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Friday, December 19, 2014

An Open Letter to All of the Unread Books on My Shelf


It started, as most deep-ish thoughts do, with an

assignment: compile a list of your top books in 2014.

Notta problem.

As an undercover book addict (okay, maybe not so undercover) and as a post-graduate human no longer bound to the dreary confines of assigned reading from a syllabus, I've added a few fictional titles to my library. Scads from Amazon (bless it). Even more from my weekly coffee/reading dates with the fiance at Barnes & Noble.

After we'd been dating for about a year he (albeit, kindly) suggested that I should read some of the other books I'd purchased before I bought any more. Forgiveness is a strange and powerful thing: I purchased two books that day.

As I glanced at my shelf, I realized there were a bunch of books I bought this year that I started and never finished. Many of these I got pretty far along in. I'm a project hound. I love to finish what I start, especially when it comes to books.

If I don't I carry around this agitated, gnawing feeling. It's like mentally being unable to twist open a jar of jelly.

Back to the books: I got them because the author had a lot of Twitter followers. Or because their marketing campaign herded a lot of word-of-mouth. Or because, let's be honest, the front cover had imagery that appealed to my demographic.

But as I tried to collect a few to add to a list for my freelance editor I was stumped at some of the titles I'd collected this year. Other than my bank account and shelf space, what was it exactly that they impacted?

And then I realized: these books I collected over the year had succeeded in gaining a few dollars. A few blips of Amazon reviews. A few eyeballs to pages.

But in the end they weren't worth finishing.

I'd stopped reading them because they weren't good.




The comparison race is similar, don't you think?


In life, there are so many books on the shelves. So many pictures of vibrant authors with their fists pressed elegantly at the tip of their chin. But just because an individual has succeeded in gaining a formidable platform and convincing an agent to represent them does not necessarily mean their words start a movement.

It doesn't mean that their words are making a difference.

Most of the words that have impacted me this year have been from unpublished manuscripts. They've been written by talented women who have somehow captured the heart and soul of a character.

This is not to say that I did not weave my eyes through some delicious prose this year. Rainbow Rowell's the Attachments being the latest treat. They're the type of books that make you close the back cover and run your hand over the binding. Those words are a part of you now. That story is something that you've walked through.


There's a difference, it seems, between writing a book and writing what matters. My unread books taught me that appearances are vain. What good is a book that you can't squeeze your mind into finishing?

Life is the same way. Just because a woman appears to have her binding in order doesn't necessarily mean the pages beneath it are anything worth reading. Just because she has the Facebook friends and glamorous pictures doesn't always equate to having her soul fulfilled.

Some people accomplish both. They really do. Others only seem to.

This year I learned that I want to have more than just a book on a shelf. I want to have a book worth reading. Worth finishing one day. I'd like to be the sort of writer/person who is who she is beyond appearances. Who completes what she starts. Who is genuine from start to finish, from introduction to index.

I'd like to live my whole life, the whole mess of it, worth 

finishing.


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Monday, December 15, 2014

The Most Important Thing to Do When You Get Engaged












I'm still getting the hang of calling him my fiance.

It's a hard, wonderful word. First off, it's French. And it makes your mouth do some unnatural stretching. But it's more than just a loaded word or a title.

I'm learning it's a word that means it's time to expand. Time to link names and bank accounts and career trajectories and apartment clutter. Time for us to look for two-bedroom places so he'll have space for his guitar amps and I'll have room to write.

Time to go arm in arm into life. Not just as fragile cake top replicas, but a real husband and wife. Flesh and bone. Champagne, tuxedos, wedding gowns, bright blue bridesmaids dresses and Bruno Mars and 'til death do us parts.

It's joy followed by more joy.


This is an inclusive joy. It's a joy that begins as two knitting needles that wrap and coil around yarn making something beautiful: life, an outward symbol of our Christian faith, community.

It's a joy that doesn't discount the people who got you there. Who molded you into the sort of human another sort of human you're in love with would want to do life beside. The people who you studied (partied/sang/procrastinated) with in college. The people who knew you before he ever did.

No offense to him, of course. He's an important part of the story. He'll be the man you eat breakfast with forever. He'll be the last  person you say goodnight to. The father of your someday family. After all, it's awfully hard to have a wedding/marriage without a sunny-side groom.


Even though for years the groom was just an afterthought

in my wedding daydreams.

But during an engagement there is the temptation to leave other important relationships as the sideshow. Almost as afterthoughts. Though they should get top-billing in your story. They are the people right at the edge of that altar watching you make a vow. They are the men and women who are voluntarily helping you plan a big party.

They are the people you couldn't wait to call moments after your fiance put a round-cut sparkle on your ring finger:

"I knew it was going to happen today," one of my bridesmaids said when I shakily dialed her number to tell her the news. "I've been waiting for this call."

I could practically hear her smile strike through the phone line. How could she have possibly known he would propose on a certain day at a specific time?

Well. She asked him.

It was a spontaneous trip.

She decided only a few days before that she'd visit for the weekend. That visit included a threesome dinner date with the fiance (then boyfriend). Sangria, chips and tacos were on the menu.

And the moment I excused myself to go to the restroom (yes, females can go to the restroom alone) she got serious. Put both of her hands on the table across from him and said:

"So...you're dating my best friend. When are you going to 

marry that girl?"


Several aspects of this scene make me smile. First of all, I can only imagine the look of shock on his face, being interrogated by such a beautiful, sassy body-and-soul-guard. Second prize goes to the fact that my friendship with this girl is a walking sitcom.

Most of all, I could hug her forever by the way she fights in my corner. By the way she protects and asks very hard questions. By the way she can intimidate anyone (after a few sips of sangria), including a man in the U.S. Navy, if it means ensuring my heart's safety.

Keep these people forever-close. That's the most important thing you could ever do when you enter this season. Because while he may make a legal promise to love you forever, these best friends, these women (mothers, aunts, sisters best friends, undercover detectives) made no such vow.  They didn't have to.

They love you because. And just because.


I'm not naive. There's a reason why people disappear after they get married. I know that of all the changes and milestones of life this is one of the big ones. I won't discount the high emotions, high stakes of wedding day bliss/drama.

But these friendships can't fall by the wayside in the midst of Pinterest-plotting and menu tasting. They can't roll out with the tide of new chapters and new last names. After all, the word fiance is fleeting. It ends when we say, "I do." It's temporal.

Friendship and marriage is forever. Keep them both forever-close.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You're Ugly and You'll Never Be Good Enough

There's a scene in Gilmore Girls where Rory steals a boat.

I'm going to be pretty unapologetic about my references to this show now that the entire series is on Netflix. For those of you who aren't fans/obsessed with the show (now you have no excuse), the basic storyline goes like this:

Rory wants to be a journalist. She is graciously offered an internship at an up-and-coming newspaper. Then, during her evaluation on her last few days at the paper, someone in authority over her tells her she's not good enough.

Someone who knows, someone who is an expert in the very field she wants to pursue.

"You'll make a great assistant," he says. "But you don't have it."


It's dreadful to have those words spoken over you.


For years, Rory's mother and I have been perplexed by the actions that followed her conversation. Stealing a boat? How does such a type-A, people-pleaser take such a drastic turn? How does she allow her primal anger to take such a large hold of her that she commits a felony?

But now I understand completely.

Let me be clear: there will be no attempted felony in my future. I don't think. Tom Cruise hasn't busted down my apartment door to stop me from an impending crime, to date.

However, the last few days my head has been spinning with insecurity about every word I stroke along the digital page.

I had a conversation with someone in the words-industry who knows. Someone with experience. And while our conversation was productive, it was brutally honest. And what I carried away from it wasn't encouragement. Or motivation. It was a big coal-chunk of doubt.

This talent you thought you had? It's not good enough. Your degree choice? Irrelevant. All the people who you feared surpassed you in brains and beauty? They actually do it better. You were right.

I didn't steal a boat. But I cried in my car. Cried on the phone to my mom. Cried in the time between curling up in bed and falling asleep. Ugly, rotten, spoiled tears. Trying to resolve this embarrassment, this setback, this mega-frustration. Sucking on bitterness like it was a cube of salt.

Stealing a boat would've been a little more productive.

This is what happened: the insecurity spiral I kept coiled tightly around my heart unfurled, like a shaving in a pencil sharpener. I heard a word of criticism and my whole world collapsed. My insecurities reached out like the jagged limbs of trees, extending into the thoughts about my weight, talent, facial features, wardrobe, personality, you name it.

So, how does one work through these feelings?

If you're like me, you'll down two wrathful margaritas at dinner, order a plate of french fries and cap off the evening with a few Harry & David chocolates your friend brought you. And an episode of Parenthood. And maybe prayer. If you can rest your boiling over long enough to throw a few words up to God.




Recently I heard a story from the former president and CEO of Krispy Kreme. In the late 2000s a prominent business magazine listed the business among ten companies that would fail by the end of the decade.

The president, at the time, had the article embossed, and engraved two words beneath the article:


"Dead. Wrong." 


That's what I want to do. I want to emboss that moment where I carried away such doubt and hurt. And I want to stamp those two, powerful words over them. Dead. Wrong.

What strikes me as funny, though, after a whole lot of prayer and a five-mile long run (to counteract all the chocolate and margs), is that the Author of my story might be at work here.

I'm working on a fictional story about a young woman who would give up just about anything (friends, romance, social life, graduate school) in order to be a virtual relationship columnist.

Her climb to the top isn't easy. She pushes. She struggles. She's told, "no." And while she may think that she's got her career "in the bag," she doesn't see how her affections affect others. And how her writing becomes rough around the edges because the resentment in her life is working against her, not for her.

I woke up the next morning still needing to nurse my wounds, but also with a renewed sense of the character. A profound sense of who this woman was, an understanding of her motives, and a lot of fueling anger that, when mixed with caffeine, gave me Lightning McQueen-level word counts.

That's good enough. That's emotion. That's playfulness and professionalism in the world of written careers. That's how God works for the good in our stories. In our lives.

I would challenge each of you, if you've had a similar setback, in writing, ministry, Wall Street, scholarship, motherhood, sisterhood, friendship, theater, art, photography, whatever, that words of criticism spoken over you by a "person of authority" isn't the Ultimate Authority over your life and talents.

You were created for a purpose. You are being crafted, pruned, molded into fulfilling that role every day. God is at work. In our successes and our critiques.

Let the harsh words of the world grow strangely dim. You are good enough in the eyes of your Maker. You are worthy, you are loved, you are treasured.

And you don't have to steal a boat to prove it.


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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

We're Saving Space for You



"There's a space reserved on my bookshelf for your book," a girlfriend told me at lunch one day. "That means you have to finish it."

We spent our hour-long break at a hole-in-the-wall Greek restaurant. We filled our crawling stomachs with food we couldn't pronounce, handed off by a waitress with a sloppy bun and paint-red lipstick.

It was a conversation that circled around faith and creativity. Where the two entities meet, and where they separate as far as the east is from the west. Like how magnets can have a force that either snap together or drive apart.

Lately, it's felt like the latter.

But when my friend spoke those words over me, I let out a breath. She was saving a sliver of space for me on her shelf. She was reserving a paperback hole that the imprint of my forever-dream would fill.

For the last few months, I've been all inhale.

I've been contests, and word counts and grammar (oh my!). I've been "sure, I'll edit that," and "need help? I'm your girl."

I've been a ball of yarn strung up with disappointment, setbacks, start-over-from-scratches; trying to do job, relationship, friendships (old and new), housekeeping, car maintenance, bill paying, answering texts, and long-distance running well.

Breathing in, in, in. All about the shallow movement of my chest, taking in every worry, doubt, fear, anxiety, insecurity all along the way.

Because it seems, in spite of everything, everything, my best just 

isn't good enough.

And my darling friend looked me square in the eye said she was saving space for me. She believed in me. The pressure released. She could see me crossing the finish line. Even though I was sure I was running toward a line that didn't exist.


This is Christ's message to each of us.

He sees the hurt. The seeming triumphs of the world. The heartbreaks. The rude awakenings in our lives. He hears our prayers. Our doubts.

He sees our most private failures. Our most habitual sins.

And still, still, still he saves a place for us. He knows we'll make it. He has to, right? Otherwise, what did he die for in the first place?

Through this season, with its ups and downs; its advantages and drawbacks; its advances and retreats, I've come to learn only one thing: it's time.

Time to close the chapter on the questions, the cynicism, the slowly peeling away from community with other believers.

Time to cast fear back into the water. Time to grab it by the gills and untangle it from my line.Time to release, because its weight is too heavy to carry anymore. 

I can't struggle with faith on top of everything else.


For those women out there with the same thoughts swirling around, the same abuses, the same insecurities about God and life and purpose and talent: time to breathe out.

You're not alone. Not with your illness, depression, questioning, bargaining or second-thoughting.

Don't reel in fear for another moment. There's a space for you. And only you. And it's held by a Creator who knows and loves it all.







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Friday, October 10, 2014

From Single-ing to Mingling: How to Take the Leap

Today's post is brought to you by the Single Truth Blog Tour. I had the privilege of meeting Allison, author of Truth, Lies, and the Single Woman  via Twitter a few weeks ago, and we quickly hit it off with our mutual pull-our-hair-out dating experiences.

Though Allison's book is about living the single life well, I wanted to also ask her a few questions about her transition from bachelorette to bride. Because while striking into the dating scene is a lot of fun, it can also drum up a lot of anxiety.

Especially if we've been hurt before.

So, grab yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy Allison's wisdom! I'll see you lovely ladies here next week.

(Pssst! If you'd like a copy of Allison's book, Beacon Hill Press is giving away 10 copies on GoodReads. Click the link to find out more!)


Prodigal Sister: Hey Allison! You've written this great book for single ladies. We love it! Can you tell me a little bit about your transition from being a single girl to being in a committed relationship?
Allison K. Flexer: Once I reached my mid-thirties and remained single, I no longer wanted to casually date. I had gotten to a point where dating wasn’t really fun for me anymore. It was more of a chore, and I was fairly sure I would never meet that one special person. 
God had been prompting me during my quiet times about saying “yes”. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but soon after, I met the man who would become my husband. 
I'd known Michael since childhood (we grew up on the same street in the same hometown), but I hadn’t seen him in almost 20 years. We had an immediate connection. 
When Michael asked me on a date, I had to say, "yes."
In the process, I had to give up some of my fears and trust God. I had been hurt pretty badly in previous relationships and had a fear of rejection. From the beginning, Michael pursued me and never took a step backwards.

PS: Was there anything about your identity as a single woman you needed to let go of in order to be involved in a healthy relationship?
AKF: As a single woman for such a long time, I had grown very independent by the age of 37. I had managed my own life and taken care of myself for a very long time. 
I took pride in not relying on anyone else, and that was something I had to let go of.
Being in a healthy relationship requires letting the other person into your life and receiving things from them. It’s a healthy form of dependence where you open your life and make room for the other person. It may mean giving up some of the things you used to fill your time before that person came along, and that’s okay.

PS: A lot of women (myself included), when they wade into the dating game, can struggle with a fear of commitment. Are relationships really a mess worth making? 
AKF: Relationships are messy for sure. We can somewhat hide our bad qualities when we’re alone. 
Relationships make us aware of the messiness inside ourselves. But we’re designed to live in relationship, and yes, it’s definitely worth it!

A fear of commitment can look different for everyone. Personally, I feared making mistakes. Having made bad decisions in the past, I was hesitant to commit because I didn’t trust myself. I prayed a lot, felt peace that God was in it, and that prompted to me keep moving forward.
PS: Is there such a thing as "guarding your heart" too much?

AKF: I think that’s an expression that's been overused a bit. When a woman is seeking Christ and has an understanding of her great value and worth, I think guarding the heart becomes a natural byproduct. 

Understanding how much we are truly loved and known by God takes away the urge to carelessly give our hearts away. There were times when I made poor choices in this area, but I learned from each and every one of them. God will redeem our regrets!


 
PS: What would you tell a woman who has been single all of her life who was about to embark on a new relationship?

AKF: I would encourage her to make sure she knows her value comes from God so she’s not seeking validation from a guy. I would tell her not to listen to those people who say she’s too picky. 
Be picky. Don’t settle for less than God’s beautiful plan. Pray and seek God’s counsel in every step of the relationship. If you don’t have peace about a certain aspect of the relationship, pay attention to that.
PS: How do you remain true to yourself when you're in a relationship that's hopefully leading to marriage?
AKF: Honestly, I’m not sure it’s as important to remain true to yourself as it is to remain true to God. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and newness of a relationship and stop spending that quiet time with God. It’s important to continue nurturing your most important relationship—the one with God. Continue to seek his guidance as you move toward marriage.
PS: Is there anything from your single life that you grew to appreciate once you became married?

AKF: Marriage definitely gave me a better view of how God worked on me and improved my character through those single years. I use skills every day in my marriage that I learned from dating relationships I experienced or from those times when it was just me and God. I see how my prolonged singleness taught me to rely on God and built my character. It all prepared me for marriage.
PS: Is there anything you'd like to add?

AKF: In the book, I mention this advice I heard during my single journey: “The loneliest place is being stuck in a bad marriage.” Even though being single is tough and often very lonely, don’t compromise yourself or your values just to be in a relationship. Wait on God and know that you can trust him with your life and your relationships!







Allison K. Flexer is an author, speaker, and blogger who is passionate about communicating the love of God to others. Her first book, Truth, Lies, and the Single Woman (Beacon Hill Press), tells the story of her single journey and gives practical steps for letting go of the lies that destroy the joy and confidence of unmarried women. Allison was also a contributing writer for Fulfilled: The NIV Devotional Bible for the Single Woman. You can connect with Allison on her website at www.allisonflexer.com or on Twitter: @allisonkflex.



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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Keep Your Shoes On: For the Women on Unhallowed Ground



***
“Today is your big moment. Moments, really. The life you’ve been waiting for is happening all around you. The scene unfolding right outside your window is worth more than the most beautiful painting, and the crackers and peanut butter that you’re having for lunch on the coffee table are as profound, in their own way, as the Last Supper. This is it."

-Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines.

 ***

In the book of Genesis there was a burning bush. A voice from the Spirit. It echoed to Moses. It woke him up from his fugitive past. His complacent life. It called out:

Take your shoes off. You are standing on hallowed

ground. 

This was his big moment. This was the start of a freed generation. The thread that pulled along the cross-stitched pattern that ended oppression. Resistance. Slavery.

It happened on a day like any other. At least, that's how I see it. Moses had a regular job. A shady past. A broken childhood born from a generation of slaves. According to the Bible (and a certain DreamWorks production).

But what about those of us in this century? What is there for those of us who–unlike their claims to being Belle–don't have an animated movie that features our lives?

What about those of us who haven't heard that the ground we're standing on is meaningful. Those of us who know the earth is dusty, and who till the tired ground with our toes?



We're wondering where the miracles are. Where are the

fires by night and the clouds by day to lead us?

One of the biggest complaints I hear about Christianity, and God–frankly, a complaint I've had myself sometimes–is that He seems absent. The ground in our lives is just ground. It's just something to stand on.

When we enter social arenas, when we throw parties or bump into people at the local shop, the question is always "what's new?"

What are you up to?

How's work?

How's your relationship? Your x, y and z?

It's all remarkably the same as the last time we've talked, I tell them. I reply with "same old same old." Nothing new. Content at times. Scared at others. And incredibly, incredibly impatient for the first sign of a burning bush in my life.

Because it's all unhallowed ground, it seems.




I think about Moses. And how he must have felt before he knew his story would turn into an epic. I wonder if he was happy, or if he wrestled with his purpose, too.

I wonder if he was more awake to the miracles unfolding all around him. And I wonder the same for us. If we just haven't woken up to them.

I wonder if the miracles, the signs, the wonders God is 

giving us have been swallowed whole by our addiction to 

the mundane.

Because we can't see past it. We can't imagine a future without it. And we keep stamping around like there's nothing sacred there.

There must be.

One night about a month ago, I sat next to an artist at an event I was reporting on. I told him about a children's book character I've been working on but have no illustrator for. He promptly plucked the pen and paper from my hands and in 30 seconds flat, drew a picture of the character I told him about.

I held the drawing in my hands thinking how remarkable life is. How in a conversation, an idea can turn into a reality. Or hope. Or possibility.

And I wonder if God speaks to us in more creative ways than he did In The Beginning. I wonder if He's trying to reach us in different ways.

I wonder if we should wriggle out of our heels more often. Because our meaning, our purpose, our passion is as close as the dusty ground beneath us.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I'm Not Getting into Heaven (And Neither are You)


It was the crux of the salvation journey. We were taught to open with the line when we were talking to our friends about Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

If you died tonight, do you know where your soul will go?


I was one of those who knew.

But few of us ever had the boldness that we'd need in order to look our peers–the ones who didn't know about Christ, the ones who didn't grow up in the church–in the eye and ask them about death. It's a scary thought, no matter your assurance for salvation.

It's what made me, at the ripe age of four, with long curly hair and short pink bows, accept Jesus into my heart. The very day I started Kindergarten. This time of year always makes me think of that. How scared the little-girl version of me was to embark on her first day of school.

And then, with just a prayer and a miracle, how calm I became after I knew Jesus would walk through those darkened halls of classrooms with me. How His presence held my hand as that big yellow bus carted me away.

But I had also heard of Hell and the burning that happened there. There was weeping. And gnashing of teeth. I wasn't even quite sure what gnashing meant, but it sounded far from the pleasantry streets of gold and gates of pearl.

My praying hands, on the cusp of the big girl phase, still growing, growing, growing, and catching fireflies in the curtain of dusk where also afraid. Afraid for my soul and the souls of my friends.

I wasn't just afraid of starting Kindergarten. I was afraid of falling asleep and waking into death's dream. And I didn't want to go where the bad people went.

I wanted to run into the arms of a Savior in a white robe.

We were assured that we couldn't get into heaven. This was childlike faith. This is what I think a lot of us have been missing. All we had to do was believe. All we had to do was ask Jesus to fill up the space in our hearts. And we were assured of this.

We couldn't get into Heaven no more than we could get into a club before we turned 18. We had to trust that our salvation was enough. We had to trust that God's grace was sufficient for us. Even when we messed up.




A few years ago, I was leading a Bible study for a group of women. I was speaking about our sinful nature and how tempting it is to be led astray.

One thing I was always careful to do when I was leading this small group was to explain how much what I was teaching also applied to my life, too. I didn't want to be a hypocrite or be leading out of arrogance.

"This is a devotion I'm leading because I need to hear it, 

too," I said. "I'm not perfect."


Then a voice from the group uttered, "Oh, we know."

It was rude. It was unnecessary. And it was also completely true. I was trying to live like a squeaky-clean Christian kid. With no outer (visible) sins that people could gossip about. My struggles were internal–my thought-life, my pride, my esteem for some people over others.

But see, I was trying to live like I was getting into Heaven. I was trying to keep the veil of perfection over my life. And apparently I wasn't as good at hiding my outward flaws as I thought I was. Because they were certainly there then. And they're certainly there now.

But then you look at the Joel Osteens of the Christianity pocket. You look at the leaders who have changed the world and simultaneously changed their perspective on how a government or business should be run. With dollar signs instead of integrity. With a hunger for votes and support instead of a hunger to serve others.

And I see myself falling into the same trap. Not in the same way, of course, but with wickedness at my epicenter. With failure to live like Christ wedged and coiled into every facet of my life. Living like I'm getting into Heaven. Like I need to hide my shortcomings from others.

Like I can hide them from my friends, family members, boyfriend and Christ himself.

I take comfort in the fact that this means that I am not the only cripple at the table. I am not the only liar, beggar and thief to be ushered into heaven.

We forget that Heaven is for Real and that it's not just a 

marketing strategy.

It's not just a way to make a national bestseller and a film adaptation. It's not merely a way to create a political platform. And it's certainly not a venue we can create a fake I.D. for.

We're not getting into Heaven. Grace is letting each of us in.

I need grace to let me in. I need to believe that all I need is Christ to cover my imperfections. Because I'm not perfect.

And you don't have to say it: I already know you know.



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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Am I Single Because I'm Fat?

Happy September, friends! Today, Prodigal Sister is featuring a guest post from my special, sassy, beautiful friend Holly. She and I connected through Jon Acuff's 30 Days of Hustle back in January (Seriously? Has it been that long?) and she has been a sweet encouragement ever since.

This is her story. And I'm so glad she was willing to share it with us.

Holly writes at the Common Queen Blog, and her updates on Facebook are hysterical. Follow her if you're looking for a few laughs throughout the day.


Yesterday, a friend told me I should really start working

out again.

She had great intentions, I’ll give her that much. She’s struggled with her weight, too. I know she loves me and she even made it a point to remind me of it at the end of the conversation.
We need people spurring us on in bettering ourselves, but sometimes that spurring cuts deep.

What my friend hadn’t realized is that I’ve been carrying a lot of shame around concerning my weight. Her words felt like one more burden on my heart and one more doubt in my head.

You’ll never overcome this, Holly. You are always going to

be gross and fat.


Like any rational person, I went home and got the ice cream out of my freezer and filled my bowl extra high. I would have licked the sides of the ice cream container, but I decided to leave a smidgen just in case there was another “emergency” in the near future.

With my bowl full of chocolate0therapy, I texted my BFF about how disgusting I was feeling. I reiterated my fears that she’s heard a million times over and yet that always boils down to this one question:

“Am I single because I’m fat?”


All of this comes just a few short days after I posted a blog about being fat AND lovable. God’s got a sense of humor, for sure. I knew I was still in process, but there’s nothing like some raw emotions to remind me that I’m not quite as far along as I’d like to be.




For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been the fat girl in the group. The funny fat girl, which has its perks but fat none the less. That, like many other characteristics, had become my identity. We all do it.

We identify ourselves by our relationship status (all the single ladies, holla!), by our education (or lack thereof), by our occupation (crazy Church Administrator here), by our past experiences, by our sports teams (Let’s Go! Buffalo!), by our favorite brands …you see my point. The list goes on.

The problem is that it’s not important who WE think we are,

but who GOD says we are.

Maybe I’m oversimplifying things, but I don’t think that would be a bad thing. You see, God is always going to tell us the Truth about ourselves. Our brains (or the Enemy….whatever) have this sneaky way of lying to us in our own voices. Or if not outright lying, only giving a half-truth. And those are just as dangerous.


The truth is, yes I am fat but I am also worthy of love. My pants-size, boob-size, or double chin doesn’t change that. God calls me his beloved. Not His fat, disgusting beloved. Just simply, beloved.


The truth is, I’m a Church Administrator that feels like she’s never going to get anywhere, occupationally speaking. God says, I’m highly favored and He has good things in store for me.


They might not be MY plans, but they are HIS and He is good.


The truth is, just because I spent my childhood as an orphan doesn’t mean I’m not wanted or desired. My natural genealogy does not define my eternal lineage. I am not fatherless, but the daughter of the King.

The truth is, I am single, but I am not alone.

Sure, I get lonely, but so do married people. At the end of the day, I am His and He is mine. He isn’t going anywhere.


The truth is, the Buffalo Bills suck whether Donald Trump buys them or not.


It’s not easy to combat the lies we hear so often–that’s why friends are so important. When we struggle, we can shoot them a text full of our toxic thoughts and they can flush them down the toilet where they belong.

God will remind you, too. He’s so lavish like that.

A few months ago, I was driving past our local grocery store that had a sign out front advertising a sale they would be having on roses the next day. I really love roses and had the thought: I’d really like some roses, but I don’t have time to get any tomorrow.


I spent the rest of the evening volunteering at my churches youth group when one of the parents came up to me and asked me to go to my office before I left that night. What did I find sitting on my desk for me? One dozen pink roses. My absolute favorite! No one had known that secret thought of mine, but God. There on my desk sat a reminder that He knows my hearts desires and He longs to give them to me and that He loves me so very much.

So, lovely ladies, please know that you are not defined by who you are, but by who God says you are and you are very much treasured and adored. You might not feel like that’s true, but it is.


***


Holly is a 30-year-old aspiring writer who strives to share honestly and transparently in hopes that it will encourage others to be open about their own struggles and lessons learned. She’s been accused of being sassy, which she finds to be an admirable attribute. 

Her favorite things include: making people laugh, chocolate, sweatshirt weather and authentic conversations over coffee. One day she hopes to find herself a bearded lumberjack to call her own. You can find more of her writings at thecommonqueen.wordpress.com on FB at facebook.com/thecommonqueen or twitter @thecommonqueen .




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Thursday, August 28, 2014

the 7 Biggest Financial Mistakes I've Made as a Single Woman




Today's post is featured on iBelieve.


There's a feeling that many single women get, myself included, as they crest over the delicate balance of dreaming and reality in their day-to-day.

It's envy mixed with pride: a gleeful resilience that comes from knowing we're independent, responsible for our own bills, insurance, groceries and rent. And that many of us have the means and careers to check these monthly boxes all on our own.

If we're being honest, however, there also comes a longing for 

the day when we won't have to do it by ourselves.

Not that we don't value our independence, of course. This is the backbone of our single stamina in our post-college years. We're thankful for the women in our history who have worked so hard to break the cycle of women relying solely on domestication to bring them purpose.

And when pictures of smiling brides and grooms trickle through our Facebook and Instagram feeds, we cushion the blow by telling ourselves that it's okay. At least I do. I tell myself I have my career. My girlfriends and I are just in different life stages. All is not totally lost.

But, some days it really seems like obtaining a Prince Charming to sweep me off my feet would solve all of my financial struggles by bringing in a second income. Even though deep down I know this is a fairy tale thought, on par with "happily ever after."

Read the rest of the article featured today on iBelieve.





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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

4 Simple Words to Live By

 I was alone in my cubicle when I sent my sister the text:


"I've decided I'm giving up. Retreating. Henry David Thoreau style. #Cabininthewoods. Please send wine. And coffee."

ALS challenges, racial tension, radical religion. People up in arms in one way or another about all three. Media consumers trying to speak their way into significance by way of "you're wasting water" and "those people had it coming to them" in the story's comment sections.

My eyes and heart and soul absorbed it all. And I let things I have no control over stress me out more than I should ever give them the power to.

Until I heard a calming voice prickle gently against my spirit. In a good way. Speaking the words it seems we all need to remember through the world's fifty shades of madness:

"There's more to it." 

Even if the world wasn't crazy, even if we were all living in the midst of Thomas More's Utopia, those four words inspire hope.

I would say them to the girl standing on the scale looking down at the number too high for the lead role and a waist too thick for the tutu.

There's more to yourself than what you see.

I'd say it to the girl spending another $7.99 on another bottle of wine.

There's more to healing than a cheap buzz and a long nap.

I'd utter them to everyone on the brink of a failed test. A failed romantic relationship. A friendship fallen by the wayside. A failure with balancing children and careers. A discourse in a marriage.

There's more to it all. From start, finish, up and down.

We all know the feeling. We're phoning our day-to-day in. We're on our backs under our covers, the press of a snooze button and a weak start to the day.

We're tempted to retreat or turn to the easy rather than

the healthy or honest.

And even the most extroverted of us become recluse rather than digging our elbows into sorting the craziness out. Rather than persevering or running the race, we mark it to keep up with our appearances.

A few weeks ago, I sang an Italian song for a music teacher. I was concentrating on the technicality. On hitting the notes. On pronouncing phrases like "caro mio ben" correctly.

And when the song came to a close, she looked at me and told me to start again.

"This time," she said. "Don't just sing the notes, she said. 

Make music."

I drew in a deep breath. Dug a little deeper. And the song, the lyrics, the rise and fall of lilts and crescendos became a part of me. It wasn't scientific. It wasn't planned. It wasn't perfect. It wasn't even pronounced correctly, I'm sure.

But, it was music.

What she was saying to me then was, there's more to it.


There's more to the song than just music. And there's more to life than the scariness and ugliness we witness.

We don't find it by burying or hiding away. We find it by becoming a part of it.



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Monday, July 28, 2014

I Think, Therefore I'm Fearful

 Hey friends! If you're new here, welcome! I'm so glad you're here!

I've been a little quieter than usual here on the blogfront this summer because I'm getting ready to launch my new (and very first...please be kind!) eBook! I'm about halfway through writing at this point, and I'm so excited/completely terrified to share it with y'all! I've been a little distracted with a fiction story I've been working on lately. Typical. But I'm back in the swing of things and looking forward to giving away a few digital copies and hearing your feedback.

And, of course, I'll be turning to y'all to help get the word out! More details to come!

"You seem a little bitter." 

 

The truth is always hard to hear. But this truth was particularly difficult--especially considering they were a part of a conversation taking place before I finished my first (of two I need to become a human being) cup of coffee.

The woman who spoke those words into my life over the breakfast table was completely right, though. Not only was I bitter, I was impatient. Even worse, I was defensive about my entire attitude.

In between sips of tepid coffee, I realized that I hadn't lived the last season of my life very well. On the outside it was full and bright. Vibrant cocktail hours, celebrations on behalf of the lives of others. Bouquets, banquets, and bangled jewelry.

But there was a storm brewing on the inside of my heart. Faded, but definitely strong enough to tear down my brave face. The buzz of my own accomplishments post high school and undergraduate was beginning to fade. My perspective was paper-thin and my ability to keep my cool was waning.

When was it going to be my turn to celebrate?


I thought moving forward was a sign of success. I though taking next steps was a promotion, an outward demonstration of all the good in our lives.

Following the same logic, I considered my current life stalled out. Stagnant. After all, an object at rest stays at rest, right? It's the objects, the lives, the careers, the relationships in motion that go forward. I have been living in the same place for four years. Shouldn't something, anything be happening right now?

I really thought life worked that way. I thought that the anti-jealousy game, the one we all play when we compare what others don't have that we do,was enough to protect me from bitterness. And then I realized what was really happening in my day-to-day.

I'm impatient because I'm fearful.

I've been living as though if these things--marriage, children, wedding days, world-changing jobs, life-changing moments-- didn't in my life right now, today, last month even, that they would never happen.

It became a habit to drag, drop, cut and paste the items on the twenty-five year-old checklist I thought I should have accomplished by now. And it was making what should be a joyful season a complete struggle.

If I kept living this way, there would always be a reason to fear. There would always be a reason to be jealous of others. The more afraid I was that I'd never make it to where I think I should be, the more likely I was to make rash decisions.

The more likely I was to be...bitter.


Thankfully, there are people in my life willing to call me out. And to show me what it means to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. And staying in their own lane when it comes to their own life story.

They're showing me what it means to live without fear. Without bitterness. With hope for tomorrow and eyes to see the good transpiring in the here and now. Even if it seems like I'm waiting a little bit longer than everyone else to get started.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

God Cares About "Online Dating"

"This is a little like online dating, isn't it?"

My potential roommate's face was pixelated through the video chat forum, but the humor in her voice cut through even the bad connection. She was streaming from a completely different state and we had to decide whether or not we'd move in together as soon as she landed in Virginia Beach.


"It is, you're totally right," I said. "Except for you live together after you match up."

We both laughed. It was more like an arranged marriage than anything. Two people from states away, knowing each other through faded friends-of-friends. In what other sane part of life do two strangers commit a lease of their lives together?

It's manic when you think about it: barely knowing someone and then legally binding yourself to them for a year or two by way of a lease. Post college, living arrangements can get pretty tricky in this light. Many of my close girlfriends already have roommates–their husbands and children–permanently attached to them. Others are simply here for a season, no longer wishing to be tethered to one place or one job.

But, I am. Prospects were few, and I was suddenly worried. Would this new woman I had agreed to meet via Skype love Jesus? Would she be okay with the way I ordered food to the apartment? Or didn't think it was the absolute end of the world if I left the dishes in the sink overnight?

Then, through a few minutes of exchanging humorous getting-to-know-you antics, she and I made plans to move to a vintage, cobblestoned part of town. A high-rise apartment with hardwood floors and a stunning, blue view of sky and water. Miraculously in our price range.

I would be moving in with a total stranger. Both of us taking a pretty bold "leap of faith." Which translate to us both being unable to afford living on our own.

By all appearances, even in spite of how well our first online appearance to each other went, we had one thing in common: she and I were both taking a risk. We bonded over it, and decided to make it official. We were moving in together.

It's one of those decidedly not profound parts of life

that make you realize that nearly everything is profound.

 


It's not exactly a secret that I've been struggling with my faith journey lately. It's been a bridge with gaps that I've had to maneuver for a few years.

You can feel it rising within you like you can hear gravel

pop under the tires of a car.

It starts low, softly creeping into the tiny gaps that your faith no longer covers. And then it's before you. Disbelief. Doubt. Uncertainty. The Christian female's triple threat.

When this part of your life is in disarray, it has the power to make your life, your choices and your circumstances seem as though they're imploding. The uncertainty I was feeling about my new living arrangements was affecting my ability to function on a normal level.

I was so absorbed by all of these changes and anxiousness, that one night I put my head on the table at Panera. And beside my tomato soup, the boyfriend calmly reached over and patted my arm. He quoted the verse about God even caring about the birds in the air.

"Don't you think He cares about this, too?" he asked. And then he looked at me with eyes so blue they actually made me wish I had known him all of my life.

He was right. God cares about the sparrow. So, He must care about me enough to set me up with a nice roommate. He must care about the bills in the mailbox and the gas in my car. He must care enough about me to put people in my life to remind me time and time again that God really does care about this stuff that we feel like we have to slog through.

The life changes. The big moves. The career shifts. Family planning. Bill paying. All of these adulthood relays seem so overwhelming. Especially when we are tempted to forego the faith and hang on to stress.

But I am reminded, as I slowly begin packing up my little apartment I've made my home for two years, the random circumstances that led me to my new home and virtual stranger to share silverware, coffee and a television set.

I am reminded that there must  be a God who orchestrates even the mundane. Even the bits of life that stress us out and make us want to crawl back into bed at the beginning of the day.

This God that cares about the sparrow cares about the grueling details of our lives. Skype dates, moving boxes, hardwood floors and all.

This realization comes the peace and the sigh that goes

along with looking in the doorway of an empty apartment

before locking up and moving on.


That's what I want to do with this four-year season of wrestling. I want to pack it up and leave it behind. And move on to a better place with a spectacular view. I want to cling to a God who cares about the details as much as He cares about the big picture.

And I want to walk away from the space I've been dwelling in. No longer afraid and ready to live again.


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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Fast-Montage Season








"Ms. Wilson, thank you for your submission. Unfortunately,

while we appreciate your pitch it does not fit our editorial

needs at this time."

I blinked at the digital rejection splashed across my computer screen. It was the third "thanks, but no thanks" from different online publications I had received that week. And it was only Tuesday.

If you ask nearly anyone with a healthy perspective about their philosophy on failure they'd tell you that it teaches you more than winning does. Failure is where we learn to grow. It's where we start to do drills, repeating again, and again, and again. These routines ultimately do lead to success. Eventually.

But, philosophies are edited versions of our actual beliefs. Sometimes our well-intentioned philosophies are a lot different from how we actually feel about a matter. At least in the moment.


On the surface, sure. Many of us play the big-picture card when it comes to rejection. We offer free advice. We throw up a prayer on the contender's behalf.

But it's so different when it's happening to us, isn't it?


When we're in the midst of doing the hard work that leads to nothing but rejection, particularly for creatives, it can feel like we're on the spin-cycle in a dryer. Our spirits are up, down, tumbled and dry.

It's the part of the story that no one really likes. Not even movie directors. Particularly in sport movies. It's the fast montage in Rocky, it's the drills in Remember the Titans. It's that scene in Bridget Jones's Diary when she's collecting the lose threads of her life in the time-frame of one song.

This hard work is showcased by characters in blips and flashes on the screen. Their journeys are sped up. Conditioning viewers, like us, at home to think:

Wow. It all happened in 30 seconds for them. Followed by: why the heck isn't it working out that way for me?

We're tempted to forget that those scenes were layered together to mark passing of time. They were edited to be quick because they're boring. We want to believe that in real life, work leading to success isn't routine, day-in-and-out.

We skip over these narratives because they're not as sexy 

as winning.


Success, true, anchored, surefire success, doesn't usually come without the season of slogging. Without the season of failing. Of applying and rejecting. Of feeling like you are taking the route with more twists and turns than a theme park.

These stages, of course, are not as glamorous as getting the byline or the corner office. The work-in-progress isn't as admirable as the finished product.

But these seasons are remarkably good in the midst of it all. Because we're not failures. We're just living in the montage part of our stories.

We're living in the place that leads to the top-of-the-mountain

feeling
.

We can't obtain that without the work. Without opening our emails and discovering another love note from the editorial staff in our emails. Or getting another phone call from Human Resources that tells us to please apply again in six months.

We can't have sucess by skipping over the fast-montages. We have to live through them. Because the big picture falls on the kite string of that storyline. And the sky-high ending is worth it when the credits roll.


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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

True Love Never Waits


"We're flying! We're flying!"


The little girl sitting across the aisle squirmed in her seat and raised her hands in the air. Pure elation. Her very first plane ride.

There was just one thing. Despite her enthusiastic squeal, the plane was still locked to the airport. We weren't even moving, let alone flying.

Her mother, who was simultaneously holding an infant while supervising the iPad usage of her oldest son sitting on her right, patted her back and spoke softly:

"Almost, honey. Almost. We haven't left the ground yet."

I smiled into my copy of Emily Giffin's Something Borrowed. How precious that she was already in the midst of a wild ride, and the passengers weren't even finished climbing over limbs and carry-ons to their seats yet.

Just wait, I thought. Just wait until we all surge forward together. When we hear the landing gear pop into the bottom of the plane and we swoop into the clouds.

You think this is flying? Just wait.


A similar benediction was given by a pastor at a wedding. There, I was fortunate enough to stand beside a very dear, talented and vivacious woman as she married the love of her life.

The bridal party rallied on the borderline of the couple's vows. The pastor held up the wife and husband-to-be's new silver bands. He spoke in wisps and echoes of the words many of us have heard spoken at wedding ceremonies before:

You think you love each other now? On this day? Trust me. The love that you have today, in your white gown and your rented tuxedo, pales in comparison to the love you'll share ten years from now...

Wait until your first child is born.

Wait until you walk through your first tragedy together.

Wait until you learn to compromise. Or find that you're capable of unspeakable forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness you thought was reserved for Biblical heroes. Or people like Mother Teresa.


You think this is love? Just wait.





Here's the thing though: the beautiful bride and her husband loved each other enough to commit their lives to each other. They had to love each other first. Their actions, the walking-down-the-aisle and the cutting-the-cake bit seems to say more about their patience and adventure for accruing an even higher level of love.

Their love for each other didn't just wait. It grew.


A few weeks ago, an article about waiting received a little more attention that I was prepared for. From the blogging aspect, certainly. But also from the relational standpoint. Because, as it turns out, there is no person, no relationship–even those that have "Cinderella time" boundaries in place–that's immune to the agony of waiting.

Not just for what the "true love waits," abstinence implication of it all. But for that level of intimacy. For being committed to someone and knowing that they are spiritually and legally bound to you. In rich times, in poor times, in no-matter-what-times.

Many of us get lost in a sea of waiting. It paralyzes us from enjoying the good in our lives. It seems like the waiting can be a trap if we're always looking for the next level, the next life-item to check off of our "to do list."

Twenty-somethings, myself very much included, can get lost a hurricane (emphasis on "hurry") of dating to engaged. Engaged to married. Married with a kid. And the next kid. And the next. And a bigger house. And a better career.

You think this is flying? Just wait.

But, if I could choose, I'd want to be the like the little girl on the airplane. I'd rather have a zeal for every stage. For every part of life and flying. I want to be so absorbed in the goodness of the day-to-day that I forget I'm not even off the ground. Yet.

Can we enjoy the stage we're in? Can we lose the ability to get caught up in waiting? Can we stop focusing on what we don't have (or what we can't do) just yet and enjoy our current seasons?

Can we choose to get so caught up in the moment that it almost doesn't matter that we're sitting on a plane that hasn't lifted into the sky?

Can we say to each other, "Yes, friends. We're flying. Open your eyes and enjoy this day and this stage. And when we do finally leave the ground, it only gets better."

You think this is flying? It is. It is.


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