To Trust

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“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
-Helen Keller

At 5, I battled death. In 24 hours my father and brother descended from a village in the mountains where the clouds gathered around ankles cresting along the Himalayas. My mother had given them my diagnosis, the one we got when my body wilted and my fever spiked and the doctors shook their heads and recommended Western medical care.

They  packed  things at a frantic pace and lifted off with their sick child sprawled across their laps. Nepal is no place to fight leukemia, especially in the early 80′s.

We flew to Holland. Prayer circled and swirled around me for those weeks I lay dwarfed by the hospital bed.

But they prayed the fervent prayer only mothers of sick kids know. Knees bent to the ground, hands held, and voices lifted with petitions for me, a child who knew only that the needles hurt, the room was cold, and the Dutch nurses lack bedside manner.

I lived. Healed, really. And it became a part of my story. Why we left Nepal and eventually went back to Hawaii. This is why we had to leave third world missions. This is why my parents had to seek out God’s will in a country they never felt truly a part of, America. But as a child, I never really questioned the trust that was required.

As a mother myself, I can’t fathom the confusion and despair that would surround me if my child was threatened and their life was asked for. Would I be able to trust?

My mother came to a place in her heart during those hospital nights grasping my tiny hand where she was able to say “Yes Lord, if this is your will. I will trust you.” My mother who worries and frets about the funniest little things. Who we joke has a forever furrowed brow and always methodically thinks through things. And yet, she is a woman of amazing faith.

Going to Nepal with two small children and a promise of $75/month in support. Trusting that God would see them through.

It is such an odd dichotomy. That one could have faith to do the enormous, but  fear enough to hinder the modest.

But I think I may know why. Sometimes faith is easier in the crisis. What other option do you really have? You can trust or you can… flail against the inevitable? But when it is drawn out, it  becomes harder. To have faith in the small things when there are other routes you could take and avoid having to trust completely. To still be willing to walk the called even if you could take a different path.

Trust is hard, but are we still willing to walk the called because it is His voice that is calling?

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Ashamed of My Gospel

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I left a part of my heart in the blood-red Ethiopian soil. I don’t know if I’ll ever reclaim it. These months back feel like a skin I need to shed, and I’m wriggling, tensing muscles and prying myself loose.

I’ve said before I’m not the same girl I was when I boarded that plane.  But the truth is that we are never the same day-to-day. If life were time lapsed, each day would show the indents and soul creases accrued when we brush up against a lifetime. Each day adding another layer to our story. And some days remove layers, scrape them clean off like a dirty film.

Africa did both.

Before and afters litter the years of my life. Sometimes they are an improvement, often they are not.

I have a pair of walking clogs I wore when we weaved our way down the path to the huts. They sit in the entry way, they still have African soil grooved into their soles. And I do too.

I am restless and contented and I’m making my peace with this tension. How can a soul be stirred up and kindled white-hot for the things of God and then asked to simmer and stay and dwell in suburban obedience?

I dreamed of being a world changer when I was young enough to think that meant suitcases and passports and no ties to keep me from living radically. But I’m older now, wiser maybe. I see world changing doesn’t begin with a stamp in a passport or selling all your possessions.

It starts with knowing God. It starts with asking what He wants and sometimes that means all of those things but often, I’m finding that obedience is just as hard when the grand adventure that awaits you is paying bills and loving your neighbor and shopping for groceries with a gaggle of children in tow. Sometimes it’s purging the soul of excess.

Sometimes it’s so hard to see God in the ordinary rhythms of our lives and it takes a mighty blow to remember we are on holy ground. Walking each day in the grace and glory of a life redeemed and a call to make it known among nations and neighborhoods, near and far.

I find I struggle most when I am swept along with the current of a culture that can’t ever fill those soul holes.

We are rampant with desire for all the wrong things. And I think back to the patches of sunlight breaking through the mango trees littering the ground with dappled light and I remember sitting on the slimmest wooden bench hoping to God my weight wouldn’t snap it in two. These are the things I thought about in that hut in Ethiopia as I sat with my sponsored daughter. I was filled with joy and remorse.

I thought about the weight of my soul and my body lumbering down the narrow path, reeds and stalks snapping against my bare arms because the path wide enough for two Africans to walk side by side barely accommodated me. How far I’ve wandered in the filling of my life.

Traveling to the third world as an overweight American changed me in ways I’ve yet to reckon with.

I carry my excess, my sin, on my frame, visible for every emaciated and waif-like child, every villager who hasn’t got enough. But then we all do, don’t we? Some just hide it better. Who of those people could see our sprawling homes or our overstuffed closets, our shopping carts overfilled and our appetites for more. Only mine was visible because it rolls off my body and bulges at the seams.

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I am ashamed at the way we represent the gospel that sets us free. I am ashamed of the bondage I bring with me.

I know a grace that covers the brokenness. Oh how I know this. But I want to believe the gospel. I want to believe he binds and makes new. I want to see the new creation fully alive.

I flew home with the promises of God whispered in my ear. You are free, child. You are filled. I believe them.

I step tentative toes on the scale and see barely the tiniest dip. It doesn’t match my restraint. But I’m not on the quest for an after that dons skinny jeans or poses with fat pants that could house 3 of me.

I am in search of an after that means my gospel is truth. Only Christ in me, the hope of glory. Nothing else fills. And I know the sum of my parts and my soul are not measured in numbers but obedience. I find my appetites are quelled. My soul doesn’t salivate for more, only my spirit seems unquenchable.

I have tasted God.

When Your Voice is an Idol

We spend more time analyzing ourselves than ever before. With the rapid expansion of social media and technology, we live in a world constantly bombarded with self.

Which profile picture will I use for my avatar? What do my liked pages say about me? What interests do I showcase that make me look good?

We live in a culture that capitalizes on more than our personal tastes, it capitalizes on our persona, our brand. 

Whether it’s the TV shows we like, the books we read, the stores we frequent, or the places we go, there is a growing desire to share bits of who we are with others. You can tweet during your favorite shows, share excerpts of the books you read, capture your pumpkin spice latte and map your location down to your favorite neighborhood Starbucks.

Some would argue that this narcissistic bent is why connection is often difficult, why comparison and insecurity arise when everyone else’s Instagrams are so much cooler than yours, because you never eat watermelon in cowboy boots and a floral dress whilst leaning over a vintage table with the perfect yesteryear wash bathing the photo in golden hues. You just stand at the counter in your faded yoga pants and spit seeds into the garbage pail next to the pile of dirty dishes you have yet to get to.

And maybe you’re doing it wrong. Maybe the life you live is less than. Or maybe you are the girl with the cute boots and impeccable taste Instagramming away your seamless life? Even you know there’s more to your story than the pictures you share.

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But social media or not, I think the human heart always seeks to compare. Our default is to be concerned and consumed by our own glory. If ever there were an idol of our times in the blog world, I believe it is our voice. Our need to always be heard saying something.

There are the shock value bloggers capitalizing on every current event, every controversial divisive line needing to be parsed and severed and inspected with scathing sarcasm and open letter rants.

There is the desire for our words to reach further, to impact more, to challenge or encourage or matter. But there is a grace-less way about always needing to have our voice heard. And there is the quiet despair for those who faithfully share their voice and stories to the humble reception of silence and wonder if they matter at all.

We gather at conferences and wonder about the elevator speeches we’re supposed to prepare summarizing who we are and what we offer. And sometimes I think we’re too practiced at saying all the right things that we never stop to listen.

Because at the heart of it all, we tie our performance with words and platform and branding to our worth. If our story doesn’t matter, maybe we don’t either?

And I know I’m not the only one, but I’m tired of it.  I’ve felt the sticky fingered lure of candy coating what is, at it’s core, pride. The syrupy tongued words that pave the way to a bigger audience have sent me writhing back to silence, like a child found in bloated emptiness amid a flurry of candy wrappers the day after Halloween.

I’m an advocate for story because I believe the word of God’s people, the testimony of His beloved brings glory to Him, connection to the body, and light in the darkness but there will always be the temptation to focus so much on ourselves, our story, our path, our contribution to this writing world, that we forget that to live a good story, we’d be wise to listen and slow to speak.

Because grace happens in the pauses, when we stop to soak in words that are not our own. We live better questions when we stop reciting what we have to offer and start to champion other people’s voices. Start to believe in the storyteller who’s writing our moments with a master’s precision. When we find our humanity not just in the words we craft but also in the words we cultivate. When we worry less about our own voices being heard and allow God to speak.

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 I will always champion God’s people using their voice, but let us also learn to hold our tongues and listen with bold ears and hearts wide open, and maybe then, God will speak and our words will be tinged with grace, soothing to our souls, and full of life.

The Seasons of a Dream

I’ve neglected my children.

I made allowances for my need to write, to follow hard after dreams. But I’ve done it all wrong.

Because a vacancy moved into their lives as the rabbit’s hole of my laptop screen beckoned and swallowed me up.

But didn’t my ministry and passion need to be tended too? The reading and interacting. The tweets and status updates and link-ups. The silence and time to write.

It seemed I killed my blog just when I was seeing fruit. Just when I had built up subscribers and was feeling like the hard work was paying off.

God was being glorified, right? This is after all, the dream He gave me. The call I was responding to. The call I felt God confirmed in so many different ways. 

She told me I have the potential to be great. That I’ve got a voice and skill and passion and that if I learned to combine those with a little direction, I could really rock this whole writer thing. Maybe get published and have a real book on a real shelf instead of piles of journals stacked in old boxes in the garage.

She said that as an encouragement to me, her eyes warm and expressive, the kind that make you nod like a puppy and lap up anything she says, because after all, she is living this dream. And when my feet finally landed back on earth, I was giddy with dreams I’d always held but never dared speak aloud.

I wanted to rip her words from the air and type them into a crisp contract I could present to God to sign.

After all, everything I’m passionate about, everything that makes my fingers fly at the keyboard, everything that inspires me and draws me out to splash around on a canvas of words starts with God’s glorious inspiration.

The breathing of words and story into the wounds of my past, the joys of my present, the fears in my moments, and the dreams of my future. It only seemed right that any platform built is going to shine directly on Him.

 But I couldn’t get past the Holy Spirits prompting that I was getting it wrong. Again.

I’ve found myself failing at the dream.

The time to write and pour myself into this ministry of words is spotty at best. The time to invest in those dreams, spaced and erratic.

And the kids are ready to be tucked in and pleading for one more story and I’ll lay there resenting my time  being used up on another rendition of “If You Give A Mouse a Muffin.”

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Because I feel like the poor child in the story, being overrun with requests, each one leading to another. If you put your child in pajamas, they will decide they only want to wear the batman ones, and you will remember those are in the wash, so you will bribe him with another story, and if you read him another story, he will fall asleep on you, so you will have to carry him to his bed, and if you carry him to his bed, he will wake up and want another story…

And I’ve bought into the urgency of now.

I see other bloggers succeeding, and I know they deserve it, but I’m also grieving and feeling left out.

I can’t keep up with the pace or demands of blogging, and mothering, and homeschooling, and ministry, and mentoring, and being a good wife. If you add in showering, cooking, and keeping house, you have the trifecta of failure.

I’m looking for dead weight to cut and I see nothing but my words. So the blog often goes silent. And numbers dive.

And I’m mourning the dream, pity washing over me when I remember, “It’s not a loss, it’s a sacrifice.”

It is laying my dreams and promises of God on the altar, trusting that in His time He will provide.

It is trusting that the path I’m on isn’t a race to the finish line but a slow steady obedience, each step moving me forward closer to Him, where dreams are birthed. It is trusting that blogs can be resurrected from the dead or slaughtered completely and it makes no difference as long as I’m faithful.

I have friends waiting on the Lord. Bleary-eyed new mothers craving a full nights sleep and shirts free from spit-up and days when they’ll have the energy to fix their hair again. Women facing vacant rooms in a once loud house, longing for Thanksgiving break, knowing  their kids will be visiting instead of just home. Friends who long for things I so easily take for granted, when kids climb up onto my lap asking for more of mommy.

I forget God created seasons. We brush past eternity every time we stop to really see where God is in each one. And that, when we choose what might seem like a sacrifice, it’s not a loss at all, because nothing is lost which is released into His hands.

5 Sanity Saving Essentials for Blogging Conferences

Essentials for Blogging Conferences

Remember God is guiding your steps.

  • That moment when you see swirling crowds and wonder what the heck you’re doing at a conference with hundreds of women, remember God has a specific purpose for you. It’s not the same as your roommates, the speakers, or your blogging buddies. Let your agenda be dictated by God’s leading and you’ll never falter.

You’re the boss of you.

  • If you need to find a corner to sit and stare at the wall to recharge, do it. If you need to turn in early because your eyelids are dragging so heavy you might trip on them, tuck yourself in. If you want to wake up early and jog before breakfast, I don’t understand you at all, but hey, go for it.
  • Believe that the opportunities God has for you are not going to be “missed” because you aren’t on every second.
  • Trust that the capacity God’s given you isn’t a mistake. The Allume organizers are an amazing group of godly women who pray for you and have designed the content to leave room for God to work. Trust in that.

Think deep not wide.

  • At my first blogging conference I had only been blogging for 6 weeks. I traded tons of business cards, gave my awkward elevator speech a zillion times, and tried to jam in all the information I could. Everyone told me I had to network. It was exhausting.  Turns out the long lasting relationships maintained from that conference came in the slow moments. Lingering over coffee, sitting down to a long dinner, following up after the conference and investing in their blogs.
  • In many ways, the idea of networking makes my stomach sour. I don’t want to connect so I can climb on your shoulders and have a larger platform. I want to connect because you have something to offer that is unique: YOU. I want to know you.
  • Think of it as a chance to connect with God breathed people, joined in spirit, not just an opportunity to guest post or get retweeted.  I know now that meeting ALL the people is much less important than connecting with a few. Take your time and really value the people God brings across your path.

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Think of ways to invest in people you meet and encourage those where you are or even mentor those coming up behind you.

  • I had someone tell me recently that they saw me at Allume and were too nervous to introduce themselves. I snort laughed at the craziness of that. Although flattered, I am not a rock star contrary to the tens of people who think so.  Ok, the ones of people, but still. Come say hi.
  • We’re all sisters here. But please, don’t be offended if I don’t recognize you right away even though we’ve tweeted back and forth every week. You are much taller than your avatar, and I am much, ummm, fluffier. So yeah, it might take me a minute. Again, grace.

 Don’t listen to the lie that you aren’t important. That your story and words don’t matter as much as the famous blogger. That no one is interested in you. That’s pure crap.

  • Each of you has a gift. A story of redemption, a story of a God who loves you, a story of life.
  • You may have a style blog and have an eye for beauty in a perfectly mismatched teal bag with platform sandals and a flowy maxi dress. You may have a food blog and share the glory in the crisp snap of fresh greens, laid like an offering, scattered with toasted goat cheese, raspberries, and roasted hazelnuts, a sweet mustard vinaigrette drizzled like the swirl of a painter’s brush. You may have an organization blog where you help women like me put labels on pretty baskets and get rid of the stack of sweaters I’m planning to felt someday. You may share stories, your life in words, your tears and triumphs and soul words.
  • Whatever God has given you, you have a gift to share. Go confidently knowing that you are called.

Is this your first conference or are you a veteran? What do you feel God is leading you towards as you prepare for Allume?  

 

Ripening or Replicating: How are we growing as writers?

When I first started blogging, I often heard,” Don’t compare your middle to someone else’s end.  This was usually said at conferences by bloggers with platforms, RSS feeds bursting with subscribers, and years of experience being social media ninjas. As someone just starting out, I’d look at my one or two comments and think, I’m just not there yet, with yet being the operative word.

If I’d started in 2006 when the competition and noise on the internet felt more like the mingling at a cocktail party than an olympic stadium with the roar of the crowd drowning out the clacking of my keys, then I’d be further along too. I’d scribble the line in my notebook, or tweet it to my 25 followers, nodding my head because everyone knows comparison in blogging will make you . Once you go down that path, you may as well break out the duct tape to gag and bind yourself, because it’s pretty hard to write authentically while trying to replicate someone else’s success.

So I’d plod along faithfully, wrestling contentment down with each post, imagining when my “end” would come and I’d have arrived. When I could count myself a writer. Maybe get a book published or reach a certain number of subscribers. When I’d be the one dispensing anecdotes about the good old days of blogging and tips for building your platform. I’d dream of a time when my voice would matter.

 We often think of growth as a linear thing.

We back kids against door frames and etch pencil scratches along the years as the tops of their head stretch upward from chubby thighed toddlers to gangly teens. Failure to thrive would be, well, failure.  We think of growth as the raise you get after each faithful year on the job or the beater car with the tricky alternator that turns into the minivan or new SUV as each new child comes along. The dorm room of your college years to the 4 bedroom 3 and one half bath home with the wrap-around porch.  Growth means bigger, and bigger means better.

But what if growth isn’t always linear?

What if my end never looks like theirs because my journey isn’t taking me in that direction? What if growth was less about replicating and more about ripening ? Less about measuring up and more about pouring out?

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Because lately, I’ve been looking down the road and I don’t see the horizon brimming with the things I once thought I was headed for. Even the things I thought I wanted. And I’m realizing there is a great freedom in that. That in my corner of the internet, my words are enough, no matter how small.

I feel a collective pull of my writer friends, back into their lives, to write what they love, not just what gets tweeted or shared. There is a dedication to the seeking of words and story and truth that all writers wrestle with, but there is a calm too.

So many of us, who started with God sized Dreams of doing the big things, have learned that God works those out in the small things. That growth often comes in the deep blush of fruit swollen and ripe, and not just the arching branches seen from miles away saluting the skies. It comes in tiny rings spreading modestly across a trunk year after year, no more than the width of a fingernail. It comes in pruning season and it comes in harvest. It comes in roots grown wide and long under scorched earth, seeking out water and life and bedrock with which to sustain it’s might.

We don’t always see it. We just sink our teeth in, letting the juice gush lavishly down our chins, we taste and know it’s good.

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On Ordinary Art

I tell my son to be careful not to paint the table.

I’ve laid out plastic and my four and eight year old have the watercolors and a collection of rocks to recreate into swirling florals and all manner of messiness.

My daughter has a paint by numbers that is sectioned into tiny slivers awaiting their chosen colors, the end result being a Panda.  I’ve unleashed their brushes and their tiny fingers lead them in pirouettes across the stones and canvas.

I open my laptop next to them and stare at the cursor flashing on the blank page.

And then my son has finished his first rock, a black swirl of paint on a smooth round stone. He tells me it’s a wabbit.

My daughter is leaning close to the canvas, hand steady trying to get the paint into the designated spots. I see the Panda’s face beginning to form. She bites her lip and tilts her head to the side inspecting her work.

“Mommy, I can’t get the yellow to mix right. I think I made it look weird.” She is becoming her own worst critic.

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Meanwhile my son has cranked out several more rock paintings and has graduated to paper. He holds up a painting in hot pink, a large circle with two lines sticking out the bottom.

“This is you, mommy, ” he announces proudly. Although, I do have a potato-esque shape, I don’t  see the resemblance. I move it to the counter to dry alongside the line and two dots which is my husband and the green circle which is our house.

And I think about my blank screen and my inner critic and my need to make the words just right.

I think about my children’s fingers dappled with paint.

Young children lack the skill to create with precision but what they lack in ability they more than make up in confidence. Young children still see the world with every possibility because nothing is fantastical yet. Pioneers in their journey of discovery, everything is new, therefore everything holds equal fascination and monotony.

When we pause at the painted hills, the striated rock colorations etched golden-red like tiger stripes, we all stop to take in the glory. But the young child runs along merrily, picking up rocks without discrimination of their ordinariness. He squats down to watch an ant barrel along while the valley stretches wide beside him, unnoticed.

We learn to classify the ordinary and monotonous in direct contrast to the extraordinary and magnificent.

G.K. Chesterton states, “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese…”  Yes, cheese may not inspire sonnets, although I do have a baked brie recipe that makes me believe there is a God who loves me. What I believe Chesterton is getting at is that we find ordinary things uninspiring.  Mundane things like diaper changes and Math lessons, grocery shopping, and spreadsheets.

We forget as writers, that eventually, everything becomes monotonous to those who can no longer see the simple and ordinary graces among us.

Yes, we all want to write that post. The profound one that goes viral. Yet we often lose the pure in the pursuit of the profound.

Simplicity comes before the numbers and the lines. Before you know what the picture is supposed to look like. When you have the ability to splash in the paint tray and mix the colors.

Because the Lord sees beauty in your words when they’re full of wonder and praise. When we silence the critic and let our fingertips dance on the keys without always knowing what picture we’re painting. When we make art in a world full of ordinary, we paint in God’s glory.

Alia Joy writing at Narrow Paths to Higher Places