Prophets so rarely speak words I actually want to hear.

sunlight on 100s of stairs web

I huffed and puffed up this massive flight of stairs. I dripped sweat, my calves burned, but the exercise was physically good for me, and the view at the end of the journey was worth the difficulty. But, still, the process to get there was painful. I think examining our stories is somewhat like this hiking experience.

Perhaps the more accurate title for the post is “Best Books Read in 2017: Third Quarter Edition.” But, there’s a theme running through what struck me in each of these books: the role of stories in shaping the way we engage the world. Continue reading

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On embracing process, or an ode to the bullet journal

IMG_6312Bullet journaling chills out my perfectionism. Or at least, forces frequent application of acceptance techniques. Ripping less than stellar pages from a leather bound journal is less tidy than pulling out pages from a spiral bound notebook. So, I’m learning the practice of self-acceptance and self-compassion, even as I try out new things.

In the process, I’m learning creativity is less about inherent giftedness and largely about the grind. What am I willing to research and practice?

Photography already feels this way for me — less about an “eye” that just magically sees and more about trial-and-error. I read tips and manuals, I browse the internet for ideas, and then, I practice. Take notes, mental or literal. My bullet journal has pages of notes on things I’ve learned from different shoots, things to do better next time, things that worked great (or crashed and burned). And then, I repeat and try again.

In a quick internet search I learn a couple of different styles of lettering for headers of my pages. I don’t know how to draw donuts, banners or cameras, but here again, Google brings me examples and instructions to my fingertips. I just have to try it.

Some attempts are better than others. Multidimensional donuts are way easier for me than coffee mugs. Lettering is simpler than vegetables. But, still, even the less-than-perfect sketches get to stay.

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And oh yeah, for whatever reason, I always work in ink, so mistakes are not erasable. Maybe I’ll switch that up, but likely not. As a lefty who drags her hand through her work, I hate writing with pencil.

I still use my notes of coffee shops to visit; I still write down what’s been happening in the vegetable patch. Even on my reflection pages, I don’t force full sentences or perfect writing craft. I just jot notes on feelings or moments I’d like to remember. If I want to cross out a word, I do and I move on. This is not the great American novel or theological treatise; it’s a draft sketch —  a few quick lines to leave an impression and capture glimpses of the Spirit working alongside the glances at my emotional health.

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Previously I’d get frustrated when a journal got chaotic with haphazard notes or ideas, and I’d jettison the partially filled journal in favor of a fresh, unmarked notebook. Then, rapidly repeat when perfectionism meant I couldn’t find space for the messier parts of me.

Offering compassion and mercy to myself has never been a strong suit, but somehow in this bullet journaling process of organizing life and goals, I’m learning to practice this on a small scale. The index page is unsightly, but it functions, I need it and I don’t want to start over. Thus, it stays. Even if I don’t like how a particular page looks, I need the list on the other side. And so, oh well, guess I’ll keep the ugly page too. It gets to stay at the table.

And the same is true for us, too. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a parable about the wheat and the weeds. A farmer sowed a field full of wheat, and an enemy planted weeds among the wheat. The workers came to the farmer wanting to rip out all the weeds, but the farmer said, “No. If you rip out the weeds at this stage, you’ll rip out the wheat, too. Leave it until the time of harvest.”

Bullet journaling is, for me, a constant reminder of the co-existence in this parable. Tearing out the page with mistakes means losing pages with things I need. So, it stays, and I try again. I’ll learn, and the next time maybe I won’t make the same mistakes in sketching. I don’t ignore the presence of the weeds, but I don’t let them overshadow the wheat in the journal either. And, the same goes for life outside the bullet journal as well. This micro scale is helping me practice this on a bigger level too.

Casting … and waiting

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the sauna-like dress

The navy dress I wore for my interview looked quite professional and cute, but the fabric did not breathe. In my jittery, “oh, please like me” state, that means I was sweating as though trapped in a sauna for hours. The outer fabric, however, did not reveal my drippy condition, while I sat trussed up by the red belt threatening to cut off my air supply. Lacking oxygen and overly warm, the anxiety threatened to consume — as it does whenever I would really like something to work out. Continue reading

Top Five Books Read in 2017: Second Quarter Edition

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Just a few of the library books I’ve been reading my way through…

Hey friends, it’s good to be back blogging! I finally caught up on completing my paid gigs and family commitments — just in time to write my second quarter reading highlights. I need to get back to a once a week posting schedule around here.

What’s your favorite book or blog right now? Or what’s on your bookshelf that you’re waiting to find time to read?

I could use some fiction recommendations, as I need a bit of a break from serious reading! Also, if you’ve got a favorite (or least helpful) parenting book, particularly on raising infants, I’d love to hear it.

Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go by Richard Rohr

Some books soothe my spirit and calm my anxieties. Others shake up my assumptions, forcing me to take a good look at myself. I expected the former, and I got the latter. Turns out, the voice of challenge was what my soul actually needed. Yet again with Rohr (just like when I read Everything Belongs), I filled my bullet journal with quotes and reflections on his words. I wanted the god who will protect me FROM pain and sorrow, and I’d forgotten Jesus who sits WITH us in pain and sorrow. I’d looked for escapism rather than solidarity, but that is not really the way of God.

By Little and By Little by Dorothy Day

I’ve respected Dorothy Day as an influential figure in 20th century Christianity, but I had only read minimal pieces of her work. As I read By Little and By Little, I wept. I learned. I found myself inspired and challenged. Her stories about living in community reflect both the profound beauty and deep challenges of seeing Jesus in others and herself. Her connection to a faith lived out bodily resonated with me, who great up with a more cerebral faith. Last, her writing about poverty and social justice made me feel less like a lone weirdo, and I found a sense of solidarity with her. And now, I’m eager to read more of her work.

At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

I saw nuggets from this book popping up over social media on Facebook and Twitter, and after a bit of a wait at the library, I dug into this book. I couldn’t put it down. Oxenreider and her husband took their three young children on a journey around the world, and this book contains reflections on their travel experiences. Oxenreider’s description of meeting with a spiritual director in Thailand was particularly poignant. She wrote of concerns, fears and struggles that resonate with me as I work out my own mid-30s identity issues. A note she wrote to her future traveling self in her journal before leaving on the trip stayed with me, and I wrote it down and colored it in my own journal.

“But you can do hard things. You won’t be here long. This month is the foundation for the year. Lean in to the struggles; give thanks for the easy times. Hard doesn’t mean wrong. You’re on the right path.”

I needed that reminder. As I keep leaping this year and trying new challenges, I needed the reminder: I actually CAN do hard things, and hard doesn’t mean wrong.

Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Pastrix is not for everyone; if cussing puts you off, then perhaps skip over this one. Reading Accidental Saints reminded me again of what I love best about church and the liturgical calendar; Pastrix reminds me of what I love about Jesus and how Jesus works through unlikely people who show up. Bolz-Weber has a way of reinvigorating the Jesus  I already love, and she points to Jesus in people and stories I might otherwise overlook. And as I work on my perfectionist tendencies, I needed her reminder:

“New doesn’t always look perfect. Like the Easter story itself, new is often messy. … New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway.”

And this happens to be paired with Oxenreider’s quote in my journal, and I still keep coming back to these words a month after I wrote them.

Ruby & Custard Crochet by Millie Masterton

And for a completely different kind of book, I loved Ruby & Custard Crochet! Full of cute patterns I would make as gifts (or, let’s be honest, I’d wear myself), I loved the bright colors and whimsy. I’ve got plans to make some mittens and owl hats for kiddos!

Hungry for mercy: thoughts on comparison, prayer, and Luke 18

clouds on Mauii

Fear settled in like the rain clouds this week. Not a torrential downpour, but a misty trickle that has me wanting to pull blankets over my head and hide. Like a scared dog, I want to tuck my tail and slink under the couch waiting for the threat of thunder to pass.

I want to hunker down and armor up, praying God will somehow vindicate me. I play the me vs the world game.

It’s bananas. It’s unhealthy. I know it.

And it still took me about twenty-four hours to find a bigger perspective while my feelings roamed all over the place and the lies weighed in heavier and heavier.

I consulted Jesus. What I wanted was vindication.

What I needed was grace. Continue reading

A feast for the beloved betrayers

bread and juice for communionEvery year in the week leading up to Easter, I read the stories of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Gospels. After so many readings, I know how the story ends.

Even so, I find myself wishing for an interruption in the story. I’m like Peter in Matthew 16 who wants to deny that suffering will happen to Jesus. I want Pilate to stand up to the religious leaders. I mutter to myself about the folks eager to get Jesus crucified, and somehow I pray each time they find some hidden capacity for grace and love over fear.

Resurrection — yes, please! But this crucifixion part, I struggle to look full on in the face. Continue reading