Word of the year 2017

In early December, it grew bitterly cold in Arkansas. I stoked the wood stove full day in and day out, wore my fuzziest pajama pants, and only went outside to feed and water the chickens, pups, and cats. The icy wind tunneled through Duncan Hollow, determined to freeze the fresh water I’d poured for the animals the moment I poured it.

Sometimes the weather matches my mood. It did then. My father-in-law died the first week of December. A few days later, every leaf clinging stubbornly to the tall oak trees in our woods fell silently. In my grief, I didn’t even notice them falling. One morning as I drank my coffee, I glanced out the glass door in my office, overlooking the trails where the old barn used to be. A week earlier, some of the trees held onto their crunchy brown jackets in stubborn refusal to let go of autumn. That morning, I was met by bleak winter.

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Gulin, China–One of the images I focused on 

During that cold, bitter time, God came to me through images of smooth lakes, calm water, and iridescent moonlit walks I took when I lived at my old house. He came to me through a specific song I’d long forgotten but dearly loved, a soothing song I listened to repeatedly when I first loved it and listened to again this December while meditating. I pictured my father-in-law beckoning me to follow him to a still, quiet, joyful place when I felt overwhelmed by grief. Christ came to me through a story of a group of very manly men who were scared to death by a storm, so scared they couldn’t help but wake up their Leader and ask Him for help in the middle of the night. Christ spoke to me by sharing a specific word with me which, for two months, I thought was my focus word for 2017, a word which tied all these things loosely together.

But I never felt solid about writing about this word or sharing specific details about these things on my blog. So I didn’t. I’ve grown to write less and less for my personal blog, partly out of necessity for lack of time, and partly because what matters most to me is deeply personal, so personal and spiritual I’m unwilling to splay it online unless I feel compelled.

I also hesitated to land on that word because its meaning, for me, denoted a lack of color and life. And while I knew I’d needed that word desperately during December and January, while grieving deeply and walking in quiet, solitary pain, I was ready for more.

Last weekend, I walked a labyrinth with my friends at a spiritual retreat and let my feet fall into rhythm, purposely following an earthen path countless others have trod in an effort to find 30 minutes of peace. Afterward, I chatted with two ladies while the afternoon sun warmed our faces on the way back to the lodge. One of them shared with me about the growth of her small business. This peaked my interest since I opened my own business less than one year ago. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but she shared something about one of her associates mentioning that it was important to let things happen. I wish I could remember the exact words; maybe I’m not supposed to, and maybe those words don’t matter.

What matters is in that moment, God gave me my focus for this year.

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Ozark National Forest

I walked to the creek running beneath the bridge we crossed to return to the lodge and looked down. The water shone. Several bright yellow leaves lay in the water below.  Some of the leaves seemed still, and others moved at varying speeds in the water below, some in the current and others on the outskirts. Those leaves were not concerned with the temperature, the wind, the light, or the people around them. They weren’t concerned with the other objects in the water, not even logs or wild animals, because the water was powerful enough to maneuver the leaves around objects, even if it took a little time. They were simply being carried by the water, and they kept moving wherever the water carried them.

I am a leaf. He is the Water.

 

 

Move

The good old college days

The good ole college days

One dark, starry, windy night—not unlike tonight, with temperatures drastically dropping, warning of winter storms approaching—I crouched alongside dozens of my campus ministry friends during the week of final exams as a college student, creating Christmas cards for shut-ins and hospital patients, humming along to familiar Christmas carols. Suddenly That Still Small Voice rang out clear as a bell.

“Go see her in her dorm room right now.”

I kept humming and coloring and designing my card. I also began arguing with That Still Small Voice. It made no sense to stop what I was doing—because what I was doing made perfect sense—to go make an unannounced visit to a fellow student whom I had barely befriended. This particular student knew my name, and we joined the same student organization simultaneously, but in truth, we barely knew one another. To show up at her apartment uninvited seemed not only rude but also a little nuts, quite frankly.

“Go see her right now, I said.”

I felt my heart pounding this time. I capped the Sharpies and stood up, pulling my best friend, Kelly, aside. I felt slightly irresponsible about leaving the card-making party since I helped plan it, but what could I do? When you get The Call, you answer.

“Kelly, I think God just told me to leave and go do something. I have to go.”

She looked at me quizzically but didn’t inquire about the details. Having lived with me for one year at that point, I guess she’d grown to accept that my brand of spirituality was untraditional, at best.

“Okay—is everything okay?”

“Yes. I’ll see you later.” I zipped up my grey wool car coat and headed in the direction of the student’s room, the wind whipping at my back.

When I arrived, I knocked on her door. A scruffy-looking male answered. I immediately attempted to bow out, apologizing and offering to come back another time, but she asked him to leave.

So there I was.

“I don’t know why I’m here. God just told me to come see you.”

And then her tears fell.

And her truth came rushing out in waves. And I listened.

Mostly, I cried. And we hugged one another.

And she told me that she felt she was on the verge of death, and that God must have sent me to her that night.

And ever since, we’ve remained friends, even when we aren’t able to see one another for long periods of time.

A few weeks ago, I reread 1 Samuel 3 in the Bible. It reminded me of my own life, of the many opportunities—just like this one moment in time when I made a choice to listen to That Still Small Voice—to either listen to God or to blow Him off. I wish I could say I’ve always listened, but I haven’t.

It reminded me that each time I’ve chosen to listen and take action—particularly when what I’ve heard from God requires me to take action—I have NEVER regretted it. I am always the beneficiary or witness of some type of miracle.

What if I had kept foolishly, stubbornly, and selfishly coloring Christmas cards that night? Well, I guess a few more shut-ins would have received Christmas cards that year.

But my friend—MY FRIEND—might be dead. Or she might have struggled for a longer period of time, feeling more isolated and alone, knowing that not one person understood or knew about her pain. My faith in That Still Small Voice would not have grown tenfold that night. I would not have shared in her sorrow and later in her joy when God renewed her spirit. I would have missed a miracle. I would have missed out on love.

Let me never refuse to move when That Voice moves me.

How do you know me?

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Me in 2010, about halfway into my 1,000 days of gratitude lists

About a year ago, I decided to create a second blog, Your Daily Dose of Gratitude. I’d already been writing daily gratitude lists for over 1,000 days in a row. Since this exercise had impacted me so positively, improving my outlook on life and my attitude towards others, I decided that sharing thoughts on the topic with others might do the same for them.

As I posted Henry Petty‘s guest blog posts on my gratitude blog, the past few days, I began reflecting on how I know him. We met in college, and I was immediately drawn to his chipper attitude about life. He did not have an easy life. Yet he seemed to always keep a smile on his face. He walked to work, and instead of whining about it, he just expressed gratitude when folks offered him rides.

Then I began thinking about the other guest contributors to this blog and how I came to know each of them.

Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy was one of my professors in college and now serves as a sort of writing mentor. I took a children’s literature course from her as an English elective my senior year. I didn’t expect to discover a love for a genre of literature I’d largely overlooked. But her passion for the subject matter and the warm, interactive, and exciting way she managed the classroom discussions sparked a real interest in children’s literature inside me. I began collecting children’s books, and when I became pregnant with my daughter, I already had accumulated quite an awesome collection.

My friend Linda Unger, another guest contributor, is an accomplished photographer, writer, entrepreneur, and also happens to be hilarious. I met her at a women’s conference about five years ago and found her enthusiasm for life to be contagious. She once spoke at that same conference and shared her life’s story and details about her spiritual journey. I will never forget the way she described how she came to know God; it resonated within me.

I met my friend Oona Love, another guest contributor, at a concert at Cornerstone Pub in North Little Rock, Arkansas, when she opened the show for my close friend, Cindy Woolf. Oona’s cover of a fabulous Fiona Apple song made me belly laugh non-stop for three minutes, and at that time in my life, I needed all the laughter I could get. Since then, I’ve come to know her a little better and respect her gentle, accepting way of loving others despite their differences.

My friend Erin Jennings, another guest contributor, once briefly dated a friend of my husband’s. While their dating relationship lasted only a short while, our friendship continued, and she became a very close friend and confidante. I’ve watched her as she has found the love of her life and expanded her family from three to six and do so with grace and ease.

Three of my guest contributors are brand new friends whom I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting in person. I met two of them, Toinette Thomas and Mary Agrusa, through groups for Christian bloggers on linkedin.com. I met Sarah Klesko, a fellow blogger, by following her blog and finding her posts inspirational. Thankfully, all three of these talented writers were willing to share their musings with me, too.

Guest contributor Amy Driskill went to college with me back in the day. She’s one of many people I’ve reconnected with via Facebook. Since reconnecting, we’ve learned things about each other’s lives that we certainly didn’t know in college, and it’s bonded us as friends.

Shelli White, a guest contributor, was a college student at my alma mater when I worked there as an academic coordinator for an Upward Bound program. Shelli worked as a tutor for us and used her math whiz kid skills to assist struggling high school students. Since then, her life has evolved, and she’s become a spiritually vibrant woman raising an adorable little boy.

One of my college suite mates, Zeda Paysinger-Wilkerson, served as a guest contributor once as well. Zeda and I were lab partners our freshman year of college. I vividly remember recanting our romantic tales to one another and giggling over the details. Zeda and I have remained close friends since then, even working together once at the same institution. She always reminds me that life is what you make of it.

I finally talked my former co-worker Jonathan Weigt into writing for my blog and am so glad he did. Jonathan worked with me through some pretty tough times in my life and has perhaps seen me at my worst; I’m really glad he now knows me at my best. His non-traditional take on spirituality and his sincere questioning of life’s most important questions challenge me. It also reminds me that even the most hilarious person (he’s quite funny) has a deeper side, whether it’s visible or not.

My nephew Jake (AKA Walter Pitts) agreed to write for my blog after his recent wild adventure in Eastern Europe. Jake’s on an extraordinarily fearless journey of faith. Having known him since he was just five years old, it’s been awesome to see how God has used each of his personality quirks and special gifts to serve others and make the world a better place.

I once had the honor of working with Debra Dickey-Liang. She served as the administrative assistant in my department, and she excelled at her job. She was dependable, loyal, trustworthy, and dignified. She still is, and seven years after working with her, I am delighted to consider her one of my closest friends. Despite the differences in our ages, we’ve found common ground in what matters. When she agreed to write posts for my gratitude blog, I discovered her hidden gift for writing and was thrilled to share it with the world via WordPress.

Then there’s my forever friend Mark Egan, who I first met when I was five years old. I watched him climb trees and emulated his skills. He taught me to shoot a gun for the first time (and didn’t get mad when I almost shot God-knows-what instead of the targets). He agreed to write for my blog after sending me some personal writing to proofread for him. I convinced him that he had underestimated his writing abilities so he agreed to allow me to share his piece with others. He will always be “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

As I contemplated on how I know each of these guest writers, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. This list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the other God-with-skin-on people who have walked with me through valleys, helped me climb over obstacles, and rejoiced with me as we enjoyed the view from the top.

With so much love in my life, having been surrounded by such diverse, beautiful, and invaluable people, I can’t help but believe that what Eckhart said is true:

“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

 

Pregnant pleas

I write this as I attempt to eat something which will not induce vomiting.

In case you didn’t read my latest blog post, I’m pregnant.

I’m excited about being a mom.  I was a stepmom for six years and loved it, and I still love my Lizard to death. I’ve worked with kids of all ages and have tons of kids in my extended family. I’m not worried about enjoying being a mom or concerned with some of the things people with little “kid exposure” might worry about.

But I’m going to be honest. So far, being  pregnant is not fun. It’s quite miserable, actually.

I expected it to be, based on what I’d watched my sisters and friends endure, but at the same time, I don’t hear many people giving honest assessments of the down sides to pregnancy. I believe our society encourages us to pretend we’re happier than we’ve ever been before–and quite honestly, I think we keep that cycle going ourselves. I’m not sure why we feel it necessary to sugarcoat the sour side of life. Anyone who knows me knows that I attempt to see the bright side, focus on the positive, and find things to be grateful for in the worst of circumstances. But pretending to be something I’m not is not who I am, and it never will be. While I am ecstatic that James and I are going to be parents together, I’m not ecstatic that I have to go through pregnancy and delivery in order to get to that end result.

I don’t want any pictures taken of my bare stomach. I  know lots of people do it, and that’s fine for them, but it’s not for me. For me, it’s just a little odd. Period.

I appreciate people taking an interest in our lives and in our baby, but I am growing weary of unsolicited advice (one of my top five pet peeves, in case you didn’t already know :).

I don’t feel well. I know pregnancy’s different for everyone, and that this stage may pass, but I feel nauseous about 90% of the time. I’m battling migraines without the few medicines that have ever worked in treating them.

So, friends and family (or anyone out there reading this who might someday encounter a pregnant woman), I implore you to do the following.

a) Let me sleep when I can.

b) Please don’t talk about gross things around me. I normally love gross things. Not right now.

c) Understand that I’m not trying to shirk relationships or responsibilities, but right now I am doing well to function halfway normally, and I have very little energy left for anything else.

d) Practice what I consider to be some of the best advice I’ve ever heard: it’s not your business if it’s past the tip of your nose. Keep this in mind when asking questions and doling out advice.

e) Don’t try to force me to love being pregnant. It’s really and truly just not a delightful experience for everybody.

So far, I’ve figured out that pregnancy is a growing process. A very awkward, painful one. Many times in my life, the process isn’t pleasant, but the outcome exceeds my expectations. I believe that’s how this will be–and I’m looking forward to it.

In a dry and weary land

Tonight I was driving home after a very long day.

It wasn’t just today. It’s been a long few weeks. A long few months. A long year. Maybe a long decade and a half, let’s be honest.

Most of the time, I strive for optimism. Gratitude. Positivity. Polly Anna-ish-ness. Today I wasn’t feeling it. Today I was feeling worn out. I was feeling done. Spent. Tired. Tired of pretending like everything was going to be okay. Tired of hoping everything would be okay. Tired of believing against all odds that everything would be okay.

I stopped by the store, after this very draining day that didn’t go as planned, and bought a bottle of wine and headed home. I expected to sit at home and drink it–maybe not all of it (chuckling to self as I write this)–and perhaps feel a little sorry for myself. Listen to music. Or sit on my porch and watch the horses across the street in the field. Just be alone, be quiet, and let myself be. I just needed to forget all the stress surrounding me–finances, family mess, recent heartaches, work stuff–and just breathe. Be alone, and breathe.

God had other plans, and better ones. When I got home, my friends were there. Mowing my lawn. Their cute kids were watching a movie in my den and begging me to come watch it with them. After unwinding a little bit with their mom/my college pal, I did. Just what the Doctor ordered.

Funny how He knows what I need when I don’t. And provides it.

I may be too tired to acknowledge it with feelings to match right now, but I know somewhere inside of me that He will heal everything. And He will make everything okay. How do I know that? Because it’s who He is. It’s what He does. It’s what He’s always done for me. Every single time.