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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

for the moments you're tempted to chase something better

There hasn't been a day in my 20s when I haven't asked myself: what on earth am I still doing here?

I'm through with my M.A. credentials. In fact, I walked across the graduation platform a year and a half ago.

Back then, I was supervising a local restaurant. Working nights made the whole full-time worker/full-time student bit of my life manageable (though my social life was hanging by a frayed thread set on fire). Those years I spent at my restaurant job, I wasted. Not using any of the skills or talents I had dedicated two additional years of study to. Not developing any life skill or moving forward at all.

Or so I thought.

Still, I lived a sort of panic-stricken life. The "I'm not doing enough or ever going to amount to anything" looked like this:

Most of my friends live in Washington or New York. 

I should move to Washington or New York. 

I've wanted to be a New York writer all of my life. Shouldn't I be making moves and plans all on my own?

What am I doing in Virginia Beach?

What if I don't accomplish all of these things before I marry/have kids/turn thirty/die?

What if I never marry or have kids?

What if I'm stuck here,in this unforgiving job, in this stupid career forever?


Most nights, I'd slide into my sheets totally disgruntled and discouraged. I didn't have time to date. Or have friends. Or go home for the weekends. All of my other friends had real jobs, real lives and real families. 

Why couldn't I be more like them?

But then I wake up, stir the Splenda in my coffee and decide to stay a little longer. At least until the coffee cools. Because I think, in spite of everything, tiny little roots in my life that are reaching through the ground.  

Underneath it all, I knew I had been called here. And as much as I wanted to leave, I stayed.

It's been three years since I've moved to Virginia Beach. Three years of planting. Three years of yearning for a better job. Yearning for a better life. Yearning for friends, dates, people to cook for. A beautiful church community.

Three years, and my degree is finished. Three years, and I no longer work nights in a restaurant. Three years, and I have a church and a community where I belong. Three years, and it seems that harvest-time is here.

Three years, and I'm so glad I stayed put.

I think about my creative coworkers and our trips to Starbucks. I think about how they challenge me to keep writing and to keep wading into this pool of creativity and life with meaning.

I think about my church, and my pastor who cries during every sermon.

I think about the mentors who have helped me through my hurts. And the ladies who are hurting here who tell me their stories and let me help them with their own heartbreaks.

What would I have missed if I had just given up?

I'm writing this today, because I have heard many people (like me) say it. I've heard them say that they want to give up. I've witness them pack up their U-Hauls and ship across the country. Not following a calling, but escaping their problems. Giving up when they're heartbroken, or when work stinks, or when they're lonely.

Just like me.

But the thing is, sisters, when you uproot in the false name of chasing your dreams, it's you who is actually being chased. Chased by the problems that nip at your heels. The problems that you struggle with don't leave you because you move to a different geographical location.

I'm not saying that moving is bad. I know we can't escape it. I know we get called to different jobs. We get promoted. Our family circumstances change, or we sometimes find ourselves in potentially dangerous or threatening circumstances. That's not really the type of move I'm talking about.

I'm talking about wanting to move away from a place where you were called. I'm talking about moving to a different city, state or apartment because you feel that it will solve your problems.

It won't.

How are we supposed to bloom where we're planted if we just keep uprooting ourselves? Uprooting yourself in the name of finding a spouse, friends, or a better job. How are we supposed to be successful if we just give up and leave?

Maybe this is what life with Christ looks like. Having all of the freedom in the world to move to places like New York, or Nashville, and yet–being thankful for the roots in the ground. Being thankful for the community around you, and learning to be content in all circumstances.

What do you think, sisters? If you know you're called to a place but are met with opposition or struggles, is it better to leave? What are the benefits of sticking around a place where you're uncertain of your calling or purpose? Have you ever felt like I have? Leave a comment below!

photo credit: -Charlotte Gonzalez- via photopin cc

Sunday, September 15, 2013

smog: an excerpt from a work in progress

I'm feeling a little more brave than usual today. Maybe it's the beautiful, sunny fall weather that makes me really believe that I can do all things...The following is an (unedited) excerpt of the special writing project I've been working on for the past year or so. I thought I'd share it today, on a day that seems much crisper and brighter.

I guess to give this a little context: this writing project is a collection of creative non-fiction essays about finding purpose and returning to faith. It's called "Another Pretty Dress." More on that later.

This chapter follows one about a pretty unusual/dangerous(?) breakup I experienced two years ago. The "belly of a whale" references the Biblical story of Jonah, and I refer to it many times throughout the different essays–as I try to decide whether I'm obeying God's call on my life or going against it. The "prodigal son" at the end of the chapter sets up the next one, where I share some faulty relationships I fell into after the "big one" finally ended.

I hope you enjoy! Be sure to let me know what you think!

If it wasn’t already bad enough that God had shunned me into the belly of a whale, that was also the summer He set the world on fire. 

Or, at least 3,200 acres of it in the Great Dismal Swamp.

Like a half-true rumor, like an unkind word spoken, the fire began just a few miles south of my home in Virginia Beach. Then, the fire grew, sweeping quickly over the surface of the marsh land, drying out the earth and the air. Erasing the ground beneath it, raking it up like a pile of dry, crispy leaves.

We needed rain. Six inches of it, with no wind factor to be exact. That’s what all of the newspapers and television broadcasts reported.

And you could see the smoke from hundreds of miles away. The umbrella of soot hovered over us. For weeks, smog filtered in through the cracks of doors and windows. It billowed slowly, rising and falling just a few inches off of the floor. Like balloons filled with weighted air. Like curtains moving in a slow, soggy breeze.

Smog was closing in around us. It filtered in through the walls of my apartment, and lingered in my car. It even came in through the Swan Terrace’s elegant french doors one night. The picturesque scenery that we were enveloped within was now littered with the ugly whirlwind of dust from an angry fire.

“I guess these briskets are going to be extra smoked,” said Rob, one of the line cooks, to no one in particular. “This is just unbelievable.”

I adjusted my green tie around my neck. The smog was burrowing into my skin, it seemed. It made the place where my uniform collar met my neck itch. The stench hung in everyone’s clothes. It was a sharp, ugly smell that stung my eyes and my nose.

All night, none of us could get a clear breath in. The smog interrupted and drew our conversations short. And it soon became apparent that the only thing worse than the smell of smog was its taste settling on the tips of our tongues.

Before long though, all of us, in the restaurant and in Virginia Beach, just sort of got used to it. We stepped onto our front porches and could breathe without being surprised by the scratching feeling we swallowed into our lungs. We accepted the smog, and accepted there was no place to flee from it.

What was the point, anyway? Nothing would change unless the raging, 3,200 mile-long fire was squelched.

So we did nothing. Well, not nothing. We complained. We rolled up damp beach towels and laid them in from of the crevices of our doors and windows. Anything to keep the smell from filtering in too much.

But other than that, we gave into smog. We let it take over. We let it win battles on our beaches.

I guess sin invades our lives in the same way.

Like smog, we may either fall into sin or turn away from it. We may either accept its presence in our lives, allowing it to seep into the fibers of our clothing and the air that we take in or we can choose to dismiss it. We can choose to hunt for a patch of earth and sky that’s unadulterated from thick, sour clouds.

We can wash it away. Like rinsing out the sweat from your hair after a long run. Letting the hot water warm your roots and temples. 

We can have a lighter-than-air, brand new love feeling of understanding what it means to be found after we’ve been lost for so long. Rinsing smog out of your face, hair and clothes. That’s what fleeing from sin looks like.

But, most of us lean into smog. That was what my life looked like. Like passive acceptance. Inhaling smoke that, yes, we all know is bad for us. But we don’t care.

That’s the thing about sin and smog. None of us ever realyl tries to fight it. 

We tell ourselves in church and community groups that we’re going to change. That we can let go of the smog in our lives. We attribute it to the original sin of Adam and Eve. We grew up saying that the serpent, the devil, made us do it.

But, it’s not Adam and Eve’s fault. It’s not the fall of humanity. And it’s not, as our five-year-old brains would reason, the devil’s doing. 

It’s our own doing. It’s our own decisions that lead us into breathing smog into our lives. It’s the passivity in our hearts that enable us to ignore the umbrella of darkness hovering over us. We’re addicted to that umbrella. We need it to hide under.

Because if we took a step out from beneath it, we might actually look like Christ. And we don’t like to have to work too hard at keeping up with our appearances. 

So, we choose the former. We choose to be encapsulated by smog. And before you know it, you need the smog to survive. 

It’s for that very reason I found myself one late night on the beach with a friend’s ex-boyfriend. Smog is the reason I somehow found myself dating the Prodigal Son.

photo credit: Kat...B via photopin cc

Monday, September 9, 2013

reeling in and casting out: fishing with God

You'd think I'd have learned this by now.

That there is an ebb and flow to life. That there is a reaping and there is a harvesting. There is a time of day where the tide gangs up on the beach and then a few hours later, it tumbles back into the swarming ocean.

Sometimes it seems like we are the bait at the end of God's fishing line. He casts us into the dark, stormy waters.

And then he tugs us slowly, slowly back into him. The gentle click, click, clicks! of the turning reel on the rod twist inward and keep in time with the rhythm of the waves crashing on shore.

God tells us that there is a season for everything. And it's true. I just I didn't think that we could experience both lessons of suffocating despair of injustice and wrongdoing and liberation of knowing we're walking in His plan within hours of each other.

I didn't know that you could feel both separated from God and His will, and yet so close to it all within the same Monday.

But, it happened to me today.

This is how God works, isn't it? When you think about the Biblical character of Joseph in the Old Testament, days like these make perfect sense:

Joseph was the favored son of the father of Israel. Reeled in.

He was proclaimed dead by his brothers, and mischeiviously sold into slavery. Cast out.

He became commander of Potiphar's house. Reeled in.

He was charged with a crime he didn't commit. Cast out.

He discerns dreams for Pharaoh and becomes second in command. Reeled in.

I don't fancy myself an Old Testament character, by any means. And there's not really much I can say about the difficulty of today other than the fact that in the midst of a few hours, I was somehow both cast out and reeled in.

Cast out from feeling as though the work that I do matters. Kept in the dark about big, important changes in a place that I've learned to call home.

Reeled in by a new friend who encouraged me to keep writing and keep looking for security in God, rather than affirmations from my employer.

How great is our God that He has the profound ability to teach us both of these lessons in one waking period?

Didn't Christ say as much about this in scripture? That he would make us fishers of men if we followed Him?

Does it follow, then, that God would make fishers of us in the literal sense? That following Him would mean that our lives would follow a rhythm of being cast out and reeled in?

That he would, yes, cast us out to physical/emotional places that are far away and challenging? Perhaps, even heartbreaking? That he would put us in situations that would leave us crying off all our make up during our private moments in our cubicles?

But that he would also reel us back into Him. To His purpose. To a sweet place of heeling where the gentle pull of the line we feel–the rod that's burning with tension–is actually bringing us closer to Him?

You'd think I'd have learned this by now:

That there is no fear in being cast out. That there is a pattern to this messy, heartbreaking, unfair life. That when we are thrown into the sea, we are always reeled back in. That we, and our lives, are fishers of men.

Talk to me sisters, have you ever felt cast out or reeled in by God? Have you noticed this pattern in your lives? Leave me a comment below!

photo credit: Stitch via photopin cc


Friday, September 6, 2013

finding community: how letting your guard down can build a beautify church body

photo credit: Βethan via photopin cc

Hey sistahs! Exciting things happening in the MWWF world! There are some changes in the works, and I'm about to burst--I can't wait to share them with you! But, all in good time.

Today, I'm guest-blogging for my friend Charity. Here's a little sneak peek below...


It finally happened. I finally outstretched my hands during a worship service.

It was such a mystery to me before. Probably because I grew up as a little Presbyterian girl.

We didn’t grow up holding each other’s hands or hugging strangers. And that still creeps me out a bit.

I’ve never quite understood the people who claim themselves as “huggers” and wrap their arms around someone whose name they’ve just learned.

No thank you. Handshakes are just fine for introductions. (I’m not an Ice Queen by any means. I like hugging people I know. I’m just not always fully committed to the idea of going full-frontal with an acquaintance just yet.)

Read the rest of my guest post on Clarity with Charity.

Did ya'll have a good week?

Monday, September 2, 2013

the power of patience: lessons learned from authors and toby mac

"I can tell you're really unhappy here," said one of my coworkers. This was almost a year ago. When I was supervising a small fine-dining restaurant and was, as this woman wisely gathered, very unhappy.

But still, her words stung. I tried so hard to be a positive force. To be encouraging in a petty environment where filling time shift slots and serving food to strangers was all that mattered.

It had gotten so bad that one of my servers was actually apprehensive about requesting off to go to her grandfather's funeral.

"Go," I told my server, shaking my head. Bewildered that we had created a culture where bussing tables and collecting tips was more noble than gathering with loved ones in a time of crises. "Don't think about this place for one second–this is what's really important."

At that point, I wanted so badly to follow my own advice. To march through the grand French doors of the restaurant and not look back for a second. And my wise coworker could take one look at my face and tell.

"You remind me of that Toby Mac song," she said. "You know?" And then she went into a few rhythmic verses about packing her bags when she needs to stay.

She was right.

Every notion I had to pick up and leave at that moment was born out of a surge of impatience. I had made a few pithy prayers to God about the situation. But, for some reason, I felt the urge to stay, stay, stay. I was working to pay my way through graduate school. To quit my restaurant job would mean to stop school.

Finish your degree. Pay your way through grad school. Just wait. Don't leave. You'll be glad you stayed, the urge (probably God), told me.

I obeyed (if it counts to be a sore-obeyer, complaining the whole time...but still).

And that's when life became interesting. I was serving the most incredible people stopping through this little restaurant in Virginia Beach. Musicians. Politicians. Evangelists. Actors. Supreme Court Justices. And authors. Real, live authors.

One author in particular was the sweetest, most encouraging woman I had ever met. I told her I wanted to be a writer, too. And that somehow I had wound up at a restaurant. That I had a manuscript-in-progress, but that I was just trying to be obedient by staying. And that it was hard.

She looked at me like she knew exactly how I felt. She told me to keep writing. The next day I gave her the few first drafts of very poorly written prose. She very kindly accepted them, and told me that she would read them and get back to me.

But after a few days of not hearing from her, I couldn't wait any longer. This was the most important thing in my life. And I didn't feel like she was respecting me or my work. I had only sent out a few pages to a few family members and one close friend at the time. I trusted her with these words.

Still. Weeks went by. Nothing.

So, I pushed. I emailed. I persisted. I wasn't going to be ignored. Every voice and rational notion in my head told me to stop. To let it go. To wait my turn. That yes, she would remember me one day, but now was not the time.

But I pressed further. I was practically cyber bullying this busy woman to do me this sweet favor.

Months passed, and I pursued her again. Asking about my words. Wondering if she was going to make good on her promise to read them. A few days later she apologized for her tardiness in replying. That my manuscript was on her desk. And that she'd read it when she had time.

Finally (!). 

She then wrote a short graph explaining how she had just lost her mother.


I'd be surprised if she didn't throw the whole thing in the trash after the way I behaved. I made a mistake. And possibly created a huge block in our relationship by my selfishness.

Oh, man. If I had a chance to just calm down and live those few days over again, I would.

Maybe, um, maybe I have a problem with patience. And maybe before all of my dreams have the opportunity to come true, I have a few lessons to learn. Lessons somewhere along the lines of what Toby Mac says to avoid, "building up kingdoms just to watch them fade away."

I've since left that little restaurant. The timing could not have been more perfect. I finished my degree and learned a thing or two about patience and perseverance.

And though I don't do the whole waiting thing very well (just ask the strangers who I badger to do favors for me), there may be a lesson for me in the midst of all of this. In the place where I felt called to stay. This place that now, after three years, I'm finally calling home. 

What about you, sisters? Have there been times in your life when you've felt called to be patient in certain situations? What value have you learned from waiting? What lessons have you learned from being impatient, like me? Leave a comment below.

photo credit: Βethan via photopin cc
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