Thankful isn’t a strong enough word, sometimes.

I’m sitting in my favorite, overstuffed, blue denim chair drinking a mug of hot chamomile. My Norah Jones radio station successfully reminds me that everything is okay in the world, and an unexpected conversation a few minutes ago rests my negative thinking. Puppy finally laid down on her new bed – she hates it when I sit at my laptop and makes it known by licking the keyboard and obstructing my screen – so I sit with my legs resting high on the chair so she can’t get through, and repeat to myself that I’m not a bad puppy mom and she really doesn’t need attention all of the time.

Norah Jones sings and I eat my peanut butter and honey toast, since I was too lazy to make dinner earlier, and then all of a sudden I looked up in my quiet, peaceful house and I take it all in: I have a home.

I have a home, with a couch and a comfy chair, and an upstairs with a guest room that my sister currently occupies. I have a sweet-as-can-be (most of the time) dog, a kitchen with the necessary utensils, hand-made rustic furniture, music and hot tea. I couldn’t be more

thankful.

October marks one year since I lost full-time employment. Somehow during the last year, through the stress and dozens of part-time jobs, and even more major life changes, I still live in a home. A home that I call my own, even though I’m renting. With flower beds, a picnic table, and a tree swing. A home often filled with people, including a roommate who offers to mow the lawn and clean the bathroom, a lively group of supper club friends, and a boyfriend who finds ways to teach me grace every single day. And because of my church and wise saving, I’ve spent an entire year without full-time employment, and haven’t even touched my emergency fund.

Thankful isn’t a strong enough word, sometimes.

Grow

Rants to Revelations

I write my best material in the minutes immediately before falling asleep. Unfortunately, those are also the minutes when I’ll never remember the genius I came up with.

There are a hundred excuses for why I haven’t written or posted lately. Including, but not limited to the reason above. In my current unemployment state, most of my creative energy is spent on cover letters and staying mentally sane while being home alone for days at a time, in between part-time jobs. Unrelated to my employment status, I’m trudging through a crisis of faith.

Recently, NPR published an article interviewing several adults in my generation who have chosen to leave behind their family religious traditions. As I was searching for that article, I found that this is a topic NPR frequently covers. It seems doubt and faith walk hand-in-hand. It also seems that I’m not alone in a crisis of faith.

I’m part of one of those “get a free book if you write a book review” clubs. The books are tailored towards conversations about theology, a topic I’m drawn to even when in crisis. After months of seeing new books released yet not being interested in any of them, the words “Rants to Revelations” caught my eye. Ranting is something I want to do on occasion, and the book description matched the intrigue of the title. I started reading Ogun Holder’s Rants to Revelations during Advent, a perfect time to dive into questions of faith.

Reading Rants to Revelations was timely for me, because of the previously mentioned crisis of faith. Holder writes a memoir of sorts, describing his faith journey through ups and downs of life. We all have them, he just wrote about his. I found encouragement and solidarity in his words.

Ogun Holder is a pastor (Reverend, priest?) in the Unity Church. Learning about Unity was new information for me, so I enjoyed learning bits and pieces of how this denomination influences his life and thought, and why he chose to be a leader in the Church. He struggles a little in his writing style, but I attribute that to this being his first book. In that same vein, Holder writes honestly about struggles with insecurity, and some of his insecurities bleed through the paragraphs on occasion. I especially enjoyed chapters when Holder clearly felt confident in his thoughts and words.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for honest encouragement, and solidarity on a complicated faith journey. It’s full of difficult questions and is an excellent companion to those who appreciate self-reflection. If Holder writes a second book, I’d be interested in reading it.

Holder’s book of reflections (and the fantastic comics at the beginning of each chapter) didn’t take away my thousands of questions, but I feel less angst about asking them now. While I previously welcomed questions, I didn’t enjoy the fight that came with them. I’m embracing both the questions and the fight today, because I’ve found people to share both with.

You know, that’s the entire point of this blog: to find people to share life with. I’d argue that’s the point of living.

Grow

I’m going to wait and see

Not surprisingly, I really love building and creating things. I’m slowly setting up a shop and teaching myself how to build furniture. No less than a dozen people help me with each project, offering advice or brawn (that dresser is heavy and had to be moved in and out of my shed multiple times!).

A few weeks after my parents were in town, my brother came to visit. I’ve somehow managed to convince him that he should move to Nashville, so he came to check out the town and make a plan. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of my siblings, and my brother is no exception. I can’t wait to be in the same town with him for the first time in a decade.

It just so happened that the very weekend my brother came to town, my 90-day review came up at work and they chose to let me go.

In April, I reached the end of a rope at my previous job – an originally short rope that the Holy Spirit kept choosing to extend. Kind of like one of those clown handkerchief chains that just when you think he can’t pull any more brightly colored cloth out of his sleeve, he finds ten more. I am incredibly thankful for that job, but knew I needed to move forward. My apartment lease ended in July and the mice and I were no longer getting along so I needed to leave there as well. This seemed like the perfect time for a change.

I took the month of May as a break from interviews and job applications, and planned on changing directions in June by searching for work in Austin. In the last weekend of May, I was offered a job as a Design Coordinator. Shortly after, I signed a 1-year lease on a house that met a ridiculous amount of personal expectations.

I think the way the last few months played out looks beautiful. Life always has a way of working itself out, and I am grateful.

Although, now I live in a house with 9 months left on a lease, my brother is moving to the town I want to move away from, and I’m unemployed. I can’t make up stories like these, and I have no idea what happens next in this plot line.

In an effort to remain healthy and depression-free, friends call in and check on me nearly every day. I organized my tool shed to make a workshop, and am in the middle of project #3 since starting this furniture-making madness. The employees at the Hardware store know me by name. In between interviews I’m well on the way to kneading all the recipes in my bread book, and will sell you a loaf if you’re hungry (it’s good!). My yard has been re-landscaped and maybe I’ll plant things in the giant garden I created. My neighbors and I swap tools and conversation, and I finally wrote a few blog posts.

Future flower garden

Future Food Garden

Grow

Not waiting for “someday”

In the months prior to the race, I also somehow managed to convince (I’m becoming quite the sales woman) my dad that he could help me with a little project.

When I lived in DC in 2005, I let it slip to my friend, Jonathan, that I had a dream to build my own bedroom furniture. Construction sites and handmade products captured my attention decades ago. Maybe because of my love for transformations? Seeing something come from nothing, whether that’s hope from despair or a building from sticks of wood, changes me.

For seven years, Jonathan asked me about my furniture every time we talked. When I was bored, lacking motivation, or unsure about my life, he always suggested building furniture. The man wouldn’t let it go. I finally admitted to him that I didn’t pursue it because 1. I didn’t know how and 2. I didn’t simply want to build furniture; I wanted to build it with someone. Yeah, it was one of those dreams – I can’t do “that” until I’m married.

At some point in the last year I realized that I’m almost thirty, I’m single, and I like both of those things. Which is kind of ironic and confusing if you’re a close friend of mine and know the stories of my countless dates and seemingly endless pursuit of a romantic relationship, but still true.

Why then, do I live my life like I need permission (or a husband) to pursue things I hope for?

Sure, I’d like to be married. I mean, sharing life with someone is certainly appealing and not only do I want to be a mom but I’d be awesome at it.

And then I discovered Ana White.

Anyway, I’ve always worked to not be a person who lives for “someday” goals, so while my dad was in town, we built this.

 

Grow

I’m back!

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m taking a break from writing, and my lack of blog posts and being kicked out of the BlogHer program makes that statement fairly obvious. Writing takes creative energy, motivation, and dedication, and I misplaced all of those things.

I started a new job at the end of June, and it was quite a shift from my previous gig. Previously, I worked as a Database Administrator, and found a lot of down time when there wasn’t any data. My new job as a Design Coordinator (a.k.a. Administrative Assistant to a Designer) was in a fast-paced environment where down time just meant that I hadn’t found what needed to be done yet. Creative energy went down the drain when I became busy in meetings and scheduling meetings all day. By the time I made it home in the evenings, thinking through and writing something meaningful seemed impossible. Dedication disappeared when I realized that I only wanted to dedicate myself to learning this new job and settling into the new house I rented in July. Moving from a 1-bedroom apartment to a house turned out to be a bigger task than I realized!

That explains the creative energy and dedication issue; I’ll get to the motivation later.

Earlier this year I managed to convince my mom that she could train for and walk a ½ marathon. Another friend of mine wanted to walk one, so the two of us trained in Nashville while my parents walked in Nebraska, and in September we walked the Nashville Women’s ½ Marathon. It was my fourth race, but first to walk, and the first race for the others.

It’s a great feeling of accomplishment knowing you’ve done something you didn’t think you could do. Congratulations to my friend and my parents on their first race!

Grow

A Few Simple Stories of Hope

I was conned into writing a story about hope for the Hope Blog Tour, by The Outpatient Monk. He promised his readers I’d write one before I even said yes. That made me smile and start writing. Thanks, friend.

A penned story of hope, in the middle of an Olympic week, another “Christian” controversy, and following a heart-wrenching movie theatre tragedy. I think I can board that train.

I’m sitting on my front porch, admiring my freshly mowed lawn and watching cars drive by. The wind has picked up a little, sending the delicious smell of cut grass throughout my new neighborhood, and each fresh scent brings flashes of memories of my teenage years.

I remember racing my life-long friend through the grass on his farm. The smell of Nebraskan cows connecting this place to the word “peace”, in my memory. Childhood memories carry with us throughout our lives, single moments that continue to shape us as we age.

On many days much like today, I would flutter from our rustic, white farmhouse, to read teenage novels in the curved branch of the tree on the other side of the driveway. Some days I would hide out in the sweltering barn attic for the same purpose, watching the acreage from the triangle-shaped crack in the siding. Or better yet, I forged new paths in our “woods”, day-dreaming of being a character in one of my books. I imagined that no one knew where I was, that I escaped to a world all my own. I’m sure my mom could find me at any moment, like only moms can do, but I’m glad she let me think I had wandered into a secret place.

Approaching two decades after those moments, I’m watching my neighbor – a girl of maybe eleven – ride her bike up and down our street telling stories to herself. She seems oblivious to the world around her; there’s nothing more important than staying on the road, feeling the wind wave to the sunset, listening to the evening song of the cicadas, and delighting in the dance of the fireflies.

As a little girl, I had no idea that I would one day go to college, speak two languages, travel the globe, or write because I’ve read. I never dreamt I’d interpret classes, enjoy art museums, cry over lost loves, or weep over sufferings. I’m sure thirteen-year old me never imagined she would kiss boys, debate politics, or make a difference in the lives of many people.

In the same way the girl on the bike has no idea that in twenty years, she’ll probably be fulfilling dreams she never thought possible.

I suppose this is my story of hope. That the future always surprises us. My friend, Kenneth Baker, likes to remind me that the minute I stop talking, my words are in the past. The next moment could hold a life-altering event, or a sweet memory of a moment.

Hope doesn’t always mean a heroic act or a thread to hold to in life’s bleakest times. I think we also find it in the simplest moments, the simplest memories, and the realization that more awaits.

This post is part of a series of blogs posting in the Hope 2012 Blog Relay started by Melanie Crutchfield.

Give, Go, Grow

Christianity Doesn’t Want You

In a moment in my early morning dream today, I was at a friend’s house for a party. During the party, this estranged friend of mine approached me in conversation. I can’t remember why I went to the party, but I know how I felt – afraid.

In the present scene, the woman in conversation approached, beverage in hand. Then, with both feet firmly planted on the ground, and a hand held out for balance, she looked me in the eyes and informed me that i was a whore.

Her face held no emotion, because emotion wasn’t needed to state what she believed as fact. Eyebrows slightly lifted, and head tilted forward, she offered me simple information, so that I knew that she knew of my whore-ness.

Following the statement, “you’re a whore”, she continued, “you’re not our kind of Christian”.

In my dream, in that moment, I felt a full palette of emotions. Broken. Rejected. Hopeless. Anger. And Justified in my Anger.

That beautiful Anger rising up within me, I shoved my blonde, curly-haired enemy to the dirt. As I held her to the ground and shouted at it through tightly clenched fists and hot, salty tears, my ears filled with the apathetic discussions of the party-goers from inside the house.

“Christianity doesn’t want you,”they glowered, “You’re not really a Christian. You don’t belong here, with us”. And the unspoken but deeply felt thoughts, “We’re better than you, because we’re not whores”.

I hurled short, gasping breaths at this woman, the one I used to call friend, my voice rising from my core, which carries my strength. I yelled truth, that she was wrong, that Christianity did, in fact, want me. That she’s missed the point and love reaches further and wider than she’s imagining. I desperately pleaded to the other voices to hear my words, to see that the label “whore” didn’t define me.

As her unchanged expression stared at me from the ground, while my hands fought to release my righteous anger, I slowly began to realize….she didn’t care. No amount of screaming and shouting, no matter the depth and truth of my words, this woman, this person, this human, did not want to care. Mind already confirmed, I would always be an unwelcome whore.

Before I woke, I realized that in this moment, I owned the next decision. I could walk away from Christianity – a group of people and a God that didn’t want me. Or, I could embrace the truth I knew, a God that wanted me and a Christ that lives for me, and throw this group of dead friends to their own ignorance. My last option – the scariest one of all – Compassion, ripe with sweet forgiveness and slow, but hopeful, truth.

- I’ve been thinking about this dream all morning, on an 8-mile run, then during the Eucharist, then while at lunch with a friend. It rattles me as the phrase that woke me up continues to repeat in my mind. “I imagine this is how my gay friends feel”. I’ll leave the commentary at that, so the story can speak for itself. Grace and Peace. –

Grow

My need for adventure and fast-paced roller coasters

I once read in my favorite anthropology book (the only anthropology book I’ve ever read*), about the pattern of culture shock that each person experiences.

When we enter a new experience, our minds and bodies acknowledge the change in unique ways. Some people don’t notice the change at all, while other people shut down with any slight change.

Most of us ride an up/down wave, like one of those old wooden roller coasters. A new experience begins (a long-distance move, a job, a relationship or change in relationship, etc.) and we start an upward climb. We excitedly anticipate what lies ahead, our hopes face sky and all we see is adventure (you’ve heard this as the “honeymoon phase”).

I don’t like the cliché, “what goes up, must come down”. It leaves me constantly waiting for something bad to happen when things are going well. In this roller coaster story, the roller coaster isn’t going to crash. However, part of the ride is a race from a high to a low point…while always moving forward.

In this culture shock pattern, our emotions may travel up and down, like the highs and lows of that daring ride, while each dip becomes a little less intense and dynamic than the one before. Eventually, the ups and downs move in such a way that we hardly notice, and we coast smoothly along until the next major life event.

I drew a picture of this yesterday, as I remembered, once again, my culture shock pattern. “New thing” begins and for 3-4 weeks, I love every minute. Sometime in week 4, my mind and emotions turn against me and fear is all I see. I’ll notice it, and so begin the upward climb around week 6. The next dip won’t be so low, but it will happen. And so the pattern goes.

Current state: Life change: new house + life change: new job + life change: end of relationship(s) = shock times 3.

No wonder I’m tired and don’t want to talk about it.

So in the meantime, I’m taking an extra long time to unpack. I’m not responding to every email, text or message. I’m taking time to go out for a drink with a friend, and for late-night phone calls with another. I’m crying over lost loves or potentials, eating bowls of ice cream, and watching made-for-tv movies. I’m telling people what I really think and making plenty of mistakes. I’m celebrating remarkable friendships and skipping a few parties.

I’ve loved roller coasters since my dad and I first rode “The Dragon” at Adventureland. I go looking for their adventures as a means of survival, and plan to find many more over the next 60 (if I’m lucky) years. This post is a means of reminding myself of that adventure, and to remind us all to allow time and space for life changes.

I wanted to ride “The Dragon” for weeks and then freaked out when we finally buckled in. I probably scared my dad as I screamed in terror, in fear of my imminent death. Then surprised us both when I begged to go a second time.

*Anthropological Insights for Missionaries by Paul G. Hiebert

Grow

When Deserts become Oasis

I’m sitting with my friend the Outpatient Monk, with the promise that I’ll write a blog post. I guess it’s time.

The last few months have been full, and my visit with The Outpatient Monk and friends has been a sort of personal retreat. A mark on the calendar to celebrate and rest.

It’s July, right? The days are blurring together.

I often describe my five years in Nashville as a “dry and weary desert”. Now that I think of it, that’s probably not fair. Yet, it’s still how I’ve felt and feelings are always fair. I largely refer to my employment. I realize job struggles might be normal for someone in her twenties, but what 20 – 30-year-old wants the word “weary” to describe her?

Admitting this makes me feel like I’m complaining – knowing full well that millions of people work their entire lives in jobs (and lives) they don’t enjoy. Let’s acknowledge that and then move on to my own personal experience.

The last five years have sucked. Ok, I’m exaggerating a little. The less dramatic and more accurate statement is: I’ve not worked a job that I truly enjoyed or felt like I was living up to my full potential since I moved to Nashville five years ago.

So after yet another barren job interview in April, I sat at my long-time friend’s kitchen table, weeping, feeling all the emotions that accompany grief. Following the advice of my spiritual director, I decided that May would be spent taking a break from searching, and instead spend my energy resting and discovering. I spent time investing in friends, and built myself some furniture (a goal I’ve had for ten years).

Since my apartment lease was running out (today was the day*), I decided this was a good time to move on. I planned on searching for jobs outside Nashville, once the May resting period ended.

In the last week of May, a company I previously interviewed with, called with another job. Two weeks into June, I had a job offer. One week later, a new home found me, and by the first weekend in July all the questions I cried over in April were answered.

Today I’m at the tail end of a vacation in the city that I almost moved to, looking at my life from an angle that I could barely vision just three months ago.

Just like the rest of the world, I have no idea what my life will look like when I wake up tomorrow. We never see the same moment twice, so we’ve got to soak in the ones we can, before they pass by.

I feel like a dry and weary desert has just became a rain forest. Or maybe I’m in an Oasis.

I enjoy my work for the first time in six years. I’m living in a home that meets everything I asked for. I just spent an entire weekend delighting in extra-ordinary friendships, and I have no idea what tomorrow will bring.

“I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

*I’m posting this a few days late. I have an obsessive need for accuracy in everything I say,because I think just one piece of incorrect information changes the entire story. It really makes jokes rather difficult, but I just. can’t. help it.

Grow

Because Telling the Truth is Hard To Do

“Always tell the truth and never tell a lie”. That was our family motto when I was a kid. It’s a good motto, and one that I broke fairly easily.

I didn’t lie when the consequences didn’t matter.

“Did you eat the cookies?” Yes.

 “Did you hit your brother?” Yes.

I only lied when I was afraid, or when I wanted to avoid some type of confrontation.

“What are you thinking?” Nothing.

 “Do you like me?” Yes.

 “Do you agree?” Of course.

To me, the consequences of telling the truth in the first questions, while potentially painful (yes, dad had a wooden paddle), were more manageable than the consequences of the second set.

The latter questions can’t be easily measured or investigated, and their answers point to me as a person, versus me and my actions.

Over the last year, I’ve become more honest, and I’m better for it. It’s not easy! Honest conversations take warrior’s courage.

To admit that I strongly disagree with a friend, also means choosing to believe that person will still love me when the conversation ends. To admit the darkest parts of myself, means walking into a gauntlet of emotions.

I’m often afraid the person on the receiving end will walk away. That I’ll become a needy, desperate friend, whom no one wants to be around. Or worse, that my friends will take it upon themselves to judge me like God, and determine that I’m a horrible human being (which doesn’t sound like God at all. But that’s a topic  for another day.).

I understand that sounds extreme. Writing it sounds ridiculous. Most of my friends are Christians, and Christians don’t judge, right?

And I’m a good person, nothing I could do or say would be so horrible, right?

Why do so many of us lie? We all do it. We’re hiding the best and worst parts of ourselves because we’ve predetermined another person’s response.

A recovering addict will tell you, “the hardest step is admitting the truth”.

“What are you thinking?” That I’m ready to end this conversation.

“Do you like me?” Not today.

“Do you agree?” That’s ridiculous.

As I practice this truth-telling, my responses become more loving, more confident, and more productive.

In the last two weeks I’ve had half a dozen or more of these conversations. Conversations ripe with honesty and emotion. I share stories, I get to hear others. It doesn’t take long to remember that we’re all kind of the same.

Grow