On the Eve of a New Year ...

The beautiful California mountains. (I so miss these living in Florida!)

A landscape of beauty.

This past Sunday, I shared with my Sunday Quiet subscribers a gentle invitation for looking back and looking forward as we stand on the cusp of this new year. I wonder if such a gentle invitation would be helpful for you too?

It’s not flashy or exhaustive. It’s not about goals or lists of things to do. It’s just … gentle. A way of noticing. Of acknowledging. Of paying attention to the ongoing movement of our lives — who we’ve been becoming and may continue to become. 

Would such a prompt be helpful for you? If so, here’s a gentle invitation to reflect on what has been, what is, and what may be to come:

Take some time to enter into your experience of 2013. 

  • Where did you experience life and vitality this year?
  • Where did you experience life seeming to dwindle away?
  • In a word, how would you sum up this 2013 year?

Take some time to enter into an apprehending of 2014. 

  • In what areas do you sense you’ll be growing in 2014, given your current growing edges?
  • What do you value about these growth areas? 
  • What is difficult about them for you?
  • In a word, what is your hope for 2014?

During the first few days of the new year, I’m taking a retreat and will be holding and reflecting on these questions, too. 

Much love to you on the cusp of this new year. Thank you for sharing this Still Forming space with me. 



Light and Dark Together

Step through the doorway?

Both at the same time.

One thing I can’t help but notice as I walk through this time of being grief’s handmaiden is the joy that walks alongside the grief at one and the same time. 

I first encountered this idea in a significant way through my friend Kirsten, who wrote her way through the carrying of her son, Ewan, with his unknown future and his too-few days with an honesty, depth, grace, truth, and dignity that left those of us bearing witness to the journey with our mouths hanging open in awe and respect, shaking our heads in amazement at the fullness of all she held and chose to share with us.

She wrote about the tension of her experience — of loving Ewan so fierce and firm and yet holding that joy and love and hope for his future alongside heartbreak: his difficult, difficult road ahead. After Ewan died, she shared more about the both/and journey of grief, how it includes laughter alongside sadness. And then she wrote about her continued journey through this tension as she experiences the joy of being Austen’s mama and the ongoing loss of Ewan she holds every single day. 

Like I said: awe and respect. 

I’m experiencing this holding of light and dark together in a different way, namely through an awareness that as those I love walk through dark hallways right now, light and life also crop up elsewhere and invite acknowledgment, too, alongside celebration.

Within a few minutes of learning a beloved pastor and pastor’s son in our town died, a close friend of ours shared the rejoicing news that her son had come through a surgical procedure with flying colors. Light and dark together. 

As Kirk and I walk through the loss of his mother this Christmas season, we’re also celebrating some great strides. We’ve marked some financial milestones that have been a long time coming and are moving in lockstep motion toward some more. It’s a time of great celebration for us, even as he’s holding his fresh grief. Light and dark together.

My heart is holding the losses of those I love every single day, and it’s a heart that’s tender and often tired. And yet I’m also watching in amazement and with deep joy and satisfaction as my work with Still Forming seems to bubble over with activity all at once — the long-worked-for launch of the Look at Jesus course this month, the enthusiastic signups for the beta version of a new discernment offering I’ll be sharing in the new year, the invitations to offer my giftings and/or speak in several different venues in the first half of 2014. Things are moving, and I am thrilled, even as I’m sad and confused and weary from all the loss in this season. Light and dark together.

As I scroll through my Facebook feed every day, I see it all: the heartbreak and the joy. And I want to honor and hold every single piece of it. To dignify each person’s real experience, whether it’s high or low. This, too, is what it means to be a handmaiden of grief.

“Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.”

—Romans 12:15, MSG

A Handmaiden of Grief

Rugged piles.

The roughness of these days.

Three years ago, my good friend Kirsten lost her baby boy, Ewan, after 16 days of life. It was such a disorienting time. To be living in Florida while my friend’s heart and soul were breaking open in Washington, I felt so helpless. 

My mother, generous and heartfelt woman that she is, gave me the gift of a plane trip to Washington a month after Ewan died.

What I remember most are the silences. 

Sitting next to Kirsten on a red couch in a local coffee shop, saying nothing as I held her hand, her head resting on my shoulder and tears dripping down her face as we watched two young mothers with their young kids have a play date across the room.

Sitting next to each other on the couch in her apartment at night, holding her hand in the silence there too.

How few words were between us. How few words were needed. There were no words to say. What could possibly be said?

Nearly two months ago now, Kirk’s mother passed away after a very quick 7-week journey through stage 4 lung cancer. It happened so fast, it feels like we’re both still wrapping our heads and hearts around the fact that it did, indeed, happen. 

This time I’m learning how to walk through deep loss with my husband. 

How grief pockets can hit at unexpected moments. How to navigate the holidays. How each day is different. How numbness plays a part at the beginning. How, for the person who lost a parent, it can feel like a hole on the inside that will never get filled again.

I’m learning to walk beside him as we go.

My friend Jan lost her husband, Gary, last week. 

It wasn’t supposed to happen. It’s not what any believed would come. It was to be a quick procedure — a coiling method, they called it, to remove a discovered aneurysm. Instead, an invasive surgery, a stroke, an induced coma, 18 days of waiting, then loss.

We had prayed for him. Laid hands on him. Anointed him with oil. Exchanged smiles and hopes and hugs. Lingered to talk about his music, how maybe he would bring one of his Song Chapel concerts to our church in the new year.

It didn’t go as planned. 

In all that time of waiting and praying, this loss isn’t what I thought would be at all.

I was privileged to sit with Jan twice in her hospital vigil. Talking together while Gary slept. Letting our friendship plant some roots. Learning some of each other’s stories.

Both times, and in all the time in between and after, this was not the outcome I foresaw. A different future, yes. A bracing future for them, maybe. But this? No. 

My friend has lost her beloved. My heart cries hard for her.

And in my community, more loss. 

A friend who lost her boss, then her grandfather.

A pastor in our town gone to suicide, the pain and shock rippling outward, a literal geography of loss, a time of questions, and anger, and sadness, and pain.

In the mix, far removed and yet personal to me, Nelson Mandela died, too. 

So much loss. So much darkness.

And what I notice is being beside. Walking beside, waiting beside, watching beside.

A handmaiden of grief. 

A Very "Still Forming" Thanksgiving

It's fall at Harvard.

I just love fall. 

Tonight at our Thanksgiving Eve service, in response to one of the readings from Deuteronomy about Israel’s journey to the Promised Land, our rector mentioned the portion that said God had humbled them in order to see what was in their hearts (Deut. 8:2). 

It got me thinking about this journey I took into carrying stillness over this past month — how unexpected it was that instead of meditating on the process of actually learning to carry stillness, it ended up being, for me, a process of arguing with God and resisting the process and eventually being humbled into a place of powerlessness and surrender

Powerlessness and surrender aren’t popular words these days, are they? And, well, maybe they never have been. But I have discovered deep joy on the other side of these realities. In this season of my life and in past seasons of my life, letting down and letting go has always surprised me with its partnership with joy. 

My therapist, Debbie, is someone in my life who often reminds me of the paschal mystery. This is the idea that God is always about the work of resurrection but that such resurrection always involves a cycle of death, then the tomb, then the life that bursts forth on the other side. 

Death and the tomb aren’t popular ideas, either. It’s such a hard reality to live through (or should I say die through?) — death. And yet in my experience, I have discovered new life really does burst forth from the grave. One way this happens, at least for me, is through giving me the gift of not having to hold onto all things, of not having to hold it all together, of not having to carry all control. 

Letting go. It lets me breathe. It lets me rest. It buoys me into trust. 

I think God loves when we give that control and trust over to him. So really, it’s a win-win. 

I say this is a very “still forming” Thanksgiving because when I heard Fr. Rob say what he did tonight about Israel and God — how he humbled them in order to see what was in their hearts — I couldn’t help but think about this process of formation that we’re continually about in our lives which is celebrated and marked and examined and invited in this space here. I love formation. I’m thankful for it. I love that it never ends.

God is always about the work of our formation. And a lot of times, that includes humbling us in ways that often hurt but are ultimately about giving us the greater gift of more and more life and more and more freedom. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Carrying Stillness :: The Sweetness of Surrender

I heart Winter Park.

Rooted despite the winds.

It has hardly seemed possible, but it’s true: Since I wrote my last post about surrender and powerlessness, I have found myself carrying a deep well of serenity, calmness, and peace — carrying stillness — around inside me. 

My external circumstances haven’t changed. I don’t have crystal-clear answers to the questions I have asked. 

And yet that certainty and understanding I’ve sought seem the less important thing. 

In their place, I’ve received a deep companionship with God that requires no words and, surprisingly, is transportable. 

Three nights ago, when I wrote that post, I spent a good chunk of time beforehand in tears. I was sitting on the cliff’s edge with God, our legs hanging over the side and the ocean stretched out before us, and I literally cried on his shoulder. I bawled at the prospect of and experience of surrender. 

Surrender of my need to understand. Surrender of my power over circumstances. Surrender of my pride and control and knowing. 

What remains is peace. 

I’m still sitting on that cliff’s edge with God. Our legs still hang over the edge. We’re still looking out at that wide expanse of ocean. We still see the shoreline where we walked together almost a year

And we just sit. Together. Shoulder to shoulder. 

That sense of being with God in this way is, amazingly, inside me. I feel it there as I answer emails, edit projects for clients, work on the Look at Jesus course, plan meals, shop for groceries, meet with friends and counselors, exercise, make the bed, make meals, do the laundry, enjoy time with Kirk, and just generally juggle the needs of work, home, heart, vocation, and relationship. 

Life is moving, always moving. Yet inside, I am still. 

Carrying Stillness :: Perhaps an Invitation to Powerlessness

Deep crevice.

A type of brokenness. 

If we’re friends on Facebook or you subscribe to the Cup of Sunday Quiet, then you know I’ve lately taken up a study of the Enneagram — a personality type indicator with roots dating back to the Desert Fathers and other wisdom traditions that is often applied in formation settings to help us understand our core needs, our besetting sins, and our growing edges for redemption. 

I’m fascinated and encouraged and inspired by all I’ve been learning about it. 

Pretty early in my process of study, I discovered I’m a 5. In Enneagram language, that means I’m an investigator and a perceiver. I prefer to experiene the world through the medium of my mind, gathering information and observing the world around me and seeking to understand things before choosing to act upon what I know. Us 5s like to understand how something works and seek to systematize that knowledge. We also have giftings for discernment and are prone to being mystics. 

At first, I didn’t want to be a 5. The idea of experiencing the world primarily through my head didn’t sit well with me. I thought, “That’s who I used to be. Jesus has redeemed me from my head living. He introduced me to my heart 15 years ago. I’m pretty sure I’m a heart person now.” 

And yet the more I read and reflected on my life experiences, from a young age to a young adult age to where I am today in mid-adulthood, I could see it was more and more true. Even the quirks used to describe 5s — like how they need their own private spaces and lots of time alone — began to make me laugh. It so much describes who I am and have always been. 

But then I got confused.

Over the weekend, I began talking to Kirk about writing a series on the Enneagram. Though I’ve just begun learning about this formation tool, I thought a series could be a helpful way of saying, “Look at this. It’s important. Here’s how it can help us all.” 

So Kirk and I sat on the couch yesterday morning and talked about this series idea. We talked about including some thoughts on its helpfulness in formation and the possibility of even including interviews with people who live out each of the 9 different numbers on the spectrum. And then off I went to Barnes & Noble, eagerly anticipating the help a few more resources could offer me in this process. I was a happy little learner bee (living out the true nature of my 5-ness!). 

And that’s when the confusion began. 

As I sat reading my new Enneagram book, I started to second-guess all I thought I’d come to understand about myself through the lens of the Enneagram. I read the description of the 1, who is concerned with perfection and things being right, and thought, “Well, maybe … ” I’ve always said my redemption story has been about Jesus’ rescue of me from the prison of my perfectionism. Then I read the description of the 2, known as “the helper,” and thought, “Hmmm. Maybe that too … ” The helper puts other people’s needs above their own and has a hard time caring for herself, and that, too, feels so much like the story of my life. 

I started to wonder if maybe I wasn’t a 5 after all. But then I read that 2s and 5s, in particular, almost never confuse themselves for each other. Misidentification with an Enneagram number can happen, for sure, but some misidentifications are more common than others. But 2s and 5s? That almost never happens. So why was I suddenly unsure? 

Like I said: confusion. 

All my enthusiam for the Enneagram series fell away. I started to fall into a deep funk, not unlike the funk that’s become all too familiar to me of late as I’ve grappled with God’s invitation for me to learn to carry stillness and as I’ve wrestled with a recent prayer experience I really didn’t understand

I told Kirk today that I feel like I’ve lost my footing. After several years of purposeful intent, of knowing what I’m about and what I’m moving toward and being faithful toward that end, nothing seems clear anymore. 

Then this afternoon, I had the chance to share the same thoughts with a close friend, who very perceptively pointed out, “Christianne, you’ve had several situations of late that have caused you to second-guess yourself.” She referenced the prayer experience that really threw me for a loop, then the way my life’s rhythm hasn’t looked anything like what I’m used to and really want and thought God wanted too, and then the Enneagram confusion that cropped up yesterday. 

“It makes sense that you’d feel like you’ve lost your footing,” she said. 

I don’t understand what God is doing right now with me, but these successive events all have a similar quality. And where it’s landing me is here: I just don’t know. 

I’m used to knowing. To having a sense of inner authority or inner knowing. To hearing God’s voice and then acting swiftly and surely in response. 

Right now, none of that is there. Everything I thought I knew has gone suspect. 

And I’ve realized all I can do in this place is depend on God. He’s the only sure thing. Not my knowing. Not my life situation. Not my future or even Kirk.

I keep revisiting that cliff’s edge where I’m sitting with God, just breathing, and let myself just continue to breathe with him. Sometimes as I’m sitting there, I tell God what I want and ask if he could possibly give it to me. Other times, like about an hour ago, I just sit there on the cliff’s edge with him and cry. 

All this feels very much like coming to the end of myself. 

And then tonight, I came across this video of Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities, talking about this very thing. And I found it immensely comforting. 

Carrying Stillness :: Breathe



As I’ve continued to struggle through this month of learning God wants me to learn to carry stillness and of thinking I heard God say something additionally awful to me about two weeks ago, I’ve been sharing more of the details with some key people in my life and have been reminded of the value of commuity in helping us discern.

Yesterday, I published a piece for CenterQuest that shares more details of that “additionally awful” thing I thought I heard God say and how my community is helping me to discern what to do with it. 

One of the people along that path of discernment is my former supervisor for my spiritual direction traning program, Kay. Kay is one of God’s great gifts to my life. She’s strong and she’s kind and she’s rooted, and she has often helped me notice connections in my journey that I wouldn’t have seen on my own. 

Our SD session last week was no exception. 

I told her about my session with Elaine last month and how what emerged was a sense that God’s inviting me to learn a new way of being inside my circumstances. I told her that I’ve been struggling and arguing with God about this ever since. I told her about what happened two weeks ago on Halloween night, when I thought I heard God saying he would be taking Kirk from me. And I told her I have felt so stuck, not knowing if what I heard that night was actually God’s voice or some pernicious voice or just my own subconscious freaking out in some strange way. 

Then Kay helped me see something new. She didn’t tell me where she thought the voice came from. She never sought to answer that question for me. But she did draw a connection between what happened in last month’s session with Elaine and what happened on Halloween night and its aftermath. 

“Isn’t it interesting,” she said, “how you went from hearing God say you are going to learn a new way of being with the external chaos of life, only to enter into an experience that seems like you’re one small figure inside a hurricane? Everything’s swirling and upended because of what you thought you heard God tell you about Kirk.” 

She was right. It has felt like a hurricane ever since. I have felt like a tiny figure inside a swirling chaos of confusion.

And so she wondered with me:

How might God give me an opportunity to carry stillness in the hurricane of this — whether what I thought I heard was actually God’s voice or not?

When I took time to pray in the session, what came out was mostly tears. 

“I hate arguing with you,” I told God. I cried and tears dripped down my cheeks and nose and all I kept thinking was how much I want to be on the same page as this God I’ve come to love so much. How much it hurts to be in a different place than he is. 

Eventually, I asked him to tell me what I need to know regarding what happened on Halloween night. I hoped to hear a definitive answer, some yes or no that it was him or not him, some sense of closure to this weird thing I just keep carrying around. 

Instead, what I got was breath.

Myself breathing in and out. Him breathing with me. Facing each other, breathing. Then sitting together on the cliff’s edge, looking out over the water, breathing. 

Just breathing. In silence. Breath. 

It was rather radicalizing for me to just be with God in this way. Sure, I’ve sat with him in silence before. Usually it happens in times when I’m struggling toward surrender, as he just waits with and for me to be ready. Other times it happens in contemplative prayer, where there are no images, just silence.

This time felt different. 

This time felt like an invitation to be with God in my breathing. I’m constantly breathing in and out. And as I breathe, God is in the breath. He’s the one who gives me breath. He’s as close as my own breath, or even closer. As I breathe in and out, God sustains me. He’s with me every second of every day. In the one thing that brought me relief on Halloween night — hearing Kirk’s breath — God continues to sustain us with this blessed breath. Even when we die, when we have no more breath, we wake up to the same sustaining presence of God.

Right now, God doesn’t have answers to give me about what happened. He doesn’t seem particularly concerned with giving me those answers that I seek.

Rather, he’s more concerned with breath. With standing, sitting, and just being with me in every moment through that in-and-out blessedness of breath.

This, I’m seeing, is one way of learning to carry stillness. Just breathing. Every moment. With God.

Carrying Stillness :: When It Might Have to Do With Opening a Clenched Fist


Let go and … open?

It’s no secret I’m struggling with this turn in my journey. Every day, I’m thinking of what used to be and running scenarios in my mind for how to possibly create a return to it, then wondering if that response is not what God wants from me at all. 

And then last Thursday night happened. 

As I shared with my Sunday Quiet subscribers this past Sunday:

I shared a moment with God in prayer where I believed to have heard him say he’s going to take from me one of the most precious aspects of my life. A piece I cannot imagine ever living without.

Now, I may have heard God wrong. It’s happened before. But the impression was so clear, and it was so very much like what I’ve learned God’s voice sounds like in my life.

And it shook me. Really, really bad.

I’m still shaken by it.

I don’t know how to talk to God about what happened that night. I feel resistant to even a conversation with him about it. The times I’ve tried to pray, it’s felt like staring at a blank wall. All I’ve been able to muster so far is, “Why would you say that to me?” — without being able to wait and hear the answer. 

Kirk’s been encouraging me to ask God to confirm — or deny — if I heard him right. But I don’t feel able to even do that. The truth is, I don’t feel ready to hear the answer. If he says yes, then my world begins to shatter. If he says no, then my sense of surety in knowing his voice in my life goes suspect. 

I don’t know quite what to do with all this yet. I’m in a bit of a holding pattern with him, I guess.

It’s Tuesday now, and I still haven’t been able to go directly into a listening posture of prayer with God concerning this thing that happened last Thursday night. All I’ve been able to muster — still — is telling him how flabbergasted I am at what I heard and that I really don’t know why he’d tell me what he did, if, indeed, he told me what I think he did.

But there have been a few moments of silence. 

Like the silent spaces in the contemplative service at my church this past Sunday evening. And the 20 minutes of silence I entered into at the centering prayer group offered at my church on Monday morning. And the invitation to sit with God’s presence for a few quiet moments at the end of the weekly lectio recording included with this week’s Sunday Quiet letter. 

In those quiet moments, I began to see the potential synchronicity.

In a place where God is asking me to let go of an existence of quiet spaciousness and in a moment where I may have heard him say he’s planning to take away the most precious component of my life, my response is the same: to hold both with clenched fists.

I tell him no. Move to protect them both. Pull both of them closer and tell God he can’t have either one. Tell him they’re both mine. That he needs to fall in line and leave them be.

Maybe what he wants is for me to extend my hand and open my clenched fist.

The question is: Will I?

Carrying Stillness :: When You Don't Understand Why

I am missing this girl.

Her eyes so often hold a question.

I remember last June, a season I’d been spending with Jesus abruptly came to an end.  

For about nine months, we’d been meeting each day on the beach. Some days we’d walk back and forth along the shoreline. Sometimes we’d sit and stare at the waves. Sometimes I’d lean my head on his shoulder while we watched. Sometimes when I did this, he’d put his arm around my shoulder and sing over me. Other days, usually when I was upset with him for some reason, we’d stand facing each other on the sand while I let loose my diatribe and he took it all in stride and then responded in some totally unexpected but completely perfect way. 

It was such a treasured time. 

And then came the day we kept walking southward along the shoreline and turned a bend we’d never turned before. The familiar piece of shore we’d canvassed for nine months disappeared from view. Up ahead and to the right sat a piece of land jutting into the sea, covered in grass and ending with a steep drop-off cliff at its tip. On its south side sat a huge and rambling tree. 

My time on the beach with Jesus was over. 

The hard thing was that I didn’t know it was happening until it happened. I’d been content to walk with Jesus, exploring hither and yon on our daily beach dates, where sometimes I would lead and other times he would.

I had felt myself to be following his lead that day, but to me, we were just walking. I could tell he was leading, that he had a direction firmly in mind, but it wasn’t until we’d rounded the bend and walked up to that grassy knoll that I realized: This was our new destination. 

We weren’t going back. 

The other hard thing was that from our vantage point on the grassy cliff, I could see the beach we’d walked all those months. There it was, just out of reach. Here I was, in a new place. Here he was, too, with me in it, but I knew the other way we’d been sharing life together had come to an end. It was time for something new.

It hurt a lot when it happened.

I cried. I told my spiritual director, Elaine, it felt like he didn’t want to be with me anymore, and I couldn’t understand it. I stood face to face with Jesus, huge tears filling my eyes and spilling down my cheeks, and told him how much it hurt. Why didn’t he want to spend that uninterrupted time with me anymore? Why didn’t he want that intimacy we’d shared between us, just him and me? That experience of having me all to himself? Of having my undivided attention? Of experiencing my faithfulness to meet him each day on that beach that was ours? Why would he want to leave that space we shared? That season so beautiful?

Oh, yes. It hurt a lot.

The aftermath, when I realized what I’d lost without realizing I was losing it, was a painful time, and it was an awkward time.

He wanted to teach me a new way of being then, too, just like he does right now. He wanted to teach me how to look him in the eyes and have my own voice (which I wrote about here). He wanted to make me into a tree that allowed others to nestle inside its braches (which I wrote about here). He wanted to introduce me in greater depth to the Father and the Holy Spirit, beyond just being in relationship with himself, Jesus.

Eventually, I settled into the new territory and became familiar with its lush terrain. I became grateful for the chance to better know the Father and the Spirit. I came to love being a tree. I grew to love that cliff area. It’s still the place I regularly meet Jesus in our times of conversation. We like to sit with our legs hanging over the edge, looking north toward the beach shoreline we used to walk, often meeting there when we can watch the sun set over the ocean.

But it took time to receive. It took time to reorient. To accept this new thing. 

That’s where I’ve continued to be with this “carrying stillness” journey I’m on right now. I know I must sound like a broken record, sharing all the angles of this new invitation that I’ve found difficult. But it is what it is. Changing course means reorientation, which always begins with disorientation. Leaving behind a beloved gift means sadness. Especially when that beloved gift was something that equated to pure and unadulterated intimacy with the Beloved of your heart, and you don’t understand why your Beloved would want something else.

I know he has his reasons. I even know they are good. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy.

And so today I’m in a similar place I was on that June day he walked with me around a corner on the beach shoreline, never to return.

I think about the spacious, quiet life I used to lead. The simplicity of it. The focus of it. The way it felt completely tied to giving him my whole heart with intentionality and prayerfulness and attending each day to the cares and cries of the world. The way living a small and quiet life felt like the call to hiddenness he’d planted in me years before. 

I don’t know why he’d call me away from that. I wish it wasn’t so. To me, nothing seems better between us than that singleminded, devoted life I’d given him. 

I do know he knows what he’s doing. I know his ways are better than mine. I trust someday — hopefully soon — I’ll be grateful for this turn in the journey. 

But not today.

Today I’m still asking him if there can be some other way to keep things the way they were. And I know him well enough to know he’ll receive my tears and my asking with infinite patience and love, and also that he’ll respond in that perfect way he always does — a way that helps me accept what is.

Carrying Stillness :: On the Enneagram and Programs for Happiness

Brightness placed just so.

Bright spots in the rubble.

One afternoon while I was making lunch last week, I heard a podcast by Richard Rohr playing on Kirk’s computer. Rohr was talking about the Enneagram, and I heard him describe it as a means for each of us to understand our personally wired “program for happiness.” 

(Quick caveat: I’m not super familiar with the Enneagram, which, as a spiritual director, is something I know I ought to rectify. And so today, I finally ordered one of Rohr’s books on the subject. But if you want a quick and wonderful orientation to all things Enneagram, I encourage you to check out my friend Leigh Kramer’s recent post about it.)

Back to that day when I was making lunch and overheard Rohr’s mention of our propensity for certain “programs for happiness.” To paraphrase, he said we all have them. He said we try valiantly to make them work. He said this is part of being human. 

But he also said we aren’t meant to cling to them. To be attached to them. To make them the most important thing. 

I think this is what’s happened with my love for the still life I used to have.

Over a period of about 4-5 years, I discerned that spaciousness and stillness were components of a life posture that best fits my wiring. I also discerned it was — at least at that certain point in time — how God wanted me to orient my life and offer his gifts and life to the world. 

But I think that eventually became like bedrock to me. Like gospel. Somewhere along the line, without my realizing it happened, I may have become too rigidly tied to that sense of my life and what it was going to look like.

I felt enormously grateful for it. I felt at peace and at rest. It felt like I’d found my “zone,” and now all that needed doing was for me to keep living it, whatever that might mean.

But for him to turn me in a different direction, like he’s doing now? For him to say the time for stillness and space has ended for now, and perhaps forever? That was not okay.

Which is what indicates the “still and spacious” life may have become my prized program for happiness. 

So I’ve been paying attention to that. And it’s really been working me over. I didn’t realize it had become an idol, but I think — perhaps — it had.

Carrying Stillness :: When It's Not What You Want to Learn

Come and sit.

Shadows on the invitation.

I wish I could dress this up pretty, but I can’t:

I really don’t want to be learning this.

I’m pretty sure my last session with my spiritual director — the one in which I discovered the invitation to learn to carry stillness — could be categorized as the session in which I was at my least gracious. 

It’s usually the case that when God and I connect, I respond immediately. Zero questions asked. This is because God has earned my trust. Over the long history we’ve shared these 15 years now, I’ve grown to trust him implicitly — because he has demonstrated himself again and again to be completely trustworthy. I’ve grown to want what he wants, even if it’s hard. It hasn’t, for a long time, been hard to say yes to what he’s asked.

This time, though, I could barely get there.

Round and round I went in that session with God and Elaine.

“I don’t want to do this,” I said. “I don’t want this to be the invitation. I don’t want to learn this. Please don’t let it be true. This sucks. No.” 

Elaine, for her part, couldn’t stop smiling and clapping. She was exuberant at what she saw happening between God and me in that hour we shared. She was thrilled at the invitation for me to learn how to carry stillness. Her face was radiant about it all.

While she could have been self-conscious at how very different her affect was from my own, the difference between us did help me. It made a difference in my response to the whole thing to see this woman who has walked with me nearly five years — who knows my story and the landscape of my journey with God — responding the way she was. 

I didn’t want the invitation, but she was bubbling over with joy about it. 

I noticed her response, and it helped. 

It gave me pause in my fight.

Still, it wasn’t easy to say yes.

Even today, it’s not easy. I’m still struggling to say yes. I still want the invitation to go away. I don’t want it to be true. 

The truth for me in this? I want the quiet and calm of my previous existence back. I want the spaciousness. The room to breathe. The reflective, prayerful pace. That feels like life. And while I know it sounds privileged for me to say that, I had come to believe that way of being in the world was part of my vocational calling. I saw it as a key way I was meant to hold God and others in this world.

This moving from one immediate need of the moment to the next, one right after the other? It doesn’t feel like life. It feels compressed. Like I’m just surviving. Thin. 

I don’t want to live a thin life. I want a life brimmed full of meaning.

Today, I don’t know how to get from here to there — to the place where even the stacked-full life of activity feels just as brimmed full of meaning as the slow, reflective pace. I’m not there, but I suspect someday I will be. I know all God’s invitations are good and right.

In the meantime, I’m grieving the loss of what was. 

Carrying Stillness :: An Introduction to What I'm Learning

Caring for the Christ.

Carrying Christ.

So, I’m starting off the blogging re-introduction with a new series based entirely on something I’m in the process of learning. It feels like a major risk to write my way through something I haven’t learned yet — so many of the series here on Still Forming have been written on topics I’ve worked my way through at some point in the journey and then came here to share with you. 

But this one’s different. This one’s being written as I’m living it.

But you know what I realized shortly after the recognition that I should probably write my way through this (and the consequent freak-out that followed)? That the two most recent series on this site — the body series and the series on beginning the work again — were also written this way. So I guess I’ve been getting used to writing my way through learning curves more than I realized this year.

Even so, it feels super vulnerable to do this.

It’s my hope that as I write my way through this, you’ll find something helpful or valuable to your own current journey. And maybe along the way, you’ll have insights to share with me too — I would welcome insights shared from your own experience on this subject!

So, here’s what the new series is about. 

I’ve learned over the past four years or so that part of my vocation is that of a contemplative and that my natural rhythm is rather slow and still, and I have made it a priority to align the reality of my life with those truths. I shared a series with you last year on the subject of living a rhythmed life, and I still stand by the value and helpfulness of living one’s life this way. I would still be living that way right now if it weren’t for the way God is directing me otherwise, at least for this current season of my life. 

And therein lies the rub: God is directing me otherwise in this current season of my life.

For the last six months or so, I have struggled to find a rhythm that rings true to my most natural rhythm. The extended periods of stillness and quiet I’ve known and cultivated the last several years are gone. I rarely have the chance to sit in stillness and quiet reflection and prayer at my desk anymore. 

My vocation as a contemplative feels like it’s gone missing, and I have been mourning this and feeling distressed about it ever since I noticed the change. 

Last week, I met with my spiritual director, Elaine, and shared with her the frustration I’m facing in this. And as she always does, she invited me to take this frustration to God in prayer. 

As I did so, I saw God and I walking along a beach shoreline together. It looked to be about five in the afternoon, and the sand along the shoreline was soft and cold and wet. We were barefoot, walking slowly together, and I knew God already held a knowledge of the disorientation and frustration I’ve been feeling about this, as well as my not knowing what to do about it.

That’s when he said something new.

“You’ve been dependent on external circumstances to form your sense of identity,” he said. “But now it’s time to go deeper. It’s time for that identity of stillness to be found on the inside of you.”

In other words, it’s time to learn something new.

I understood God to be saying in this moment that my circumstances aren’t going to change. Unlike previous seasons when I’ve felt overwhelmed and out of sync with my true rhythm, this isn’t about discerning if commitments or structures in my life need to change. Rather, it’s my relation to the things already in my life that will change.

I’ll be honest: I felt frustrated by this revelation. I love the spaciousness and quiet I’d cultivated in my lifestyle the last four years. I thirst for it, and I feel quite wonky when life doesn’t provide room for it. And here God was telling me I’m not going to have that spaciousness and quiet for the foreseeable future. Things will continue to swirl and move, but my relation to all of it is going to somehow change.

Somehow I’m going to learn to carry a sense of stillness inside me no matter the external circumstances. That external rhythm of quiet and contemplation I’ve come to love and need in my life is going to go internal instead. I’m going to become less dependent on my external circumstances to find that quiet and peace.  

I’m going to learn to carry stillness. 

So, that’s what the new series is about: learning to carry stillness. 

Have you had to learn this at some point in your life? What did you learn along the way?

The Blog Is Back


Let’s continue, shall we?

When I left this space for an indefinite sabbatical in late May, one of the big reasons for that sabbatical was to evaluate my sense of the online world in its current incarnation and to determine, in light of that, how Still Forming could continue to best serve those who visit here.

For two years, I believed the best way for me to serve you in the increasing pace of life we’re living here in the 21st century was to offer a week-daily (Monday-Friday) oasis from the noise. To roll out the welcome mat five days a week so you could come in and breathe. Think. Reflect. Seek to live meaningfully in the midst of the swirling chaos that increasingly surrounds us.

But in May, I began to question that approach. 

More and more, I felt I was just adding to the noise. Giving you one more thing to hear and attend to. Moving along at a pretty quick pace. (I mean, really. Posts five days a week? That’s a lot to follow.)

So I decided to stop. Do a little reflecting of my own. Turn down my Still Forming activity to the weekly email letters I write to the Sunday Quiet subscribers, the people I serve through ongoing spiritual direction, and my continued development of the Look at Jesus course. (Happy announcement: It’s almost ready to roll out. Hooray!)

It’s been a really helpful time of quiet for me. 

I didn’t have any huge revelations about “the state of all things online” while I was away. Mostly, what I did was survey the landscape. And what I noticed as I surveyed was what I — and you — already knew: There’s a lot happening online. A lot of voices. A lot of content. So many ways people can connect and get information and fill their well with what they need. 

But in the midst of that “no new revelation” noticing, I did find a new kernel of truth that I found helpful and which ultimately propelled me back here, and it’s this: 

Everyone has their way of serving, and everyone has their way of receiving.

If you want to keep up with the news, you might have your regular habits of keeping up with Breaking News, the New York Times, or the Washington Post. If theological discourse and banter is your thing, you might tune in to Rachel Held Evans or Conversion Diary or Nadia Bolz-Weber. If you’re looking for pastoral voices, you might follow Eugene Cho or Brian Zahnd or Greg Boyd

There’s no shortage of options for whatever you seek. Everyone has their way of serving, and everyone has their way of receiving. 

And what I realized was this:

I need to keep serving in the way that’s uniquely me. And I need to keep the welcome mat rolled out for those who want to receive it. 

I have said from the beginning that this space is about honoring the ways we are, all of us, still forming and that it is in the spaces of stillness we allow into our lives that we can perhaps best attend to what’s happening with our formation.

And so the blog is back, and this space will continue to speak to both those things: formation and stillness.

Though I can’t promise this time around that new posts will be written five days a week. :-)

Announcement: An Indefinite Sabbatical

Cannot stand the cuteness.

A little Diva cuteness for you. 

Hi, friends. 

I’ve made the decision to take an indefinite sabbatical from the week-daily posts here at Still Forming. 

In the meantime, you are invited to join me for the Cup of Sunday Quiet mailing, which I send out each Sunday morning as a way to connect heart-to-heart with you while providing an opportunity for you to connect with God in prayer. 

It’s one of the favorite things I do!

My time away from week-daily blogging will serve a threefold purpose: 

  1. Time for self-care. This season of beginning the work again has been intense, and I’m finding that I need space to just be with the process for now. 
  2. Space for creativity. Up ahead is a season of intense creativity as I give myself fully to the continued creation of the revamped Look at Jesus course. I’m excited about what it’s becoming, and it’s time to give it my utmost attention.
  3. Room for reflection. I began the week-daily posts here at Still Forming two years ago this month (!), in response to the findings of my graduate thesis research on the subject of spirituality and digital connectivity. But the internet is a different place now than it was two years ago. During this time away, I’ll be reflecting on how best to serve you in this space as we move forward into the future. 

Again, I hope you’ll join me for the weekly Cup of Sunday Quiet. It’s where I share the current journey of my life, my heart, and my work. It’s where I invite you to share with me your own life and journey. And it’s where I’ll keep you up to date on the status of all things Still Forming.

Please join us!

Much love,


Beginning the Work Again :: How It's Different Than the First Time (Part 2)


We are together.

Yesterday I shared one of the ways this new season of formation is different than the first time I ever encountered the formation process. Mainly, I said this time is like going back to a foundation already laid, whereas the first time was about building a foundation that didn’t yet exist. 

Another way this season is different is that it connects in greater measure to the outer world. 

There was a connection to the outer world the first time around, but in a very rudimentary way. I was learning who I was in the context of the world. This meant examining who I had become because of outside forces and then calling those assumptions into question. It meant growing into a greater sense of my “I-ness,” separate from other people, instead of living blindly by the impulses I’d adopted based on what I believed other people wanted me to be. Toward the end of that long season of growth, I began to care about my interactions with other people — being for them the unique “I” that I am, the “I” that is God in me. 

But it was all, ultimately, quite focused on the development of my inner self. It was about building identity and selfhood and how the self that I am relates to God.

This time around, some of that “I” development is still there in certain places that need to grow into that true sense of identity. But there’s a greater sense of this process being connected to my relationships with other people — of my relationships and my ministry being the parts of my life most impacted by my “work” through this season. 

For instance, one of the big themes of the “work” I’m doing in this season has to do with embracing the truth that “I get a vote.”

This has to do with voice. With dignity. With equality in relationship. 

Now, I had a huge learning curve in my first process of intentional formation around this idea of dignity and voice — of having a story that matters, of being a person that matters. But that time, it had more to do with owning that truth for myself and believing myself to be valuable. It had to do with coming to believe, in a visceral way, my value to God.

This time, it has to do with showing up in relationships more, with giving myself permission to have a “vote” on how things exist inside those relationships, with trusting other people to value my voice and my vote. My relationships are going through great growing pains right now because of this, and it’s really important that I let this happen. A lot of the “work” of this season for me has to do with this practice.

Also, a lot of the work of this season keeps criss-crossing with my posture toward my calling and vocation, especially as it is exercised here. I shared some of this on Friday with the post about Henri Nouwen being my teacher, reminding me that my role here is to point you to God, not me. 

For instance, when I’m feeling the pressure to be perfect, I get to relearn grace so that it’s about what other people receive from God, not me, in this place. I don’t have to be perfect because God is perfect. He’s their source. He’s their hope. He’s their joy. 

When I learned grace the first time, it was just so I could learn it. Just for me. A gift for my soul that freed me from the tyranny of perfectionism.

I’m learning grace now so that, in the context of my ministry, I can have a true picture of my part and God’s part. 

I don’t know that everyone going through the formation process the first time versus the additional times we circle the spiral throughout our lives would say their experience is the same. But this is my experience, for now. This is how right now is different than before.

Beginning the Work Again :: How It's Different Than the First Time

Alleluia chapel.

Beams and crossbeams and structure and light.

I mentioned on Friday that I’ve been thinking about how this current turn around the formation spiral is different than the first time around. The main difference I’ve noticed is this: 

The first time, it felt like building a foundation for the first time from rubble.

This time, it feels like returning to a foundation already laid there.

When I began the process of intentional formation in 1998, I had no foundation. Well, I had the foundation of my faith, which had been a part of my life since I had conscious memory, and that certainly helped as I began the sifting process. But a lot of the “work” of that long season included the re-examination of my faith and, eventually, coming into deeper, more real communion with God. So really, my faith felt like it was busted up amidst the rubble along with the rest of my life and self-concept.

That work had so much to do with:

  1. Growing in my understanding of myself and my identity, and 
  2. Begnning to connect in a real way with God. 

The work of that long process laid a foundation, like thick, poured concrete, in my life and concept of self and relation to God. Now, I see the ongoing work of my formation to be about two different things:

  1. Building upon that laid foundation, and 
  2. Returning to the foundation as needed. 

The season I’m in now is about returning to the foundation. This is what “beginning the work again” is about for me — going back to the truths I’ve learned previously and relearning them in the parts of my soul and story that haven’t been exposed to them yet. 

The thing I love about this time through the process is that I’m here to help with the relearning. God’s here, but so am I — whereas the first time through, there wasn’t much of an “I” to speak of. It feels like a chance to practice love by coming alongside these young, unformed parts of myself and saying, “Here. Let me help you. Let me show you.” Sometimes, it’s just the chance to be there to listen and to say, “I know. I really know. I was there. I love you.”

Kind of like the way Jesus did for me the first time around, and continues to do so today.

Beginning the Work Again :: Henri Nouwen Is My Teacher


One of my dearest teachers in ministry.

I’m planning to write a post next week about the things I’m noticing are different about this current formation process compared to the first time I experienced intentional formation. But one thing I’ll mention right now is this:

I’m so aware of how the things I’m learning right now impact my life of ministry — right here, with you.

As you know, I’m relearning my not-God-ness and am embracing my humanity in this place. And as I work through these relearnings right now, I keep being reminded of Henri Nouwen. Specifically, I keep thinking of one of his books that I read last year and which is one of my dearest teachers in ministry. 

It’s called In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership and is classic Henri Nouwen: steeped in vulnerability and authenticity and always pointing toward a real encounter with the real Christ. Through this book, he has taught me so much about the kind of pastoral calling I need to embody: one that is willing to be vulnerable and merely human before you. As I mentioned yesterday, it’s not about pointing you toward me but rather — always — toward Christ. 

Here’s a taste of what he teaches in this book that I’m revisiting right now and seeking to remember these days: 

“The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there. …

   “Laying down your life means making your own faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness, courage and fear available to others as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of life. 

   “We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for.”

—p. 35, 61-62

May I be this kind of person here.

Beginning the Work Again :: Embracing My Humanity


The light above us.

Along the lines of relearning my not-God-ness comes the embrace of my humanity, all with the aim of pointing people to God and not me.

This is where something in my head can sometimes get really messed up.

I think about how we are the body of Christ here on earth. How we are meant to be Christ to others. How we are meant to keep growing into the image of God in us. And how, for someone who is a spiritual director or just generally in ministry, this can get even more complex because so often we are the visible image of the invisible God for others. 

Cue the questions of where we end and God begins, and vice versa. 

When I stop to think about it, it’s funny that I take over-responsibility for things and people, given the metaphor of us as the body of Christ. We are each a part, not the whole. I’m an ear, or an eye. Which necessarily means I can’t be a foot or an arm or a finger. I can’t — and am not meant to — shoulder all of the concerns of the world or be Christ’s body in the world on my own. We need each other. 

Spiritual directors like to describe what’s happening in spiritual direction by using the image of three chairs: one for the directee, one for the director, and one for the unseen but very real presence of God.

I was talking with my supervisor about this picture last week, and we were talking about how often we assume those chairs to be positioned equidistant from each other, like an equilateral triangle. Sometimes I’m even tempted to believe the chairs held by me and my directee are the ones in “full color” in the picture, with God’s chair kind of greyed out, or perhaps even off in the corner, since he’s an unseen, non-audible presence in the room. 

And yet here’s what’s really true:

Spiritual direction is ultimately about the directee’s connection with God.

If anything, it’s the directee’s and God’s chairs that are meant to be “full color.” If anything, my chair is the one meant for the corner so that I don’t get in the way of what God and the directee are meant to find in one another. I’m a facilitator, but the directee and God are the main players there. They’re the reason we’ve come together in the first place.

In relationship, if I shoulder the God role, then I keep someone from receiving what God alone is meant to give them. I unwittingly make them dependent on me instead of pointing them toward the one upon whom they’re meant to depend. 

I want my life to be about this: “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in the Message version: “I deliberately [keep] it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.” 

May you always see me pointing you to Jesus. This is the prayer of my heart. 

Beginning the Work Again :: I'm Not God

One of many.

One of many.

When I first started blogging in 2006, I chose the name “Lilies Have Dreams” for my personal blog.

It was a reference to Matthew 6:28-34, which compares us to the lilies of the field and says we need not worry — that we are important to God and that God will take care of us, even as he takes care of the lilies that line the earth. It was a reference, too, to dreaming — to living out loud, to taking risks, to standing on the precipice of my own life, which I had been slowly learning how to do (and was about to do in great measure, as I packed up my belongings and moved across the country to marry Kirk the following month).

Ultimately, it was the idea that I could be small yet valuable to God and that even in my smallness, I could dream big dreams and then, because my value was rooted in God, I could take risks. 

Learning to be a small yet beautiful and fully beloved lily of the field … that was a big part of my formation journey my first time around the formation spiral. It’s something that took many years as I identified and then began unlearning key beliefs and behaviors that showed up in my life as perfectionism, over-responsibility, scruples, phantom guilt, and what I came to call the superhuman tendency. 

It was about unlearning my need to be God.

It was one of the best things to ever happen to me.

I don’t say “unlearning my need to be God” from a place of pride but rather fear. I believed with every cell in my body that I needed to hold the world aright. I carried the responsibility for things that went wrong, even if I had nothing to do with what happened. I believed myself to be other people’s saviors, needing to know what they needed and supplying it. I wasn’t allowed to have needs myself.

Again, this wasn’t a prideful thing. It was what happened when a whole lot of mixed-up, messed-up messages tumbled around in my head and my heart at a very young age and then were given a mixed-up, messed-up interpretation through my too-young lens. I didn’t realize at the time that I was ingesting these messages or interpreting them the way I was. And I really didn’t realize the impact those messages and interpretations would have on my life as I continued to grow up and live into the world. 

God is merciful and gracious. He took me through a long unlearning.

As he did this, he took the burden of responsibility off my shoulders. I could live free. I could breathe. Even better: I could make mistakes. I felt, truly, like one of those lilies of the field, small and one of many, yet dazzling in her beauty, twirling and dancing and smiling and laughing in her utter freedom and belovedness.

I’m relearning this now.

As I continue to grow forward from my healing journey, I’m dealing with the fallout of what happened to me at 15 and 16 years old. I’m looking at the ways it damaged and messed me up. I’m feeling angry. I’m feeling sad. I’m struggling my way toward the place where forgiveness lives. 

And I’m bumping up against that old need-to-be-God proclivity again.

This means I’m struggling to let myself feel what I really feel, as I’m constantly second-guessing whether those feelings are right, correct, and perfect (since everything God does is right, correct, and perfect). It means I’m afraid to tell people they hurt and failed me, as I’m not allowed to be someone who gets hurt or needs people to hold up their end of the relationship. It means I’m afraid to take steps in any direction, for fear they’ll be the wrong steps, since I’m not allowed to do anything wrong or make mistakes.

It’s about learning to be human again. 

Just human.

Human. The thing I previously came to see as one of God’s greatest gifts to us. The not-God-ness. The imperfections in us that are so heart-achingly beautiful. The vulnerability of it all. The permission to stumble, to mess up, to learn. The ability to grow, which means the reality of not-yet-developed-ness. Not having to have all the answers. Not having to be the expert authority. 

Just human. Walking alongside. 

I’m relearning this right now.

Do you ever live inside this struggle?