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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Never Throw Your Love Away

Photo courtesy of Alex Perry Photography.

It started on a muggy night in July. My childhood bedroom was fogged with grief. The shades were drawn and my hair was matted with the crawling scent of chlorine.

My boyfriend and I of four years had broken up in my neighborhood's public pool just a few short hours before. I wanted to retract the words I'd started. I wanted them to recoil like the thin fibers of a fishing line. I wanted to admit that breaking up was a mistake and make him mine forever.

Because that night, panic set in. I was already halfway through college. The "ring by the spring" deadline was approaching. If God really was calling me apart from this man, who would I marry now?

So that night I grabbed my nearest stationary, faded yellow paper with pink butterflies, and I penned a letter to my future husband. I wrote in faith, knowing that he was out there. Believing that all of my relational requirements would be met by a singular man who had a beard and played the guitar.

Sadly, my relational requirements at that time weren't

much more evolved.

Time, as it does, rolled by faster than a swipe left on Tinder. I think the ring-by-the-spring deadline actually pointed and laughed at me when it passed. I didn't go on one date, let alone a date that led anywhere near engagement.

Grad school came and went. Engaged-friends became married-friends, became parent-friends, became parent-again friends. And I stayed the single and still-single and ever-more single friend in the midst all of the social changes.

Instagram happened somewhere in there on top of everything else. If I wanted to forget I was living in the purgatory of being happy for other people, I couldn't.

Every wedding, every shower, every ribboned invite I received in the mail was paired with both joy and an avalanche of questions: when was it my turn? Where was the man who wanted to make me his wife? What was wrong with me?

So, somewhere in that time span, I threw the letter away. The letter of faith I'd written for my future husband. The letter I was going to give to him on the night before our wedding. The letter that said "I don't know who you are, but I love you already." The letter that said "I'll wait for you, no matter the cost."

But my lack of patience drove the cost up.

Photo courtesy of Alex Perry Photography.
Now there's a man who I'd love nothing more to share that letter with. I want to see his face scanning the lines that my naive and hopeful heart put together the night I was so sure God was going to put him into my life.

I'd go back again and again to shake the girl who'd lost hope in her future. To keep her fingers from tearing that page. To save herself from her jealousy or her defiant push-back from this cosmic waiting game she thought she was playing.

If only I had just held on to that faded yellow paper, 

I'd be able to give it to the man who truly deserves it.

Of course, I'm not only speaking about a letter. I'm speaking about my body and soul. I'm speaking about my carelessness of who I let date and touch me during that season of questions and doubt. Of whose company I kept. Of whose apartment I entered well after when it was appropriate.

There was a man for me. A perfect fit. Someone who had a beard and played the guitar, yes, but someone who I love dearly. Someone who forgives quickly, loves boldly and dares to follow God no matter his circumstances.

Someone who will marry me on the very day of that heart-wrenching breakup seven years later. Exactly. Giving me all the reason to believe that God is a God of redemption in the large and the very, very small.

And of this didn't fall into place when I had my life together. Or when I had truly put my trust in God. People must say those sorts of things to the brokenhearted and lonely to give them a clinical answer to a problem that's anything but clinical.

Because when my future husband walked into my life, I'd never deserved him less and I'd never doubted God's existence more.

That's the thing though: my relationship is helping me patch my faith, the scraps of that faded yellow letter back together.

I think sometimes God gives us the desires of our hearts not because we deserve them, but because we don't. Because He knows we'll proclaim His goodness all the more for gifts rather than rewards.

Yes, I'm speaking all of this on the other side of engagement. Yes, I know it's easy for me to say while being in the midst of a season I've waited for. I know this may evoke some eye rolls. I know my wedding day might be painful for some to endure without a cocktail. And that's okay. If anyone understands, it's me.

But just know this: this relationship is a tender responsibility. This season is a gift and an honor. And it was worth waiting for. I wish I'd been more graceful, more peaceful and less bitter in all the waiting.

I wish I'd saved my letter.

Don't throw your letters away. Don't throw your faith, your virginity, your standards, your intuition, your inklings, your friendships; don't cast any of it aside. You need it all. You'll want it back again.

You'll wish you kept it. You'll wish you had it for the person you've waited for. You'll want your letter back for him.

photo credit: leave me blank via photopin (license)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

7 Women Every Small Group Needs

If it were possible to have a crush on a group of women, I'd have one on my small group. Each week we gather around my little table, most of us with a cup of Earl Grey and we read books by Rachel Held Evans, or Shauna Niequist.

The group is out of its infancy now. We're real. We're meaningful. We're getting to that time and space where if we have to shift the group around, or can't meet for whatever reason it feels unnatural.

We're getting to that space where it's hard to remember what life was like before we started. And my friendship with them over the past few months have made me realize that we need all types of women in our lives to make our community thriving and whole.

The Woman Who Keeps it Real

This is the woman who you can trust to tell you like it is. She's the one who'll tell you if you have a lipstick smudge on your teeth or if your boyfriend doesn't look as cute in person as he does on his eHarmony profile.

She's also the woman you can count on to be honest with you and to tell you the hard truths. The fact is, she'd rather hurt your feelings in the short-term than to see you get treated unfairly or let your relationship endure a long-term struggle.

The Gift-Giver

This woman doesn't necessarily have to shell out the big bucks for you. She's giving of her resources and knowledge.Of her space.

She's the one who's open to invitations and selflessly gives in plenty what so many of us view as a precious commodity: her time. But, there are those days where she'll see something in the store and buy it because it made her think of you.

The Faithful One

This is the woman who will listen with an understanding heart. She's the woman who's there for nearly every meeting and activity. She's a focused, loving and tender presence and you learn to count on her in a land of the over-committed.

The Advocate

She's the member of the group who is all about acts of service. She's goal-oriented and will push you group to extend invitations to others. She always has the best interest of others at heart and she's always looking for opportunities to lend a hand wherever she goes.


The Empathetic One

She's patient. She's understanding. She's a great listener. This is the woman who will carry through group discussions. She's affirming in her ability to see eye-to-eye with every problem and prayer request your group has. She's also awesome at relating these back to scripture because she's good at making connections.

The Ultra-Encourager

She's the woman who will compliment your hair when you feel as though it's a frizzy mess on your head. She's the glass half-full sort. She's also into celebrating the victories, large and small. She's also probably really good at remember important dates (birthdays, anniversaries, weddings).

This woman will say what you need her to say exactly when you need her to say it. Not because she's a people pleaser, but because she has a genuine gift for sharing words that will uplift. Even when she doesn't know it.

The One Who Needs Encouragement

Not that they're always hurting. Not that they're always on the verge of a mental breakdown. Not necessarily. However, they're the woman who let's your group practice what it means to love like Christ loves.

Most of us, in one way or another, in different seasons and life-stages have fulfilled each of these personality types in some fashion. We've all been the ones who've needed encouragement. We've all been the ones who've undergone a specific hurt that makes us more malleable to listen, more perched to be empathetic.

Of course you don't have to check all of these boxes to have a fulfilling study. You don't even have to have seven people, but when these traits are fluid throughout the group, they're the portrait of the embodiment of Christ.

And that makes all the difference.

photo credit: print size-31 via photopin (license)

photo credit: Finishing the study of James by Beth Moore with my new cup from @journeygal via photopin (license)

photo credit: Morning Cuppa via photopin (license)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Today, for the Twenty-Something: Give it Another Two Miles

Right away,  after my running girlfriends and I finish our stretches and start pounding the sidewalk in our collage of running shoes and swishing jackets, my shins start talking to me. They say, "Hey girl, you might want to give up before you start. This hurts."

Half a mile in and already my legs feel heavy.

I have to will them to keep going. Step by rhythmic step. Running through the twinge that makes me feel like the muscles in my leg are fragile chopsticks. Like at any moment they'll fracture under the pressure of making it to the end of the block.

Then we're one mile down. Six to go. We're running distances that are so foreign to me. Distances that made my head spin just a year ago.

I'd heard rumors of people running this far before. Racers, distancers, insane-people, would talk about their five mile runs. Their 5K races. I could barely make it through one song on my workout playlist. Running that far and wide would never happen for me. I wouldn't even try.

My shins like to remind me of the girl I was before I became a runner. But every time my running buddies and I push through those first few minutes. One of us tells a funny story about their significant other. Or their work. Or we talk about what it means to be a modest woman after the great yoga pants debacle finally died down.

It hurts. It sucks. I hate it. But we're distracted enough to keep going, keep pushing through the winded breath and the dismantled pace our feet haven't caught up with.

And then. We hit two miles.

Two miles and by some miracle, my legs feel lighter. My breathing settles. I can close my eyes and dip in and out of the grooves of the sidewalks and the cobblestone streets near my house. We're bounding, chatting, feeling empowered by the inertia from the very legs that were making me hesitate.

They are the same legs that were about to convince me that running is too hard for today. And that I should just give up. Pop a frozen pizza into the oven and settle into my couch with a glass of wine and a bunch of Mindy Project episodes in my Hulu cache.

The first two miles are always the hardest. They're the miles your knees, your joints, the bottoms of your feet are asking you why, oh why are you putting us through this torture?

But then you hit a pace where you could go on forever. Or, you know, two hours. Whatever you fancy. The next thing you know, a woman who could barely get herself to the gym is training for her first half-marathon. A year in the works.

Life is the same way, I'm learning.

Or at least life as a 20-something. We've broken out of college. Many of step deeper into the academic world, just to keep in touch with education. An aspect of our time and talents that we took for granted.

Others of us step into careers that aren't idyllic. In purpose or payment. Some of us step into motherhood, wifehood, and struggle and laugh and love deeper than we ever though possible.

Whatever route we take, the first few miles into adulthood are hard. Our minds, our finances, our family responsibilities are strained. Sore from the leading expectations. Our breaths are mismatched. We're finding our place. Our groove.

We're finding that spot where we can endure. Where we can push past those first dragging moments of hitting the ground running. We know that it's not going to be easy, we're running a race after all. But we're waiting to climb above the plateau. We're waiting to move past the point where we're not thinking about how far we've come.

We're just focusing on running forward.

It's not just about building endurance. It's not about just squeaking by in life. It's about living on the other side of the brim. It's about overflowing into life with love and gentleness, and a passion for sharing the love of Christ: whatever form that looks like in your life.

If you're stuck. If getting out of bed, paying your bills, caring for your family, or loving your neighbor today seems hard, might I suggest that maybe you're in those first two miles.

My advice? Wherever you are, whatever you're doing in your life: dating, attending church, writing a novel, paying bills, seeking meaningful living in a world run by Twitter followers and gas prices:

Give it another two miles.

Happy Monday, friends.

photo credit: what is going through her mind? via photopin (license)

photo credit: GR20 2010 refuge Tighjettu a Manganu (158) via photopin (license)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Why it's Hard to Write Good Fiction for Christians

Hi, friends! Getting a little extra vulnerable today. Not in an over-share sort of way. But in a way that makes me wear my heart and my words on my sleeve. Open to interpretation. Open to criticism. If you'll indulge.

For the last year and a half I've been working on a fictional manuscript set in Dallas, Texas. It's full of Dr. Pepper, the hum of journalist drones typing in a newsroom, cherry pie, Golden Retrievers, forgiveness and baseball.

It's called (at the moment) How to Win a Breakup, and follows the story of Jordan Jacobs as she struggles to stay ahead of the social game after her fiance dumps her.

That's the condensed version, at least ;)

But it's also a little bit about a faith journey. A wrestling with the job-market for 20-somethings, death and moving on from painful relationships. With boyfriends, and mothers, and with God.

The characters aren't perfect. They swear on occasion. They smoke (but only when they drink). They make out with inappropriate people. They don't respond to an altar call. They don't lead Bible studies. And they don't pray. At least, not all the time.

They're messy. They're selfish. They have a lot of flaws; many of which I want to correct in my own life and walk with God.

So here's the thing: I'm struggling with serving two masters: the truth of the world and the Truth that Christ has to share. And though I'm a total "pantser" (that's "by-the-seat-of-my-pants" for the non-writers out there) when it comes to plot, I don't foresee Jordan re-dedicating her life to the Lord at an altar call or memorizing scripture.

But is it "Christian fiction" if its written by a Christian author who's just trying to be honest? Is it Christian fiction if one of the antagonists uses the Lord's name in vain in the very first line of dialogue? Even if it's to create an atmosphere of immediate disdain for the character? Even if it helps along the conflict between the two characters?

I'm not sure.

I'm navigating all of this while trying to make the story work. I'd love for you all to be a part of the discussion and for the mission not to settle for contrived Christian art. This blog, Prodigal Sister, in and of itself is dedicated to redeeming stories that lead others home.

With that being said: here are the first 300 words of How to Win a Breakup.

“How in God’s name did we wind up with so many toaster ovens?”

Jared kicked a few white blossoms of tissue paper out from under his brown loafers as he breezed into our apartment. For the last six months of our engagement, we could practically measure our lives in mason jars, burlap cloth and yards of tangled twinkle lights. We were due for a call from the producers of Hoarders any minute now.

Jared’s eyes breezed over the growing mound of engagement gifts stacked by the door. He picked up the toaster oven box and held it in front of me, accusingly. “How many is this now?”

“Hard to say…” I sat with my legs crossed on the living room floor, iPad in my lap, searching the itemized gift list growing on our Exel sheet. If only I’d been this organized in college. I’d have been a Rhode’s Scholar.

“That brings us up to six.”

“Jesus Christ. How much toast do people think a newlywed couple needs?”

“There must be something wrong with our registry.” I glanced at my watch. “Target’s closed by now, but maybe you could call tomorrow and–”

Jared gave me a sharp look.

“Okay...I’ll call tomorrow.” I pulled up the “do-before-I do!” checklist on my wedding planning app and added it to the roster; a notification was kind enough to inform me that I was slipping down the white wedding rabbit hole:

You have sixty-two overdue tasks.

Jared shrugged off the strap of his briefcase and walked into the kitchen, undoubtedly to grab one of our monogrammed glasses for his nightly rum and coke. Funny, I didn’t notice him complaining about the gift situation when it was the overstock of his bar glasses that were coming in. But if one of your core values is winning arguments, don’t date a lawyer.

And certainly don’t ever promise to marry one.

photo credit: A slice of Cherry Pie via photopin (license)

photo credit: SPECIAL SET – 16x hi-res Neourban Hipster Office: via photopin (license)
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