am enjoying my life in Sweden. The other day a woman at the gym asked me what I thought about Swedish weather, and I said, Oh it’s been such a beautiful autumn. I think this November was so much better than last years, the way the light shined and the way the trees looked, everything has just been so beautiful and gentle. 

She looked at me like I had absolutely lost my mind. Later I found out that we’ve had our darkest November in over a 100 years here in Sweden. I haven’t noticed.

My body was longing to work hard at something again, so much energy stored up inside, it needed release, and my spirit follows suit, working hard on some new projects, creating when I can, fighting to enjoy my children, fighting to choose kindness instead of anger. I can feel myself releasing as I put my hand to these things.

candles

So Christmas is here again. We’ve put up the lights, candles flicker in our windows, we are on day 12, and so far still not losing our minds (and tempers) over Advent activities. Last week a dear friend came over with her two kids. They watched a movie twice and ate popcorn and chocolate for dinner while she and I caught up. She hung a tree branch up in our living room. I think it took her less than 20 minutes. It’s even better than I ever thought it could look.

We had a branch over a couch in our apartment in Geneva. It was one of my most favourite things, and it’s taken a long time to do it here, but there it hangs, more beautiful, rugged and raw than the last one. Rigged from the ceiling by a friend who knew what she was doing, while our four children danced around the room singing Jingle Bells and Angels We Have Heard on High. It was basically a perfect evening. The relationships I longed for are here.

It’s been four years of conception and birth, fruitfulness that seemed effortless to my body, yet the same body held a barren soul, a space that increasingly became a wasteland of ideas and longing. But the season changes. I suppose it always does. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in a land of deep darkness, a light has shined. In Jesus was life, and that life was the light of all men. 

Merry Christmas, my friends. I so appreciate those of you who have read this blog over the years. This will be my last post for 2014. I’m going to be doing some thinking and hopefully writing between now and the new year, there will be a bit of travel, too. You can follow along on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. I’ll be back in 2015 but until then, I hope your Christmas season is full of the light of Jesus – may he hold all of your things and all of your life together in his tender hands.

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victory

We drive in cars to a retreat center on a brown hill. The buildings are brick. Dry, brown Australian bush is all around, still brittle from the summer heat. These aren’t glamorous accommodations, just simple bunk beds, a hall for food and an open room with concrete floors as a teaching space.

I had only been part of this church in Australia for a few months, but those of us in the “young adult” type category went away for something called a Victory Weekend in these hills. Many churches in the charismatic movement have a kind of “deal with your baggage” program, and this was ours. The idea is that your participate in some kind of a course or weekend where you hear about how God is powerful over everything, and you confess those things that you did in the past or what you struggle with or what others have done to you. The idea is you walk away with the ties of past mistakes, the curses of the generations cut off.

There are plenty of people in real life and certainly online who would take this weekend and find every way to poke fun at it. To find every theological flaw. To use it as a means for feeding cynicism. And there are many people for whom experiences at these kinds of events caused deep and permanent pain. But I’m not writing everyone’s story here – I am writing my own, and in my life this weekend was a fork in the road. The point where I walked toward life, the place where I decided to stop dying.

There are black, brown and white faces, we’re sitting in a room listening to a preacher, and he asks, Why are you here? I knew.

There are some things that are easy to explain, others that are much harder, but that’s what I try to do in this space, illuminate what I cannot understand in the hopes that the process reveals something true.

There was a heavy load I carried most of my life, a voice that said over and over and over You are not good enough, you are a failure, you are not lovable, you are not beautiful. I am certain that almost every mistake I’ve made in my life was somehow rooted in those whispers. I was in that concrete building because I was ready to put these things on the table, ready to have someone else know. I was ready for a different life, one that wasn’t plagued with insecurity and doubt. I was ready to believe that Jesus held something more for me than only a permanent place in eternity, I was ready to see with my own eyes that what I believed had impact on my daily life.

She has dark brown hair and a Yorkshire accent, and we sit outside on some playground equipment while she reads through my book of pages stapled together. It’s a profile, one I filled out before, circling different sins, writing down statements, and I hand it to her like I’m giving her the worst part of my life, but she tells me the truth – This is not who you are. We work through the little book, the statements, the memories, the moments, after each step speak, pray, truth, love. She puts her hand on my head and prays, I pray for a hedge of protection around Devi’s mind, words I have never forgotten because I know that every lie I believed about God or about myself seeped in through the cobwebs of my mind. I forgive people and let go. I receive truth and accept love.

And it’s there, sitting on this piece of playground equipment outside, working through this book, speaking the truth, crying my tears, everything in my life that caused shame or pain is laid bare before someone else and before God, and as she speaks Truth, I’m hearing his truth in my heart as well. I watch as the slate is wiped clean.

There is space to write a new story, imagination to dream a new life, ashes swirl together and beauty begins to emerge.

I’m writing every day in October (except for Sundays) about Living Church, and this is Day 20 of Write 31 DaysClick here if you want to read all the posts. I’m also linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and the #TellHisStory community today. 

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cardi

I can remember what I wore to most of the significant first days of my life. My first day of school outfits from grade seven to 12 (before that I wore uniforms), first date outfit with Husband, first day at a new church in Melbourne. It was a pink top, with a small v-neck, the strangest fabric that was supposed to look like suede on the outside but was plastic on the inside. I bought it at a second-hand shop in Manila. This is what I wore for my first service at the church that would become my home in Australia.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a bit, you will know that I spent most of my childhood, young adult years and adulthood moving around. I haven’t written much about this, and perhaps one day I will, so to keep it very simple, this is what it feels like. Entering new spaces regularly, having no idea whom to talk to, rarely knowing what others are talking about, looking like an oddball because your clothes are from a different continent. It means introducing yourself repeatedly, laughing at things that aren’t jokes, not laughing when everyone else is. The opinions you have are based on experiences felt and sights seen for which the people you are with have no reference. And it doesn’t matter if you’re with white people in Arkansas, impoverished Filipinos in Manila, a multicultural mix of in Melbourne or blonde men, women and children in Sweden.

You are out of place wherever you go, and as an adult it means less. As a child, as a teenager, being “in” is everything. When you spend your life feeling out of place in social groups, having no cultural identity, and being transient between places, people and relationships, there is a fundamental insecurity about who you are that creeps into everything. I didn’t know it at the time, but I walked into that service with questions:

Who am I? Who will love me? Where do I belong? Where am I safe and secure?

These were the clothes I wore, the questions I asked, the needs I carried. More than anything else I was looking for certainty – certainty for my identity, certainty in relationships, certainty in place and a security that was certain.

I’m writing every day in October (except for Sundays) about Living Church, and this is Day 13 of Write 31 DaysClick here if you want to read all the posts

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This post is sponsored by Jet Lag Fatigue and a Wicked Head Cold. I’ve tried to spend today sleeping and drinking water as much as possible, so I don’t have much to give by way of a blog post. So instead, I’m going to turn it over to you.

Do you have a journal? Some memories of faith experiences in the past? Grab a pen an see what happens when you answer these questions.

What were you looking for when you went to church (or another place of worship)?

Did you find it?

What did you find in the process of looking?

Church was something I had to attend growing up. My parents worked in ministry, so there was no way to get out of church attendance unless there was sickness involved. So when I think about what I was looking for when I went to church, my mind wanders to university years and life in Melbourne, my first foray into adulthood. And the answer is easy.

I was looking for belonging. Acceptance. Love. I was looking for a place where I could be myself and bring the parts of me that seemed sick or broken, but I would be invited in anyway when people found out, and they would walk with me, life-long bonds would form that were strong, I would get better, we would do life together and make an impact.

Did I find it? Yes and no, and I hope to write more about that in the days and weeks to come.

What I found in the process of looking was God. In my need to find acceptance from people, I found him instead, I found Jesus waiting for me at every turn in the journey.

Thanks for your time and patience, and if you feel like sharing your answers, please do so in the comments.

I’m writing every day in October (except for Sundays) about Living Church, and this is Day 11 of Write 31 DaysClick here if you want to read all the posts 

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There are people walking down the tree-lined parking lot toward a building and immediately I’m having flashbacks of my year in Fayetteville High School in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Fake brick buildings. Everything looks the same. SUVs and pickup trucks aplenty. We ate breakfast in the outdoor seating area at Panera Bread before the conference. There were four groups of people, and every conversation – I was listening, obviously – was a Christian-faith conversation.

We enter the building where the Catalyst Pre-Labs were being held (I was there for the IF:Gathering pre lab), and I remarked to my friend, Amy, This is the most number of Christians I’ve been around in four years. It’s not entirely true. We did make it to a mega church once or twice when we were in Australia.

For the past four years, experiencing God and Jesus and church in Switzerland and Sweden meant small, unknown, other, strange. No one I meet asks me where I go to church. Most people presume I don’t. On the odd occasion that my faith comes up, it is usually met with a blank stare before the person who inadvertently found out changes the subject. We talk about the weather, the children, but we won’t be talking about faith again.

And I loved it. The anonymity, the feeling – finally – that no one was watching me and trying to figure out if I was a Calvinist or egalitarian or insert-irritating-category-here, I loved that I could live what I believed instead of talk about it, I loved that the few who were curious asked and that felt precious, costly. 

Culture shock, I believe that’s the correct term for what I felt in those first hours at Catalyst. The amount of make up alone was overwhelming, the fair trade jewelry that was uniform and also not, the concert-style worship beamed into an overflow room before a dynamic preacher took the stage (with an excellent sermon), the “y’all”-ing, and to finish off the Bible-beltness of it all, we eat Chick-fil-A for lunch. I’m sitting in a large room shoulder-to-shoulder with women I’ve never met (except for two friends), and I want to disconnect, I want to feel even more other and strange here than I do in Sweden, but this is when I remember.

She turns to me, the one on my right, and we have a long conversation. She asks about my life, I ask about hers. I don’t have to explain to her why I stay at home with my kids, and I don’t have to explain that it’s hard. She tells me about some choices her family has made, to live life outside of their comforts, to push the boundaries of race in their community, the way their relationships have changed, the cost they paid. I’m sure she wasn’t even scratching the surface, but in those minutes, I remember what it’s like to not be alone, I remember that there are those who are walking a road toward faith forming their culture, not the other way around. I remember that living in a way that pushes against popular culture is what I’ve always wanted. 

Several hours later, I’m standing in line waiting to talk to someone, and I start talking to the woman next to me. We exchange our basic details, and nod in agreement, one stay at home mom to another, she tells me about her life in a mid-sized town. She tells me about the prayer walking, the people on the margins, the meals given, the dream of community living, her belief that she has one life and she wants to make it count. And I remember that I’m not alone, I remember that there are others – there have always been others – whose dreams and desires have been about the marginalized, the poor, the oppressed. I remember that there are thousands of women who are working out how to live out a calling at home and a calling outside of it. 

We finish talking, the tears didn’t just well in my eyes, a few dripped down, I can’t remember the last time I stood in line crying having a conversation with a random woman, but I suppose she wasn’t random. There is a God man and a cross that connects us, his spent life for us asks us to spend our lives for others. We are connected in a way that spans continents and culture and language and background and expectations and categories and differences and beliefs. We are walking on a road, the church alive, living and breathing in us, we link arms across the ocean.

I left stronger. My mind, clearer. My heart, refreshed. My soul, reminded. You are not alone

 

How about you, when do you feel most connected to people who share your faith? 

I’m writing every day in October (except for Sundays) about Living Church, and this is Day 10 of Write 31 DaysClick here if you want to read all the posts