Making the Hard Decisions

Curly tail.

It's been a while since I checked in with you about the Tour de Bliss, and that's mostly because I've had my head down, working hard, hard, hard on the principles it's teaching me. 

One of the biggest principles I've been learning is the value of single-minded focus. 

Let me tell you a bit of that story and the hard decisions it's been leading me to make.

One of the exercises inside the Tour had me brainstorming for several weeks, trying to nail down the essence of my life's work. I'd written pages and pages of these brainstorms, yet I could never get to what seemed like the just-right language.

And so a couple weeks ago, while in prayer, I told Jesus I was at a loss for words about it. I brought it into the presence of Jesus and asked for his help. What is it, Jesus? Can you tell me? 

And that's when he gave me these new words: 

I create spaces for you to reflect on your life with God. 

That's it. That's what I do. That is the essence. I looked at everything I do, and that's the truth of it.

I looked at Still Forming, and I could see it so clearly: that is a space where people are invited to reflect on their lives with God for at least a moment each day -- "an oasis from the noise," I like to call it. 

I looked at my work of spiritual direction offered to people all over the globe: yet another very intentional space created for people to reflect on their lives with God. 

I looked at the Look at Jesus course I created last year: this, too, is a space created for others to reflect on God, and Jesus specifically. 

I create spaces. Spaces for you and God to connect. That is the essence of who I am and what I do. 

And suddenly, I could see it.

This work needs my all-in commitment. If that is what God and I are bulding of my life together, if that is what I want to do with the fullness of my life, then it needs my complete commitment and attention. This life's work will not become the undivided focus of my life by doing it "on the side," amidst a dozen other interests and commitments that I keep.

And so, the hard decisions. 

Since the work of my life originates primarily through the Still Forming online space, that is where I'm going to focus my online efforts.

And so I've made the hard decision to shut down my Lilies blog here, as well as my nonviolence blog over there, in order to dedicate and commit that single-minded focus to what I am called to do with my life. 

It's been hard for me even to consider this decision, especially since this Lilies space has been my online home since I started blogging in 2006. This space has seen the chronicling of many life changes in the last six years. It's a space where I've made many friends. It has also been the place I get to just "be me" -- to let down my hair and tell you the daily and the momentous things happening in my world. I've been grieving the loss of those aspects of this decision. 

But I have good news. 

I am still going to write -- both on Still Forming every weekday, as well as behind the scenes (like on my beloved vintage typewriter that hasn't gotten much use the last 6-12 months!). I'm sensing those more private writings will turn into some long-form pieces I can offer to readers of Still Forming or through some other means. I'm really looking forward to strengthening the writerly aspect of my vocational calling, actually.

And second, I've decided to offer something really special, above and beyond Still Forming, called the Cup of Sunday Quiet, that will provide at least one small avenue for sharing my heart and more personal life reflections with those who want to journey along. 

So, will you consider joining me? Will you sign up for the Cup of Sunday Quiet and join me over at Still Forming? I would love to have you continue this journey with me. 

Here's to taking chances and going all in ...

Much love,


A Small but Significant Decision


Do you remember the decision I made at the turn of the year to keep my mornings free and not make any commitments before 1PM? 

Well, some shifts in my schedule happened over this last month, and I decided, after weighing my options, to allow a standing commitment into my schedule that began at noon three days a week. The choice was mine, and it seemed like the best option of the ones I had in front of me at the time. 

What's the sacrifice of one small hour, just three days a week? I wondered. 

I've learned that it was a real sacrifice, actually.

For whatever reason, that morning commitment to remain free and in prayerful solitude until 1PM matters. Even one small hour being chiseled out of that commitment three days a week made a difference -- and one I found myself not happy with at all.

So I checked into whether I could adjust that commitment -- whether I could shift the commitment to commence at 1PM instead, which would mean committing to it four days a week instead of just three. Thankfully, there was no problem at all in making that switch. 

This was a small but significant decision, but I haven't looked back since I made it.

No regrets. Just gratitude and confidence. 

A Simple, Faithful Life

Yeah. She's cute.

When I was working through the weekend getaway material of the Tour de Bliss before the tour got started, I was given the opportunity to take an introductory snapshot of my work as it presently is configured. There was a wide-angle view of things I'm doing now, and then there was a chance for a close-up shot. 

The close-up shot asked me to list the things that are going great right now, followed by the question, "What is the thing I most desperately desire?" 

My answer to that question is this: 

To make a full-time living doing e-mail spiritual direction and writing.

That's it. Two things.

Nothing would make me happier in all the world than for my daily work to be composed of those two very simple components -- of meeting other people in the truth of their hearts and lives with God and of articulating the ways he has met and is meeting me in those same ways and places.

And yet I had to ask myself, "Am I not thinking big enough?" (I actually wrote that question in a big thought-bubble on the page.) Writing and e-mail spiritual direction -- that's it?

But then I thought a moment.

I looked again at those words I had written about what I most desperately desired. And I took a moment to notice what I love most about our life here in this little cottage where we live -- that it's the simple pleasures of this home and our life that I love so much. I love the quiet of the morning. I love the space for prayer and reflection and writing that each day affords me. I love being cozied up with Kirk and the kitties each night. I love simple, delicious meals. I love our little village church and its quirky character. 

The truth is, I want a simple, faithful life. 

That was a new, confident realization for me that day. A simple, faithful life: that's all I want.

A chance to hear and notice God in the lives of other people, and a chance to articulate God's work in my own life. A simple, faithful life. That's what this year on the tour is helping me clarify and create as I keep moving forward in my life's work.

Why I Need Four Hours in the Quiet Every Morning

Bible cat.

"To be effective workers, we need spiritual clarity; we need discernment concerning the condition of all who seek us out; we need quietness of mind to hear them state their case; and we need quietness of spirit so that we can sense their true condition beyond their own definitions of it. We ourselves must abide in a clear relation with the Lord, so that having inward clarity we can clearly discern the needs of others."

-- The Normal Christian Worker, p. 39

Yes. That about sums it up.

This Is Going to Be So Fun (and Amazing)


*Letting out a long, restful, contented sigh*

This has been one of those days where my calendar was full of Things To Do. I was kept pretty much on task from 10 a.m. until about 6:30 p.m., rolling from one thing to the next with a lot of focus and enjoyment.

And then I reached that still, quiet moment at the end of the day when all the things to be accomplished had been done and I could look at the rest of the evening as one long, open expanse to do with as I wanted. 

Isn't that just the best?

Today is also the official embarkation day of the Tour de Bliss. (Eeeeep!)

Since my day was so full, I had only a chance to take a passing glance at the official welcome e-mail for the tour this morning and log in briefly to check out the tour homepage.

But now, sitting here on my couch with the full evening ahead of me, a blanket draped over my lap and my travel manifest for the tour by my side, I've just had a chance to log in and take everything in with a bit more attention. 

And I have to tell you: 

This is going to be so stinkin' fun.

I mean, how many business development plans have *you* heard of that include things like a hot air balloon, a Product Patisserie, and a Room for Flying Objects? I've also heard mention of a mysterious place called the Tower of Glint. And I know there is much, much more. 

I really can't wait to dive in. I'm so blissed-out to be a part of this.

Going on the Tour with Jesus

My work. Right now.

Yesterday I wrote about a year-long digital tour I'm starting on Monday to better understand and create an approach to my life's work that makes the most sense for who I am and what Jesus is inviting me to do.

It's so important for me to remember that Jesus and I are on this tour together -- and that each conversation I have with my work and my life on the tour and each decision I make about those things are going to be made in the context of having talked with and really listened to him first. 

Right now.

I've gotten a lot of practice at this over the last year.

In fact, as I've written previously, I've learned that staying close and listening to Jesus is my very first act. It's what comes first. Any time I stray from him, I immediately become self-dependent, and then anything I do is fueled only with my measly human effort. 

The work I'm called to do is not about human effort. It's not about Christianne. It's about Jesus.

Jesus keeps affirming to me over and over that the work he's inviting me into is his. He calls people. He nudges them toward himself. He produces any fruit that emerges in their lives. I'm just a facilitator, a vessel, an opening for him to be made known and present. (And it continues to blow my mind that he would even call me to be a part of that work he's doing in the lives of others.)

So, it's me and Jesus on this Tour de Bliss. I can't wait to see what he and I discover together on it and how the experience of it will help better sculpt and form the life he's leading me to live.

Packing Up for a Tour

I remind myself often of this as I move deeper and deeper into my vocation.

My truth.

Probably about a year ago, I discovered a gal named Sarah J. Bray. She had a web design company at the time -- a service that didn't directly apply to me -- but I liked the way she thought about things and the generosity with which she shared her perspective on business and creativity with others. 

So I signed up for her e-mail list. (Something I rarely do.) 

Little did I know that soon after signing up for her e-mail list, she would shut down her blog and shut down her web design business in order to reframe and redesign her work. She offered an opportunity to sign up for a "sneaky-peekers" e-mail list to follow her through that journey -- those signed up for the list would be people with whom she'd share more of the details behind her business decision and her process of creating the new thing(s) she was going to do. 

I found her offer of a "sneaky-peekers" view of her decision and process quite intriguing and generous, so I signed up for that list too.

And so for the last six to nine months, I've been given an insider's peek at who Sarah is and what she is doing. And I've learned that I really value her perspective. So often, her willingness to put herself out there -- to simply be her quirky, unique self and to share the thinking behind the decisions she's making and to share the ups and downs of the process -- encourages the part of me that deeply believes in the value of every human person and in connecting in meaningful ways with people in this increasingly disconnected world in which we live.

First watercolor art attempt.

My heart: to provide places for

people to be seen and heard. 

Along the way, while being subscribed to her "sneaky-peekers" list, I've been doing my own thing. 

I graduated from my master's program in spiritual formation and finished my training in spiritual direction. I wrote a thesis proposal on the intersection of spirituality and digital connectivity.

In response to my thesis research, I began to write week-daily posts on Still Forming. I created -- and then offered -- my first-ever online course. I created a second online course and offered it to a small group of beautiful souls who had taken the first course. 

And I continued, in the midst of all this, to offer long-distance spiritual direction. 

Through it all, God has been confirming my calling and vocation. He has given me a pastoral heart and priestly calling. He has provided training and experience for my work as a spiritual director. And he has called me, at least for now, to work in online spaces.

Working today.

One of the pages in my vocation Filofax.

As God has been deepening and confirming my work and vocation, I have been seeking ways to more intentionally hone and focus my life and what I do. The best decision I made all year was part of that process of being intentional and faithful to the way God created me and what he's inviting me to do with my life. I've also become very careful of the things I take on, asking myself, "Is this really mine to do?"

The full thrust of this year, I'm finding, is about moving more and more fully into the work God has called me to do with my life. Stay close and present Christ, he tells me. I will bring the fruit, is another thing he says. Be faithful to what I've given you to do, he tells me. Follow the way I've made you.

And so I keep doing that.

All sorts of ideas about the sizes and shapes this can take have come along, and so I keep filing these ideas away in what I call my "vocation Filofax," adding new labeled tabs for each new idea that seems important and compelling. (The Filofax has sure gotten full at this point!)

Things I'm thinking about (thanks to @sarahjbray) ...

A page from my weekend getaway manifest.

I didn't know when I signed up for Sarah's sneaky-peekers e-mail list that what she eventually offered would be something I needed and wanted. 

But that's what happened. 

Several weeks ago, when Sarah shared her special idea for the Tour de Bliss with us sneaky-peekers, I was surprised to discover that the time was now for me to take the tour. This digital tour is particularly for those who know the work that is theirs to do and want to discover and create a way of working that makes the most sense for who they are. 

That is exactly where I am. I know the work I'm called to do, and I'm in the process of figuring out the fullness of what that can look like and the best ways to offer that to others. 

At the time she rolled it out, Sarah offered us sneaky-peekers the chance to take a weekend getaway on the Tour de Bliss. In an incredible act of generosity, she created several "excursions" for us to access for free, in order to get a feel for what the tour would be like and whether it was for us.

The photo above is one sample of the many pages just like it in my travel manifest for the tour, completed on the weekend getaway.

It wasn't hard for me to realize this tour is for me. I was energized by the exercises, and my mind filled up with all kinds of interesting questions I look forward to thinking about and answering while I'm on the tour.

So, I'm packing up. The tour departs on Monday and goes for a full year. I'm sure I'll be sharing aspects of the tour experience here with you, especially as it helps me refine the work I'm continuing to do with my life.

Thanks for being here with me in it. xo

Stay Close and Present Christ

Curly tail.

A couple weeks ago, I noticed that my relationship with Jesus felt strained. Different. Distant. 

Part of this had to do with the ongoing struggle he and I faced concerning my heavy heart for the darkness in this world. The pain in my heart at the suffering and fallenness of it created quite a barrier that we struggled through for about a month. 

But even after we started to work that through, my time spent with Jesus each morning was not the same. Reading scripture was a strain. Prayer was hard-won. Determining what to write on Still Forming each day was a struggle.

And the really telling thing was that the Gospels were the last place I wanted to go in my scripture reading time. That's pretty unusual for me, given that I love reading the Gospels so much that I've created a course that invites others to read them, too. But even more than that, my resistance to reading the Gospels seemed rooted in a resistance to even spend time with Jesus.


But then in my session with Elaine last week, when I noticed the clouds up ahead and the way I start my pretzel-making in response, I noticed a really big reason why the distance was still there. 

One reason was because I'd become more concerned about the potential response of others to me than about what Jesus is calling me to do. I was worried about things like, What if they don't like it? What if they want it to be different? What if they want me to change it? Or what if they simply can't afford it? 

Cue the pretzel-making. 

And second, I was able to voice out loud in that session that I'd begun feeling really self-conscious about my relationship with Jesus.

I talk about him all the time on Still Forming -- which wasn't at all what I expected to have happen when I first began the week-daily reflections in that space last May. What if they are sick of the Jesus-talk? What if they're annoyed by my relationship with him? What if they can't relate at all to the Jesus I have come to know? 

But even more than that, I have felt so aware of the closeness of what he and I share and the way I've come to learn the ways that we relate. Sure, he may change the way he relates to me in the future, but for now it is the case that he walks and talks with me in vivid images. He has taught me the sound of his voice. He lets me see him. We have a relationship that feels as real as any relationship I have on earth. It is that textured and palpable. 

I've felt self-conscious of that lately. Almost apologetic. Sorry. Embarrassed. If others don't experience Jesus that way, then I should downplay that I do, goes the reasoning. 

And so I started to stuff him down. Push him away. Deny the reality of what we share. 

There's my girl.

That really doesn't do anyone any good. Not me. Not Jesus. Not others. 

Not to mention that's a really familiar strain of my younger years: deny the full light of who I am so that others won't feel bad. 

The girl.

Here is the truth I have come to know: Jesus has given me a deep and textured and palpable relationship with himself, and he uses the intense vibrancy of that relationship to communicate to me what he would have me communicate to others about himself. 

In other words, one reason Jesus has given me the relationship we share is so that I can clearly see and hear what he wants to say to others through me. 

That's not something to apologize for, I see now. It's something to be incredibly grateful for. It's something to keep leaning into and receiving with gladness.

Here she sits.

There came a point pretty early on in writing the week-daily posts on Still Forming that I realized the need to lean in close to Jesus and listen to what he wanted to say in that space each day. I really did feel that I was subsisting each day upon the words of Jesus. My mornings became important times of prayer and reading the scriptures and listening to Jesus as a result, and it was the reason I decided to keep my mornings free of appointments at the start of this new year in order to be completely free for the time required to spend with him each day. 

In order to know what Jesus wants to say through one of the primary places I exercise my vocation, I have to stay close to him. 

Also, for some reason still inexplicable to me, I've been carrying around a sense of a priestly calling for about a year now. It started with the image of the communion cup that emerged last February. There's been this continued sense that my calling is to present Christ to others -- in the same way a priest presents the body and blood of Christ to others in eucharist. 

Present Christ. That is what I am made to do. In an incredible story that began with a very tiny prayer for God to help me understand my need for Jesus, he has blossomed that relationship into something so precious to me that I don't have enough words or time in the world to express the fullness of it. 

All so that he would make me into someone who presents Christ to others. 

Stay close and present Christ. That is what I'm to do. And so I will, with a prayer that Jesus will help me stay faithful to him.

Questions I've Held, and Still Hold

Morning glimpses.

Last night, as I stayed awake and read one more chapter in Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, I got to thinking about the questions I've asked in my life -- and still, pretty much across the board, have continued to hold for years.

A retreat director I once met would call them persistent questions. "What persistent question are you holding right now?" he asked. 

At the time, having just started out on my nonviolence journey, I was holding the question, "How do we grow in our capacity to love?" I looked through my journal of notes from the week-long retreat, and that question or some form of it was on almost every single page. 

Right now.

I go back to that idea of persistent questions now and then. 

And it's interesting to me that the questions seldom change. The same questions have persisted for years and years. They've formed the person I've become and the work that I am now called with my life to do.

These questions have been, and continue to be:

  • What is grace?
  • What is my need for Jesus? 
  • Is love really the transforming force that overcomes violence? Why? And how? 
  • How do we grow in our capacity to love? 
  • How do we learn to receive love?
  • Where is God in the darkness?

That last one is rather new, born out of the darknesses I've watched people I dearly love struggle through and out of my journey that continually bumps me up against the dark reality of pain, evil, and suffering in the world. 

What about you?

Do you have persistent questions you've carried throughout your life? What question or questions are you carrying right now?

Best Decision I've Made for the Year


So, I've been talking a lot about health with my body posts lately, and that journey has definitely been a big part of my year so far, and certainly a positive one.

But I have to take a moment to share with you another decision I made for this year that has been so supremely awesome, and that is this: 

No commitments before 1PM.


I noticed last year more than ever how impactful and helpful and wonderful it is to have my morning hours reserved for the quiet spaces in my life with God.

It is a beautiful day when I'm able to spend an extended period of time at my desk in the morning, curtains open and coffee piping hot, the Scriptures spread out before me and lots of room to just read and think and pray and write. 

Last year I grew into this habit with greater commitment and consistency. 

It was also last year that I noticed what happens when I don't take time for this in the mornings -- when I have to get up and get going and get out the door to make a meeting or an appointment. 

It's not pretty. :-)

Good morning.

So late last year, the seed of an idea began rolling around in my mind:

What if I committed to protecting my mornings in a concrete way in 2012? 

Would it be crazy to make no appointments in the mornings at all, as a rule?

Would that be selfish?

A bit over the top, perhaps? 

This is my world.

I decided it was exactly the right thing to do. 

I consider my life's work that which flows out of that essential and sacred time in the morning quiet with God. The week-daily posts written on Still Forming are the fruit of that time, as is the reflection and writing that happens on JTN. Still times of prayer for others happens during that time, as does much of the preparation and creation of the online courses I've begun to teach.

Declaring a commitment that protects the conditions required for this life's work is not unreasonable, I decided. In fact, it seemed quite sane.

Different versions.

One month into this new year, and I'm happy to report that it is, by far, the best decision I could have made.

It still lights me up with glee and gratitude each day to know that when I wake, nothing is required but that I spend time in the quiet with God, following him wherever that may lead.

A Book Can Be a Mirror, or How Far I'm Willing to Jump

It's finally time.

Amazing exercise created by Susannah Conway

So, this is a little bit of a long one, so you might want to tuck in ... 


For perhaps the whole month of December, I had a sense that 2012 would be a very new experience. 

I've spent the last four and a half years being busy. I finished a master's degree in business in 13 months and then moved straight into a 3-year program for a second master's degree in spiritual formation, while simultaneously enrolling in a separate 3-year training course in the ministry of spiritual direction. And then upon graduation from both programs in June 2011, I dove headfirst into a contract project that kept me sprinting through November. 


But as things settled down in December and I reflected on all that had come before -- all the preparation that several years of intensive study and training had poured into me, all the intimations of where and how God was leading me to work, and a half-year's practice in being faithful to it -- I then looked ahead to 2012 and sensed myself on the edge of something new. 

In the way that 2011 was a year of preparations coming to an end and of learning to be faithful to what God gave and led me to do, I sensed that 2012 was going to be a year of fullness.

Not busyness -- fullness

Where all my vocational treasures are kept.

Where God is calling me to work,

and where I keep my vocational treasures 

When Kirk and I returned from our holiday trip to California and I was deep in the throes of jet lag, I stayed up into the wee hours one night and created the above filofax/planner for myself.

It's a place to store all my vocational treasures -- a place for me to brainstorm ideas and remember ideas and work through ideas. It's a place to store my brain waves when inspiration strikes because relying on my memory to keep track of it all is a completely useless endeavor more and more these days. :-)

Ready to make a new friend.

And then there's the above book, which Kirk got me for Christmas.

It touches on the section in my vocation planner concerning my blog about nonviolence, Journey Toward Nonviolence. For a while now, I've been carrying around a question about that blog. I've continued to wonder what level of commitment I am meant to bring to that space, since previously busy seasons have kept me from being faithful to it in the ways I've longed to be.

The questions of nonviolence -- or, more pointedly, the question of how we grow in our capacity to love other human beings -- is one that continues to take up joint residence in the penthouse suite of my heart. (It bunks in the penthouse suite with another part of me that fervently longs to connect people to God.)

So when Kirk got me this book for Christmas, it provoked that question again.

This book holds the diaries and letters of a young woman named Etty Hillesum. She's a Jew who was killed in Auschwitz at the age of twenty-nine and wrote copiously in her letters and journals the last couple years of her life. Most specifically, she is known for being someone who explored the deep questions of how to love one's enemies and forgive them.

It makes me shake sometimes to read her words -- just the holiness of her journey and questions, given the reality she faced and the way she eventually died. On Christmas, when I received the book, tears pricked my eyes just from reading the first paragraph of the book's introduction.

Yes, this book told me, the subject of nonviolence still touches a very deep part of me. It means something to me still.

Together again.

So I continued to carry the question, and when we returned to Florida after the holidays, I slowly started to integrate some of the elements of this part of my heart into my daily life.

Like, for instance, reading sections of MLK's autobiography before bed or during my morning hours of quiet. 

Or reading the article Kirk left on my desk on Martin Luther King Day -- an article printed in RELEVANT magazine about the limits of civil disobedience.

This past weekend, I grafted that article into My Year With Gandhi journal -- a journal that hadn't been pulled off my bookshelf in at least 6 months. 

This book arrived today and is already rocking my world.

And then today, this book

I had heard of Ann Voskamp before and have even visited her blog a few times over the years when friends have linked to her posts.

But I'd never made a connection with her writing until now. 

I'm not going to go into the details of this book because I think it's one that needs to be experienced firsthand. But I will tell you this: this girl doesn't pull any punches. From the very first page, you feel like your inner distractions get pulled up by the scruff of the neck real quick and you're reoriented to pay complete attention. On the second page, you learn some really hard truths about the author's life, and it's enough to make you realize from the get-go: Wow. This girl really won't pull any punches. 

She's willing to go to deep, dark, and difficult places ... and yet somehow pulls out the sacred and beautiful. 

In reading just the first few hundred words in this book, I couldn't help but hear the question posed back to me, like a mirror: What about you, Christianne? 

My workspace.

One -- big -- reason I keep hesitating to fully commit to my online nonviolence space is because of those loud, snarling, rabid-dog voices we all hear in the back of our heads sometimes.

Those voices are snarling that I write too much, think too much, care too much, and dream and idealize things too much. They tell me I'm not practical, that I've got my head in the clouds, and the ideas related to nonviolence that captivate me so much don't translate well in reality. 

They want me to doubt the convictions forming in me. 

They also want me to just be quiet. You already write here on Lilies, they say, and five days a week on Still Forming. Do you really need a third place to offer your voice? People will get tired of hearing your voice so much -- and you'll get tired of hearing it too. Just be quiet and go away. 

Yep. Those voices snarl at me in my head on a pretty regular basis when I think about this. 

But this book of Ann Voskamp's that I received in the mail today shouted those voices down, at least for a moment. This girl doesn't pull any punches, it showed me, and then it turned to me and asked: What about you? 

For some mysterious reason only God really knows, my deep resonance with the philosophy of nonviolence is an important part of me, and I need to continue exploring it, understanding it, making sense of it, and honoring it.

Even if no one else reads along. Even if the plethora of words I write only overwhelm everyone else. Even if my thoughts are still scattered and unformed right now. Even if I feel like I'm hacking through a tall, thick wheat field as I go.

And so I will.

Letting Go of a Particular Dream

Morning elements.

For the last couple weeks, I've been sitting with the conversation Peter and Jesus shared on the beach at the very end of John's gospel, in chapter 21.

It's been a long while since I've sat with a passage for such an extended period of time, but I can't seem to move away from it just yet. And the amazing thing is that it just keeps presenting more and more things for me to notice and talk about with Jesus.

Jesus is using this passage to form so much in my life with him right now. 

Do you love Me?

I shared in a previous post that through this passage, Jesus has been speaking to me specific words: What is that to you? You -- follow me. Do you love me more than these?

I have felt such an identification with Peter in this passage.

I have identified with his distraction -- the way he's having a very personal conversation with Jesus about so many intimate things, such as his love for Jesus, his calling in life, and even the way he will end his days, only to look around and notice John is standing there. "What about him, Jesus?" Peter wants to know. "What about him?" 

And Jesus says, "Peter, don't worry about him. You -- follow me." 

I can relate to that right now. Jesus is asking me to train my eyes on him and him alone, to let go of any other concern, to simply learn to listen and watch and follow Jesus, only Jesus.

Precious little paws. I just want to nom-nom on them.

I can also relate to the conversation Peter and Jesus share about Peter's calling to be a shepherd. Jesus says to Peter three different times, "Feed my lambs. Shepherd my sheep. Feed my sheep." 

We learn earlier in John's gospel (in John 10) that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He has a flock that he knows by name, and he cares for them diligently. His sheep know his voice, and they follow him where he leads them. 

In this passage in John 21, Jesus is charging Peter with a similar role.

I can relate to that, too, as I've had a growing sense for some time now that Jesus has been forming a pastor's heart in me. I don't fully understand what that means just now, but it has led to a shift in where I direct the greatest energy in my daily life.

My mornings, for instance, are my most treasured time with Jesus. I try to guard my mornings from other commitments as much as possible, as that is the time I most desire to spend in the quiet with Jesus. With my tumbler full of coffee, the Scriptures open before me, and Diva usually prowling around or perched nearby, I speak to and learn from Jesus during that time.

And through that daily time together, Jesus is showing me, step by step, how to feed his lambs, how to shepherd his sheep, and how to feed his sheep. 

The usual morning three.

As in tune with that vocation as I have been of late, and as willingly as I have embraced and sought to be obedient to it, I have more recently begun to realize that accepting that calling means letting go of a different dream.

It is the dream of being a writer -- or, rather, a particular kind of writer. 

For many, many years in my young adult life, I wanted to be a literary kind of writer. I shaped much of my life around that dream. I took classes, wrote stories and poems, and attempted novels. I read every word I could find by Anne Lamott and endured several years of the gratuitous artistic angst as I began to exercise my voice for the very first time.

Eventually, blogging became a way for me to further embody this writerly life. For the first few years that I blogged, I viewed each post as an opportunity to practice and hone my craft. I sharpened and chiseled each post, seeking to craft them into the just-right form for telling the stories of life that I had to tell. I took the utmost care with every single post and applied all that I knew of great writing to each one.

This was what "being a writer" looked like for me. 


But I don't do that anymore. My life as a writer no longer looks like that.

I write a lot. Writing is -- and will be, for a very long time, I suspect -- a significant part of my vocational life. Written words are, in fact, the medium for so much of the pastoral work that God is giving me to do. 

But the way I write has changed significantly.

No longer do I take great pains with every single word. No longer do I search for the just-right metaphor or analogy. No longer do I sharpen every post to its most pristine perfection. 

Sure, I take care with what I say. I seek to articulate the truth of my heart, and I seek to say that truth in the way my heart is saying it. 

But no longer do I labor over each and every word, the way I used to do. 

Taking time for prayer.

There is a new level of freedom in my writing this way, but there is also -- I've recently come to see -- quite a bit of sadness. 

When I come upon other people's words that are fashioned into a thing of beauty, for instance, my heart aches and hurts in an almost physical way. I can remember what was like to write that way. And I can admire their craft for what it is -- admire it immensely, actually -- because their kind of writing is the kind I most enjoy reading. 

But it's also the kind of writing I thought I would one day write myself, and that's where the ache is felt.

Saturday morning.

I've only recently noticed the sadness and the ache. I think this is because I've become more and more in tune with my vocation and calling to be a shepherd. The more I move in that direction, the more I have noticed the ache when encountering a particular kind of beauty found in other people's written words.

And this is where the encounter with Peter and Jesus on the beach in John 21 has presented yet another gift.

Just this morning, I noticed that Peter announced he was going fishing. "I'm going fishing," he told the other disciples. "We're going with you!" they chorused back. And so off they went. 

Fishing was what Peter did before he encountered Jesus. It was his livelihood, the thing he knew best how to do. 

But once he met Jesus, he left the fishery business behind, following the promise Jesus made that he would learn to become a fisher of men. 

Late afternoon light.

Then Jesus died, and Peter's whole world turned upside-down. He had denied the one he said he loved, and he no longer knew what to do with reality. So he went fishing. 

I find it interesting that Peter and his friends caught nothing while they were out in their boats. It was only once Jesus told them to throw their nets to the other side of the boat that they caught any fish. And once they came ashore, they found that Jesus had already prepared some fish -- fish they hadn't caught themselves. 

And then Jesus took Peter aside and said, "Peter, do you love me more than these?" 

Sunday morning.

When I first read that question, I thought Jesus was asking Peter if he loved Jesus more than the other disciples. But this morning, when I noticed Peter's determination to go fishing, I began to think Jesus was asking Peter if he loved Jesus more than the fish. 

Did he love Jesus more than the thing he had learned how to do so well, before he ever met Jesus? Would he be willing to learn a new vocation? This was a vocation of feeding and tending sheep. What on earth did Peter know about doing that?!

But Peter said yes. And so do I. 

I will feed and shepherd your sheep, Jesus, even if it means leaving a particular kind of work -- a particular way of writing -- behind.

How Instagram Teaches Me About Spiritual Direction

Berries, leaves, and light.

I spend a lot of time pondering the question, "What part of the body of Christ am I?" 

Sometimes, the ear wins the day. Other times, the eye does. 

Truthfully, I'm not sure which one -- the ear or the eye -- is more truly a reflection of the person God made me to be and how he made me to serve in the world.

And then sometimes I wonder: can we be more than one part of the body? 

Romance of moss.

When the ear wins the day, it's because listening is like second nature to me. Like a fish in water, it's just what I do. It has always been this way, even from my youngest years.

I first noticed the nudges toward a vocation in the ministry of spiritual direction, for example, when people in my life began asking for time set aside to process something out loud with me. Listening ... noticing ... drawing distinctions ... asking questions: these are what I do best.

I am an ear, someone who listens and helps other people listen.


But sometimes I feel like an eye because I notice what nobody else seems to see.

I notice the woman who walks into the crowded room and looks around uncertainly, a heavy burden of grief tipping her shoulders to the side. I notice the laughter and too-bright smile of the grocery checker who hints at a long day and too-short weekends, how she seems to be barely holding on but is fighting hard to get through the day with a smile. 

I notice. I see. I am an eye.

There is something so utterly sacred about seeing -- really seeing -- another person, isn't there? 

Brick eye.

I think this is why the Instagram app on my iPhone has become one of my most-prized discoveries of 2011. It has given me the ongoing experience of my eyes. It reminds me on a daily basis, by the things I choose to stop and capture with my phone's camera lens, that I see and value seeing.

It reminds me that I find beauty and deep value in doing this. 

Blueness of sky.

Photography has come to feel a bit like tending the holy in my life, and it is so much like spiritual direction in that way. 

In fact, a new friend and I were sharing a conversation recently about this exact parallel. She's a real photographer, you see -- a bona fide and beautiful one -- and she shared with me that she has often thought spiritual directors are the exact sort of people who would get the real heartbeat of an exciting new project she recently unveiled

My response to her was: 

I do think there is a connection that spiritual directors and photographers have. It's all about the seeing -- really seeing. You know? 

So there you have it. I'm an ear, but I'm also an eye, and somehow both of these truths have made me fall in love with Instagram this year. Sure, it's a fake form of photography -- the poor woman's version of the real thing, I guess you could say -- but despite that, I do know this:

Instagram changed my life this year, and I am so much the happier and enriched for it.

Things I'm Learning So Far (About Teaching)


Hi there, friends. 

My first-ever online course launched the beginning of this week, and I've already learned so much through this process. I thought it would be fun to share some of those learnings with you, here at the outset of this big, new adventure. 

Things I'm Learning So Far (About Teaching): 

  1. I have a huge heart-crush on my students -- and we've only been learning together for about five days! 
  2. I'm pretty dang humbled to be getting to teach a course about Jesus. 
  3. Jesus is the real teacher of this course, not me. 
  4. I get fiercely passionate about designing a course when the subject is near and dear to my heart. 
  5. A collaborative learning environment is way more interesting and rewarding than a formal, didactic one.
  6. When recording a teaching video, usually the first take is the keeper. 
  7. Especially if you've spent time in prayer first. 
  8. And you're wearing a cozy cardigan.
  9. I think I really love teaching. 
  10. I don't think I'll ever get tired of looking at Jesus.



On Writing

Afternoon sun and shadows.

Over the weekend, I read The Help in the span of one and a half days. All 525 pages of it ... I just sped right through. 

It's been a long time since a book has captivated me so thoroughly, and it felt absolutely wonderful to be swept into the story of a book again. I spend so much time reading screens that books rarely get the attention they deserve -- and used to garner -- in my life these days. 

So after that delicious experience with The Help, I started a new book tonight.

It's called Jesus, my Father, the CIA, and Me (a memoir of sorts), and Kirk has been reading it the last few weeks. I keep hearing him chuckle as he reads his way through the pages, and the chuckles are enough to compel me to read the book as it is.

But also, the author is someone with whom we've recently become quite taken.

His name is Ian Morgan Cron. Last month at church, we watched a very moving and powerful short video clip of him speaking to prodigal pain and our need to embrace the fullness of our stories, and Kirk has been reading the book ever since. 

So tonight, after a day of not feeling my best, I lit a few candles, turned some good music on my iPod, and enjoyed the first few pages of the book while taking a bubble bath.

There are so many lines I could quote from just those first few pages -- the book is really that good already, I can tell -- but these words here, on the vocation of writing, are ones I thought I would share right now:

Memoirists work with bones. Like paleontologists, we dig up enough of them to make intelligent guesses about what a creature looked like a million years ago. But here and there a femur or rib is missing, so by faith, with imagination, we fill in those gaps with details we believe are consistent with the nature and character of our upbringing.

... This is a record of my life as a I remember it -- but more importantly, as I felt it.

When I became a writer toward the end of my undergraduate life, I carried inside myself so much of a tortured soul. I tried my hand at short stories, then novels -- each an attempt to write my story into existence. I poured my memories and feelings into those stories. And when I eventually grew further along into spiritual memoir years later, I still wrote my story from a place of attachment, regret, anger, and pain. 

I haven't tried to write my story in any kind of permanent form in a really long time. It's been several years at least since I thought I was supposed to write it all out. The most permanent form my writing takes these days, besides what I write in my various online spaces, is the journalling I do on a semi-regular basis on my typewriter. 

I really don't know if I'll ever try to write out the greater fullness of my story again. But one thing I have noticed lately is a shift in my attention when considering the possibility of ever doing such a thing.

Whereas I used to write from the memories of pain, from the places that required transformation, from the places of real woundedness ... these days, I'd rather the focus be on Jesus. He's the main event. He's the one who matters. My pain is not the most interesting thing about me. Jesus is. 

It's given me something to think about, a new lens through which to recast and recollect my story. And I must say, I am so very glad for that.

Is the City the Village?

Stalk in the sky.

One of the questions I wondered right away at the top of that hill where Jesus showed me the city was: Is the city the village? 

You remember the village, right?

It's that image God gave me back before I entered the woods, when I was a bit scared to enter and feeling quite sad about saying goodbye to my cohort group. I had a session with my spiritual director right around then, and she invited me to consider asking God what might be on the other side of the woods. Where would this journey through the woods lead us?

He showed me the village

So, when we emerged from the woods at the beginning of May and wandered around for a bit, the village was always in back of my mind. I kept wondering when we would come upon it. I wondered what it would look like in our real life -- how it would translate. I wasn't impatient to get there, but I was quite curious about it.

When we ended up on that hill, then, looking down at the city, I felt pretty surprised. Did I misunderstand? Had I misinterpreted the village? Was I missing something here?

I didn't quite know what to make of that city down below. It seemed quite clear to me when we came upon it that the city was meant for ministry and vocation . . . but the village had felt like a place to live. Both images rendered so strong in my mind, and they didn't seem like the same place at all. 

But, were they? 

It seems like sessions with my spiritual director always come at just the right time. Right when this image of the city emerged on my radar, I had another session scheduled with Elaine. And as usual, she offered me such grace and gentle wisdom: Do you want to ask God if the city is the village? 

Yes, I did. And so, I did. 

And I learned that the city and the village were not the same thing at all. I also learned that I hadn't mistaken the village somehow. We just hadn't gotten there yet. 

So, I turned my attention back to the city. Stay tuned for the next installment . . . 

Amazed and Blessed to Be Here

Loving sky.

I just got back from my monthly session with my spiritual director, and I can't quite shake the grin upon my face because of our time together. (Nor do I want to!)

Our session went a bit longer than normal today, and we covered a lot of territory, but the overwhelming consensus in my mind and heart today is this: I'm amazed and blessed to be in this place. 

There were several times during my session with Elaine today that I basked in the goodness of the place I currently find myself. And there were several other times during our session that I marveled at the long journey of life I have taken to get here. It has included a very big sea change in my spiritual life that began at age 19, an intentional process of getting to know grace and Jesus, several intentional and difficult times of healing that eventually led to rebirth, a couple cross-country moves, plus quite a bit of education and training. All of it -- and even more than I've listed here, too -- is a long journey that's been lived to lead to me to this place. 

What is "this place"?

I write about spiritual formation every day. Just a couple weeks from now, I'll start teaching my first online course about a subject I passionately love. I continue to reflect upon and write about my journey toward nonviolence, which is a subject that I sense could captivate me the rest of my life. And I'm beginning to grow my practice of spiritual direction.

This is the work I get to do.

From the comments and e-mails I receive from people on occasion, God is somehow using these things. I am doing things I love -- writing, thinking, and creating sacred space -- and somehow God delights to make something meaningful out of it. 

I am so aware this is not my doing. Each day, I seek the companionship of Jesus. I ask him to show me what to say and where to go. I ask him what he wants for me to hear and then speak on his behalf. He has been directing each of these steps, and I'm asking him to direct me still. And all the while, I just keep saying: Thank you.

Indeed, I'm amazed and blessed to be in this place.