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?

Beginning the Work Again :: Relearning Things

Stir into flame the gift which is you.

It reads, “Stir into flame the gift which is you.”

Ask anyone who’s circling the formation spiral for another go-round, and they’ll tell you the worst part about this whole thing is that feeling of, “But I already learned this!” 

It’s the worst. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said this myself and heard other people say it. It’s the most flabbergasting thing. You know that you sincerely learned things in previous seasons of growth — really learned them, really set your heart toward them and incorporated them into your lived reality — and yet here you find yourself, re-learning them again as though from the beginning. 

It can really throw you for a loop. 

One of the things that’s even worse in this place — like rubbing salt in the wound — is not being taken seriously when you express that you’ve already learned the thing you’re re-learning now. I’ve found it’s really important to me that the truth of the jouney I’ve already walked be validated as real. 

And so let me do that for you.

If you are walking a path that feels like déjà vu, learning things you’ve invested real heart and time and energy learning at previous points in your journey, know that it really happened. You did learn those things. You know this thing you’re re-learning right now, at least in certain places inside your soul. What you’ve learned before is real. 

I was talking with a friend on Friday night about this re-learning thing. We were talking about the oft-related image of formation as a spiral — something that circles around and around, hitting up against well-known refrains as it comes back around again. She was saying, “It makes sense that when you hit a new pocket of growth, you revert back to old ways of being. It feels like starting over.” 

My question to her was, “When does the thing you’ve previously spent time learning become so ingrained that it’s the new default position, even when you hit new pockets of growth?”

I don’t know the answer to this yet. Maybe that happens once it’s been learned and re-learned a number of times and builds up enough power to overtake the instinctive response we learned early on in our lives. 

So here I sit, relearning some things right now. This week, I’ll share some of those growing edges I’m re-learning with you. 

Have you ever had to re-learn something you already spent time and care learning before?

Beginning the Work Again :: What's the Difference Between Formation and Healing?

Sun spots.

Sun spots. 

In this series, I’ve used the words healing and formation quite frequently, and it occurs to me that I ought to clarify what I mean by each in case it’s assumed I use them interchangeably.

I don’t.  

In short, I believe the process of healing always includes formation but the process of formation does not always include healing.

Now, let’s unpack that a bit. 

In my exprience, healing work is tied to specific events and circumstances — ways in which we were wounded in precise moments or series of moments or chain of events. Those events formed us in certain ways, and perhaps a better way to say it is that they usually de-formed us away from the intended image of God in us. We were harmed, and in our need for protection, we often grabbed coping mechanisms that helped get us through. We often, too, picked up new beliefs that implanted themselves on our souls as a result of what we experienced.

In a process of healing, we need two things, then. We need healing at the place of our wounding, and we need God to walk with us through an intentional process of re-formation. (This is where I am in my current journey.) 

Formation, on the other hand, is always happening in our lives.

There’s the general formation that’s always at work — ways in which our daily habits and choices and circumstances continually form us for good or ill, even without our conscious involvement. If you are a human being, you are always in the process of being formed in some direction or way.

And then there’s the formation God is about in us.

This is the place of invitation, where God is seeking, continually, to form us more and more into the image marked out for us from the beginning, which is the unique imprint of God in us in the world. All throughout our being, all throughout our lives, there are places God wants to touch, invite, re-teach, re-form. This process, too, never ends. (This can be cause for rejoicing sometimes and cause for frustration at others!)

Now, here’s what I mean when I say the formation process doesn’t always include healing: These places God pricks and invites into our awareness for continued formation aren’t always called out because of wounds. Sometimes it’s because of the Fall. Our mere humanity. Our need for growth. Sometimes it’s time for shedding. For refinement. For maturing. 

When we become aware of the invitation, then we get to say yes or no. And if we say yes, then we get to step into a process of intentional formation in partnership with God.

I hope this clarification is helpful. Is there anything you would add or further clarify? Any questions you’d like me to address?

Beginning the Work Again :: A Letter to Myself


Paws. And softness.

Dear Christianne,

You’re having a hard time today, and I want you to know that I see you. I see your confusion. Your frustration. Your loneliness in this journey.

Remember the first time you stepped into this formation journey, how you kept bumping up against that phrase “figure it out”? How you began to realize how crazily common that phrase was in your mind and even your conversations? How you began to learn so much about yourself through that single observation — that this was you, the person you’d become at 19 and 20 years old, constantly trying to figure things out?

It was a defense mechanism, and you didn’t even know it was there. It was your way of anticipating problems and staying one step ahead of them. It was your way of protecting against error. It was your way of “number-crunching” everything about the world around you. You were always trying to figure something out.

It was a defense mechanism. 

Do you remember when you noticed it? When you saw that phrase cropping up in your mind and conversations? When you realized it was everywhere for you? When you saw how quickly you went there with every single thing — just trying to “figure it out”? 

It confounded you to notice it. How it permeated everything. You were so surprised to see it everywhere. Then, for a while, you laughed every time you noticed it. There it was again!

But eventually, you got mad. Why did you have to figure everything out? Why did you have to live with the unending contingency plans and the watchful eye on constant duty? 

And then you realized you were exhausted. You were just so tired of figuring things out. Your mind wanted rest.

And so you took it. 

You’re in a similar place now.

Instead of bumping up against that constant refrain of “figuring things out,” now you’re in a place where you keep bumping up against a thick black wall of hard truth and then turning sharply away. You keep banging up against it, and you keep wrenching yourself away. 

You’re getting kind of bruised, actually. Have you noticed? It just keeps happening: Bang. Then wrench. Bang. Then wrench.

Can you feel the tenderness of your skin? Can you see the redness? The black-and-blue marks?

I hate seeing you hurt yourself over and over like this.

And so I’m wondering if you’d be willing to try something new. You know how you let yourself practice going off the clock with figuring things out that earlier time? What if now, you let yourself practice accepting the wall?

What if every time you banged up against the wall of that hard truth, instead of pushing yourself away so fast in order to scramble another direction, you gave yourself a moment to stop, acknowledge the wall, and accept it is there? What if you stood there, let yourself nod at it, believe it is real?

Maybe you could even begin to notice when you’re running hard toward that wall — to notice you’re headed that way, and to help yourself slow down and maybe walk toward it instead. And then to stand in front of it. To see it there. To size it up. To nod your head at it, saying yes to its being there.

When you started practicing rest that first time, it started this way. As a noticing — noticing that “figure it out” phrase when it cropped up or the “figuring” behavior once it got whirring. When you noticed, you let yourself stop. This is how you helped yourself learn a new way of being, at least in the beginning. 

I have a hunch this new practice of noticing and accepting will help diminish the wall. Let it soften. Come down. Disintegrate. And then become a permeable part of your story, floating through it all like a million tiny black flecks, no longer a barrier that holds things back or locks them away, letting it all be a part of you.

I hope you agree this acceptance practice is worth trying. At the very least, you’ll stop getting bruised. At the very most, you’ll find greater wholeness of being.



Beginning the Work Again :: When the Student Is Ready, the Teacher Appears

Listen 2.

A spiral that listens. 

Another helpful thing that came out of my 9 p.m. hotel lobby conversation with Kay was the idea that perhaps the timing for this “re-work” process is just right. 

Or, rather, that perhaps I’m ready for it now, whereas before I wasn’t. 

I was telling Kay how much I hate that all of this new stuff has come up for processing now, how much it feels like going back in time and starting over, how much I feel like it’s derailing my progress forward in areas I’ve been excited to pursue … how much I wish this new work had been incorporated into the process of formation and healing I took the first time around the formation spiral.

“I just wish this had been part of the original process,” I said. 

She nodded. She knew. 

Then, after a few moments, she said, “But maybe you’re more ready to look at this part of your story now than you were before.” Kay is one of the kindest people in my life, and she said these words quietly, with such gentleness. 

I looked at her and held her gaze. I let her words sink in. 

“I think you’re probably right,” I finally said.

Because this part of my story I’m processing now? It’s hard, and it’s dark. It’s something that, every time I have thought of it over the years, I have quickly averted my eyes and my mind from. It’s just one of those really hard and difficult things. 

In truth, I’ve steeled myself against it all these years. That’s 19 years of white-knuckled steeling. You could say I’m quite the professional steeler — that my mind, heart, body, and soul are professional-level gatekeepers when it comes to that particular memory bank stored inside of me. I’ve built up quite the defense against it. I’m very good at squashing it.

And so maybe, in fact, it took that long journey around the formation spiral the first time to bring me to a place, now, that’s better equipped and able to handle this part of my story. On this side of that formation spiral, I’ve learned some things. I can help this new part of story surface in safety. I have some tools at my disposal.

Maybe it’s just like they say: When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

And so maybe I don’t have to feel so antagonistic toward the timing of all this. Maybe I don’t have to resent its emergence in my life. Maybe I don’t have to disdain the truth of its presence. 

Maybe I can, instead, be thankful that those things long hidden count me safe enough to emerge, here and now. Maybe I can be thankful that my faithfulness to the process the first time around has made me someone now worthy of trust. 

Are there ways in which you can see your readiness for the process of formation you’re experiencing right now — ways that the timing may, in fact, be just right?

Beginning the Work Again :: When It Feels Like You're Doing Nothing


Grounded. At rest. 

My return to regular life after the travels and conference experience of last week has felt pretty brutal. 

Each day since I’ve been home, around 4:30 in the afternoon, I hit a wall of exhaustion. My mind goes into that crazy-scary mind-meld place where it feels like sections of my mind go fuzzy and then shift on top of each other. (Does that ever happen to you when you’re flat-out tired?) My eyes glass over, and I feel like all I want to do right then is crawl into bed and curl under the covers, fast asleep.

Yesterday was the worst. I felt that way pretty much the whole day long.

This was confusing to me, since I’ve been home three days and have been getting a full night’s sleep each night now that I’m home. Shouldn’t the feeling of each day as I move deeper into this week be getting better, not worse? Kirk tells me it’s common for jet lag to feel worse on the second and third days, though, so hopefully that means I’m just moving through a normal process here. 

Last night I was so tired at dinner that I thought my face was going to fall right into the bowl of soup on the table in front of me. So I took Kirk’s advice and crawled into bed around 7:30. I pulled the covers around me, pushed my earbuds into my ears, then scrolled to a new favorite song, “Out of Reach” by Eustace the Dragon, and let it play on repeat for about two hours, my eyes closed in grateful rest. 

It was in that stillness that the now-familiar image of my 15-year-old self greeted me once I closed my eyes.

There she was, and I’m sorry to say that I immediately wanted to run. 

Part of the reason I wanted to run is that it felt like I was doing nothing. And that’s because the other aspect of being back home so far has been the rush-rush-rush mode of each day.

This is partly to do with the adrenaline of my conference experience — up early each morning for 7:30 a.m. breakfast meetings and then pushing through, without a break, until at least midnight each day (and until 2:30 a.m. one night, when I ducked out of the hotel to enjoy a Eustace the Dragon concert with friends!). After a long travel day on Sunday, I got home around midnight and then was up and out of bed the next morning, ready to plow into my usual work and home responsibilities again.

So, there was the conference adrenaline at work in my body.

But there was also the conference aftermath — that feeling of needing to get caught up on All The Things. A new at-home work schedule that keeps me occupied at my desk from 9 a.m. until about 5 p.m. each day now. That feeling of playing catch-up on social media. Getting reoriented to life at home. Trying (but so far failing) to resume my exercise routine. And then Boston. And Gosnell. And Texas. 

It’s been such a packed — and hard, nationally speaking — week. 

As a result, I feel all out of sorts. My daily commitment to silence, stillness, solitude, and prayer have been lost in the shuffle. I’m trying to discern a new way forward. I’m not there yet. 

And so, when I closed my eyes last night and immediately discovered the invitation to sit and be present with my 15-year-old self, I wanted to flee. It just wasn’t active enough. My body felt the need to keep going-going-going, even though I was so exhausted I could literally drop. 

It felt like doing nothing. 

And then I thought: Isn’t that the point? So often we hear that God just wants to “do nothing” with us — just enjoy hanging out and being together. I think of the formation process as one concerned with our being, rather than our doing. A lot of my personal calling to live my life in this world has to do with such counter-cultural stillness — being a repository of solitude and prayer on behalf of the world. 

In this place of re-entry, my flustered, over-hyped, adrenaline-fueled, post-conference self is seeking such at-rest equilibrium and not finding it yet. It’s hard. I expect I’ll get there again (hopefully) soon. And in the meantime, I’m reminding myself that what feels like doing nothing is actually doing something — something sacred and important.

What is the invitation to what feels like “do-nothing-ness” in the formation process like for you?

Pieces of Formation: School Life

Let's learn a bit.

What was learning like for you while growing up? Was it something you loved? Something you dreaded? Something that felt like wrestling with a huge and slimy sea creature? 

I know someone who slumped through school, garnering Cs and Ds at regular intervals, but it turns out he’s a genius. The traditional school setting and pace bored him. He didn’t see the point, and he needed much greater challenge. It wasn’t until a sixth-grade teacher saw him for who he was and gave him room to be himself and get creative that he began to gather a greater sense of self and confidence when it came to learning. 

I’ve already shared with you that athletics were a bust for me and that I learned to read at quite a young age. The schoolroom and books became a haven. I loved to excel at my studies, and I was the kind of kid who felt (mostly) safe in a classroom, sitting at a desk with my notebook and school supplies, learning from the teacher at the front of the room. 

Since this was the place I excelled, it eventually became quite tied to my identity. I thought being solid in academics meant I ought to be in an academic setting the rest of my life. I eventually made plans for doctoral studies and expected to live my days in the halls of universities as a professor.

It’s all I thought I was good at: books. 

It turns out there’s more to me than that. Part of my container analysis had to do with examining this part of my life, then deconstructing, then reconstructing my identity as it concerned these things. 

What about you? What was your school life like? How did it affect the way you came to see yourself?

Pieces of Formation: Your Family Credo

I just love her.

Just some cuteness for you.

Yesterday we talked about the individual roles we’ve played in our families and how they affect the people we became. Today, let’s talk about the family creeds that existed while we were growing up (and may still exist today).

These can vary widely from family to family. Some examples would be:

  • We don’t talk about our feelings.
  • We always talk about our feelings.
  • When we’re angry or sad, we don’t show it. 
  • When we’re angry, everyone knows it.
  • When we’re sad, it’s someone else’s job to make it better. 
  • People aren’t welcome in our home.
  • Everyone is welcome in our home.
  • Anyone who is “different” isn’t okay.
  • We learn so much from other people and ideas. 
  • It’s not okay to make mistakes.
  • Mistakes are how we learn.

What kind of credo — voiced or unvoiced — was at work in your family unit?

Pieces of Formation: Significant Experiences

Shadow work.

When I was in first grade, a girl knocked me backward (metaphorically) with her cruelty, and I careened with shock.

When I was in second grade, a boy cornered me in an isolated area of the playing field at recess and ordered some of his friends to hold my arms behind my body and another one to lift up my dress. 

When I was in third grade, two girls a grade higher than me sneered at my family’s dilapidated station wagon the moment I ducked out of the car and stepped onto the curb outside the school office. 

When I was in fourth grade, my parents sat us down at the kitchen table to tell us they were separating.

Each experience took me by surprise.

I didn’t see them coming. 

And so, I learned to be watchful. 

Guarded. Alert. Untrusting. Prepared with extra contingency plans. Convinced that the world was an unsafe, cruel, cold place, and it was my job to protect myself against it.

It’s no surprise to you, I’m sure, for me to say that significant experiences form us. 

What significant experiences formed you?

Into This Dark Night: One Way Contemplation Can Look

A rainy night.

When I first experienced the kind of contemplation John of the Cross talks about, I didn’t know that’s what it was. In fact, it was only in hindsight — much, much later — that I realized what I’d endured was a night of the senses in the dark night of the soul. 

All I knew at the time was that completely new revelations about myself were opening up all over the place, and all of those self-revelations caused me to shut down completely. 

I was 19. And I didn’t know which way was up anymore.

I’d grown up in the church and had a relationship with God the whole of my life. It was a meaningful relationship, too — one that guided my life. As I matured in age, I got in involved in the usual things: youth group, youth choir, discipleship groups, Bible studies, and eventually I sang on the youth worship team and discipled girls who were younger than me. I read my Bible frequently and kept a faithful prayer journal. I went to a Christian college. I dated — and then married — a Christian boy.

But then two things happened.

I read a book that, for whatever reason, made me connect with a truth in my heart that I’d never fully acknowledged before: I didn’t understand grace or my need for Jesus. And second, I enrolled myself in therapy.

Through therapy, I began to see how much of my whole existence was spent doing, doing, doing, and how at the root of all that doing was a life-arresting belief that I needed to live that way in order to survive and find love and acceptance.

It was a freefall moment for me, looking around at my entire reality and finding it all suspect. What I thought were my motivations were not my motivations at all. I didn’t know myself. I didn’t know my relation to the world around me. And I didn’t know where God fit into all of it, either.

And so I stopped. 

No leadership or discipleship activities. Very rare church attendance. My prayer journal languished, unattended, by my bedside. 

I did nothing. I just sat in the dark.

For two long years.

Those two years weren’t spent in what you’d call a “loving attentiveness toward God,” by any means. It felt more like a challenge. I was sitting down on the floor of my life, challenging God to prove that he loved me in a way that had nothing to do with all those things I’d been doing, doing, doing to earn that love. Somehow, he loved me beyond all that, but that didn’t make sense to me. And so I sat down and asked him to teach me. And I refused to get up until he did.

This was certainly more rebellious in spirit than the “loving attentiveness” St. John of the Cross encourages during such a season. And it seemed, at least from my vantage point, triggered completely by me. I’d had the self-revelations. I’d enrolled in therapy. I’d decided to sit down on the floor of my life and do nothing. 

But looking back, I eventually came to see that it was, indeed, a night of the senses initiated by God.

And it was, indeed, contemplation — albeit a very rudimentary version of it.

Because while I was sitting there doing nothing for those two long years, the root of my whole being was intently trained on God. I just kept beating against him while I sat there, asking him to give me the truth, knowledge, awareness, belief I needed to learn.

I knew I couldn’t learn it for myself. I had no idea what the learning even was or meant. I was in the dark, but I was willing to sit there and let him work whatever needed to be worked in my soul for as long as it needed to take.

And even though I thought at the time that it was happening because I’d initiated all that “doing nothing-ness,” I know now it was initiated by God. The timing for those self-revelations was ripe. My heart was ready for true awareness and honesty. It was time for me to grow up in love and truth and God.

And so God clicked it all in motion.

And I responded, and said yes.

Into This Dark Night: Removing Our Dependence on Our Senses

Bird on a wire.

I remember being so surprised to learn that God wants to remove our dependence on our senses. I mean, didn’t God give us our senses in the first place? Aren’t they a good thing? Why would God take the time to dream up, create, and give us senses to experience the world — not to mention experience our connection to himself — only to eventually take those senses away? What gives here?

But the more I understood, the more I understood.

When we judge our life with God based on our sensory experiences, we lose two ways.

First, we run the risk of judging reality based on feelings.

If we feel an infusion of good feelings when worshipping or praying or reading the Scriptures or any other sacred activity, we’re inclined to think we’re “doing good” with God. Accordingly, if we don’t feel those good sensory experiences during those activities, we’re inclined to think something’s wrong. 

Nothing’s wrong.

We don’t change in our standing with God based on the level of our felt connection to God when we engage spiritual practices. Our standing with God is sure. It doesn’t change with the passing wind. It doesn’t go up and down. It simply is. It can’t be changed or taken away.

(And praise God for that, right?)

Second, rooting our life with God in our sensory experiences can set us up to value the feelings over God himself. After all, who doesn’t love the heady high of worship? Who doesn’t love feeling God closer than one’s own breath? Who doesn’t love the feeling of being loved and cherished by God? 

These are all good things. But they are not the thing itself. 

There comes a point where our love for God is meant to deepen — when we are meant to grow in a purer love for God, simply because he is worthy of that love, not because of any good thing we may receive in the process. 

And so the night of the senses is a purifying process.

It purifies our love for God, and it frees us from our dependence on felt experiences to determine reality.

Into This Dark Night: Introducing the Night of the Senses

Dangle brushes.

St. John of the Cross identified two major stages in the dark night of the soul:  

  • The night of the senses
  • The night of the spirit

The night of the senses is the first to occur, and also the most commonly experienced by those on the spiritual journey. 

So let’s begin with a word picture that might help you identify with it.

Do you remember the beginning of your spiritual journey — the time you were first awakened to God?

You were excited, most likely. There was so much to learn and so many new experiences to be had. You were encountering prayer and Scripture and worship and fellowship for the first time. You were swept into a whole new community, learning a whole new language and inhabiting a whole new world. You were seeing reality through freshened eyes. 

Your senses were overwhelmed with all there was to do and see and learn and experience. You were filled with love and enthusiasm for God and the things of God. You felt fully connected and committed to this new life.

How long did this first fervor last for you? A month? Several months? A year? Several years? 

Do you recall when the fervor dried up? 

It might have felt like dryness. You noticed prayer wasn’t quite that interesting anymore. The Scriptures seemed bland to read. You sat through worship and felt nothing. You said the creeds and sang the songs as though by rote. 

Would it be presumptuous for me to guess that you believed something was wrong with you? Would it be a bit forward for me to imagine that you tried everything you could to make those feelings come back — that you tried a bit harder at every possible thing you knew to try in the book? 

Would I be wrong to suggest you were disappointed when trying harder didn’t work? 

And that, perhaps, you blamed yourself? 

It wasn’t your fault. 

It’s not always true what they say: “If you can’t feel God, guess who moved?”

Sometimes nobody moved. You and God are right there, facing each other, like you always were. It’s just that you’ve entered a new leg of the journey into deeper union with God.

It’s called the dark night of the senses. And tomorrow, you’ll learn what that is.

Can you relate to the word picture described above? 

Living a Rhythmed Life (Online): Cultivating Generosity

Taking a moment to breathe.

I don’t normally post here on holidays, but since the theme of the July 4th holiday in the United States is freedom, I thought it made for an appropriate time to talk about the freedom to be generous. 

And specifically, the freedom to be generous online.

The seed of this practice, for me, got planted a couple months ago.

Mid-morning one day, I clicked over to Facebook to get caught up on my news feed — the usual morning check-in to see what’s been going on with friends and family since I checked in the night before.

I’ve talked before about the value of delaying this morning check-in until after I’ve spent time in the quiet, and I’m not always faithful to that spiritual practice, but on this particular day I was. I’d been up for a few hours and had spent time writing, reading, and in prayer, and I was ready to engage with the world. 

Normally when I enter into these check-in routines, I scroll and scroll and scroll, tapping or clicking on occasion to “like” or “favorite” a status update on Facebook or Twitter, but not often taking the time to comment. I’m doing it to get caught up, to add my two cents by way of my own status update, and to stop and click on a few updates that I particularly noticed or appreciated. When I do comment, which I’ve noticed has become more and more rare over the last year, it’s usually in response to people I know really well or whose updates connected with me in an unusually poignant or timely way.

But on this particular day, for a reason I still don’t completely understand, I commented on almost every single person’s update that presented itself in my Facebook feed — people close to me and people not close to me, people I talk to regularly and those I very rarely connect with at all. For about 10 minutes straight, I clicked in those little comment boxes and typed out responses to almost every single one of them — an encouraging word here, an acknowledgment there, a question maybe, a “hooray!” sometimes. 

At the end of it, I felt completely energized and overflowing with love for each one of those people.

And a few days later, the same exact thing happened when scrolling my Twitter feed. Again, I clicked and replied to many of the people showing up in my stream, even those I’d never replied to before that day, and I found myself full of energy and love as a result. 

This is unusual behavior for me, and again, I’m not exactly sure why it happened or where the energy and desire to do it came from. It felt a bit like an “encouragement sprint.” It lasted about 10 minutes, and then it was over and I felt nothing but the headiness of love.

Why don’t I do that more often? I wondered. Why do I withhold responses as a usual matter of course? Why do I keep generosity all to myself? 

I think there are several reasons.

Sometimes it’s time — I’m just doing a quick check-in and don’t have time to stop and respond. Hitting that “like” or “favorite” button is a quick and easy way to feel a pulse of connection without asking too much of me.

Sometimes it’s overwhelm. There’s far more information than I can possibly take in. So many people saying, “Check this out! Read this! Go here! Buy that!” I just can’t do it all, and so I tune it out. I scroll, passively, and in that passivity, I’m actively shutting out the noise. I say no to all that noise by scrolling silently by.

Sometimes it’s insecurity. I begin to think and then believe that people won’t want to know me. I think they won’t notice I’m there. I anticipate their judgment. And so I stay small, whispering my own updates through the bullhorn, pouring judgment on myself the whole way through.

And then sometimes it’s judgment in my own heart. There are people in my news feed I just don’t enjoy. Their comments affront my sensibilities and sense of well-being. Or I find them judgy and exclusive, so I judge and exclude them right back. I pass by their updates and, while doing so, push them out of my mind and close them out of my heart. Sometimes I even close them out of my feed completely.

But in this generosity burst? I let all of that go. I chose embrace, acceptance, and the olive branch of friendship. I believed in abundance rather than scarcity. I made room in my heart for connection and care.

And I remembered: that’s the person I want to be. 

And so I’m choosing, more and more, to cultivate generosity in my online life. When I’m tempted to just scroll on through to get caught up, I remind myself how much an encouraging word or a simple acknowledgment of response can mean to someone else, even if it’s just a quick, “Hey. I see you. I hear you. I care.”

And when I find myself getting stingy or closing up my heart online, I know it’s time to practice this in a more focused way. I know it’s time to take 10 minutes for an others-focused “encouragement sprint.” 

This practice opens me up. It connects rather than isolates. And it builds into me more of the person I really want to be: one of welcome and love. 

Can you relate to any of this?

Finding God With and Within

Shell in light.

I read a quote by St. Augustine this morning that helps illuminate our path to God. He wrote: 

Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new. Late have I loved Thee. For behold Thou were within me, and I outside; and I sought Thee outside, and in my unloveliness, fell upon those lovely things Thou hast made. Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee. I was kept from Thee by those things, yet had they not been in Thee, they would not have been at all. 

I keep marveling at this sense of being outside ourselves that he mentions — how God can be found when we go interior, inside ourselves, but how we often flee that level of intimacy and knowing and being known by casting about outside ourselves. 

Or the way, too, he mentions God being with us but our not being with God. 

It is so easy to avoid presence, isn’t it? Presence with ourselves and presence with God. So we go outside ourselves.

It’s such a visceral picture to me — this going outside ourselves — as though we are leaving our real habitat, our real encasement, leaving it as an empty shell while we seek something elsewhere. Except as we are seeking that something else, we’re only a half-being because we left ourselves back with God.

Visceral, isn’t it? 

Can you relate? 

What is it like for you to consider finding God by going inward or finding God right there next to you?

A Turn in the Suffering :: When We Can Consider Forgiveness

Through the window.

It took me a really long time to get to forgiveness. 

I knew forgiveness was pretty important — Jesus makes that really clear in the Gospels. But I also had gone through enough of the process of learning my heart to know what was really in there. I couldn’t fool myself into believing I’d forgiven when I really hadn’t.

Besides, I knew that wasn’t what Jesus wanted, either. He’s the one who taught me the importance of the heart. He’s the one who helped me learn that our hearts are the key players in relationship with God.

I couldn’t just play lip service to forgiveness. Neither Jesus nor I would be fooled. 

So what do you do when you know forgiveness is important but you just aren’t there? 

You ask God to help you get there, and you be with the truth of the mess in the meantime. 

I’m serious. This is what I did. For years — literally, years — I consciously asked God to help me learn forgiveness. And then I would look at the reality of my heart and know that forgiveness wasn’t in there yet. I was still reeling. Still in shock. Still picking up the pieces of brokeness. Still learning what happened because of all that brokenness. 

Still learning what Jesus could do with all that brokenness, too. 

I read so many perspectives on forgiveness over the years, and none of them penetrated me.

Forgiveness is a choice, they said. It’s a choice you keep choosing and choosing and choosing each day. Or they said, Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting what happened or saying that it’s okay. It means wilfully choosing not to hold that against someone anymore. Or here’s another one: Unforgiveness is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the other person to die. 

These things may be true, but none of those declarations or platitudes meant anything to me. They just didn’t compute. And they annoyed me. 

What got me to forgiveness was being with the pain. Examining it. Learning from it. Figuring out how it had formed me. Allowing Jesus to take me on the long journey of reckoning

And then getting to a place where I saw new things. 

The thing that helped me the most with forgiveness was having been with Jesus through that long season of darkness and scratches at healing. That long season helped me realize Jesus could handle everything that had happened to me. Even more, he could bring me through it — teach me new things, make something new.

I became more identified with Jesus and what he was making of me and my life than with the broken circumstances that had brought me to him in the first place. 

That’s when I could finally consider forgiveness.

When I didn’t need to hold the wrongdoings so close to my chest anymore. When Jesus had given me something more.

Taking the Suffering Seriously :: How It Shuts Us Down

Dark and light.

At ages 5, 6, and 7, through a string of unrelated events that felt like they were cut from the very same cloth, I learned two things:  

  1. The world is not safe.
  2. People will harm you in your most unguarded, vulnerable moments. 

I don’t need to go into the details of what happened. Just imagine the innocence of a 5-year-old girl, put her in a natural, commonplace setting, and then introduce cruelty, manipulation, and humiliation aimed directly at her.

And then imagine the same thing happening to her at age 6. And then age 7.

I was a pretty quick study, and so I wisened up after that. In what I’m sure felt like an incredible act of maturity at having learned a thing or two about the world, I shut my heart down completely.

Closed. Out of business.

No unguarded moments. No vulnerability. No trust. Just caution and vigilance. 

No freedom. No joy.

The collateral damage was pervasive. I grew into a young woman who lived more like an automaton than a vibrant, alive, healthy human being. I couldn’t let people in. I kept myself small. I stayed invisible. I didn’t know the first thing about being honest with myself or others about the truth of my experience of life.

I was completely shut down, for the world had shown itself cruel. 

Suffering teaches us many things. One of the things it teaches us to do is to shut down.

Have you ever experienced this?

Taking the Suffering Seriously :: How It Forms Us

Gritty heart.

It’s with not a little fear and trembling that I wade into the waters of this new exploration with you. Most of yesterday, I noticed anxiety hanging on me and around me about this. This morning, I have a pretty thick bundle of butterfly nerves. 

I’m just noticing that response and letting it be what it is: what happens when you take a really hard reality seriously and then decide to talk about it out loud.

So, we’re going into the water anyway. And thankfully, Jesus will be with us as we go. 

The first aspect of suffering that I want to explore with you is the way it forms us. 

For instance, here is one story from my own life. 

One of the most formational moments in my life — and one that formed me not-for-the-better — happened when I was about nine years old. I was left in charge of two people who were stronger and bolder and brasher than me. Plus, they had a pretty combustible relationship. And what happened during our time together should not have been surprising: chaos ensued. What’s more, real damage was done to the structure of the building where we were. 

Although I had not participated in the chaos, I was given the same severe sentence the other two were. And when I mustered the courage to ask why, I was told that I could have prevented what happened. 

This was incredible to me.

I was nine years old and clearly the weakest link among the lot. I was not prone to aggression of any kind. And yet I was made responsible — more responsible than those who had done the deeds that put us in the sentencing-room in the first place, becauseI could have stopped it from happening

I cannot tell you with enough force how much that moment formed me. 

From that moment on, I believed I was responsible for everything. My two tiny shoulders were responsible for keeping every situation around me peaceful and in the right order. If anything ever went wrong around me, I felt responsible and to blame. If something went wrong somewhere on the other side of the world, even, I felt responsible for that, too. 

It’s amazing how, in an instant, our whole system of reality can shift. This belief formed the bedrock of my whole existence from that moment forward, and mostly on an unconscious level. It became so much a part of me that it informed everything I did, everything I thought, everything I believed, everything I saw happening around me, everything I felt about myself, and every decision that I made.

I was, in reality, warped by that experience. Our suffering so often has that effect — of forming us in ways that actually de-form us away from the truth about ourselves. 

In what ways has your suffering formed you not-for-the-better?

Pulse Check: How Have You Changed?

Come into focus.

Several times in the last few weeks, I’ve noticed changes in myself while in the midst of certain moments. 

It got me thinking — and thankful — about the ways we change over time.

For instance, recently I found myself walking along with a new friend without anything top of mind to say. My usual pattern would be to wrack my brain for something to talk about — and probably to berate myself in the process to hurry up and say something interesting, worthwhile, or funny.

But I chose not to do that. Since nothing came to mind to say, I just let the silence be what it was, and I felt really okay with that.

That was a pretty surprising — and amazement-inducing — moment. 

I saw that I’d changed. I wasn’t scared of the silence or of losing my new friend.

Another time I read a passage in a book that talked about the kind of character needed in a person for them to be ready to take up their calling. Normally, I would have analyzed the author’s words — along the way, analyzing myself — and clung to the book in an anxious attempt to find answers. I would have underlined and hemmed and hawed and wondered what it would take for me to measure up to my own calling. 

But that didn’t happen this time. Instead, I noticed what the author said, agreed with him, and trusted that God is making me into the person I need to be to do the work he has for me to do.

That was another revelatory moment. I’ve seen enough growth in myself to know God is growing and changing me, so I don’t have to be anxious about it. Nor do I have to try to change myself.

Isn’t it interesting how we form and change over time? 

Sometimes we don’t even notice it’s happening. We’re going along and slowly, almost imperceptibly, our values are changing. Our measures of ourself and others and God are changing. Our knee-jerk reactions are becoming less knee-jerk. We’re growing in our capacity for patience, generosity, and charity.

And then, one day, we notice it. We’ve changed.

I’m curious if you’ve noticed any changes in yourself lately.

When you look back over the last little while of life — it could be 3 months, the last year, the last 5 years, or even the last 10 years — in what ways do you notice you have changed? What is it like for you to notice those changes?

On Inhabiting Ourselves


In the last 24 hours, I’ve been thinking a lot about clouds and pretzels. 

Clouds, in the sense that they are what I see up ahead to indicate what could go wrong in any given moment, decision, or scenario. They are the “what if?” voices inside of me. What if they don’t want what I offer? What if I misstep their expectation or desire? What if it makes them angry? What if they blame me?

I have oh-so-many “what if?” voices inside me. And yesterday I realized they’re like murky, massive clouds that I can see ahead. 

And that’s where the pretzel then comes in. 

In response to the “what if?” clouds I see ahead, I start contorting. Twisting, turning, anticipating, curling — living outside myself because I’m living up ahead in the possibility of the “what if?” outcomes. 

It’s tiring being a pretzel. 

And who knows if those “what if?” clouds even exist? They exist in possibility, not reality. And yet in response to them, I contort into a pretzel instead of standing up straight and inhabiting my actual body with my actual eyes, arms, legs, skin, and voice. 

The fear of “what if?” creates a pretzel dynamic in me. But today, I’m learning and practicing standing up straight, unafraid and courageous and real.

Can you relate to the “what if?” clouds and the pretzel contortions?

"Blissfully Unaware": A Valuable Spiritual Practice

Morning glimpses.

When I wake up in the morning and choose to say yes to Lady Wisdom’s invitation to start my day, then checking my phone for e-mail is not the first thing I do. Getting up to date on Facebook’s news feed is not the second thing I do. Reading my Twitter timeline is not the third thing I do. Scrolling through my Instagram feed is not the fourth thing I do. 

When I say yes to wisdom’s invitation in the morning, I check my phone for the time, and that is it.

Then I stretch out and feel the softness of the pillow against my face. I revel in the coziness of the flannel sheets and heavy blankets keeping me warm. If Kirk is still in bed beside me, I turn to him and enjoy a few moments of conversation and connection. 

Then I make a french press pot of coffee and take the piping hot tumbler to my desk. I open my worn blue Message version of the Bible to the psalms, then flip to the other sections of the Scriptures that I’m steadily making my way through at the moment. I give Diva attention as she sits and begs for affection at my feet or jumps onto my lap or stands beside my Bible on the desk. I look out the window at the day unfolding before me — the wind waving through the moss hanging from the trees, the color of the sky, the squirrels running around on our driveway and our lawn.

On those days I say yes to wisdom’s invitation, I’m present to the morning, to the quiet, to my own heart, and to God in ways decidedly different than the mornings I launch straight into the clamor of technology. 

These are the days I feel centered. I feel rooted. I feel focused on the most important things. 

But when I connect to technology first, the day — and even my body — have a completely different feel.

I shake my leg at my desk and impulsively grab my phone to check for updates every few minutes. It’s hard for me to get quiet inside. Pulling my Bible in front of me and settling into its pages doesn’t hold much appeal. 

The day garners a frenetic energy, and I lose momentum on the most important things. I have a hard time being present to Kirk, much less anyone else. I feel lost and confused and unsure which way is up or which direction I should go next. 

It’s hard to remember sometimes, in those few seconds after waking, that ignorance really is bliss when it comes to starting my day. But hopefully, as I continue to notice the decidedly different feel the two different starts to my day offer me, I will choose more and more to be blissfully unaware from the start. 

Can you relate to this at all?