Beginning the Work Again :: Tears for What I See


Looking at the brokenness.

I mentioned in my last post that I experienced tenderness in the aftermath of my healing experience and that I came to see it as what emerged when my heart, fresh and new, became exposed to the elements. 

But it’s also because of what I can see now.

I was in the long-ingrained habit of looking away from some things, and one memory in particular. It was a scene from which I averted my eyes whenever it came into my awareness. I just couldn’t look at it. To do so was to wince and shudder. To do so was to relive it all over again.

But now, because of Jesus, I can see it. 

And not only can I see it, but I also see it for what it is. 

I’m seeing truth — the truth of what happened, and the truth of its injustice. And that, too, is a reason for the tears.

One thing I didn’t mention in the entry about my healing experience is how much I cried. When I met Jesus in that memory and experienced him with me inside of it, I put my head on the desk and just sobbed. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever done that for this particular memory, and it felt good to release the tears and honor the pain of what had happened after all these years.

Then, when I was driving to my therapy session last Thursday, I connected with the truth of the experience in a different way. It was crazy-stormy in Florida that day. The clouds were dark and hovering, the rain like sheets. Everyone crept along the roads the best they could.

And inside my car, I played one song over and over again on the stereo. It was written by a girl who struggled to face the truth of her own difficult experience. The song charts her progression into that truth with a growing strength. “It’s not right … it’s not right,” she begins to repeat about halfway through the song. And then, harmonies tight and strong, she proclaims, “No.”

As I let this song companion me on my drive, I began to realize that another part of the emotion I’m carrying is the acknowledgment of injustice. That what happened was wrong. That it breaks God’s heart, too, even as he offered me his calmness and strength and peace and love in that moment of healing. 

There’s something amazing about God’s ability to see truth while extending mercy. It’s a profound duality I’m holding in my heart a lot right now. It’s something I’m seeking to learn.

Beginning the Work Again :: Tenderness in the Aftermath

Getting our morning started.

Vulnerable and sweet. 

After the profound healing experience of Saturday morning, I spent the remainder of the weekend feeling a lightness and joy I hadn’t felt for quite some time. I kept revisiting that one memory — the one Jesus healed — in order to test whether something had really, truly changed.

It had. 

And so, for two days this past weekend, I walked around my world with a smile on my face. Amazement in my heart. Joy overflowing. Marveling at Jesus and at the new ability to revisit that memory without flinching.

And then came Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday. 

This week, my heart has felt fraught with an overflow of emotions I can’t contain. I would be sitting at my desk, doing seemingly normal things like checking Facebook or Twitter or editing an article or responding to an email, and a deep, gutteral sob would feel like it wanted to escape from the center of my chest. I felt teary and fragile. Tears would fall down my face, unbidden, any time of day. 

I told Kirk on Wednesday afternoon, “I’m not sure what’s going on with me. Maybe it’s my workload”—which has been pretty full this week—“and feeling like I don’t have enough time to finish everything. Or maybe it’s hormones. Or maybe the news headlines and stories I’ve been reading.” (The previous night, I’d spent time learning about the hunger strike happening right now among prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and it made me weep.) 

“Or maybe,” he said, “it’s all the intense healing work you’ve been doing.” 

Oh. That. 

Kirk’s comment stayed with me.

But at first, I resisted it. After all, I’d received that beautiful gift from Jesus on Saturday morning, and for two days afterward I’d felt a lightness of being and joy. I’d even checked in to make sure what happened was real. What would lead it to become tears and sadness instead? 

Then, later that same afternoon, while spreading a quilt on our bed after changing the sheets with fresh laundry, I realized it all made complete sense. 

That wall came down. And in its wake, my heart was now standing there, bare and exposed. This was a part of my heart that hadn’t seen the light of day, much less felt the faintest hint of wind, in 19 years. It had been on solitary lockdown, and now it was out there, exposed freely to the elements. 

No wonder every little thing kept making me cry. Everything blew over my heart like the slightest hint of wind, and it hurt like hell. Here was this fresh, raw part of my heart, feeling all the feelings and experiencing all that the big, wide world is for what felt like the very first time. 

I’m feeling tender toward this newly exposed part of my heart right now.

I’m feeling proud of her for showing up in the world. For existing. For saying, “Here I am,” waving her hand in a tiny, friendly welcome. 

She has so much to learn.

But she has so much to teach me, too. Like how to be open and how to feel things and how to care and how to have a heart that breaks at the pain of the world. Like how to be open and vulnerable in relationship in ways I need to keep learning how to be. 

I don’t want the wall to go back up in front of this part of my heart. And so, right now, it feels like I’m in training — a training that pays attention to all this tender vulnerability and says, “This is good. It hurts, but it’s very, very good.” 

Beginning the Work Again :: It Continues Into Truth

Entry. Where will the path take you?

Now, begin.

I shared yesterday that I’m going to spend the next few posts in this series recalling specific aspects of the formation process that I learned or found helpful the first time I walked through my own process of intentional formation — aspects I am personally needing to remember right now, as I step through yet another curve in my formation “spiral.”

Please know this part of the series isn’t meant to be prescriptive, in the sense of spelling out a “1-2-3” checklist for you to follow or a “Do this, and you’ll get results!” claim. Rather, it’s meant to make the formation process a bit more concrete — to show at least one way it can look, and has looked, for someone else.

I see these posts a little bit like waymakers, like markers on the path or dots upon a map. How we get from one point to the next will look different for everyone, and the kind of terrain we cross to get from one point to another on our personal map also is unique from one story to the next. But the markers at least lay out some territory. They hold, or contain, a scope of journey.

With that said, then, let me share this second observation: 

After awareness comes truth. 

This part can take a while. 

This is the part of the formation process that helps us learn what we’re really dealing with here. It’s where we begin to uncover what’s real, and we stare at it. It’s where we examine events and their impact. It’s where we notice what’s true inside ourselves, for real.

It can be scary as all get out.

Because often, we’re looking at things we haven’t allowed ourselves to see before. Sometimes it’s things we experienced, and sometimes it’s things we have done.

Also, this part often includes questioning things we’ve accepted without question until now. Sometimes it’s the case that things went unquestioned for survival’s sake, and they worked and were necessary for a certain length of time. But now they’re ready to be questioned. Now it’s time to reconsider.

And again, it can take a while.

The first time I walked through an intentional formation process, the truth component took years. I don’t say that to scare you away from this process, but rather to acknowledge the importance of this step. This is where we really learn what’s true about ourselves and our stories, at least to the level we’re currently able to understand and see them.

Our first time engaging with God in a process like this also tends to impact the length of time different phases take, since the first time around, everything’s new. Everything’s discovery. 

And sometimes this part of the process takes a while simply because looking at what’s real scares us. I know that, for me, the things I’m working through right now are particularly difficult to look at and acknowledge. I’ve spent just over a month now going back and forth with what I’m holding — moving toward truth and then swerving away, simply because the truths I’m dealing with are difficult and painful to see. 

I expect I’ll be in this truth phase for a while yet. 

And that’s OK. We take the time we need. God is infinitely patient with us in our process. 

In this truth phase, you might find that therapy or counseling is a welcome and necessary companion to you in the process. There is no shame in seeking this kind of help — and it can actually be the most wise thing you do for yourself. We don’t always have the skills in our own toolset to work through certain things, and neither do our friends and family much of the time, either. It can be helpful to have a specific skilled, confidential, and objective place to process some of the truths we see.

So, truth. Such a hard but essential part of the process. But this is where we start to learn what God sees and what God intends to do.

What are your thoughts on this truth component of the formation process? Is there anything you’d add that hasn’t been mentioned? Any questions about this?

Beginning the Work Again :: It Begins With Awareness

Will you enter in?

Will you enter in?

This new season of formation and healing has me thinking a lot about my first time around the spiral, mainly because doing so will help me in this new place as I remember things I learned from the first go-round.

Over the next several posts, I’m going to share some of the things I’m remembering here with you.

If you’re in your first-ever trek into the process of intentional formation, this next series of posts will, I hope, prove helpful — a bit like a beacon of light, illuminating the pathway forward, in a land that feels new and confusing and unknown and with no map. 

If you’re on your second go-round (or third or fourth or more), hopefully these reflections will serve as a helpful reminder and encouragement to you as you keep walking forward. At least, that’s what they’ll be for me.

I’m reminded that the journey begins with awareness. 

One day, you’re aware of something new, and you know you must follow it. It’s like Mary Oliver says in her poem “The Journey”: 

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice—

though the whole house

began to tremble 

and you felt the old tug at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers 

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible …

One day, you just know. It’s time, and you must say yes.

In my first intentional formation journey, the awareness moment happened while reading a book. A word — grace — kept popping up on what seemed like every page, inviting my eventual admission that I just didn’t get what that word meant, even though I’d been hearing and saying it my whole life. This time around, it happened in a session with my spiritual director. She asked a question, I began answering it as honestly as I could, and suddenly there it was: something new I couldn’t ignore.

I think the awareness piece comes when we’re ready for it. I think it’s the invitation of God. Our opportunity, at that point, is to say yes and step through the door. 

When have you experienced the awareness of invitation toward deeper formation or healing in your life?

Beginning the Work Again :: On Visiting the Work and Taking Breathers


Still my adult self.

Note: There won’t be new posts at Still Forming next week while I’m away at a conference. (More on this below.)

I’m noticing the importance of treating “the work” as a part of my life I visit at times designated by me. And here’s why. 

If I sit inside it all the time, gnawing at it and working on these things like a dog working a bone, totally preoccupied with sucking the marrow out of its present obsession, not only would it suck me into a huge, black, emotional, scary hole, but it would also exhaust me, and it would additionally render impossible my ability to keep doing what I do with the rest of my adult life. 

Because I am an adult functioning in the world.

I’ve done a great degree of work to become the adult I am today, and the adult I am is real and still gets to show up for the majority of my waking hours. The adult I am has been given a vocation to write and teach and lead people in this space and on the Sunday Quiet and through spiritual direction. The adult I am is in a marriage of equals. The adult I am manages a household. The adult I am runs a freelance editing business. The adult I am takes care of her body

The adult I am gets to keep living life. She doesn’t get ignored or erased or swallowed up by “the work.”

But the work must continue, too, and not be banished or repressed.

And so I visit it. I go to therapy appointments, right now once a week. I share some of the things I’m learning in those appointments with Kirk when I’m ready. I share some of them with friends during times of connection. I created a journal just for processing things related to this season, and I visit that journal when things come up and need to come out. I keep tabs on my inner world, especially when watching movies or reading books or online content that cross over the same experiences I’m processing right now, so that I know when I need to make room for feeling my response. I go to spiritual direction. 

I give this work specific places to breathe and be fully welcome. And then I keep going about my business.

It’s like these words that Jan Richardson wrote as part of a Lenten retreat she recently offered, which a friend shared with me: 

There is a time for engaging our story: for contemplating it, praying with it, doing lectio with it. There is a time for talking about our story, telling it, weaving it and unweaving and weaving anew. There is a time for reflecting and remembering. 

And there is a time for rest. 

Particularly when we are working with painful threads of our story, it can grow exhausting to be perpetually present to those threads, to be in the thick and the tangle of them. Sometimes we need to relax our hold on the threads, to lay them down for a time and trust that the Spirit will still be at work in them, and in us. Even as we seek to be present to our story—to be aware and conscious and to know who we are and how we are part of a larger story, and to be engaged with God in the creating of our own story—there may be times we need a Sabbath from our story. 

Holy absence, my spiritual director calls it. 

Not ignoring our story. Not dismissing it. But letting ourselves rest in the knowledge that sometimes there is weaving that God does only when our attention is turned elsewhere—when we give ourselves time and Sabbath and place the threads into God’s hands rather than trying to handle them all ourselves.

There’s such wisdom in her words, isn’t there? 

Speaking of taking a rest, I’ll be taking one such rest next week while attending the SDI annual conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’ve been invited to the conference as a guest of SDI, having been named one of their 2013 New Contemplatives. It’s an honor, truly. 

As such, I won’t be posting in this series here next week. (I will, however, continue to host the Cup of Sunday Quiet, if you’d like to sign up to receive those weekly mailings.) I’m excited to give myself the time and opportunity to live inside the profession and training I’ve received over the course of these last many years. 

How might you allow yourself intentional places to visit your own “work” right now? How might you also give yourself room to rest in such a season?

Beginning the Work Again :: It's Messy in Here, and I Feel Like I'm Back in High School

Craggy heart.

Craggy, dark, and broken.

On the evening of Good Friday, I got to participate in a Stations of the Cross service at my church. At one point, when I was standing in the main aisleway of the church, maybe around the 12th or 13th station, listening to our rector share the reading for that stop along the journey, a thought flashed through my mind that surprised me.

I can’t even tell you what the actual thought was. I don’t remember it.

But it had something to do with God, and it was a way of thinking about God that felt quite old, like it was reaching its way to me across miles and miles and belonged to another age. It recalled a sense of God as imperious judge, someone closed and narrow and cold and certainly harsh and wrathful. 

And I realized: 

That’s the image I carried of God in high school. 

Suddenly I was back there again, and it was a moment of feeling myself caught on the plane of an alternate existence, my heart and mind stretched backward nearly 20 years, back to a very young and undeveloped view and experience of God and myself. 

I’ve been reconnecting with the 15- and 16-year-old version of myself in this new place, revisiting some acute memories and remembering what it was like to be me in those exact moments. I remember the scratchy, stretchy fabric of a favorite fitted blouse I used to wear then. I remember the color and texture of my living room carpet. I remember the grandfather clock that stood in our entryway and how it lit up at night. I remember how it felt to walk into my bedroom.

And now, I’m remembering how I felt about God — and what I believed God felt about me.

It was a confusing time, but I didn’t know it at the time. And now, here I am, revisiting it. 

Here’s what I’m learning: It’s messy in here. I’m finding that sometimes I can’t think straight here. I can’t feel straight, either. It’s wordless, this place, sometimes. Just a jumble of memories and impressions and fumbling for my own response. In the place words should exist, I see black boxes instead, covering up the words. Coherence becomes impossible. 

And so, right now, I’m sitting with that.

Going backward in order to go forward — returning to the broken places — means that we might find ourselves believing in old and outdated versions of God. It means that we might feel like a confused, jumbled, wordless mess. 

That’s just the way it is right now, here at the beginning.

Beginning the Work Again :: The Redemption of Pieces of Ourselves

Holding his heart.

Pieces of the heart.

One of the struggles I faced early on when it came to re-beginning “the work” was giving myself permission to even enter into it. 

It felt like entering into this new process would undo everything I’ve grown into over the course of many years. 

Because here’s the thing. 

When I look out over the scope of my spiritual formation, I see one long, circuitous journey ever building on itself. The first 19 years were the foundation stones of my belief. Then, at age 19, I broke open in a type of second conversion. This led to “sitting in the dark” for two straight years, questioning everything I thought I knew about myself and God and willfully asking God to teach me what love meant.

At the end of those two years, I encountered Jesus in a new way. This fundamentally changed me and ushered me into a couple more years spent getting to know this Jesus and letting myself be known by him. 

This led, very gradually but naturally, into a more tender heart for others. I began to long for others to know their worth and value in an intimate, real way, the same way I had come to learn my own. This opened my heart and life into informal means of ministry. 

After about five or six years of growing into this new and tenderized heart, I received — and then answered — a call to formal ministry, which led to enrolling in graduate studies for spiritual formation and a three-year training program for spiritual direction.

Then, through my graduate studies, I encountered the ideology of nonviolence. 

This gripped and changed my life, too.

Now I found my heart broadened from a love for those who are wounded to a love for those who do the wounding. I noticed a deep well of compassion building up in me for those who are victimizers, perpetrators, hardened, and even murderous.

I didn’t fully understand this growing love in me, but I knew it was important. It seemed the natural and eventual outflow of a life changed and gripped by Christ. I wondered how the love that had transformed me might also transform individuals we instinctively dismiss or repel as being too far gone. I wondered how the love that transformed me might perhaps transform society. 

In stepping into this new healing work, it felt like all of that evolution of growth in me was getting lost.

Because the truth of the matter is, I’m bumping up against violence here in this healing place — violence done against me — and I am nowhere near a nonviolent response to it.

I’m nowhere near forgiveness or peace. I’m nowhere near compassion for the one who harmed me. I’m nowhere near the rooted, peace-and-love proponent I’ve slowly yet steadily become in the last 15 years.

I’m in a reeling, scared, hurt, and angry place. 

Perhaps you can see why I’d be unwilling to give myself permission to enter into this new part of my story that emerged in that fateful session with my spiritual director last month. Perhaps you can see why I’d not want to touch it with a 10-foot-pole once I began to feel some of the feelings tied to it. 

Would this new journey erase those 15 years?

Was I not a real proponent of nonviolence if I couldn’t respond to this revelation with willing charity and forgiveness? 

These are the questions I’d begun asking myself, and this is where the wisdom of Debbie, my therapist, was a God-send.

“What if we thought of it this way?” she said when I met with her last week. “I think of our hearts having been fractured because of the Fall. They’re broken into pieces. And the work of redemption, or our spiritual formation, is the healing and restoration of those pieces to wholeness.”

As she said all this, I nodded vigorously. I believe this to be true.

She continued, “What if pieces of your heart — the pieces you’ve known all these years to be growing into love and a nonviolent response — are pieces that have been restored to wholeness, but this new part over here hasn’t? Could there be room for this new part to go through the process, too?”

Man, she’s wise. 

I guess what I want to say here is that if you’re scared to enter into the process, you’re not alone. I’m scared, too! Nor are you cuckoo for fearing you’ll lose whatever growth you’ve realized already in your life. I’m scared of this, too!

But also hear this, just as I am hearing it: That growth isn’t gone. You haven’t lost it. It’s not irrelevant, and it’s not erased. It really happened. It’s still real. It’s just that there’s another part — a newly discovered part — that needs to experience that same kind of growth. It needs to be given a chance to learn what the other parts of yourself have already learned. 

Is this helpful for you to hear? Can you relate to the fears I’ve been feeling at the outset of this process?

Beginning the Work Again :: A New Series



Hi, friends. 

I’m starting a new series here with a bit of fear and trembling, as it marks a decision to dive in deep and live out loud through a process of healing I’m currently living. 

I shared a few weeks ago that some as-yet-unrecognized truths surfaced in a session with my spiritual director last month. It’s wreaked a bit of havoc in my inner and outer world, and I’ve been taking intentional steps ever since to enter more deeply into those truths and surround myself with what I need to begin the difficult (and scary!) healing process. Thankfully, I have a really great support system in place that’s already helped me take several courageous steps forward and is helping me stay with this.

But here’s what I’ve noticed:

As I’ve been taking these steps, it feels so much like starting over. 

Truths I’ve learned and lived into for years now feel so far away. In certain parts of myself, I feel so much like that 19-year-old girl who first discovered she had a heart, she didn’t understand grace, and she’d been living inside some coping mechanisms that left a lot to be desired. 

When it comes to these new revelations and the work of integrating them into my life and story, I feel like I’m starting over. And I’ve been realizing that I need to teach this new and tender part of myself, step by step, the things I learned over the long-haul journey of growth and healing and new life that began for me at age 19. 

Then last night I realized: 

It might be helpful for me to form out loud through this process with you here. 

Perhaps you’ve been in this place of starting over, too — healing a fresh wound, or an old-but-feels-fresh one. Or perhaps you’re at the beginning of the journey and need some help even knowing where to start. 

In this series, I’m going to share with you my process as I’m walking through it. I’m also going to share things I learned when going through this circuitous journey the first time around. Hopefully you’ll find it helpful or encouraging in some way for your own experience. I know that, for me, it will be helpful to have a place to process the journey and “re-teach myself” things I need to re-learn.

Would you like to take this journey with me?

The Body Series: Are There Limits to the Body-Spirit Formation Analogy?

Winter in New York.

A few days back, a friend shared that she’d recently gotten caught up on this body series and had a question for me. It had to do with this idea that the formation of our bodies might mimic the formation of our spirits

She said:

“Presumably, over the course of our lives, our spirits are meant to grow stronger and stronger — more vibrant. But our bodies, as we age, are getting less and less so. What do you do with that, in terms of the analogy?”

It’s a good question.

To clarify, here is where I see the overlap between the two: 

  • The good things we put into our bodies — food, exercise, supplements, rest — interact with our bodies’ interior processes at a level we can’t control. We are just one part of the equation, and there’s a point at which we do our part, trusting our bodies to do the rest. This is similar to what happens in our spiritual formation: We participate, and God and God’s grace do the rest.
  • Our bodies are meant to move in the direction of health, just like our spirits. They can certainly move away from health, and our spirits can, too, but we are meant to live with health and vitality at whatever stage of life we’re in, to the extent we are able.

I keep thinking of the older folks I see at my gym — men and women in their 70s and 80s who are fit and trim and limber and alive because they’ve continued to tend to their bodies as their bodies have aged. Many of them are in much better shape than I am at 34 years old! 

As they are moving toward the end of their lives, they serve as an image to me of what vitality and health can look like at an advanced age. In the midst of our decay, we can still be moving toward life.

Ultimately, though, I think my friend has a good point. 

Our bodies, in this life, will die. Our spirits won’t. But on the other side, in some mysterious way I don’t understand, our bodies join our spirits in different form. Even as our bodies progress toward decay in this life, then, that decay is not the end of the road for our bodies. 

Maybe the breakdown of the analogy has something to do with putting things in their proper order. Jesus spoke often of the inward person of the heart being of core importance, more than what our outward bodies do. (I’m thinking of the passage where he tells the Pharisees that they’re more concerned with cleaning the outside of their cups without realizing what’s on the inside of them.) Not to say that what we do with our bodies isn’t important, and not to say that the body isn’t important, either, but our inward reality is where it all begins. Everything else flows from it. 

And perhaps what I’m trying to say is that the process — what happens when growth is happening, whether in body or spirit — looks similar in both.

What are your thoughts on all this?

Ash Wednesday: A Time to Return


At the invitation of a friend, I woke early this morning — before the sun came up — and drove to our little church for the 6:30 a.m. Ash Wednesday service. 

It was a gift to be inside that place — one of my favorite places to be in all of Winter Park — at such an early hour and with just a handful of other journeying pilgrims, praying together. 

I’m so glad I went. 

I shared with my Cup of Sunday Quiet readers this past week, as well as in a guest post for the MSFL blog at Spring Arbor, that this season of Lent could not be coming at a more perfect time. I’ve just emerged from a difficult season in my life with God, and here on the other side of it, I find myself starting anew with practices and commitments that were a long-held, integrated part of my life and routine before things changed. 

I feel so much like a beginner. 

I feel so much like a penitent. 

Accordingly, it was so meaningful to pray the liturgy for Ash Wednesday this morning.

We prayed Psalm 103, and my eyes teared up upon saying aloud, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” There were many times in this past season of fallowness where I did forget the Lord’s benefits and where I stopped asking my soul to bless the Lord. 

I gave thanks when we prayed: 

“For as the heavens are high above the earth, 

   so is his mercy great upon those who fear him …

For he himself knows whereof we are made;

   he remembers that we are but dust.”

— Psalm 103:12, 14

I was reminded of my frailty — and that my frailty does not surprise God. I was reminded of his mercy toward those who fear him, and I was (and am) thankful he has given me a heart that fears him.

Later, after we had received the imposition of ashes, I was thankful to be reminded that “the sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart [he] will not despise” (Psalm 51:18). I received in that moment what God offers today on Ash Wednesday: absolution. I accepted that I can stop berating myself for the things I regret having done or said or thought or felt in these last months. I accepted God’s forgiveness, knowing that my heart, indeed, is troubled, is broken, is contrite over all these things.

And now begins the time of my returning.

May these next 40 days be a disciplined return that grows anew within me a heart that praises God and seeks to build up and to serve. May it be for you the invitation God has set before you, too. Amen.

The Body Series: In It for the Long Haul

Come. Enter in.

When I began the process of learning my heart, it was helpful to have had two years of introspection in my back pocket.

Certain books had helped me think about myself, my life, and God in significantly new ways over those two years. I’d taken myself to therapy for a spell, where I’d just begun to learn about the inclinations and coping mechanisms and motivations that, underneath the surface, had guided my daily life, thought processes, and beliefs for so long without my knowing it. And, of course, I’d sat in the dark, willfully refusing to move so that God could teach me a new thing I really, truly wanted to understand and believe, instead of just saying I believed it.

As I shared yesterday, I’m in a similar place on this body journey now. 

Here’s what I know: I don’t understand the body. What’s more, I don’t understand my body. 

And after about seven years of living with a body that is completely foreign to the one I grew up with, flailing about in so many random ways in an effort to understand, change, and/or make peace with the body I now have, it’s time to sit down, willfully, and not get up until I get it. 

This could take a long time, but I’m not sure there’s any other way. I seem to be a stubborn sort when it comes to learning something important. I was just remembering this morning, for instance, that I went through a similar process over a very long period of years when I wanted to learn what forgiveness means and how to forgive someone — really learn it, so that I could say I forgave someone and mean it from my heart, rather than saying I forgave them just because the Bible said I should.

It took years, but I got there. And once I got there, it truly changed me.

I seem to have a way of digging in my heels, doggedly, for however long it takes to really learn something I just don’t understand. 

But when I learn it, I learn it.

It really means something then. 

It took me years to learn my heart. It took me years to learn forgiveness. And it may take me years to learn my body.

But I’m deciding right now that I’m OK with that — because it means that when I learn it, I’ll really have learned it, and it will change the way I relate to my body going forward, presumably for the rest of my life.

So, let’s begin. Shall we?

The Body Series: On Being a Beginner

Burn a light.

I remember when I first learned I had a heart — not a physical heart (obviously), but a heart that signified the seat of my self, the entity that comprises my real being. 

I was oblivious to it for 20 years. 

But then, at age 19, God turned everything upside-down. Everything I thought I knew went suspect. I realized I was pretty clueless about grace and Jesus, and God gave me the ability to see that truth and to say yes to a long journey that changed everything.

About two years into that journey, I picked up my Bible and began to read the four books of the Gospels straight through.

One thing I noticed was that the heart was everywhere.

Jesus, walking around inside those pages, was laser-focused on this thing he called the heart. It mattered to him more than anything, and he wanted it to matter to everyone else, too. 

That’s when I realized I had no clue what he was talking about. 

But, gathering up all I’d experienced the previous two years of the journey, I set out to learn. 

It felt a bit like stumbling in the dark, arms outstretched, feeling for walls and chairs. Eventually, a tiny glow of light entered the room, illuminating dim shapes and casting shadows. As my eyes adjusted, the space eventually took on a bit of familiarity. And then, eyes adjusted to what I could dimly see, the light turned up a little bit more — until eventually, the outlay of the room was known to me, even as so much was left to be explored. 

That’s how this body journey feels. Like I’m way back at the beginning, stumbling in darkness, arms outstretched in front of me, unsure what’s there to be found. 

But you know what? I was patient with myself in learning my heart, allowing myself to be a beginner at it, even as it took many years. And I hope to be patient with myself in this body journey, too. 

Will you be a beginner with me?

A (Near) Month of Thanks: Influences

Right now.

If you had a glimpse of my interior world in college (and high school, and junior high, and grade school), you’d discover I was a pretty wound-up perfectionist constantly worrying and straining to make things right. If there’s a word to describe the image I hold of my young self in all those days, it would be the word scruples

But then God cracked me open, and a whole bunch of messiness ensued.

Confusion. Exploration. Possibility. Hope. Life. Grace. Love. Freedom. Depth. Calm. Solidity. Openness. 

The spiral of life and growth continues along these lines, with each new season bringing its portion of disorientation, exploration, discovery, and life. It leads to increased rootedness but usually requires a bit of freefall first. 

When I look back over the terrain of my spiritual journey and who I’ve become and am continuing to become, I’m incredibly thankful for the many wise influences, mentors, guides, and spiritual parents who have shaped me. 

When it comes to influences, I am thankful for: 

  • Clifford Williams, whose book Singleness of Heart began me on my heart journey
  • Anne Lamott, who first taught me about grace and the beauty of imperfection
  • Don Miller, who put language to some of my experiences and modeled permission to explore
  • St. John of the Cross, who first taught me about spiritual formation
  • My friend Sara, who gave me space to process the journey
  • Jesus, the first model for all I believe and do today
  • Henri Nouwen, who opened deeper the world of interiorities and helped clarify my sense of vocation
  • Mother Teresa, whose model of love still teaches me
  • Gandhi, who was and always will be the father of my nonviolence journey
  • Martin Luther King Jr., another father to me in the road marked by love and conviction
  • Thomas Merton, my spiritual father in contemplation and peace
  • Julian of Norwich, who currently models for me my life of prayer

Who are the influences that have shaped your life, and how would you express thanks for them?

Closing Thoughts on Prayer

Reaching for the sun.

Hi, friends. 

I’ve so enjoyed writing this series on prayer for you.

I’ve loved receiving emails from many of you over the last 5 weeks who said you’ve been encouraged to learn all the various forms that prayer can take. Some of you shared your faith has felt validated by this series. Some of you have shared surprise at some of the entries, asking, “Can it really be?” Others of you have shared that you felt relieved, also asking, “Can it really be?” 

This series could continue on indefinitely, if we really wanted it to. I have a list in my planner that includes even more forms that prayer can be, including:

  • Dance
  • Study
  • Lectio divina
  • Cleaning the house
  • … and more.

I think what’s important to notice here is that prayer is life. 

When the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonian church and encouraged them to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), I don’t believe he had in mind for them to kneel at their bedsides, brows furrowed, talking in concentrated verbal prayer every moment of the day to God.

I believe he intended them to learn to experience all of life as prayer.

To find connection with God in all we do. To discover the truth of our hearts in our activities. To offer those revelations to God. To consider the ways God might be speaking and inviting us to notice our hearts and his voice throughout our days. 

I’ll see you here on Monday with a new series to share. 

Much love,


Prayer Can Be ... Under the Surface

Seeing the eye.

I met with my spiritual director, Elaine, on Monday, and the first thing I said when I sat down was that I hadn’t spent any formal time in prayer since our last meeting three weeks ago. 

It was a strange admission for me, since prayer is a primary part of my life. I have a rhythm to my days that includes intentional time spent in quiet and prayer with God each day. 

But I’d not been spending that time each day.

I’d been avoiding it.

And yet, as our conversation proceeded, we came to see that prayer had been abundant in those three weeks.

It was under the surface. 

I told her about the chance moments, like driving my car down the street or talking with someone who was struggling, where I became aware of an undercurrent of prayer at work in my spirit. Some people call it a prayer language. Others refer to Romans 8, which says the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (v. 26).

That’s what it was: groanings too deep for words.

Underneath the surface often.

It happens when I don’t know how to pray. It happens when I wake in the middle of the night with someone on my mind and I don’t know why. 

And, as I learned in my session with Elaine on Monday, it happens all the time. Underneath the surface. As I go about my day. 

Do you ever experience prayer underneath the surface?

Prayer Can Be ... "Please"

I will write peace on your wings, and you will fly all over the world.

The last few days, into the wee hours of the night and morning, I’ve been transcribing interviews with individuals living deep inside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Christians. Jews. Muslims. 

Scholars. Farmers. Refugees. 

Government officials. Bedouin natives.  

They tell a story that will absolutely break your heart.

There is so much of this conflict I’m not sure many of us really know. We hear the news headlines and sound bytes, but we rarely hear the stories. We rarely hear of day-to-day life for everyday people living there. We rarely hear the narrative arc, as both sides tell it, of this small but always simmering and often explosive corner of our delicate world. 

When I hear the stories of land lost, houses demolished, families separated, roads blocked, curfews instated, IDs revoked, and barbed wire and walls put up, my heart cries out with one plea: 


When I hear of displacement, dispossession, and oppression, my heart cries out: 


When I hear of the despair, the suicide attempts, the lost grip on the value of one’s own life, my heart cries:


When I hear of nonviolent resistance, of peace petitions, of generous concessions met with violence or silence, my heart cries out: 


When I see the international response of apathy or ignorance or pigeon-holing or blind-eyeing, I cry out in sadness: 


These are cries of prayer for peace. For resolution. For mercy. For wisdom to know my part. For pain at the hardness of hearts. For pain at this whole wide world’s suffering soul. 

What makes your heart cry, “Please”?

Prayer Can Be ... Writing


Writing is prayer for me. 

When I write here each day for you, it’s an act of prayer to discern what ought to be shared and the best way in which to share it. 

But also, when I write privately, the entries I compose on my typewriter are prayer. I feed sheets of paper through the roller and pound away at the vintage keys. Sometimes I speaking directly to God. Sometimes I’m just getting my thoughts and feelings on paper.

The whole time, I’m seeking to get at what’s really true.

What’s happening now? What do I think and feel about those things? Where is God in here? What am I learning? What’s difficult? How can my previous experience shed light on this? How will I respond?

These questions, for me, are prayer. They’re an act of opening my heart to the truth and of inviting God to tell me the truth, too.

They’re moments of clarity. Of repentance. Of contrition. Of discernment. Of holy truth-telling.

How is writing prayer for you?

Prayer Can Be ... Painting

A fiery tree.

I am, quite admittedly, not much of an artist. I never have been. 

But last year, I began to experiment with paints and markers in my Moleskine, and I discovered how much the process can be prayer. 

Often, I’ll pull out my art supplies, put a blank sheet in front of me, and have no idea what I’m going to create. It often starts with nothing more than a feeling or intuition.

That feeling or intuition may be heavy — out come the dark colors, painted all over the page. It may be hopeful — out come the yellows and greens. It may include a word or a line of words. It may carry symbols or patterns.

It may feel like fiery, passionate, hope-filled growth — and so out comes the painting you see above. 

The paints teach me what my heart has to say. I discover what’s going on in there through color and brushstrokes.

And what comes out is a prayerful offering.

My heart. On the page. Offered up.

Has painting ever been prayer for you?

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 It's Bigger Than We Understand


I have felt so aware throughout this suffering series that this subject is vaster than any bits and pieces of a blog series — even a whole lot of those bits and pieces strung together in a month-long series — can cover. 

I told Kirk that writing this series has felt like offering a tiny taste of perspective each day on one of those tiny pink plastic sample spoons you get at Baskin Robbins when you want to try an ice cream flavor before ordering your scoop. Each and every post of this series has felt like a tiny pink tasting spoon like that, and I feel like I could write whole book chapters on each post — each post that examined how suffering can affect us, and each post that has examined ways we might hold the suffering and learn what it can teach us. 

Not to mention all the perspectives that weren’t included in either side of that exploration yet.

This subject is just so big and vast. 

And this morning, as I was walking along the beach in prayer with Jesus and talking with him about all this, I felt so aware of the truth of this. It was like he looked out across the vast ocean stretching out for miles beside us and swept his arm out toward it, as if saying, “See this? This is its vastness. It’s true.” 

Sometimes our actual experience of suffering feels like that, too. 

There’s a vastness to it. An imperceptibility because it can be so all-consuming and great. An inability to pull back and see or even comprehend anything rational when it comes to what we’ve suffered or seen others experience. 

Sometimes it’s just too big to understand. 

And I think, in those places, we sometimes just keep walking — that that’s all we can do. Keep holding the tension of what is hard and what seems necessary. Keep living. Keep feeling. Keep knowing God and ourselves. Keep trusting that something in all of this matters, even if we may never know why. 

I think there is dignity in this way of holding our experiences. 

Because just because something doesn’t make sense or cannot be held in our minds doesn’t mean our experience of it is less valid or that there’s no meaning in it at all. Who are we as we live inside that inexplicable complexity? What will we choose to believe? What will it make of our faith? What will it make of our lives?

These are some of the questions suffering’s vastness invites us to hold, I think.